How do the pros #MakeComics? We’re here to tell you. Every second week, Comicosity is picking the brains of a pro who is killing it in the comics industry, and this week I was lucky enough to talk to Joshua Williamson! Joshua’s resume is vast, and growing by the month. The current writer on The Flash, his credits at DC also include Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad and the upcoming DC Nation and Justice League: No Justice. His creator-owned library includes Nailbiter, Birthright, Ghosted and more. Joshua was kind enough to give us a look into his creative process below:
What does a typical day in the life of Joshua Williamson look like?
I live by a pretty strict schedule, but it helps me get work done. Each day I know what I need to do that day and have some of the stuff set up the night before.
I’m up around 6am. Take the dog out. Get ready. Help get some of the stuff together for my wife and daughter before they are up. Then make coffee and get rolling.
In my office at 7am. Tackle whatever emails need to be hit first. Usually artist emails. Anything that might be on fire.
Then I start writing. Writing usually, on a good day, will go from 7:30am to about 1pm. If I give myself at least four or five hours at the start of each day of just scripting, then I can get the needed number of pages done. But again, this is just scripting at my computer. Before I ever sit down to start typing I usually know exactly what I’m writing. I have a good idea in my notebook or head what is happening in the issue. I can “see” it and then I’m just dictating what I see.
I have a program on my computer that blocks all social media and most websites for the majority of the day starting at 8am. And I don’t have any social media on my phone. It just helps me focus and get over the usual distractions. I know my own bad habits enough to know that I need it. It helps with that block of writing that that I need. Because I work from home I will often come out of my office to see my daughter and play with her for a few minutes. Just see how things are with her. I’m very lucky to be able to do that, but that is always my biggest distraction.
Sometimes there are conversations with editors or artists mixed in this time. I’ll talk to other writers on chat. Riley Rossmo and I will talk on skype and talk out something for Deathbed or other things we’re working on. BUT the goal is write as much as possible in this block.
Then I take a break from 1pm to 1:30pm. Lunch. Hang out with my family. Then it’s back to work. Less writing and more the “business of comics.” This is where I’ll usually do notes I have to do on a draft I might have written the week before, or emails, or review lettered pdfs, or do work phone calls, meetings, or interview. Sometimes I’ll talk to another creator and talk out an issue that I need to talk out or that they need to talk out.
But the other major thing is notebook work. I spend the next few hours with a notebook or a white board and map out what needs to be scripted the next day. I take a notebook and work out the “math’ of the issue. I literally have the issue broken up page by page and hand write out my notes. The overall beats and rhythm of the issue. Sometimes small lines of dialogue. I usually guestimate how many panels I think will be on each page. I try not to sit at a computer until I have this down. It makes the next day so much easier.
This usually goes until 5pm. Now comes the scramble. If I got the work done that I needed I spend the next 90 minutes working out any loose ends. Making notes, dialogue passes, or more notebook work. If I’m behind it’s a mad dash to get whatever needs to get done, usually a script or a dialogue pass before 6pm so I can send it off to my editor, so they can leave the office knowing it’s in.
I’m usually walking out of my office at 6:30pm every night where I walk right into dad mode and make my daughter dinner. Then it’s just family time until I crash out. Read comics in bed. Then start the day all over again with the same schedule.
What time of day do you do your best work?
Usually it’s the morning. That block from 8am to 1pm. BUT sometimes I’ve written stuff I was really happy with late late at night. Just when the idea struck me. One of my favorite Flash issues came to me while I was making brunch at my house on a Saturday, so as soon as I was done I spent the whole afternoon writing that issue.
Sometimes I’ll go for a drive and figure out whole scenes or dialogue and when I get to my destination I’ll type the notes up on my phone and then dig into those the next morning to flesh it out. But yeah…the morning is the best for focused scripting.
Comics is a collaborative medium. How do you work with your teammates on your projects?
Depends on the project, but with as much communication as possible. Mike Henderson and I worked most of Nailbiter via text. Howard Porter and I talk out Flash stuff on the phone. Riley Rossmo and I talk on Skype. Some are just email. I love when I can meet a collaborator in person and hang out and get to know each other a bit. When it comes to co-writing with Scott Snyder and James Tynion it’s a lot of phone calls and chat.
When Mike Henderson and I started to work on the last issue of Nailbiter we had already talked out a lot of the beats but when it came to get it down on paper he came over to my house and we used my whiteboard to break what would happen on each page. How many panels there were, the beats, all of it. We mapped it all out together. I’d love to do that with every script, but it just isn’t always the case. Almost every book I’ve ever worked on has been different.
How do you manage your to-do list?
I have a calendar that I update daily. That’s for the big picture. It has my short-term and long-term schedule. It has the deadlines but also the day set aside for each book or project.
But each Sunday night I have a notecard that I write down Monday to Friday and what I need to do that week. The MUSTS for the week and that I have for my own deadlines to get ahead on projects. I always try to push myself to get a bit ahead. It doesn’t always work out, but I try. Having the notecard to-do list in front of me every day keeps me on schedule.
What is your workspace like?
I have a desk in my office that is pretty cluttered. I either work at that desk or in an old chair in my office. It’s pretty simple and low budget. Has my laptop and notebooks on it. Some comics that I’m using as reference, research or inspiration. I’ll try to remember to take a picture of my desk.
What tools are essential to your creative process?
My notebooks, and my laptop.
The white board on the wall is mostly for outlines. Lets me look at the roller coaster ride of a story arc from a distance. I do all the scripting on my laptop. And then notes and page breaks in the notebook.
Lately I’ve been printing pdfs off my printer when it comes time to look at lettered proofs and edit my dialogue. It’s helped a lot the last few months.
Then…and this might be weird, but I have a voice recorder on my phone. Sometimes when I write dialogue I will “act out” the scene. Say the dialogue out loud, or I guess you can call it method act. Improvising the lines, maybe? I record that and then play it back and type up what I said. A lot of it gets cut but it helps me write dialogue faster and more natural. I actually have a recording of myself yelling as Eobard Thawne from Flash #27. Really.
Oh and my office itself. I don’t really write anywhere else. It’s my comfort zone. I cna get some work done on the road, but being in my office is where I work best.
What do you love most about creating comics?
This is such a hard question. I’ve wanted to make comics since I was in the 4th grade. This was it. So I sort of love it all. I love writing and talking out story. I love getting roughs back from an artist, which is where the comic magic really happens and starts to come to life and talking that out with an artist. I love every stage from the inks to the colors to the letters, production, all of it. Then getting the copy in my head. I get excited every single time a new issue of comps comics in the mail and I’ve been doing this for a bit now.
But if I had to nail it down to at least two. My two favorite things are One, the writers room. Summits where we can talk out our story or each other’s story in the room. I’ve been able to do that a few times with DC Comics and the big event stuff we’ve done over the last two years and its always a blast. Then two, I love the relationships I’ve made because of creating comics. Fellow creators, retailers, readers. The friendships created because of a love we all share of comics.
What is your favourite phase of a project?
Getting in roughs. Before then the story is just in my head and then words on paper, when we get the roughs then it’s an anxious feeling but again, it’s when the magic happens. All the artists I work with are great and so getting the roughs and seeing if the story reads at that stage is amazing.
What do you listen to or watch while you work?
No tv, that’s too much of a distraction. Usually I listen to movie scores or EDM. Sometimes nature sounds if I really need white noise. Lately it’s been Michael Giacchino mixed with Magic Sword and Le Matos.
When you aren’t creating comics, how do you like to spend your time?
With my family. Since I keep such long hours the rest of my time is with my wife and daughter. That’s pretty much it. Once my daughter was born that’s how I spent every second that isn’t on comics.
People here in Portland will give me crap about how we live in the same city, but they will only see me in OTHER cities for conventions. I just work, never leave my house, and hang out with my family. Sometimes play video games, or work out or go for walks. I used to have a bit more free time, but once my daughter was born that sort of took over. And y’know there are a LOT of comics I want to write so I’m really happy dividing my time up between the two.
Networking and meeting other creators is an important part of the business. What is your preferred way to network?
Oh, this is tough. At cons. Like I said earlier I don’t really use social media all that much, so it’s never been a tool for me. Back when I was doing a lot of networking I preferred to only email or reach out to people I had met in person. So, when I was at cons I made a point to introduce myself to editors or creators I wanted to talk to. Sometimes I’ve made friends with a creator just by being assigned to the same book. Haha. There are a few artists I’ve reached out to via email to say I liked their work and that started a back and forth that eventually turned into a book. But yeah, conventions. A lot of creators or editors I’ve worked with over the years I met just by being introduced and starting to talk at cons.
What comics are you reading right now?
Aside from research? I read a lot of comics to make sure I’m on point with character and continuity.
As for fun? I’m a little behind. Haha. The Doctor Strange by Jason Aaron and Bachelo. I know it’s been over for a while now, but I’m just now getting past the first arc and I love it. That’s two of my favorite creators on one of my favorite characters.
I hate Fairyland. Matt Wagner’s Mage. Paper Girls. Thanos. New Mutants. I read nearly every book that DC puts out every week on Wednesday morning. I’ve been re-reading some of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Superman stuff from pre-Flashpoint. I get a lot of PDFS of friend’s comics sent in advance, so I’ve read the first three issue of Burnouts from Image Comics. I think that was just announced and isn’t out until the fall. I just finished a re-read of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman and it really held up. That is a terrific comic.
What do you hope to see in the industry in the future?
Is it silly to say “More good comics?” Every week I see a new book online or in the comic shop that blows my mind. I feel like there is an embarrassment of riches right now.
Um, what else…The continued education of the business side of comics. I’ve seen a lot of websites and creators talk more about this and I think it’s great. It’s important that freelancers know the business side of their careers. It’s a part of our industry I’ve always been fascinated by. I think in some other timeline I must have worked in the corporate side of comics.
And then I’m excited to see more voices that are different than mine continue to make comics. Sharing their takes on life, style, creativity and experiences through comics. I hope for that but I know it’s happening more and more as I see it all the time. It’s really awesome.
Check out Joshua’s work here and check back in 2 weeks for a new #MakeComics interview!