Bill Willingham has been writing, and sometimes drawing, comics for more than twenty years. During that time he’s had work published by nearly every comics publisher in the business and he’s created many critically acclaimed comic book series, including Elementals, Coventry, PROPOSITION PLAYER, DAY OF VENGEANCE, SHADOWPACT, JACK OF FABLES and the Eisner Award-winning Vertigo series, FABLES. Additionally, his work has been nominated for a number of other awards including the Harvey and Ignatz comic industry awards as well as the Hugo and International Horror Guild awards.
Bill also worked as an artist in the RPG industry. He was the cover artist for the AD&D Player Character Record Sheets, Against the Giants, Secret of Bone Hill, the Gamma World book Legion of Gold, and provided the back cover for In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. He was an interior artist on White Plume Mountain, Slave Pits of the Undercity, Ghost Tower of Inverness, Secret of the Slavers Stockade, Secret of Bone Hill, Palace of the Silver Princess, Isle of Dread, In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords, the original Fiend Folio, Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, Against the Giants, Queen of the Spiders, Realms of Horror, and the second and third editions of Top Secret.
Kerrie L. Hughes is a traditionally published anthologist and short story writer. She has worked with a large variety of projects and people across the publishing spectrum since 2005. You can visit her blog at http://geekgirlgoddess.wordpress.com.
The largest and fastest growing educational writing event for authors of speculative fiction has just gotten better with the announcement of the first-ever Gen Con Writer’s Symposium Comic Writing Track. Gen Con visitors will have the chance to learn the tricks of the comic writing trade from some of the best in the business, including Bill Willingham (Fables), Jim Zub (Wayward, Samurai Jack), Daryl Gregory (Legenderry: Green Hornet), and more! This year, the Symposium will take place from July 30th through August 2nd at the Indianapolis Convention Center, Indianapolis, Indiana as part of Gen Con. Registration is currently open (www.gencon.com).
For more information about the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con, including a list of featured speakers and a schedule of events, please visit www.genconwriters.com.
To promote the Gen Con Writers Symposium Comic Writing Track, Kerrie L. Hughes interviewed author and artist Bill Willingham (Fables, etc)
Kerrie L. Hughes: How did you get your start in the comics industry?
Bill Willingham: I’m glad you asked me that, Kerrie. It’s an interesting story. I was minding my own business when one day the Industry came calling. They broke into my home in the dead of night to steal my car and kill my dog. I set out to get my revenge, and tracked down the Industry one by one, leaving a trail of bodies, until the Industry was so decimated and demoralized they had no choice but to surrender to my will. Also, after all of the killing, there were plenty of openings.
A few more details: While in college, I did a lot of ads and such for local ad agencies, in Eugene, Oregon. I pretty much lied my way into those jobs. Copied things from local magazines with terrible art for ads and and did them up better. This is the portfolio I showed the agencies. One office mentioned that they only did fashion advertisements, so I told them I have a fashion portfolio I simply failed to bring with – promising to bring it in the next day. I went home and created one over night, after borrowing copies of Vogue and Cosmopolitan from female dorm members. I did posters for local bands, which led to getting an exclusive to do the publicity for a local band named Wheatfield.
Later I did the do-your-sketch-for-ten-dollars schtick in San Francisco.
After my term in the Army I worked at TSR Hobbies for a year as one of their staff artists, and then for another year, on a freelance basis. TSR Hobbies were the makers of Dungeons & Dragons among other things. That’s when I drew my first (sort of) comics work, by illustrating those Dungeons & Dragons adventure strips that were in the back of Marvel comics and EPIC Magazine.
Eventually, from there, I made the transition to drawing comics, which led to writing them.
KH: What advice would you give a new writer trying to break into the industry?
BW: The industry is as wide open as it’s ever been. There’s no need to break anything. However, though it’s easy to get into comics, doing the actual work is hard. If you can’t produce stories quickly and well, this may not be the vocation for you.
KH: Any advice on what not to do?
BW: Don’t be a dick. Make deadlines. Don’t take on jobs you aren’t able or willing to complete. Don’t pretend to be a military hero to pump up your résumé. Be careful who you take advice from. A story’s seldom strong enough to survive the mistakes of more than one person.
KH: What is the biggest change you’ve seen during your career as a writer?
BW: Everything has changed. When I started out, comics were still considered gutter literature, suited only for imbeciles. Now they’re both cool and respected. Technology has created the opportunity for anyone who wants to make comics to make comics. No one can be excluded. The gatekeepers are still there, but the gates they guard are no longer connected to fences. And there’s at least 13% fewer unexplained freak deaths in editors’ offices today than in previous years.
KH: What would you like to see change with the industry as it is now?
BW: Less whining. This is the golden age of comics. No one is not being given their fair shot. Your fair shot is entirely in your own hands, which I realize can be quite daunting to those who need permission to succeed.
KH: Not everyone knows that you are also an artist. What have you done in the past and what do you do now?
BW: I used to draw comics in the past. I seldom do so now, since I’ve gotten fairly slow at it. A more comprehensive list of what I’ve drawn can be found here: http://www.comicbookdb.com/creator.php?ID=364
KH: What is your favorite series that you have worked on so far and why?
BW: I have no idea how to answer that. I like spinning stories. Someday I hope to be good at it.
KH: I have several female friends who speak very highly of the Fables series. Why do you think the stories resonant with women?
BW: Because women are human beings and as such they need interesting stories, well told, just like anyone else. That seems like I’m bragging, which is an unseemly thing to do. I’m happy to have attracted a female readership, but I can’t begin to presume I know how it was done.
KH: Do you game? If yes please elaborate.
BW: I play poker, when time, opportunity and funds allow. In other gaming news, Gary Gygax once accused me (and my Army buddies) of playing more D&D than anyone else in human history, including him. Explaining that would take more room than is reasonable here. I don’t do that so much anymore. I play board games, but I’m too competitive for all but the most understanding friends. I’m a good loser, but a terrible winner.
KH: How many times have you been to Gen Con?
BW: I used to go every year, for nearly the first dozen years after Gen Con was moved out of Lake Geneva and then not for twenty years until last year.
KH: What do you love about Gen Con?
BW: Way back when it used to be the camaraderie of my fellow TSR colleagues, traditionally hanging out at the Safe House, a bar in Milwaukee. During the convention a secret game was played among us that was eventually banned by the upper office mucky-mucks. Beyond that? It’s hard to say. Love is such a strong word.
KH: What projects are you working on now?
BW: New stories in many mediums. Always new stories.
KH: What else would you like us to know about you?
BW: No one who’s read any of my stories has ever been killed in an asteroid strike, assassinated by ninjas, or infected by the undead. One would think this would translate into a higher readership – in the millions or more – just for safety’s sake.