Azzarello, Bisley & Floyd Craft a Heavy Metal Quest in Violently Funny "Alpha King"

Three Floyds Brewing has established a reputation over the past twenty years as one of the best regional breweries in North America. From the beginning, the Indiana-based craft brewer made it clear that it has its own aesthetic with a line of beers sporting names like Alpha King, Gumballhead, Arctic Panzer Wolf, Zombie Dust and Apocalypse Cow. And while it has a long history of hiring talented artists to design its labels, the brewery recently took things a step further, making the leap into comic book publishing with the release of their first comic. For that project, brewer Nick Floyd teamed with Brian Azzarello, Simon Bisley and Image Comics for "3 Floyds: Alpha King."

Azzarello described the miniseries to CBR News "like 'Game of Thrones' set in the 'Mad Max' world" -- an aesthetic that fits in perfectly with the brewery's 20 year history of creating dynamic characters for its labels. And as outlandish as the book may appear by glancing at its cover, Bisley promises "it gets crazier and crazier as we go along."

CBR News: Three Floyds has been utilizing really colorful and interesting names, labels and characters for a while. Where did this approach come from?

Nick Floyd: Instead of every other brewery who had a mountain or a tree or the name of a cow, we had characters. The iconic brands that stuck out for us were imports that had caricatures and images of people on them, so I decided every beer should have an interesting character. Like Alpha King -- the alpha comes from the bitterness units of hops, so alpha king is another name for hop king. That's where the name is derived. That's our flagship beer, and we've been making it for twenty years.

Brian, how did you get involved?

Brian Azzarello: In drinking the beer, or making the comic?

Whichever came first.

Azzarello: Which came first? Drinking the beer. I've been drinking Three Floyds beer since they started distributing it twenty years ago -- a long time. So the opportunity came up and it was just a conversation on a bar stool. "We want to do a comic, do you know anybody who would do one?" I was like, what about me? [Laughs]

Floyd: We thought you were too high-end because you were writing "Wonder Woman" and "Batman."

Azzarello: If the project appeals to me, I want to do it. This seemed like it was going to be a really interesting collaboration, and I'm really happy I signed onto it. When the issue showed up the other day, I was like, "Holy shit!"

How would you describe the comic?

Azzarello: It's a quest. What did we say the other day? It's like "Game of Thrones" set in the "Mad Max" world.

Floyd: Our labels have always have spelled out that type of genre

Azzarello: You'll have some barbarian horde with laser pistols strapped to them, as well as pikes and broadswords.

Floyd: And I try to make a lot of them humorous.

How do you take those designs and illustrations and names and turn those elements into a story?

Azzarello: To begin with, it's just saying, "Ok -- all these labels and all these characters exist in the same universe." You say, what are their relationships to each other? It's not too difficult -- nothing's forced. If something doesn't fit, we go, "What about some inter-dimensional traveling?" As long as we obey the rules of the universe we create, the readers are fine with that. Comics readers will follow anything. I think the rules of engagement for people who read comics are really broad. You accept things that a lot of people that read romance novels would never accept.

How did you two work together on the writing?

Floyd: We would get together and have a beer. Then we would start to write things down, and really good ideas started flowing. I've never written professionally, but it's good to be with someone who's a sounding board so you don't go too far off on your own crazy tangents.

Azzarello: I've been doing this for a long time, so I know what fits in X-amount of pages, or what fits on a page. Format stuff like that.

Simon, I'm sure you get plenty of offers for work. What made you say yes to doing this comic?

Simon Bisley: To be honest with you, I think I was taken by the characters. Working with Brian was a bonus. I met Nick, and we got on really well. We're all of the same mindset. It's great to make a comic book where there are no real constraints as with the regular comic book companies.

Floyd: Yeah, it's not normal.

Bisley: It's not normal, no. [Laughs] It's a laugh, to be honest with you. I genuinely enjoyed doing it.

Floyd: And it looks awesome.

Bisley: It gets crazier and crazier as we go along.

When you work with someone like Simon Bisley, what do you give him as far description, as far as what you expect?

Azzarello: As far as the characters go, they're pretty much pre-existing. We just wanted to get Simon's take on them. As far as direction in the script, I'm pretty sparse. I really wanted to take advantage of Simon's imagination and creativity and let him run wild.

Bisley: It's one of these projects where it's a little bit like "Lobo," where there's no rules, no limits. When I did "Lobo" with Alan Grant, it was like a jam, a bunch of good musicians getting together and seeing what they can come up with. Brian and Nick had the story and the structure, and they know that I'm going wing it here and there. It was nice to have a job where you get paid and also where you can feel free to express yourself in places.

Nick, looking at Three Floyds' labels, I would have guessed that you were a big heavy metal fan and a big Simon Bisley fan.

Floyd: Oh, yeah. I look at him as the next Frazetta. We're a punk rock metal brewery, for sure -- we've established that pretty well.

The comic is a natural continuation of that aesthetic.

Floyd: It's also a natural progression of the Three Floyds brand and characters. There's a lot of a lot of people who want to buy it, but we're a small regional brewery. We haven't sold out. We sell beer mostly in Indiana, Illinois and some in Kentucky and Wisconsin and Ohio. This is a chance for people all over to read about it or buy part of the brand, if you want to use corporate terms -- which we don't, really.

Bisley: You've got the visuals, so if you wanted to franchise it, you could move into video games and movies and then it can go from there.

Floyd: It could be a kickass video game

Bisley: And a band. Get a guy who can play bass to play the Alpha King, and then get some other guys. By the way, I can play bass.

Floyd: Okay, you're the bass player.

Bisley: That's how well me and Nick get on, and me and Brian. How about this? Okay, sure. That's how we go. When you like Frazetta, when you like heavy metal music, there's a kind of brotherhood to it, an instant kinship because everyone knows where they're coming from. If you're wearing a Motorhead t-shirt, and he's wearing a Motorhead t-shirt, it's a kind of tribe, in a way. You can almost communicate through telepathy, sometimes.

You guys launched the comic at Dark Lord Day, which is an event you've been running at the brewery for a few years. What is it, for people who don't know?

Floyd: It's the one day a year you can buy Dark Lord, our Russian stout, which is highly sought after. It's always has high ratings. 10,000 people come. It's a giant party with metal bands, and you can buy Dark Lord beer that one day a year. It's really heavy, thick, motor oil, Russian imperial stout. It also blocks up the town. Hotels in surrounding communities are booked. It's like a pilgrimage for beer geeks.

Bisley: It's a good opportunity for bands to get together and play

Floyd: Yeah, a lot of the bands that play, we've done collaboration beers with, so everything ties in. In a way, everything we do and we're about, and whoever has helped us, is part of it.

Do you have a favorite character or scene from the book?

Azzarello: Gumballhead. That cat is a cool character.

Bisley: I agree.

Azzarello: I like writing War Mullet, too

Bisley: I love War Mullet, he's a great cat as well. I think it becomes more extreme as it goes along.

Azzarello: Absolutely.

Floyd: He's war in the front and party in the back.

You guys are clearly having fun with this book.

Bisley: Oh, yeah. We have fun regardless.

Floyd: Definitely. There's no point if you're not going to have fun. If you don't love what you do, you're miserable.

Azzarello: Exactly.

Do you have plans or any interest in doing more after the five issue miniseries has finished?

Floyd: As long as there's interest, yeah.

Bisley: I'll keep going.

Azzarello: If we make a new character, Nick can brew a new beer.

Floyd: We haven't even scratched the surface.

"Alpha King" #1 is available now from Image Comics.

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