The first solo project from superstar artist Lee Bermejo, BATMAN: NOEL is an oversized, original graphic novel which traces a parallel path to the beloved holiday fable. Bermejo is best known for his Superman story in WEDNESDAY COMICS, which was serialized in USA TODAY - and perhaps for collaborating with Brian Azzarello on the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling JOKER and the critically-acclaimed LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL miniseries.
With BATMAN: NOEL hitting stores, Bermejo took some time to speak about the project.
1. Let's look at the basic premise of BATMAN: NOEL. What is the connection between Batman and A Christmas Carol? Where did the idea come from?
I initially wanted to do something with A CHRISTMAS CAROL after being contacted by a European publisher to adapt a classic work of literature. It was either this or HEART OF DARKNESS. Only problem was I didn't want to do a strict adaptation. At the same time I was also toying with a Batman story that I'd had in mind for some time and there where a few elements that just were not gelling. At a certain point, I started seeing a way to combine the two projects and things started to come together. It became a nice little vehicle to tell a more innocent Batman story while still being able to comment on the character, his place in his own history, and his place in the literary world.
2. Is this a straight re-telling of Dickens, using the Dark Knight and his rogues in the familiar roles? What is the point of view of the book, and how did you structure the narrative?
No, I like to call it a 'blue collar' re-telling. Look, you're never going to write as good as Dickens, so why try? I thought it would be more interesting to have a narrator with a very specific voice telling you the tale almost as if it was a bedtime story. That way it's up for interpretation a bit more and you can condense and expand on elements as you see fit. I love 'spoken stories.' I listen to a lot of Tom Waits, who is just a master storyteller as well as an amazing musician, and I pictured him telling this particular story and tried to write something that would reflect that. That approach seemed to fit the 'story-book' format I had in mind for the artwork as well. I always knew I wanted to have two different narratives that mirror each other as the story progressed.
3. Scrooge is a literary icon from one of the most beloved authors, and Batman is a far more modern icon. How do they compare in the cultural consciousness?
That's an interesting question because I honestly feel like Batman has become a literary character for all intents and purposes. Batman has gone through so many different iterations throughout the years where the character of Scrooge is extremely well defined and unbending. The interesting comparison between the two for me was more how these changes Batman has undergone over the years in the cultural consciousness reflect the changes Scrooge underwent in his life. At this point, you still have people who make jokes about Batman that come from the 60's television show, whereas there is also this common perception that modern takes on him are much more dark and 'serious'' This puts the character in an interesting time within his own history. He is literally at the same impasse as Scrooge. Honestly, how much darker can we go with the character without losing what defines the character, his humanity? This question is intriguing to me and played a big role in the book's development.
4. Gotham City of BATMAN: NOEL actually bears some striking visual resemblances to Dickens' London. What was your approach to the book's aesthetic?
I think Gotham lends itself to a very Victorian scenery, but honestly I just tried to infuse how I generally approach the city with a bit more atmosphere and scope. From the beginning, the intention was to do a book that mixed a 'childrens' book' aesthetic with a standard comic book. I wanted to be able to do lusher artwork than the angular harshness of JOKER and treat certain layouts with a bit more freedom. I liked the idea of having boxless captions and keeping the lettering style a bit more playful. Todd Klein did a masterful job with this and I feel like it's SUCH an important contribution to round out the look of the book.
5. Taking on Dickens is quite ambitious for your first solo project as writer. Were you nervous? How did you approach the project?
Of course it wasn't an easy transition, but then again nothing really comes easy for me, including the artwork. The nice thing about basing it on a familiar piece of literature is that it gives you guidelines to play within. The structure of that story is so well defined that the writing became about finding a voice and style to tell the story in more than anything. Again, Dickens is such a master of language that it felt useless to try and do something elegant. I opted to go in the other direction.
6. Having seen the book, we see some different iterations of Batman. What was your reasoning behind showing the different costumes? How does that fit in with the narrative and the tone?
It was just an easy way to play with the passage of time. Batman has had such a myriad of interpretations that it made it easier to show him as a younger, more positive man simply by juxtaposing a more modern, armored character design with more familiar looks from past iterations. I also feel that the darker, armored Batman very much places him in this particular time and reflects the more current takes on his personality as well. I'm positive that in 20 years the popular interpretation of the character will be very different. Plus, I'm just a big fan of the character in all his various forms. Purely from an artistic standpoint it's just fun to play around in his history.
7. What was your approach to the general Batman continuity with this book? How does it fit in with everything else in the Dark Knight's ongoing canon?
Since I'm fairly slow, it makes working within continuity very difficult for me. I also tend to prefer stories that just play with who the character is in a very broad way. Similarly, in JOKER and LUTHOR, those stories are able to stand on their own as character pieces and I feel NOEL is no different. I'd like the book to appeal to as many people as possible, and this very much includes folks who don't read comics regularly. I think by creating stories that don't need to fit anywhere in particular make them easier reads for the 'uninitiated.'
8. Given that this is parallel between Scrooge and Batman and the distinctive attire of each, will we get to see the Dark Knight in a silk top hat?
Hahahahaha, definitely no top hats. Although maybe that was a mistake. I mean, the top hat and cane could be the two missing elements to take his costume to the next level. Who knows, maybe in 20 years that'll be standard fare for the character...