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Anthony Williams interview
Anthony Williams interview
Features - Interviews

Anthony Williams interviewInterview by James Mackay

Anthony Williams is known to many despairing comics editors as “The Comic Stripper”.  If you have a problem, if no-one else can help (and if DC haven’t nabbed him first) he’ll bail you out… 

More than that, though, he’s one of 2000AD’s true stalwarts, the man who did as much as any artist to define the look of the Simps, futsies and other assorted lunatics that people the pedways of Judge Dredd’s world.  Working in a bright, clean style when all around him in the early days were painting in mud, switching with effortless ability from the light comedy of Robo-hunter to the grim future of the VC’s, it’s difficult to think of many more prolific or talented creators on the title.  We caught up with him for a little chat…

What made you decide to go into drawing funny pictures for a living?   

I read comics pretty much from the time I started reading. As I recall, the first comic I got regularly was Playhour and Robin at about age 4. I quickly moved on through Whizzer and Chips, Warlord, Action and 2000AD. When I started at my comprehensive school I met a kid who was into Marvel and coincidently that same week the first issue of Captain Britain came out (October ‘76 as I recall). I then started picking up all the UK Marvel reprints along with 2000AD. From there I progressed to squandering all available funds on US and UK comics, the typical sad story of a comics junkie. 

Do you have formal training in art?  How did you break into comics, and what were your earliest (pre-2000AD) gigs? 

I spent all my teenage years drawing comics and failing my exams.

I worked briefly as a sign writer before getting a place on an illustration course in East London. All the lecturers were part time and spent most of their week working as cartoonists and illustrators and so actively encouraged my pursuit of a comicbook career, the result of which was in my second year in college I visited Marvel UK (for the umpteenth time) with my portfolio just when Kev Hopgood had stopped working on Action Force to go and work on something else, somewhere else. Richard Starkings in a moment of blind panic said ‘screw Hopgood” and gave me the gig.

This big break was slightly over shadowed by him discovering two talentless artists called Dougie Braithwaite and Bryan Hitch in virtually the same week, the result of which was I only ever drew two Action Force strips. Marvel, god bless ‘em, moved me onto a new title just launching, The Real Ghostbusters, which was a monster seller at the time and kept me in work for years.

A couple of months into my career I also started getting work on assorted titles from Fleetway (or whatever it was called then). I think I’m a classic case of once you get your foot in the door more doors open. 

Anthony Williams interviewYou kicked off your 2000AD career in fine style, drawing Dredd’s arch-nemesis PJ Maybe.  How did you get the gig? 

John Tomlinson. Thank you John, thank you.

John was working as an assistant on 2000AD when Richard Burton and Alan McKenzie were running the show. I shared a studio in Brixton with John, Kev Hopgood (yes, I did thank him for quitting Action Force), Andy Lanning and Brian Williamson.

John, showed my samples to Richard and while no work was instantly forthcoming, he then pinned them up on the wall. So when Liam Sharp stopped working on PJ Maybe stories to work on something else, somewhere else, Richard said “Screw Sharp” and gave me the gig. 

How do you find Dredd’s world to draw?  How does it compare with some of the other fictional universes you work in, for instance Marvel & DC?   

I find Dredd tougher than anything else. I was always intimidated by previous artists and I’ve struggled sometimes to get across just how huge and epic the whole Dredd world is. Even the intimate stories take place in a city that is for want of a better word, ‘Mega’. 

What do you think is the best Judge Dredd story you’ve drawn? 

Magic Mellow Out, written by Garth Ennis.

I’m a better illustrator than I was then, but at the time it was turning point in my artistic ability and I also remember it as being some of the most fun I’ve had drawing. 

The first original series you designed for the weekly was Kola Kommandoes.  What are your memories of the script?  Was it easy working with fellow-artist Steve Parkhouse? 

Funnily enough Kola Kommandos runs it a close second. I know the strip isn’t that popular but it was fantastic to draw from a script by an artist who I admire and the whole thing was pleasantly insane.

I’ve never spoken to Steve, so if any of you reading this ever gets the chance to, tell him Ant says Thanks. 

Babe Race 2000, RoboHunter and Costa del Chaos - none of them exactly count among Mark Millar’s finest hours, but were they fun to work on?  

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I loved doing Bisleyland and Ace of Slades. I know Mark and I have been roundly booed from the cheapseats for our Sam Slade work but at the time we were having a great time doing it and you hope the reader will too.

Babe Race was a fun bit of fluff and Big Dave was tough because I was filling in for Steve Parkhouse. I was trying to keep the artwork loose like his but without his drawing skills. 

Anthony Williams interviewThe VC’s could now probably be said to be your signature strip for 2000AD, but its grim ‘n’ gritty war heroics couldn’t be further from most of the strips that you’d done previously for the title.  How did you adapt your style to the subject matter? 

At Marvel and DC I developed a more realistic style to go along with my lighter approach and the work I do outside of comics calls upon me to be adaptable.

The subject matter dictated the direction I took and if you look at my run you’ll see that the style solidifies at around the midway point. 

Another story with strong subject matter you’ve dispatched recently was the Battle of Iwo Jima strip for Osprey.  What sort of research did you have to undertake for it? 

You would not believe how much research went into this and the other books I did for them. Luckily Osprey put together an amazing reference package. The books have to be correct down to the smallest detail. Technical experts check the artwork at every stage so it’s easier just to get it right in the first place. 

What was Hokum & Hex about, and how was it working with Clive Barker? 

Hokum and Hex was part of the very short lived Barkerverse.

The Barkerverse was a new comic universe inhabited by Clive barker created characters. The way it worked was, the writer, Frank Lovece and myself worked from a short treatment from Mr Barker and basically went off and did our own thing.

Hokum and Hex was a cheesy magician who gains powers and gets sucked into a dimension spanning story.

I never did meet Clive Barker but I have shared a lift with the guy who played Pinhead. 

Is there a particular writer whose scripts you always know you’ll enjoy illustrating? 

I’ve got to say Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning because their raging egos demand that they get a mention in this interview at least once.

I also enjoy illustrating writers like Millar and Ennis as you know you’re going to be drawing something different. Ennis got me to draw a gobbing contest for god’s sake.

Most writers are great and talented individuals and I love them all. 

Anthony Williams interviewGiven that you came to prominence in the early 1990’s, when Bisleyesque fully-painted artwork was all the rage, did you ever feel that you stood out in the prog, and were you ever pressured to change your style? 

I once presented Richard with a huge painted sample piece of Dredd to which he promptly told me to stop being so stupid and stick to my strengths.

Good advice. 

You reunited with Mark Millar to work on The Unfunnies, part of his Millarworld project.   

Mark got in touch with me. I think I came to mind because I draw a lot of licensed funny animal artwork, I’m quick and I because do other work could afford to take a risk on a creator owned project with very little upfront money on offer.

While I have the chance, I’d like to say that Mark is a very generous guy and made sure that I’ve done well out of a comic book that relies on his name for sales. 

Do you prefer illustrating children’s comics like Scooby-Doo, or the more adult-oriented stuff like Dredd?   

I have no preference. I like to work on two or three jobs in any given working day as it keeps me motivated. 

Who are the other comic artists that you admire, either from those working today or from the past?   

I hate this question as the list is so long and the reasons so varied.

So I’m not going to answer it (hah!) 

You’ve a reputation as a safe pair of hands.  Fellow-artist PJ Holden recently praised you as one of very few artists that editors can rely on to produce the goods, to be fast and yet to fit in with an established universe, and your own website describes you as “fast and slick”.  What are the pro’s and con’s of this approach, and do you end up working 24/7?   

The pro’s are I get work and I like working under pressure.

The con’s, I can be seen as utility player and I may have missed out on plum assignments in the past as I was the fast fill in guy.

Also, I do have to temper how much I put into a job against the deadline. That said, some of my best work was produced at speed with no time for navel gazing. 

Describe your normal working day. 

Get up at 6.

Walk to my studio which is a few minutes away and be in front of the mac with a tea and toast by 6.45.

Start drawing at 7.30.

Work till 12 then walk the dog and have lunch.

In theory, finish at 4, but it never happens and generally finish about 5.30 to 6. 

What’s the shortest deadline you’ve had to work to? 

I had to pencil four Batman books in two weeks. One of which was inked by Klaus Janson. A personal ambition and I had to hack it out. Ah well.

I’ve just remembered, I pencilled an X Factor in about 4 days. 

You do a lot of work with advertising agencies for clients like Virgin Atlantic and licensed characters such as Jackie Chan and Ronald McDonald.  Can you still be creative doing this kind of work? 

Licensed work demands a particular discipline as you have to following clearly defined style guides. The work I do for companies such as Virgin tends to be advertising or marketing and I have a lot of creative input as the client is usually calling on me to put a comic strip sensibility on to the job. 

Anthony Williams interviewWhat episodes of the new Doctor Who did you storyboard, and do you reckon new Who is better than the old one? 

I storyboarded assorted episodes from the first series including the first one.

I'm currently working on the show again providing bits and pieces of set concept illustration and I've also recently done some artwork that features in an episode of Sarah Jane adventures.

As to which is better, no contest, I love the new one as do all my family which is its major strength. 

Could you describe the process you go through in getting a feel for licensed characters and established universes? 

Sheer hell for the first few illustrations, then great once you get in the groove of the character. I constantly learn new techniques and augmentations to my own style doing these jobs. 

There was a recent online squall about Ian Gibson’s decision to quit Robo-Hunter.  How did you feel about that, and will you continue illustrating Samantha Slade? 

I don’t know the ins and outs of why Ian left the story midway. Matt asked me to finish up the story to a tight deadline as print date was imminent.

I assume from what you’re implying, Ian isn’t coming back. If so, yep, I’d like to illustrate more Samantha Slade as I had to dive in without to much thought as to approach last time.

And if Ian is coming back, well it’s his strip not mine. 

Which series in 2000AD would you like to work on, given the chance? 

Tough question. I really don't know. I love drawing Dredd and I'd love to draw a barbarian, dinosaur, noir, funny animal strip if one becomes available. 

Are you now fully computerised, and what tools do you work with? 

I pencil and outline ink my artwork and then everything else is done on a mac with a wacom tablet.

My 2000AD stuff is all done in Photoshop but I also work with Illustrator. 

Why are there no decent Welsh superheroes? 

You have no idea how often I lie awake at night asking myself that self same question.  If only I could get bitten by a radioactive sheep!

Thanks also to PJ Holden.You can see more of Anthony Williams's work on and on Osprey Graphic History which has previews of Williams-illustrated comics.

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