Rob Wil­liams

The Un­fol­low and Mar­tian Man­hunter writer tells Will Salmon about his re­cently re­pub­lished Ich­a­bod Azrael and on­go­ing work with Judge Dredd and the Mar­tian Man­hunter...

Comic Heroes - - Contents -

Rob tells us about Ich­a­bod Azrael and Dredd.

Comic He­roes: Ich­a­bod Azrael has just been pub­lished in the States. Any idea how it’s been re­ceived?

Rob Wil­liams: Not re­ally. I find, with the US mar­ket, that if you do a DC or a Marvel book then Twit­ter tends to give you a tonne of feed­back. Ev­ery­thing else, you re­ally only get a snip­pet here and there. It seems to have gone down well with the few re­views I’ve seen.

CH: Does it feel a bit like bring­ing it home, given that it’s a Western, the most Amer­i­can of gen­res?

RW: I guess so, but 2000 AD, where

Ich­a­bod was first printed, has a long his­tory of Bri­tish creators telling sto­ries about the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, most fa­mously Judge

Dredd. Granted Dredd was cocre­ated by John Wag­ner, who was born in the States, but... All the books and songs and movies that in­spired Ich­a­bod are Amer­i­cana.

Ich­a­bod was largely writ­ten as a re­sult of my in­ter­est in alt-coun­try mu­sic. It’s a story of America if not specif­i­cally about it.

CH: What was your start­ing point for the se­ries? It grows into some­thing very strange...

RW: Yes, we go through dif­fer­ent times in se­ries two. The su­per­nat­u­ral is part of it from the start, but it’s al­ways a Western, re­ally. The idea of this great myth­i­cal killer who dies and then de­cides to kill his way out of the af­ter­life and re­turn to the liv­ing lands. And he does it for love. These are all themes that kind of grew out of my lis­ten­ing to songs like Gram Par­sons’ “The Re­turn Of The Griev­ous An­gel”, Steve Earle’s “Un­re­pen­tant”, the songs of Townes Van Zandt. That’s the mu­sic I was lis­ten­ing to at the time. And I loved a book by Daniel Woodrell called Woe To Live On, which is set in the US Civil War. They all kick­started the story.

CH: Did you have the com­plex, re­al­ity-break­ing, time-hop­ping struc­ture planned out in ad­vance?

RW: That kind of pro­gressed as I worked through the first book. The macguf­fin there was pretty

Above: Wil­liams came to fame with “Asy­lum” in 2000AD and fol­lowed up with the “Low Life” se­ries and work on StarWars. sim­ple: Ich­a­bod is mur­dered, goes to Pur­ga­tory, de­cides to come back to the liv­ing world. But is that pos­si­ble? And then, if he could do that, the walls of re­al­ity would crum­ble, and that prompted the idea of Ich­a­bod com­ing back but skip­ping through time. So, he’s a gang­ster in Capone’s Chicago, a B29 pi­lot in the Pacific, a WW1 soldier. That all opened the book up to a lot of cre­ative op­tions. But he had to come back home in the fi­nal book.

CH: He is an un­re­pen­tant killer. How do you make some­one like that a sym­pa­thetic pro­tag­o­nist?

RW: You give him some­one even worse to bat­tle. So sud­denly he’s the un­der­dog. And also, the rea­son he comes back to the liv­ing worlds is love. And then you get into themes of re­demp­tion. Can this hor­rific killer be re­deemed?

CH: Speak­ing of Dredd, the re­cent “Ence­ladus” re­ally felt like a high­stakes story. How much free­dom do you get with the char­ac­ter?

RW: There’s a great deal of free­dom within the con­fines of it be­ing John Wag­ner’s creation and John still oc­ca­sion­ally writes the char­ac­ter. So, if I sug­gest killing one of his char­ac­ters, say, it’s only right that it’s run past John and he has the

Dredd doesn’t see him­self as a fas­cist or even as the good guy. It’s just the job.

op­por­tu­nity to say “No, I had plans for them”. But there’s a bal­ance too. Matt Smith, 2000 AD’s edi­tor, and I talked at the start of the “Ti­tan”/ ”Ence­ladus” story, and I said that un­less there’s real dra­matic stakes, un­less the sta­tus quo changes as a re­sult of the story, it all means noth­ing. And Matt agrees. As a writer, you have to push the world for­ward. We’ve def­i­nitely done that with “Ti­tan” and “Ence­ladus”.

CH: Where do you see Dredd on the hero/vil­lain axis now? Is ev­ery pos­i­tive ac­tion he makes tainted by the fact that he is a fas­cist?

RW: He doesn’t see him­self as a fas­cist. He’s up­hold­ing the law, pro­tect­ing the cit­i­zens, of­ten from them­selves. I’m not even sure he sees him­self as the good guy – it’s just the job. The fact that he is a fas­cist is some­thing that, I think, the strip needs to con­front again in the near fu­ture.

CH: Your Mar­tian Man­hunter is tak­ing the char­ac­ter in a very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion from the New 52. Were you un­happy with J’onn J’onzz’s plight in re­cent years?

RW: No, I sim­ply pitched what I thought was a fun, fresh take on the char­ac­ter. DC wanted to make him more three-di­men­sional and so I thought the best way to do that would be to split him into these new, very dis­parate char­ac­ters. He’s not just a shape shifter. He’s very mal­leable, you know. And the idea that he can “just” be one al­ter-ego is very hu­man. I wanted a sense that he is truly alien. That he doesn’t think the way that we do. And his dif­fer­ent sides hav­ing their own per­son­al­i­ties makes for some dra­matic in­ter­nal con­flict as well as the ex­ter­nal threat of this covert Mar­tian in­va­sion.

CH: How do you make a su­per­hero death feel like it has some gen­uine con­se­quences?

RW: You put the char­ac­ter’s soul at risk. Su­per­folk die and re­turn to life all the time. So, as you say, it’s tough to make such an event feel like it res­onates. But a wise bit of writ­ing ad­vice is that it’s not enough to put a char­ac­ter’s life at risk, you have to put their soul at risk. If it truly mat­ters to them, it’ll mat­ter to the read­ers.

Born UK

High Cla$$war, Or­di­nary

Now Mar­tian Man­hunter

More www.rob­williams comics.co.uk

Above: Wil­liams is

cur­rently writ­ing Judge Dredd in 2000AD, Doc­tor­Who:The Eleven­thDoc­tor, and Mar­tianMan­hunter.

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