Exclusive: Rob Williams Talks ORDINARY And The Upcoming ELEVENTH DOCTOR Series
Yesterday we reviewed the second issue of a new creator-owned series by writer Rob Williams (The Royals: Masters of War, 2000AD, Miss Fury) and artist D’Israeli (who worked with Williams on 2000AD) from Titan Comics (click here if you missed it) called Ordinary. It’s a sharp and really fun series about the one guy in the world who remains ordinary after everyone in the world starts getting superpowers. Thanks to the good folks at Titan, I got a chance to speak with Williams shortly before the release of the second issue about his work on the series as well as the upcoming Eleventh Doctor series he’ll be working on with Al Ewing and Simon Fraser. You can read on to see all of that and much, much more!
Ordinary is a series full of big ideas. It’s really a series with a few different types of stories rolled into one complete thing, really. You have a redemption story, a super powers story, and some comedy. What inspired you to create Ordinary?
The initial idea came from watching a couple of superhero movies. They all have the same trope set-up. In an ordinary world, one person becomes extraordinary. I thought it’d be fun to twist that around. So a Walking Dead-style plague gives everyone in the world different superpowers, aside from one guy. Then you get into thinking who this person would be. What if they were already the most ordinary man alive, and then you push that further to make him the unluckiest person alive, to not get any powers when everyone else does. That’s great emotional stakes. His arc then is to find something extraordinary in himself.
There are some very interesting powers in the first two issues. The characters all feel unique and fully fleshed out (thanks in no small part to your sharp and witty dialogue) even if they pop up for a single panel. How much, if any, have you mapped out this new world? Did you think about all the various powered people or types you’d like to use with D’Israeli or did it come about just to serve the story you’re telling?
We planned out certain characters ahead of time. Some just evolved naturally as the writing progressed. In terms of the wider world, you do get to see a bit of that. How the power plague affects trouble spots around the world – Afghanistan, Korea, Iran, Kashmir. There’s some culturally relevent powers on show there. That all feeds into the idea that while this plague might initially seem like a boon to humanity, it’s actually anything but. Every war-zone around the globe suddenly goes nuclear, every wannabe terrorist has the ability to do some serious damage. Even petty arguments have the potential for massive loss of life. As one of our leads says: ‘human beings shouldn’t be this powerful. We’ll abuse it.’
To follow up on that, what was it like working with D’Israeli on this project? I know you’ve worked together on 2000AD before, but what has this experience been like? There are just so many characters, gags, and powers here. What have you thought as you’ve gotten pages?
I think we work really well together. Part of the reason for doing Ordinary was taking our sensibility with Low Life for 2000AD and transferring that to a creator-owned book for the US market. D’israeli’s just a star to work with, especially so on material like this. He delivers the disparate wild powers so beautifully, handles the big visuals and the crazy so well. But he keeps the story grounded in the real world too, which was very important for the dramatic stakes. He’s one of the best at body language, even when it’s a sexually frustrated American black bear we’re depicting.
Michael’s not a bad guy, he’s just kind of selfish and isn’t willing to try to be anything. He’s good company in a bar, but that can only take you so far. He’s unreliable, lets his work partner down (they’re plumbers). His marriage has failed, and he never sees his young son. That’s a shitty thing to do, but it’s all out of a basic sense of worthlessness. He’s going to have to confront that along the way. The plague hits, the world goes to hell and it’s up to Michael to try and get into and across Manhattan to try and get his son from school. For all the fun, action and spectacle of the powers, it’s ultimately a story about one man coming to terms with being a father. And finding something extraordinary within himself.
The second issue is coming out soon. What can you tease about the big finale and is it really a finale? Could we see more of this world or Michael in the future?
Well, this is a plague, and plagues are often cured by finding someone who isn’t affected and studying them. So Michael becomes the most wanted man on the planet, for good and bad. There are powerful people out there who don’t want these powers to go away. So getting rid of Michael becomes paramount.
As for more stories in the Ordinary world. That could happen, certainly. There’s a self-enclosed story here, but you’ll see at the close how there could be more. Being honest, it’ll depend on the reaction to the book. If it sells and there’s demand for more, sure.
The other big thing you have going on with Titan right now is the Eleventh Doctor series which you’re working on with Al Ewing and Simon Fraser. First off, can you talk about the division of labor between yourself and Ewing? How are things going with the new venture?
Al and I have co-written together with Trifecta for 2000AD (along with Si Spurrier) so I think we felt comfortable about doing it again. Basically there’s been lots of skype calls where we bashed a ‘series’ arc and major storyline into place (that’s our series A plot), then it was up to each of us to go away and pitch our individual issues (B plots). Some individual issues we write ourselves, some are co-written, and everything’s run past each other along the way, along with our editor at Titan, Andrew James.
The next questions are pretty much obligatory- Who is your Doctor and what do you think makes Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor a compelling character?
I’m not sure I have one favourite Doctor. I have a soft spot for Smith, I liked Tennant a lot. Troughton, although I’ve not seen a huge amount of his episodes, always struck me as perfect. I guess Tom Baker is my childhood’s Doctor and is probably my favourite. The gleeful madness, the joy, the fun. He was, and remains, hugely entertaining.
The Eleventh is our Doctor. I loved Matt Smith’s Doctor. He’s this brilliant mix of a youthful appearance but the sense of an old man behind the eyes. He’s so joyful and fun, but it can snap into real anger and menace with just a look. And I think, as I’m writing him, the strong sense of right and wrong comes across. The righteous anger of ‘this will NOT pass’ comes from him a lot. But he’s also a treat to write in terms of banter and dialogue. Very funny. Very strong voice that you can hear when writing him.
Does the fact that Matt Smith’s tenure has ended freed you up in some sense? His timeline is pretty well established and we’re not going to get thrown for a loop about any secrets he has. Does that give you room to play around and pick sort of some “Eleventh Doctor greatest hits” when it comes to mannerisms and the like? Because I’d imagine the Peter Capaldi team is having a heck of a time right now.
No, not really. There has to be stakes, there has to be drama or else what’s the point. OK, we’ve seen the final fate of Matt Smith’s Doctor, but the stories we’re telling take place in the couple of hundred years where he went off and left Rory and Amy to enjoy being married. That’s a big space of time. He meets brand new companions – fun ones we’re really enjoying writing, two of which are unlike anything else you’ve seen in the TV show. And if we do our jobs right you’ll care about them and you don’t know their fate. Will they get out of this alive? Maybe, maybe not.
The solicits have revealed that the good Doctor will be traveling with Alice Obiefune. I know you can’t reveal a whole lot right now, but can you tell us anything about our new companion and what sort of trouble she’ll be getting into?
Alice is slightly older and more mature than the majority of the Doctor’s female companions, and I think he enjoys that. Someone with a touch more wisdom than he’s used to, who will tell him off. Alice is in a bad place when we meet her. She’s been caring for her elderly mother who has just died, her job is ending and she’s lost in a grey world. Then The Doctor explodes into it, filling it with colour. Alice has to find joy in the universe again. That’s part of her journey.
We’ve gotten the Tenth Doctor and the recently announced Twelfth Doctor series as well. Titan has just gotten the big Doctor Who license, so how do you feel being involved with such a big project like this with so many great writers and artists?
It’s great fun. I’ve had the urge to write The Doctor for a while, so being asked was very exciting. I’m working with friends in Al and Simon, both of whom I’ve known for years and have worked with previously. Simon and I did a book called Family together for 2000AD back in the early naughties. And from a current point of view, my son’s a big Who fan, so writing stories for The Doctor has a kind of extra resonance. You realise that it’s a family show, has this mass cross-generation appeal.
What else should we be on the lookout for from you? You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire and a lot of books on the shelf, but is there anything you have coming up you’d like us to know about?
The Royals: Masters Of War is still running from Vertigo Comics, by Si Coleby and myself. That’s been going down very well. I’m a regular in 2000AD. Myself and Chris Weston have a two-part Judge Dredd coming in prog 1888. There’s a few others things on the way too that I can’t discuss yet. People can follow my work via my website robwilliamscomics.co.uk and on twitter Robwilliams71
Our thanks to Rob Williams for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with us about Ordinary and his highly-anticipated Doctor Who book. Be sure to check out his site and follow him on Twitter to keep up to date on all the latest from the writer. If you haven’t checked out Ordinary yet, there’s still time and I highly recommend you do. If you’re a regular reader of the site, you know how big of a Doctor Who fan I am. It will be interesting to see what Williams and Ewing bring to the series now that Titan is in control of the property. Stay tuned to CBT for more on that series and the Tenth and Twelfth Doctor comics as well. What do you think about the writer’s comments?
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