Freddie E. Williams II Talks Digital Part 2 of 2

Posted by on December 14th, 2010 at 12:02 AM

For Part One of Williams II’s video demonstration, go here. For Part Two, go here. Click here for Part One of this interview.

NATHAN WILSON: What has been the most valid praise and most valid criticism for you as an artist and why?

FREDDIE E. WILLIAMS II: Criticism is everywhere whether you want it or not and that can be a good and a bad thing.  I think it’s easy for newer artists, if they post something online and then get either legitimately or illegitimately criticized for it, for them to get discouraged and I would hate for that to happen.  In my experience, I have personally tried to avoid message boards and online critiques and criticisms of the work that I do. It’s easy to let that voice get inside your head and overtalk your own creative voice.  If you work really hard on something and there’s a group of people who either don’t respond to it or who just want to troll on the Internet, that can make you feel discouraged from doing your best work.  But I do seek out criticism. A couple of times I’ve asked my editors and I’ve been very fortunate that I get along with my editors and they dig the type of stuff I’m doing, but it’s good sometimes to drop them a line and ask for some feedback.  That’s the sort of feedback that I’ve enjoyed the most.

Richard Brunning, the art director, who was most responsible for getting me started at DC, I’ve e-mailed him a couple of times and said, “Hey buddy, can you take a look at my recent work and tell me what you think?”  A very valid criticism he gave me for the first couple of issues of JSA All-Stars was where there were 10 or 11 characters running around and multiple panels on a page so it can get very busy.  For the first issue, for the first couple of pages especially where there’s so much chaos happening, and I wanted it to be chaotic but I overdid it, he said, “This looks good and I can tell you wanted to bring your ‘A game’ to this, but you might have brought your ‘triple A game.’”  He meant I might have thrown too much into it.  He could tell that the backgrounds were good, the figure drawings were good, the inks and the textures were good, but there was so much of it that it became overpowering.  My follow-up was that it became like a “Where’s Waldo” because there is so much happening.  I’ve taken that to heart.  It’s important to keep focus and create clarity in a composition and it’s harder whenever you have 10 or 11 characters.  I should have simplified stuff in the background.  That was very valid criticism.  I still keep those notes.

A really definitive praise or positive comment I’ve received, and I’ve received a fair amount for my art, but for my how-to book, the best praise, the best feedback I’ve gotten is there were some guys who told me in person that they had wanted to quit drawing and felt uninspired and seeing my how-to book has made them inspired again to draw.  That’s the best feedback I’ve gotten and it feels very good; it’s given me goose bumps.

WILSON: Well it’s honest; you know they’re not trying get something out of you or get you to do something specifically for them, so you know it’s honest and sincere.  That’s got to feel good.

WILLIAMS: Yeah and it’s usually just them stopping by my art table at a convention and not asking for a free sketch or asking, “By the way, can you also send these samples to your editor” (laughs).

WILSON: They’re not walking up to you with a stack of 20 books in their hands while saying it and then asking you to sign them all, and then they all end up on eBay (laughs).

Looking at your more recent work with Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!, I noticed that while you did the art duties, that the colors were done by the Hories.  Although digital obviously gives you greater control over your lines, layouts and inking, is handing over the coloring duties difficult at all to your vision in regard to the tone, environment and atmosphere you’re creating?

WILLIAMS: I think what the Hories give me, sometimes it’s unexpected, but there are plenty of times where it’s often better than what I would have had in mind.  It’s different.  I don’t have any negative connotations towards it.  They have a better sense of understanding of how it contrasts between scenes.

WILSON: Do you ever give or provide color guidance based on your own interpretation of the script and the emotion of the scene?

WILLIAMS: Sometimes.  On Run and JSA All-Stars, I’ve worked as a kind of art director.   My editor, Mike Carlin, is fine with me giving color notes.  The colorists post jpgs of the art and the editor looks for inconsistencies in the continuity, and I’m usually commenting on it. Issue #10 is a good example in JSA, where there is a big battle scene in downtown Los Angeles and in the foreground Hourman is holding Power Girl.  There were a couple panels where I asked the Hories to change the color slightly in the foreground versus the middle ground and background.  In Photoshop, I’m able to use the channels palette to provide a color selection for each of those.  That’s probably the extent of my input though.

WILSON: Do your colorists also work digitally?

WILLIAMS: The Hories do and that’s probably how nearly 100% of the industry works in digital.  The only time you’re going to find, and I may be overstepping my bounds here, but the only time you’re going to find a guy or a colorists working traditionally is on special occasions for special projects or somebody who is fully painted like Alex Ross.  Inkers and pencilers are just now catching on in the past five years.

WILSON: I noticed on the covers to JSA All-Stars, that you are juggling penciling, inking and coloring duties. Do you ever color your own interiors?  Is it simply the time factor involved?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it’s just time.  If there comes an opportunity where I can pencil, ink and color a series or a miniseries or something like that, assuming that I would have the amount of time that I would need, I’ll snatch it up because I’d love to do that.  It’s a fun experiment.  Sometimes collaborations can be stronger because of it and other times a singular vision can be stronger.  Sometime in my life I would like to write, pencil, ink and color a book.

WILSON: Have you ever done any comic writing?

WILLIAMS: I’ve done a little.  I co-wrote some independent stuff before I started working for DC.  I recently wrote a 10-page story in JSA 80 Page Giant which came out earlier this year.

WILSON: Do you find yourself more or less disciplined in having transitioned from pencil-and-ink work to a digital platform?

WILLIAMS: I’m not sure.  I’m a very disciplined person and I have a very strong work ethic, but I’m not sure if any of that comes from working digitally.  I think even if I was working all on paper I’d still have a strong work ethic that would be focused on having a high production.

WILSON: What is your work schedule, i.e. do you have an established protocol you follow daily, or are you more flexible in when you work?

WILLIAMS: I can work any 12 hours of the day I choose (laughs).  That’s not a hard and fast rule because there are days that I work 10 hours or eight hours, but my average is about 12 hours a day.  If I’m working under deadline then it’s considerably higher than that (up to 18 hours sometimes).  At the beginning of an issue, at the beginning of the month, I’ll work out my calendar and I’ll list from day to day what I’m responsible for to get done on that given day.  If I already know I’ve got a few activities going on for the family, I’ll put that down too.  If I know that I’m going to hit a deadline crunch as a result, I’ll go into deadline mode, which is where I get five hours of sleep every night until I’m out of the deadline.  It’s been decreasing in the frequency it happens in the past couple of years but when I first started it was murderous.  In fact, the first two years I worked for DC are like a complete blur.  I know it was a blur of hitting deadlines.  Sometimes when I look back at the trades or my personal binders of my art, I’ll forget certain aspects.

WILSON: You were probably taking on as many assignments as you could to make a name for yourself and truly burning the candle at both ends.

WILLIAMS: That first year, 2005, that I was working for DC I started in October and when Thanksgiving came around, I was having Thanksgiving at my house and I was there with my laptop and I was working the entire time. It’s much better now.  Working 12 hours a day every day still adds up though, but at least I can now have an occasional party or free time with friends and family.

WILSON: Although most, if not all, audiences can easily distinguish Superman, Batman, Flash, etc., what is your reference or research process in working with such iconic, superhero characters so as to remain true to their origins but still make them distinctively your own?

WILLIAMS: It’s a combination and there’s greater pressure whenever it comes to Batman or Superman because so many people have tried their hands on them, but with the All-Stars, Power Girl, Hourman, and Star Girl are the most clearly established characters on the team.  Those I needed more reference, but the majority of the team, I would just look at the costume and do original drawings, for example, Citizen Steel I drew much bigger and bulkier because I thought it made him more interesting to make him more like a Colossus character than what he was previously.

WILSON: Yeah, I realize with characters like Robin or Batman you don’t have the license or freedom to reinvent their look or costumes.

WILLIAMS: The closest I’ve been was with Robin.  I started on issue #149 and #148 was the beginning of DC’s One Year Later event, and Karl Kerschl was originally to be the artist for Robin but was double booked, so he did that one issue and redefined his costume.  Some people think I redesigned the costume, which is why I bring this up.  I did not.  The closest thing I did to that was make his talons on his mask taller and give him sideburns (laughs).

WILSON: In moving from solo-title books such as Robin or Flash to team-driven books such as JSA All-Stars, what do you find is the greatest difference for you as an artist in your approach?

WILLIAMS: The biggest difference in art or storytelling to overcome is to not be afraid to leave characters out when they don’t have a specific speaking role or a specific action.  For example, the first couple of issues of JSA All-Stars was the first experience I had drawing a team and Matt Sturges had writing a team.  There would be some descriptions in the script that would say Powergirl is in the foreground doing this, while Hourman is doing this thing in the scene.  And in the text it would say that “the other All-Stars are in the background fighting.”  They didn’t have speaking lines or their actions didn’t necessarily need to be seen.  It was easy for me to fall in the habit of doing a long shot every time, every panel to fit in every member of the team.  That was not a good instinct to have necessarily.  You need the storytelling to keep interest, to go in for close-ups.  It took me a few issues to learn.  It was something Matt and I had learned together.

We’ve been working in the plot method for the last couple of issues, like the Marvel method.  It’s not a full script, so we’ll talk about the plot on the phone for a couple of issues. I just make plot and dialogue suggestions, throw out ideas and ask him questions.  The most important is asking him questions like “What is the motivation of this guy?” or “What if we did this instead?”  From that phone call, he’ll write up a plot synopsis for each issue, like a three or four issue arc, and then when I get the issue it’s broken down where it says, “pages five through 10 this happens.”  I then decide the pacing and the storytelling in the roughs, and then I get feedback from Matt and suggestions/notes from him, we just go back and forth.

WILSON: So you’re not given any dialogue or script, but a broader concept then?

WILLIAMS: There are times when he has very specific ideas and dialogue, and there might be a couple of scenes where he knows exactly what he wants the characters to say or something close to what they’re going to say.  It’s a very organic way of creating a piece of artwork (looking at the comic book, in its entirety as a piece of art).  A lot of the lines have been blurred where we’re kind of stepping into each other’s territory and we’re comfortable enough with each other to allow us to do that.  Mike Carlin is very supportive of this.  We check in with him at every step.

WILSON: That’s not how all of the comics are created at DC Comics though, correct?

WILLIAMS: Not at all. As a rule, DC Comics, has the writers provide full scripts, so Matt and I are working as an exception to the rule.  Normally, they deliver the script to the artist, and really there’s no interaction between the artist and the writer at all, and that’s how I worked for the first three years at DC.  If I had any questions, I would ask the editor.  I felt like I was fulfilling an assembly line process. I also like working like that though.  There are other challenges that keep my interest in that style.

WILSON: Is it almost a paralyzing type of freedom though at times?

WILLIAMS: Nah, if either of us is stuck on something, we just call or e-mail each other and talk it out. We don’t have to face those problems on our own.

WILSON: It’s almost the most collaborative you can get in the industry.

WILLIAMS: The only way it would be more collaborative is if I was actually full on co-writing.  As it is now, I’m contributing far less than 50% of the plot and story, so just to be clear, Matt is still clearly the writer, but there’s usually a special thanks from Matt Sturges in the credits, just for what I do contribute.

WILSON: In looking back over the past 10 years, is there one title or one issue that stands out for you as the quintessential Freddie Williams digital work?


WILLIAMS: Yeah, probably the last issue of Robin, which is #183.

WILSON: Why?

WILLIAMS: It was the first pencil, ink and colored cover I did for DC and now I’m getting to do that more often from that experience.  I also pencil, inked and colored a six or eight page story in the back of the issue.  I want to reconnect on that, where I’m doing it all.  Another one is probably my last issue or two on the Flash.  It was a weird situation.  It wasn’t until the last three issues that me, the writer and the colorist were given the go ahead to do what we wanted to do, and those are the issues I like the most as they’re the best ones from my run. Also issues 10 and 11 from JSA All-Stars were really fun, feels like we are hitting our stride there.

Freddie Williams is continuing with JSA All-Stars from DC Comics and currently working on a how-to project involving 3-D modeling for comic illustration.  He can be found online at www.freddieart.com and on Twitter (Freddieart).  His website includes additional tutorials and guidelines involving his digital process, as well as downloadable tools and techniques for artists.  In the accompanying videos, Williams is describing his process from Robin #182 from roughs to wireframes.  Those interested in seeing Williams’ inking and coloring process can visit his website for further videos.

All images in this two-part interview are  ©DC Comics

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