Writer Wednesdays: William Harms on video games, comics and zombie defense

William Harms has written for some the largest and most prestigious entertainment companies in the world, including Sony Entertainment, 2K, Ubisoft, Techland, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Sega, and Top Cow. His comic book work includes the acclaimed vampire series Impaler (finalist for the International Horror Guild Award), 39 Minutes, Captain America, The Avengers, and Wolverine. Bill served as senior editor for PC GAMER magazine and wrote INFAMOUS, which received IGN’s “Best Story of 2009” award, and Dead Island: Riptide, the follow-up to the best-selling Dead Island.

I met him two years ago through email, after ordering an autographed copy of his zombie Western novel Dead or Alive because I loved his writing for INFAMOUS. Despite his incredibly busy schedule, he’s been kind enough to offer insight and advice as I pursue my own writing career, and now he’s taken the time to answer 5 Questions for the Charlotte Geeks about comics, video games, superheroes and his favorite weapons for zombie defense.

williamharms1. You’ve worked on some pretty amazing franchises. How did you get into writing comics and video games?

Initially I tried to get into comics through sheer arrogance, but when that failed, I shifted to building contacts and perseverance.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and when I was in high school if I read a comic I didn’t like, I’d write a pitch for how I’d write it and then send it in and tell them to hire me. Needless to say, that approach didn’t get me anywhere, but it was useful in that it taught me how to deal with rejection. And like most writers, I’ve been rejected a lot.

So after my “your comic sucks, why don’t you hire me?” tactic failed, I found a local artist and did a comic called TEARS that was published by Boneyard Press. It was about the FBI using a serial killer as an assassin, and it was the most dreadful thing imaginable. It flat-out sucked (story-wise). But it taught me a lot about how to structurally write comics, and I continued to write stuff for Boneyard Press, mainly a vampire story called THE FALL and various short horror stories.

When I was in college, I interned at Marvel between my junior and senior year, and that led to me writing some REN & STIMPY SHOW scripts for them. Then I did a graphic novel called ABEL for Slave Labor Graphics, and when it was reprinted by AiT/PlanetLar, things started picking up. I did a second graphic novel called BAD MOJO for AiT, then IMPALER for Image.

IMPALER led to me getting work with Marvel, and I’m still doing stuff for both them and Top Cow/Image. SHOTGUN WEDDING comes out through Image in April, and I have a sci-fi book placed with another publisher. Just waiting for the contract.

In terms of games, it started because I worked at PC GAMER magazine as a senior editor. I got to know a lot of people in the video game industry, and then one day the head of the now-defunct Stainless Steel Studios, Rick Goodman, called and asked if I wanted to write their next game. That was in 2004, and I’ve been writing video games fulltime ever since. I’m now lead writer on unannounced game at 2K Games.

The interesting thing about both is that in the end it boiled down to having work that demonstrates your abilities and knowing people. If people like you and you’re not a complete jack-ass, they will reach out to you and offer you work.

covers_harms2. How is writing comics different from writing video games?

In some ways they’re very similar — both rely on short, direct dialogue, for example — but they’re also very, very different. With a comic, the writer and artist have complete control over how the story is presented and you can pretty much do whatever you want.

In video games, you have the story and you also have the player, who is experiencing that story and interacting with it. It can be a difficult thing to wrap your head around, especially since everything needs to be viewed through the lens of “how will the player experience this moment?” You can’t just have a million cinematics; you need to have playable content, and people (artists, engineers, etc.) need to build that content.

That’s a big difference from comics, where the artist can draw what they want and no one is going to come back and tell him or her that they’re killing the game’s performance or that what they want to do is impossible.

3. If you could be any superhero or video game character, who would it be and why?

Spider-Man, without a doubt. He’s not only a normal dude who got powers, he’s a normal dude who’s life wasn’t dramatically improved because of his powers. In most ways, his life got worse.

This sounds uber-dorky, but I’ve actually had dreams where I’m Spider-Man and I’m swinging around a city and fighting robots and other menaces. I love those dreams.

4. You have a new comic book series called Shotgun Wedding coming out with Top Cow in April. Can you tell us more about your collaboration with Ed Pun on this project?

Ed and I met while we were working on the original INFAMOUS. I wrote the game, and Ed drew all of the animated, 2D images in the game. I instantly loved his art and after begging and cajoling for a couple of years, we started work on SHOTGUN WEDDING.

That was three years ago, and since Ed still works at Sucker Punch, he’s only able to draw a page or two a month. We held the book back because of his schedule, but in the end it turned out to be a big blessing because the entire thing is done and it will ship weekly in April (as opposed to most comics, which ship monthly).

There’s already a lot of interest in the book, so hopefully all of our hard work (especially Ed’s hard work) will pay off.

5. In a previous post on CharlotteGeeks.com, I mentioned how much I enjoyed your zombie western novel, Dead or Alive. What would be your top three weapons for zombie defense?

When I was at PC GAMER, we once spent a couple of days discussing how we’d escape the zombies if we had to go from the atrium in our building to the roof, where a rescue copter would be waiting. I settled on a semi-automatic shotgun (probably a SPAS-12) to clear out a path; a flamethrower in case things got really crazy; and a machete for when I ran out of ammo. You don’t have to kill all of the zombies, you just have to get past them.

That said, I’d also always have a small pistol in reserve, but that wouldn’t be for the zombies, that’d be for me.

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2012-jenJ.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press, and a contributor to CharlotteGeeks.com and the Contact-Infinite Futures SF/SFR blog. She is the founder of Raleigh’s Can’t Stop the Serenity event and a CSTS global sponsor. Her jewelry designs are featured in the books Steampunk Style Jewelry and 1000 Steampunk Creations. Visit her at JLHilton.com or follow her on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads and deviantART.

About JLHilton 12 Articles
J.L. Hilton is the author of the post-cyberpunk Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press and a jewelry artist featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry" and "1000 Steampunk Creations." Find out more at JLHilton.com or JLHjewelry.com.