A Little Chat With The Man who Might Now be Guiding Judge Dredd Into the Future, Writer Rob Williams.
Rob has been a unique voice for 2000AD in recent years especially in regard to our favourite Judge. His success for writing for the likes of Marvel occasionally does not seem to alter his passion for 2000AD at all……and long may it continue I say.
Paul: Can I start by just ask how your relationship with comics started? What were the first comic you remember reading and enjoying? Were there any comics that inspired you to write, and do you still have them?
Rob: I'm hazy on what my first comic was. It may have been a DC All-Star comic with the Justice League that I do still have, but the cover died a long time ago. It might have been a Justice League with Adam Strange. Or a Commando Book. I remember loving 'O for Orange' about a Wellington Bomber, if I remember right. I don't know any of them inspired me to write per se. I just loved reading comics. Had Whizzer & Chips, Roy of the Rovers weekly. and then eventually 2000AD. My order for that started in '83. I think the comic that probably inspired me more than any other in that period was the Daredevils monthly from Marvel UK, which ran Moore & Davis' Captain Britain and Frank Miller's Daredevil in B&W. That was a sophistication upgrade for me at the time. It hit the sweet spot.
Paul: Can you say which writers inspired you most? Not necessarily from comics but also novelists or screenwriters?
Rob: In early years I guess it was definitely Alan Moore and Frank Miller, which is rather obvious an answer for someone growing up reading comics in the 80s. Since then, too many to think of, but just some random names in no specific order: John Wagner, David Chase, Damon Lindelof, Daniel Woodrell, Garth Ennis, David Milch, Garry Shandling. I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot.
Paul: That is certainly a fine list of writers. How did you first meet your Tharg? How did your relationship with 2000AD begin?
Rob: I wrote one Future Shock pitch that David Bishop - then Tharg - wrote back, pre-internet, saying "congratulations. You have pitched the most unoriginal Future Shock we have ever received at 2000AD." That was so acid tongued it made me laugh. I think I pitched two Time Twisters to Andy Diggle when he was editor. Both rejected. My first published comic was Cla$$war via ComX. A few comic people went for a drink in London one evening and Andy Diggle was there. he'd read Cla$$war and said I should pitch to 2000AD. I did, and it was accepted, then Diggle quit. Fortunately for me, Matt Smith came on and was still happy to publish the script that Diggle had invited. So, really, my first editing by Tharg was Matt Smith.
Paul: Is there a story you are especially proud of for 2000AD?
Rob: If I had to choose one it's probably Low Life: The Deal. There's a bunch of things I love though. The first proper Sensitive Klegg with Chris Weston. 'Closet' is a very good one-off Dredd. The Small House came together very well in terms of plotting.
Paul: You've done some terrific work with Chris Weston. it must be very satisfying to work with an artist of such quality.
Rob: It’s a treat to work with Chris. And with artists like D’israeli and Henry Flint and Laurence Campbell and any number of the world class artists I’m fortunate enough to collaborate with. A great artist makes your script a hundred times better in all sorts of ways. If I’ve learnt anything in around 20 years of working in comics, your end product is only as good as your collaborators. You can write the best script you’ve ever written, and an unskilled artist will murder it for the reader. Similarly, you can write what you think is a good script and an artist can make it great. It’s a visual medium.
Paul: After twenty years are there any genres of comics, you're keen to work in but haven't had the opportunity yet? Like a full on western? or something historical? Perhaps your take on the classic heist storylines?
Rob: Not really. I don't have a genre box I fancy ticking. It's more 'is this a story that excites me?' and then 'can I sell that to a publisher/production company?' As some genres are tougher sells than others
Paul: Do I get the impression there are perhaps some passion projects in the works that you just need a publishing home?
Rob: I don't know about passion projects. It's just a fact of the market that some genres are very hard to sell. In comics people want a 'genre' hook - superpowers, aliens, ghosts, campfires etc. If you come in with a straight war story, unless you're Garth Ennis, no one's publishing that. Ditto for straight western or straight crime fiction. Comics is quite a frustrating place sometimes.
Paul: How is it that you found your way into the American market. Was it an opportunity you sought out or was it the other way around?
Rob: Bit of both. Mainly me pushing for it inasmuch as going to conventions, talking to US editors. Asking how I could pitch. But then they have to be open to it. Cla$$war meant that DC and Marvel wanted me to pitch, but being honest, I wasn't ready and didn't know what I was doing at that stage, and my pitches weren't good enough. It's that Steve Martin piece of advice about how to succeed at showbusiness: "hone your craft so you get so good they have to hire you." People understandably push for the opening before they're skilled enough to do the job. And, that said, even when you are skilled enough to do the job, sometimes you're seen as 'hot' by the Americans and sometimes 'not.' It's pretty random. I've been in and out of both Marvel and DC over the years, yet I'm the same writer, pretty much. They want the hot young shiny thing though, always.
Paul: As a writer do you have to get into a different "gear" writing a 22- or 24-page story as opposed to a six page serialised story?
Rob: Yes, but it's just a case of knowing structure, I think. If it's 6-page episodes, a three-act structure means 2 pages each act, end on a cliffhanger. If it's a 20-page issue, I tend to break it into four acts, 5 pages each act and end on a cliffhanger. You condense a lot more in 2000AD.
Paul: So, your work in America and habits have obviously been influenced by working with 2000AD, would that be fair to say? Writing that tightly isn't always what the American market demands is it? Can you compare the two at all a little more?
Rob: I don't know if it's been influenced by working with 2000AD. It's more that I had done a lot of work for 2000AD before really working for the American market. I think I have a tendency to try and cram a lot of comic into a US 20 pager, because you REALLY cram a lot of comic into 6 pages with 2000AD. I wrote a plot breakdown for Mike Mignola recently and Mike's probably the best pacer of comics, maybe of all time. He came back with "well, if you think you can do all this in 22 pages..." Clearly, he felt I was fitting too much in. And that's something that's come out of my working in the condensed 2000AD fashion for the past two decades. Hellboy, for example, breathes a lot more in his issues. Sometimes I think that 2000AD level of story density is a good thing - you're getting your money's worth of story - but sometimes, yes, letting the atmosphere and the visuals breathe a bit more is a very good thing.
Paul: That is a great answer. Thank you. Sticking with 2000AD, are there any characters you'd have liked to have a crack at? Have there been pitches that haven't quite made it over the proverbial finishing line?
Rob: Not really any huge urge to write other 2000AD characters. I enjoyed writing a one-off Strontium Dog but that was with the knowledge that it was absolutely a one off for a Christmas Special. I'd do the same with ABC Warriors, but Pat Mills is clear about other writers not touching his characters. Fair enough. I'm happier really writing my own characters I think, unless it's something that has a big childhood pull for me like Dredd or a Superman or characters like that.
Paul: I'd be interested on your perspective on one new part of the industry. You've worked in the U.S. and the U.K, do you have a perspective on digital comics and how they are sold. Does it alter your writing at all, or for that matter how you personally read comics?
Rob: Perfectly fair question that I don't really have a strong opinion on.
Paul: Fair enough. Can I leave the interview with a final question please? What does the future hold for Rob Williams?
Rob: What the future holds? Absolutely no idea. I have more Dredd and Hershey on the way. I'm talking to Dark Horse about more Hellboy-universe stories and there's some TV scripts being worked on. We'll see if they come to anything. Cheers.
Paul: Thank you for your time, Rob.