An Interview with Joe Quesada
By: Jek Tezak
Joe Quesada has designed our hero and the Azrael version of Batman as well. We have some questions for you Joe, related to the creation of Azrael and the Knightfall storylines. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule at Marvel Comics to do this interview.
In creating the Azrael character in the visual sense, what things helped you design the character?
When I received the assignment I went that very same day to a military bookstore here in NYC called Sky Books, heck I don’t even know if they’re still around? Anyway, I picked up as many books as I could find on mediaeval warfare and knights and such and started my visual work there. All I was told by Denny and Archie with respect to art direction was that we needed an old Azrael and a new Azrael so when the son takes over the mantle. Oh, and Denny wanted a this guy to have a flaming sword!
What costume did you design first: Azrael/Batman Knightsend, Azrael/Batman Knightquest, Azrael updated, or Azrael ancient version?
Ancient Azrael came first because I wanted to work in sequence and I wanted to design the modern version in a logical fashion. Once the Ancient design was complete, I would then look at ways of streamlining and modernizing it for the young Knight of the Order of Saint Dumas on the go. After that was done, Denny’s art direction with respect to AzBat was to design the most outrageously over the top, near impossible Batman war machine costume that I could think of. He wanted me to go nuts but the costume had to be modular so that there was a bare bones version that could have gear added onto it as Jean Paul started to lose a grip on being Batman. I don’t know how many people know that the costume was designed to echo his mental state or rather the breaking down of his mental state. So, my approach on AzBats was opposite of Azrael. I design the final version and then broke it down to the bare bones version which was going to be the first version seen by the fans.
I noticed that the final Azrael/Batman costume changed during Knightquest. It was a different look than what we seen in the Wizard magazines. Did you redesign the helmet and suit of Knightsend Batman?
See above, it was designed to grow with Jean Paul. What was funny about the costume is that it was design to suit my art style and a lot of other artist had trouble with it. It was too complex in many ways to draw economically panel after panel. I swear I could hear Batman artists across America cursing my name for those designs.
How many different designs did you have of the new Batman?
Here’s a little history. At that time in my life, all the top artist were going to Image or were living at Marvel, all I wanted to do was draw Batman. I wanted to be one of the regular guys on one of the regular Batman titles at the time. I told Denny and everyone there that I would make Batman a top 10 book if they gave me the gig. Well, they didn’t but what they offered me was Azrael which wasn’t going to have too much Batman in it. What it did have to offer was three things, Denny was writing it, Archie was editing it and if I took the job, I would get to design the new Batman! Then we got Kevin Nowlan and I couldn’t say no. So, all the while that I was drawing the Az series, I knew that I was going to be designing the AzBats war machine and all the while I was working it out in my head. I do most of my work like that. By the time it came time to design AzBat I was pretty much set on the design. There might have been some sketchy throw-away stuff but most of the work was done in a few passes.
Did you know what you wanted Azrael and the new Batman to look like before you started?
Azrael took research and AzBats, as I said, was in the works mentally.
I heard stories about how involved you were with the creation of Azrael. I’ve heard that you suggested inkers, colorists, and letterers. Tell us a little bit on how your bosses reacted to your enthusiasm.
Well, if you folks know me now, I wasn’t any less enthusiastic then. I love what I do and it’s always been fun for me. I remember suggesting Kevin Nowlan, which at the time was like suggesting the King of England. At that time in Kevin’s career, he was amazingly respected as an artist and designer but Kevin wasn’t doing much in comics that we were aware of. He was one of those geniuses that graced our industry for a tiny bit and was too slow to produce regular work. Therefore, I believe that most people were skittish about using him. They also figured why would a master like Kevin lower himself to ink some punk like me? Truth be told, I thought the same. Still, the major concern was would Kevin deliver on his deadlines especially over a newcomer who wasn’t great with them either. I had Kevin ink a couple of pin-ups I did at Marvel a few months earlier and my attitude was that it couldn’t hurt to call the guy! So when Kevin accepted we were off and rolling. I believe that Archie recommended the rest of the team but I was reasonably involved in all aspects of process. Since Denny was working full script, I also marked balloon placements since I was designing the artwork to work around them.
Do you have any little known facts or secrets that fans don’t know about the Bat-summit meetings or the creation of Azrael/Knightfall?
You mean aside from all the stuff I just revealed? Okay, I’ll tell you three stories I don’t think I’ve ever told publicly.
When Denny suggested the flaming sword of Azrael he was expecting both versions to have long flaming broad swords. When he and Archie saw Ancient Azrael first they loved him and said, “Looks great, let’s see the dad’s costume!” I was like, “Uh, guys, this is the dad.” When I whipped out the design for young Azrael, I think Denny more than anyone was a bit disappointed, not because I think he didn’t like the way it looked but because it looked different than what he expected or perhaps had in his minds eye. Still, I think it grew on him over time. I thought it was the most inspirational part of the design and really worked around the idea. The idea of course sprung from the concept behind Wolverine’s claws which always gave the character a great iconic profile but never made sense to me in execution. How can he bend his arms at the elbow when those things are retracted? So I thought about how cool something like Wolvie’s claws would be on fire and in a contraption that made sense. I’m still very proud of the Azrael costume, I think even to this day it looks like nothing else out there.
Then there was the Wizard AzBat cover! I received a call from Wizard asking me to do a cover with the new AzBat costume on it. I was thrilled and the person I was dealing with said that it was all cleared. I killed myself on that cover and I was pretty happy with it at the time. But something was nagging me and I called Patty Jeres, who is one of my favorite people up there. I said, “Patty, you gave Wizard approval to show AzBat right? I was told you guys approved the assignment?” As it turned out both parties had their signals crossed and stuff was approved but not quite what I was assigned to draw.. So I got Wizard to send me the cover back and I had to do it all in silhouette which still looked pretty good.
The other never before told AzBat story happens right around the time I hand in the final pencil designs for the new AzBat war machine. I hand delivered them by hand and I’m not sure if I gave them to Denny or Archie, probably Denny. Regardless, I was given a crappy faded Xerox copy of my pencils and they kept the originals. Well, some time goes by, and please keep in mind that Batman and Daredevil are my absolute favorite characters, and for some reason even though I called editors I can’t seem to get any Batman work. Also, a weird thing happens around this time, let me preface this by saying that this was right around the time of multiple distributors. There was Diamond, Capital and many smaller ones. So, one day I hear that some distributor, I believe in Hawaii has leaked the AzBat design in their catalog, this floored me because we were guarding this stuff like it was plans for a safe, clean nuclear reactor. I was pretty surprised by this but just figured some intern must have gotten a hold of the stuff off of someone’s desk and faxed it around. Okay, now here I am trying to get Batman work and it doesn’t come for at least a year.
A year later I get a Batman gig, I forget what the assignment was, perhaps a cover or a pin-up piece, I’ve forgotten. Anyway, when I handed in the piece an officer of the company asked me if I was glad the ban was finally over. I said, “Ban? Over? What are you talking about?” This person then proceeded to show me a document signed by someone in the Sales and Marketing department, who shall remain nameless, saying that I was to be prohibited from working on any Bat related things for a certain amount of time. It stated that I had leaked the designs to a distributor and they had placed it in their catalog. Now, what really kills me is not the ban, because if I had actually done what they said I had done then I would have understood and accepted my punishment. What killed me aside from the fact that I didn’t do it was that no one called me to ask if I did. No one even called me to tell me I was being punished, I just was.
You would think that someone like me who understood the importance of secrets and who had proven it by not revealing that Azrael was going to become Batman, that Batman was going to have his back broken and held on to that secret for a year and a half, could certainly keep themselves from faxing off drawings of the top secret redesigned Batman. The truth of the matter is that those drawings were probably sent off or ordered to be sent off by the same idiot in Sales and Marketing that had me banned in the first place. Realizing their mistake they needed a fall guy and I was fairly convenient. And, yes, this person is still there and they’ve probably been wondering for the last couple of years why I hate them so. Maybe now they’ll understand why.
Who created the symbol for the new Batman?
That would be me! I was so thrilled when I saw that on a T-shirt!
Did you suggest ideas where Azrael could go in terms of story direction?
Only slightly. I was too new to the game and too respectful of Denny and Archie to get into their business. My job was to tell the story in the clearest manner possible. Working with Denny and Archie was one of the highlights of my career, I can’t tell you how much I learned about story and story telling from those guys. To this day, my experience with Archie has help me create the template and the basis for my editorial vision at Marvel Knights and Marvel.