Making Crime Pay: Joshua Williamson on 'Overlook'

Joshua Williamson on Overlook

Overlook cover

Apparently, crime pays.

The crime genre has seen a resurgence in the comic book medium, thanks in no small part to the movie adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City and Ed Brubaker's Criminal among other things. Crime isn't new to comics, however – the 40s and 50s were the peak for the crime genre in comics, even eclipsing superheroes for a time. But we're in a new era – and a new century – with new blood and ink coming in to carve out new stories.

One such work is Overlook. Published by Image's Shadowline imprint, Overlook comes to comics by way of writer Joshua Williamson and artist Alejandro Aragon. Getting right down to it, Overlook the comic is about Overlook the town – a small corrupt town with a lot to hide. This miniseries focuses on the tribulations of a dirty prize-fighter named Mickey "The Nickel" Nicholson, who's been hired to get inside a black-market boxing outfit to break the bank, kill someone's wayward wife and bring the money back to his boss.

But what's in it for Mickey? The mobster to hire him promises to take out – read "KILL" – anyone of Mickey's choosing. A blank check signed by death himself, so to speak.

Writer Williamson is a man on the rise, with his previous series Necessary Evil just picked up by Cartoon Network as a live-action series and another comic series, Johnny Monster, also debuting earlier this year. With Overlook #1 scheduled for release in early April, we talked with Williamson by email.

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Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Joshua. What can you tell us about Overlook?

Joshua Williamson: No problem, Chris. Overlook is my new three issue mini-series coming out from Shadowline / Image, beginning in April.

This is my third book with Shadowline and I couldn’t be happier. Artist Alejandro Aragon is doing some amazing moody noir art for the book that I think people will really enjoy. Overlook is a book I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and to know it finally coming out is very exciting.

NRAMA: The lead character, Mickey "The Nickel" Nicholson, is a dirty prize fighter – normally a lead character is a hero, but he doesn't sound like it. Tell us more about him and why the readers should care about him.

JW: Well, Mickey is for sure not a nice guy but the thing about him is that he doesn’t think of himself as a bad guy, just unlucky. All the illegal stuff he did in the past was just a small misunderstanding. We know what he did was wrong, but Mickey, on the surface, doesn’t.

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Here is a guy with a deep criminal background who has no desire to be anything else other then a bum, happy with his loser lifestyle. He doesn’t even see himself as the underdog with a chance. Mickey thinks of himself as so much of reject that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophesy. He knows he is always going to lose, and he has stopped trying. But here comes an opportunity for him to get back at the people who put him in this position and he jumps at it.

As the reader learns more about Mickey’s past and sees how he reacts to things in the story, it’s gonna be a toss up if they like him or not. I think some readers might root for him and some might hope he doesn’t make it out of Overlook alive.

NRAMA: The town this takes place in, Overlook, is talked about by the characters as if it's a character itself. What makes it special?

JW: Overlook is a made-up town, but is based off of places near where I grew up. Have you ever seen those desert towns in the middle of nowhere? You can’t imagine how people live there? That’s Overlook. It’s just a good for nothing town that sucks you in and doesn’t let go.

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Overlook was an up and coming city that acted as a neutral zone for the mob, which used it as a stopping point for mobsters and criminals of all kinds coming into California. But as the town fell apart it was taken over by three young upstart wannabe gangsters, who’ve made the place a dump, a cesspool, and at its best a step above the Wild West. The kind of place the old timers look down and spit at. No respectable criminal would be caught dead there, so it’s filled with the leftovers, small time crooks and rejects from the criminal underworld.

NRAMA: What prompted you to create Overlook?

JW: I actually started writing the story back in the summer in 2001 when I wanted to try my hand at writing something a bit more on the noir side. Most of the stuff I was trying to do then was all superhero stuff, and I wanted to challenge myself to do something different. I created the town of Overlook and started figuring out the history, people who lived there and writing lot of short stories of the criminal activities that took place there. I really had a blast writing the shorts but walked away when a few other projects took off. I love the crime-noir genre and missed writing it, so about a year ago I started writing the shorts again in my spare time for my own enjoyment.

When I was working on Necessary Evil, (the school for super villains comic I did with Desperado Publishing recently optioned by Cartoon Network), I really enjoyed and had the most fun writing the bad guys side of the typical good guy vs. bad guy dynamic. I have always loved villains, which is part of why I did Necessary Evil to begin with.

Everybody loves a bad guy, and I find that they are my favorite thing to write about, especially the ones with some kind of moral ambiguity.

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After I did Dear Dracula, and I was working on Johnny Monster, I was itching to get back to writing about bad guys. I’ve always been a fan of the crime genre in any form and thought I’d like to take another swing at it and I resurrected the old story from many years ago. Though as I worked on it, I made a slew of changes and this story took on a new shape.

NRAMA: You're working with artist Alejandro Aragon – how'd you meet up with him and agree to do this book?

JW: Ale and I met on online when I was looking for artists to work on some pitches a few years ago. We put together a cool little pitch, and learned we liked working together. The pitch was rejected but I look at it as a training session for this book. After the pitch we both worked on separate things, still keeping in touch. Last fall we started talking about putting together another project. We threw back and forth a few ideas, until I brought up this book and sent him the synopsis and first eleven pages of script. Ale loved it so we got to work.

Ale is a great artist, he has trained under Eduardo Risso, Leonardo Fernandez and many other greats. His style and understanding of how to use negative space is outstanding. Sometimes people put out black and white books that are simply just inks that aren’t colored, but Ale’s pages just sing in black and white. He has a bright future ahead of him.

NRAMA: Crime books are on an upswing in comics – why do you think that is?

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JW: I don’t think it’s just comics. I think its all media. If you look at the movies and TV shows we’ve had in recent years, most of the best ones had very heavy crime elements.

There have been so many great crime books, 100 Bullets, Powers, the list goes on and on. I think all these amazing crime books have influenced today’s generation of writers. I know for me that when Rucka and Brubaker were on Gotham Central, that was my favorite book every month. I always wanted to do a book like that. Also it might have something to do with Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal. That book is just a work of art, and it got people talking. People read that book and get the urge to tell their own crime story.

NRAMA: And why do you think the crime genre and comics fits together so well?

JW: Movies, video games, novels, all have had some excellent crime genre work in the last few years, but comics just do it best. A lot of great crime writers have been coming to comics because of that. The freedom, the pacing, tone that you can create in comics really works with the crime genre and people can see that.

My goal for this book is to tell a small crime story that people enjoy. Hopefully enough people do and we can take another trip to Overlook.

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