Bill Willingham: You’re welcome. I’m happy to do the interview. I was absolutely tickled to be able to do the story.
David: I’ve been touting that this Legends story is your return to drawing comics. What (and when) was the last comic you drew before this Legends of the Guard story?
Bill: I think I did a small two-page story for one of the Hero Initiative fundraising books a few years back. Before that, it was the two issues I did of my own DC series Shadowpact, when I foolishly thought I’d have time to both write and draw the series, without surrendering any of my other work – like Fables, for instance.
David: Why had you taken a break from the art side of storytelling?
Bill: More of a breakdown than a break. No, wait. That’s too glib and also makes it look like I had a breakdown. Scratch that. I only meant to imply that something in the artist side of me broke at some point. As near as I can piece it together, the pathology went something like this: 1) I started as an artist only. 2) Strong opinions about the overall quality of the scripts I was given, along with a recognition of how much effort goes into producing page after page of art, led me, pretty quickly in the game, to start writing my own stories, under the notion that I can write as well as some and would have the advantage of producing scripts the artist part of me will want to draw. 3) Gradually I wrote more and drew less. 4) Eventually I settled into the realization that I could tell more stories as a writer than as an artist, or by doing both. I never entirely gave up the art side. I’m about to publish a book of what I've been drawing all along, mostly of false-starts on longer works. I suspect I could still draw a monthly book, as long as that is all I do. However, one drawn book a month isn't enough for me. That would preclude too many other story projects.
David: Last spring, you brought a group of comic storytellers together (including myself and the Mice Templar folks) for Fabletown and Beyond under the banner of us all being "Mythic Fiction". Can you explain how you see that category of story and why it’s important?
Bill: Mythic Fiction is our first heroic storytelling genre. It’s Beowulf and Gilgamesh and The Iliad, and so much more. Superheroes, if anything, are a subset of that genre – one that is currently having a bit of trouble keeping in touch with the wondrous aspect of the form, but I’m confident they’ll find their way again. I can’t say for certain why Mythic Fiction is important in the grand scheme, but it’s vital for me, because most of what I want to say lies within its magical boundaries.
David: For your Legends of the Guard story you have a mouse outwitting a cat to save his own life. Where did the seed of this story come from?
Bill: In our current pop fiction, most professional warriors are portrayed as dimwitted thugs, whereas the opposite is true. The best soldiers have always had to be smart. I liked the idea of an old retired campaigner who no longer had his strength and martial skill, but still had his wits about him.
David: When you start a story that you are going to both write and draw, do you start with any visuals? or does the writer cap get donned first for an outline or script?
Bill: Both. Depends on the story. In this case, I wrote it first and drew it following the script. In other cases it’s a more organic thing, creating art and story as I go.
David: From veteran writer/artist Sergio Aragonés to me when I was starting out on a writer/artist path: Never allow the artist side of you to bully the writer side of you into writing something easy to draw. And never let the writer in you bully the artist to draw something that doesn’t work visually. Do you ever wrestle with the two roles when writing and drawing the same project? Or do you work in harmony with yourself?
Bill: I constantly wrestle with the two halves of the Jekyll and Hide artist/writer relationship. And I think that’s the only way to do it. If both sides are in harmony, I would immediately think that both sides are taking it easy.
David: For the artwork how do you start? With thumbnails or straight to the final paper surface?
Bill: Straight to the final page. Any joy I find in my own art comes from the spontaneity of the drawing. Start with thumbnails or layouts, or what-have-you, and that spontaneity gets leached out along the way. If I have the script and am doing my own lettering, I also letter each panel first, before a single line is placed on the page, to establish the real space I have in which to draw.
David: What are your preferred tools for drawing and inking?
Bill: I use a standard lead holder with a # 2 lead (although that can change, depending on the surface of the paper). Then I ink with Black Magic ink applied with a Windsor Newton # 2 brush. Can’t ink with a pen to save my life.
David: What artists influenced your work as you developed as both an artist and writer? Do you still look to certain artists for visual inspiration today? or certain writers for inspiration?
Bill: All of them. Anyone who caught my eye. The greatest influences art-wise today can be found in the classic age of magazine illustration (now sadly passed). Writers are the same. Anyone and everyone who writes well inspires me.
David: Bill, Thank you again for the story. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Bill: You can find my main project, Fables, at any comic shop. We've been doing it for eleven years now and about 140 issues. By the time this is posted, Telltale Games will have also released the first of its many video games based upon Fables, called The Wolf Among Us. We keep the Fables books in print, in about 20 collections, and most shops are good at keeping those in stock. To find out more about me, I sort of have a website that I sort of keep up to date. I think it’s at BillWillingham.com. I also tweet via @BillWillingham.
Bill's Story The Vetran will appear in Legends of the Guard
volume 2 # 4 along with stories by Jackson Sze & Justin Gerard