Joshua Williamson has become an increasingly prolific comics writer in the past few years, earning acclaim for such books as Ghosted, Nailbiter and many books for Dark Horse. Now, he’s poised for his biggest launch yet with Birthright, a new ongoing series from Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment imprint of Image Comics that comes out this week.
Birthright asks a strange and unsettling question: What would happen if a child disappeared into a fantasy world…and what would happen if he came back? Williamson gave us some hints, along with a look at some of the art from Birthright #1, including a cover by Image co-founder Marc Silvestri.
Newsarama: So, Josh, tell us the basic idea of Birthright and how the idea came about.
Joshua Williamson: Birthright is about a young kid named Mikey, who on his 10th birthday, went missing.
It destroyed his family.
But then he comes back.
And we find out that he was kidnapped to a fantasy world where he was told it was his destiny to defeat an energy king, rescue a princess and save a kingdom. Mikey did all those things, and now he has come back and has to deal with the real world.
The idea came about from me thinking a lot about the fantasy stories I loved as a kid, and how these kids would go on these amazing adventures, but there were no consequences from that. I wanted to show… what happens after the adventure is over.
Nrama: The way you've described the premise in promotional materials hints at something that always bugged the hell out of me as a kid -- you know, there's that scene in Peter Pan where the mother somehow knows the kids are about to fly off to Neverland, and she gets to their room right as they fly out into the night sky and she just collapses. That always haunted me!
And I'd see shows like the Dungeons & Dragons or even Sid and Marty Krofft shows like H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville and just wonder, while these kids were having these magical adventures, what were their parents thinking, or did the kids miss them when they tried to go to sleep at night?
...um, so that's more therapeutic confession than actual question, but I'm curious as to whether that was something in your head when you came up with the series, and how that perspective factors into the book's storylines.
Williamson: Oh you bet. It was really on my mind. Mikey’s parents and how they react to his disappearance and how return… and his story about being in a fantasy land is crucial to Birthright. I super agree with you. Like I said before, that always bugged me too. There is so much story there, and that’s what I’m trying to explore here.
After you have an adventure like that, how do you return to normal life? How do the people around you react to that? It’s all there and it’s been really interesting to explore.
Nrama: So how'd this book come to be at Skybound and Image, and what's it been like working with them?
Williamson: Before Ghosted had come out, we had talked about doing other books. We had been working on Ghosted for so long and it had been going great, so eventually we started to talk about doing something new. Birthright was a book I had talked with other publishers about doing, but it never clicked.
And so at Wondercon 2013, I was talking to my editor and Birthright came up. He was super interested and passed it along to Robert Kirkman and the rest of Skybound. From there, it was pretty easy.
Working with Skybound has been amazing. I couldn’t ask for better editors or a team of people putting this book together. It’s really something special. Kirkman has built a company that is inspirational.
Nrama: And tell us about your artist Andrei Bressan and what he brings to the book.
Williamson: Andrei rocks! He brings an energy to his pages that is unmatched. It’s hard to talk about without hyperbole. We search for an artist for months. It wasn’t easy. But once Andrei came on board it really started to take shape.
He is a monster, man. A machine! We can barely keep up. The amount of designs we did was intense, and the pages are so detailed.
We are crazy lucky to have him on the book.
And then with the colors by the amazing Adriano Lucas… it’s insane. So cool.
Nrama: Give us an idea of the cast of characters, from the Rhodes family to the fantastic elements we'll encounter.
Williamson: It’s a pretty big cast. We have Mikey, the hero, who we see his journey to becoming a hero and what happens after. Aaron, his Dad, who was once a happy family man, but is now broken.
Then we have Wendy, his mom, who is a loving caretaker, but has the hardest time believing her son’s story. His brother, Brennan, who had to deal with seeing his life torn down, the tragedy of a missing brother and how is destroyed his mom and dad’s relationship. Brooks, the FBI agent in charge of Mikey’s case… and that’s just the real world.
In the fantasy world we have a big cast, but the main characters are Rook, Mikey’s ORC mentor, the winged Rya who is in charge of training Mikey, and of course… our Big bad himself. The God King Lore… who is as bad and as evil as they come. His evil has knows no bounds.
Nrama: How long do you see this series running, and the story expanding?
Williamson: It’s a big one. I hate using the word “epic,” but that’s what it is. Really, it all depends on sales, but I have an ending in mind. We’ll see? I would love to see the story grow… but one thing all my books have in common is that the ending is planned and nailed down. I let the characters breathe and make moves, but the end is really important to me.
Nrama: If you found yourself stuck in a fantasy world, what would you do to survive?
Williamson: Join the bad guys.
Nrama: Name some of your all-time favorite fantasy stories in different media, from books to TV to movies and so on.
Williamson: Oh man… that could be a long list… let’s see.
The Neverending Story, Peter Pan, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Dark Crystal, Legend, Labyrinth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, and E.T. Goonies… Explorers… Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pan’s Labyrinth… It’s a big list and I know I’m forgetting stuff.
Nrama: What's the biggest challenge in writing a young kid like Mikey?
Williamson: Making sure I don’t write him “too cute” or fake. He’s a smart kid. And honestly I think a lot of people try to write kids as kids, so they overcompensate and make them sound dumb. Kids are not dumb. They are still learning and have insight adults don’t have. That was aim with Mikey. To make him feel like a real kid.
Nrama: Give us the hardest of hard sells on this.
Williamson: If you like fantasy and adventure… if you loved the fantasy movies from the 80s and wondered “what happened next?” this is for you.
Out of all the comics I’ve done, this has easily been the most intense. The amount of work that Skybound, my editors, the artists and myself put into Birthright is massive. And I hope it shows. We really wanted to put together something special here. This is a story from my heart, and I’m glad we get to share it.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Williamson: A vacation? (laughs)
Y’know, this October I have six books coming out with Birthright, Nailbiter, Ghosted, Captain Midnight, Predator and Robocop. It’s been a crazy time… but I won’t be going easy anytime soon. I will keep on creating new books and moving forward.
My goals for my career are big and I really want to try and meet them. Just means a lot of writing comics. Back to work!
Claim your Birthright #1 at comic shops tomorrow.