Williams III is a professional illustrator who has
worked on a wide range of titles from DC and Marvel,
including his co-created title (with D. Curtis Johnson) Chase
and fill-in issues of Batman and X-Men
among others. Along with art partner Mick Gray, J.H. is
currently working on Promethea for ABC comics
with writer and co-creator Alan Moore (2000 Eisner
winner for Best Writer).
the Promethea: Book One hardcover coming out, I
thought I’d interrupt J.H. just long enough to catch
his attention, but hopefully not long enough to cause a
delay for the next issue of Promethea.
Slush Factory presents:
20 Questions with: J.H. Williams III
was your first work in comics and what was Alternative
Existence #32? Where can a JH Williams III fan
go searching for that pin-up you mentioned in Chase
it is Alternate Existence #2. It was a very
independent publication and I have no idea where someone
would find one and not that they should try because my
pin-ups really weren't very good.
How did you and Alan Moore hook up to create Promethea?
Did he approach you and Mick Gray, or did you pitch and
someone suggest you to Moore?
was introduced to work with Alan by Scott Dunbier from
Wildstorm. Scott in turn was shown my work from Alex
Ross, which completely surprised me because I had no
idea that Alex was familiar with my work. When
Scott first approached me for Promethea he had
said that actually I wasn't the first choice for the
project. He originally wanted someone who had a
bigger name and fan base draw, but for some reason none
of the other people could do the project for whatever
reasons. So Scott took Alex's advice and had me
put together a large packet of my work for Alan to look
at. Alan looked it over and said this is the guy.
Needless to say I was ecstatic. I never thought in all
my time as a fan and professional of comics that I would
work with Alan Moore. I feel that Promethea
has become, for several reasons, the most important
project I have worked on to date.
A common theme in your titles is strong, independent
women. In Chase, Cameron Chase is quite the
thinker, Promethea manages to really convey
strength, and even Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and Wonder
Woman in Son of Superman are portrayed as
incredibly strong through your visuals. Is this a
goal or is this just how the characters happen to
"speak" to you before drawing them?
actually. I do intentionally portray female
characters strongly and as realistically as possible
because I believe that they deserve to be treated as
such. I can't think of anything I hate more than
female characters that are treated as bimbos or airheads
or purely sexualized. So when I work on projects I try
to look for the strengths of the female characters.
There is definitely not enough of this type of thinking
in comics today and that needs to change. I mean,
how can we expect our female readership to grow if we
don't treat female characters respectfully?
How long have you and Mick Gray been an art team?
Also, who came up with the idea of having fill-in
artists do flashback sequences while you guys did the
framing sequences? It's a technique we've seen in Chase
and in Promethea...
and I have been working together since early 1995.
The first piece we actually did together was when I was
working on Judge Dredd for DC. I needed a
Wondercon Judge Dredd program book piece inked
and asked Mick to do it. It came out perfect.
The best that I had seen from anybody else over my
pencils. So I convinced Mick that he needs to quit
doing inking assists and ink over my stuff. I fought for
him to be my inker with editors because I was very
unhappy with the way other inkers handled my pencils.
I even turned down important gigs to prove my point of
how much Mick was the right guy. After a while we
didn't need to fight for it anymore. It was accepted
that we would be a team.
far as having different artists handle flashback stuff,
D. Curtis Johnson and I both thought it would be a
clever way to gain more lead-time. So when we were
running short on time we would place these flashback
sequences into the story. We wanted the change of
artists to have a point instead of being just a random
fill-in artist issue. To me this worked a lot more
effectively than the way those situations usually play
out. So the change in look and style has purpose
for the series as well as gain me time for the following
issues. It also seemed to be more accepted by the
readers to handle it that way as well. They understood
that there was a point to it. Alan seems to think
in the same way. He doesn't want random fill-in
artists. He wants it to be a planned thing so it
doesn’t interrupt the look and feel of the story
without a reason.
The covers of Promethea all have a different
theme, aside from the obvious "inside this
issue." Would you mind talking about which one is
your favorite and what the homage is?
off I just want to say that Todd [Klein] is the main
person responsible for the great cover ideas. He
suggests an idea to everyone and we go from there. He
designs it all. The main thing I want to see with
the covers to Promethea is that we tribute them
in some way to another artist or artistic style. I can't
really say which is my favorite but if I was to choose
one I think it would be the cover to #8. You know
the one that is thanking Terry Gilliam.
That cover is a nod to Terry's strange photographic
animation sequences that he would do on Monty Python.
Those were absolutely brilliant. I also like the cover
to #11 as well. It’s like a movie poster for an
old monster B-movie from the fifties.
What got you interested in comics? What is your
Toys actually. When I was a kid I read some comics
and would draw the characters out of them like Spiderman
for example. But I really didn't pay them much
thought. You see I was really into these far out toys
called Micronauts. I was crazy for these
toys. So one day I’m in a 7-11 store looking at
some comics and I come across Micronauts Comicbook #3
(I actually remember the issue number). I couldn't
believe it!! I bought it without even looking at
I got home and opened it up
I was blown away by the visuals and the story.
That is when I actually realized that somebody drew
these things. The artist for the Micronauts
was Michael Golden and his art was magnificent. I
quickly bought every Micronauts comic I could
find. I told some friends of mine about it and
they said if I liked that I should look at this other
comic called The Uncanny X-Men. That is when I
discovered John Byrne. He was completely different
than Michael Golden’s style but just as captivating.
Then my brother-in-law showed me Jack Kirby's Kamandi
The Last Boy on Earth. By then I was
absolutely hooked and convinced that this is what I
would do when I grew up. I was going to become a
comicbook artist and here I am doing just that!!
Aside from your own creations and co-creations, which
character do you most identify with in comics?
know, that is a very tough question for me. Come
to think of it I don't think I do identify with any one
character. But I really do identify with a lot of
the autobiographical comics from the independent
publishers. I can relate to the human qualities of
these comics. I think everyone should be reading this
stuff because they tend to provide some insight to
humanity in many ways. The way other people think
and live and you can relate to it. Someday, if
possible, I would like to do a project like that. To
study human nature in myself. I also really like
crime stories for some reason, as long as they are done
well with complex characters. Again I probably
like these because of the very human element.
I’m a very big fan of Terry Moore's Strangers In
Paradise. That series really impresses me
because the characters seem so real. You feel like
you are reading about somebody that Terry knows in real
life. The characters and story make you laugh and make
you cry. And he is really good with the crime and
intrigue elements of that story as well.
Now that you're an Eisner nominated artist working with
an Eisner winning writer, do you think you can get DC to
make a trade paperback of all the Chase issues?
It really was a great series that died before its time.
for liking Chase. We put a lot of thought and
heart into that work. Again here is that human element.
I would like to see a trade paperback of that stuff
because ever since it was canceled the series has
actually become more popular. A lot of people are
buying the issues out of back issue boxes. I am
constantly hearing from people who have just discovered
the series and absolutely love it. We are working
on a new project with those characters, which I can't
really go into just yet, so there might be the
possibility of a trade paperback of the original series.
I hope anyway.
artwork from among your contemporaries do you enjoy
looking at? Why?
you would ask me this. I don't want to forget
anybody that I really like but there is no way I can
list everyone either. I really like what José
Villarubia does. He wants to push the boundaries
of comics with painting and digital photography.
Jae Lee's work is so impressive. His work is very
emotionally charged. Same goes for Sean Phillips.
I'm also very into a lot of European artists as well.
Such as Moebius, Juan Gimenez,
Bilal, Bess, Berthet, many many more. I've also
just recently picked up The Complete Little Nemo
from Winsor McCay…astonishing. All of this stuff
is absolutely wonderful and inspirational. They
all have qualities that I admire and strive for in my
Why did ABC decide to print the first six issues of Promethea
as a hardcover instead of the first eight?
Wouldn't that have made more sense story wise, or is the
origin not over yet? What kind of extra material
can we expect in the hardcover?
agree that issue 8 would have been a better cut off
point for the collection. To be honest I'm not
sure why it was decided to be only six issues in the
collection. Even though #8 would be a better place
to cut it, it still isn't the end of Promethea's
self-discovery. She will probably be continuously
discovering new things about herself. It is a
magical journey after all. There will be a few
extras in the hardcover. Not as much as I would
have liked but it wasn't my decision. The cover is
a painting over my pencils by José Villarubia. It
looks beautiful. The signature page will reproduce
the pencils to that cover. There will be a small
section in the back for pieces that people haven't seen.
Also in that section is a reproduction of the pencils to
cover number 6 without the color. I thought people might
like to see that.
What is it like working with Alan Moore? Seems
like he can put out an awful lot of scripts out in a
fairly short amount of time...
he can be quite fast when need be. I think he is
probably at his most prolific right now in the amount of
work he is doing. He is an absolute dream to work
with. Even though his scripts are fairly complex
and tight he is open to my interpretations of the
imagery. If I see something in a different way he
allows me the freedom to do things the way I see them.
So the end result is a very collaborative effort.
He tends to prefer this as long as it doesn't destroy
what he was trying to do. I am grateful for the
opportunity to work with Alan. We have developed a
very wonderful friendship and I feel he can teach me
things about subjects that we have a similar interest in
such as magic. He is a very thoughtful,
considerate and sweet man.
There is a cinematic quality to your work. What is
your favorite movie of all time and is Terry Gilliam
be honest I really don't have a favorite movie of all
time. You know what? That isn't true. I feel silly
right now for that first comment. My favorite
movie would have to be "The Day The Earth Stood
Still". That is such an ingenious film for its
time. Not only for its effects but also for its
story and message. I love that movie. I
watch it over and over. But I must say I am truly a
lover of Terry Gilliam's films as well. Except for
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." There
were some great moments but I feel it didn't really work
as a film all that well.
We never got to see The Word in action in the pages of Chase,
but his design cries out for more usage. When you
create characters like Cameron Chase or The Word, how
much freedom does a company like DC have to use them?
Are they creator owned or are they squarely property of
in most cases they are squarely owned by the company. D.
Curtis Johnson and I own equity in those characters.
So if the company ever does merchandise or license the
use of the characters for film then we see some money.
So basically the company can do whatever they want to
those characters and there is nothing we can do about
it. Which is unfortunate because they haven't been
used all that well since the original series except for
some Secret Files issues here and there written by D.
Out of curiosity, when artists sell their original comic
book art, how do hardcover reprints and the like get
made? How much of the original art belongs to the
artists? All the pages?
of the art is owned by the artists but cannot be
reprinted without the company's permission due to
copyright of the characters. The way the company
reproduces the material for collections is by having
film shot of the art and kept on file. I think
most of this is done digitally now.
What genre of comic book would you like to work on that
you haven't worked on yet?
something of an autobiographical nature, a really down
and dirty crime drama or an ethereal science fiction
story in the tradition of Moebius and other European
How long does it take for you to pencil an issue on
average in order to maintain a monthly schedule?
I can't do a monthly schedule. Promethea
actually comes out whenever an issue is ready. I
can pencil about a page a day. From what I
understand that is fairly fast considering the amount of
work I put into each page. The trick is to be diligent
and disciplined, that way you can be consistent.
The main reason I can't do a monthly schedule without
having some fill-in work in there is because after about
5 days of drawing I need to take a break for a couple of
days so my eyes can rest.
would be surprised by the amount of actual physical
fatigue you acquire as well after drawing for a lengthy
time. This occurs probably because of the amount
of highly focused energy and thinking involved in
producing quality work on a page-by-page basis.
There are days that my head actually gets hot due to the
amount of concentrated energy I’m putting into my
my time off, my wife Wendy notes that I’m not very
cognizant. My brain is trying to recuperate. I
apologize to her because I know this drives her crazy.
Fortunately for me she is very understanding. I
try to work Monday through Friday with weekends off for
painting or going to movies with my wife; spending time
with Wendy is the most important thing to me.
you have any nightmare stories about conventions you'd
like to share?
no. I love doing conventions and meeting followers
of my work. I’d say the toughest thing about
cons are not being able to do a sketch for everyone who
asks. Sometimes its just not possible, especially
in a busy, poorly lit (for drawing) convention hall.
I don't like to disappoint fans who really want to have
an original sketch from me. But at cons you get
tired quickly so you end up having to tell people no.
Plus I like to look around and see what else is going on
so I always a lot time for that. I am a fan myself you
When do we get to own a Promethea action figure?
soon!!! There has been some discussion on making
one and a PVC set as well. There also might be a
t-shirt in the works. In the meantime I recommend
that Promethea fans check out the statue, which
is due out in September. It looks beautiful.
The sculptor (forgive me but I can't remember his name
at the moment) [Tim Bruckner –ed.] did an amazing job.
It was done based on design drawings of mine. But
if you wish to get one, I would place an order
immediately because they are manufacturing to order
Who do you picture as Promethea if they ever made it
into a movie? Who is the ideal Sophie?
there were to be a movie, Promethea would be very
difficult to figure out for casting. She would
definitely need to be someone ethnic, regal, and a very,
very good actress. At first I was thinking of
Katherine Zeta Jones. But I don't think the looks
would be quite right. For Sophie it would
definitely have to be Natalie Portman. Give her
slightly shorter hair and she would look just like
Sophie. And she is quite a good actress as well,
which would be a must to pull off the character's
What do you think is needed in order for comics to reach
out to the next generation of readers?
not sure. We definitely need a lot more promotion.
There is absolutely no promotion for comics outside of
the industry. This annoys me very much.
Especially when I see plenty of cross promotion ads in
comics for music and video games. I think the same
could be done for comics in other forms of entertainment
magazines. I would think that would be a
no-brainer. If someone like DC were to do this
then other publishers would probably follow. Also
comics need to be in more accessible places, not just
get me wrong, comic shops are a great idea but comics
have become too isolated in recent years. Also we
need to watch the price tags. I have heard from so many
people that they would have tried out Chase right
away if the book was $1.95 instead of $2.50. They
wouldn’t have waited to hear about it from somebody
else. That mere 55 cents made a lot of difference to a
lot of comic buyers. The end result was slow sales and
cancellation. There are a lot of choices for comic
fans to make and only so much money to spend.
prices are my biggest concern at this very moment.
Also I think fans are interested in more self-contained
stories or books instead having to commit to another
ongoing series. If you look at the way comics are
packaged sold over in Europe you can see that they
understand this. I recently spoke to a European
publisher who can sell a $15 56-page hardbound comic at
300,000 copies for its initial print run and then sell
continuously 8,000 to 10,000 additional copies every
month there after and this was a 15 year old book.
He explained to me that this is a typical example of all
their publications to this day. This is because they
understand the idea of limited buying habits and
commitments of the consumer. This publisher is only
interested in high quality material that he knows will
have long-term staying power. He is not trying to
meet that monthly short-term issue quota that seems to
purvey American publishers thinking.
think eventually that the European comics sensibility
will be become a common way of doing things here but it
is going to be a lot of hard work to change the
publishing views of the companies in our country.
I think fans here in America are almost at this point of
thinking now, of buying self-contained material.
More and more fans are willing to wait for their comics,
as long as the quality remains at a high standard.
I think they are getting tired of seeing their favorite
comics have the occasional bad issue because the
publisher needs to meet that monthly quota.
lack of quality in some of mainstream comics is really
starting hurt the industry but I think this lack of
quality will change as we progress into more
self-contained stories. I have hope for this
industry here in America. I am definitely not a
pessimist but there is a lot of progress to be taken.
I hope to be contributing in the best way I know how, to
this ideal, with all the projects I choose to work on.
Thanks for letting me rant.
you for ranting, and thanks for letting us turn your
brain to Slush.