The Bill Willingham Interview (part three of four)

Posted by on April 29th, 2010 at 12:06 AM


Clockwork Storybook

DEPPEY: How did Clockwork Storybook come to be founded?

WILLINGHAM: I was friends with Mark Finn, who was a sometimes comics writer, sometimes prose writer who lived in Austin. He was one of the friends that was working at Awesome Books, one of the local comic shops, and I’d mentioned to him offhand, I guess, that I was trying to work on prose writing but having problems with it mostly because working in comics all this time, you know, dialogue comes pretty easy to me because I guess I have lots of experience doing it. But exposition, and all that. And he said that he had some friends that were also writers, same problems, and the horrid old cliché yet again, “Well, why don’t we form a writing group?” So we formed a writing group — myself, Matt Sturgis, Chris Roberson and Mark Finn — for the express purpose of just helping each other get our prose writing in gear. And you know, the Internet and all that was going at this point. I knew very little about it. I’m almost a technophobe, not quite, but I had suggested at one meeting, “These stories we’re doing just reading to each other, we outta put them online. At least put them out there for other people to read and critique.” That started the whole thing, and we started as an online, monthly fiction magazine for anyone that cared to drop by and read it. Then, with things like the print-on-demand technology that had just started to take off, we realized that we could actually put some of this out in real book form without a terrible up-front investment. So once again, like so much else, I kind of slid ass-backwards into it, incrementally.

DEPPEY: You never actually dealt with print runs or anything like that?

WILLINGHAM: No. We never saw the books that were ordered and printed. I mean, we got some ourselves obviously to sell at conventions and things, but yeah, that was not a factor in it at all.

The cover to Willingham’s novel, Down the Mysterly River, ©2001 Bill Willingham.


DEPPEY: I think your book, Down the Mysterly River, may well be the first print-on-demand book I’ve ever actually held in my hands and I didn’t even realize it.

WILLINGHAM: Yeah, those… you can’t get those any more. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that you had managed to get a hold of one.

DEPPEY: I found it in our library, yeah. So did it just eventually kind of run out of steam? Did you guys just sort of drift away? Why isn’t there a Clockwork Storybook any more?

WILLINGHAM: Well, it actually, I think, was a victim of its own success. We were just successful enough to where the next step was to take this seriously and devote real time investment into doing it. But that happened just as my comic career was being resuscitated, so I was at a stage where I was going to be able to do less and less with Clockwork Storybook rather than more. Other people were at other stages, but I think it also accomplished what we originally set out before we decided to put out our own books, which was the four of us were getting to the point where we’d gotten our prose polished enough to where we were willing to try other things, like real things with real publishers. Matt Sturges, I think, was the best writer of the bunch, although he would be least inclined to put himself out there; he’s ended up writing the Jack of Fables book, which is forthcoming, with me. Chris Roverson was the most prolific of us and he’s now got real book deals with real publishers right and left. So to a certain extent, along with the squabbles of four people who are trying to learn a business they have no knowledge whatsoever about and all that, it just seemed like a good idea to put it away for a little bit. I couldn’t have committed to pursuing that seriously and still do the comic work and all that.

DEPPEY: I wanted to briefly touch on Down the Mysterly River itself, which really has the feel of a boy’s adventure novel. And quite self-consciously so. I mean, the hero is Max the Wolf, who’s a Boy Scout detective, a character from a series of imaginary novels who finds himself in a medieval-ish storybook landscape after the death of his author. And it’s a world where wizards are deceased authors themselves and the villains are “Blue Cutters,” who are essentially editors. There are a whole bunch of villains running around with names like Robert and Karen and Diana and Andrew but, oddly enough, no Gary or Kim. [Willingham laughs.]

WILLINGHAM: Well, they probably would have shown up in the sequel [Deppey laughs], which I really intend to write someday.

DEPPEY: It was an entertaining little dig at, I guess, the business-side as forced on writers of the publishing industry.

WILLINGHAM: I set out to do a cynical allegory in a sense that I had a statement to make, an entire novel to do it in, which was probably overdoing it a little, but it’s forgivable if the story itself is interesting on its own merits. So I gave it a shot. In retrospect, perhaps as an afterword, I should have mentioned that this isn’t a blanket indictment against all editors whatsoever, because there really are some good ones. Maybe just those who also think that they’re the writers of a given project and all that. But yeah, it was fun to do.


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