At Chicago Comic-Con today, the panel room was packed to witness five of the most prolific crime writers in comics today. Brian Azzarello (“100 Bullets”), local author Marcus Sakey, webcomic author of “Cash & Carry” Tim Broderick, B. Clay Moore (“Hawaiian Dick”) and Jason Aaron (“Scalped”) were hosted by John Jordan of Crime Spree Magazine for an intensive Q&A session into the creation of the Vertigo Crime imprint, the thinking behind killing characters and the inner workings of the crime fiction genre.
The panel kicked off with the authors expounding on why killing beloved characters works so well from a plot standpoint. “Because it’s real life,” said Azzarello. “People kill what they love, right?” The panelists then continued detailing reasons as to why an author might kill a character in crime fiction.
When asked if there are any ways that crime fiction is more pertinent than fiction and why it works so well in comics, Broderick replied, “The best example of something that is pertinent to message were novels by Travis McGee,” he said. “A lot of people acknowledged that a lot of the stories that were set there raised the awareness of environmental issues.”
“I think in the ‘50s, noir reflected the paranoia of the times and told this story about what was really going on under the surface,” responded Moore. “Stuff wasn’t really great back then; it was just that way on the surface. Some of the most subversive entertainment came out during that period.”
As the panel continued, one of the most interesting answers was the reasoning of Jason Aaron for choosing his setting in “Scalped.” “It seemed a natural, rich setting for that story. With ‘Scalped,’ I’m walking the line between doing something socially relevant and exploitation,” he said. “For the most part, the book is about the worst of the worst in a central location.” Aaron went on to explain why this concept was so important to the continuation of the story he is trying to tell. “If I solved all the problems in the Native American community, there would be no story to tell. To me what is most important is being true to the characters and creating honest characters. Regardless of stereotypes, I think you can mine stereotypes to figure out what they were based on before they were run into the ground.”
Brian Azzarello had a very different motivation for his setting in his upcoming Vertigo Crime title, “Filthy Rich”: Marketing. “Really, I could see that story taking place right now. Talking with Will Dennis [the editor of Vertigo Crime], we could use something that happen late ‘50s or ‘60s,” he said. “Shit man, this’ll work. I could’ve put it in any time period, but if you’re doing research, you should be interested in what you’re researching.”
In a crime fiction panel, it was impossible to go for very long without discussing Azzarelo’s Vertigo masterpiece, “100 Bullets.” “With ‘100 Bullets,’ I had all my really important beats mapped out. I had an outline, but it wasn’t really that tight,” he explained on long-term plotting for the series. “What sucks about monthly comics is that it’s 22 pages – you’re stuck in that rigid form. You look for ways to break out of it. The outline was tight as far as of, say, issue 24, we had to meet Milo.” Jason Aaron then asked whether Azzarello always knew the series would be 100 issues. “Probably like the third trade,” he said.
When the question inevitably came up about a possible “100 Bullets” sequel, Azzarello answered, “There might be, what am I going to do, say no? What if nothing else works out that we’re working on? We’ve got to go back and do it!”
Some of the most revealing information about the authors came during a discussion about villains. “I prefer not to write a bad guy,” said Aaron. “I prefer to write a guy … who’s pretty sure she has a better angle on anyone else. I think you always have to have affection for the bad guy.”
“I don’t know about that. A lot of my bad guys I can’t stand,” responded Azzarello. “The trick is to make them compelling even when they’re doing these horrible acts, the readers are interested in seeing it through. If you make ‘em too much of an asshole, nobody’s going to care. When you look at a real serial killer they’re so banal. That’s the scariest thing about them, that they’re normal.”
“Most of the evil acts in my books are done by people who are normal who are thrust into a situation where they have to kill someone,” said Broderick. “I like to take normal people and put them into situations where they have to do something extraordinary.”
“If you try to hard to make them too bad, they’re just unbelievable,” said Sakey. “If you take someone like Hannibal Lector who should be unbelievable but is pretty damn compelling. I’ve never been more scared by someone just standing there. There are actions in his world that are okay and those that are not and because you believe him, now you believe he’s behind your closet door.”
Before the panel opened the floor up to questions from the audience, Jordan asked the panelists about their picks for the best crime fiction they had read recently. Moore, who had already recommended Aaron’s “Scalped” multiple times, recommended the title once again, while Aaron identified the novel “Yellow Medicine” by Anthony Neil Smith. Sakey recommended John Winslow’s “Power of the Dog”, a fictionalized version of the war on drugs. Sakey had also recently finished “Transmetropolitan,” which he said, “blew my mind.” Broderick chose Power of the Dog by John Winslow, while Azzarello chose French noir film Le Samurai.
Though the audience asked a number of insightful and varied questions, the most intriguing was if the authors had a hard time killing off main characters. “Who says I’m not going to kill him?” said Aaron. “I could never kill off my main character,” responded Moore. However, Azzarello had the most experienced answer of the group: “Speaking from the ‘Loveless’ side, don’t kill your main character.”