Stonie Williams Talks Villainous
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Hi there fellow readers, here’s my interview with comic book writer Stonie Williams. We caught up yesterday and talked about writing comics, the superhero genre and What Would Matt Hawkins Do.
Anthony Pollock: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me this week. Please tell the readers a bit about yourself and the work you do.
Stonie Williams: My name is Stonie Williams, I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling father (of 5) and husband (of 1). I’m a writer of comics and prose as well as an aspiring comic book colorist – and who knows, maybe a future letterer soon. I love everything about comics books and making them. I grew up in the back of a comic book store in Tulsa called Starbase 21.
My Mom worked there when I a kid and comic books just permeated everything. They were my escape when I needed it and continue to be a passion for me as an adult. I love all writing, I love telling stories of any kind in any medium, but there’s a collaborative process with comics you don’t get to the same extent with prose so that’s ended up being my focus.
Anthony Pollock: Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind Villainous.
Stonie Williams: Villainous is my love letter to the superhero genre. While there can be many different parallels drawn between Villainous and books like Avengers and Justice League, the main superhero team that I drew inspiration from is Malibu Comics’ ‘Protectors’. Made up of older, mostly public domain superheroes, R. A. Jones’ writing and Tom Derenick’s art made some of the earliest and biggest impacts me and the standard I hold superheroes to.
I wanted a way to hold up a mirror to the things we don’t always love about superheroes, while celebrating the things we do love. I wanted to take a satirical approach to the idea that Might Makes Right and the “good guys” are always good looking and strong. There are exceptions, but… they’re exceptions, right? Not the rule.
Anthony Pollock: Where did writing start for you and what is your origin story?
Stone Williams: I was raised by wolves in the back of a comic book store. No, no, wait. I was bitten by a radioactive comic book writer. Or I’m bald with a long, wild beard, so maybe I’m the love child of Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Moore?
I’ve been writing off and on since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to tell stories and build worlds. But I hadn’t considered actually DOING it until a few years ago with the Top Cow Talent Hunt – 2016, I think. They gave examples on how to write scripts and what was expected, and from there I fell in love with the entire process of making a comic book, but mostly the way nearly every writer approaches a script differently – even when using the same cookie cutter style.
Some use copious amounts of links for reference, some speak to their artists, colorists and letterers in the descriptions like they’re telling them the story as much as they’re writing a script, some keep it very streamlined. I love it all.
I reviewed comic books on a blog and podcast that my bestfriend, Aaron Whiting, and I ran together. That’s how I discovered Mad Cave and their talent hunt. I waffled back and forth over it for a while, and kept talking about it, and finally my wife said “This is obviously something you care about and want to do – quit talking about it and freakin’ DO it!” And two weeks later I got an email saying I won.
Anthony Pollock: Villainous is clearly influenced by the adversarial relationships between Heroes & Villains and the bonds that tie them together but where does the overall genre sit for you? What are your go to’s?
Stonie Williams: Being a love letter to superheroes, I wanted to incorporate lots of little things that I loved that were frivolous, but are present in almost every superhero story. Like the costume change. Someone HAS to get a new costume, or is it even a superhero book???
After that, superheroes are at their best when they’re soap operas with capes. At the height of X-Men, it was about love triangles and clones and secret love affairs and Will They/Won’t They coupled with tackling real-world issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia or even class warfare. It wasn’t about whether or not the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants will complete their terrorist agenda – it was about whether or not Gambit and Rogue will ever get to be together. Or what’s going to happen when Jean Grey finally realizes that Scott Summers just has a fetish for telepaths. It was about the pretty X-Men realizing their own privileges when face to face with the Morlocks.
It’s about the people wearing the capes, relating to them and their individual struggles and using the capes and the powers as metaphors to tell a story that MEANS something to the people reading them. Otherwise it’s just superpowered property destruction porn.
Anthony Pollock: What are your biggest obstacles when it comes to your work? How do you overcome them?
Stonie Williams: I can think of two off hand. The anxiety around getting STARTED and word count.
For some inexplicable reason that I don’t have with anything else I try to do, starting a day writing is the hardest part for me. That damned blank page. If it stays blank, I haven’t ruined it. How do I overcome that? I actually go back to something someone who is a kind of idol of mine once said. Matt Hawkins of Top Cow posted to social media and said “Not trying is worse than failing. At least when you fail you learn from it. All you learn from inaction that you’re either lazy or a coward. Try. Fuck Yoda.”
Yes, I screenshot that and it’s verbatim.
And that may come off as a bit harsh and not something I’d tell someone in the middle of them struggling to start a page – “You’re either lazy or a coward”, but it’s absolutely something that motivates me in the moment. I have to take an almost aggressive attitude towards it. I WILL write this page, I WILL kick it’s ass, even if it’s shit and I have to rewrite every word later. At least I learn from it. I think to myself, What Would Matt Hawkins Do? Haha
Word count is actually a lot easier fix. I can get very wordy (the answers to these questions are testament enough to that!) and I worry a lot about over-filling word balloons. How do I overcome that? More advice from another writer! This time, I went to Tumblr and flat out asked Neil Gaiman if he had any rules or suggestions on word balloon limits. Mr. Gaiman said “30 words max in a balloon, 180 words max on a page is a good rule. You can break it once you know what you’re doing, but it’s a good place to start.”
And if you’re a Gaiman fan, you just read that in his voice. Yes, again, I screenshotted it and that’s verbatim. Of course, I screenshotted it, Neil freaking Gaiman was speaking to ME.
I start with writing whatever it is I want to say, then I go back and count the words. If I’ve gone over, I look at it again and come up with a better, more succinct way to get across what I’m trying to say. Which usually comes out better in the end than what I started with anyway. Sometimes its about just getting the idea out of my head and on the page. Then I can worry about making it pretty.
Anthony Pollock: How did you go about finding the right artist to work on this project?
Stonie Williams: That was actually all Mad Cave Studios! At first they paired me up with an artist named Rich Smith – amazing guy and fantastic artist, love him to death – there were some scheduling conflicts and they had to switch artists. Luckily, Jef Sadzinksi was fresh off Show’s End and they knew they couldn’t let him go! While Rich and I had great chemistry and I would 100% work with him again, I feel like we really lucked out with Jef.
He really grasped the characters and elevated their personalities with his artwork. When you read the book don’t forget to watch the background! It’s easy to get lost in the expressions he does for main characters and miss some of the incredible details he puts into the background and the supporting characters. He’s one of those incredible artists that does so much with so little space that you can re-read the book over and over and see something you missed the time before.
Anthony Pollock: Many of us creators work on projects outside of our 9-5 jobs. Do you have any advice for balancing careers with passion projects/side hustles?
Stonie Williams: I wish I did. I’m lucky enough to be a stay-at-home Dad. So I’ll give advice on how to homeschool 5 kids while you juggle passion projects and side hustles.
Alcohol. Lots and lots of– No, I’m kidding. It’s all about time management and managing expectations, just like with anything else. There’s never enough hours in the day. You have to maximize the productivity in the hours you got. And that’s not to say it’s easy or that every day is smooth. Even when you do everything right, this is still an art more than it’s a science. And sometimes The Art Gods don’t give two figs about your schedule. You have to recognize everything you DID get done even on the days you didn’t get done as much as you wanted.
It’s okay to be disappointed that the kids needed more help with Math than they usually do, and it’s okay to be frustrated that it took you an extra hour to come up with how to that fight scene should work than what you had planned, or to be angry you couldn’t find the right website to finish your research as soon as you’d hoped. But you have to stop and acknowledge what you did get done and the steps you did take and come back at it again tomorrow.
You’ll find a balance on the days you can and you’ll cut into (probably) your sleep on the days you can’t. If you want this bad enough, you’ll make it work, even on the days that feel wasted. Even when work or home sucks your time and energy more than you anticipated – you’ll still find time to write or draw or color or letter because you can’t keep from it.
None of us are in this for the fame and glory or glamour and glitz. We’re in comics because we can’t imagine not being in comics.
Anthony Pollock: Do you have any upcoming events/projects/releases you would like to discuss?
Stonie Williams: We have some cool stuff to support Villainous coming soon, so be sure to watch Mad Cave’s social media and YouTube. Issue 1 hits stores Oct 14, issue 2 hits stores Nov 11th. I’m hoping, Covid willing, that I’ll have an in-store signing in Tulsa. But we’ll see how that goes.
Anthony Pollock: Thank you for taking the time to do this! Where can readers find you and your work?
Stonie Williams: For the foreseeable future Mad Cave Studios is a good place to see everything Villainous. I have an on-going story with Nate Lindley at Ashcan Comics Pub called Vala The Beast Heart. I colored a piece called ‘The Watch’ with David Galiano on writing duties (also of Mad Cave fame) and Craig Florence on art for an anthology called Cthulhu Invades Oz.
And I’m BaldBeardedBard across social media for anything else that might come my way! I’ve got a couple of other things down the line that I’ll be sure to talk about anywhere and everywhere I can get people to pay attention to me. And probably even a couple of places I can’t.
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