Joshua Williamson INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
Joshua Williamson is currently writing a whole ton of comics for several different publishers. He's got RoboCop over at BOOM! Studios, Captain Midnight and Predator: Fire and Stone at Dark Horse, Nailbiter at Image, and Ghosted and the recently launched Birthright under Image's Skybound imprint. I'm probably missing something. He's a busy guy. Fortunately, I was able to snag a few minutes with him on the floor of New York Comic Con to chat about some of his comics.
James Ferguson: Considering how many comics you currently write, I figured I'd ask what you wanted to talk about first.
Joshua Williamson: You just read Birthright, so it's fresh in your head. We can talk about that.
JF: Great. I don't want to get into the usual interview questions of where did the idea come from and whatnot. You've answered those in other interviews and described it in the back of the first issue. Birthright seems to start with the character first and goes into this whole fantasy world around that, so do you start with the character when writing? Or did the fantasy element come first? How did the story evolve?
JW: Oh man, the character first. I think the idea and the character first. I've been working on this book since 2007, so it went through a lot of changes. At one point Mikey was going to be an adult. He was going to be a guy in his 20s who was gone for about five years. I changed it around when I realized that it made more sense to be when he was a kid. It's more true to the original idea of what I wanted. Then I started operating around the kid version of the character. I felt the kid version would be important, so I needed to nail down certain things, like at the beginning he tells his dad, "...catching the ball is easy." Later on, when he's talking to the FBI agent, he says, "Oh, dragons are easy."
So this idea of creating who he was as an adult and the fantasy stuff came a little later partially because I knew (and I was right about this) that the fantasy stuff is the easiest to write. You know, it's Dungeons and Dragons. It's swords and sorcery. But family stuff? That's the hardest. To make it feel real and actually have that emotional connection, that's the hard part.
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JF: Is Mikey a fully grown adult? Or since time passed differently in this other world Terranos, is he still somewhat a child?
JW: No, he's a legit adult, however he was in a fantasy world, so, for example, he never learned how to shave. That's why he has a huge beard. He never learned how to do all these things that you'd do growing up. He has the experience on Earth of a child, but he also has the experience of being a warrior in a fantasy land. He knows certain stuff. I don't want to give it away, but he didn't learn things that kids would learn. A lot of kids now are super Internet savvy and all that kind of thing, but there's none of that for him. He has a completely different life experience, so it made him a different kind of adult than you'd expect from someone that had lived a normal life.
JF: Mikey was eight years old when he went to this world, so he would be somewhat tech savvy from earth, but how long did it take him to get fully acclimated to Terranos?
JW: Well, he was there for twenty years. He's about 28 years old now. He's definitely in his mid-to-late 20s. He's not a teenager anymore. We're going to do some stuff with him as a teenager and in his early 20s in Terranos. We're going to show bits and pieces of his life there.
JF: And now he's older than his older brother.
JW: Yeah, so there's all kinds of weird stuff going on, but he's still inexperienced. There's also a certain level of PTSD for him and not only because [SPOILER ALERT] he's with the bad guys now. The reveal is that he made a choice. Someone told me they thought he was possessed and I told them that he's not really possessed. He made a choice. At some point we're going to explain it, but he makes a decision to join the bad guys. So...where was I going with that? Sorry, I get so excited talking about the book that I lose track. We're going to explore the passage of time and what that means to him. [END SPOILER]
JF: You said you've been working on Birthright since 2007. You drew a map in crayon at the back of the first issue. How much research do you put into a book like this or some of your other titles?
JW: A lot. I put a lot of work into this. A lot of notebooks. A lot of reading. In Nailbiter,I did a lot of research on bees because there are bees in the book. I'll read up on stuff. I make sure it's not just shit I heard. It's an actual fact. I read. I go to the library and go through a lot of books. With Birthright it's a little different because it's a fantasy story, so the main research was on the hero's journey and the theory about it. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that kind of thing, so that's really where the research for this came into play. Then a little bit in terms of what happens when a kid goes missing.
That's the thing with books like Birthright and Nailbiter. I don't want to be too dead on to how it is in the real world. I want there to be fiction. I want there to be a fantasy element to the real world and the fantasy world. I'm not a slave to the research that I do, but I definitely do a lot of research.
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JF: Speaking of Nailbiter, have you defined all of the Buckaroo Butchers?
JW: Yeah, we know them all. They're not all in the book yet. We introduce another one in issue #8 and #9. There are sixteen total.
JF: Staying on Nailbiter, Brian Michael Bendis guest stars in the next issue. How did that come about?
JW: I'm glad that you said "guest star" because a lot of people think he's writing it and I'm like "No, he's a character!" It's like a ride along. It's like Warren Ellis. I was a student in his class at PSU and I've always been a big fan of his. Powers was really an important book to me. It's in my top ten. It's one of those that came around when I was just starting college and figuring out what I wanted to do in comics. It really shapes the realization that I want to do comics. When I was in his class I learned a lot from him. There was this moment where everyone kept coming to me and asking me questions about research on Nailbiter like did I talk to serial killers and I was thinking I should do a book about that, about a comic book writer that comes to town. So how do I do that? It has to be Bendis. It has to be. I wrote him and I said that. "There's no one else it can be but you. It has to be you." He understood and was very happy and flattered. He said, "Alright. Cool." It's great. It's a whole issue with him except for a couple pages.
JF: Warren from Nailbiter, Michael from Birthright, Jackson from Ghosted are all in a room together. Do any of them come out alive? If so, which one?
JW: Jackson. There's a reason. I can't tell you, but Jackson of course. In Ghosted #11, you see that the Grim Reaper is his shadow so it would have to be him. There's no way it couldn't be him. We'll get into it, you'll see. The fourth arc is going to deal with that, really getting into why the Grim Reaper is watching him. Jackson is stabbed in issue #5 by Anderson with a huge knife and didn't die. He got shot in issue #6. Did not die. The tigers. His death is not his own. There's a reason for that though.
There's actually something mentioned in issue #14. There's a part where Tripp's son Danny talks about how so much about life is not your own decision. Even in death, it's not yours. You don't get to decide what happens after you die. Jackson's death is a part of that. He's not allowed his own death. It's not his to decide. We'll eventually get into that. In issue #12, he was talking to Creed, the FBI Agent, where Creed is saying, "I know what happened at the mansion. I know what happened with the Brotherhood." Then he leans over and he says, "And I know what happened in New Orleans." So there's this whole thing with New Orleans. I remember talking with my editor and he asked, "What happened in New Orleans?" And I just said, "We'll get to it." Issue #17.
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JF: And yet everyone seems to think he has a death wish.
JW: He does. It's a very important part of the story. He has given up on life. He believes that he has accepted his death, that it's his time to die, that he's done with life but really he's given up. There's a very big difference between accepting it's your time and giving up. That's a major part of what this story is about. It's tied in to why Death is interested in him. Everyone else wants to know too. The Brotherhood was interested in him. Danny too. We talk about that a lot in issue #15, where Danny knew the moment his dad died because he felt it and he was able to feel Jackson's presence.
You see in issue #10 that Marcus is still alive with a scar on his face. You'll find out later on how he got that scar. He knows something.
JF: Do more people know about Jackson than Jackson does?
JW: Yeah. All of those people know. The witch knows. In issue #16 the witch starts to explain to Jackson because she needs him to see what it is that's happening. You realize that Jackson and Marcus are mirror images of each other. Marcus is Jackson's dark self. Jackson is obsessed with dying while Marcus is obsessed with living forever. The whole first arc is about that. Marcus was trying to steal that ghost because that was a key to immortality while Jackson just wanted to be left alone and die. Here are these two characters that have the exact opposite motivations and they're going to come into conflict. Marcus figured something out in those first five issues that we'll explain later on, and he needs to use Jackson to get it. There's something much bigger than a ghost that Marcus wants to steal.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Joshua Williamson for talking the time to chat with us at NYCC. Birthright, Nailbiter, and Ghosted are all available now.
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