If you only went by the type of comic-books he wrote, you would think that Brian Azzarello was a brooding soul, a tortured artist who was tormented by a traumatic past. But when you speak with the writer of dark titles like “100 Bullets” and “Hellblazer”, he sure doesn’t come across that way. Ask him about the challenges of writing characters like The Watchmen’s Rorshach or Wonder Woman, and Azzarello is thoughtful and easy to crack wise. It’s not until you bring up the topic of his favorite baseball team - the Chicago Cubs - that the conversation gets gloomy. Well…not really.
Azzarello is one of the featured guests at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), which will be held at the McCormick Place this weekend. Prior to making his appearance, Azzarello spoke with me about taking on the darkest characters in DC Comics; returning to the world of his award-winning series “100 Bullets”; the challenges of writing Wonder Woman; what Superman fans can look forward to this spring; and whether Chicago is one of the nerdiest cities in America:
Geek To Me: Tell us about 100 Bullets: Brother Lono. What’s the story behind that?
Brian Azzarello: It’s about one of the characters that actually survived through the original 100 issues. He’s one of the worst characters, I think, but people really - you know, he spoke to them, when he really shouldn’t have. (laughs)
Geek To Me: And did he speak to you? (laughs)
BA: (laughs) Yeah, well they all speak to me. There isn’t a character I’ve written that doesn’t have something of me in it.
G2M: When the series (100 Bullets) wrapped up did you ever feel like you’d be revisiting it?
BA: Well, that story we were finished with, but Eduardo (Risso) my collaborator, we talked about it, yeah, ahead of time. DC was asking us to not end the series at a hundred. But no, we sat down and chatted about it, and you know we planned on ending at a hundred. (We decided) This is where this story is going to end, we go any longer it’s going to be padding it. So we figured if we were going to back to it at some point, certain characters we could come back to.
G2M: You’ve been on the “Before Watchmen” books “Rorschach” and “The Comedian.” What was it about those characters that compelled you to write them?
BA: (laughs) DC came to me with Rorschach. And I went back with The Comedian. Arguably Rorschach is the face of The Watchmen. But, Comedian’s the balls man.
G2M: (laughs) An interesting about the Comedian, I remember when I read the first issue you did sort of an interesting twist on the mythos. In the original series it’s sort of implied that the Comedian was the guy on the “grassy knoll” (at the JFK assassination). But in your series you have Jack Kennedy and the Comedian being really good friends. Have you gotten any fan reaction from how you’ve interpreted the character?
BA: Well, in the original series it was mentioned twice. The Comedian said it as a joke, at a party, like “don’t even ask me where I was when Kennedy got shot.’’ Then Ozymandius said something at one point about how he was in Dallas, so… Zack Snyder put him on the grassy knoll, in the (Watchmen) film. That wasn’t on Alan Moore (laughs) or me either.
G2M: (laughs) That’s true. With Rorschach, that’s a character that people feel has depths that have yet to be plumbed. What makes you think that he’s the face of the Watchmen as opposed to - say - Dr. Manhattan?
GA: Man, again, there’s something in us draws us to darker, tortured characters, you know? Certainly that explains Batman’s popularity. There’s something about someone who’s driven and that drive is coming from something - um - either tragedy or really dark - sort of - past, readers find compelling.
G2M: The flip side of that is you’ve got the really noble characters - the purer characters - I know you’ve got experience with in Superman and Wonder Woman. I know Wonder Woman is a real challenge too. What were some of the challenges you encountered with her?
BA: Oh boy, one of the challenges has been, not so much with her, but with her supporting cast and what’s around her. That’s where we really saw some of the challenges when we decided to do the series. (We) dug pretty deep into Greek Mythology, doing a lot of re-invention there, kind of modernizing the characters, and making them gods that walk among us now. That’s good fun, bringing the Gods of Olympus, setting them up arguably as the greatest crime family. (laughs) They were gods in the end and evil at the same time.
G2M: It’s funny, you talk about the issues with the supporting cast and the characters, but is it my imagination or do more people have a problem with Wonder Woman wearing pants - or not - than any other character?
BA: (laughs) Boy that’s - you know what? That is still an issue with Wonder Woman and pants on, for some reason. My god! Personally I don’t care what she wears as long as the story I’m reading is interesting. But she’s got a rabid fan base, man, and they’re very, very protective of her.
G2M: Why do you think it’s been so difficult to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground?
BA: ‘Cuz she doesn’t wear pants. (laughs)
G2M: (laughs) That’s a great line. A little bit off the beaten path here. I know you did a run with Jim Lee on Superman, and now Lee is going to be doing “Superman: Unchained” with Scott Snyder, have you had a chance to see any of the stuff those guys have been up to?
BA: I’ve seen a little bit of it, but not much of it yet. I’ve talked pretty extensively to Scott about it and what he was going to be doing. It’s going to be great. Superman fans are going to have a good spring/early summer.
G2M: Back to Superman, he seems to be another tough nut to crack, when you have a character who is so powerful, and in some cases un-relatable, where do you find that ground where you can get people to come and say “I can relate to Superman”?
BA: Well, you know, I look for doubt in him. For me a story always goes out of a mistake. Somebody makes a mistake and that becomes the story. Probably that explains why my series are kind of dark, because there’s a problem to begin with. So I look for that in him, how can you find a flaw in a man with no flaws? It’s gotta come from within him. But that was my take, you know. The great thing about these characters - so great to me - they can stand the test of time. They’re durable enough to different people to bring different ideas to them. And as long as people adhere to the core values of the character, like what makes this character what he is, then the skies the limit. Up, up and away. (laughs)
G2M: Love it. You’re a Cubs fan, correct?
BA: I’m a Cubs season ticket holder. Does that make me a fan or a fool? (laughs)
G2M: (laughs) What do you think about the local comics scene in Chicago? There’s yourself, your wife Jill Thompson, Mike Norton,, a lot of folks who work on high-profile titles. What do you think is the future of the comics scene in Chicago?
BA: Oh, I think the future is great! We’re supporting two shows, now, a year (C2E2 and Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con). That’s fantastic. So it’s not just creators here, but a pretty big fan base. There are a lot of different shops in the city, from Challengers to Chicago Comics. You’ve got (Comix) Revolution up in Evanston. It’s fantastic, the community here is really, really vibrant! I think people will get a good taste of it when they visit C2E2. That show just gets better each year.
G2M: And where will people be able to find you?
BA: In my hotel room, so don’t look. (laughs)
BA: I’ll be wandering around the show. I’ll be signing at the Hero Initiative booth, which is an organization that takes care of old creators in crisis. Helps them with medical bills, that kind of stuff.
G2M: I follow you on Twitter, are you active on any other social media platforms?
BA: No, and I’m not too active on that either.
G2M: You’re usually saying something about the Cubs.
BA: Well, then it’s usually something that can’t be printed.
G2M: (laughs) Finally, recently there was an article listing the Top 10 Nerdiest Cities in America and Chicago was not among them. What’s your opinion on that?
BA: We’re not nerds. We’re geeks. (laughs)
FOLLOW BRIAN AZZARELLO ON TWITTER @BRIANAZZARELLO
THE CHICAGO COMIC AND ENTERTAINMENT EXPO (C2E2) WILL BE TAKING PLACE AT MCCORMICK PLACE, APRIL 26 - 28.Copyright © 2015, RedEye