When August ended and our monthly round-up article came about, Rob Williams netted best writer of the month, and it’s not hard to see why. Between picking up Daken and completely reinvigorating the title (described by staff writer Patrick as a “water to wine” move) as well as starting up a new Ghost Rider book, Williams has slowly become one of our absolute favorite writers here at Multiversity.
So given the prestigious award, we had a chat with Rob about comics, Daken, Ghost Rider, Captain Britain and other endeavors for today’s Multiversity Comics Presents. Check it out after the cut.
Rob Williams: I’m a lifelong fan, is the easy answer. I think my first comic was an issue of Justice League co-starring Adam Strange when I was a small boy. But through my childhood I was always reading a mix of the UK black and white Marvel reprints – Spider-Man and Hulk weekly – and British comics like Roy Of The Rovers, The Victor Book For Boys, Battle, plus the Commando Comics, the war stories published by Scotland’s DC Thomson. I’ve always loved the medium.
As far as your writing is concerned, who are your biggest influences?
RW: I suppose in my early comics days it was Alan Moore and Frank Miller. There was a UK Marvel monthly called The Daredevils that I read when I was about 13 which feature Moore and Alan Davis’ Captain Britain and Frank Miller’s Daredevil, and both blew my teenage mind and stuck with me. I was reading Warrior soon after that and Marvelman, V For Vendetta etc. Then it was the mid-80s explosion of Dark Knight, Year One, Watchmen. Those were my big formative influences. Them and John Wagner’s superb Judge Dredd stories from 2000AD with their satire and black humour. As an adult I’d say my influences come more from other mediums. TV drama, mainly. The likes of Breaking Bad, The Shield, Mad Men etc contain writing I really admire and enjoy and their techniques probably find their way into my work more than the work of other comic writers.
What do you do when you get ready to write? Any particular music you like to listen to, rituals or habits you perform to get you in the mood? ‘
RW: I usually listen to music with headphones on to shut out the world. I’ve got two small children so it’s the only way I can get to concentrate. These days it’s mainly stuff without lyrics, as I find anything wordy distracting. Movie scores are big for me and they add drama and creepiness to what you’re writing. Anything Hans Zimmer, John Powell, the Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor Social Network score was great, the Daft Punk Tron Legacy score I played to death. Other than that it’s drink an overload of coffee and get on with it.
You began your career as a freelance journalist, but then switched to writing comics. What was the impetus for this decision on your part? Are you pleased with the results?
RW: Again, it comes back to being such a fan and going with what you’re more passionate about. I wrote and directed corporate videos when I was first published in comics. Then I worked on numerous magazines over the years, partly as a sub-editor, then as an editor and I eventually was writing features for magazines like GQ in the UK. I was making a decent living out of journalism, but the comics work was taking up more and more of my time and I was chasing it a lot more than the magazine work. Eventually it got to the point where I had the chance to go full time as a comics writer and I was happy to do so. I can still write the odd magazine feature here and there if I want to. But comics have me too busy to consider that right now. I’m enjoying life as a ‘pure’ comics writer, I find it far more creative and challenging than my magazine work. Its nice to have two different industries on your CV though. Gives more options to pay the mortgage,.Continued below
You’re known more for your work on 2000 AD in the UK, but here in America not as much – if only because we have more limited access to the comic. Does any element of this feel like a bit of culture shock for you?
RW: Writing for the US market? Not really, if I’m honest. I’ve always been very interested in US culture. My first ever published comic work was Cla$$war, which was a 22-page US format book. That was the form I read most of growing up. It was only after Cla$$war gained attention that I was offered work on 2000AD, which tells stories in 5 page weekly chunks. It’s different in terms of pacing. You have to fit a lot more story in those 5 pages, but it teaches you economy in your writing, which is vital. I suspect that’s why so many 2000AD writers have gone on to work succesfully for Marvel and DC. Once you’ve got used to telling a story in 5 pages, with a beginning, middle and end, and a twist for good measure, having 20 or 22 pages on an American book feels like a luxury. I think John Wagner said writing 5 pagers “sorts out the men from the boys.” Also, you learn that you need a big cliffhanger every five pages. 2000AD’s a great comic in its own right, but it’s also a superb school for young writers.
How did your current work for Marvel originally come about?
RW: I met Axel Alonso at a UK con just after Cla$$war came out and he was interested in me pitching to Marvel. I wasn’t ready, to be honest. At that time I didn’t have full control of the necessary craft, storytelling structure, how to pitch etc. As a result my proposed Captain Britain mini-series fell apart, which was a big disappointment and a real learning experience for me. I don’t think I pitched to Marvel for a few years after that, but I kept in touch with Axel. I pitched a Sunfire mini to him, along with one of my best friends, Laurence Campbell. Axel liked it but Sunfire wasn’t available and asked if we wanted to pitch for a Wolverine oneshot instead. That was published (Wolverine #49 if I remember right) but I think it was another two years before Laurence & I pitched a Punisher Max story to Axel at the New York Comic Con. That became ‘Get Castle’ (which is one of the best things I’ve done, I think). That seemed to go down well with Marvel and they offered me a Deadpool Team-Up issue and more work came from there. Backups and oneshots. It was anything but an overnight thing.
As of right now, you’re currently working on two Marvel ongoings: Ghost Rider and Daken: Dark Wolverine. You’ve written a myriad of minis and one-shots as well. How is your approach different for writing a one-shot than an ongoing, and do you find one more enjoyable than the other?
RW: Swings and roundabouts, really. There’s something very satisfying about a one-shot. A finite story with beginning, middle and end, not having to worry about long term plot threads, ongoing continuity. Establish your world and characters, tell your tale and then get out. In a market where we’re trying to appeal to new readers, a self-enclosed tale doesn’t bog anyone down with continuity. But an ongoing, while more challenging, also offers completely different storytelling opportunities. You have to plan long term, drip feed certain plot points, but still give that immediate narrative punch. Variety’s the spice of life etc. It’s nice to be able to use both. I will say though that, after writing a four issue arc, it’s a real relief to tell a one-off tale afterwards. But on the other hand it’s great to really develop a character over time.
With Ghost Rider, your first place writing the character (unless I’m mistaken) was the Shadowland: Ghost Rider one-shot. How did the initial gig come about, and how did you land the ongoing gig after that?
RW: I’d written a couple of things for Marvel editor Steve Wacker prior to Shadowland: Ghost Rider – a Spider-Man oneshot and an issue of the One Month To Live mini-series – and he asked me to pitch for the issue. I got the job and was paired with Clayton Crain, who really does draw a killer Ghost Rider. I guess the issue must have gone down fairly well with Marvel editorial as Steve then asked me to pitch for a potential Ghost Rider ongoing.
The first thing you did to Ghost Rider is make him a her. What spawned that idea, to take the character in an entirely new direction as opposed to telling more Johnny Blaze stories?
RW: It wasn’t a desire to move away from Johnny Blaze. I love writing Johnny. The guy’s got a great voice. It was more the thought of ‘OK, new series. We’ve had a Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, we’ve had a Danny Ketch Ghost Rider, how can we do something a little different to make this series stand out?’ Also, the Ghost Rider has such a convoluted character history. We wanted this to be a fresh, accessible start. And I thought a female Ghost Rider would be a fun visual hook.
In writing Ghost Rider, the voices you have to assume in writing both Johnny Blaze and Alejandra are 100% fundamentally different from one another, with Blaze being about ten times more sassy than Alejandra. Is it difficult at all to switch between the characters when writing?
RW: It is, a little. You want to define a protagonist as being in charge, driving the action. A ‘sassy’ voice really lends itself to that. And Johnny really has that. With Alejandra, she’s more challenging to write. She’s a teenager who’s been locked away in a jungle temple her entire life in order to become a warrior against sin. I have to pull myself back from giving her the wiseass dialogue that’s fun to write as it would be making her voice too much like Johnny. Alejandra’s a blank slate in so many ways. She’s only now seeing the world for the first time, and she has a huge amount of anger bubbling under the surface. That’s interesting and challenging to write. Johnny’s acerbic and jaded and sarcastic – which is far more like me. But you always want to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. You’d be a poor writer if all your characters sounded the same.
With Daken, you’re taking over writing the ongoing of a character that was almost exclusively written by Daniel Way over the course of three titles. How did the transition come about that you’re now in charge of the Daken ship? Are you excited to be working with the character now?
RW: Very excited. I’m enjoying writing Daken an awful lot. I think I ‘get’ him in a lot of weird ways, which is a little strange considering he’s a psychotic killer and manipulator. Also, having him head off to Los Angeles for what is effectively a crime fiction book within the Marvel Universe feels like I can kind of do what I want with him without the X-Men or the Avengers intervening. That was the statement of my initial issue ‘Gone’. Get him away from Wolverine. Define himself as an individual. The child leaving home, as it were.
I’m not entirely sure how the job came about, to be honest. I wrote a What If? one-shot called Wolverine: Father which asked ‘what would have happened if Logan had raised Daken?’ A while later Marvel asked if I’d maybe be interested in co-writing Daken. Then a few days later they said things had changed and would I be interested in taking the book on as the sole writer.
At the MC offices, our absolute unquestioned favorite thing you’ve done with Daken so far is how you’ve drugged him up, caused him to trip with help from Riley Rossmo, and had him duke it out with Taskmaster in said state of tripping. So tell us – where did the idea for all this come from?Continued below
RW: Thanks. It’s been a fun storytelling technique, to use a different artist to show a different perspective, and Riley’s pages have been terrific. To be honest it was born from necessity. An artist who was originally going to be drawing Daken could only do 15 pages and so I suggested maybe giving Daken a different visual perspective for the other pages of the issue. Instead of hiring another similar-style artist to do the other pages, exploit the visual split, and some kind of trippy visuals seemed the perfect fit. I think I was working on a Judge Dredd with Brendan McCarthy (“The Waking Dredd” if you can track it down) at the time, and Brendan’s the king of that kind of psychadelic art style. Sometimes really good ideas come out of being pushed into a corner. Funnily enough, the artist who could only do 15 pages then didn’t do the book, and by then we’d already established the effect of the HEAT drug. I think it’s worked really well.
So far you’ve had access to a lot of fan favorite characters in your run, with Taskmaster, Moon Knight and soon the Runaways all making an appearance. How do you choose who gets a guest spot in the title (happy accident, or something bigger at play)?
RW: Taskmaster was purely wanting a Marvel universe mercenary who’d be fun to pit up against Daken. Someone dangerous enough to be threat to him and create some genuine drama. Moon Knight and the Runaways both came out of the location – both being based in L.A. Plus I was a big fan of Brian K Vaughan’s run on those characters, so it’s a thrill to write them. But then you start looking for themeatic similarities between the characters, giving them a connection to Daken. Moon Knight’s mentally ill, as is Daken, and one of Moon Knight’s voices is Wolverine, which gave us a fun means of confronting some of Daken’s daddy issues without having Logan actually be there. The Runaways are the children of super powerful beings, now trying to make their own way in the world. There’s a connection there with Daken.
Given how different your two ongoing books are, do you have any special tricks that you use to switch between writing one title from the other?
RW: Nothing overt. I guess I feel I’m writing Daken with a little more of an ‘adult’ edge – making it as close to being a Max book as we can get away with without it actually being Max. Ghost Rider’s still pretty adult in its themes of sin and redemption, sure, but it’s more heightened and, I feel, much more a mainstream Marvel Universe book. It allows more avenues for widescreen, ‘big budget’ spectacle. In Ghost Rider #4 we’ve got a big crazy space battle. Daken’s more street level. It’d be a cheaper show to put on.
How far down the line do you have planned for both titles? Do you enjoy writing one more than the other?
RW: Not especially. I’m really enjoying writing both. They feel like flexing different muscles and I’m very excited about both titles going forward. We’re planning out Daken into the mid-twenties at the moment. Ghost Rider has something very exciting that hasn’t been announced yet coming up too. So, we’ve got a timeline laid out. I’m very enthusiastic about detailing Alejandra’s character arc. She’s got a definite journey which, if I play it right, could be pretty powerful, I think.
You’ve actually ended up writing a lot of different characters, both old and new, over the course of your Marvel career. Are there any characters in the Marvel U you’re still itching to write?
RW: Always. The great thing about playing in the Marvel universe is I’m a lifelong fan of these characters. Any time I get to write one, even if it’s onoly for a couple of lines, it’s a thrill. I put Steve Rogers in Skaar: King Of The Savage Land for a page or so, and that was just me geeking out over writing Captain America. I’ve not written Daredevil yet. I’m such a fan of the Miller run that that’s an itch I’d like to scratch at some point, I guess. Silver Surfer would be fun purely from a cosmic bonkers point of view. I love Spidey though. Some kind of run on Spidey would probably be my ultimate Marvel gig.Continued below
If I were to go to a casino and place bets on you writing a Captain Britain/MI-13/Excalibur book/story/adventure in the future at some point in time, what do you think my odds would be? Is that even something you’d like to do? (Given the Iron Age: Captain Britain story, I’d guess it’s a maybe)
RW: It’s a definite big yes. I’d love to. I’m not sure though, the market being how it is, that a Cap Britain series is commercially viable right now. Paul Cornell’s MI13 got great critical feedback and was a book I loved, but it still got cancelled at something like issue 13. But I’m a huge fan of Cap as a character. The Alan Moore/Alan Davis run is one of my favourite comics and if Marvel were to offer me anything Captain Britain I’d bite their hands off. So, we’ll see. But no plans right now.
What else can we expect from the world of Rob Williams in the future? Anything you can tease for us? More creator-owned work, perhaps?
RW: I’ve got creator-owned plans for the future, but right now my Marvel exclusive’s keeping me busy and I’m very much enjoying the work. Ghost Rider & Daken are ongoing, Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force #3 concludes on Sept 21st, with great art by Simone Bianchi. I have a Spidey oneshot being drawn right now that’s on the way. I’m still working for 2000AD in the UK. Low Life: The Deal, a new 12-part story with art by the brilliant D’israeli, has just started there with 2000AD #1750. The follow up to The Grievous Journey Of Ichabod Azreal (And The Dead Left In His Wake) – a supernatural western by myself and Dom Reardon – is on its way. And Terminator/Robocop: Kill Human issues 3 & 4, with art by PJ Holden, are out in the next couple of months.