Freddie E. Williams II is clearly a rising star in comics. Having begun his career just a few short years ago, the artist already finds himself on titles such as DC Comics' "Robin" and "The Flash," where he's looking forward to working with Mark Waid, one of his favorite writers of all time. With such high-profile gigs landing in his lap, CBR News caught up with Williams to learn how he broke into this business called comics and what the future has in store for him.
On sale in January, "The Flash" #236 begins Freddie E. Williams II's run on the title
Where did you study art?
Freddie E. Williams II: Never went to school for art. When I was 14, I met my oldest friend Tyrone Crockett at Washington high school, and he taught me a lot about using shapes to construct the human form, very much in the "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" tradition. The following year he went out of state to college and from there on out, I have been pretty much self-taught.
I graduated from Washington High School in 1995 and didn't know the comic industry was entering the darkest period in its history, so I was under the misguided notion that I would get a penciling gig right out of school, so I never enrolled in any college. A year or two after I graduated, I attended a comic convention, where some professionals were discussing the lousy state of the industry and that was the first I had heard of it. I wish I had gone to an art college, I think it would have saved me time on many of the things I had to learn on my own.
What type of reaction or encouragement did you get from your teachers at Washington High?
I got plenty of comments like "that looks nice" from my teachers, but usually I heard "stop drawing in my class!" or "was that the work I assigned?" because I would draw as much as I could, even during lectures and the teachers always assumed I didn't hear what they had been saying. Even my art teachers weren't all that happy with my choice of art form. I remember one of my art teachers asked something like "when are you going to work on some real art" or something like that.
The two teachers that made the biggest impact on my in High School were Mrs. Bennett (Journalism) and Mr. Lawerence (English). That's not to say other teachers didn't impact my life in immeasurable ways, but those are the two that really stand out to me.
My sister Donna was the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper when I was a freshman. She showed some of my art to the Mrs. Bennett and since they needed an editorial cartoonist Mrs. Benett got my class schedule all switch around to get me into her newspaper class. She even got me in without the regular one year of journalism classes it usually takes to get onto the newspaper staff!
The next year I got onto the yearbook staff as well, so two hours of every day I was allowed to draw whatever I wanted, as long as I provided the assigned cartoons on time. Very cool!
When I was a senior, Mr. Lawrence was my English teacher. One day I saw him cleaning out his desk and he had a 20-sided die mixed in with a bunch of other clutter, I was deep into RPG's at the time, so it immediately caught my attention. Come to find out he had been a gamer since back in his high school days. He'd let me stay in his class during lunches, so I could draw, encouraging all the students to do reports on unusual and original subjects which was a great inspiration on finding my own writing voice, which has been essential in the few comics I've co-wrote and the "How to" book I'm doing for DC.
When you took a serious day job at Hallmark, did you think that being a comic creator was just around the corner?
Honestly, no, I didn't. The comic market had been so damn bleak for several years that I was afraid I might never get the chance. Don't get me wrong, even if I had never gotten hired at a comic company, I would have still drawn them for myself, but my dream is to draw the heroes I grew up reading, and I had no idea if that would ever happen.
Working at Hallmark helped revolutionize the way I draw comics. They gave us months worth of training when we first got in. Since my brain is a comic book filter, I always kept my eyes open as to how I could use those new tricks to making comics, so it helped prepare me for the work I'm doing now.
You did a lot of work for independent publishers before joining DC, how did you get your first job in comics?
For a couple years I had been hanging out on sites like digitalwebbing and penciljack, posting portfolio pages and meeting up with writers to put together pitches. In early 2004 George Singley ("Hellhounds," "Mutation") saw some of my posted pages, that were in the same vein as an Egyptian themed hero book called "Wargod" he was writing.
George sent me an email bout Illustrating "Wargod," and that started things rolling. I went from "Wargod" to "Chance of a Lifetime" to "Project EON" to "Lonebow," all double-sized one-shots, within about a year or so. I kept a fast paced schedule throughout all of those books, on top of my fulltime job at Hallmark, which helped prepare me for the pace I keep now on my work at DC.
Is there a certain comfort in working with independent publishers and being able to maintain a day job?
There is some comfort in having a good steady job, and not depending on the income I never made from that independent work. Working on comics and a fulltime job helped me focus and streamline my workflow to make me faster, which has really paid off. Also, I wasn't sure how well received my art would be in the industry, so I guess there was some comfort in having the steady job while putting my feelers out there.
You were discovered at the 2005 DC Comics talent search. What did you bring in your portfolio to show Richard Bruning?
My portfolio contained the first five pages from "Lonebow," the book I was working on at the time, several pages from my first flashback pages from my "Nobles Causes" work, and a pitch I was working on with my buddy Richard Evans, "Return to the Island of Dr. Moreau."
Editors want to see a variety of stuff, so I made sure there was a good mix of inner city buildings, nature backgrounds, superhero anatomy and a few regular people mixed in.
Can you take us through the steps that occurred between showing your portfolio to the reviewing editor and getting your first assignment?
As soon as I got back from the Convention, I sent Richard a follow-up email in reference to some of the stuff we had spoken about during the review, just to show him I could deliver what I had promised, and to tell him how appreciative and excited I was of the review.
Then each week, I would send a follow-up email with the 5-7 new pages I had done that week, in an effort to show him I am diligent and productive and consistent. When Richard made suggestions, I would act on them and keep them in mind on the next batch of pages. I just tried to stay in the front of his mind, because I knew how busy he is.
After about two and a half months of back and forth with Richard, I got my first work at DC, finishing up the "Seven Soldiers of Victory: Mister Miracle" miniseries.
You picked up "Mister Miracle" in the middle of the miniseries and well behind deadline, how much pressure was there on you?
A trillion tons of pressure, from all sides! My first pro work, working with Grant Morrison, tight deadline, with a series that had already cycled through two other artists. Though in spite all of that, I felt pressure most of all from myself! Within three weeks, I had to draw six fill-in pages from issue #2, a cover for issue #3 and, due to a mis-numbered script, issue #3 had 24 pages (as opposed to the regular 22 page count) for a grand total of 31 pages in 21 days.
"Mister Miracle "was a high profile project with Grant Morrison; did you feel this was a real opportunity to make a name for yourself?
Oh certainly! I had expected, that if I were ever lucky enough to get work from DC, I would start on a small title with an unknown writer, and try to claw my way up from there. This felt like jumping into the deep end, and with a lot of people watching. It was a great experience and I think it proved, to my editors that I was hungry and dedicated.
When "Mister Miracle" was over did you have fill-in projects waiting for you, or were there months where DC didn't have any work for you?
The script for "Mister Miracle" #4 was late by a full month, so I was assigned a fill-in of "Aquaman" #39 in the meantime. When I had completed that fill-in of "Aquaman," there was one week that I didn't have work from DC, and that week was filled with my last six pages of my work on "Noble Causes." After that I got the script for "Mister Miracle" #4.
How did you end up with the "Robin" assignment?
Karl Kershel was in line to take over "Robin," but somehow he got double-booked, so in the last week of my work on "Mister Miracle #4," Peter Tomasi, my editor at the time, called me to se if I would be interested in taking over as monthly artist on "Robin," and I was like "Hell yeah!"
I think I was in the front of Peter's mind, and just got really lucky!
"Robin" is a regular monthly assignment, and you're under exclusive contract. What is the advantage for you to switch titles from "Robin" to "The Flash?"
"The Flash" will be my new monthly gig, so workload-wise things shouldn't change too much for me, but "The Flash" has a larger audience, and working with Mark Waid, one of my favorite writers of all time, is a dream come true!
Will you be inking your own work on "The Flash?"
Yup, I work digitally, so the lines I'm drawing in are already black, so a lot of the work is "inked" as soon as I draw it.
CBR : Had you considered working on both "Robin" and "The Flash?"
As much as I would love to hold on to both "Robin" and "The Flash," I wouldn't be able to handle the workload for more than a few issues at a time, or else one day my wife would walk in to find me dead at my computer.
What has it been like working with Mark Waid?
Amazing! I still geek out when I get a script from him, and just something as mundane as him writing a note to me in the script makes me giddy. He is a very concise writer and knows just how to pace a script. On other projects, I will look through the script to see where pacing could be improved by compressing or decompressing the pacing, I couldn't find one place to do that with the Waid scripts I've received.
Is it difficult joining "The Flash in the middle of a story arc?
A little, but not as difficult as it was coming in half way through an issue like I did on "Mister Miracle."
Daniel Acuña's style is very different then yours, will the transition be jarring to fans in the middle of the story arc?
There is always that possibility, I think the way my issues of "The Flash" are being colored by the Hories --a very talented husband and wife team-- in a more rendered style will help to ease the transition from Daniel's full-on painterly look to my open line art style.
What type of challenges is there drawing characters that run fast?
Keeping The Flash fluid, but not overdue it. I never want him to look slow or stiff, but I want there to be a distinct difference between when the Flash is running as fast as he can, to say, save the world or race Superman, as compared to when he's jogging while on patrol.
And for me there is always some anxiety with drawing a character I've never drawn before, there can be an adjustment period to get a visual formula, I am comfortable with when drawing him.
What attracts you to the character of The Flash?
I've always liked The Flash, and since I've always been a rather large fellow- never the fasted kid on the playground, I remember daydreaming of being The Flash.
On a side note, I still remember the episode of "Superfriends" were The Flash was sent back in time or something and buried his communicator where the Hall of Justice would eventually be built. Then Superman detected it in the present and they carbon dated it, knew when in time Flash must have been and went back and rescued him, even as a kid I was like, but Flash had to die at least once for time to catch up with the present, and that made me feel bad for him.
Wally West is one of the few heroes in comics that is also a family man, what type of challenges are there mixing young children and super hero action?
I guess, making the kids keep their juvenile sense of humor and world outlook without diminishing the gravity of the situations they will be in. another challenge will be making the peril feel genuine while not glamorizing the idea of putting the children in danger.
What do you bring to the series that will excite and surprise the readers?
Hopefully, a sense of fun kinetic action, and clear storytelling.
The Flash has a huge rouges gallery, who are you looking forward to drawing?
Magenta would be interesting, since she has a personal past with Wally. That interaction could create drama on more than just an action level, it could also effect Wally and Linda's relationship.
Weather Wizard, cause a Mystro can be so exaggerated in his gestures, he seems like he would be fun to draw.
And Black Flash, very dark, very creepy, very cool visually.
How long are you planning on staying with "The Flash?"
I'm hoping for a run of no less that a year, but I'll stick around as long as they will have me!