The ‘Other Side’ Of Horror: Brian Azzarello And Sierra Hahn Introduce Us To ‘Faithless’

by Hannah Means Shannon

We’re entering a magical world in Faithless, from Boom! Studios, with issue #1 in comic shops today, on April 10th. But it’s not necessarily as bright and reassuring a world as the artwork by Maria Llovet (Loud) seems to suggest, guiding us into the story. The series, written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets , Batman: Damned), is set to challenge our expectations, described as “an erotic depiction of faith, sex, and the devil” on the cover of issue #1. Our main character, Faith’s “cute” interest in magic is going to take her into hellish encounters, but when we meet her this week, she’s blissfully unaware of that. Mainly she’s bored, something we can all relate to. As the old saying goes, “The Devil makes work for idle hands.”

Writer Brian Azzarello and Senior Editor at Boom! Studios, Sierra Hahn, join us today to talk about Faithless, and why it’s horrifyingly thrilling.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Faithless, as an idea, and based on the cover imagery that’s been released is not necessarily the first thing I’d associate with Boom! Studios as a publisher. It’s definitely got a little bit of a harder edge to it, and seems a little bit deliberately provocative in terms of covers. Sierra, do you have any thoughts about that?

Sierra Hahn: I think it was time for Boom to do a book like this. Traditionally, I oversee the imprint Archaia, which includes more adult content in the graphic novel space. And I’ve had a long relationship with Brian throughout my career, as a friend and mentor. I think we found something we were excited about and interested in exploring together, and Boom! Was just tremendously supportive. They’ve given us a way to explore a different space, which I am incredibly grateful for. We can have discussions about exploring erotic themes and sexuality, and not shy away from showing them. It’s been incredibly important for me, and definitely is a highlight of my career.

HMS: Amazing. In conversations with Ross Richie and Filip Sablik in the past, I believe we’ve talked about the idea that comics can be anything, and embrace any kind of genre, and that seems like what we’re seeing here. Just a reminder that the medium can contain so much, and expanding on that, particularly in the rather limited field of American comics, is a good thing.

Brian, just as a matter of opinion, I was curious, what you think the differences might be between something that might be called a “thriller” and something that might be called “horror”, since Faithless is called “an erotic thriller”?

Brian Azzarelo: Yes, I think a straightforward thriller, as opposed to horror, is something where supernatural elements have been replaced by human elements. In this story anyway, the horror lies in accepting that there is ‘something on the other side’. I think horror should be thrilling, though.

HMS: When horror is delivered to viewers and readers, it often follows similar patterns of tension as a thriller, for instance.

BA: I guess a good thriller should be horrible in some parts, and a good horror story should be thrilling. But in all these things, it’s the characters. That’s what’s important.

HMS: Do you want to talk a little bit about our character Faith, who makes the ironic title, Faithless, ironic?

BA: I just can’t get away from that shit! (laughs)

HMS: What is it about Faith that you find compelling?

BA: I think Faith has a very unformed view of the world. There are a lot of things she lacks, but she’s not exactly sure what it is or how to get it. Then she comes across another character who seems fully formed right from the get go, right when she meets her. She’s very self-assured, she has what she wants, and by the end of this issue, she wants somebody else.

HMS: Yes. This other character is more sophisticated, for sure, in her way of speaking, in her way of acting. Which is maybe going to be a little bit dazzling for Faith. She doesn’t know how to react to someone who’s on a different level like that.

BA: Yes. Well, speaking for myself, I certainly met people like that when I was younger. You get that feeling, “I want to be like them”. It’s hopefully something everybody can relate to. The only people who can’t relate to it are those people who we want to be like.

SH: Sometimes there are people who enter your orbit who manage to bring out the best in you, that you don’t always know is there. They conjure something from your personality that is deep. It’s less about, “How do I impress this person?”, than about, “Wow. How did I find myself in a room or in a space with this other person who brings out all the things about myself that I’m excited by?” They want to maintain that “high” or “confidence” present in that moment.

HMS: Is it a form of hero worship? Or more about who you want to be?

BA: I don’t think it’s hero worship. I don’t think a moth hero worships a flame. It’s just that attraction that’s overwhelming and compelling. It’s not love, it’s infatuation.

HMS: I can see that. Because in this story, infatuation happens so quickly, and that’s a classic characteristic of it.

BA: Correct. Oh man, I’ve made so many mistakes in my life. (laughs)

HMS: Well, to be at least a little bit high-brow, and it’s your fault, I noticed that on the cover of Faithless #1, there’s a reference to The Divine Comedy.

BA: That’s not a little bit high-brow!

HMS: Okay, fair. It’s a lot high-brow. What’s that about? Does this story fit into a tradition of storytelling like The Divine Comedy?

BA: Yeah, I agree. I see it in that tradition. And am I’m I being high-brow? No, I’m being pretentious! (laughs)

HMS: What are the main elements that this story has in common with stories like The Divine Comedy?

BA: There’s the journey that this character goes on, and it’s one of those universal kind of human journeys. Do you consider The Divine Comedy a cautionary tale?

HMS: Sure. Could be.

BA: Yeah. There’s a little bit of that, too.

HMS: Well, it can be. I think there’s the idea in The Divine Comedy that some risks are worth taking for some sort of goal. I think the thing about The Divine Comedy is that when you actually read it, it’s so scary because you really don’t know what to expect. Even if you think you know the world you are reading about, there are so many variables and encounters that you forget what you thought you knew.

BA: Yes. And I think we hit that note in the first issue!

HMS: (laughs about redacted spoiler territory) So, is Faith somewhat of a learning soul, or someone who is going to be a student of experience in this story?

BA: I think we can call her a “learning soul”. That’s nice. Let’s call her that.

HMS: Let’s talk about the artwork. Obviously, Maria Llovet is doing some amazing things here. Her style, as well as the color palette, are not things the reader might expect from a horror or thriller-type story. I think it creates a very interesting tension. You’re not really expecting anything sinister to pop out at you. At the same time, we know this is going to happen.

BA: I think exactly the same thing you do, so Sierra, you take this one. (laughs)

SH: I think Maria creates something that seems, at least to me, very natural. Playing with light, texture, and space in a real world setting. The acting, the expressions, the movement that she presents on a page, the way we turn a page, the colors, the fashion—it all feels like we’re inhabiting this space in New York City, but we’re inhabiting it through the lens of a young woman on who is on a journey of her own self-discovery. Faith’s world is a little pastel, but it might not be by the end.

HMS: That’s really interesting, because I think as a comic reader looking at the art and colors on the first issue at least, I would associate them with a young woman’s life evolving. But the other elements are therefore shocking. That’s a really cool approach to bring two things that are so different together. Was that the idea?

SH: Actually, when Maria came on board, I encouraged her not to do her own color work because of the demands of a monthly schedule, which are arduous at best, but she really made a case for it. When we talked about lighting, I talked about where I thought she could really thrive, by bringing in some that weren’t too busy, and really allowed the characters to pop. The colors are more flat, for instance. That really comes up more in issue #2, as we continue to descend into this story. It’s really about allowing Maria’s instincts to take hold, inspired by the kind of work Brian is doing.

HMS: So, Brian for those who are fans of your work and have followed the work you’ve done over the years, what do you think this story has in common with your other projects, or what might be points of difference? Is it a departure?

BA: I don’t think it’s a departure at all. Do you?

HMS: No! I was just curious about what you would say. (laughs)

BA: If you’re familiar with my work, it asks the same questions from the characters, and the characters speak in a believable way. It’s got all the stuff that I’m usually doing. There are some elements that are going to generate talk.

HMS: So, is realism important to you in storytelling? The texture of real life?

BA: No. Not really realism, but “believability”. That’s more important that realism. A lot of people have said, regarding 100 Bullets, for example, that the characters speak very realistically. I don’t think they do. I think they speak the way we wish we spoke. You know?  But if you wrote a comic where people spoke the way we speak, there wouldn’t be any room for pictures. People would be saying “ah” and “um”…

HMS: It’s so true. Would you say that part of that “believability” lies in an aspect of psychology for your characters? A realism there? That they think and choose like we do?

BA: Yes, and hopefully, when I write characters right, you understand not just what they are saying, but what they are thinking.

Big thanks to Sierra Hahn and Brian Azzarello for joining us for this interview!

Faithless #1 is out today, April 10th, in comic shops!

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