Bad Azz Mojo - Part 3

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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. Today's stop: 100 Bullets.

Part One: Loveless
Part Two: Deathblow

BF: Moving on to 100 Bullets… You probably don’t remember, but at one point you seemed to be a little angry with me over the book.  At the Dynamic Forces Fan Fest a few years back, I had come up to you and told you that I did not at all understand 'The Counterfifth Detective' storyarc.

BA: Really?

BF: Yes, but I did want to let you know that I have since reread the story and now, I do understand it.  In fact, I’m not sure what exactly I missed the first time.

BA: A-HA!  Good. [Laughs]

BF: Seeing as how we’re 76 issues in and it might be tough to get a recap, I thought it would be more interesting to learn if at the ¾ mark of the series anything has changed at all from your original plan for the series?

BA: Of course. While the main plot points of the book have never changed, the vaster outline was set up so I could be organic with the storytelling.  If there was something that I thought was important but in writing found a lot more meat to tear through I set it up so that I could expand.  So things have switched up but nothing major has changed.

BF: Have you had to do the opposite of that and instead of expand upon certain things have you had to take some things out?

BA: No.  Not yet.  But that’s probably going to happen within this last quarter of the book. [Laughs]

BF: I guess now that you’re getting to the end all that extra stuff is starting to force your hand a bit.

BA: Yeah.  I mean, it’s 2 more years but at this point it starts to feel like “Oh man, I’ve only got 2 more years!”

BF: Did you ever doubt that you would make it this far?

BA: Yeah, originally, within the first 2 years I had some doubts.  But that stopped when I was told by DC not to worry and that the book would make it.

BF: Alright. I’d like to move over to the characters now.  First off would be Agent Graves, who is the instigator of the whole series.

BA: Correct.

BF: Now, Graves is the man in charge of the Minutemen and they are up against the Trust.

BA: Yes… Or are they? [Laughs]

BF: Well, let’s talk about Graves.  What were some of the influences on that character and his creation?

BA: Oh man… Lee Marvin originally was the biggest influence.  But that was mostly his demeanor.  In actuality, Graves is probably modeled most after my grandfather.  I was terrified of him when I was a kid!  He was a hard ass!

It was my mother’s father and he lived in Greenfield, MA where he was the chief of police.  The guy was an Irish cop. [Laughs]

BF: Well, I guess that makes sense then.

BA: He was just a real intimidating guy and I can never remember him smiling.

BF: But of course, Graves has been known to smile from time to time.

BA: It has to be a pretty sick joke, but yeah, Graves will smile.

BF: Now, the first character Graves approached in the book was Dizzy, who has been as much a recurring character as this book has ever had.  But why start with a female character and why Dizzy in particular?

BA: I don’t know why I used a female first.  But Dizzy is probably the most sympathetic character in the book.  She is a lot like Atticus [Mann] in Loveless as she is the readers’ window into the world of 100 Bullets.  You, as a reader, are learning a lot of this stuff with Dizzy.  Everybody else knows what’s going on except her so when she learns the reader does too.

BF: One character who has seemingly taken over and dominated a lot of the scenes he’s been in is Lono.  Is he the most fun character in the book to write?

BA: Well, he’s the most fun to read; I don’t know if he’s the most fun to write.  I really underestimated the readers, that’s for sure.  I thought I was creating the most despicable, heinous character I could and you all love him! [Laughs]

BF: You expected something else?!? [Laughs]

BA: It was pretty early on when he raped that girl and I thought that would solidify him as the heel of the book, but I was pretty wrong.

BF: So you want Lono to be the bad guy?

BA: Well, yeah, I think that’s pretty obvious from the book.  He’s a sociopath.  One of the reasons people like Lono (and I hope they don’t identify with him) is because he doesn’t think before he does something.  He is in control but he’s out of control.

BF: Well, if Lono wasn’t the most fun to write who was?

BA: Milo Garett (from the aforementioned ' The Counterfifth Detective' storyarc – ed.) was the most fun to write.  Easily.  I really hated killing him.  Hated it!

BF: Since Milo was a Minuteman, did you feel like you had to kill one of them off?

BA: He was dead at the beginning of his story. [Laughs]  I knew what the story was going to be so I may have done that unconsciously on purpose, because he did have to die.  He was the character that said “No” to Graves and didn’t want to go back to that life.  So far, everyone else has gone along with it.  But Milo was “buried” and found out that he liked his new life more than his old one.

So I think unconsciously, I knew I was going to have to kill him, but I also knew how much I would enjoy writing him, so I killed him off on the first page of his entire story.  That way, there was no chance of me resurrecting him.

BF: Now, stylistically, that book reads differently from many of the other arcs.  Was that your attempt to give it that “private eye” book feel?

BA: That was my tip of the hat to writers and filmmakers that worked in that style that I loved and had influenced me.  People like Dashiel Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, the film Dark Passage, a lot of those noir writers and filmmakers.

Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge    Click to enlarge

BF: And speaking of influences, who or what are some of the other influences you had in writing the book?  You have a very unique style with your dialogue – at times it’s very biting and other times you use a great deal of subtext.  Who are some of your biggest influences?

BA: Hmmm… Hemmingway is the biggest.  I always tell people to read Hemmingway, especially those that want to write comics.  He had a way to get across the most by using the least amount of words and especially in comics you have to learn to do that.  Well, you don’t have to, there are plenty of examples of the opposite, but that really is the point of comic writing.  Because otherwise you’re just covering up the art and that’s what people want to see.

Harold Pinter is another.  Tony Kushner.  David Mamet.  I’m into plays a lot.  I read a lot of them.

BF: Do you find your dialogue and stylings coming a lot from them?

BA: Yeah, because plays are dialogue heavy… Go figure! [Laughs]  Well, a better way to put it isn’t that they’re dialogue heavy but they’re driven by their dialogue.

BF: You said that 'The Counterfifth Detective' was your homage to noir and private detective stories. Have you done that type of homage to other genres with other arcs in the book?

BA: All the time.  There are bits and pieces of influences.  What do they call them… “Easter eggs?”  Well, there are Easter eggs all over the book.  Sometimes people get them and sometimes they don’t.

BF: You mentioned earlier about not wanting to cover up artwork and for you that would be a big thing because you’re working with someone of the caliber of Eduardo Risso.  Now, you had first worked together on Johnny Double and then went to 100 Bullets with him – was it an easy decision for you to work with him on the title?

BA: Absolutely, it was a complete “no-brainer.”  No thought involved at all.

BF: What about his artwork made you realize it would be a great match for the story?

BA: His storytelling.  He is easily one of, if not THE, best storyteller working in comics today.  For a book like 100 Bullets a real strong storyteller is needed.  Like you said, there is a lot of subtext in the book, and that has to come through in the way it looks and with people’s expressions and he does that wonderfully.

BF: Recently, I spoke with Matt Fraction about his new book Casanova.  And one of the things that really stuck out to me in my discussion there was when we spoke about the artist he was working with, Gabriel Ba, was that he was so happy to have someone who did not bring 30 years of American comic influences with them.  Is it a similar thing with Eduardo?

BA: Yeah.  He was working in Europe before the U.S. and he’s from Argentina, so that has been good because he’s brought a lot of the sensibilities of those influences with him.

BF: Because of this, did you have to create any visual reference book or collection of images to send to him?

BA: No, I wanted him to do it on his own.  Sometimes I do send him specifics, like Dizzy’s neighborhood in the first arc was my old neighborhood, so I sent him some pictures of that for reference. 

But nothing out of the ordinary.  In fact, if I need to describe a character to him I would pick an actor.  “He should look like this guy and carry himself like this guy.”  But that’s what Eduardo brings to the book.  He is the artist, so he has to be comfortable drawing the characters and the way they look.  Like, if I told him Graves had to have a mustache and he was terrible at drawing mustaches that wouldn’t really be right on my part, nor would it be beneficial at all for the book, so he can take it off.

BF: With Eduardo being in Argentina and having minimal English skills, how does the process of going from script to art go?  Do you speak enough Spanish to translate?

BA: Actually, I send the scripts to a friend of his down there and he translates the scripts.  He is the unsung hero of this book. 

BF: Well, what is his name, so we can finally credit the guy?

BA: His name is Edus and the book would not be possible without him.
BF: And now he has the credit he so richly deserves… I had one final question for you about your scripts: When you worked on Superman with Jim Lee, he said that you wrote out all the dialogue for your scripts first, and then went back and did the breakdowns.  Why do you work that way?

BA: The basic reasoning is that the story is supposed to have a point and you should be able to get that through with the dialogue, so I put that down first and then go back and break it down to pages.  And of course, while I’m doing this, I realize that comics are a visual medium, so if I’m putting it together and there are silent beats or something that is there that goes unsaid I’ll put that in there too.  But for me, it starts with the story and the dialogue so I get that first, and then break it down further.

BF: Would you consider the dialogue your strongest point of your writing?

BA: I don’t really like to think about it.  Sometimes I reread it and really like the dialogue, other times it’s the plot.  Mostly, I’m too consumed thinking about my weaknesses to worry about my strengths. [Laughs]

BF: You really think about that?  Don’t all those Eisners you collected help?

BA: HA!  They don’t know what they’re doing!  Did you see who won this year? Of course, I kid.

BF: So what are these weak points then?

BA: Well, I wasn’t thinking about writing in particular, just in general.  My weaknesses as a human being! [Laughs]

BF: Along those lines, one of the biggest themes of both Loveless and 100 Bullets has been a heavy dose of misanthropy.  Do you find yourself to be a misanthrope?

BA: I have been accused of that from time to time. [Laughs]

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