In multiple controversial miniseries, DC Comics has been revealing new pieces of the superhero universe created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in “Watchmen.” Friday afternoon at New York Comic Con, many of the writers and artists of “Before Watchmen” gathered to meet with fans and discuss their work on the series. On hand were “Before Watchmen: Comedian” and “Rorschach” writer Brian Azzarello, “Rorschach” artist Lee Bermejo, “Silk Spectre” artist Amanda Conner, “Nite Owl” artist Bill Sienkiewicz, and “Ozymandias” writer, along with editors Mark Chiarello and Will Dennis and the moderator, VP Marketing John Cunningham.
Cunnigham began by showing Darwyn Cooke’s cover for the final issue of “Minutemen” and Steve Ruud’s for “Comedian.”
The moderator noted that Azzarello has brought depth to the Comedian, which Azzarello said was essential because “Before Watchmen” breaks apart what had once worked as a whole. “So yes, that was my intention,” Azzarello said mock-testily.
As covers and variants continued to cycle on the screen, Sienkiewicz spoke briefly about coming on to “Nite Owl” under sad circumstances, “with the passing of the amazing, talented, legend Joe Kubert.” Sienkiewicz said he felt “honored” to work on the project because of Kubert’s connection to the series.
On Rorschach, Azzarello said, “He’s the type of character, I don’t think you want to know more about him.” “We’re giving you more of what you want–too bad for you.” Azzarello joked that “he’s like that creepy guy that comes up and asks you questions.”
Sienkiewicz compared exploring Rorschach’s past to “getting bit by a dog, and finding out the reason he bit you is because he has rabies.” Knowing Rorschach’s background “does not make the bite less severe.”
Dennis said that “Ozymandias” artist Jae Lee was not what he expected, personality-wise. “Based on his art, I just thought he would be this cool, aloof guy,” Dennis said, but instead found Lee quite personable.
Both Dennis and Chiarello noted that they needed to recruit the top comics talent for “Before Watchmen” and Dennis admitted he felt nervous about asking Sienkiewicz to join the team, due to the latter’s stature in the industry.
Sienkiewicz spoke on the idea that “everybody’s a professional” working on the project, and expressed pride in Conner, who was once his assistant. “I’m glad I haven’t totally corrupted you,” he said.
“It comes down to talented individuals, telling the stories they want to tell,” he said of the “Before Watchmen” creators as a group. “It’s an absolute pleasure to work with people who love what they do.”
Chiarello, who is DC’s Art Director and only rarely serves as editor, praised J. Michael Straczynski’s “Dr. Manhattan” stories. “I got in the first script, and he turned in the second script like two days later, he was so jazzed to work on it.”
Conner admitted she “hit a wall” after working so hard on the first three issues of “Silk Spectre,” and her pace has slowed down. But, though the book is “research-heavy,” she enjoyed having a look at the 1960s and “remembering what it’s like to be a sixteen-year old girl.”
Cunningham referred to the controversy surrounding the publication of “Before Watchmen” itself, both from fans and very vocally from Alan Moore, saying that now that the books are out he doesn’t see anything “blasphemous” in regards to the original classic.
“If Alan [Moore] and Dave [Gibbons] ever read it–and I doubt Alan will–I hope they enjoy everything we’re doing,” Conner said, smiling.
The floor was opened to questions, and the first fan asked about how each creator came onto the series.
Conner said she immediately said yes to “Silk Spectre,” and Bermejo also agreed when Azzarello pitched him “Rorschach.”
“They came to me for ‘Rorschach,’ I went to them with ‘Comedian,'” Azzarello said, and he knew he wanted Bermejo on ‘Rorschach.’
The next fan asked Azzarello whether Vietnam changed the Comedian, or whether he simply thrived in the war. “You’ll have to wait and see,” Azzarello said. “When you meet him in the original, he’s already this crazy asshole. I don’t think he’s always been a crazy asshole, but he’s always had crazy asshole qualities.”
Asked which character the creators would want to work with if they could switch for an issue, Azzarello said, “I’m working on the ones that suit me.” Bermejo said that, “If they offered me ‘Dr. Manhattan,’ I probably would have said no–what Adam [Hughes] is doing on that book is what it needs.” Conner, though, said she wouldn’t mind a stab at “Minute Men.”
On the subject of “getting to know” their characters, Conner said that she spoke with her aunts, who were the right age for Laurie. “I couldn’t use all of their stories, but they were just so funny.” Bermejo, though, said he wanted “Rorschach” to be a book that feels like it “smells bad.” Azzarello joked, “It’s my diary.”
Asked about being a female comics fan and eventually becoming an artist, Conner said that “my father was a frustrated comic artist.” “Is there any other kind?” Dennis joked. But Conner said her father was thus supportive, and she was undaunted when she heard at the Kubert School that it was very difficult-for men or women-to break in. Finally, Sienkiewicz hired her. “I might have had a hard time getting in because I was a girl, but I didn’t know it–I’m pretty hard headed.”
Sienkiewicz said that comics pros were often people who “would do it for free.” “But then you have to buy toilet paper,” Conner added. She joked that her husband, Jimmy Palmiotti, sometimes talks of potential purchases in terms of pages. “‘If you draw two pages, you can buy that.’ Oh yeah, I can, can’t I?”
Asked about any contact between the creators and Alan Moore, Bermejo said that “the closest I got to Alan Moore [was when] he sent me a copy of ‘Big Numbers’ #3.” Sienkiewicz, who was the artist on that project, noted the differences between the “European perspective” that grants creators like Herge moral rights to their creations regardless of legal ownership and the “American point of view” that looks at “viable commodities and viable work to be expanded and tell good stories.” “The two perspectives never really meet,” he said, careful to clarify that “moral” in this sense is a legal term rather than a value judgment.
The panel was asked whether there might be an ongoing series in the “Watchmen” universe after “Before Watchmen.” Azzarello, after some comments about not wanting to speculate, answered. “Probably. That’s the way things are going,” he said, but added he didn’t expect to be a part of it. And Dennis jumped in that “We’re not breaking news” and there are no plans at present.