Keith Williams career in comics and comic strips has spanned over forty years. The prolific inker has worked for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse Comics, and many others throughout his time in the industry and he also spent ten years as one of the artists on The Phantom newspaper strip. We got a chance to speak to Williams about some of his most notable work at this year’s Rhode Island Comic Con.
How did you break into the comic book industry?
Keith Williams: I began in 1982 by drawing backgrounds after a friend helped me get an interview. I filled out the original Marvel Try Out Book and ended up working with artist Mike Esposito, doing backgrounds. I did everything but the characters in the comic.
Many fans remember your work on Warlock in the early 1990s. What are your memories of working on Warlock, at a time when the character was a very high profile one?
Williams: I always loved Warlock. When I was a kid I read all of the Jim Starlin issues, and anything by Starlin. My editor at the time, Craig Anderson, asked me if I would be interested in inking a new Warlock title called Warlock Chronicles. I said “Of course I would!”, and I got a chance to work with Tom Raney and Starlin, so it was great.
In recent years, you helped illustrate Max Brooks’ Harlem Hellfighters graphic novel. What was it like working on a historical graphic novel?
Williams: It was a graphic novel focused on secret history. I mean, I didn’t know about it before I started working on it, but what a story. The soldiers weren’t even truly recognized by their country and weren’t trusted with weapons on U.S. soil, so they were sent to Europe to fight.
I am very proud of it, and it is now taught in a number of high school classes, and it can serve as gateway into that history for young people, as well as the world of comics.
What comics were your gateway into the medium at a young age?
Williams: Definitely Batman. I remember my grandmother buying me comics like Strange Adventures with Adam Strange, probably because I always wanted to be an astronaut. As I got older, I started collecting comics, and I used to go down to a local store and help them unpack and rack all of the comics and magazines so I could get first crack at the new ones.
You spent ten years as the inker on the weekly newspaper strip, The Phantom. What was it like working on a comic strip vs. a comic book?
Williams: I got that job through Danny Fingeroth, who recommended me for the job. I didn’t have a great knowledge of the character, so I researched him and went through Jim Steranko’s History of Comics. From there I had to get the approval of The Phantom’s creator Lee Falk. Once he gave the ok, I started working on the strip with George Olesen.
It is much different working on a weekly strip. With a comic book, you have roughly three months to finish the art, but when it is weekly, you have to turn the work around much faster. It is difficult to take a vacation. One time George went to Norway, and he took the work with him and turned it in every week, so it a more continuous process. I really enjoyed working on The Phantom for as long as I did.
You have been attending a lot of conventions recently. What has the experience been like?
Williams: It has been great. My friends in the comic industry say “now you’re on the circuit”. Before doing the shows I never realized how much my fans appreciated my work, so that has been great to experience.
John Evans assisted with this interview.