Diner Talk: Bill Ellis-Pt. 2

Week two of the Bill Ellis interview here at the Felix #9 Diner in Bridgewater, NJ. Let’s get right into it, because it’s too late for me to be writing these damned introductions…

Bill: …and that’s why I like comic books. “This book gots too many words… Stupid Bendis”

Dani: Hey! Leave my boyfriend alone.

Laura: Dani, I thought you didn’t like words?

Dani: I just like my words to have pictures with them.

James: But Bendis doesn’t do the pictures.

Bill: He did in one of his books.

Dani: In all of the books he’s done.

Bill: Really.

Dani: In all of the books he published himself. Fortune and Glory, Jinx. He also did the art in Goldfish, and Fire.

Bill: I will say that most of my artistic references come from simple cartooning stock, because I’ve found that I have a better simple style than I do a complex style.

James: Is there an actual textbook difference between complex and simple styles?

Bill: Not really, it’s more like a personal style – like if you feel like putting in all that crosshatching or inkwashing. A lot of it has to with assignment more than style. Do this and this in a line drawing. This is your medium – go to. They’re preparing you for as wide of a career as possible. If you don’t do it, you get a bad grade.

James: Ok, next year you graduate… what do you do?

Bill: I have no idea, it’s going to be terrible. Honestly, I’m going to do some internships this summer at the big names, and even the small names.

James: Slave Labor Graphics, here you come?

Bill: Oh my god…

James: You’ll have to wear all black and white facepaint.

Bill: I’ll have to be angsty. I don’t ‘HAVE’ to go anywhere. Fedex.

James: You can’t Fedex an internship.

Bill: I know, not an internship – I was just saying for anything.. anything ELSE. If you are doing work for somebody, you can Fedex,

James: With an internship, it’s not time conserving to fax you something that asks for 10 copies for their up and coming meeting. Seems kind of pointless.

Dani: The only ones over here, internship wise are over here. The big boys. Slave Labor’s in Portland Oregon which is this huge hotspot.

Bill: It’s where Dark Horse was.. or is.

Dani: It’s a huge hotspot for writers and artists and things. Bendis and Rucka live in the same town, and I think it’s Portland.

James: Can you imagine them just meeting up happenstance at the local grocery store?

Bill: “HEY! What are you writing?” “Eh, just some Wolvie story.. what about you?” “Everything.”

Dani: Whatever the town is, make sure you research it.

Bill: I will be, that’s the point.

James: So you’ve now graduated with your sequential art degree. What does this degree lend itself to other than doing comic books?

Bill: Well, storyboarding for movies and animation – anything in the field. You are trained to do inking, writing, scripting. There is a theory that I am going to end up doing manuals for K-Mart or something. “This is how you activate the tiller” and it will be a very nice little sequential art job.

Dani: You can’t do those! Those are part of my field! [Dani is a Graphics Design major – Ed.]

Bill: It’s sequential!

Dani: But they’re pictograms.

Bill: Those are pictograms.. IN SEQUENCE! Looks like we’re competitors. One of my first ever projects was show somebody how to do something.

Dani: That’s a good project–

James: Yeah, because Bill doesn’t know how to do anything, so he was getting a two in one deal.

Bill: Shut up. It had to be creative, so I showed how to make an omelet without making any eggs. It was last year.

James: Wait, that was one of your first projects?

Bill: For intro to sequential, yeah. The first year is all basics. You spend all your time at the basic foundation courses. Drawing, design, 3-d design, life drawing. It’s boring, but you get passed it.

Laura: (to Bill) You smell nice.

Bill: For the record. I smell nice.

Laura: He’s wearing his man-fume.

James: Manfume!? You mean cologne? (pronounced for effect – Coe-Log-Knee) What flavor cologne?

Laura: I don’t know it’s called Prom or something.

James: Prom?!

Laura: It’s French for “For Men” I don’t know, his Mom bought it for him.

James: Your Mom bought it for you?

Bill: Wait! It was part of a package?

Dani: Does your Mom think you smell?

James: He is both a comic book fan AND an art student.

Bill: Come on. You are perpetuating a stereotype.

James: That’s fine, most stereotypes are based on certain inalienable facts.

Laura: You DO have a lot of scruff going on right now?

Bill: That’s because I didn’t shave toda– wait, that’s not a good argument.

Laura: Everytime you come home to see me, you look like a gorilla.

Dani: You know.. I have a monkey in my car…

[This conversation slides around to a large stuffed monkey that Dani won down on the boardwalk a few weeks prior which was being moved. We apologize to the PETA people for any confusion this might have caused]

James: So what projects are you working on right now?

Bill: Not Nowhere Fast! Ha!

James: I was talking about school projects, but SINCE you mentioned it–

Bill: Aww, damnit – you left it open.

James: No! We were talking SCAD. You brought it outside the box. So now let’s talk about Nowhere Fast. For those who are unaware–

Bill: Which is all of them since we really don’t do it that often.

James: We’ve been putting an online strip on occasion. Special occasions. We have the Arbor Day strip coming up.

Bill: I draw .. when I have the time.

James: In Bill’s defense over the summer he was working as a mover.

Bill: I was very tired. I don’t condone what I’ve done, or the job. Abort! Abort!

James: Anyway, Nowhere Fast is a wonderful little strip about guys who work in a comic store – has lots of industry humor.

Dani: (deadpan) .and a girl.

Bill: Don’t.. Oh.. this is bad. ABORT!

James: The girls are about to take over…

[Thankfully, Danielle a moment later, left to go to work before she went on her standard rant about how Nowhere Fast does not include a mock-up of her – even though I am the writer. This topic has been discussed between she and I, and we are quite happily meeting in the middle that she will be appearing in a future strip. This does not please her, as she wishes to be drawn in to all of the prior strips as well.]

James: The part of Danielle will now be played by Bill Ellis.

Bill: Ok, now we can talk about Nowhere Fast.

James: Honestly, I have no questions about Nowhere Fast – we like picking on each other about it, but it is what it is.

Bill: Yeah, the new one is in the car – it’s not scanned in yet. It’ll come out. I have a busy schedule and there is–

Laura: Magic.

Bill: Yes.. like Magic.

James: You know there is a market for doing the Magic art.

Bill: Yep, it falls under illustration. You can do both like Christopher Muller who does covers for Lucifer and Magic art.

James: What would be your preference?

Bill: My preference would be comics, because you have to be very VERY good to do Magic card art. You have to be good in thinks I’m just not that good in. I could practice at the things I’m not as good at, alot of watercolor painting and pastel work.

Laura: Your style is very different.

Bill: I would like to try it someday, but I like storytelling. It’s it’s own animal, and that really interests me. The pacing.

James: Would you say that you count yourself as a storyteller AND an artist.

Bill: The words are the words – that’s what happens. The art dictates the pacing and timing. It’s very important, just as important as the words.

James: Do you feel that when it comes down to it, you could be a Jeff Smith, Judd Winick, early Bendis kind of guy where you are doing both writing and art.

Bill: I would like to do that.

James: Or will you always rest on my laurels to tell a good story?

Bill: No! I got gaggles of ideas. I’m chock ful o’ ideas. One of the ideas, right now in my sketchbook. The reason I haven’t written more of it is that I’m doing research. It has to do with a candle and an angel, and the angel goes on a quest to relight her candle.

Laura: That sounds kinda–

Bill: Lame. Yes. But I would like to draw it out to see where it goes.

James: And the candle is symbolic of..

Bill: Symbolic of nothing, it’s a candle.

James: I was reaching for symbolism on that – the candle of life – the fire burning has been extinguished.. something.

Laura: Sadly, I knew that wasn’t there.

Bill: There is probably something that ties that in, or something like it at the end, but I haven’t written that part yet – and, as I said, I’m researching. I generally write with a preimposed moral attached to it, but I should just write a story to write a story, and find out what it’s about later.

James: Okay, hot comic book topic time. Amazing Spiderman #512. There are people sitting on both sides of the fence about the HUGE twist.

[I warn you now – I explain what happens to him in Spidey #512. If you haven’t read it, don’t read on.. Bill’s opinion relates to the facts of what happened. He was intrigued to say the least.]

Bill: Oh my god! It sounds like a great coo, but it sounds like the Clone thingies.

James: The entire Nexus forum board was on it’s EAR over this whole thing.

Bill: Oh, and they weren’t over Spidey’s magical powers?

James: [an audible sigh of dismay towards Bill]

Bill: NO! I like Doctor Strange, I like magic. Based on what I read, you can tell I like magic.. just a little.

James: So now people are saying that Gwen was a whore and slept around.

Bill: She wasn’t?

James: See, you are faling under the Ultimate Spidey version, which I did the same thing.

Bill: This sounds like to me that it’s going to be one of those things like.. the Death of Superman, or the Spidey 9/11 issue.

James: It was so well done.

Bill: It was well done, but nobody is going to appreciate it for that.

James: We are.

Bill: WE ARE, but people aren’t buying it for the writing – they’re buying it because of 9/11.

Laura: What was this?

James: It was Marvel addressing 9-11, which was socially concious of them to do so. So they had JMS address it in Spiderman. —

[We now explain to Laura the significance of the book and how powerful it was in writing and art. If you have not read this story, called sometimes infamously as “The Black Cover” issue, I recommend picking up the TPB it is in and NOT supporting a retailer selling it because of it’s ‘high trade value’. It is a story to be read, not collected. Pardon this editorial.]

Bill: It was amazing because it addressed the same range of emotions that all of us went through that period. It was just incredible.

James: The fact that it did that was amazing, and powerful. That’s the goodside. The bad side is that you have retailers who bought it in droves, ran up the price, and now you have to pay $50 for it.

Bill: Now the comic store that we were working for at the time didn’t do that. Thankfully.

James: Now the question is, that same retailer, getting a copy in his hand right now – would he get it at a speculator price or just sell it.

Bill: …easily… speculator price.

Laura: I would understand somebody marking it up and donating it to a cause.

James: Completely! But nobody does that. It’s the way of the market to mark crap up like that. Bill and I have seen it, because we’ve worked in that one store together, and have been privvy to how a speculator retailer works.

Bill: You know, that’s another thing. If this comic thing doesn’t work for me – I mean the big two – I’ll always create comics, but if it’s not paying the bills – I’d be more than willing to work on the retailer side of it the fence. Just a couple business courses and you’re on the other side.

James: So what projects at SCHOOL are you working at?

Bill: Right now I’m working on a maquette – which for the layman – is a 3-d character statue. This is an ongoing series of projects. We had to invent a character. I did a 5 view turnaround, which is from the front, back, side, 3/4 front, 3/4 back. The proportions had to be exact. From that turnaround you make a 3-d sculpture of that character using sculpie and wire armature.

James: Is that more of an industrial lesson?

Bill: It’s more for the animation side of things, such as the JLA maquettes that sell like hotcakes. It relates to comics when you consider that a cartoon is just a comic being shown at 24 frames per second. There are no word balloons, but their could be. They are very related fields.

James: So what’s the next step?

Bill: There might be, I don’t know yet. We’re also doing as a long term project, but doing turnarounds for 4 Simpsons characters. It’s not using our styles. You have to draw the Simpsons.

James: Tedious?

Bill: Kind of tedious, because they are harder to design than you realize. It’s because they are spheres and cylandars which when you have to be exact – sucks.

Laura: Sorry to jump back, but I wanted to say – what I’ve noticed which is cool about Bill’s school, which relates to you asking about the next step – he doesn’t have a syllabus. I get my syllabus. I buy a planner. I write everything from the entire semester in that book and that is what I refer to.

Bill: That’s true – it’s not as exact. We don’t always get a chance to do everything that’s listed to do. For Linda’s class, we are taking various objects and taking four objects and putting them together.

James: With some kind of sequitor?

Bill: No, it’s a perspective piece using a light table and tracing paper and that kind of thing. You have to take those pieces and put them together. This is your background, this is something that has to be involved in the scene. This is what those people have to be doing in the scene.

James: Gotcha. So you went into SCAD with a certain degree of talent.

Bill: A little, yeah.

James: Has SCAD changed your skill at all? Do you feel that prior to going to SCAD that you could have done the things that you are doing now? I will say that your style has dramatically changed since the beginning.

Bill: Technically everything has changed. My technique is completely different. Some of it is how you draw, and what you draw, but the rest of it is technical skill. It’s learning to do what everybody has to learn have to do to do any of this right. It’s drawing a figure and doing it right. Anyone can draw a person, but not everyone draws it correctly, and that might be fine if you have your own style. First, though, you need to know how to draw the skeleton.

James: Well, now what if you took someone like myself a Laura who might have a small amount of doodling skill. If ‘I’ went into SCAD, and took your same courseload because I was going to become an artist – am I going to walk out of there with skill?

Bill: Yes. Maybe I’m saying this from a biase standpoint because I like to do the drawing, and I can do the drawing easier than most people think they can. I will say that I think somebody like you, who claims that they don’t have talent, if you can work past that hump and say that you are going to learn and try – you are going to get someplace further than someone who thinks they can do it already. Mainly because they are going to fight against learning how to do it correctly.

James: So what you are saying is that if I tried, I could be better than you.

Bill: Yeah, sure.

James: Heh, you know that’s for the record.

Bill: Yeah, that’s fine, but you’re not. That’s for the record.

James: Okay, let’s address the 24 Hour Comic. For those who don’t know – the 24 Hour Comic Challenge is something Scott McCloud put out there about doing a 24 page comic in 24 hours. Beginning to end. Soup to nuts. So, what’s your feelings on doing that as compared to doing a project that you are told that you have 30 days to get it done?

Bill: I did better on that in terms of doing it, than I have ever done on my other projects. I liked it.

James: So you’re better under deadline?

Bill: Probably, because I do the work. We’ve seen what happens when you and I don’t have a deadline. It was just a cool experience. I know alot about what I’m going to do for my next one.

James: In the way of–?

Bill: In finishing it prior to that 24 hour mark.

James: So from an entirely different perspective – you are somebody who is within the comics field with some degree of severity. We’ve both worked in a comic store which lends us to be ankle deep in it.

Bill: I like comics alot, even though I don’t read them.

James: –Okay, so somebody reading this wants to get into comics. Is SCAD the right move?

Bill: It’s a good move. It’s one of two places that offers the sequential art major, and that’s really in depth. It has everything to do with all comics. Whether you are interested in superheroes or underground or manga – it encompasses everything. There are people who like all of those different genres.

James: When you walk out of there, will you and your graduating class have a leg up from someone who might be on your level talent or even slightly more, because you have that degree from SCAD?

Bill: Having a degree from SCAD is a good thing to have. That’s good, because I’m paying lots of money to get it. You are paying lots and lots of money for a really good piece of paper. I think it will carry some weight – also they help you get a job. They do have job placement, and they have editors from the books to come look at your portfolio.

James: That’s a point Dani and I were discussing – a standard guy who wants to get into comics, will walk his portfolio around at conventions and show it off. You are trying to sell yourself to them in a public forum where they are trying to sell product. What you have as a benefit, is that they are coming to you and saying “Show me what you got.”

Bill: I do hope that helps me. It’s often what I know artistically that is going to funnel itself into what I get hired. They want me to draw a pretty picture and SCAD has shown me how – at least more than I did when I went in.

James: What is your ideal company to work for?

Bill: I love Oni Press stuff, and my style suits them. I love Vertigo too, though, and it would be a great challenge to fit my style into their work. Put the square peg into the round hole.

James: Can you do that? Can you draw like Brian Hitch? Or Oeming? Can you do that?

Bill: Sure.

James: Really?

Bill: I think so. Do whatever you can to get that clout – once you have that weight in the industry, do whatever the hell you want. You do what THEY want you to do, and then eventually, hopefully once you’ve established yourself that way, then you can do what you want.

James: Who would be the guy you want to draw for, writerwise? They come up to you and says, “Bill, I have a script that fits your style. Who is this person?”

Bill: I think it would be Bendis or JMS. JMS’ characters have these great personalities. He gave Peter an amazing personality that seems that would be really fun to draw. Bendis because of his timing. He has a great way of working with timing, and it’s the most important part of the art.

James: In closing – Bill, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

Bill: Yep, I just wanted breakfast.

James: And also thanks to Laura Fisher and Danielle O’Brien for this time.


And that brings another sit down at the ol’ Diner to a close. Bill is a friend, so thank you all for coming to join us for Breakfast at the Felix #9, we’ll see you next time here at Diner Talk.

For more information on SCAD, please check out www.scad.edu
To see Nowhere Fast, check out here.