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Home ¦ Features ¦ Rob Williams interview part 1

Rob Williams - A 2000 AD Review Interview
6th June 05
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2000 AD -  Rob Williams

Breathing Space

Interview by Gavin Hanly

Rob Williams has seemingly arrived out of nowhere to become one of 2000AD's top writers. With two successful series of Asylum, the superpowered mob drama Family and the extremely popular Low Life behind him, he's already proved himself to the 2000AD readership. Now, with the promising Breathing Space and Ten Seconders appearing later in the year, it seems as if Williams is on a roll. We caught up with him to find out more about all of the above, his pre-2000AD days and what we can expect from him in the future...

You've had a fairly smooth entry into comics writing, with your first ever script, Cla$$war, being accepted by ComX. How did you make the fledgling company take a chance on your ideas?

That was just a spot of lucky timing. Publishers just don’t read full scripts as submissions - you’ll be lucky if they read your one page pitch. I’d written Cla$$war 1 for myself, really, to see how I’d cope with a comic script. I was pretty happy with it and thought maybe I’d self-publish, but Com.X were at the Bristol con that year accepting scripts. I had a brief chat with Neil Googe and Eddie Deighton (of ComX), handed my script over and then heard nothing. A few months later Eddie rang out of the blue, said they loved it and were interested in publishing it. It sounds pretty straightforward but I was lucky Com.X were launching when they did. It was a way in for me.

You moved from feature writing to comics why the switch? And do you still do any magazine writing?

I’ve always loved comics and I just started to feel that maybe I could write them. I worked for a video production company for a few years directing corporate videos, which at least gave me the experience of writing with visuals in mind. I’ve been writing for a living now for around ten years, so trying to move into comics was just me attempting to do something I love. I still split my time between freelance journalism and freelance comics writing. I’ve got a semi-regular job as deputy editor of a specialist music magazine, I write freelance pieces here and there. The balance is healthy, I suppose. It means I spend half my time on journalism and half on comics and doesn’t let me get totally immersed in the world of either. Sometimes that feels like a good thing, sometimes I think it’s not and it hinders me somewhat.

How do your comic writing contemporaries react to your more or less instant success?

2000 AD -  Rob Williams
Cla$$war

I don’t know about instant success. Cla$$war had a good reputation but never really sold that many copies. It gave me an in to 2000AD, without a doubt, but I’d had pitches rejected by 2000AD prior to that by both David Bishop and Andy Diggle so it’s not as if I’ve never had my nose bloodied.

Bishop’s was particularly memorable - he sent me a letter saying something along the lines of ‘thanks for the immensely unoriginal pitch. We published almost the exact same story back in 1979’. He had even dug out the offending Future Shock, photocopied it and included it in the envelope. It may have been a bit of a brutal reply but, looking back, my pitch was shite, and at least his reply gave me a laugh.

I’ve had my fair share of comic pitch disappointments since, trust me. You pitch work, you get pitches turned down. Being a comic professional can be rough on the ego. As for the reaction of contemporaries, I wasn’t aware of anything that negative.

Cla$$war can be regarded as being highly critical of the current US
administration, as well as much of the American covert past. What was the
US reaction to Cla$$war when it came out given that it was release during a period when Americans seemed sensitive to any criticisms of their government?

Surprisingly, I hardly encountered any negativity to the book from Americans and it came out not long after 9/11. They seemed to like the book more than the Brits. I’m sure if you’re a fiercely conservative Republican you’d not find it your favourite read, but if you’re a fiercely conservative Republican you probably not going to buy a book called Cla$$war in the first place, so I guess it was preaching to the converted a wee bit. I read one online review that went along the lines of "who the fuck do these Brits think they are, telling us etc etc" but 98% of the reviews we received for Cla$$war were favourable. We were very lucky in that respect.

Is a trade collection of Cla$$war likely? And are you likely to continue the story?

Com.X always made it clear that they wanted to release the trade collection of issues 1-6. There’s no reason not to as the material is, I guess, just sitting there - and bear in mind that this contains some absolutely gorgeous artwork by Trev Hairsine, who’s now a big name with Marvel, so there should be a level of interest. Travel Foreman. who handled art on issues 4-6 has also gone onto Marvel, and then there’s poster art by Mick McMahon (which was a big thrill for me) and Ben Oliver, who’s now doing The Losers at Vertigo. So, it would be a beautiful looking collection. Still, I think we missed the boat a bit there. When Cla$$war came out initially there was a bit of a buzz surrounding it – that’s faded with time. A trade paperback would have done a lot better back when the book was current.

As for continuing the story - it was always meant to be 12 issues, and that’s not a dodgy George Lucas line. We’ll see. At the moment there’s no movement. I’d like to finish it but you have to wonder if the readers are going to be interested in what would really be an issue seven after all this time.

2000 AD -  Rob Williams
Cla$$war

Cla$$war looks like it's helped both you and Trevor Hairsine make the leap to working for American comics. It seemed that, for a while, ComX managed to have a much higher profile than 2000AD managed in the states. What do you think the reason for this was?

It was purely the American format and the attention we received from the U.S. comic press. I just think Com.X’s books talked to the American publishers in their own language - they looked and read like U.S. books so, hey, it’s not that big a leap for American editors to see us working in American books. When Wizard did a feature on us that helped too –half the time American editors seem too busy to read comics, so if they see Wizard making a fuss over someone they go ‘he must be good’. I spoke to one American editor straight after I appeared in Wizard who talked about giving me a very big U.S. book, which amazed me at the time as I was so new. I said to him: ‘so you liked Cla$$war?’ and he replied ‘I must be honest, I haven’t read it.’ Cla$$war was the only comic I’d had published at the time, so he’d never read anything by me. He’d just seen my name in Wizard, yet here he was talking to me about a huge gig. Needless to say his vague offer never came to anything.

Of course, in terms of the work, Ben Oliver, Neil Googe, Travel Foreman and Trev Hairsine were obviously serious talents, so the Americans wisely snapped them up. Trev’s work on Cla$$war 2 is probably the best stuff he’s ever done, so it wasn’t just about publicity. Com.X was a good showcase for getting talented creators into the American market. Coming from a design background the Com.X guys knew their artists, and they were very proactive on the publicity side of things – getting Wizard and Newsarama to heavily push Com.X titles, having a strong presence at the San Diego Comic Con. Things like that get you noticed in the U.S. market. It’s something that 2000AD should definitely do more of.

It’s amazing to me how few American editors pay any attention to 2000AD, considering the talent that’s come through the comic over the years. But the majority of U.S. editors just don’t get it – it’s weekly, each strip gets five pages a week – it may as well be published in German as far as a lot of them are concerned. I’m sure some follow it but I know for a fact a lot don’t.

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).