Comics: Lee Bermejo Talks Batman: Noel

OGN mash-up of DCs' Dark Knight and Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

By , Columnist

Lee Bermejo

A strikingly different palette was used to color this early version of Lee Bermejo's cover for Batman: Noel in this image found on the official DC Comics website.

Lee Bermejo has come a long way since he entered the comics industry. Invited to become a member of Jim Lee’s now legendary WildStorm Comics bullpen, a studio filled with many of the fast-rising superstars and about-to-ignite stellar talent of the day, he worked tirelessly to not only establish his place in the industry, but also to continually improve his grasp of the medium even while perfecting his ability to execute his ideas on paper.

Already gifted with a natural storyteller’s sense of pacing, and an uncanny knack for picking the perfect moment to depict, Bermejo’s career soon took off. This all eventually led to a series of plum assignments, working with the likes of award-winning writer Brian Azzarello (co-creator of 100 Bullets), among others, and still more acclaim for Bermejo’s work.

Now, Bermejo has taken on another creative challenge—both writing and illustrating the recently released Batman: Noel. A mash-up of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and DC comics’ Dark Knight Detective, the resulting book is more than a clever entertainment, and does more than just prove that Bermejo is a fine writer.

Ultimately, Noel allows the reader to see this iconic character, and that famous Victorian ghost story with its central theme of redemption, in a whole new light, as Bermejo so eloquently explains below.

Batman Noel pg 1 from DC site.jpg

I’ve got to say, the book reads wonderfully. The art’s spectacular, the coloring and lettering perfectly complement your work, and I do want to get to all of that. But I’ve got to be honest, what really hit me, what immediately struck me and stayed with me even after I’d read the book, is the narrator’s voice.

So, how hard was it to capture that voice, and how essential was it to telling the story?

Yeah, that was, I think, the deciding factor on the kind of personality the book would have, and it was not something that came immediately.

I knew I wanted the narrator to be a little bit more—for lack of a better description—I knew I wanted him to be a little bit more blue collar. And I like the idea of told stories. I like the idea of things being a little bit up to personal interpretation. And I definitely like the idea of the narrator kind of modernizing certain elements of it, as he was bringing in his own experiences, basically.

But, my first draft was a little bit more…ah, what’s the right word…?

Batman Noel pg 2 from DC site.jpg

I was struggling to find his voice. And I think, in subsequent drafts, it definitely became clear to me that I wanted to sound like Tom Waits.

When Tom Waits tells a story, he has a very specific style of talking. He uses very specific words, and sometimes he’ll give you something that’s kind of eloquent, but said in a way that doesn’t seem pretentious. And, at the same time, he’ll talk about cars, or he’ll talk about women, and that was very much the voice that I wanted my narrator to have.

Especially because, let’s face it, you’re never going to write that story as well as Dickens. So I knew, right away, I wasn’t even going to try.

But when I found that voice, that’s when things clicked. Certain lines started to feel more comfortable, you know? Things started to flow at that point.

Batman Noel pg 3 from DC site.jpg

Was there a specific moment that you can think of, or even perhaps a line that you were working on, that you just shifted a word or took it out and, all of sudden, it all made sense?

Yeah, honestly… [Laughs] The moment that it completely jelled for me was writing the Catwoman scene. I’d kind of been playing around with this idea for a while, but that moment when Bob says, “How did she slip past the alarm system? A hot chick can get away with anything,” that was when I knew.

use this cropped version of the Bats--Noel Hot Chick page.jpg

Just putting that down made me feel comfortable enough to go off on tangents that happen later in the book—like where he starts comparing Scrooge’s life to the old junker as opposed to the Cadillac. And it was at that point when I felt like there was an element of personality coming out in the narrator that made him seem like a person to me, instead of just a voice, if that makes sense.

Oh, yeah, it does, perfectly. And, yeah, that line about Catwoman is priceless.

Well, when did you first get the idea to adapt A Christmas Carol, how did you develop that idea into the final book, and what changed during that process?

The idea for the project pretty much came when I had finished Joker. And I had a blast drawing Joker. I really enjoyed it. But it was a really dark, brutal piece of work, and I kind of wanted to go in the other direction. To push myself creatively, but also to try something new.

Before Joker, I’d done another very serious character piece called Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t quite as intimidating in terms of those kind character pieces.

luthor hc cvr image from DC site.jpg

So I thought, “I’ll try my hand at writing a children’s book.” About the same time, a French publisher had contacted me and we were talking about some other things. And he actually mentioned that they were trying to adapt classic works of literature into the BD form—the BD is the French graphic novel.

And he was like, “Is there anything that interests you?” And I immediately thought, “Well, A Christmas Carol would be a fun thing to do, but I’d like to do a modern version of Christmas Carol.” As a kid, I’d always liked the sort of scary, darker aspects of the story mixed with the kind of real, warm and fuzzy, almost universal look at the human condition.

Batman Noel page 35 from DC site.jpg

So, I started thinking about both ideas separately. And then, at a certain point, they kind of converged, and I realized that I could mix the two ideas. And bringing in Batman, he just seemed like a perfect fit. Everything just started falling into place at that point.

And it made it make more sense to me. If I was going to adapt something like A Christmas Carol, we’re talking about one of the most heavily adapted works of literature of all time. And, you know, you don’t just want to be another one of those. You want to do something a little bit new and interesting with it, if you can.

And, yeah, I thought, “If I can find a way to make that work within the Batman universe, I would have the best of all worlds. I’d be working on a story I was familiar with, and I would have set guidelines for my first written project. And having that structure there made it much easier for me, because you know what master you serve, basically.

And, of course, I love the Batman character. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Batman Noel cvr from DC site.jpg

What’s your creative process when you’re doing so much of the work? Did you write out a full script? And do you do any thumbnails or rough layouts while you’re writing?

With this one, I specifically wrote it first. I didn’t do any kind of thumbnails or art for it.

I wrote a full script. And I did it that way, really, as an exercise for myself, at first. Because I thought if I start thinking about this in terms of what drawing I want to do, and don’t want to do, that’s going to dictate the story in some way or other.

And I just wanted to try my hand at just the writing, and let that kind of function on its own. And then I knew, later on, obviously having written it myself, I knew that if it got approved, I would then be able to take the art on without much problem because, of course, you certainly visual things in your head while you’re writing.

But I really did make it a point to just wear the writer’s hat, and then wear the artist’s hat. I didn’t want to mix the two too much.

And that wraps up part one of Bill's talk with Lee Bermejo. Look for the final half of this interview in the next installment of Graphic Language.

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