Rob Williams on being ‘Ordinary’ with D’Israeli
Next week sees the release of Judge Dredd Megazine #340, featuring the debut of “Ordinary,” a creator-owned strip by writer Rob Williams and artist D’Israeli, the creative team behind the acclaimed 2000AD strip “Low Life,: I’ve been a big fan of both their work for quite a while now — in Williams’ case, since his first published work, the great Cla$$war, in 2002; in the case of D’Israeli, scarily enough, it’s been since his “Timulo'”strip ran in Deadline in the late 1980s. I managed to grab a word with Williams about the new series, and he happily obliged, and sent along a veritable mountain of preview art to boot.
Robot 6: So Rob, the last ordinary man in a world of the super-powered, eh? But what’s Ordinary really about?
Rob Williams: I’m a little wary of frightening people off by talking about themes. “Ordinary” is filled with spectacle, big-Hollywood action set pieces and outlandish characters that are, hopefully, quite memorable, This is a world where everyone gets a different superpower, after all — no two people are the same. But, at its heart, it’s about emotionally allowing yourself to come to terms with fatherhood, really. Out main character, Michael Fisher, is a divorcee who very rarely sees his son when we first meet him. And then the world starts going to hell and it’s up to him to try and find this boy he hardly knows even though there’s a super-powered danger around every turn. And, for Michael, it’s coming to realise the real reason he never sees his son. The book’s called “Ordinary” for reasons that aren’t just about super powers and explosions and giants and talking bears and huge battles. There’s an emotional arc for our lead that is pretty unusual for modern comics, I think.
I can never find enough places to praise the work you and D’Israeli do on 2000AD‘s ‘Low Life’ (for anyone who hasn’t read it, think Polanski’s Chinatown, in space, only starring a brain-damaged hobo). I can see some similarities jumping out at me at a cursory glance: both seem to feature hopeless bearded wrecks, out of their depth, surrounded by tremendous forces they can barely get to grips with.
What does that say about me and Matt, eh? Actually, Alison Sampson, an artist friend, told me that Michael from “Ordinary” looks like a physical melding of me and Matt Brooker. And she’s right. That was totally unintentional but it’s there. It’s strange, but even though he’s plainly mentally troubled and played to extremes of comedy and pathos, Dirty Frank from “Low Life” is the character that’s most like me in certain ways. There’s a large part of me in Michael, too. “Ordinary” is weirdly autobiographical in certain respects, even though it’s a crazy world filled with superpowers. I’m a father of two young children. Michael’s emotional journey through this surreal landscape is pretty relatable, I hope. And Matt just captures body language and the physical comedy of body language better than any artist I’ve ever worked with. He gets such great acting performances from his characters, and that allows me to write silent beats that I know will be effective on the page because he’s drawing them. That’s a huge empowering thing for a writer. I write a moment of emotional turmoil or a comedy double-take, Matt sells it brilliantly on the page.
You’ve worked with Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker a fair bit now. He must be doing something right.
I think the best compliment I can pay him is that I’m a far better writer when I work with him, for the reasons stated above. If I write an emotional or a comedy beat, he sells it in a way that the majority can’t. That makes my script better. Plus he’s imaginative and can do scale and spectacle beautifully. Because I know he’s able to handle certain visuals I can do the big scale ‘world going to hell’ scenes in “Ordinary.” Giant baseball players attacking the Empire State Building, a Busby Berkeley dance number. There’s an action sequence on the Roosevelt Island Tramway, the logistics of which would make you dizzy, and he’s detailed it all so clearly. He’s a star.
If this is going to be reprinted again in a few months time by Titan Comics, why should I buy it in the Judge Dredd Megazine first?
The Titan edition is going to have a lot of really cool extras and is going to be just us — our covers, etc. — so I’d certainly like to encourage people to buy that. But the Megazine #340 also has a Judge Dredd in it by myself and PJ Holden as well as loads of other good stuff like the official Dredd movie sequel comic, by Arthur Wyatt and Henry Flint. Plus, we’ve been working on “Ordinary” for a good while now. It’ll be nice for people to see it.
Yeah, I’ll probably end up buying them both. And the trade paperback when that comes out. One last question: How come every time there’s a big-name guest artist on Dredd (either from the U.S., or returning homegrown stars like Trevor Hairsine), you’re the writer? Does Tharg dangle your name as bait, or do you hustle for them personally?
I ask them. Then, if they say yes, I pitch it to Tharg with the artist attached. That was the case with Guy Davis, James Harren and, most recently, R.M. Guéra. For the Brendan McCarthy one, Tharg asked me if i was interested in scripting it. The basic story was Brendan’s.
Judge Dredd Megazine #340 is out next Wednesday, Sept. 18. It’s a high-profile issue to have the first installment of “Ordinary” in, as the notion of an officially sanctioned comics “sequel” to the recent Dredd movie may well pull in some cross-media coverage. Williams and D’Israeli are showing even more preview art of the strip over at a Tumblr devoted to it, which includes this doozy of an image.