The Blogger Turned Novelist Turned Comics Writer: Leah Williams Interview
Fan Bros recently spoke with comic book writer Leah Williams, whose work can be seen at Boom and Marvel. We spoke about the transition from blogger to novelist and her eventual arrival in comics. She also drops some gems for you up and coming writers out there.
Can you explain how you made the transition from blogging on Tumblr to writing comics? Does one fuel the other?
Absolutely without question. Tumblr is sort of the catalyst for all of this. Because it started out with me kind of just curiating my whole life for my personal enjoyment. I did short stories, blogging, or fan fiction. I never thought it would be a viable career option. So when I started writing on Tumblr, it was just personal stories, kind of a haphazard curation of my life. Eventually people were very kind about my writing and asked me to write a book. It started out as kind of a Buffy,Game of Thrones crossover fanfiction. I didn’t get further than 6,000 words into writing it when I realized I had something completely different, something all my own. It was then I realized that I should just write a book. With encouragement from people in the fanfiction community and people following me on Tumblr, I wrote a book called The Alchemy of Being Fourteen and self published it. I just wanted to put it in the hands of the people who encouraged me to write it in the first place. That’s what led to an email from Chis Robinson, an editor at Marvel who said he read my book. He liked it and wanted to know if I had any interest in writing comics. At the time of receiving the email, I had a 15 foot vinyl poster of the X-Men in my room. I’m a huge Marvel fan, so I had to take 12 hours to calm down before replying yes to his email.
Many new writers want to know how to establish a character’s voice. Sometimes when you see a piece of dialog, you know who said it immediately without any context. How do you make those characters stand out among the other bubbles on the page?
That’s a good question. It’s something I like to invision ahead of writing a character. I’ll do lots of research to refresh my knowledge and I’ll create notes so I can reference them while I write. Some will say “When a character is angry, they tend to do this and speak in this kind of way.” That’s something I keep clear at all times, because the reactions are very different. There are some characters where the learning curve isn’t as steep for how they speak and the things they say. For Nightcrawler you just know what he’s going to say and his German pet names for people are different. His name for Kitty Pride is Kätzchen, the German word for kitty. So it’s very easy to recall something like that. It feels comfortable speaking through their voices.
How do you writers collaborate on a comic? I noticed you co-wrote X-Men Gold annual with Mark Guggenheim.
I’m sure it’s different for every writer depending on project but for this one in particular, the idea to make the X-Men Gold Annual the 30th anniversary of the original Excalibur team was Mark’s. He came up with this kind of loose plot structure and pitched it to Chris Robinson who then asked me if I wanted to write a script for it, which I was happy to do so. Mark’s ideas provided point A and B, and it was my job to get them there. I wrote the script on my own using Mark’s concepts and sent it back to them for feedback. It was an amazing process, and being so new to writing comics; it was an amazing opportunity to get that level of insightful feedback from my amazing editor and Mark Guggenheim.
When writing the script for a comic, artistic input seems to very from person to person. Tom King for example gives less input when hes working with someone like Mitch Gerards. Do you plot out panel to panel or do you just give general notes?
This would be different for every writer. I’ve seen scripts that Allan Moore has written, where he basically writes these beautiful letters to his artist and gives great detail. For me, I try to be as precise as possible in what I’m trying to convey, but I try to leave it up to the artist as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll leave specific notes if there’s something important to the plot like a gesture or the panel spacing where it’s something I need to make sense later on. But for everything else I try to precise in meaning but open to all possible interpretations. In comic writing there isn’t an industry standard for script format like there is for film making. Some places like Marvel for example, they have their own comic script format they like to see; which is panel by panel.
What would you say is the biggest difference between working for Marvel and smaller independent studio like Boom Studios?
I’ve only really worked with exceptional editors and artists. I’ve had an amazing experience with every place I’ve written for so far. But I think if I had to point out a difference between Marvel and other places, it would be that Marvel’s characters have a weighty legacy. They come with 70+ years of back story, fan love, and a lot of history. That’s something I keep in mind when writing for Marvel. That isn’t something I consider with Adventure Time which hasn’t been around as long and has less original work.
What goes into your research for a new arc?
I try to sharp and keep up with everything that’s going on. At least be very familiar with characters and where they are. And if I get an opportunity to write for a Marvel character, I’ll do more in depth research beyond the point of general familiarity.
Have any pitching advice?
Keep it clear, concise, and under one page. And make sure you have the start and finish for your idea on that single page.
Have any upcoming work you’d like to promote?
I have an original short coming out in the Cult Classics Line at Vault Comics, which is an amazing collaborative series. It has many comic creators working on the project and it’s curated by Elliot Rahal. My short will be in the second issue which should be arriving this summer.
You can order Williams’s previous work from various retailers or your local comic book shop. And she recently announced that she has two original concepts in the works with two different publishers, so be on the look out for that as well.