Artist Tim Sale has been gone two years now, and the empty space he left in the comics community is still felt today. But while he’s known for a whole host of wonderful works—from Spider-Man: Blue to Superman for All Seasons and so many more—it might be easy to forget that he once started at a beginning like all comic creators. One of his early works, BILLI 99 from Dark Horse Comics, with writer Sarah Byam, still shines, showing a true collaboration of words and pictures seen in all of Sale’s work. For the uninitiated, BILLI 99 follows Billi Chadam, a young teen who is making it her mission to father’s wish to protect the city he loves with the sword that is her legacy.

Clover Press recently launched a Kickstarter to bring a full-color version of Byam and Sale’s work to the printed page, working with the Sale family. The campaign, not surprisingly, has already more than reaching its goal with over two weeks left. We spoke with Sarah Byam recently about the genesis of BILLI 99, working with Tim Sale at this early stage of his career, the timeliness of the book today, 30 years later, and how this edition of BILLI 99 is a tribute to Mr. Sale.



FreakSugar: Before we get to the book itself, what can you tell us about your comic book work beyond BILLI 99?

Sarah Byam: BILLI 99 was my first. I moved to Seattle to be Mike Grell’s assistant. I wrote a couple of small one-offs for DC.  I loved working with Trevor Von Eden and Dick Giardono on the Black Canary: New Wings mini-series. After that just a few stories in Elfquest with Wendy Pini, an Aliens story in Dark Horse Presents, and a Miracleman story for Eclipse.

FS: What can you tell us about the conceit of BILLI 99?

SB: BILLI 99 is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story. When her father dies, she is cast back into the cordoned-off ghetto with only her father’s legacy and sword to try to protect the city they both loved so much. At the time it was written, Billi was an unexpectedly normal hero.  She won’t give up the Sword of Teleado identity because people are counting on her. But she doesn’t have money and she doesn’t have superhuman powers. What’s a girl to do? The best she can. Billi has grit. She refuses to stay down and inspires others to do the same.


BILLI 99 pages 6-7


FS: How did it come to be that you and Tim Sale first collaborated on BILLI 99?

SB: My local comic book store owner was willing to let me go through the back stock – using white gloves – to find my artist.  I kid you not, I picked Tim based on one book illustration I cannot seem to locate.  Every character, including background characters, looked different, maybe a little extra normal, and beautiful. It reminded me of Norman Rockwell. When I saw his larger art at the Star Reach Agency booth. I stood there gaping a little at Tim’s art. Would this guy be willing to work with me? It was obvious to me that he was a master of his craft. Tim talks about introducing me to Mike Friedrich at Star Reach, and after I was signed, we had a project, an agent, and – lol – we found out that we lived in the same neighborhood!  It was all a bit of a whirlwind for me. Years of hard work and an enormous amount of luck.

FS: The book was initially published over 30 years ago. Do you feel the themes of the book still resonate today?

SB: Unfortunately, I think so. If you have any interest in the mechanisms of white-collar crime and poverty cycles, we always seem to be somewhere in that cycle.  At this moment in time, we have a lot of everyday heroes protecting labor rights, but there certainly is an abundance of heroes who organize for change in our country today.  People are organizing around many of the themes in Billi 99: wages, work conditions, a stake in their workplace, family leave, food, shelter, medicine, voting rights, and more. Not unlike our gig economy, people of Sulter are being asked to sell their voting rights for short cash and day labor.  The women in this story are especially hard hit. As a hero, Billi is the line in the sand that inspires others and says “no more.”


BILLI 99 page 34


FS: What was working with Tim like? What are some of your memories of that experience?

SB: Once we were introduced to each other, we saw a whole lot of coincidences that lined up just right to make this book possible.  We lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same libraries and bookstores, and probably shopped at the same grocery store. Working together came together very naturally to us. It was obvious to me, and probably Diana as well, that Tim was already a master of his craft. So I visited him in his hothouse attic studio with my nerdy load of books. We talked about what we wanted to see. Then Tim would do a sketch and it was perfect! Also, he never complained, lol, but after BILLI 99 he would not do a book with more than three panels per page.

FS: Tim Sale definitely left a hole in the comics community that can never be filled. Do you know how he felt doing this comic work?

SB: He is so missed, as a person and an artist. For us, this version of BILLI 99 is a tribute. I know he loved Billi. He once referred to it as a giant portfolio piece for Archie Goodwin, who was then a group editor at DC. And for his “girls.” Tim was a feminist and his mother was an activist. BILLI 99 was the first book he showed to his partner, Susan. The book is about a community and their hero. He used to call us “team Bill”.

FS: On to the Kickstarter itself, what can you tell us about the campaign?                                                           

SB: There is no way that we would have been able to do BILLI 99 without the dedicated team surrounding it. It’s exciting. I think the team of Kickstarter, Clover Press, and Superfan Promotions secretly shield me from the tough stuff. They just don’t give me time to worry! I get up and work on it every day, but for me every day is Christmas.

FS: What can backers expect from this new edition?

SB: It’s going to be beautiful. The new BILLI 99 colors, by Jose Villarrubia, evoke a sense of hope emerging from decay. Likewise, this is a renewed oversized, hardcover BILLI 99 with a new cover, saddle stitch binding, an essay from his widow, a tribute portrait by Bill Sienkiewicz, and tribute pin-ups from Matt Wagner, Rick Hoberg, Andy Kuhn, and Tomm Coker.


A tribute portrait of Tim Sale by Bill Sienkiewicz


FS: If you had a final pitch for the Kickstarter, what would it be?

SB: I think there must be a reason that so many people have worked so hard and long to get this version made. If you can, pick up a copy and see why if only to see a crucial stage in the development of Tim Sale’s art. If you like it, wonderful! If it inspires you, buy a copy for a friend.

The Kickstarter for BILLI 99: Full Color Edition has already more than doubled its initial goal, with 15 days left in the campaign! Check out this wonderful project featuring the talents of extraordinary creators that revisit a story just as relevant today as it was more than 30 years ago.

From the official press release about the Kickstarter:

Tim Sale was one of the most celebrated and beloved comic book artists of his generation. Frequently collaborating with writer Jeph Loeb, Tim illustrated seminal stories featuring Batman, Catwoman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Daredevil as well as the cult favorite TV series Heroes. Now Clover Press is publishing the first-ever hardcover edition of Sale’s first full-length comic book work, the Eisner Award-nominated BILLI 99, written by Sarah Byam. This new edition, which is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter, features glorious colors by the award-winning and fan-favorite color artist José Villarrubia.

First published by Dark Horse in 1991 as a four-part mini-series, BILLI 99 is a cautionary tale about corporate greed and a corrupt government. It asks: what is power when everything has been taken away? The book contains 196 pages of breathtaking, lovingly painted, duo-shade art, and the hand lettering that would become Tim Sale’s signature font. The story introduces the teen vigilante hero. Billi Chadam takes up her late father’s sword to bring down the powers of oppression and give the people of her city back their lives. BILLI 99 is a story of hope and inspiration.

“A few years before Tim passed, he, editor Patty Jeres, and I tried to finance a hardcover, color version of BILLI 99 and were repeatedly frustrated, but the idea of printing a definitive version of the book remained steadfast,” said writer and co-creator Sarah Byam. “BILLI 99 was a favorite of Tim’s and it’s important to us to do it justice, as we introduce this early and important work to a whole new audience.”

“Sarah Byam’s BILLI 99 is a unique perspective on the comic book hero,” writes Tim Sale’s widow, Susan Bailey in her new essay for the book. “It’s as fresh today as it was in 1991 when it was first published. You’ll see why Tim was proud to be part of the telling of this twist on the typical comic book hero, especially if you knew him personally, after reading the book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when Tim first introduced me to Billi.”

“Along with everyone else who knew him, worked with him or simply enjoyed his work, I was very saddened by the passing of Tim Sale,” said José Villarrubia. “ I had admired his work for years and had had the opportunity to work with him several times, including in Superman for All SeasonsSOLO, and Batman/Cat Woman: The Wedding Album. I missed BILLI 99 when it was first published in black and white. I am very thankful to Sarah for bringing me into this project. I think that readers are going to be very surprised by it. For me, this is a splendid opportunity to rend homage to a great comics artist.”

“Tim and Sarah felt like there never was a version of BILLI 99 that fully reflected their final vision,” said Clover Press Publisher Hank Kanalz. “It is a great honor for Clover Press to publish the definitive edition of  BILLI 99.”

The Clover Press Edition of BILLI 99 includes multiple pin-ups, including a portrait tribute of Tim Sale by legendary artist Bill Sienkiewicz and an essay by Susan Bailey.