Creating A New Epic
JH Williams III is working on a new creator-owned series, Echolands, to be published by Image with his regular collaborator W Haden Blackman. The series kicks off in August and Blackman just spoke to Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows about the genesis and evolution of the series…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of the series?
HADEN BLACKMAN: Jim and I met many years ago at San Diego Comic Con. At the time, he was working on Promethea and I was writing Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. We kept in touch over the years and eventually Jim suggested we try to pull together a creator-owned concept. He had an image of Hope in his head that was our starting point, and the cast of characters and world evolved up around that.
TW: How closely did you work with your collaborator JH Williams III?
HB: Very closely. As on Batwoman, the process is very organic, with scripts getting bounced back and forth, lots of long brainstorming and discussion sessions to hammer out specifics, and then several polish passes.
TW: How does the division of labour in terms of the writing break down between yourself and Williams?
HB: It really depends on the issue. We have a fairly detailed outline for the series, which we produced together over several years of discussion and brainstorming, but we leave ourselves open to changing it if new and better ideas surface or the characters evolve in unexpected ways. For an individual issue, we usually start with some e-mail exchanges about the page count, how much we need to cover in the issue, and how much real estate we should devote to each scene. We then independently jot down any ideas we have for specific scenes. This phase can sometimes result in detailed scripts for specific scenes, but it is usually just ideas for layout, imagery, and specific lines of dialogue that can be become anchors for the final script. We then jump on the phone to discuss and debate the ideas, and flesh out any connective tissue or untouched scenes. I’m usually capturing all of that and then write up a true rough draft, which we pass back and forth to refine and edit. Jim will often add a lot of details and notes for himself, Todd and Dave, and I like to do a final pass on dialogue. Once we have a “final” script, I use that to update our world bible, which tries to capture everything we’ve created and established.
TW: What was it about Image that made it the perfect place to publish it?
HB: Image really embraced the concept — and not just the content, but also the fact that we want to deliver the title in a non-traditional “widescreen” format. They have been very supportive, giving us the time necessary to develop ECHOLANDS and produce each issue while advising us on the best ways to bring the comic to readers.
TW: How did veteran colourist Dave Stewart and master letterer Todd Klein come on board?
HB: We worked with Dave and Todd on Batwoman, and Jim and I both felt that we all made a very strong team. We knew that they would understand what were were trying to do with the series, and there’s already a short-hand that has developed so they wouldn’t have difficulty parsing the scripts.
TW: What do they bring to the series?
HB: Both have tremendous range, which is critical for this series. We’re not just mashing together genres in terms of story, setting, and characters, but also in terms of art styles. Many characters need to look like they’ve stepped out of specific eras, genres or art movements (and sometimes all three), and elements like color, tone, shading, lettering style, and size and shape of dialogue bubbles all play a significant role in achieving that.
TW: Give us the one-line elevator pitch for it?
HB: After Hope Redhood steals a mysterious gem from a tyrannical wizard, the rash thief and her eclectic crew of misfits and monsters must flee the despot and his unstoppable daughter, embarking on an adventure that will lead directly to Earth’s last war.
TW: It is a series that has been gestating for a number of years. Why has it taken so long to bring to publication?
HB: Largely due to other commitments. Jim and I were pitching the series when the opportunity to work on Batwoman surfaced, and we knew we had stories we wanted to tell with that character and didn’t want to pass up the chance to tell them. Likewise, Jim couldn’t pass on Sandman, and I have a full-time job making video games, so it was just a matter of timing. However, working on Batwoman together was a really great training ground for collaborating on ECHOLANDS, and we continued to flesh out the series even while focused on other projects.
TW: This is the first creator-owned series that you have written or co-written yourself. Were you waiting for the right time to debut this?
HB: Not really. The only consideration was how much time we could devote to the series given our other commitments.
TW: How different was it to work with Williams III on a creator-owned series rather than a company owned one like Batwoman
HB: It’s very liberating. I loved working on BATWOMAN, but there are obviously rules and limits to what we can do with a character that someone else owns. With ECHOLANDS, we make all the rules and have defined the world and characters, so as long as an idea doesn’t break our own internal logic or the tone we’re trying to achieve, we can pursue it. In addition, when you’re working with an established character or setting, there’s usually an aesthetic or set of themes that have already been established. Batwoman is a vigilante in Gotham, and that brings with it certain expectations in terms of tone, themes and style. We pushed the boundaries of this a bit and always tried to turn the “vigilante” story on its ear, even in terms of art and layout, but the freedom to jump between styles, tones, and themes that ECHOLANDS provides has really unleashed us both creatively.
TW: How much do you think working on Star Wars earlier in your career helped you to shape such an ambitious series of concepts here in Echolands?
HB: It helped tremendously. First, I was able to crank out a lot of stories in a short time, which really allowed me to experiment and learn quickly. Star Wars is itself a genre mashup of sorts, so it was great inspiration for ECHOLANDS on some levels. My editor on many of my Star Wars comics, Randy Stradley, gave me a ton of great advice early in my career — including “Start as far into the story as possible.” And one big learning came from being able to compare my experience working on Star Wars comics with games. In games, we’re constantly worried about budget. How many environments, characters, weapons, VFX, animations can we build? Setting six missions in the same environment is far more cost effective than creating six different biomes, so a story that spans multiple planets and has a large cast is going to be expensive. In comics, the budget is based on page count and the number and layout of panels. You obviously need to balance action with exposition, and there’s only so much of either than can fit into a panel or onto a page, but I had to keep reminding myself that comics lend themselves very well to big, epic stories with a lot of diversity. As long as the artist is up for it, you can have a story that spans multiple locations, you can have big explosions and quiet character moments — both of which are challenging and expensive in games for different reasons — and a variety of characters of all different shapes and sizes. I try to take that mentality into everything I write, so we end up with Elektra fighting alongside a dragon against the Hand, or Wonder Woman and Batwoman teaming up to face off against Killer Croc transformed into the Hydra in downtown Gotham.
TW: Will you be bringing on guest artists to keep Williams III on track with the series?
HB: Aside from covers, there’s no plan for guest artists.
TW: The series seems to be a cross genre affair mixing fantasy, sci-fi, horror and history. What was your motivation behind making this such a hybrid series?
HB: Everything is really driven by the core concept for the setting. We started knowing we wanted to write a big, epic adventure story, and Jim had images of Hope and a few other characters in his head from his childhood. When we started talking about the type of world they would occupy, we came up with a backstory for the setting that necessitates a genre mash-up. The concept doesn’t work without it. So, without giving too much away, there’s a reason that all of these various elements — cyborg elves, classic monsters, Roman demi-gods, giant robots, pulp gangsters, biker Huns, and everything else — co-exist in ECHOLANDS. And Hope will eventually learn why all of these disparate cultures and creatures share her world.
TW: And what are the pros and cons of using a mix of different genres?
HB: It’s mostly “pros.” We basically get to include anything we want. My mental toybox is filled with monsters and mythological creatures, characters and tropes drawn from fantasy and sci-fi, Westerns and horror. So, every issue is like dumping that toybox out onto the floor and just getting to play with all the figures and playsets all at the same time. Again, as long as we don’t break the internal logic of our world and characters, almost anything goes. It does mean that we have a lot to keep in mind, and a lot of backstory and “hidden history” to track, but I love that stuff. I enjoy updating our world bible almost as much as writing the scripts.
TW: Since working on Batwoman, you have written Elektra and Maser Of Kung Fu for Marvel. Do you think you are more confident as a writer now than you were?
HB: I really cut my teeth working on Star Wars comics. The sheer volume of Star Wars stories I wrote and the diversity of artists I was fortunate enough to work with really helped me to understand the medium – its strengths and constraints. I don’t know if I’m more confident – the day I say that, I should probably quit writing – but I definitely feel I’ve learned more about visual story-telling and how far we can push layout. I’m also far more comfortable now with letting a story or scene breathe.
TW: The comic will also include a Raw Cut edition giving readers a different look at each issue as it comes out. What does this offer for you as a creator and why was it important for you to publish this as well as the regular edition? And what do you see that this gives the reader who picks up this Raw Cut edition?
HB: I think it’s a perfect opportunity to showcase Jim’s incredible art, the small details that he manages to infuse into every panel, and his innovative and sometimes mind-boggling layouts and panel designs.
Echolands starts in August from Image Comics
The post Haden Blackman Talks New Series Echolands Exclusive appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.
Creating A New Epic JH Williams III is working on a new creator-owned series, Echolands, to be published by Image with his regular collaborator W Haden Blackman. The series kicks off in August and Blackman just spoke to Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows about the genesis and evolution of the series… TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis
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