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J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman welcome readers to 'Echolands'

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J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman welcome readers to ‘Echolands’

The “genre mashup adventure” explores history, culture, and so much more.

Writer J.H. Williams III and writer-artist W. Haden Blackman first linked up for DC Comics’ Batwoman from 2010-2013. And while they eventually left after “editorial interference,” there’s no denying their 24-issue run wasn’t both entertaining and an essential part of Kate Kane’s larger evolution.

Now, the duo (alongside famed artist/colorist Dave Stewart) have reunited for another book, Image Comics’ forthcoming Echolands. The “story of Earth’s last war” follows Hope Redhood a thief who can help unlock the “dark, strange past” of “a bizarre future world that has forgotten its history.” The end result is a “fast-paced genre mashup adventure” presented in gorgeous landscape format.

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Ahead of issue #1 dropping August 25, we spoke wot both Williams and Blackman about the series. That includes its origins, the ways Batwoman shaped its development, releasing special editions, and much, much more.

J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman welcome readers to 'Echolands'AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for this series? Is it like “X meets X” at all?

W. Haden Blackman: After Hope Redhood steals a mysterious gem from a tyrannical wizard, the rash thief and her eclectic crew of misfits and monsters must flee the despot and his unstoppable daughter, embarking on an adventure that will lead directly to Earth’s last war. We describe the series as mythic fiction and a genre mashup, but we purposefully have avoided any “X meets Y” description because it would be “X meets Y meets A meets B meets C…” and on and on.

J.H. Williams III: The story of Earth’s Last War starts in an otherworldly San Francisco. Hope Redhead, a thief that steals a gem from a tyrannical wizard that will unlock the secret of an ancient unknown past, eventually leading to a war between worlds. Echolands: where magical thieves, cyborg elves, axe wielding biker huns, Roman demi-gods, gothic vampires, Dick Tracy style mobsters, robots, pirates, alien oracles, retro-rocketships, and so much more, collide together in wildly diverse fantastical settings… Converging on a path that breaks open all possible story genres into one big grand tale that might make you question what it means to be human.

AIPT: The book seems to reference or combine a slew of fictional worlds/homages. Any cultural landmarks, as it were, that readers might be aware of beforehand?

WHB: Readers will spot a lot of touchstones, but hopefully they all feel like they’ve been turned on their ears in some way or made to feel “familiar but new.” The first issue takes place in a futuristic version of San Francisco, complete with somewhat familiar bridges and the wharf, but it’s run by a despotic wizard and populated by a range of characters rendered in a variety of styles. Readers will recognize motifs and themes from mythology and folklore, horror films and adventure comics, sci-fi pulp magazines and even history. There is a reason why all these genres have come together—so hopefully that provides an internal logic to the setting.

JHW: There will be a lot readers find familiar, yet skewed through a fresh lens. The series is packed with the types of things Haden and I adore. It’s a love letter to what we’ve always been inspired by about fantastical tales of all sorts, rolled into a vast story full of characters that we think you’ll love as much as we do.

AIPT: You’ve worked together before on Batwoman. Does that past collaboration make working together easier or more interesting?

WHB: Working on Batwoman allowed us to develop a shorthand and has made the process on Echolands a bit more organic. As a writer, I had to really keep in mind the ways in which we repeated design elements and layouts in Batwoman, and that’s helped with Echolands, which has some unique constraints due to the widescreen format (and we’re again maintaining some consistent layout “rules” for each issue to make the arc feel cohesive). Finally, we really pushed ourselves on Batwoman to both explore new ways to tell our stories and to always ask “how can we make this feel different than what we’ve seen before?” That has carried over into Echolands.

JHW: We actually started building Echolands before our Batwoman work. But with Batwoman, it gave us an opportunity to explore how we function as a writing team on a long term project, on the scripting process. And that set the stage for Echolands. It’s not necessarily more interesting than our time on Batwoman, but more like an evolution of cohesion. It’s quite possible Echolands would’ve formed differently in the scripting if we hadn’t already worked so closely together on Batwoman.

J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman welcome readers to 'Echolands'

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: Building off that last question, is there anything from that Batwoman project you brought into Echolands? One could make some (slightly surface level) comparisons between Batwoman and Hope Redhood?

WHB: One thing for me that was really important when writing Batwoman was ensuring that we didn’t put her on a pedestal. We needed Kate/Batwoman to have flaws, to be imperfect and human, and have those drive some of the story. I have that same feeling about Hope—she can be aspirational and fun and swashbuckling, but she’s not perfect, and it’s her flaws—greed, recklessness, and impulsiveness—that kick off the story.

JHW: For me, the similarities between Hope and Batwoman are rooted in that they both have strength. Each of them have bold personalities that can carry them through tough situations. But that doesn’t mean they’re strong in the same ways. The number one thing writing each of them is understanding we’re telling the story about a human being. To write them in ways that reveal realness, to understand we’re telling the tale of someone I feel is real. Their flaws matter just as much as their strengths, just as much as their triumphs and failures. Exploring what drives them is key, whether it’s dark or light.

AIPT: The book revolves around a world that has “forgotten its history.” Is there something extra pertinent about this right now, or is that just a great theme and/or lesson at all times?

WHB: We didn’t set out to write an allegory or get up on a soap box. I personally believe that the best stories have themes that are timeless, and feel relevant no matter when you read them because the themes are so universal. However, we did start out with a larger message we want to convey and a big theme that we want to explore as the series evolves—though we don’t want to give anything away just yet. But I’d be lying if I said that current events don’t seep into and inform everything we do on some level; we’re certainly in a time when it seems like everyone has forgotten the lessons of the past, and a band of misfits battling an authoritarian and fascist regime doesn’t feel far-fetched at all.

JHW: We hadn’t intentionally set out to remark on current times. But as with all stories, no matter how fantastical, we as readers should be able to see some of ourselves in them. As for the forgotten history aspect… When you really think about our own world history, with as much as we know, there certainly is so much of it we don’t know. Lost to time. I find that intriguing, and it creates a longing sense of wonder. So in Echolands, it’s a natural thing taking place, with some characters having a deep desire to know more about the past. And as we’ve seen in our world, sometimes it can be dangerous to forget history.

J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman welcome readers to 'Echolands'

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: Are there any stories/franchises that share DNA with Echolands? Is this title a part of a larger tradition a la Fables?

WHB: I’m a huge fan of Fables, so it would be a great compliment to be compared to that series, even in a small way. However, we really plucked “DNA” from a wide range of sources and influences. I’m a big fan of the Universal horror movies, and you’ll see elements of that in the first arc. I also love Greek and Roman mythology, pirates, big robots, fairy tales, aliens, superheroes, mob stories, and a bunch of other stuff. The setting is incredibly liberating – we can essentially take anything we love and find a way to incorporate it.

JHW: Fables is a great series. I love Fables. But I wouldn’t say it inherently shares DNA with what we’re doing in Echolands. We’ve built a concept where anything can happen, be it a genre or style, it all can live here in the Echolands. Sure, I can see that Fables has touches of that, but what we’re doing in this is entirely different. With attitudes and stylistic approaches that are very unlike Fables. Like I mentioned above, it’s loaded with the things we love. Haden and I share a fondness of diverse concepts, many matching up or crossing and mixing in ways that breed something unique. Some references in Echolands will be very specific, like old monster movies or old horror comics.

While others blend more into each other. As example, we have a black and white vampire standing next to a cyborg elf standing next to a western gunslinger standing next to a Kirby inspired demi-god. But then some characters or settings are blended, the reference influences are less obvious. But importantly, there will be a reason for all of this. Nothing is arbitrary. And as the secrets of the Echolands are revealed, that will crystalize.

AIPT: Building again off that last question, with so many different references and homages swirling around here, is this a larger commentary on our “busy” culture? Or are these kinds of jam-packed fantasy tales more a celebration of our many shared stories?

WHB: For us, it all started with the core concept. Again, without giving anything away, there’s a reason why all of these genres, characters, locations, and even art styles co-exist – it’s not random, or “just because.” However, I do see it as a celebration of all of these genres — which are already connected in powerful ways. There’s no Darth Vader or the Mountain from Game of Thrones without Frankenstein’s monster, and there’s no Frankenstein without the Prometheus myth.

JHW: For me it’s a celebration. As for being a reference to a busy culture… I can’t help but see the correlation that we live in a time where stories of any genre, no matter what media they’re in, can be accessed today. Sort of creating an everything is now kind of a thing going on. And we also seem to be in a time where people have much more diverse interests, all being taken in together. Which hopefully means many will find much that appeals to them inside Echolands.

Echolands

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: You’ve opted to go with a rather unique landscape format. Why was that so important to use for this story, and does it tie into the larger storyline, aesthetic, narrative end goals?

WHB: The landscape format allows us to tell a more cinematic story. It’s challenging in some respects — it requires us to think about using the horizontal flow a bit more—but the trade-off is that we get some really great slow builds over the course of a spread, and some really spectacular splash pages. Initially, I thought these spreads would benefit us most in actual establishing shots of locations, but in Issue 1, we have a two-page spread that focuses on a single, horrific moment that I hope will really be a gut punch amid all the other layouts.

JHW: It was mainly for the challenge of it, while also exploring the idea of Echolands being this unique place and that the format could enhance this. I was looking for something that brought a different creative movement compared to previous works and the landscape format fits that desire well. But it has its unusual challenges, in that it affects every decision made, from story progression, to text placements, to visual flow. It has forced us to think in very different ways from our other works. That’s a good thing.

AIPT: Why’d you decide to include the Raw Cut, which features art as it “looked leaving [Williams’] work studio”?

WHB: I’ll let Jim answer this. 🙂

JHW: Image was looking for some unique ideas for this project and I mentioned to them that with Sandman Overture we released Special Editions of each issue. Which showcased how the art looked leaving my studio. That was done for that entire series. So Eric Stephenson [CCO and publisher at Image Comics] thought we should try that with Echolands. It’s a cool idea. It gives a unique look into the creation of a unique series. A secondary reading experience for all comics enthusiasts that are interested in the creative development process. It’s like getting a look at something in mid-process, like some films seen in their rough edit cut. I hope people will enjoy seeing this side of the work.

AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?

WHB: Artistically, it’s unlike anything you’ve seen. Jim is doing his best work – from character design to the details in each panel, from page layout to the panel borders, it’s just a huge leap even from his incredible work on Batwoman and Sandman. Beyond that, I think we have a story that will take a number of conventions and turn them on their ears, and surprise you with each issue. We’ve focused a lot on world-building, but hopefully without sacrificing plot and character development—the first issue moves fast, and the characters come into focus quickly. I think that there’s a surprise every time you turn the page, especially in Issue 1.

JHW: It’s a special project by an award winning team. Everyone involved is bringing 150 — and because it’s fun! We all need more fun these days.

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