Much like a child approached with dinosaurs and cookies, as soon as I heard about ALPHA KING — a new Image comic book series based on actual craft beer mascots — I screeched a little, bounced up and down, and demanded more. By some stroke of good luck I was able to speak with the legendary Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS, HELLBLAZER, WONDER WOMAN) about the process of “brewing” (ba dum ching) a story like this, which may or may not involve sitting drunk on a bar stool. Ace.
Famous Monsters. So, beer and comics are two of my favorite things in the entire world…
Brian Azzarello. Well, we have something in common! [laughs]
FM. I’m assuming your answer will be similar, but how was this project pitched to you, and what about it made you say yes?
BA. It was pitched over a bar stool! [laughs] I often agree to things I shouldn’t while sitting on a bar stool. I’ve actually been a fan of 3 Floyds for a long time. They said something like hey, we want to do a comic based on our characters! And I just said hell yeah, man, sign me up. Originally they were asking if I knew anyone who would want to do it, and I was like “Uh, yeah, me.”
FM. So you knew about 3 Floyds as a brewery? You didn’t have to be introduced to the beer?
BA. Oh, I know the beer. I know the beer intimately. I had my first Alpha King back in 2002.
FM. Wow. But they don’t ship nationally. Do you travel to get it?
BA. No, I live in Chicago. They’re in Indiana. So we’ve had it in Chicago since day one. It’s crazy—Zombie Dust is my everyday beer, and people come from everywhere to try it.
FM. There are lots of mascots and characters that represent microbreweries—I’m thinking of the Stone IPA demon, things like that. What is it about 3 Floyds and their characters that lend themselves well to storytelling? Are you just working with character designs?
BA. Nick Floyd is heavily into D&D and gaming, so all the characters on their beer bottles have a mythology to them. I just had to pick his brain, like—what’s the origin of Alpha King? And he’d go, oh, it’s something like this… we just had to create a cohesive universe. It’s been a great collaborative process with him.
FM. I love the 3 Floyds mandate that they make “not normal” beer. Even the first issue of this book has the brewer going, “You’re used to that supermarket swill!”—which is normal beer for a lot of people. What else does “not normal” mean to you, and how have you integrated that into this book?
BA. It’s kind of the marching orders. We’re coming up with this reality; we’re making the rules. So there’s a lot of medieval sword and sorcery, but there’s also a very heavy science fiction vibe. It’s almost like we’re approaching it as GAME OF THRONES taking place in a MAD MAX universe.
FM. I can get behind that. My favorite moment from the first issue is actually on the opening page, because you’ve mixed literal bathroom humor with clichéd, high-brow intellectual discussion.
BA. Well, that sums up 3 Floyds!
FM. What are your opinions on a book that depends entirely on ridiculous bathroom humor versus a book that’s more intellectual? Obviously you think it’s possible to do both…
BA. You know, it doesn’t really matter what I’m working on; I’m always trying to blend genres just to keep it interesting. That’s what I’m doing with this book. I don’t see one necessarily being better than the other. You can like high-brow literary fiction and also really dig a Cheech and Chong movie.
FM. Or you can put them together, as you’ve done. Is the Alpha King going to meet other 3 Floyds characters along the way? I recall from the description that it involves one of the other beers…
BA. The Arctic Panzer Wolf. They show up in the second issue. But even just in the first issue you’ve got Razor Hoof, War Mullet… the zombie kids were on a beer, as well.
FM. The zombie kids… I really appreciated that, because it’s like the ultimate revenge tale. These were obnoxious kids, and now they’re zombies, which means we can kill them. I also love that the comic itself is about beer. It’s a kind of self-insert book about beer, and how an inter-dimensional king comes to get this Earth beer because it’s so good, and the brewer ends up getting brewed… flushed through the brewery into an alternate dimension. Is the beer going to be a continuing angle through the story?
BA. I had to get the character into the universe, and the brewery was the device to get him there. But there’s going to be a lot of multi-dimensional traveling. The scope of this thing keeps growing. I don’t see an end for it. If people like it and they buy it, we’re going to keep doing it. It’s been great working with Nick.
FM. How’d you grab Simon Bisley? He’s obviously got a great history with giant swords, swearing, blood…
BA. The script was all done, and I was down at the brewery with Nick looking at different artists, and he had a big, I think it was a Death Dealer that Simon did. There was a big banner of his hanging in the brewery already. And I was like, what about Simon? And Nick goes, You could get Simon? And I went well, I don’t know, we could call Simon! I met him a few years ago in Poland at a convention. We got in touch with him, and he was going to be in town in Chicago for a Wizard World show, so he came down to the brewery and sat down with Nick and I and we figured it all out. We’ve been going gangbusters ever since.
FM. He is pretty much the perfect artist for this universe. There’s lots of blood and violence and you kill kids and you kill a cat and break people’s noses… how did all these extremes guide you when choosing a publishing venue?
BA. When this book was originally proposed to me, I was with Eric Stephenson, the publisher of Image. He came into town and we met at a bar, and we were going to go see a Cubs game. Barnaby, who worked at 3 Floyds, was like “We wanna do a comic!” Eric was sitting right there. So we may not have gone to Eric at first, but when I came back to him and said I was doing a book with Simon Bisley and 3 Floyds, he just said yes, yes I’ll do it! I had forgotten he was there when we came up with the idea. Image is a great place, man. He’s really doing some fantastic books. There’s probably more freedom at Image than there is anywhere else, right now.
FM. Definitely. If ALPHA KING does well, are there going to be spin-offs? I’m pretty sure I would buy a thousand copies of a comic called APOCALYPSE COW, for example.
BA. We haven’t really decided yet. We’ll see. When we were originally planning it, we thought, okay we’ll do one called ALPHA KING, one called ZOMBIE DUST, and so on. But I’m not sure if splintering it off right now is the way to go. If we can keep everything under the ALPHA KING banner to make it more successful, that’s probably what we’ll do.
FM. Just put Apocalypse Cow into the Alpha King universe.
BA. Well, yeah. They’re all going to interact. All the beers are going to be part of this one insane world.
FM. And since the comics are going to be distributed nationally, the next logical step is a beer tour! Right? I’m over in California. We don’t get 3 Floyds.
BA. No… I know it’s been available at different festivals, but no. You’ll have to come to Chicago.
FM. Well, it’s as good of a reason as any to visit the Midwest, right?
BA. Beer’s a good reason to go anywhere. That’s why I go to California! The book itself is going to debut at a festival in Munster [Indiana], the last Saturday in April. It’s called Dark Lord Day at 3 Floyds because it’s the one day of the year they release their Dark Lord brew. It’s the greatest day. It’s like Beer Christmas and Beer Fourth of July rolled into one. There’s a real sense of community. Simon’s coming in from England [for the release], and we’ll be by the merch tent signing books!
FM. Well I think the whole thing is ingenius. I’m surprised nobody’s done anything like this before. We really appreciate you speaking to Famous Monsters about it.
BA. I used to buy Famous Monsters when I was a kid! It was like, my favorite magazine. I would even order crap out of the back. Like the “Life Sized Frankenstein!” that would turn out to be just a big piece of paper with a drawing of Frankenstein on it. [laughs]