The Bill Willingham Interview (part two of four)

Posted by on April 28th, 2010 at 12:06 AM


Originally recorded in 2006 for The Comics Journal #278.

Part One ♦ Part Two ♦ Part ThreePart Four

From Deathduel with the Destroyers, one of Willingham’s Villains and Vigilantes modules, featuring characters that would later appear in Elementals; ©1982 Bill Willingham.


The Elementals

DEPPEY: Noble went down and then Texas Comics tried to take over The Elementals, and you actually managed to get a short story published in the back of a Justice Machine annual.


DEPPEY: And then Texas Comics went down.

WILLINGHAM: Yeah, Texas Comics was a group of guys that got together to do their own comic company, sort of like everyone was doing back then. They were underfunded, sort of like everyone was back then, but they were impressed enough with Noble, they pretty much wanted the whole Noble Comics lineup. They wanted to do Justice Machine, they wanted Elementals… I think there was one other thing Noble did that I’m forgetting right now [Cobalt Blue] that they didn’t want. In any case, they brought us all on board to do it. They decided they would start with Justice Machine simply because it had a track record and would use the back of the Justice Machine to introduce the Elementals. I think the Justice Machine Annual that Texas comics published had already been started with Noble Comics, so I guess they could use the artwork that was already done and have it completed. But then out of that, they were going to spin a regular Justice Machine book and a regular Elementals book. And then ran out of money by publishing the annual.

DEPPEY: And, at that point, your trail leads on to Comico [pronouncing it “comic-oh”] and…

WILLINGHAM: [Pronouncing it correctly] “ComEEkoh.”

DEPPEY: “ComEEkoh.” [Laughs.]

WILLINGHAM: They wanted it to sound Japanese. They were fans of Japanese.

DEPPEY: I’m Arizona white trash. God has commanded me to mangle whatever language comes out of my mouth.

WILLINGHAM: I’m pretty sure I called it “Comic-oh” for a while too before I got tired of them correcting me.

DEPPEY: I’m assuming that there weren’t any rights-related difficulties as you transferred Elementals from one to the next.

WILLINGHAM: Well, I owned it, and there weren’t really any difficulties. At some point, one of the fellows from Texas Comics kept trying to put together a new company and, I guess, had told some folks that they still had the rights to The Elementals, but that didn’t last very long. Pretty much as soon as I found that he was saying it, I kind of squashed that one. But yeah, Comico was interested. We’d become friends with them, meeting the Comico gang at some convention already — one of those situations where, you know, yet another gang of people that were getting together to do their own comics, so it would be natural that we hang out at this convention with each other. So when Texas Comics went under, they picked up the phone pretty quickly to see if I’d be interested in bringing Elementals out there.

Shapeshifter, another recurring character, introduces the Elementals in Justice Machine Annual #1, penciled by Willingham and inked by Bill Anderson; ©1983 Bill Willingham.


DEPPEY: Now, you stated that you really didn’t have a concept for The Elementals. You really didn’t have an idea of what the book was about in any kind of specific way when you first started working on it. Did that just develop on the fly, or did you sit down at some point and say, “OK, I’m going to do a book about this and it will have this bubbling in the background”?

WILLINGHAM: I suspect it was a little of both. I mean, literally, when I sent out the sample pages, I only came up with group just to have an excuse to show that I could draw page-by-page sequences of someone. So that’s all I knew. It’s like, “OK, I need a group, a superhero team, how about the four elements?” That’s probably an influence coming out of TSR, where, you know, elemental creatures are some of the things you run into in those dungeons. I based it on that, and that’s all the thought I put into it at that point. When the time came to come up with an actual storyline, it was probably just a process of thinking through, “Well, what kind of team is this? Well, they’re elemental-based, which means they’re magical,” and just started adding elements from there. I’m not even sure when I decided, like, they were all dead, come back to life. I suspect it was all pretty much done on the fly.


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