Pat Shand Interviews Bill Williams
Writer of the Eddie Hope backups in ANGEL
and SPIKE: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
BUFFYVERSE COMIC REVIEWS: For starters, how did you get into writing comics?
BILL WILLIAMS: I backed into writing comics and from there stumbled into writing prose. I have an art degree from the University of Texas and I’m a cartoonist by training. When I was trying to break in as an inker, I needed pages to work on, so I wrote a story and hired a penciler and before you knew it I was making pages and the pages became actual comics. In my college writing courses, I scored pretty well and even had a teacher tell me that I should write for a local paper after reading a movie review I had churned out in class. Since then, I’ve written a novel, a few dozen short stories, a few spec screenplays and fifty plus comics. There are more stories on my plate than I can finish at the moment and a few pitches floating around in some editorial offices.
At this point in my career, I’m more of a crime writer and a fan of the superheroes and the creatures in the supernature. Writing stories about devils looking for revenge and a charming vampire out to remind the world how awesome he is fits me pretty well. I currently split my time between writing and drawing, but more on that later.
BCR: You’re the first writer to tackle a SPIKE series since Brian Lynch essentially redefined the character with his SPIKE trilogy, “After the Fall,” and his upcoming ongoing series. What did you draw from to add your own spin on this fan favorite character?
WILLIAMS: First off, I love Spike. I think the best of the episodes from Angel Season Five starred Spike. I really drew on the early Buffy seasons and the last season of Angel for my tone for Spike. He’s a full fledged hero now and he’s totally engaged with the waking world. Spike seems to enjoy every moment in life. Even when Dru leaves him he feels it, but without all of the pouting.
Spike strikes me as the character that’s always having fun and I wanted the mini-series to reflect that. Comics are too grim and dour. I wanted to find a way to capture a charm and drive of Spike. Playing him off of Eddie worked pretty well because Eddie’s a pretty decent straight man.
In terms of mythology, when the series starts Spike is a character at the cross roads. He’s been told that Angel has dibs on the Shanshu Prophecy and he is shut out. Spike needs to find a new way to live when he meets Andrea in a bar. Since Spike is a hero, she‘s trying to kill him and steal a charm from him, but it sets him more along his true path. So many vampire stories are about family and Spike’s family tree shakes out a real villain.
Spike: The Devil You Know #4
Cover art by Franco Urru
BCR: There are so many aspects of Spike that fans fell in love with. So many people are passionate about the character for different reasons. What about Spike did you want to portray in THE DEVIL YOU KNOW?
WILLIAMS: In a lot of the stories I drew from, Spike had been reduced to a punch line. He was Illyria’s tackling dummy. Spike was the runner up in the Shanshu Contest. That was totally disconnected from the Spike I loved in his early appearances and I wanted to get back to that version of the character. In The Devil You Know, Spike’s competent and fun and charming.
The pitch I sent in to Mariah was detailed enough to give a good road map for ther story, but loose enough to improvise as I was banging out the pages. I think I wrote the first draft of the thing in two weeks. There was a wait and then the rewrites and the search for the art team and we struck gold with ChrisCross and Marc Deering.
BCR: The Buffyverse is my favorite fictional universe, easily. However, even I have to admit that the mythology sometimes suffers when a writer has a good idea. Angel’s facial hair situation seemed to change from “yeah, vampires can grow mustaches, because look how badass he looks” to “what? Vampires? Facial hair? Pshaw.” However, you seem to be making an effort to make the mythology a bit stronger by tying TDYK into the early Buffy episodes by having the Order of Aurelius show up. What about the Order interested you?
WILLIAMS: The World of Buffy plays by a set of rules and I like that about it. For the two series, they created new mythologies out of whole cloth. If they needed a demon casino, BANG there it was and it was never seen again. Same for a special school for Gwen. Here and gone. In most comics we tend to do endless navel gazing and end up choking on continuity. I wanted to bring an awareness of what has come before to the Spike mini-series and if anything, tie Spike into that larger world a little better.
I was struck that the Order seemed to die with The Master. It seemed that he was an order of one and that’s not much of an order. So I created the villain Tansy Fry as a kind of protégé to the Master who had predated Darla as the apple of the old monster’s eye. The nice thing about a character like The Master is that there are long deep pockets of his personal history that can be explored. I see that the Buffy comics are going to be doing a bit of that.
An early idea that I rejected in the writing process was to have a few distant surviving members of The Order arrive in Los Angeles looking for Spike. These badass vampires find Spike and immediately start bowing to him. They ask him to be the new head of the Order. But that approach lacked the conflict and tension that Tansy brought to the story. I wanted to write something bigger than a one joke story.
BCR: Coincidentally, The Master has just showed up in the BUFFY comic. It seems as if the comics are sort of making a return to the roots of the TV series. How do you think writing an ANGEL or SPIKE comic is different than writing an episode of the series?
WILLIAMS: The comic writing process is miles away from the television writing process. I’m based in Austin and I work with people all around the globe with the editor functioning as the coordinator for the stories. Most comic stories have one author. In the television model, the writers are in the same room and there is better collaboration and stories that get off topic can be nipped early on. Recently, I was brought in to by an independent production company to rewrite their pilot for a new one hour drama. I kept half of the original pilot and totally rewrote the back half of the project. That would never happen in comics.
More television writers are now writing comics, so they’re picking up our bad habits. The Master is an interesting plot device. He’s the pater familias of the Order and at the trunk of the family tree that includes Darla, Angelus, Dru and Spike and many others.
BCR: Tell us a bit about the process of developing the Eddie Hope character.
WILLIAMS: When Mariah hired Willingham to write Angel, he wrote a document that detailed where the series would go. It was not exactly a pitch document, because he already had the job. He pulled me into the project and set aside four pages a month for my little Eddie stories. I’m grateful for the work and the time in front of the audience. But Eddie was born as a single paragraph in that original document.
At our annual Clockwork writing retreat I wrote and emailed to Willingham my first Eddie story. He told me that I was missing the point and that the original script did not illustrate the premise. So, I told him that I could just have Eddie walk into a bar and kill someone. He said go with that. So the first story became the second story and I was off and writing.
For the sixth script, I had started Eddie off in a fight club story. Behind the bars in Whedon’s LA, there was always a demon fist fight going on and I wondered what would happen if someone organized that and made it a pay per view contest complete with wagering. So Eddie was in the middle of that and it was a story about Eddie taking a beating, a real hard loss. I turned in the first chapter of that story and thought about it a bit more. Then I contacted Mariah and told her that I wanted to get a do over and that I thought it would be more interesting to have him slam into Gunn and through him get into a fight with Team Angel.
I got the emotional handle on Eddie when I had a woman from his past track him down to ask him why he had not come home after LA left Hell. Answering that question gave me more insight into Eddie’s head.
By the time all is said and done, I think I wrote twenty Eddie stories and a dozen will see the light of day. I may rework and reuse elements of some of the stories that never left my hard drive.
Angel #38 Variant Cover
Art by David Messina
BCR: With Eddie Hope’s story rushing toward its climax, fans have been wondering if the character is going to get closure or not. Without spoiling, any thoughts?
WILLIAMS: If you do not close a story, you’re writing a soap opera. The best stories have ends. The artistic value of stories falls if the story never ends. The Wire ends. The Watchmen ends.
Writing an ending is tricky. It’s the hardest part of the process. I compare the ending to the dismount in a gymnastic routine. You have to stick the ending if you want a story to sing. The movie Michael Clayton has a bit of unnecessary non-linear storytelling, but it mostly works. It’s popular to hammer on Clooney, but he’s pretty good in that movie and it could go either way. But then within the last few moments, he delivers a total verbal smack down to someone who has it coming. That final dramatic scene saves that movie. As you can see I think they have to end. The thing is that the next morning, the next story starts.
Eddie gets a decent send off. It ends the way I always saw the story ending, just too soon.
BCR: It’d been said that you were months ahead on the Eddie scripts. Was there anything you wanted to do with the characters that fans won’t get to see?
WILLIAMS: In the spring this year, I finished writing my Eddie stories so that I could free up my schedule enough to finish writing a detective novel. Given the option, I wrote a year’s worth. I love the character and the world around him. At Mariah’s instruction, I had written the Eddie stories through issue #44. My run’s a lot shorter than that now. My last issue is #39 and it was written after all of the changes had shaken out. Originally, there was the story about the woman from his past. I wrote a long hallucination that Eddie endured as he recovered from a beating. There was a three part stranger in town story where Eddie realizes that the locals are corrupt as they are giving him a beating. And finally, I wrote a killer two-part story about Kate and Eddie killing demons in a police substation.
I wanted to do more with Kate the cop. In the Angel television series, she had originally been fired from the police force for being obsessed with the creatures in the supernature. Then LA went to Hell and proved her points. I figured that she could give the mother of all I Told You So’s to the department, but she would have too much class for that. In the back of my head, my plan was to make her the liaison between Angel Investigations and the regular authorities in LA. Of course at the time, I had assumed that I would have a long run on the characters with Willingham.
I don't want to say too much about what else we had planned, because I don't know how much of the original blueprint the new writing team will use.
Angel #37 Variant Cover
Art by David Messina
BCR: You touched on Gunn’s emotional state, which has sort of been pushed to the side in the main storyline since #23. Where do you think Gunn’s head is at, and do you think his experience with Eddie Hope has changed him as a character?
WILLIAMS: There has to be a way to reconcile Gunn’s acts in hell with his current life and his survival. In the Buffyverse, the bad guys get punished just like in any morality play. Gunn lives. I have the feeling that it will be something with satisfying conclusion at the hands of the new writing crew coming onboard with Season Nine.
BCR: Is Eddie only after people who committed atrocities in Hell? He seems almost Rorschach-esque in his black and white morality, but then he works side by side with Spike, a known murderer. Why is he okay with Spike being alive but so opposed to Gunn (who wasn’t in control of his actions) living to see another day?
WILLIAMS: Eddie’s not a big objectivist. He’s more pragmatic than that. Assuming that we all want to change the world for the better, most of us fumble around for the best place to start. When Los Angeles went to hell, Eddie got up close and personal with truly evil people as a part of his devilish transformation. He knows the people that went through the process with him. Now that he’s out and about and a devil, he is pretty sure that one of the quickest ways to fix the world is to remove those people from it. In hindsight, he might have just left Gunn off of his list the way you might forget where you put your car keys.
As to Spike, one of the things that troubles me about the Buffyverse is the perfect relay of information. Everybody knows everything. Everyone knows that Angel and Spike are official heroes. If you look out your window, you see our modern society is polarized. People are said to have their own facts. That makes Eddie something of a skeptic. Eddie might come after Spike under different circumstances.
But if you reread the first issue, Eddie is ambivalent to Spike’s suffering as our beloved vampire hero is fighting the bodybuilder vampires. At this point, Eddie considers vampires evil because they eat people. At the least, they are the kind of predator that you should keep an eye on. Later, Eddie halfheartedly considers staking Spike. I think that they are both waiting to see what the other guy proves to be.
BCR: You worked with Willingham on the main ANGEL title for a year, and got a chance to pen your own SPIKE tale. Not many men can say the same. How would you sum up your experience working with IDW on such a landmark title?
WILLIAMS: I worked with Willingham before when I published his Pantheon mini-series through my little company back in the day. He’s a lot of fun to sit and have a story session with. Trust me, you’d better bring your ‘A Game’ because he’s sharp. The insight on the introductory script was a revelation for me.
The people at IDW have been nothing but nice with me. Chris Ryall and Mariah Huehner and Alonzo Simon have done their best to make this a smooth process and I’d love the opportunity to work with them again.
BCR: Now that you’ve worked on ANGEL, where can the folks who loved “Devil You Know” and the Eddie Hope stories find more of your writing?
WILLIAMS: It made sense to launch a website showcasing all of the stuff I’m doing for other publishers. So, last month I launched www.billwilliamsfreelance.com which has a load of fun stuff in addition to the shameless self-promotional plugs that the internet is famous for. Any of the pitches I manage to get greenlit will have an announcement on that page when the time is right.
Mystery fans might want to go download a trio of short detective stories at WOWIO. You’ll need a pdf reader, but I posted a free short story collection called Young & Foolish that is set in my hometown of Austin, Texas. http://www.wowio.com/users/product.asp?BookId=6702
And webcomics fans might want to go check out my weekly webcomic about Super-Powered female body guards. It’s called SideChicks and there is a hundred and fifty pages of free content parked at Graphic Smash. http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/sidechicks.php I’d like to put the webcomic out more often, but the inking and coloring on top of the freelance writing keeps me busy.
Sidechicks- a webcomic written by Bill Williams
This image is also inked and colored by Williams
BCR: Were you a big ANGEL fan before working on the book?
WILLIAMS: To be honest, I never caught the wave when it first hit. But the Angel television series was in syndication here in Austin and it was on late at night when I was working on freelance stuff. It ran after something I was already watching so more than once, I looked up and caught the show. Slowly but surely, I got hooked on the mystery/ detective angle and watched the syndicated run through to the end of the last season. When I got the chance I picked up the whole series on DVD. I’d gone through the first season on DVD when Willingham called and gave me the good news that we were the new team on the Angel comic from IDW.
So I went through the next four seasons and put together a document that I called my Angel Bible so that when it came time to ground stories in that world, I had a road map. After doing the cross-referencing with the wikipedia pages, I was ready.
And of course, I read Brian Lynch’s Angel series from the relaunch. When Willingham asked me what was going on with that series, I was able to boil it down for him.
BCR: What do you think it is about ANGEL that makes fans so passionate?
WILLIAMS: Angel is a classic character in that he was caught in a star-crossed romance. Time had its way with Buffy and Angel, and they failed as a couple. I think Angel has a lot of charm because in many ways he is a very modern and a very adult take on the classic romantic hero.
Thanks a lot, Bill!
Readers, make sure to pick up SPIKE: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW #4! It's out in comic shops today. I just finished reading it, and it was a solid end to a cool Spike adventure.
Print and some video interviews with David Messina, Jenny Frison, Mariah Huehner, David Tischman, Brian Lynch, Stephen Mooney, and more coming soon!