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Bad Azz Mojo - Part 1

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Known for his darker takes on humanity in his famous Vertigo stories, Brian Azzarello chatted with Broken Frontier about his stories and where they come from.  First up: Loveless.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Let’s start off with your new book, Vertigo’s Loveless .  How would you describe it?

BRIAN AZZARELLO: In simplest terms, it is a love story set in the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War.

BF: Now, the main characters are Wes and Ruth Cutter –

BA: Yes, the two characters who are in love… with each other.  They just happen to hate the rest of the world.

BF: Well, I guess there’s your title.  Now, this book has been labeled as a Western, but it is certainly more of a period piece, not to mention taking place in the South.  Do you have any issue with the classification of the book as a western?

BA: Hell no.  If that makes it easier for people to understand the book then that’s fine – call it a western.  People see wide brimmed hats and that’s what they think.  There’s no two ways around that. 

BF: Wes is the husband; he was a soldier for the South for the Civil War.  Why the South?

BA: Because they lost. [Laughs]  And they lost more than just the war.  It was a very wounded people down there and that made for some interesting ideas.

BF: In the first arc, Wes, after returning from an absence after the war ended, comes back to his home town and ends up becoming the sheriff, but no one seems to like him much at all in Blackwater.  And even more, Wes seems to enjoy that.

BA: He certainly does and I think that’s pretty clear from the book thus far.  He is having a good time.  I think he does things intentionally to make people not like him…

Wait… What do I mean “I think”?  I write the book.  I KNOW he does things intentionally so that people do not like him! [Laughs]

BF: He is also a character who has some shady things from his past that are haunting him.  Do you intend to continue to show his backstory as we see more of his life in Blackwater?

BA: Absolutely.  That is the way I constructed this series to go.  It’s really 2 or 3 stories going on at once, in different directions, and different timelines.  Definitely not a traditional linear method of storytelling.  And we’re using the art to emphasis that even more.  Some people initially had some trouble with the storytelling methods and the use of flashbacks, but I think that if you stick with the book you “learn the language” and can follow it much better.

BF: The use of flashbacks has been interesting.  It seems that you have the characters visibly watching events from their past.  Most visible has been Wes’ brother Johnny, who we have yet to see.  Will he and these other moments be showing up and playing a part in the series?

BA: That’s safe to say.  We’ve dropped enough hints that it is safe to assume that Johnny will be showing up, or at least imposing his influence on the story.

BF: Another character who Wes is told is gone is his wife Ruth.  However, we, as readers, know that Ruth is alive and she is with Wes hiding off in the woods.  Is this simply for protection?

BA: Well, I’m not going to tell you why she’s hiding.  But the interesting things we’ve got going there is that Wes may be doing things purposefully to get the town to hate him, but these people are flat out lying to him and he knows it!

BF: It’s obvious that Wes and Ruth do not like the people of this town, but aren’t there other places for him to be besides Blackwater?  Does he have a real sense that he needs to be there?

BA: Well, the easiest motivation right now is that he’s there for revenge.  Most people tend to take their revenge at home.

BF: But does he need revenge against the people of his town because at times it seems like he really just wants revenge against humanity.

BA: Yeah, there is certainly a bit of both in there.  And we will be showing why this town in particular is so important.

BF: And almost as important as the characters themselves is the town of Blackwater itself.  Where did the setting come from and why the name of the town?

BA: The idea itself came from watching CNN actually.  The whole idea of an occupied nation seemed like a good place to set a story and Blackwater is the name of a security firm that was given the securities contracts for Iraq.

BF: So it’s safe to assume that this is a statement on modern times?

BA: It’s safe to say that all of my stuff is.

BF: Do you feel like you complete the analogy then of the Southerners being akin to the Iraqis?

BA: That’s probably being a little too literal.  A different way to look at it is that after the North won the Civil War they DID go into the South and occupy it.  They had to rebuild this economy that they had destroyed and that’s where a lot of the carpet bagging came in.  Companies from the North came down and were awarded contracts and they made a real big buck.  And these soldiers came back from a war to having their land and rights taken away.  Most of them that came back lost the right to vote.

BF: Seems like no one could vote down there then…  Now, on the other side of that conflict is another of the recurring characters, Atticus Mann.  He’s been through quite a bit in his lifetime – from freed slave to leaving the army.

BA: Actually, he was thrown out of the army.

BF: Either way, he’s another character that doesn’t seem to like anybody.

BA: But he’s got a pretty good reason.  Anybody who’s been through all that would have a right to.

BF: And what do you see his role in the story as?

BA: From what people have told me, he is actually the character that is most relatable.  And he does serve as a bit of an entry into the world of Loveless .  Seeing things through his eyes is a lot more palatable to people than seeing them through Wes’ eyes, which are a little… jaundiced, so to speak.

BF: The final character who has shown up regularly is Jeremiah Trotter.  Is he in charge of the town?  What is his role?

BA: He is a carpetbagger from the North.  He was sent down by the government and told to set up shop and he is reaping the benefits; basically taking over the land.

Think Haliburton man! HALIBURTON!!! [Laughs]

BF: Now I have to ask you this because I am from Philadelphia and we are all football fans; are you an Eagles fan and is that why you named him Jeremiah Trotter? [Author’s note – Jeremiah Trotter is the name of the starting middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.]

BA: Not really, although I am a bit of an Eagles fan.

BF: Besides his name and the town, as you talked about, I have recognized some other names in your writing.  Do you do that purposely?

BA: Sometimes.  If there is somebody that I think has an interesting sounding name, I write it down!  And Jeremiah Trotter is an interesting name. [Laughs]

And by the way, everyone is counting out your Eagles this year, but they could win that division.

BF: Sssshh.  We’re trying to keep expectations low around here after years of letdowns.  But does this mean we can expect a villain named Terrell Owens eventually?

BA: [Laughs] Well, not in this one. Maybe in another book down the line.

BF: With a setting of The Reconstruction and the rebuilding of the town, is this book going to match that theme of rebuilding and growing with the characters?

BA: Are you asking me if this is going to be a redemption tale?!?!?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  I’d probably be offending my readers if I tried to pull something like that.

BF: With such an interesting set of characters and choice of setting, I wanted to ask you about any influences on the creation of the characters and how you went about researching the setting…

BA: I don’t know if there are any real direct literary influences per se.  When I started to do the research for this book, that “interweb” thing provided a lot of information.  Next to porn, war has the most sites devoted to it. [Laughs]

BF: So is that why the book is so sexual?

BA: [Laughs] Yes, the book is a direct correlation to the internet!

But that is where I get most of my information.  The internet provides me with a lot.  I found a site that is devoted to letters – those written by the soldiers and their loved ones.  That has been very helpful.

BF: What about the language of the time?  Was that important for you to get down in the writing?

BA: There are times when it is very important, but I’m pulling my punches in some regard.  It was a distinctively different enough form of English that it almost seems awkward at times.  I’m using it sparingly, but I do want it to have that touch so that when you read it you notice that it is a different form of English and the sentence structure is almost archaic.

BF: I sometimes notice myself reading it aloud actually.

BA: Really?  Is that fun? [Laughs]

BF: Fun?  [Laughs]  Actually I find that is something I do often if I’m reading a book written in another English speaking country.  Most Irvine Welsh books, for instance, I end up reading aloud because it’s easier to understand the sentence structure and the accents.  The funniest part is that I end up speaking in an accent.

BA: Good, because I am writing it with the accent.  That is how I hear the characters.  In fact, I say all of this stuff out loud.  That is a really good thing for writers, especially comic book writers, to do.  Not enough writers will say their dialogue aloud to hear what it sounds like.  When you’re saying what you’ve written and it sounds like exposition you just know that it’s crap and needs to be redone.

BF: Moving from your writing to the artists, you’ve got a few different ones working on the book with you with Marcelo Frusin taking on the “present day” stories.  Was it your choice to work the artists in rotation like this? And, secondly, why Frusin for the main portion of the series?

BA: Yes it was, and Marcelo was my choice on the book.  We had worked together on Hellblazer and we were really simpatico.  We did Hellblazer for three years and he really understood my scripts and the emotions that I wanted to come out.

BF: And the other artist that has been on the book is Daniel Zezelj.  Was he also your choice?

BA: Yes. And I had also worked with Daniel before.  We did a book called El Diablo for Vertigo and that is what actually planted the seed for me to do Loveless .  That book was also a “western” that was written as more of a noir. I really enjoyed the mixing of genres and that is something I wanted to try again.

BF: Will you continue to use the same techniques with the rotating artists on the book?

BA: We’ll see.  We’re actually adding another artist to the mix, Werther Dell’Edera. (his work graces the preview pages of Loveless #11 below - ed.)

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: Will he be doing flashbacks?

BA: No, Werther will be doing more of the present day work and his arc will be really pushing the story forward.

BF: Is he then just added to the rotation?

BA: [Laughs] Yeah, whichever one gets done first gets the next issue.

BF: Is there a set plan for this book?

BA: Yes. We’ll probably run for about 4 to 4.5 years.  I’m planning on ending it somewhere in the 40’s or 50’s, unless of course, it’s going strong and I have nothing else going on.  Then I’ll keep it going.

BF: Well, 100 Bullets will be complete by then.

BA: Yeah.  It’s funny.  Bill Willingham has laughed at me and told me he’s never ending Fables ! [Laughs]

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