BOOM! Studios has long been a publisher built on a diverse lineup of books, but for many, the company's bread and butter has been in Young Adult titles. Now with its latest series from veteran writer Brian Azzarello, the company is venturing further into adult themes than ever before.
Faithless teams the writer of crime, western and superhero comics with artist Maria Llovet for what BOOM! has promoted as an erotic thriller mixing elements of horror and religion along the way. CBR News spoke to Azzarello and his editor Sierra Hahn about the development of a book looking to push boundaries. And as the creators tell it, Faithless started out in the mindset of one of BOOM!'s YA hits.
"Brian and I wanted to collaborate together for a long time," Hahn explained. "Brian has been a colleague and a mentor to me since my earliest days at DC Comics in like 2005. So we finally found the right characters we wanted to work with, and overtime discussing Faith became a matter of 'What characters has Brian not done before? Oh, a YA book.' Because BOOM's always done so well in that space. But as we worked on it, there became things we were excited about and interested in exploring. That included exploring erotic themes and sexuality in a way that was for a wider audience and that doesn't make it taboo. That seemed like something Brian and I could pull off together in a fun and meaningful way. And with an artist like Maria Llovet, there was no question that this was the direction we wanted to go in."
Azzarello was blunt with his reasoning for the book's shift to more adult material. "It became really apparent that I can't write for a specific audience. I just write," he said. "So at one point I had to say, 'I'm just going to do this the way I'd normally do it.'" Of course, while the core of the idea hasn't changed, the writer is still figuring out how it has become what it is. "The story came first, and it became a question of how we push it. And we decided to push it more into erotica. Actually, I think it was better as Young Adult. I'm not kidding."
Doing a mature readers erotic series at BOOM! is a move that the team feels will draw potentially negative attention, but they stress that stirring the pot isn't the point. "I don't think it's born out of generation controversy. It's about wanting to tell a story that's true to this woman and not being afraid of the human form at the same time," Hahn said. "And not being afraid of the controversy that it may cause either," Azzarello added, to which his editor agreed. "[That] is inevitable. You know it's coming."
This week sees Issue #2 continue the journey of Faith, a 20-something woman who pushes back against her apathy by sleeping with Poppy, who may be a demon in disguise. While the pitch has "much heavier themes and events and more graphic elements to it" than a title for younger readers, the post-college setting still rings true to Azzarello's initial idea, Hahn said. "What you can see might be the remnants of the quintessential YA coming-of-age story is that we have a character who is still young and looking to find her place in the world. It's post-college New York City. What's my career? What am I going to be? I'm an artist, and I live with all my friends...and suddenly these different characters have been thrust to my life. What do I do with that? If this is a character who's bored or stagnant, she's so bored that she can't even make herself climax. That's how ambivalent she is to the status of her life in this moment."
Azzarello has focused in his scripting on the ways sexuality and horror interact in Faith's life. "At this point in the story, it's all about the unknown. Are you afraid of it? Are you seduced by it? Those are the elements we're working through in the story. I don't have all the answers yet, because I'm still writing it. That's why I write these things – to figure out what the answers are."
The writer knows that with a story removed from his own experience, readers may ask whether he's the right writer for a book like this. But aside from a confidence in his own abilities and interests, he said the women collaborating with him on the book keep him honest. "Look, of course I know that it's me who's writing this. And there are going to be people who come to this with a bias because I'm not [a woman]" he said. "But working with Sierra and Maria helps. They've kept me focused. And when I get things wrong, I get told. I'm learning new tricks."
"It's been a really collaborative process," Hahn agreed. "Brian turns in these scripts that I think are pretty magnificent, but I'm still able to say, 'Maybe show it this way or that way.' It's all about the same outcome, but we're sort of switching the lens quickly. It's a subtle thing, but Brian has been responsive to it. And when he hands the pages to Maria, she takes what Brian and I discussed and takes it to the next level through her lens and her experience. She adds what she finds exciting or sexy. She can illuminate the characters through their expressions and their bodies and their color. That's always Brian's dialogue on the page, but there are certain machinations and shifts the three of us bring collectively."
The pair also credited Llovet for her particular hand in making a book that's both sexually explicit and full of thematic depth. Hahn said that the European artist's background contributed to a lack of nervousness over the material. "Maria doesn't have to be an apologist for her work in showing sexuality the way she does, where maybe an American artist might feel like they need to be an apologist. Culturally, in Europe we can see bodies in advertisements, and we can see people sexually engaged on TV or in ads or in literature and not be afraid of or affected by it. She lives in a much different place than we do here, and she can engage those things in a way that a U.S. artist might not."
Though, Azzarello was quick to add, "That said, we've had to say, 'Be a little more graphic. Push it.'"
As the first issue's unnerving cliffhanger suggested, and as Issue #2 picks directly up from, the book also doesn't shy away from the horror at its heart. The scares evoked by sleeping with someone other than human resonate because of the juxtaposition of the erotic and the horrific. "I think that specific scene works because we put you in a different mindset, and then with the page flip it's so unexpected. It's kind of an appalling moment, but there are other horror moments in the first issue that are certainly more subtle than that one, but they're there."
"It's definitely a component, but not a focus," the writer said of Faithless' horror. "I focus on characters all the time. The politics and the violence, that's background stuff for me. Even the horror. The only way that stuff works is if you have believable characters roaming around in it."
Faithless #2 is on sale now, from BOOM! Studios.