Though he’s far better known for his more inventive work on such titles as Promethea, Batwoman and Sandman Overture, it was from his work as the regular artist on the short-lived but beloved series Chase in the late 1990s that I became a fan of the art of J.H. Williams III. While the prices being asked for pages from the aforementioned titles are out of reach for me, Williams’ work from Chase is more affordable, and I decided to pick up a couple of boards from a dealer through an online transaction recently.
The dealer had several pages available, and I chose this one because it’s from the first issue of Chase (featuring a federal agent’s forays into the superhuman insanity of the DC Universe). Of note is the panel layout on the bottom tier of the board. We see early hints of Williams’ willingness to experiment with layouts, using a bold, thick, circular, off-center border (conveying a fish-eye lens view) to add to the hectic and semi-surreal nature of Cameron Chase’s introduction to her weird new job. It was quite clear in Chase that DC tapped Williams for the project to capture the same sort of vibe that Tony Harris had brought to Starman a few years before, and that opened the door for Williams to distinguish himself more, especially when it came to non-traditional, multimedia comic art.
I typically lean toward pre-digital-production pages when I want to acquire new pieces of comic art for my collection, as it gives one a greater glimpse at the creative and printing processes. Among the unique elements on this board are a large piece of tape that’s been applied to keep the second word balloon in the second panel affixed to the page, and inker Mick Gray’s delightful use of Zip-a-Tone for shadowing effects in the first and second panels.
I loved Dan Curtis Johnson’s writing on this book, and I was disappointed it saw such a limited run (only 10 issues). This scene is quite relatable; many of us have experienced that sort of whirlwind introduction to a new job. But Johnson and Williams also made sure to include a touch of the extraordinary as well, as evident from the Martian Manhunter’s presence at the far left of the fourth panel, grumbling about bureaucracy.
I selected a second Chase page in the same transaction from an online art dealer, and I chose this one from the third issue of the series because it features a version of the Suicide Squad. I’ve been a big fan of the concept of a black-ops team comprised of incarcerated super-villains since writer John Ostrander introduced it in the mid 1980s; here, we see Bolt, Killer Frost and a much more serpentine Copperhead have been reluctantly recruited for a mission in Russia.
Williams’ penchant for unconventional page layouts is apparent here, given the circuitry-themed panel borders and designs in the upper part of the page. Also impressive is inker Mick Gray’s use of black ink and whiteout to convey the smoke effects in the last two panels. I love the texture of those panels as I run my finger lightly over the board.
The lettering for this book was by Comicraft, which had introduced and embraced computer-generated lettering in the mid 1990s. But production technology apparently hadn’t caught up with the method at this juncture, as we still get a vintage-board element here with pasted-on lettering. The versatility and creative contributions of lettering is abundantly apparent on this page, as we get four distinct lettering styles: for regular dialogue, Frost’s dialogue, a crisp font for narrative captions (see Panel 1) and for the Construct’s digital mischief in the middle of the page.
It’s interesting to see that the laptop image in Panel 3 is a photocopy of the one in Panel 2 (to ensure consistency), with a piece of paper pasted over the monitor part in the second instance to remove the image of the Construct (the rather obscure, artificial-intelligence foe of the Justice League is still visible through the paper).
Other noteworthy vintage, pre-digital production traits of these boards include copyright stamps on the back, alignment tape marks (the register at the top of the Suicide Squad page has fallen off, leaving a remnant of yellow/orange adhesive), the presence of leftover blueline pencils, a dual page-numbering notes at the top right corner of the Squad page (it’s Page 19 of the story, but Page 25 of the comic, including ads and other pages).
Mind you, these Chase pages don’t represent the first sample of Williams art in my collection. Almost three years ago, I stumbled onto this page from the Tangent Comics/Green Lantern one-shot from 1997. The price was incredibly affordable for a Williams board, and I was lucky enough to snatch it up. While it doesn’t boast the sort of inventive, flowing panel layouts from his later projects, it’s an amazing page, showing off Williams’ wonderful style and his unconventional methods.
Look at that amazing starscape. Each white dot representing a star is a glob of whiteout. Now, this is likely the efforts of Gray (who was frequently paired with Williams earlier in their careers), but nevertheless, it’s a stunning level of detail on a single page of a comic designed as a part of a temporary, fill-in event. That’s dedication. Also note how the starscapes in the margins give way to Kirby-dot energy. Spectacular.
I also love Williams’ design for this alt-reality Captain Comet. The tunic and helmet put one in mind of the Rocketeer, but it’s easily distinguishable as well. His flight effects are sharp too. The zig-zag white streaks in the third panel, for example, are another whiteout effect. The alt-Captain Comet origin, summed up perfectly in a single page here, was a flashback to the 1960s, so it gave Williams the chance to craft some era-appropriate clothing and backdrop in the final panel.
Dave Lanphear’s unusual but effective lettering for the narrative captions are pasted on, but Williams’s panel layouts ensure they don’t intrude on the artwork. Lanphear also apparently crafted the pasted-on business signage in the final panel. It appears that was a latter addition, as with the marquee at the right, once can see someone else originally did some black block letters for it.
To see my entire original art collection, visit my gallery at ComicArtFans.com.