JH Williams: On Drawing Jonah Hex

JH Williams on Jonah Hex

This week sees a new issue of Jonah Hex hit stores. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, issue #35 continues the series’ tradition of rating artists, this time welcoming J.H. Williams to illustrate the adventures of the Western bounty hunter with the…unique face.

We spoke with Williams about the issue and his approach to the art, and how he sees this fitting in with the larger body of his work.

Newsarama: J.H., what interests you in illustrating a Jonah Hex story?

J.H. Williams: I love the character and what Jimmy and Justin are doing with him. And I love Western comics when done well. It's a very tricky thing when dealing with a Western in a comic. On most occasions they can be very stiff and stilted, but when done well they are as engrossing as can be. Jimmy and Justin have done this character and genre justice. The stories are very engaging and they come at them with a unique angle every time while remaining true to the genre and without any stiffness at all. Not an easy task. I've always wanted to do a Western and want to do more.

The only other chance I had was for a brief sequence in 7 Soldiers #0. So when the opportunity arose to do an issue of Jonah Hex, I had to grab it. Hopefully I will get another crack at it. I told Jimmy we should do a lengthy graphic novel with Hex. That would be amazing.

NRAMA: What is this issue of Jonah Hex about?

JHW: Well I don't really want to give away plot details. But I will say it's got action, suspense and a good bit of twistedness. Part of it is like this... Hex is bigger than life and has his big "saves the day" moment hero bit and the other part is darker, more personal and quite twisted. Just go read it. If you like good stories with unique characters you won't be disappointed.

NRAMA: In your view, why should someone who never tried Jonah Hex come on and give this issue a shot?

JHW: Why not is what I say! It's got a little bit of everything. More readers really should be onto this book. It's one of the best series on the market. I'm very proud of the work on this and glad to have had the chance to do an issue. The stable of talent that has worked on this series and is attracted to the material should say enough. I'm amazed that I'm in this group. Just how many titles are there like this? Not many. Sure we all love our colorfully clad caped crusaders in tights but there is no reason not read a title like this one too.

Having variety will make one richer and more rounded in life.

NRAMA: How is working with Justin and Jimmy's script different from say, working with Alan Moore on Promethea?

JHW: To me it's the same really. Sure Alan's scripts are like reading novels and are quite detailed, but Jimmy and Justin's scripting has everything you really need. Their wishes are quite clear. I treated the material in the same way I treat all of my projects in terms of getting to the heart of the matter. Reading between the lines and presenting the psychology of what the story is about in an entertaining way. So in that perspective, it's the same.

NRAMA: What are your methods of visualization? You vary your styles wildly depending on the project so how does the process of creating a page from a script for Jonah Hex begin for you?

JHW: Hmmm... it's sorta like this... I have a very particular view of what makes a good Western comic but like to see those boundaries pushed. I like to have my Western comics to have a certain aesthetic to them and tried to stick with that for the most part. However, I also wanted to see where things could go and still feel right for a Western. So of course I played with the conventions of what is to be expected. My goal was to have that grittiness and fluidity to the drawing that a good western should have but also bring a bit of modern aspects and experimentation to some of the storytelling techniques without losing what makes a western comic work. I'd say that it was mostly successful in those terms.

NRAMA: That said, what was most difficult to illustrate in this story?

JHW: Horses. It's always horses. I love to draw them but in a comic like this you sort of have to be a little off with the accuracy for the movement to feel right. I think I got it down 90% of the time. I'd say the other difficult part would be bringing my particular vision of storytelling to the table without ever losing the intention of the story itself or the feel of the series. I tend to add things or bring things out in a way that enhances the psychological aspects of a story. Allowing for the reader's brain to be tickled in a different way.

I pretty much do that with all of my projects and wanted to see how that would work in a Western. Jimmy and Justin provided the perfect script for that and were very gracious with giving me the freedom to explore aspects of what lays in between the lines of their script. So it was a real challenge to come at it from that angle and never lose the points and attitudes conveyed in the story, remaining true to what Jimmy and Justin were writing about.

NRAMA: You have been selected to go on an all expense paid drinking binge for three days with historical figures, an artist, a writer and one free choice. Who are your drinking buddies?

JHW: I don't think this matches your criteria exactly but my choices would have to be Van Gogh for his colorful meaningful ethereal view of the world around him, singer songwriter Debbie Harry for her beauty, brilliant mind, seductively charmed voice and I love her. Then finally, Junji Ito for his insane horrifically addled ideas to freak us all out after we're completely smashed and ready to make the most magnificent art piece that would change the world into this surrealistic psychedelic opus of music and monstrous creatures that sing to the gods of the universe lifting the human imagination to levels where it all goes white and we coalesce into an orgasmic unity of pure love. Uhhh... sorta lost myself for a moment.

NRAMA: Do you find yourself more attracted to work that is not like your own, or work that has similarities to yours?

JHW: I'd say both. I read a lot of different types of comics. I never limit myself when appreciating art of any kind.

NRAMA: Name something you've done to further yourself as an artist that you thought wouldn't be successful but was, and something you thought would be great but wasn't.

JHW: This is a tough one and I hope can make some sense here. The thing I do to further myself is a never ending process for me. I keep myself open to the world and what possibilities can be gained from it visually for my work. This is one of the reasons I refuse to tie myself to a singular style. There is always something to be learned from trying new things and allowing yourself to just do what feels right for a scene or sequence or a single panel. Relying on gut instinct to convey something in design of a page or an issue or a character's interpretation. This leads to the other part of the question. Design plays a big role in what I do but I never pre-design anything. It's all done spontaneously on the board. So I'm very much going on what my gut tells me at the moment. But because I work in this way, and I am so20design heavy, it sometimes can go too far or strike the reader in a way that I did not intend.

But that is all part of the learning experience for me. That is why comics are an artform because sometimes things work better than other times. Because we are dealing with a form of expression, it is always worthwhile to explore ideas even if they don't pan out the way you might hope.

NRAMA: If you had an uninhibited alter-ego who could make any type of art at all, what kind of art would he be doing?

JHW: Vividly panoramic surrealist impressionist pop art on giant canvas' of approximately 15 feet tall by 50 feet wide and his name would be Sebastian or something.

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