Remember your last happy hour conversation. What was it like? Sat down with a buddy, shootin’ the s--t. Starts with some small talk, then a little bit of, “How’s work been going?” A couple pints in, and the conversation opens up to a broader topic — probably about what you’re drinking.
Now imagine instead of Joey from the block, you’re chatting with legendary comic book creator and co-writer of Dark Knight III: The Master Race, Brian Azzarello. AiPT! was lucky enough to have just such a conversation, although sadly not over beers, while discussing Azzarello’s new Image Comics project with artist Simon Bisley, a mini-series called Alpha King that’s centered on the characters created by the 3 Floyds Brewing Company of Munster, Indiana.
Submitted for your Friday eye-opener is that conversation. Cheers.
Russ Dobler: The important question we’ve gotta get out of the way first is, besides Alpha King, what’s your favorite beer?
Brian Azzarello: Uh, [3 Floyds] Zombie Dust? [laughs]
Dobler: [laughs] That’s a good answer, too. What kinds of beers do you like, typically?
Azzarello: Man … a good beer, how’s that? [laughs]
Dobler: [laughs] Just anything under that umbrella.
Azzarello: Well, you know, there’s certain breweries that always sort of, like — I like what they do. 3 Floyds being, like, number one, but I’m also a big fan of what Surly does. I like the Bruery, in California. Firestone Walker is also, like, super solid. Mikkeller — I like what he does, too.
Dobler: Oh yeah, they’re one of my favorites.
Azzarello: Oh man, if you ever get a chance to go to any one his pubs in Copenhagen, don’t miss it.
Dobler: [laughs] I’ll keep that in mind. So how did this collaboration come about? Did you ever think you’d be writing a book about a warrior king from a beer bottle?
Azzarello: No, but now that I am, I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it earlier.
Dobler: Did you know Nick Floyd? He’s the brewmaster, and I guess he’s the one that kind of put this together. Did you kind of pitch something to him, or what happened?
Azzarello: No, it was Barnaby Struve who put us together. Barnaby used to be a brewer there, now he’s a consultant to the brewery. Like most bad ideas, it came to be over a bar stool.
Dobler: So did he know you, then? How did the hook-up happen?
Azzarello: Barnaby and I met at a comic convention. Those guys [at 3 Floyds] are big into comics. There’s a lot of crossover between beer and comics. All this stuff — beer, comics, metal, tattoos, wrestling ….
Dobler: You see, that’s funny. Usually when I talk to beer people, people who are really into beer — when I tell them I’m a metal fan, they kind of take a step back. They seem to think that beer is all about jam bands and that sort of stuff.
Azzarello: Well, you know you’re not talking to the right person. Look, Todd [Haug] at Surly’s in a band.
Dobler: That’s cool. And yeah, you’re right, this isn’t the first time that comics have sort of gotten into 3 Floyds … because I know Tim Seeley did the label for Zombie Dust.
Azzarello: Yeah, Tim was part of this, originally, but his schedule didn’t permit.
Dobler: Oh, okay. But now you’re working with Simon Bisley, right?
Azzarello: Yeah, that’s not really, you know — I don’t think our art took a hit.
Dobler: Right. And it’s funny, though — you haven’t worked with him a lot before. Maybe only once or twice?
Azzarello: Never worked with Simon before.
Azzarello: Yeah, it’s the first time. We met, it was three, four years ago. It was a convention in Poland. We hit it off. We hit it off because we tended to keep the same hours.
Dobler: That’s kind of weird, because both of you guys have been doing it forever and you only, kind of crossed paths for this one, huh?
Azzarello: Yeah, yeah. It’s good; we’re having a great time. Simon’s killing it, man, ugh.
Dobler: So what is the story about?
Azzarello: It’s basically, in real broad strokes — you know Floyds’ labels; all their beers are characters. They’re all kind of named after somebody. And the artwork just totally plays into comic book storytelling. Nick had a mythology for all these characters anyway. This was just getting … I don’t want to say a “cohesive” universe, because it’s anything but cohesive, but, “let’s create a universe where all these characters can interact,” which is what we did.
Azzarello: So the first one is sort of the birth of Alpha King, how it came to be.
Dobler: Right. And some of the promotional copy says that, “A beer attracts the attention of a monstrous king and his horrid minions from another dimension.” It sounds pretty intense.
Azzarello: Yeah. Well, wait ’til you see who that king is.
Azzarello: And his horrid minions.
Dobler: So there’s intrigue here that we don’t realize yet.
Azzarello: Let’s just say one of the minions has a bright, orange Mohawk and wears shades.
Dobler: Ooooooh. I think I know where you’re going with this. I won’t say anything. [both laugh] Spoiler, for anybody who’s really into beer.
Azzarello: If you’re really into beer, you shouldn’t even know what I’m talking about.
Dobler: [laughs] So what kind of beer do you think Batman would drink?
Azzarello: Oh, God. He wouldn’t.
Dobler: You don’t think so? Not a nice barrel-aged stout, or something like that?
Azzarello: Hmmm … maybe. I don’t think so. You know — nah, Batman’s a wine-drinker. And not ’til he gets older, too. That dude’s wine and scotch; come on.
Dobler: Yeah, that’s a good point. But hey, we’re getting there. We’re getting to that level of prestige. Maybe one day.
Azzarello: Maybe he’d try Cantillon and say, “Oh, that’s okay.”
Ready for that beer yet, Bruce? Dark Knight III variant cover by Tyler Kirkham
Dobler: You said Nick Floyd is really big into comics. How involved has he been in this process? Has he kind of given you guys direction, or did he just kind of say, “Go nuts”?
Azzarello: Just yesterday I was down at the brewery, and we were plotting out the next couple issues. This is a collaboration. He’s in on this. Mostly I’m doing the heavy lifting, as far as the story goes — putting it all together. That’s what I do. That’s my job. That’s my lot in life.
Dobler: You said that this is the first of maybe a few characters coming. Can you kind of let us know what might be next after Alpha King?
Azzarello: Let’s see; who’s in the first one? Razorhoof, Skull’Ole, War Mullet, Alpha King …. And then in the second issue, Arctic Panzer Wolf makes an appearance. Dark Lord’s gonna show up before the end of the first story arc. We’re throwing ’em all in here.
Dobler: You’d think Dark Lord would have been the villain. You’d think that would be the Dr. Doom character for the 3 Floyds universe.
Azzarello: That’s something we talked about when I started this. These guys are all kind of, like, bad-asses. They could all be bad guys. But we can’t do that, so …. It took a little bit of finessing, not much, but I guess it depends on whose side of the war you’re on.
Dobler: So there’s natural allegiances, I guess, between the characters, depending on their outlooks?
Azzarello: Yeah, that’s why — I mean, we had to come up with a villain that made sense. What would all of these, sort of … anti-hero characters — what would bring them together? So we had to come up with a villain. And we came up with a really good villain. It makes total sense.
Dobler: You said you just took a trip down to the brewery. You’re right there in Chicago, so you’ve got plenty of access to 3 Floyds — the brewery and the beers, right?
Dobler: I’m way out in New York. What kind of superpowers do you think you can use to get them to distribute out here?
Azzarello: [laughs] Man, I don’t know.
Dobler: It’s one of those things — if you live here, any time you get 3 Floyds is almost an event. It’s like something has come down from Heaven, it’s so rare.
Azzarello: Where are you in New York?
Dobler: New York City suburbs, I guess you could say.
Azzarello: Okay. You know, you’re getting some good breweries there now. I think — Other Half, is that the name?
Dobler: Other Half’s amazing.
Azzarello: Yeah, they make really good beer.
Dobler: Yeah, they really do. Especially IPAs; they’re really killing it with the IPAs.
Azzarello: Yeah, they’re the ones that do the SingleCut Billy, right?
Dobler: No, SingleCut is their own brewery — also very good!
Azzarello: That’s right. Transmitter’s another one you guys have up there, right?
Dobler: Yep, Transmitter’s here. I think they mostly [make] Belgian [beers]; I’m not sure.
Azzarello: Yeah, I think they’re saisons and sours.
Dobler: There’s great stuff everywhere.
Azzarello: You guys are behind. Despite what the motherfuckers in Brooklyn might think. You guys are really behind. [both laugh]
Dobler: Yeah, the problem is — there’s finally breweries starting to pop up in Manhattan. They’re not brewing in Manhattan, because it’s just too expensive. It’s hard to get a space that’s big enough in the city. That’s the real issue.
Azzarello: Yeah, yeah. Other Half — are they in Queens, is that right?
Dobler: I think they’re based in Manhattan. They might brew in Queens, or Brooklyn, or something like that. [NOTE: Other Half is based in Brooklyn.] A lot of people brew in Brooklyn now.
Azzarello: Yeah, well Brooklyn Brewery’s been there forever.
Dobler: They do most of their big production upstate, though. They kind of have to.
Azzarello: Garrett Oliver [of Brooklyn Brewery] has been a huge proponent of this for years.
Dobler: From way back, yeah. Say what you will about Brooklyn, but they’ve been doing it forever.
Azzarello: You know, they’re like one of those breweries like Great Lakes or Bell’s — they’ve been around forever, and they just do what they do really, really well.
Dobler: Right. And on a large scale, or, in the case of Bell’s a growing scale. We just got Bell’s recently, too.
Azzarello: Yeah, they’re expanding a lot. You can come to Chicago. Didn’t — I think Half Acre just went into New York now, if I’m not mistaken.
Dobler: I’m not sure. [NOTE: Yes, they have.] I might’ve seen one around. [NOTE: Likely Daisy Cutter Pale Ale.]
Azzarello: I know Off Color’s there. I’ve seen them there.
Dobler: I don’t know them.
Azzarello: Oh, they’re pretty small here, right now. It’s John Laffler, who used to be … in the barrel program at Goose Island. So he knows his stuff.
Dobler: But it’s weird sometimes, because I think New York has a lot of regulations, and breweries kind of don’t want to deal with it all the time. And I know 3 Floyds especially — they’re not always so expansion-minded, it seems like.
Azzarello: No, they’re not. If Nick gets a whiff of any sort of politicking going on, he flips the bird and walks away.
Dobler: Which, if you can do that, more power to him. But, at the same time, it’s almost nice keeping 3 Floyds as kind of like that grail beer, because when we started getting Bell’s, it was like, “Oh my God, I can get Two-Hearted [Ale] anytime!” And then it was like, “Oh, I’m having Two-Hearted again.”
Azzarello: Right. Yeah, sure, because here — I would love for Russian River to come here. But they’re not here. You guys get Hillstead Farms, right? [NOTE: Actually Hill Farmstead.]
Dobler: Yes we do. [laughs] So there’s one in our column.
Azzarello: Yeah, we don’t get that one. But whenever I’m in New York — what bars do I go to? I’m in New York about once a month, and I always end up staying in Manhattan. So I’ll hit the Pony Bar, Ginger Man sometimes …
Dobler: Pony gets crowded, though. Pony gets crowded, especially around quittin’ time.
Azzarello: Pony I’ve always had an easy time with. Going to the Ginger Man? Oh, jeez.
Dobler: Yeah. They’ve got that reputation.
Azzarello: Blind Tiger — that’s a great bar.
Dobler: I really like Rattle ‘N’ Hum; I don’t know if you’ve ever been there.
Azzarello: I’ve been to both.
Dobler: It’s a good location. It’s probably the closest to get to from Penn Station.
Azzarello: The new one, right?
Dobler: The one on 33rd [Street]. I haven’t been to the West one yet.
Azzarello: That’s on 39th. You can stumble to Penn Station. [both laugh]
Dobler: And sometimes you might have to.
Azzarello: Yeah, it’s on 39th, just west of 8th [Avenue].
Dobler: When you travel, do you ever make it a point to seek out the beer there that you can’t get anywhere else?
Azzarello: I always make it a point to seek out beer I can’t get anywhere else. Yeah, absolutely.
Dobler: What’s been your biggest find?
Azzarello: Well, when I go to New York, I like SingleCut and I like Other Half. SingleCut I think I like more than Other Half. SingleCut’s more — I like the hop-driven beer that they make. Grimm is not bad, either.
Dobler: You mentioned Surly before. Surly’s from Minnesota. Do they distribute to Chicago, or do you have to make a pilgrimage for that?
Azzarello: No, they distribute. They were distributing, then they pulled back, and I guess they built new facilities, and [now] they’re back in the market. Which is great. I’m happy to have them.
Dobler: Yeah, I’ve never had the pleasure, unfortunately.
Azzarello: Oh, it’s good beer. Very good beer. [pause] Got any more comic questions? [both laugh]
Dobler: No, we can keep going with beer. [both laugh] Do you see a lot of these kind of collaborations between comics people and beer people coming in the future? Do you think there’s a trend coming?
Azzarello: Man, I don’t know. You have to have a brewery that is creating characters, you know? That’s why 3 Floyds is natural. All their beers are characters.
Dobler: So do you think it’s kind of a marketing strategy on Nick Floyd’s part, or is this just something that he thought would be cool to do?
Azzarello: It is absolutely not a marketing strategy. Not at all. He made that very clear from the get-go, when we sat down. Because I didn’t want to do a marketing strategy, myself. We’ve got all these cool characters — let’s tell a story, you know?
Dobler: You’ve got all the characters, might as well do something with them.
Azzarello: Yeah. Nick is big into [Dungeons and Dragons]. I think he plays it every week. He’s coated in D & D tattoos. He’s a storyteller.
Dobler: So the whole brewing thing was really just a backdoor into getting comics made.
Azzarello: You know … actually, I think it was more a backdoor into getting really cool bands to play at a stage outside his brewery. And hey, sure, we’ll do the comics, too.
Dark Lord Day 2015, from craftbeer.com
Alpha King #1 will be officially released on Wednesday, May 4, but both Azzarello and Bisley will be signing copies TOMORROW at 3 Floyds’ annual Dark Lord Day festival, which also features performances from bands Municipal Waste, EYEHATEGOD, Skeletonwitch and more. It’s Nick Floyd’s scheme come to ultimate fruition!