A wise man once said that all good things must come to an end, and that adage never rang truer than in April 2009, when the curtain fell on one of comicdom’s most profilic series. Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso fired the first of their 100 Bullets back in 1999 and now, several shocking plot twists and moral quandries later, the saga has reached its’ dramatic conclusion, garnering awards and critical acclaim along the way. Azzarello’s reputation as a master storyteller, if not confirmed by his work on this book has been solidified on titles like Batman: Broken City and Superman: For Tomorrow and his screenwriting work on the animated Dark Knight prequel, Gotham Knight.
Now, with a certified classic on his resume, Azzarello continues his work for DC’s Vertigo imprint, and took some time out to wax lyrical about his new projects, mysterious briefcases, his motivations and the writer/ illustrator relationships that can so often make or break a title. (Editor note: If you’re waiting for the final trade paperback in the series you may want to be careful how you scroll down as artwork from the finale is included.)
“Eduardo once said to me that I write with a reason– that there are consequences to my stories. I keep that in mind, always.”
Format Magazine: The ‘reverse’ approach used in Joker and Lex Luthor Man of Steel is an intelligent method for breaking convention and delving into the minds of classic villains. What is it about this concept that you enjoy most and why?
Brian Azzarello: I wanted to give both Lex and Joker lives. Thatâ€™s all. Prior to my books, they existed because their heroes (Superman & Batman) did, and all we saw of them was through the â€œheroâ€ lens. Lex and Joker are bad, bad, bad– bullshit. Theyâ€™re more than that; rich individual egos that are the focus of their own stories. I wanted to dig in that ground.
Format Magazine: Joker is the story of a man neglected and oppressed, itâ€™s narrated by his lowly assistant Johnny Frost, (an Irish American out law) a want to be like minded criminal whose very heritage has been the subject of ignorance for centuries. What motivates you to give the underdog a voice and why do you feel this perspective is appealing to your audience?
Brian Azzarello: What motivates meâ€¦ probably my two grandfathers. I donâ€™t recall them arguing, but I do remember they didnâ€™t get along. My motherâ€™s father was an Irish chief of police in a small Massachusetts city, my Italian fatherâ€™s a Cleveland defense attorney with some mobbed up clients. I was very close with him. He gave me advice I adhere to â€˜til this day.
Format Magazine: In 2001, you won the Eisner award for the story Hang Up On The Hang Low (issues #15 – #18 of the series 100 Bullets). Your ability to write from a female perspective is clearly exceptional. Whatâ€™s the reasoning behind this and how much do you really enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of the opposite sex?
Brian Azzarello: Donâ€™t judge me. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with dressing in drag.
Format Magazine: Through out your writing career you have teamed up with infamous artists such as Jim Lee, Joe Kubert, Lee Bermejo, & Eduardo Risso. Which of these have you enjoyed working with most, and is the answer based on creative synchronicity or professionalism? Describe to us how the relationships work.
Brian Azzarello: Iâ€™ve been lucky in the fact that I havenâ€™t partnered up with anybody that wasnâ€™t a thrill to work with. That said, Iâ€™ve worked with Eduardo on a monthly basis for nearly ten years. Itâ€™s gotten to the point that we donâ€™t just finish each otherâ€™s sentences, but we prefer each otherâ€™s flourish. Letâ€™s call it professional synchronicity.
Format Magazine: All the titles I have mentioned so far have been published by DC comics or their adult division Vertigo, over the years you must have developed quite a relationship with the company. They must treat you very well, what is it that keeps you going back?
Brian Azzarello: DC does treat me very well, and I consider Vertigo my home. Itâ€™s a very good place for me to be– namely because I have Will Dennis, an editor I trust with my soul. Why donâ€™t we just call it a crush– Iâ€™m a sucker for ginger.
Format Magazine: Growing up who was your favourite super hero and how did you feel you could relate to the character?
Brian Azzarello: I didnâ€™t really like super heroes as a kidâ€¦ I never understood their motivations. I guess if I had to pick one, it would be Luke Cage– he was in it for the money, like it said in his title; Hero For Hire. He had no secret identity either. Secret identities are for people whoâ€™re afraid of what they are.
Format Magazine: Thereâ€™s such a wide variation of the types of titles you have written for Hellblazer, Loveless, Cage, Spiderman to name just a few. What type of series do you prefer to work on, the classic Super hero or the more off the beaten track concepts, and why?
Brian Azzarello: Whenever I write, I only do if I have something to say– regardless if itâ€™s super heroes or â€œoff the beaten track conceptsâ€, as you put it. It does seem though, that I have more to say on that â€œoff trackâ€. Trouble is in comics anyway, there are less listeners on that track– but Iâ€™m trying to change that, and Iâ€™m not alone. Super heroes dominate comic books; thatâ€™s a given– and some of the best writers in the business are getting rich writing them and saying nothing. Eduardo once said to me that I write with a reason– that there are consequences to my stories. I keep that in mind, always.
Format Magazine: To date what piece of work has been your greatest achievement in a personal sense and what makes it so, the challenge of writing it, the way it affects the audience. Explain to me if you will what are the qualities you have displayed in a final product you feel truly proud of?
Brian Azzarello: 100 Bullets, hands down. I created it with Eduardo; itâ€™s our baby. It grew into a nasty, mean spirited child, but we imbued it with an unwavering sense of honesty. We never pulled any punches. Iâ€™m very proud of that.
Format Magazine: Finally Mr Azzarello are there any up and coming projects you can let us in onâ€¦ go on, just a little teaser if need be?
Brian Azzarello: In August, Vertigo is rolling out VERTIGO CRIME, a new line of crime graphic novels. Along with Ian Rankin, I have a book titled Filthy Rich that will launch the line. Itâ€™s a straight noir that takes place in the early sixties, about Rich Junkin, a one-time football star who now sells cars. Heâ€™s not a very good salesman, and that eats at him, being once a very good athlete. He gets involved with the bossâ€™s daughter, a femme fatale whoâ€™s a lot slyer than he is. Dumb guy, smart girlâ€¦ story of my life.