Thursday, July 18, 2013

Before Watchmen: Interview with Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, and J.G. Jones



Before the prequels to Watchmen, the must-read, heralded graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, were even published, critics, fans, and the original creators all had their say. Soon, however, top-tier talent signed on to revisit the dark world of superhero deconstruction, and DC recently published all of the works across four graphic novels. To coincide with the release, DC offered us an extensive interview with three of the creators behind Before Watchmen: Rorschach and Before Watchmen: Comedian (now collected in one volume)--writer Brian Azzarello and artists J.G. Jones and Lee Bermejo. The frank conversation follows below.

There's no getting around the controversy surrounding the Before Watchmen project. Upon being approached to work on it, what was your first reaction?

Brian Azzarello: My first reaction was "You've got to be kidding," which was then countered with "We're serious." And I understood I was hearing this because they wanted me involved.

J.G. Jones: Dan [DiDio, co-publisher of DC Entertainment] pulled me aside at the Baltimore Comic Con and told me he was planning something audacious, and wanted to know if I would be interested. He said a lot of people may hate the idea, but I was intrigued by the opportunity to work with these iconic characters. Dan gave me my choice of characters (except for Dr. Manhattan, which had already been claimed by Adam Hughes). Naturally, I chose Comedian, based on the outline of what Brian planned to do with the story. I think I got the best character of the lot. Following up on a iconic piece of art like Watchmen can be very daunting.

Lee, J.G., were either of you intimidated at all by the prospect of working on these classic characters?

Lee Bermejo: Honestly, every project is equally daunting for their own reasons. I can't control the public's expectations or desires. I just have to do what I do and hope that it resonates with somebody.

J.G.: I wouldn't say any of us were intimidated. We all love the original Watchmen and, obviously, wanted to treat the material with the respect it deserves. So I would say that I was excited and energized to work on the Comedian book.

What do you think is the most compelling part about the Rorschach and Comedian characters?

Brian: I think the most compelling thing about Rorschach is his unwavering will—even when he's wrong about something. He's fascinating; a character that is made of so many shades of grey that sees the world in black and white. There's no room for Rorschach in Rorschach's worldview.

Lee: Rorschach is pure vigilante fetish. In certain circumstances, he is everything we wish we could be but also what repels us about that lifestyle. A fascinating dichotomy.

J.G.: [Comedian] is such a complex character. He can seem like a really jaded, hard-assed, indifferent character, yet, in the Watchmen graphic novel, he is the impetus for the whole story. If he had not reacted to Ozymandias' plot in such a human way, he would not have been killed, and Rorschach would never have investigated his death, unraveling the whole ball of yarn. He is more complex character than the simple cartoon good or evil, and we wanted to explore how he became so jaded and willing to do the horrible things he does, while still maintaining a hidden core of humanity. A Vietnam tale seemed the right way to look at his hardening and the building of his facade.

Before Watchmen: Rorscharch features yet another Brian Azzarello/Lee Bermerjo team-up. You two have worked together around a half dozen times—what keeps you guys collaborating?

Lee: Finding a good collaborator is like finding a girlfriend. When it starts working good, you don't want to stop until it's over. Brian is a great partner because he leaves you your space and freedom but gives you everything fundamental and necessary for that freedom to be used well.

Brian: We don't know any better. That, and nobody else wants to work with us.

Before Watchmen: Rorscharch, maybe more than any of the other Before Watchmen prequels, dives into the depths of human depravity, and that's saying a lot. Lee, did you have any pause knowing how dark Brian Azzarello's script would get?

Lee: I looked at this book in a very fetishistic way. It was exactly that darkness I wanted to explore, so I was ready for anything.

With 100 Bullets, Wonder Woman, and a few of your other DC Comics/Vertigo works, Brian, you’ve been building to your ending. Was it a different writing experience for you knowing your main character had an ending you did not create?

Brian: Not at all—both these stories have their own endings for the characters. They're just not their final endings.

Brian, how do you continually go to such dark places with some of the most despicable characters in comics?

Brian: Well, I guess I'm drawn to darker stories. I believe it's in our faults where our humanity becomes most apparent—both for good and bad. Or maybe you just don't know me very well.

The Before Watchmen: Comedian story was steeped in American history. J.G., was it more or less difficult to have to portray real-life figures like the Kennedys?

J.G.: Portraying the Kennedys was not all that difficult. I would say, along those lines, though, that I did spend a great deal of time researching Vietnam and the whole era of the 60's. The Watts riots, the cars, suits, uniforms, weapons, military equipment and camps, villages in Vietnam—everything had to be researched to the Nth degree so that I could be accurate with the illustrations.

J.G., you’ve worked on many different types of projects, from the epic multi-verse-spanning Final Crisis, as well as gritty crime stories like Wanted. As an artist, do you feel like there’s a connective aspect between these two genres that people might not see?

J.G.: Yes, there is one connection that I don't think is obvious to anyone other than myself. I have had the good fortune to work with writers whose work I really love. I have worked with Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and now Brian Azzarello. I'm a fan of all of these writers, so the genre if the book is less important than knowing a writer is going to give me something compelling that will keep me engaged in the project.

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--Alex



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