“Joker” and “Batman: Noel” artist Lee Bermejo spoke with CBR TV at C2E2 about his and writer Brian Azzarello’s latest collaboration, “Before Watchmen: Rorschach,” from the working relationship the two of them share to the controversy surrounding the entire DC Comics’ “Before Watchmen” project.
Bermejo got into the details of how he approaches illustrating Rorschach’s iconic mask, the challenge of telling a story about a character whose ultimate ending the readers know before they read page one and the importance he ascribes to reader reaction and reviews of his work, especially in light of the strong feelings many have over DC going forward with more stories set in the world created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Check out the full interview and transcript below.
CBR TV: What up, partners? It’s Kiel Phegley here on CBR TV. I’m at C2E2 2012 and I’m sitting in Artist’s Alley next to Mr. Lee Bermejo, artist of “Luthor,” artist of “Joker,” artist of “Batman: Noel” and coming up, the artist of “Before Watchmen: Rorschach.” I think Lee, the question that everyone gets asked about this project — and it’s been an interesting answer everyone that said it — is what was your first reaction to being asked to do this? It seems like some guys came on with a little bit of trepidation. Were you on from the beginning?
Lee Bermejo: Yeah, I was on from the beginning. I think that — most stuff I get involved with, I just kind of jump in and then I think later. Yeah, they made the offer, I thought it was a great fit for Brian [Azzarello] and I and I thought it was something we could do well. There wasn’t much trepidation. Obviously, I knew there was going to be a certain amount of — how to put it? I knew there was going to be some backlash, but that’s really — it can’t be a deciding factor whether or not you take a project on, you just kind of have to do what you want to do. If people like it, great, if they don’t like it, there’s a lot of product out there so I’m sure they can find something good to read.
You and Brian have worked together on so many projects at this point. I was talking to you earlier before we started here — you live in — is it Spain you live?
Italy. So are you just running up his phone bill more than any other writer in comics as you guys are working on this stuff?
Actually, we don’t talk that much. We’ll chat occasionally on the phone, but our relationship is really just based on he’ll write the scripts and I’ll draw them. If I have questions, we’ll talk, but this is the fourth collaboration together, I think we have a pretty good rhythm. We know more or less what the other wants out of the project. There doesn’t tend to be a whole lot of back and forth between the two of us. I let the script do the talking and as soon as I get that, I do what I have to do with it.
So, with “Rorschach,” this is the character from “Watchmen” who really in some ways is the heart and soul of that book. When you read the original, he is this tragic figure that has a lot more layers than people expect from him early on. When it came time to tell the story and Brian was working on the story, did you want to know what he was going for before you got the script or did you want to go in cold and see what Brian was going to mine out of that character and that world?
No, I mean, I think that I wanted to basics of the story we were telling and I think you put it right. He’s a tragic character and that’s what I’m really looking for with these stories. I feel like you’ve got a Titanic kind of a situation. How do you tell a story you already know the ending to. What can you bring to that character? That became the fun for me. I was figuring out what we were going to do with such a specific character. We chatted a little bit about it, but not really about story particulars, more about the character and what we both thought was appropriate. Again, I trust Brian. He does the words, I do the pictures and I’m happy with that relationship.
On that art front, one of the things that jumped out to everybody when the first images got shown that you did for this is that you’re really using that Rorschach ink blot theme in a lot of different ways. How did that change how you approached things? Were you playing around a lot to make those images fit together with the ink blotches and that or did you sketch things out and try to pull that out after the fact?
You mean the cover with the image of him? That was definitely worked out ahead of time. I knew right away what I wanted to do for the first issue cover and I knew I wanted him to be in his own mask. It was a decision that was made ahead of time. That’s the thing — the character, visually, is a guy in a brown leather jacket and a hat so everything visual of interest is going to go on here in the mask. That’s the fun of the character, is figuring out what you can do and playing around with it — the idea of patterns is very big and I’m using that a lot in the storytelling as well.
Is that a challenge where you don’t get that face to have the character emote where he goes through and he’s the lead of the story?
It hasn’t been so far, actually. I think the cool thing about the ink blots is that you can think about them two ways. You can think about them psychologically, what you want to get across with the ink blots, but also graphically, they can be a help to you for a guy without a face or without facial features. You can use them in different ways. If you want to convey a certain emotion in him, you can work that out in a way in the ink blots. You can use them to create quasi-expressions. So that’s been a tool I’ve been using so far and just making him be more expressive.
Like I was saying earlier before we started, last night, Diamond had this big retailer show and Bob Wayne was walking around with a bunch of sample pages from the books including yours and they seem to be getting a lot of good response. When it’s a project like this where you know there’s going to be a lot of people talking about it, you know there’s going to be a lot of people looking for it, do you go out there and read reviews, read people’s reactions and stuff? Or when the day the book comes out are you going to be off the internet completely and just doing your own thing?
I have to be quite honest, I don’t really frequent a lot of sites. I do read reviews and I do read that kind of stuff. I think it’s important to know what people think of the work, but I wait for the book to come out. I’ve been staying away from a lot of that stuff now just because it’s not really something that helps me while I’m working on the book. I have to get in there and serve the one master that I have which is the script. I can worry about all that other stuff later. But I’m curious to see — this project, it comes with some baggage, both good and bad. So I’m really curious to see what people think about all the books, not just ours. We’ll see.
Last up, like I said, “Batman: Noel” came out around Christmas and that was a project where you got to stretch your muscles and do a lot of writing as well as the art. Obviously, Rorschach is going to be something you’re working on for a while here, but has that writer’s side of your brain been itching at you a little bit? Have you got some more stories you want to tell on that front?
Yeah, most definitely. Most definitely. I have a couple things that I’d like to do. We’ll see if they happen after “Rorschach.” “Noel” for me was more of an exercise than anything else. It was — obviously, it’s based on another story. There’s some ideas I’ve had now for a while that are original ideas and I’d like to stretch that muscle a little bit more and try to do something that’s completely my own and see how that works. That’s the plan. The plan is to try to do that next.
“Before Watchmen: Rorschach” is going to be in stores in a short couple of weeks, Lee Bermejo, thanks for taking the time, brother. You’ll see more from C2E2 2012 later on right here on CBR TV.