Smash Pages Q&A: Brian Azzarello and Sierra Hahn

The writer and editor of Faithless from BOOM! Studios discuss the lead character, working with artist Maria Llovet and more.

Faithless is a new miniseries written by Brian Azzarello, and it’s a somewhat different project for him.

It’s the story of a young woman who is playing around with magic, and by the end of the first issue, it’s clear that she’s in much deeper than she thought. Which admittedly, structurally sounds like a lot of the crime stories that Azzarello has written.

I spoke recently with Azzarello and Faithless editor Sierra Hahn. The two have known each other for years but never worked together, and we spoke about how this project came together, working with artist Maria Llovet, and Dante Alighieri.

Who is Faith when we first meet her?

Brian Azzarello: When we meet her, she’s a little occupied. (laughs)

Okay, who is she starting on page 3?

Azzarello: She’s restless. She’s bored. She’s looking for something that she knows is there, but she doesn’t know where. She’s like all of us when we were in our early twenties.

How did you and Faithless end up at Boom?

Azzarello: Sierra.

Sierra Hahn: Hi.

Azzarello: No, I mean that’s the answer.

Hahn: Brian and I have known each other since 2005. I was a publicist for Vertigo for a couple of years and the first project I worked on was Loveless. So Brian and I met as soon as I joined the industry – a very long ago now – and I’ve thought of Brian as a mentor and a friend. We’ve talked for a long time about trying to find an opportunity to work together and nothing ever quite synced up or felt right – different demands, different schedules, different concerns. A couple years ago we started kicking around this idea of Faithless. I went from DC to Dark Horse to BOOM!. It just synced up with my starting up here and Brian having the time, but also having the story that made sense for the two of us to collaborate on, quite frankly.

Brian, where did the story behind Faithless come from?

Azzarello: I know where it began with Sierra but when I came up with the idea, I don’t remember. It was one of those things you think of and then file away. Sierra and I were having dinner, she was asking me about something and was interested in coming to BOOM!. She said, what do you think of this? We ended up talking through dinner and when I was explaining it to her I quickly realized that she would be the right editor for this thing. In fact, she would be the perfect editor for it. It needed her touch. I needed her guidance. More so than some of the other people that I’ve worked with. Comics are collaborative and when it works really well that means everybody is working on it. I realized early on that she had a lot to offer this project and I wanted to do it with her.

The cover describes Faithless as “An erotic depiction of faith, sex, and the devil in the tradition of The Divine Comedy.” What exactly does that mean?

Azzarello: [laughs] What does it mean? It means exactly what it says.

“In the tradition of The Divine Comedy” can mean a great many things and conjures up many possible ideas.

Azzarello: Good. I’m not going to tell you what I meant by it because I want all those ideas in your head while you’re reading it.

Was The Divine Comedy something you were actively thinking about as you were writing either in terms of the structure or how you approached certain ideas?

Azzarello: I think about The Divine Comedy at least once a week. Something happens and my mind goes to Dante. [laughs]

Sierra, you’re laughing. Did he make you read Dante in the original in order to edit Faithless?

Hahn: [laughs] I think in the tradition of The Divine Comedy means exploring some of the themes and some of the feelings and some of the lessons – although I would say that our lessons are less overt. I don’t think it draws in shape or tone from Dante. We’re having fun exploring and grabbing ideas from painters and writers and musicians that informs the tone and the journey we’re going to be on.

One reason I ask is that the way the book opens and closes jumps out at the reader if one is thinking about meter and structure.

Azzarello: Funny how that worked out.

How did you find Maria Llovet, the book’s artist, and how did the three of you work together?

Hahn: A colleague of mine, Eric Harburn, actually discovered Maria’s work and shared it with me. I responded to it immediately. I feel like she has her own style going on but can also see references from Paul Pope or Manara or Eduardo Risso, but it also feels modern in the way she thinks about color the way she thinks about fashion the way that she thinks about space. It brings this youthful exuberance and energy to the story. When Eric showed me her work I was able to take that to Brian. When we were looking at artists and thinking about the tone and the feel, there was no one else that we responded to in the same way that we did Maria. We looked at her stuff and we knew what the story was going to be and it made sense. I think she felt the same way when we discussed the premise of the story with her and who these characters were. She brought her own ideas to it to flesh out the look and the feel of everyone.

Maria also colors her own work. Was that decided early on?

Hahn: Yes and no. She asked if she could color her own work and I didn’t want her to because of the demands of the schedule. It’s tremendously demanding and I wanted her to have the ability to focus on [drawing], but she felt passionately about doing her own color work. We were able to create a schedule that would accommodate that. She works hard and works fast – probably faster than anyone I’ve ever known. She’s remarkable in that regard. She can turn in five pages fully colored and they’re near perfection. She’s very easy to work with. When we discussed color it was, how do we use her sensibility to create tone. I think some of her palette choices are really soft, which is interesting for a horror comic but I think that feels like the energy of of a young woman discovering herself in New York City. The color choices may continue to change and evolve as we move about the series and move Faith’s world. I wanted to give her that opportunity but I didn’t want it to be something that would hold her back from doing her best work either and I think she’s proven herself. She can do this. I trust her.

I can hear your hesitation in describing future issues, but the tone and color and style of the first issue does not scream, this is a horror story.

Azzarello: I think that’s when horror works. At least for me. You set up a world and it’s completely based in reality, that’s believable, and then you throw the monkey wrench that happens to have devil’s wings into it.

Maria’s been posting a lot of art and design work on Twitter, and I’m curious how much of that is you leaving room in scripts for her to interpret or how much was you?

Azzarello: I really think that it’s so important to leave room for the artist to do their best work. I try to keep the art direction in my scripts as bare as possible. I’ve said it before that these people are not my hands, they’re my collaborators. I say stuff like where things are taking place, I wrote some of the little flourishes, but most of it’s all her. A panel description will be “Faith blushing.” I leave it open. It’s up to her. I think when I’m doing a good job with the dialogue, the artist understands how these characters behave and how they should deliver their lines. For me the dialogue is much more important – as far as portraying character – than any of the art direction.

Sierra, I’m sure that Brian has a way that he likes to work and you’re both collaborating with a young artist neither of you have worked with before, how do you coordinate and balance these different approaches?

Hahn: I feel spoiled on this project. It’s been remarkably easy. I feel like the three of us are speaking the same language. We’re all on the same page. I might say to Brian, what if we add this one piece of transitional dialogue? Brian’s open to hearing that. Sometimes he agrees and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he comes up with something one million times better – as he should. The thing with Maria, it’s about subtle shifts like where a hand is placed or changing something from purple to blue and how that changes that tone. I think all of us believe in these characters, we believe in this world. I think we’re having so much fun that we’re all really open to each other’s feedback, but to be honest there isn’t a tremendous amount of feedback that needs to happen because we’re connecting and vibing so well.

I will admit that when I first heard the title my first thought was, that was the western comic you wrote. But that was Loveless.

Azzarello: In a few years I’ll have Hopeless.

Hahn: Yes!

And then after that, Blameless?

Azzarello: We never had this conversation. [laughs]

I know you have to go, do you have any final words? Why should people read Faithless?

Azzarello: I never like doing that. [laughs] Sierra, you do it.

Hahn: I’m just going to speak from the heart. I’m falling for this character. I really am. There are aspects of Faith that really resonate with me – and my former 20 year old self or even my younger self. I feel protective of her, I feel excited for her and my hope is that that translates. That people can share that experience. That they’ll be worried for her and excited for her all at the same time. I don’t expect everyone to feel that way but I hope that people join in on the journey and the story and that they believe in Faith just a fraction of the amount that I have in her. Have Faith in Faith.

Faithless kicked off in April, and the first issue is available now from BOOM! Studios. Issue #2 arrives tomorrow.

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