Rapid Fire With Brian Azzarello
By Tom Waters
Brian Azzarello is a tricky interview. I knew this
going in, and tried to set up enough pitfalls and death traps along the way
that he’d be bound to open up.
Who knew that grilling was the topic that would wind him up and get him to open
up a bit? The comic writer has turned the industry on it’s ear over the last five years,
creating the award winning crime series 100 Bullets and applying his own
personal hard-boiled genius to Batman, Superman, The Incredible Hulk (Banner), Hellblazer and Lex Luthor , infuriating some traditionalist fans and picking up
some more of his own at the same time. He is to comics what Lon Chaney
was to method actors. He dives into his dialogue head first and soaks it
up on subways, street corners and dive bars. He knows the street and the words his characters bluster and swear and shout with is
genuine. He’s also released
Johnny Double, re-tooled Marvel’s
Cage and worked on El Diablo, a series I read about but forgot when I was under
the ad lib knife on the phone. To be short and sweet (which is the way he
prefers to write his dialogue and the way he prefers his music, conversation,
and his art), he is a bitch to interview. He’s squirrely and you need to move
mountains very quickly to get past those defenses. He made me
laugh. I made him laugh. We had a great time on the phone on a late
Wednesday afternoon shortly after my nap when my wits weren’t as quick as they should have been for such a giant.
TW: Who was your inspiration for Agent
BA: Who? Lee Marvin.
TW: You’re obviously a fan of hard boiled
crime fiction. Would you care to name some influences?
BA: Oh, god, just the usual suspects, I suppose. Thompson, Wolvert , Goodis . Goodis more than
TW: You’ve been known to listen to dialogue
on subways and in bars. Do you research specific locales for specific
titles and has it ever put you in any dangerous situations?
BA: No. No, I’ve never been
in a situation I couldn’t
TW: How do you feel about the fact that 100
Bullets is being developed as a film and a video game? Did you ever see
the series making it that big?
BA: It’s no longer being
developed as a videogame.
TW: Thank god. Acclaim makes shit so
you’re better off.
BA: Acclaim went out of business. That could be why. ( laughs )
TW: Did you ever think the series would get
that big that it would be developed into a movie?
BA: No, not really. And it’s
no longer being developed as a film either. If anything, we’re hoping for television.
TW: How many other creator-based projects
are you hiding?
BA: Hiding? I’m pretty open
with ‘ em to be honest with you, you know? I’ve got a series coming out in October
called Loveless, which is a Western. It’s gonna be another ongoing series like 100 Bullets. It’s about a husband and wife - a pair of outlaws during
Reconstruction. We’re calling
it a noir spaghetti western.
TW: I don’t know if you’ve done westerns
BA: I did one, El Diablo.
TW: Oh, jesus christ , I should’ve remembered that. You can kinda count your Hellblazer run
as a western, too.
TW :Are you serious about hanging up the capes after your
tour of duty with Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor ?
BA: Am I serious? Hell yes.
TW: You’ve been well praised for realistic
and faithful dialogue of the underworld. Are you a fan of David Mamet?
BA: Yeah. Yeah, sure. Not everything. ( laughs )
TW: Who are your favorite country singers?
BA: You mean like current?
TW: All time, current, if you want to go
back to the great storytellers or current day.
BA: All time, it’s gotta be Cash. Current, I like Jim White a lot, and
definitely Steve Earle.
TW: Cage was phenomenal.
TW: Why did you decide to leave the ending
open, though, and do you have any plans to revisit the character?
BA: No, he’s dead, c’mon. I’m - maybe. I think Marvel took that character in a different
TW: Between your
script and Corben’s artwork, it really blew me away.
BA: Well, you really can’t go wrong
with the source material. I just basically did â€˜Red Harvest’.
TW: What’s your working relationship like
with Eduardo Risso ? Have met him yet at this point?
BA: Oh yeah, I have, we’ve met.
We see each other basically about once a year. It’s great, you know? We communicate mostly through email.
TW: Do you have any plans to work with
Richard Corben again?
BA: We’ve talked about it,
yeah. I definitely would like to work with Richard again.
TW: You’ve been very vocal about fan boys
in the past. Why do you think they hang on to their franchises so
BA: (long laugh) You mean…
TW: A lot of them have complained in the
past about directions that you’ve taken with Hellblazer or some of the other big titles for DC and Marvel. They piss and moan
BA: They want what they remember, you know? And basically, yeah, it’s not what you remember, or what they
remember. It’s… for a lot of
these people, it’s like, comics, it’s like… they still read the
things? But they’re reading it
for something that they’re not gonna get. They’re
chasing that first orgasm again.
TW: What’s your favorite whiskey?
BA: I can’t drink the stuff
TW: Not even Knob Creek?
BA: Nah, that was my favorite. No man, I just look at
a shot glass of whiskey and I get a hangover these days. Now I drink
TW: That’s how you wake up in another state
with no pants.
BA: That isn’t necessarily a bad
TW: How did you plan John Constantine’s
cross-country trip initially?
BA: Initially, I just threw him in prison. I didn’t plan to move him anywhere.
TW: You write a lot of your best scenes in
a bar environment. Do you write any of your outlines or scripts while you’re
BA: I used to, but I really don’t
anymore. Well, if I’m outta town, yeah, but I can’t do that here anymore.
TW: Too loud?
BA: No. Like… I don’t know, I get interrupted.
TW: Hard Time was one of the best story
arcs in the series. Did you have a ball writing the script or is it more
like a job when you’re assigned to an established series?
BA: No, definitely it was not a job. I had fun writing
Constantine. A lot of fun.
TW: Any more hints on the finale to 100
BA: No hints. Nothing.
TW: It felt like you lived and breathed
New Orleans in 100
Have you vacationed there and if so, for how long?
BA: Yeah, I’ve been there a number of
times. I’m going again this
TW: Raymond Carver or Raymond Chandler?
BA: Oh man, that’s hard!
TW: If you had to pick.
BA: If I had to pick? I can’t!
I can’t pick - no! That’s tough! You know, on one hand it’s like… you go with Chandler, but… if
you go with Carver, there’s so much
TW: Well I know you’re a fan of minimalism
and economy of dialogue, and Carver was great at doing that.
BA: Oh yeah, I think so too. He would use the fewest amount of words to
just bum the piss out of you.
( general laughter)
TW: I found out today that you enjoy
cooking. What’s your favorite recipe?
BA: Oh god, I don’t know. I
cook all the time. It’s
probably five nights a week, sometimes six. I just got a new grill so I’ve been grilling every night.
TW: I got a Sunbeam a few months ago and
took a ‘ phd in grilling’.
BA: See now, I had a gas grill, and all the guts had to be replaced, so like,
in between doing that, I just pulled out a little smoky grill, and I’m using that thing again. I
forgot how wood makes food taste. Then after a while I got this thing
called the Big Green Egg. It’s
this big, ceramic, wood fire grill, like a kiln. It’s all ceramic.
TW: I used to be a prime rib fan and now I’m
all for Porterhouse.
BA: Oh, yeah! Porterhouse, you get the two best cuts.
TW: Why did you decide to humanize Killer
BA: He needed it. I mean, I think the Batman villains work better if
they’re human. Cause Killer
Croc started out as human! I just brought him back to his roots is all.
TW: Have you ever considered doing anything
with Swamp Thing?
BA: Probably not. We talked about it, but I don’t think so. Not at this point, anyway.
TW: What was the last comic you read that
BA: Whew, geez .
TW: Something that really blew you away.
BA: Let me look here. I’m
looking at, like, all the recent stuff I got. Oh, well the last thing
that really, really blew me away was Joe Kubert’s Yossel .
A hardcover came out from, I think IDW was the publisher.
I-Books rather was the publisher.
TW: I read Ex Machina right after Cage and it just hit me like a ton of bricks.
BA: They’re two different tons, too.
( laughs ) Brian comes from a completely different
place than I do with his stories.
TW: Frank Miller took Batman backward and
forward. Mark Waid took the entire DC Universe
into the future. Will you ever pen an aging icon in the industry?
BA: Man, I don’t know. I have
TW: (exasperated) I gotta say , you’re a tough interview! ( laughing )
BA: Yeah, I’ve heard that before.
TW: I keep hoping I’m gonna hit some landmine here.
BA: Yeah, well, working on the company of characters right now, it’s just, it’s not anything I really want to
TW: Well, I know that working on
superheroes isn’t what you enjoy.
BA: No, it’s not what I enjoy, and
after working on em , I know why I don’t enjoy them! ( laughs )
It seems like a lot of the stuff… the whole point is to get to the punch, and
that’s kind of juvenile.
Especially when there’s
TW: Speaking of guns, Sgt. Rock: Between
Hell and a
was very good.
BA: Thanks. That was a good experience, working with Joe ( Kubert ). I’ve
been lucky with my artists, know what I mean?
TW: What would you like your epitaph to
BA: One more for the road (laughs )
TW:How did Jim Lee talk you into a chat room with Kilgore
Trout? The interview came off with this particular fan boy as a bit
BA: With Kilgore?
BA: I don’t know if he was obnoxious.
I think he was a little close-minded. It’s not just him, but a lot of people have very, very specific ideas
of what these characters are and how they’re
supposed to operate. And if you deviate from those, you are, you don’t understand them.
TW: They hang on too tight.
BA: Yeah, you know, and it’’s … yeah.
TW: You’ve mentioned that you don’t have
any plans to work with Jill (Thompson, Azzarello’s wife) on anything, but do you two compare notes, or…
BA: We talk about stuff, yeah. That’s
one of the reasons why we probably won’t
work together. It’s much better
to approach each other’s stuff with a
TW: (exasperated) That’s all I’ve got! I put two weeks of work into these questions!
BA: Well, do you wanna revisit some of these
questions? You can pull something else out if you want.
TW: (sighs) I uh, really wanted to reread
more of your stuff. I got to volume four of 100 Bullets and have been
tied up with a lot of other things, reading other things. What are you
working on right now?
BA: What was I working on today when you called? 100
TW: Are you one of those
writers who gets up at the asscrack of dawn at
6 am with a cup of coffee and goes to work?
BA: I usually am up about six or seven. Coffee,
newspaper, sit down…
TW: Looking forward to the new season of
BA: Yeah, I think, I’m not sure
if I’m looking forward to the one
following it. We know that they announced two more seasons. I don’t know what the hell is going on. Don’t X
TW: They kill you with The Sopranos.
You just have to go too long!
BA: If he’s (David Chase) lookin ’ at it now and sayin ’ I could tell eight more stories with
this guy’, with his characters, that’s… this better be the last eight.
TW: You said once before that you wanted to
do a sequel to Johnny Double. Is that on the horizon?
BA: No, I doubt that’ll ever happen
right now. There’s
other things goin ’ on. The next, after Loveless, right now, I’m in development with for three graphic
novels. One a year for the next few years.
TW: Is that with DC?
BA: No, it’s with DC.
TW: Do you see any other spinoffs with any of your work? Once 100 Bullets is
done, do you see any of the peripheral characters off on their own?
BA: Not for me. When it’s done
it’s done, as far as I’m concerned. Unless I’m broke and say, hey, let’s go back’.
TW: Don was telling me last week that they
approached Alan Moore to do a sequel to Watchmen and it just seems wrong.
BA: Eh, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
The guy could say yes. After 100 issues of 100 Bullets, though, I’m pretty sure it’ll be done.
TW: Did you have the storyboards and the
outline worked out from the first issue?
BA: Our original contract was for just a year. So a decision had to be
made. Can you get this down to a year or maybe eighteen months? If
it’s not doing well, we’ll give you six issues to wrap it
up. That was an option. Instead I just said, well, I said
yes. I said I could do it but there was no way I coulda done it. So I figured , we’ll just tell the twelve and if that’s all we tell that’s all
we tell. Fine.
TW: What’s it been like working with Jim
Lee? He seems a bit more traditional than a lot of the artists that you’ve
worked with. Corben’s got a very recognizable
look and Risso has a very distinct style.
BA: Well, so does Jim. As far as the superhero stuff goes, I don’t know if there’s anyone any better than Jim. Working with him, I didn’t treat him any differently. I
left him a lot of room to improvise, especially the fight stuff that was in
there. I (call waiting) left that kind of choreography to him, how to do
it. ‘Cause he does it better than me.
( call waiting)
TW: Goddamnit !
I gotta tell you, call waiting is the worst fucking
invention in the world. I’m just gonna ignore
it. I apologize.
BA: Hey, don’t worry about
TW: I gotta get
that removed. I think that’s everything I’ve got, though. I
appreciate you taking the time out for me.
BA: Yeah, if you need anything else, gimme a
call! When you’re goin ’ through
this, if you’re like ‘ Aah ! ’.
TW: I wish I’d had more time to prep.
I know from going through your old interviews that you’re direct and to the
BA: (laughs) I mean, I’m a terrible
TW: You’d rather let the work speak for
BA: Absolutely. I don’t want to
be a celebrity. The point of my life is to work.
furthers the plot in
amidst booze, broads, brutes and good jazz music. The story began with a
simple theme: revenge and redemption. If you were given a gun with 100
untraceable bullets and a dossier on someone who ruined your life, what would
you do? Over the course of eight volumes, Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso have unfolded a much larger
conspiracy with instigator Agent Graves and his Minutemen, ghost government
operatives keeping chaos at bay in
. In this
installment, three of the Minutemen discover that the Trust isn’t as defunct as they were led to
believe. Throughout the series, the clues ,
threads and plot points unfold seamlessly and realistically, giving way to
larger bombshells and bigger bloodbaths. While some ongoing titles
struggle with a cohesive theme by their 50th monthly issue, it’s apparent that the entire tapestry to
100 Bullets was planned out since it’s inception. One of the best crime series on the
stands is racing towards it’s
conclusion by the 100th issue and no one has any idea how it’s going to end aside from it’s creator. Looking back, the traces to those
untraceable bullets will all be there.