Lee Bermejo: Man Who Draws JOKER
Author: Jett
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

EDITOR'S NOTE: On October 22nd 2008, DC Comics will release the graphic novel JOKER. Heres’ the official synopsis: After yet another stint in Arkham Asylum, The Joker finds "his city" divided among mobsters and costumed villains. Not content to settle for a piece of the pie, The Joker vows to take back the whole damn enchilada by any means necessary. Look for appearances by a slew of Gotham's most wanted, including gritty takes on Two-Face, Riddler, Killer Croc, Penguin, Harley Quinn and even Batman!

BOF’s good friend Lee Bermejo is the artist behind this project and he agreed to a third interview with BOF to discuss this and some of his other projects.

Oh yeah, we also talked about a little film you might have heard of this Summer: THE DARK KNIGHT! - Jett

JETT: Lee! Thanks again for the opportunity to interview you -- for the third time! (If you missed the previous two interviews I've done with Lee...BOF/BERMEJO INTERVIEW #1 and BOF/BERMEJO INTERVIEW #2. Enjoy!) I’ve got to say that I’m stoked for JOKER, but first I’ve GOT to ask you your take on THE DARK KNIGHT.

LB: “I thought it was fantastic! I really, really loved it! Surprisingly enough, I found Harvey Dent to be the most enjoyable character. I was really expecting to have The Joker completely steal the film, but [Aaron] Eckhart did a fantastic job of providing the heart and soul of the story. Ledger was brilliant, as was Gary Oldman.”

JETT: Clearly, there’s going to be a sequel to TDK. What would you like to see in the future in regards to villains, plotlines, etc. with the next film?

LB: “Well, I gotta say I would prefer them to do something a bit different with a third movie.

I think it would be fantastic to go completely against format and open up the film even more. Maybe set the film a few years after the events in TDK and have Gotham be completely transformed into a 'freak' city. You could have villains a plenty that don't necessarily need an entire film or a lot of attention or complicated back story.

I don't think I need to see an entire film with The Penguin or The Riddler. They would work for me much better as members of a much larger cast of characters that would comprise the new Gotham underworld. It would be a look at how Gotham criminal element has changed and evolved to deal with Batman.

One of the fantastic things about TDK was the fact that they really dealt with a larger cast of characters. Even Gordon got a surprising amount of screen time and I would love to see them continue this trend.

I guess PULP FICTION would have the closest format and narrative structure to what I would like to see with a third Batman film. Various storylines that would all intertwine and converge in the end.

JETT: OK, JOKER. How long did you work on this project and tell us a little about it…at least what you can tell us about it! I believe you told me beforehand that it’s “out of continuity,” right? It’s not an “ELSEWORLDS” tale though?

LB: “The graphic novel took me almost two years to finish, while working regularly on HELLBLAZER, DAREDEVIL, and various other cover gigs. The story basically let's you take a ride with The Joker for a few days. The narrator is a small time thug who wants to be like The Joker. It's safe to say that he learns a thing or two along the way about his 'hero!‘

It's definitely the most intense and adult thing I've ever worked on in terms of content. I think we've beaten that bell a few too many times but it is something that became a defining element of the story... the violence. I mean, we actually had to talk about a few different scenes and figure out if it was something we wanted to do as creators...stepping over certain lines. It's just such an integral part of who the character is. He is BAD, BAD man. I'm actually hoping that the story doesn't glorify him in any way to the reader. I think he's such a popular character that people sometimes lose sight of the fact that you would NEVER want to meet this guy in real life.

It's definitely NOT an “ELSEWORLDS’ story. The story fits into the same kind of space that other books we've done like LEX LUTHOR or BATMAN/DEATHBLOW take place in. It leaves it more up to the reader where they would like to see it make sense if they really feel the need to fit it into continuity.

Personally, I always feel like the stories I do with Brian [Azzarello] take place in the Azzarello/Bermejo DC Universe ! In all seriousness, though, we've been lucky enough to have the freedom to operate in our own space and make these characters something more personal to us. Hopefully they can exist on their own without alienating any hardcore fans. I remember telling Brian about halfway through the story that it felt more like a creator owned book that a major, corporate property.

Props BIG TIME to DC Comics for being so incredibly cool -- not to mention our fearless editor Will Dennis for helping this thing develop into what people will be holding in their hands in less than a month.”

JETT: From the images I’ve seen of The Joker from JOKER…well first of all, I love it! Can you tell us about how you approached this version of The Joker? Any inspirations?

LB: Like I said in the previous interviews, I think visually my version of the Joker comes from looking at the ‘Black Dahlia’ crime scene photos. They just really had a guttural, deep effect on me. It was disturbing and sad at the same time. I also like the idea of portraying him as a more real person. This just makes him even more scary and powerful as a character to me. Posture and movement wise, I wanted the guy to have the lanky lumber that Bill the Butcher had in GANGS OF NEW YORK. Acting-wise, he was like a cross between Christopher Walken and Keith Richards for me.

Trish Mullvihill colored the book, and just took the ball and went with it! She really came up with an interesting pallet for the piece as well as for The Joker himself. Everything from his skin tone to his lips to his eye shadow was really carefully studied and controlled by Trish.”

JETT: We once talked about the The Joker being -- or not being -- “permawhite.” And there was such a big uproar amongst a portion of the Batman fanbase over the fact that The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT wore makeup -- which I found ridiculous, by the way. So what’s the deal with The Joker in JOKER? Makeup? Fall into a vat of chemicals? Or just “Is?”

LB: “One of the most enduring things about The Joker as a character is his mystery. This is what makes him so open for various interpretations. I find that the less you know about him, the more you want to know so I would hesitate to even try and figure out where he came from and how he became what he is.

Brian and I NEVER discussed this, nor did we have any interest in it. Even the whole THE KILLING JOKE angle isn't satisfying to me, personally. The Joker is like the concept of crime or villainy itself -- you can come up with a million reasons why it might exist but not a single one could be the 'defining' origin of crime.”

JETT: In the last interview that we did together, you said that The Joker “Has white skin, green hair, red lips, wears purple, and kills people.” Whenever someone complained to me about the direction they took with The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT, I responded to them with that quote as I found it very profound. In fact, I had a lot of people email me to tell me that that comment really hit home with them when it came to The Joker. What’s your thoughts on that?

LB: “People sometimes tend to get so caught up in the details that they forget about the basic ingredients that makes these characters who they are. I mean, my Mom probably doesn't know where The Joker comes from, but she knows that he has white skin, red lips, green hair, and is an evil dude.

One of the things that gave me great pleasure was watching some pissed off fans turn around when it came to actually seeing the Joker on screen.”

JETT: Amen to THAT bro!

“There was quite a bit of hate flying around initially because some people just want to see what they've been shown a million times before. It's comfortable to them. That's totally cool, but that's not what I want. I want to see these characterss evolve. A perfect example of this is the Nite Owl costume design in the WATCHMEN film. People are up in arms because he's not pudgy looking -- yet the fact that he's pudgy in the graphic novel is not his 'defining' characteristic. He's just a dude who is past his prime and has gone soft. There are plenty of other ways to show this than just having the dude look chubby in spandex.

We are finally getting to a point with comic book movies where they really are becoming more like the comics themselves not just in terms of content, but also in the sense that different artistic approaches and creative choices are excepted by even the widest audiences. I don't think many people think that BATMAN ’89 and TDK take place in the same universe. Audiences can except the fact that you can retell a character’s story and it can still function and stand on its own.

I'd like to think there will be plenty of other film incarnations of both Batman AND The Joker. Bring 'em all on!”

JETT: In JOKER, other classic Batman rogues make appearances. Tell us a little about that and your spin on these characters.

LB: “Yeah, we got to tackle most of the major Batman villains in this. It really put in perspective the power of those individual characters for me. I mean, I really couldn't stand The Riddler -- I just didn't get him. Brian came up with a take on him that I think works for my sensibilities. I wouldn't say that I'd want to draw an entire story with him, but now I definitely developed a whole new appreciation for him.

It's safe to say that our Harley Quinn is radically different than anything that's been done before. She is deadly, deadly, deadly and completely the 'Bonnie' to The Joker's 'Clyde.‘ Another example of a character who didn't quite work for me, but then you look at reality and there are plenty of women who fall in love with bad, bad men and do their share of Hell-raising. I definitely don't think of her as just the sexy, bad girl either. Hopefully people will really get that in the story. She may not say a word, but definitely serves a purpose beyond being eye candy.

Even Two-Face has his own spin. Here you have a guy who knows all the ins and outs of the law and how to break the rules. He could have the entire city at his fingertips, running the show, yet can't trust anyone, let alone himself. He's much more ambiguous in our book. You can't figure out what side of the fence he's on.

And then you've got the big guy himself, The Batman. He's a handful. Gotta take this chance to thank Jeff Fowler for actually creating the Batman mask I used for reference. Brian really did a good job of pulling off his presence, without needing to have him all over the book. Let's just say the last line of the book says it all!”

JETT: Are you reading any Batman comics regularly? If so what are they? And do you read anything non-Batman on a regular basis?

LB: “No, not currently reading any of the bat books, but this has more to do with the fact that they are hard to come by over here in Italy than anything else. Non-Batman wise, I finally read the ULTIMATES -- I know, like five years too late. Also been re-reading some of the PREACHER trades -- LOVE that stuff! Finished the first trade of SCALPED a month or so ago and enjoyed that immensely. Brubaker's Daredevil stuff is also tickling my fancy at the moment as well.”

JETT: What about a “dream project” -- something that you’d REALLY like to work on?

LB: “Oh most definitely!

LB: "A number of them. I have a few creator owned things I would like to do in the next couple of years. I'd also LOVE to adapt the novel IT’S SUPERMAN by Tom De Haven into graphic novel format. There's also a certain Batman graphic novel that I'll talk more about in a bit.”

JETT: Gotta ask: Who is your favorite character in comics -- hero, villain, etc.?

LB: “Probably Batman -- although The Joker DEFINITELY ranks up there with the best of the best for me. I've never had as good a time on a project as I did drawing this evil mofo! I also really like Superman quite a bit. He's just really the defining piece of modern American pop culture, along with Mickey Mouse. That carries a lot of weight. Oddly enough, I like him more and more as I get older.

JETT: On a related note to the previous two questions, is there a Batman character that you’ve never had the chance to work on and would really like to in the future?

LB: “Well, interestingly enough, I have another Batman graphic novel in mind at the moment that I wrote and will hopefully be able to start drawing. Still too soon to talk about other than just those basics, but it's pretty much all the things Batman I like to draw all rolled into one tasty little treat!”

JETT: You’re still doing the HELLBLAZER covers. What else are you working on presently and what coming up in the future?

LB: “Yep, getting near 30 covers with HELLBLAZER. That's been a blast. I've also been doing covers for Steven King's THE STAND over at Marvel. That will go thirty issues as well. Other than those two, a few other random covers here and there that I can't talk about yet and hopefully the graphic novel I mentioned above for DC.

JETT: Bro, thanks again and best of luck with all of that stuff -- can't wait for that Batman graphic novel you mentioned! And I think I speak for all the BOF'ers out there when I say that we're really, REALLY looking forward to JOKER!

NEXT: BOF's interview with JOKER writer Brian Azzarello!

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