NUTS & BOLTS: Interview with Nebula-Winner J.H. Williams III
By Tom Joyce and Erick Mancilla
J.H. Williams III’s beautifully detailed art has won him multiple awards, including a Nebula, and graced the stories of antiheroes (Jonah Hex), mainstream heroes (Batwoman), and decidedly non-mainstream heroes (Alan Moore’s Promethea.) Over a long career, he’s created significant works for DC Comics, Image Comics, Amazon, and Marvel. He’s also illustrated album covers for The Sword and Blondie. His current project, the mind-bending, multi-genre adventure Echolands, is drawing critical acclaim.
In this month’s edition of Nuts & Bolts, he shares insights for HWA members on topics including how to successfully collaborate with other creators, and creating works for an existing franchise.
Q: How does story-telling differ when writing for a comic, vs. writing prose?
A: I suppose a key difference is that comics are a much more visual medium than prose. With comics, a lot of the storytelling takes place in the art. Things that are described in prose are often shown visually in comics. Because of that, the writing should take advantage of visuals to convey information the story needs, and/or getting the characters to visually act in the scenes. Our work on Echolands is a good example of this. Due to it being a vast concept requiring a lot of world-building details, featuring a diverse cast, most of that type of story information is shown in the art. In a prose version of the same story, to properly convey all of the visual richness of the world-building would require very lengthy written passages. Interestingly, the same information that might be found in a prose passage is close to what we actually write into the Echolands comics scripts; so there is text documenting the world-building details, that is then translated into the visuals of the medium. But the scripts feature those details in a very direct manner, purely as a guide for the art. The amount of world details and character interactions shown in the first arc of Echolands makes up roughly a 150+ page comic. A prose version of this same first arc, if properly conveying the world-building details, would easily be 650 pages or so.
Q: Do you have any advice for adapting a famous character, such as Red Riding Hood in Echolands, as a character in your own story?
A: That really depends on the goals. The reason why it’s being done makes a difference when choosing an approach. But ultimately, it’s a good idea to find something about the character that reveals an aspect of them that might not have been considered. In Echolands, Hope Redhood does purposely have a vague reminding of Red Riding Hood, but those connections are a bit tenuous, and the reasons for that will be revealed as we go. But yes, Hope Redhood has a loose inspiration from Red Riding Hood lore.
Q: What considerations go into writing stories set in existing franchises such as Batwoman, Star Wars, or Sandman?
A: The biggest thing to consider is more of an exercise in finding the right path. That path needs to be a good balance of trying to bring something fresh to such long existing IPs, while still remaining true to what those IPs are. It can be a tricky thing, because it’s creatively important to justify working on such things. Finding that right balanced path helps move the IP forward, and gets audiences interested, but also matters to being creatively inspired to do the project.
Q: What makes for a successful collaboration between creators?
A: Trust and open communication. It’s important that each member of the team feels that their contributions are valued and matter to the bigger picture of the project.
Q: What advice would you give a writer interested in starting out in comics/graphic novels?
A: Believe in your vision, and be willing to fight for that vision while still being open to suggestions that might prove beneficial to your project goals. Also, patience is key to any creative endeavor. The process of creation and dealing with the business side of a project can be demanding, and sometimes all of that work process can take a lot of time.
Q: Do you have any projects you’d like HWA members to know about?
A: There’s Echolands, which is my current project. Past projects are The Sandman Overture, Batwoman, Promethea, Desolation Jones, Seven Soldiers of Victory, Batman, Chase, among various smaller things. I’ve also done music album covers. Unannounced projects include a series, a graphic novel, and a specialized art book.
Q: Where can people follow you online?
A: Follow on Twitter (now X) @JHWilliamsIII and Instagram – JH Williams III
J.H. Williams III is a longtime veteran of the Arts and has created significant works for DC Comics, Image Comics, Amazon, and Marvel. His current work on Echolands from Image Comics has been met with critical acclaim. He’s garnered multiple awards, including Eagles, Eisners, GLAAD, Harveys, Inkwell, National Cartoonist Society, a coveted Nebula — for his contributions to The Sandman Overture, Promethea, Batwoman, Batman, Desolation Jones, and Where We Live. And has happily gained an honor award from the Grey School of Wizardry. Never one to settle for a single artistic vision, Williams has also branched out into arenas beyond the comics industry, illustrating album covers for legendary rock bands The Sword and Blondie, illustrations for Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, and dabbling collaboratively in fashion. Beyond visual arts, his other creative endeavors include various writing roles, with Echolands and Batwoman being prominent examples. J. H. lives with his ever-cherished wife and adorable cats in a land of desert mountains and valleys of sand, listening to music and collecting vinyl records.
Tom Joyce writes a monthly series called Nuts & Bolts for the Horror Writers Association’s blog, and creates videos for the HWA’s Tik Tok channel featuring interviews about the craft and business of writing. Watch for upcoming interviews, including one with HWA Mentorship Program manager J.G. Faherty, where he offers important advice for writers about self-discipline and the difficult job of self-editing. Please contact Tom at TomJHWA@gmail.com if you have suggestions for future interviews. For more about what he’s looking for, see here
Erick Mancilla is a Mexican-American/Latino writer of horror and dark fantasy. His short stories have appeared in print and in online anthologies. As a member of the Horror Writers Association, he is the Assistant Manager of the Social Media Team, Assistant for the Chapter Program Managers, and Assistant for the Scholarship Program. He enjoys reading genre fiction and considers watching the original issue DVD version of 1980s horror movies the best of all possible experiences.