Rob Williams Interview

by Nick Devonald on May 21, 2020

Hi Rob, thanks for taking time out to talk to Comics: The Gathering. I was blown away by the first issue of Old Haunts, the blending of different genres and settings which wouldn’t normally go together produced an incredibly stylish, cinematic comic.

The first thing which struck me about Old Haunts is how it takes familiar stories and blends them in different ways to produce something really unique. Old gangsters and horror. Hauntings against the bright backdrop of Los Angeles at night. Where did the inspiration for this come from?

There's a bunch of inspirations, some more obvious than others. Ollie and I talked about Michael Mann and David Lynch being filmic inspirations. Kubrick's in there, moreso as we progress. Not just The Shining but 2001, strangely. There's a movie called Jacob's Ladder that was a big influence in terms of you seeing figures in windows, out of car windows, that you're not sure are exactly what you just saw. That indistinct, creepy horror. The horror of your mind filling in the gaps. And then musically there's an overall sheen of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. And, for me at least, it was partly pushed by an Elliott Smith song called Angeles. You stick all that stuff in a blender and hopefully come out with something unique.

You’ve worked with Laurence Campbell before. Do you find yourself tailoring your script to play to his strengths?

Laurence and I have worked together a bunch of times, and he's one of my best friends. We talk a lot about movies, TV, comics. He knew exactly what we were trying to do with Old Haunts and he was the perfect artist for it. That widescreen feel of a modern city being haunted at night.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this plenty before, but why set your story in Los Angeles? You, Ollie Masters & Laurence Campbell are all British, wouldn’t it have made sense to base it somewhere in the UK?

We could have, but thematically it wouldn't have worked so well. There's core ideas here of a cutting edge city rising up out of the desert and what's buried beneath that desert. And Downtown LA at night can be this strange, ethereal, neon place. A haunting in a modern city was one of the ideas.

Do you have any plans for Old Haunts going forward or is this a one off story?

This is very much a contained story, with start-middle-end. But the thematic core, we could easily take to other places. There could be more Old Haunts stories, just like, say, The Terror moved from era to era between Season One and Two. We'll see.

You co-wrote this with Ollie Masters, I’m always curious about how the collaboration process works between writers. Do you hash out the story together then one of you sit down to write the script? How does the whole process work?

Ollie and I would break the story together in skype calls, then we break the beats down to PG1 - this happens, PG2 - that happens. Then we'd each take away a ten page chunk of script per issue, to do our first pass. I'd pass my ten pages to Ollie so he could do a polish. He'd send his ten pages to me so I'd do a polish. Then we have a last joint edit, to smooth out any possible tonal cracks. I think you end up with something that's a bit of both of us.

With their first wave of releases AWA have established themselves as a publisher to watch. Who approached who? Did it feel risky working with a new publisher?

Ollie and I were talking about Old Haunts and pitching it and AWA were just starting out. Axel Alonso had approached Ollie about pitching something. Ollie sent him Old Haunts, Axel loved it, and we were away.

Over the years you’ve worked on a number of different projects for different publishers, do you prefer working with the big publishers on established characters, or do you prefer the freedom of creating your own characters?

It's probably more freeing and you get more of your true voice when you work on your own creator-owned stories. At this point in my career I much prefer it. You tend to get a load more notes writing a Superman or a Spider-Man. But there's always a real thrill writing a Supes or a Spidey. Or a Judge Dredd. It's probably healthy to do a bit of both, work for hire and creator-owned.

A lot of your early work involved 2000AD. In a recent interview with Si Spurrier he talked about how it was 2000AD which helped him break into comics. Was this the same for you? Is this a good place to start if you want to break into the world of comics?

My break was an indie comic called Cla$$war with a ten new publisher called Com.X. That opened a lot of doors for me, including 2000AD. But yes, 2000AD is a good place to start, because they are often willing to look at unsolicited Future Shock (shorts) pitches.  And 2000AD publish stories in 5 or 6 part chunks. That really teaches you craft, because each episode needs to have a start-middle-end and a big cliffhanger. You learn economy of storytelling and dynamism.

A lot of our readers are stuck inside with very few new comics to read. If you had to choose just one comic you’ve written to recommend which would it be?

Probably Unfollow, the Vertigo series i did a few years back. It's three graphic novels, total. It might be the best thing I've written. Maybe.

Comics are all about collaboration. A great creative team make for a fantastic final comic. How does the process of finding the right artist work?

Well, it greatly helps when the brilliant artist in question - who is tonally right for the feel of the book you're going for (this is vital) - is a friend. That speeds up the process. Other than that, it's tricky. I guess you think of the artist who'd be perfect and you approach them. But the better the artist, the less availability they have. Build personal relationships over time. Seriously, one of the cool things about Old Haunts is that Ollie and Laurence are both mates. To make a comic with friends and to see it turn out to be something creatively exciting, that's one of the best experiences.

Thanks again for taking the time out to talk to us over at Comics: The Gathering.