Burning Down The House – Ash and Azrael fan the flames
By Arnold T. Blumberg
In 1997, The year of the crossover part 2, comic book readers will witness some of their favorite characters and creators joining forces for the first time. With so much comic history being made, it will be difficult to decide where to look first for action and excitement, but if the logic behind one particular crossover pairing is any indication, the Ash/Azrael project spearheaded by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti will be one to watch. This one-shot, 48-page prestige format book scheduled for March will bring together the two characters who not only share an artist, but the same affinity for fire. Fan braved the heat to get the scoop from Quesada himself, though our intrepid interviewer seemed to have something else on his mind as well…
I’m going to see Star Trek: First Contact tonight!
Um…nothing. Let’s talk about the Ash/Azrael crossover.
Ok. What you have to look forward to is, without a doubt, the best of all the crossovers.I guarantee it.
Good selling point.
This crossover was based on complete and total logic. Jimmy Palmiotti and myself created Ash, Denny O’Neil and I created Azrael, and I had a hankering for drawing Azrael and Batman again. Since Azrael and ash are both fire based characters, it was a natural thing.
[While playing with a couple Borg figures] How did the project come about?
It started with a phone conversation with [DC Editor] Archie Goodwin. We were catching up, and I said if ever there was an opportunity for Ash and Azrael to meet, and possibly even get Batman involved, I would drop whatever I was doing to do it.
This is your first time back on Azrael since the Borg war of 2366. I mean uh, since you left the title.
Absolutely, and another bonus was coming back to DC. Working for DC remains one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever had in the comic book industry. The only other thing that would’ve been cooler is if we’d thrown the Ray in there too. But maybe somewhere down the line…
So what’s the story going to be?
Well, we’ve been discussing this for quite a while, making sure the team behind it was the best quality, and I told Denny I didn’t want to do a story where they meet, fight, and then become friends. So they’re friends from the onset. The book actually opens up with a big fire.
What? Aren’t the fire suppression systems working? I’d better get Geordi on that right away.
Uh, well, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. Anyway, will this crossover involve some sort of temporal rift or spatial distortion?
No, there’s no time portal or anything like that. We start in Gotham City, get a little Batman in there, and then Azrael comes to New York to meet up with Ash. He’s actually sent by Batman to clear his name in Batman’s eyes. Firefly and Oracle are in the book, and we created a new villain to antagonize our heroes.
This crossover arrives right in the midst of a wave of similar projects. Why do you think there’s so much ‘crossover mania’ these days?
I think it has to do with economics. Even the bigger companies are realizing that they should expand their relationships. But it also has to do with people saying, ‘let’s get back to having fun.’ There’s nothing to lose here, and readers finally get what they’ve been asking for all this time. The first set of Amalgam books for example were so much fun!
Yeah, why can’t they do that all year?
It’s almost like they were able to loosen up for a second, and not take it too seriously. I thought they were some of the most brilliant books of 1996.
Well, as we say goodbye to 1996, just what do we have to look forward to in 1997?
We’re committed to getting Ash out monthly. We have a plan that involves Humberto Ramos, Mark Waid, and Brian Augustyn. And this isn’t me abandoning my character. While Humberto is working ahead on Ash and getting momentum going, I’ll be working as well, with a story arc by James Robinson. So there will be Ash out on a monthly basis, and Humberto is kicking it all off for us, allowing me the time to finally get some books in the bag.
It sounds like Event is boldly going where it’s never gone before…schedule wise that is. You also have a lot of big players in the industry lined up to help you.
Whatever you want to call them, I think the most important thing is to roll the dice with these guys, you generally roll sevens 90% of the time in terms of story. In terms of respect, you roll sevens 100% of the time.
(Looks up from tricorder he’s fiddling with) Mm-hmm, sounds like a warp field equation.
(Closing tricorder) Nothing, forget it. When will we see these issues of Ash?
Mark, Brian, and Humberto’s first issue of Ash will probably be in May or June. Mark and Brian will also be working on another ongoing series for us, Painkiller Jane, drawn by Rich Leonardi. Before that comes out though, we have Painkiller Jane/Darkness crossover, a one-shot written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Amanda Conner. So you see again we shoot for the top.
Well sure, it’s always best to target the bridge area for maximum effect.
I’m not following…
What I mean is, you’re sticking with just two monthly books?
Yes, we’re not expanding to a thousand titles. Our aspirations are not to be Marvel or DC. We want to keep it small and manageable. It’s the same sort of goals Valiant started with, and when it was manageable it was good. When it became unmanageable it lost it’s charm.
Right, it mushroomed out of control, like a warp core explosion.
…Right. There’s only so many good creators out there, so there’sonly so many good books you can put out.
Why do you think all of these talented people are drawn to work with Event and Ash?
I think the draw has always been there. We’ve always had good relationships with all these creators, it was just a matter of working with everybody’s schedule. A year ago, we wouldn’t have been ready, but now things have started to gel. We’ve made a lot of mistakes at Event, and I’ve been the most guilty party in terms of lateness. When we first started, we solicited for our company before the books were even done. That was a big mistake, and the people who end up getting hurt are te retailers and the fans. I’m tired of blowing my commitment to all of them, so I’m stepping up to the plate and saying, ‘I’m taking the time to put some books in the bag, but I’ll be back. In the meantime, here’s someone who is really friggin’ good to draw the book.’ Plus the fact that me and Humberto have a standing bet – but we’ll let the fans decide. Humberto swears that he draws Ash better than I do, so we have a little bit of a grudge match going. I’ve already seen how he draws Ash, and I’ve got my work cut out for me.
Sounds like you’ll be in the trenches for a while.
You’ll still here from me, mostly with covers for Ash and editorials, so I’m not disappearing by any stretch of the imagination. The result is that next year, people will see two thigs they’ve never seen before. One, they’re going to see Ash monthly. Second, by the end of the year, they’re going to see me coming out monthly. Now that probably means the end of Western Civilization as we know it, so just hold onto your hats. It’s going to be really crazy.
Any desire to try other projects along the lines of Ash/Azrael with the big boys?
In terms of working with DC or Marvel, it has to have a certain appeal. The Ash/Azrael one was a natural and not just a paycheck. I didn’t know on Marvels’s door asking for an Ash/X-Men crossover.
Oh, that’s something we need.
I have no interest in it. It would be a huge paycheck, but that’s not what we’re about. We want what’s going to read and look best, and what’s going to work best for the characters. Besides, I don’t think that DC would’ve agreed to this if it wasn’t the perfect character matchup.
Besides which, it seems like many creators are rededicating themselves, as you are, to the utmost quality in their work.
I can’t speak for anybody else, but at Event, we’ve always been true to the fans when we guarantee that no book we put out will be of substandard quality. Even our new, creator-owned title that’s coming out Dave Ross’ Thrax, is a magnificent book, and we hope people will pick it up and give it a shot. We always stay true to that commitment.
That’s an admirable notion.
In the recent past, people have been late on books, which is a constant industry problem, especially for the smaller guys, or they’ve been putting gout schlock, for lack of a better…well actually a have a better word, but you know what I mean. We’ve never really stooped to the latter as far as I’m concerned, but we have been late, and I think it’s a case of the industry going through an evolutionary pattern. During the glut, there were a lot of people who really had no right drawing comics. Ten years ago they would’ve still been showing their portfolios around, so the industry is sort of digesting and getting rid of what it doesn’t need, and there were a lot of books that should have never been printed.
Now we’re weeding off the chaff.
Exactly, and I think it’s something that would inevitably make the industry stronger. I think all the publishers are realizing this is a natural progression, and the guys who are left are hopefully the ones who always do good work. Guys like Simonson, Chaykin – they’ll never want for work, and there’s a reason why they’ve been around for all these years. They’re still great.
Let’s alter course for a moment and come about on a bearing of…um, sorry. I’ve had some experience with conventions over the years (shining up his communicator pin), but what was your impression of the convention circuit this year?
It’s always enjoyable, but this was a rough year. Because of the political conventions and the Olympics, every con got slammed together within a week or two around the 4th of July. I was concerned too because I didn’t see kids at the cons up until New York. That was the brightest spot at the convention, the fact that there were little kids again. That was a really good sign to me, and it was a major concern. I talked to a bunch of people at the beginning of the year, and we were all wondering, ‘where are all the kids?’ everybody is sixteen or over, checking out all the half-naked spokesmodels.
(Looks up from a model of the Enterprise that he’s flying toward a Klingon ship, making torpedo sounds) Where?
At the conventions…
And I can’t blame them, but at the New York con, I was the first autograph ever for about three kids, and that’s never happened to me. At the Event booth, I was telling our employees that any kid they see on line who looks to be about seven or younger can cut the line and they each get a free book. These kids are the future of our industry, so we have to plant the seeds again and get it growing.
Is that an influence on what you choose to portray in your comics?
Absolutely, and especially with Ash, we have a certain set of guidelines that we adhere to, sort of our own Event Comics Code for Ash.
Ahh, regulations, excellent. My favorite is the Prime Derective.
Ummmm..So no half-naked spokesmodels for you?
Not in Ash, but maybe at my house later. But that’s beside the point. Our Ash-universe books are a little more family-oriented. With a fireman superhero there’s a little bit more responsibility I need and want to take. The shame about the industry today is that aside from Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, there really haven’t been any conic characters created in years. As wonderful and successful a book as Spawn is, the mothers of America will never embrace that character, and I think Todd McFarlane knows it. With Ash and our deal with Spielberg’s Dreamworks company to adapt the character to film, we have a good chance to turn it into something that will hopefully last longer than I do.
Yes, something that lives long and prospers. Do you think 1997 will see some positive changes for the comic book industry as a whole?
I’d like to think that things are turning around. There used to be a point where you could predict which books would sell and which books wouldn’t sell. But this has been such a year volatile year, I don’t even want to hypothesize. I’m just wishing everybody well, and I hope it’s a good year for all of us. We’ll just see how it goes.
I agree, we should all just relax and enjoy the infinite diversity of the industry and the ways in which we combine to form meaning, and beauty. (Shows off his IDIC medallion and grins).
Right…I think. We can’t take ourselves so seriously. It’s comic books! It was always meant to be fun. It was fun when I was a kid, and it’s still fun for me today. Even the tactile smell and feel of a brand new comic book, especially on cheesy newsprint, means something to you.
Ahh yes, just like the warm tingle of a transport cycle…
What is with you?
Thanks for your time, and good luck in the new year.