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Getting to Know
Bill Wiist

by Michael Hutchison

    We at Fanzing thought it was about time to really introduce some of the interesting people who contribute to the mag every so often. We'll start with a guy who has not only been with us since the start but has actually gotten paid for doing comic work: Bill Wiist!

Fanzing:Let's kick this off with the basics. Married? Kids? Where do you live and what do you do?

Bill Wiist:I am married and have one eight-year old son. I live in the small town of Salem, Indiana and have about a 45-minute commute to work in Louisville, Kentucky. There I am an artist for Louisville's largest paper, the Courier-Journal. I design ads using Quark Xpress, PhotoShop, and Illustrator, provide hand drawn and computer generated illustrations for a weekly children's page entitled 4 Your Info, and create some web sites and online banners. I'm also a freelance writer for the paper.

Fanzing: What artists do you admire and/or use for inspiration?


Bill:I LOVE EVERYBODY:)
Among older comic artists: Will Eisner, John Romita Sr., Curt Swan, Joe Kubert.
Among newer: George Perez, John Byrne, Steve Rude, Alex Ross.
Outside of comics: The MAN, Norman Rockwell.
Tough question. Depends upon what I'm working on as to whom I look to for inspiration. Right now, these guys.

Fanzing: Judging by your independent works such as "The Von Fange Brothers", "Java Man" and "The Adventures of Will and Pokey Stokes", you appear to be more into real characterization than superhero action. Is this a fair assumption?

Bill:The artist in me goes where the writer takes him. Characters and relationships fascinate the writer in me.

Fanzing: Do you enjoy doing action sequences?

Bill:Sure. One day I'll prove it.

Fanzing: What are your favorite comic books, DC or otherwise?

Bill: Currently my favorite books are Castle Waiting; Thieves & Kings; Astro City; the Avengers; the Hulk, and the mini-series - Superman & Batman: Generations (I keep re-reading it!).

Fanzing: Speaking of "Generations", I think it's maddening that Mrs. Bruce Wayne was never shown to us! I thought the series was building up to that revelation and then it's dropped. So, who is your guess? Who do you think she was?

Bill: Seems like it would be Selina Kyle … except for the big mystery. I'm sure the build up was intended, and I don't think Byrne "dropped" it. I think he's saving the surprise for a future storyline.

Fanzing: Now on to the part that a lot of our readers may find surprising. You've actually published your own comic book! Before we go into details about the book, tell us about what it takes to self-publish a comic.

Bill: It takes all that you have and then some.

Fanzing: *chuckle* Okay, care to be more specific? I mean, how'd you come to the decision that self-publishing was the route for you? How did you get started on the project?

Bill: I wanted to do a very personal book and I was certain I'd never be able to sell it to a big publisher. Plus, at the time I had read a whole lot about self-publishing and it seemed like a viable option. Today, just a few short years later the climate has changed considerably. When I began writing my book, there were around a dozen distributors. When my first book came out there were only two main guys left, Diamond and Capital. By the time my second issue was published there was only one, Diamond. A smaller number of distributors, in my mind, means a smaller number of people who will see your book. Today, comic publishers are suffering because of the shrinking market. They are serving a niche market, when they need to reach the mainstream market again. Everyone knows this, but no one knows how. But one day someone will figure out how and will not only save and revolutionize the medium, but will also become very rich.

Fanzing: Let's get into the details about your comic book, "The Von Fange Brothers."

Bill:The Von Fange Brothers are based on me and my two younger brothers, Dave and Mike. In the book, we each have unusual superpowers. I am able to stay awake for any length of time, Dave is able to relax in any situation, and Mike is able to eat as much as he wants without getting sick. How we do this is by sloughing off our sleepiness, anxiety, or nausea onto those around us. Our desire is to use these powers for the greater good of humanity and to have some cool adventures along the way. Course, as of issue #2 neither of these two objectives has been met - but wait until next issue! Ho, boy.

Fanzing: And these "powers" are based on your real-life personality quirks?

Bill: Yep. That's why it's so funny … to us.

Fanzing: What's the latest on your newspaper proposal that uses the Von Fange Brothers?

Bill: It's been proposed. The editor likes the premise and the execution, but I think the rub comes in trying to find a place for it in the paper. I've designed it to be a half page strip that will appear in the Saturday Scene, kind of a food and features section. In the strip, entitled Pizza Talk, the Von Fange Brothers get together each week to make pizza and talk about current events. You can view three of these strips at my web site. I've also been asked by the higher ups at my paper to create a comic strip series that will focus on a local sports team. More on this later (I hope).

Fanzing: Tell our readers about meeting Linda Medley.

Bill:I'm a big fan of Linda Medley's Castle Waiting. I've met her a couple of times at signings and conventions. The first time I met her, I gave her copies of my VFB comic to review. Last fall, I saw her again and was showing her new samples of some of my color work. While we were talking she spotted the VFB comics in my portfolio case and asked me if I was the creator. Turns out she's a fan of the book. She told me she recommends it all the time and even recently in an interview mentioned it as one of her favorite books. She thinks its funny. I'm not sure if she meant "funny, ha ha" or "funny odd," but either way I take it as a great compliment.

Fanzing: You've gotten really close to breaking into the big leagues as a colorist. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Bill: Well, I'm doing what I love right now - designing, drawing and writing - and getting paid for it. The children's page I do for the paper reaches over 300,000 people a week. So, in a certain way I feel like I have broken into the big leagues. One of the recent ads I did the artwork for sold to Pepsi and will be run in USA Today. The ad also will serve as the basis for a new Pepsi commercial to run on TV. So, I'm very happy, obviously, to be involved in these kinds of things. It would be a kick to do more comic work, especially some high profile project, but really my main ambition is to make a good living writing and drawing my own stories.
To answer your question, though. The only thing I know for sure that I'll be doing in five years is shaking my head at some of the answers I've given in this interview.

Fanzing: You know, that's not a bad deal, getting your art published in a medium with 300,000 different people. Not every reader of the paper will see your piece, to be sure…but compared to the total monthly sales of Superman or Batman, you're actually doing BETTER than working for D.C.!
Of all of the art you've done for Fanzing, which is the piece of which you're proudest?

Bill Wiist:The next one.

Fanzing: What do you do for fun?

Bill: Get together with family.

Fanzing: A quick one here: what are your favorite movies?

Bill Wiist:Okay! Here's Bill the Baker's Dozen:
1. Star Wars.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark.
3. Amadeus.
4. Pinocchio.
5. Rear Window.
6. Charade.
7. Casablanca.
8. High Noon.
9. Shenandoah.
10. Joe vs. the Volcano.
11. Late For Dinner.
12. Any Marx Brothers movie.
13. Buckaroo Banzai.

Fanzing: "Charade" is a pleasant surprise! I actually have a web site with clips from that film. I love the fast banter between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Most of the others are standard on any list of faves (even the beyond bizarre "Buckaroo Banzai"), but "Joe vs. the Volcano"? Why?

Bill: Besides the fact that it features the three times nominated and twice Academy-award winning actor Tom Hanks? Besides the fact that his co-star was Meg Ryan (the best on-screen couple since Tracy and Hepburn)? Besides the fantastic story of personal redemption? I dunno. Maybe it was because I share the Waponi Woo's penchant for orange soda.

Fanzing:What's "Late for Dinner"?

Bill: UGH! You're killin' me, man! "Late For Dinner is a charming, critically acclaimed romantic comedy that leaps through time and into your heart." W.D. Richter directed it, what else do I have to say? Be sure to watch it with your fiancee.

Fanzing: What about favorite books? (I'm assuming you don't have any, since you haven't sent in your reading list for our Amazon page, heh heh!)

Bill: Really, I could just say "Ditto" to your reading list. But I won't. :-)
My favorite books growing up were The Three Investigators and The Chronicles of Narnia.
The book that scared me the most was Animal Farm. Even so, it remains one of my favorites to this day.
When it comes to fiction, I mainly enjoy reading short stories. Love reading all of Bill Bennett's books (In fact, I illustrated a story from his Book of Virtues and sent it to him. He sent me back a very nice letter in return). I love the short stories of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The Russian novel, Fathers and Sons, is a GREAT book.
Otherwise, I tend to just read nonfiction. Beau Smith turned me on to a book entitled Endurance, one of the most amazing true-life adventure books I've ever read. I enjoy biographies, books on illustration and writing, political science, religion, etc.
My favorite book, hands-down, is the Bible.

Fanzing: What do you plan to be doing on December 31, 1999?

Bill:I plan to be with family toasting in the New Year over some great food.

Fanzing: Who are your heroes and idols?

Bill: Besides you? I'd say growing up I had few REAL heroes. My heroes were mainly fictional. Spider-Man, Andy Griffith, etc. But now that I'm older, my main heroes are my parents, after that a few preachers and teachers I know. What makes someone a hero in my mind is faithfulness, honesty, decency, love for the truth, things like that. My favorite thing is to read biographies of great men and women. You can't ever have enough heroes!

We'll be sure to keep you posted on the things Bill is up to. Even as we go to press, Bill has been getting more and more good news about projects and proposals! (We're hoping and praying for ya, Bill!)

To order Bill's "Von Fange Bros" comics, view his online sketch pad, see current proposals and check out his other thoughts and interests, visit Bill Wiist's online studio at http://www.blueriver.net/~wwiist/

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.

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