LEE BERMEJO Tells a Dickens of a X-Mas Tale in BATMAN: NOEL

LEE BERMEJO Talks BATMAN: NOEL

 

For many comic fans, it's good to know there are more creative ideas coming out of DC Comics than just the much-hyped monthly "New 52."

One of those creative ideas is Batman: Noel, a new graphic novel that has an outside-continuity story, yet features a compelling artistic style. Set to be released on November 2nd, the book was created by Lee Bermejo, the artist who won notoriety for his hauntingly detailed work on the Brian Azzarello-penned book Joker and his ground-breaking Superman stories in Wednesday Comics.

After the success of Joker, DC gave Bermejo the creative license to write and draw his own graphic novel — something rare for artists in the age of superstar writers.

What resulted was Batman: Noel, a story that borrows its structure from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but gives the classic story the dark edge that's inherent in anything set in Gotham City. The "ghosts" that Batman encounters on his journey (Catwoman, Superman and Joker) may echo those from the familiar Dickens tale, but Bermejo twists the story to fit the haunted world of Gotham.

 

When DC revealed a few previews for the book earlier this month, it was clear that Batman: Noel was a labor of love for Bermejo, with stunning artwork that is jaw-droppingly detailed.

Newsarama talked with Bermejo — and got an exclusive Batman: Noel page from DC. And as we talked to the writer artist, we found out the artist wanted to use a more childlike theme for Batman: Noel, but his artistic approach is meant to give the book its markedly grown-up depth.

Newsarama: Lee, you'd mentioned in New York original idea for Batman: Noel came out of your desire to theme a graphic novel like a kids' book. Why?

Lee Bermejo: I just wanted to do something different than what I'd been doing. I had just come off two villain books, and even before that, I did a book called Batman Deathblow. And all these projects were very dark and serious and kind of gritty. I just wanted to try something a bit different. To do something that thematically was different too.

Nrama: But looking at the pages, this clearly isn't a kid’s book.

Bermejo: No, no. My wife makes fun of me when I mention kids, because she says, "If you think this Batman story is for kids, you clearly don't know kids, and it's pretty obvious we don't have children."

 

I don't think it's a children's book. But it has visual qualities and a narrative quality that mirrors that, purposefully so.

I think there's also something very interesting about that juxtaposition. It's hard to imagine Batman in a children's book. I like contrast, and I like juxtaposing things like that.

When I was a kid, like four or five years old, I was obsessed with the Batman TV show in the '60s. And I took it totally seriously. At that age, I took it completely seriously. I didn't get the fact that it was kind of played for laughs. I didn't understand why my mom was rolling her eyes or chuckling.

I think there's something kind of interesting there — to play the book seriously, but kind of wink and nod sometimes.

Nrama: And this is a play on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. So is that where there's a bit of a wink and a nod?

Bermejo: Sure. It's not an adaptation; it follows its own story. It follows the structure of A Christmas Carol. And you have a narrator who's telling you the story of A Christmas Carol and it's open to interpretation, and he gets some parts of it wrong. But the actual story you're following visually is its own thing.

 

It's about a desperate father who has fallen on hard times, and he gets a job working for the Joker. And he quickly realizes that that's not for him.

But Batman actually ends up using him as bait to catch the Joker. That's how the story begins.

Nrama: Are there actually three ghosts?

Bermejo: No, none of these characters are playing the actual Dickens characters.

 

But you'll see characters in the story who are analogous to the ghosts. There are characters who fit in with the roles that those ghosts play in Dickens. The "Ghost of Christmas Past" is a sequence with Catwoman. The "Ghost of Christmas Present" is a sequence with Superman, and the "Ghost of Christmas Future" is Joker.

The roles these characters play at that moment in the story help serve the same purpose that the ghosts serve in A Christmas Carol.

Nrama: Does it take place at any certain point in continuity? Like between two certain issues?

Bermejo: It doesn't necessarily fit into any particular continuity. It's hopefully something that any reader can pick up without having to know a ton about Batman.

I think the neat thing about these characters now is that everyone knows who Batman is. They're familiar with the fact that he's Bruce Wayne, and that the Joker is his arch-nemesis. They even know about Robin.

 

So this is a story that even someone who doesn't know anymore than that about Batman can pick up and understand and enjoy.

Nrama: Since you're both the writer and the artist on this series, what does that open up for you creatively, and what's the process like? A lot different than working with a writer?

Bermejo: Oh yeah. A lot different. I actually wrote the entire script, though, just for me, before I pitched it. It was kind of an exercise for myself.

I've wanted to write ever since I've gotten into comics. I wrote little things for myself when I was doing mini-comics and things, before becoming a professional.

But I just figure at some point or another, I've got to make the leap. I just have to do it.

Obviously, that's very different from how a lot of writer/artists work, having the story completely mapped out and finished before I started drawing.

At the same time, it's much easier, when you're beginning to illustrate it, to add or subtract as needed. There's no phone call or conference call to discuss it with the writer. You know what works with your own story.

Nrama: You mentioned earlier that your more recent work has been rather dark. How did you change things up for this book?

Bermejo: I definitely wanted to do something more lush with this book. I wanted a little bit more of a storybook nature to it. I wanted it more painter-ly and less traditional, particularly in terms of the storytelling style.

 

That's one of the reasons the book took so long to finish. Each of the pages was very involved.

I definitely wanted it to have a softer look than The Joker. That one was purposefully very angular and harsh looking, and even ugly in some parts. That was my intention.

This book, I wanted it to be much more pretty.

Nrama: I assume you probably didn't use as many darks and shadows? Or is that just inherent with a Batman story?

Bermejo: Yeah, I still did use a lot of shadows, but I think it reads differently for two reasons. When you're doing gray tones, things soften up a bit, just in general. Things become less harsh looking.

And secondly, I have to point out the colors on the book. Barbara Ciardo, the colorist, just did an absolutely amazing job. We just clicked. We started working together on Wednesday Comics, and that was a really great experience. This book in particular, it's like she just finished my sentences. We work very well together. She brings a quality to it that adds to that lushness.

Nrama: When you talk about the gray tones, is that the wash you're doing for Batman: Noel?

Bermejo: Yeah. I use ink wash and pencil rendering to kind of add some dimension to the characters. In this book in particular, in the backgrounds too, I tried to play with the concept of space a lot more and with the idea of Gotham being this big and dirty place. I think that's why the technique of it helps to make it feel more detailed and complete looking. It's the ink wash.

And in the back of the book, we have some sketchbook sections and art that shows how the book was made. So there are some examples of layouts and pencils and pencils and inks back there as well, so people can get an idea of what the process is like.

Nrama: Then to finish up, Lee, is there anything else you want to tell people about Batman: Noel?

Bermejo: Just that these characters are such a joy to work on and to explore in different ways. One of the reasons I think you can do a story like this is because an average reader already has an idea of who these characters are. So hopefully, it will be something that will appeal to comic book readers and non-comic book readers alike.

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