The Bill Willingham Interview (part one of four)

Posted by on April 27th, 2010 at 12:06 AM


How to Avoid Discipline

DEPPEY: After college, you went into the military, where you were a military policeman, and that was back in Germany.


DEPPEY: The general gist that I get from your description of this period was that, if your prior experiences with your family taught you something on the order of military discipline, your experiences as a military policeman taught you how to avoid it.

WILLINGHAM: [Laughs.] In a weird way, yes. At some point, going into the military was just not even subject to question. In our family, if you’re a male and you grow up in the Willingham family, you’re gonna go serve your country at some point. I probably, if I was thinking better, would have done it military first and college second because I would have been just in time to get the full G.I. Bill before they canceled that, and when I went to college, I don’t think I was mature enough to try and make the most of that, anyway. So I did three years of college, finally got to the point where I was so much in debt and working so many jobs to try and keep paying for school that it seemed like a good time, since I had to go into the military sometime, to do it now and pay off these school loans and things like that. I’m not sure why I chose the MPs other than I believe I was thinking of, you know, I either wanna draw comics for a living or go into police work. Here’s a way to try police work out without a lifetime commitment. And Germany, just to go back to Germany. I had fond memories of it, but at the time, in the military, when I was going through basic training and the advanced training for MP school, they were not getting exactly the brightest and best people at the time, education-wise. While I was in the MP school, they were running it so that if you had an eighth-grade reading level, you could understand the material and pass. And they were still flunking out too many people, so during the class I was going to, they had lowered it to a sixth-grade reading level.

DEPPEY: Jesus.

WILLINGHAM: I found that a little despairing, in the sense that I had an outsider’s view of police-work and cops at that point, which means that these are all well-trained professionals who really know their stuff. Looking at it from the inside, I was beginning to realize, “Well, not so well-trained, and the idea was just to get people able to squeak through as the lowest common denominator and ‘good enough’ is the word of the day.” It worked out well in the sense that I quickly learned how to game the system. I found out in basic training and in advanced training that no matter what you’re training to do, you’re still treated as an Army guy, which means, to a certain extent every day, you’re going to be doing KP and this and that. I found out that when you’re doing KP, there’s a Sergeant who’s assigning different people to do different stuff, but if I just grabbed a clipboard and just put a bunch of generic forms on it and ran around looking kind of haggard and put upon, then everyone just assumed that I had been assigned to do something because, you know, who runs around with a clipboard like that? I think I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually do any KP at all in basic training and very seldom when I got to my permanent station. Things like that, I have to confess, I’m still a little proud of today, just because if you can get away with it, why not?

DEPPEY: Yeah, well, it’s proof that you’re smarter than your surroundings.

WILLINGHAM: Yeah. The unfortunate thing is, the three years I was in the Army, I felt like a genius the entire time. The first year, I was assigned to Miesau Army Depot, where there was a storage facility for nuclear warheads. I was doing a job that an E-7 or above Sergeant was supposed to do, but they couldn’t find anyone able to pass the written test, so they gave it to me because I was the only one in the company that was able to do it. So I was feeling like the mighty genius of the mind here, which was great while I was in the Army. The day I got out and got a job back in the civilian work and was surrounded again by people that had actually had educations, for about the next year, I felt like a complete dunce.

DEPPEY: After the Army, the next place I have you at is at TSR.


DEPPEY: Were you familiar with Dungeons & Dragons before you had hooked up with them?

WILLINGHAM: I was, but the first time I’d heard about it was a… one of the deans in college, this would be in the University of Oregon, so we’re talking about my sophomore year, he and his son were really into this new game called D&D. He kept trying to get me interested in it, and I wasn’t. And the dean and I were pretty good friends… I had taken up fencing in college and gotten fairly good at it, so I was teaching him and his son fencing in return for him teaching me glider lessons, sail-planing. But he kept trying to get me interested in it and describing it, and it just sounded dumb. That’s the first I’d heard about it. But then in the Army, my first station at the nuclear warhead storage site, we were guards at the facility, and it was 12 hours on, 12 hours off, where for 12 hours a day, you’re either in the rest shack or you’re in this tower looking at grass grow, and that’s it. That’s the entire day. It was very boring. And someone, I believe it was my friend Mike Sinner, got a hold of one of these boxed sets and realized since all the towers were hooked up on phone lines — we had the radios out there for official transmissions, and we were allowed to yak with each other just to keep from going insane. And he started running a game over the phone line. I think that’s how I got dragged into it.

DEPPEY: Now this was the original Dungeons & Dragons. This was the books that were barely above maybe a photocopied fanzine.

WILLINGHAM: Exactly, in that tiny little box, and we had an incomplete set. We were missing pages and we would just make up what we thought they were talking about in the pages that weren’t there. And just a few of those old-style, low-impact plastic dice that you’d throw ’em a few times and they’d get so rounded that they’ll just roll forever. Yeah, it was a very primitive first iteration of that, but it was great fun. We ended up playing pretty much the entire time we were on duty, 12 hours a day, eight days in a row before we’d get a break.

DEPPEY: When you got out, did you go back to the Pacific Northwest when you left the military?

WILLINGHAM: No, because like I said, we were into the game at that point, and someone had gotten an old copy of Dragon magazine, which is the magazine TSR put out once a month. We did not realize that it was four or five months old by the time we got it over in Germany, and there was an ad for a new artist for their art department just at about the time I was about to get out. So I applied for it, put a portfolio together, sent it in and got the job at TSR before I had actually left the Army.


Be Sociable, Share!

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to “The Bill Willingham Interview (part one of four)”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bill Willingham, Dirk Deppey. Dirk Deppey said: @BillWillingham Hey, Bill: In case you didn't know, we're serializing your TCJ interview on the website right now. […]