J.H. Williams III Paints Gotham Red

When CBR News recently spoke with DC Comics Editorial Director Dan DiDio about "Wednesday Comics," the subject of what other projects he was excited about delivering to the marketplace this summer was also discussed. And while "Blackest Night," "The Flash: Rebirth" and "Batman and Robin" were all top of mind, the highest praise went to the upcoming run of "Detective Comics" featuring Batwoman by writer Greg Rucka ("Action Comics," "Gotham Central") and illustrator J.H. Williams III ("Promethea," "Jonah Hex").

"I feel with Batwoman we are reinventing what comics are all about," DiDio said. "This transcends the traditional comic book... I just can't wait for it to get in people's hands. And hopefully they will react with the same level of excitement as we do here."


Well, "Detective Comics" #854 arrived in comic book stores last week and readers did react with the same level of excitement - and then some.

CBR News checked in with Williams to discuss the project and to find out why the book featuring Kate Kane is making the comics industry "red" with envy.

CBR: We cannot proceed without stating the fact that "Detective Comics" #854 is beautiful. Can you describe the techniques you are using to create the artwork for this title?

J.H. WILLIAMS III: Thank you so very much. The techniques being used are all over the place depending on what needs doing. Pen and ink, washes, Copic markers, watercolor paint, color pencil, digital color. Some images are a real mixed media of tricks. The rendering on Batwoman herself is applied using Copic markers after I've done the ink work. It is applied in a way that picks up a little of the ink layer on the board, blending the two mediums together a little. After that is done, I will then go in with black and white color pencils, and maybe some white ink, for tightening up of details. This amount of work is done quite a bit throughout but really focused on her costume. I'll add some grey Copic marker tones or washes into backgrounds as well if I feel it needs it. It can get pretty complex sometimes.


After I've completed all of the black and white and grey techniques, I will scan the image or page and do some minor tweaking to get the black more dense. This is what [colorist] Dave [Stewart] or myself will do digital color over. On occasion I will paint some panels or portions of covers by hand if there is a certain effect that I want that looks slightly different than the other images. I just did all of the covers for the second arc in where I combined ink work, digital color, and hand-painted techniques into a single image, blending them together. The techniques transition in to each other in interesting and relatively seamless ways. It's all pretty organic, experimental, challenging, and a lot of fun.


What makes Gotham City an exciting place to be as an artist?

Everything. It is a great atmosphere for an artist - all of the textures and variety of background details. The location provides an endless amount of possibilities to show a wide variety of things, from the upper high society locales to the dark gritty back alleys. I think we are going to get to see some of what I mean in the issues.

And what about Batwoman? Is there something special about Kate Kane that makes her a joy to draw?

What really makes her interesting to me is how different Batwoman is from Kate on a visual level, and yet there are definitely connections subliminally. We are really doing our utmost best to make her visually unique in the DC Universe.

Can you speak about the use of the color red in the series? Gotham is typically depicted in blacks and blues but the red you are using in "Detective Comics" seems to bring the city alive like I've never seen it, and readers are definitely notcing.

For me it is all about the vitality of the character. Is there darkness? Yes, but Gotham is really much more colorful than most people treat it. The entire cast of characters that can be found in Gotham are very colorful on so many levels, personality-wise and visually, they're stimulating. Gotham is too easily portrayed as grey and drab in palette, handling this sort of atmosphere in such a way can actually weaken the darkness, the black. Having punches of colors mixed with the black makes that black stronger and more palpable, at least in my humble opinion. A lot of people forget how effective color can be in grim settings, strengthening the shadows that lay beside, and even more so with this particular character. The flashes of color suit Batwoman's personality and the personality of the series itself. So out of the eerie darkness leaps this shocking dangerous violent red.

The covers we have seen for the first "Detective Comics" arc are composed like standalone pieces of art. Can you speak about the look and feel of the covers and how they relate to the work inside?

My favorite types of covers are ones that stand on their own, without having to know all of the details of the story. More symbolic types of images. Though these covers directly tie-in to the issues, they are not relying heavily on specific concrete details. Granted, there are details there that are pertinent to those specific issues, but it is all handled symbolically with design and emotion. Addressing the look is interesting to me because they needed to send a very clear broad message that this is not "Detective Comics" as you've seen before, so that was a challenge. I think they do all of that pretty effectively.

The most interesting thing about these covers being for "Detective Comics" is the first cover is the very first time I actually drew Batwoman at all. So that one was done a long time before we knew that we were going to be under our current title.

Speaking of "a long time," it's no secret that you and Greg Rucka have been working on this project for ages. When did you actually start working on Batwoman? Is it true you didn't know from the outset she was going to be headlining "Detective Comics?"

No, we didn't know she was going to headline "Detective Comics." The original plan was for her to have her own series under her own name. Even though we got shuffled around a bit, the end result is a good one. Even though this is "Detective Comics," it's her "Detective Comics."

We aren't changing our game plan at all to accommodate the name of the title. She has her story and it needs to be told in the way it needs to. I do think being in this title has gotten more people to pay more attention. We had been working on the material for a little while under the assumption of her having her own title, so we just can't all of sudden change that momentum because we are now under a different title, we have to keep moving forward with the story we've always meant to tell.

What are your thoughts on the reception Batwoman and Kate Kane has received so far?

Happy and elated. The initial response to the first issue has been very positive and with an overwhelming number of reviews and blogs about it. I hope people will continue with us and find a long standing interest in the character and enjoyment out of the series.

As a comic book creator, is it special working on the longest continuously published title in comic history, "Detective Comics ?"

Of course it is. I find it very interesting because I've been reading "Detective Comics" since I was a kid and getting to work on it now is fantastic. The strange part is that it isn't Batman, but we are presenting a character that has just as much to offer as Batman. It's also nice being able to work on something from the ground up, not having to follow anyone else. It feels very fresh.

What's the back-and-forth like with Greg Rucka? I've spoken with him many times and he may be one of your biggest fans.

Our working relationship is excellent. I'm really enjoying the hell out of it. We're operating in a true collaborative perspective. We both are influencing each other to bring out the best in the story. He is very intent on having my input on how things shake out and not just writing over me. We're treating this as a partnership. He sees my strengths and I see his and we are doing our best to exploit those to their fullest. Hopefully people will agree with that statement as the series progresses.

Is your hope to stay on "Detective Comics" for some time or do you have other projects and assignments forthcoming?

I'll be around for awhile, 12 issues at least. I currently have no other plans than "Detective Comics" and Batwoman's role in it.

"Detective Comics" #854 is in stores now from DC Comics.

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