Everybody loves the underdog. Or do they?
With DC’s Doctor Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality — originally serialized in the eight-issue Tales of the Unexpected mini-series — writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang did the unprecedented and unexpected: They took characters long forgotten (or, in some cases, never remembered) in the mire of continuity and crossovers and slammed them together to create a kinetic, witty and – most importantly – FUN series that had no expectations or limitations.
Here, for your amusement, disgust and reading pleasure is an 11-part interview between Azz and Cliff, broken and sprinkled across the comic book press, where our beloved creators talk about their multi-layered story, the anxieties that come with being, well, creative in comics and hair plugs. Yes. But most of all, learn about how two guys tagged as “gritty” and “noir” created an energetic, colorful and off-the-wall story that made a gaggle of nobody characters into nobodies with at least one good story under their belts. Take it away, gentlemen.
BA: I know you gave each of these characters their own distinct personality. My question is, did you find any inspiration in previous versions of them?
CC: Sure. The original versions were all points of departure. Did we need to emphasize certain details, or tweak them? Anthro, for example, was such a pretty-boy caveman that I thought it would be a lot funnier to give him a horrendous overbite and a more prominent brow. The original Primate Patrol looked more like werewolves in torn uniforms, so I just turned them into real gorillas in tailored Nazi gear. I looked for real world versions of I… Vampire’s original costume, but his long blue frock coat and boots turned out to be pure fiction. So I gave him Regency period clothes that matched his romantic Goth leanings. Also, Sense and Sensibility was on cable a lot that month.
BA: Tax write-off alert…
CC: Genius Jones was pretty perfect from the start, so all we had to do was accentuate his home-made costume. Walt Simonson’s wonderfully detailed costume for Captain Fear needed no changes, so we just made him a bit more dashing to suit his role in the story. Traci needed to look hot and half-Asian, but less like a stripper. The strongest influence, though, was your unique take on the characters. They each had a distinct voice and personality, and you weren’t afraid to make them yours.
BA: The hell I wasn’t. The last thing I was trying to do was make these characters mine. All I was trying to do was give them a voice, so they could plead their cases before they disappeared forever.
CC: Well, at least you weren’t afraid to give them crazy accents. It made the world so much more colorful and I thought it was pretty brilliant – you have to stop and consider what’s being said, which really concealed some of the more risqué jokes. Once you get the hang of it, it’s like reading an Irvine Welsh novel. How’d you come up with that?
BA: Well it certainly was a way to slip by the censors. I did it because I love the way communication sounds, because it doesn’t always make sense, but it is understandable. Plus, it got at the whole “Tower of Babel” thing we were undermining.
CC: I’m kinda surprised at how people gravitate towards these characters. I’ll have a large version of the TPB cover up at a convention and they’re drawn to it even if they know nothing about Doctor 13. Kids, adults, men, women… Our friend, Vertigo editor Will Dennis, was telling me his kids and their friends love the book, can’t get enough of it. Do you think this might be your first all-ages work?
BA: If it is, I’m proud for it to be. But I’ve always thought I was writing for Mature Audiences of all ages. What would you teach your children about fist-fighting?
CC: I dunno, I’d have them ask their mother, probably. I generally try to avoid conflict, but I’m starting to find that works less and less for me in all areas of my life. I’m thinking about taking boxing lessons. You ever box?
BA: With my nose? As this project progressed, it took on a real Us against Them vibe for us personally. Life imitating art?