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Rapid Fire: Interview With Brian Azzarello from If They Can’t Take A Joke (2007, Authorhouse)

October 8, 2015

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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. To be short and sweet (which is the way he prefers to write his dialogue and the way he prefers his music, conversation, and art), he is a bitch to interview. He’s squirrely and you need to move mountains very quickly to get past those defenses.

TW: Who was your inspiration for Agent Graves?
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 the rest.
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, it’s never…I’ve never been in a situation I couldn’t handle.
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: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.
BA: Thanks.
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 direction, though.
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 ‘Red Harvest’.
TW: What’s your working relationship like with Eduardo Risso? Have you 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 tightly?
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 about…
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 anymore.
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 tequila.
TW: That’s how you wake up in another state with no pants.
BA: That isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
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 in bars?
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 Bullets?
BA: No hints. Nothing.
TW: It felt like you lived and breathed New Orleans in 100 Bullets: The Hard Way; 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 winter.
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 more stories.
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.
(laughs)
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 Croc?
BA: He needed it. I mean, I think…I think the Batman villains work better if they’re human. ‘Cause he…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 humbled you?
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…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 (K. Vaughn) 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 no clue.
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 do.
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, it’s…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 guns around.
TW: Speaking of guns, Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place was very good.
BA: Thanks. That was a good experience, working with Joe (Kubert). I mean…it…I’ve been lucky with my artists, know what I mean?
TW: What would you like your epitaph to say?
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 obnoxious.
BA: With Kilgore?
TW: Yeah.
BA: I don’t know if he was obnoxious, he just like…ehh…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 fresh eye.
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 Bullets.
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: 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: 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: I heard that DC 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…I kinda…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 left that kind of choreography to him…how to do it. ‘Cause he does it better than me.
TW: I think that’s everything I’ve got. I appreciate you taking the time out for me.
BA: (laughs) I mean, I’m a terrible self-promoter.
TW: You’d rather let the work speak for itself.
BA: Absolutely. I don’t want to be a celebrity. The point of my life is to work.

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