Rob Williams on writing comic books, making bread, and writing Watchmen when he was 14
Rob Williams is a British comic book writer whose series ORDINARY has just launched from Titan Comics. His previous comic credits include Ghost Rider, Daken, Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Force, The Iron Age, Wolverine, Captain America and The Falcon, and Revolutionary War for Marvel, Adventures of Superman, Legends of The Dark Knight, Madame X for DC, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of The Gods, Star Wars Rebellion and Star Wars Tales for Dark Horse Comics, Low Life, The Ten-Seconders and The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azreal for 2000AD, Robocop, Robocop/Terminator and Miss Fury for Dynamite, Ghostbusters for IDW and Cla$$war for Com.X.
Girls Like Comics: What does your writing process look like?
Rob Williams: I’ve been doing this over a decade and that’s still hard to nail down. Usually it’s a semblance of break the hook and basics of the story (which usually comes from nailing down a theme, for me), pitch it, write a beatsheet, then write script. There’s all kinds of variables within that though.
Girls Like Comics: Are there any comics you wish you could have written?
Rob Williams: By other people? Of course. Too many. My writing Watchmen when I was about 14 possibly could have been a career-changer for me. In terms of tone, I’d have loved to have written Giffen and Dematteis’ Justice League International. That comedic approach to a dramatic superhero book. In recent years, things like Garth Ennis’ Fury Max and Jason Aaron’s Scalped. They’re both books with themes and a tonal approach that I love.
Girls Like Comics: What’s the worst thing about writing?
Rob Williams: The worst thing about writing is also the best thing about writing - the work. It’s a slog at times, it’s frustrating, you continually feel like you’ve gone up a blind alley and it’s not working and it needs fixing. You’re pretty miserable at times while doing it and a pain for your loved ones to live with. But I wouldn’t do anything other. Somehow you piece it all together and at the end, occasionally, you have created something you’re proud of and genuinely surprised that you came up with. I think the only time writers are truly happy is when they’ve just met a deadline and sent the script in. And then you get a brief period where you can switch off, before you start it all again the next day. Work is problem solving, and when you have problems you’re stressed.
Girls Like Comics: Do you write anything aside from comics - poetry, stories, etc?
Rob Williams: My background is in magazine journalism, and I still do bits of that occasionally. Writing features, interviewing people. I’m also currently co-writing a screenplay. It’s my first one. It’s interesting to try a different form after so long writing comics.
Girls Like Comics: If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?
Rob Williams: Writing is like anything else in life - it’s craft. The harder you work at something, the better you get at it.. Don’t believe the myth that talent is ethereal and you either have it or you don’t. You can learn to get better, pick up tricks and structures to make you better. Be a student and you can get where you want to go.
Girls Like Comics: What are you working on now? What is your next project?
Rob Williams: This week I’ve been writing the third and final series of The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azreal (And The Dead left In His Wake). It’s a supernatural western series for 2000AD. I’m writing Doctor Who next week. I’m one of the co-writers on the new ‘Eleventh’ Doctor series from Titan Comics. And I’m working up a couple of outlines and pitches for other things at the moment.
Girls Like Comics: Do you have anything ordinary that you’re especially good at? For example, I’m amazing at cleaning my bathroom. I think ordinary skills should be appreciated more.
Rob Williams: Please come to my house and clean my bathroom! I’m not sure what ordinary skills I have. Even Michael, in Ordinary, doesn’t have many great ordinary skills. My girlfriend says I make a good loaf of bread. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that.
Girls Like Comics: Do you write with particular issues in mind? Race, gender, sex and so on?
Rob Williams: I write with themes in mind. That’s usually where I find the core or spine of a story. Everything else then flows around that. I find theme is a tether for storytelling. If you don’t have that you’re trying to pluck ideas out of the ether. That can be inspiring but it’s also the way to madness. I don’t usually go in with particular issues in mind, although I have done. Cla$$war, my first published work, was plainly about the politics of the time. I wrote ‘Closet’ - a Judge Dredd story about a gay teenager trying to come to terms with his sexuality - because I thought that issue hadn’t been dealt with in Dredd’s future world and, you know, there would be homosexuality there. So, sometimes. But I don’t think you want to just be an ‘issues’ writer.
Girls Like Comics: What do you think is the best thing about being alive?
Rob Williams: Wow. All of it, I guess. Apart from the painful bits.
Girls Like Comics: What do you think is the best thing about working in comics?
Rob Williams: Too many things. Being creative for a living. Bringing stories to life, working with amazing collaborators who then put your characters and ideas on the page. The people. The fact that it’s not a humdrum job. I feel very fortunate to do this for a living.