MERCED -- It's Wednesday -- comic book day -- and J.H. Williams III is talking about his favorite pastime with the other comic book geeks who show up faithfully at Red Sky Comics each week to obtain their latest fix.
But Williams is no mere geek. The Merced resident is a celebrity in the comic book world. And he just won two Eisner awards, the industry's equivalent of the Oscars, for his work on DC Comics' Batman franchise.
Red Sky has devoted a table to Williams' work, which goes back more than 20 years and includes such top-tier titles as "Batman" and "X-Men," and lesser-known but critically acclaimed works such as "Desolation Jones" and "Promethia."
Like other comic book fans, Williams could talk for hours about the latest story lines and artwork -- he's as big a fan of comics and graphic novels as the fans who stop him in public for an autograph.
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And even after more than two decades, he marvels at the attention he receives.
"It's weird. Some people are completely cool and treat me like anyone else, but every now and then people will geek out," Williams said. "I got stopped at Raley's -- I was buying eggs or something -- and these people tapped me on my shoulder and said, 'Excuse me, are you J.H. Wil- liams?' They weren't even from town, but they recognized me."
Williams spent his teen years in Atwater, where his father was stationed at Castle Air Force Base. Commercial art classes he took as part of a vocational education program wielded a formative impact. In fact, it was the only formal training he had.
"The advertising and design class, I thought, was the coolest thing," he said. "When you're born with the ability to draw and paint, you can only learn so much from a normal art class. The fact that this class was all about thinking about what you're putting down on paper was unbeatable."
Williams moved to the Bay Area after graduating from high school in 1984, but moved back to Merced after a few years, where he met his wife, Wendy. He does most of his work from home, sending his art, as it is completed, to DC's New York-based editors.
Twenty-six years after leaving Atwater High School, Williams is an industry favorite. At last month's Comic-Con in San Diego, he was awarded Best Penciller/Inker and Best Cover Artist for his work on Detective Comics, one of DC's "Batman" titles.
Many prior disappointments
But Williams endured his share of disappointments in the past.
"I've been up for those categories before, more than once, and I've never won," he said. "And each time I had gone to the ceremony. One year I was up for five awards, and I didn't win one."
So he chose not to attend this year's ceremony. A friend at the ceremony informed him of his wins over the phone.
"When the phone call came, I was in shock. I was like, 'Well, now what do we do?' " Williams said.
Williams is focused on DC's Batwoman, a character he helped develop with writer Greg Rucka. Batwoman tells the ongoing story of Kate Kane, a Batman-inspired vigilante who happens to be a lesbian.
When DC introduced the character in 2006, she received a fair amount of news coverage for being the highest-profile gay superhero.
The one-dimensional attention rubbed Williams the wrong way.
"What makes it special is that it's a mainstream character who is also gay," he explained. "That's not the focus of the book. It's part of her identity, which is the same as everyone else. Different aspects of ourselves don't decide who we are -- the deciding factor about who she is is that she's a hero."