Talking Comics with Tim: Jeff Lemire
When I first interviewed Jeff Lemire back in early 2008, I knew he was immensely talented. But in terms of his creative path, quite honestly, I always expected his career to follow along the lines of the Essex Country Trilogy and Sweet Tooth. So earlier this year, when announcements came along that he would be writing an Atom one-shot/followed by a co-feature ongoing in Adventure Comics (which have seen releases in the past two weeks), as well an ongoing Superboy series, while the news caught me by surprise–it was the pleasant kind. This interview took place in late June prior to the release of his Atom work, as well as the announcement of his DC exclusive commitment. My thanks to Lemire for the discussion, as well as sharing with me a photo of the one-of-a-kind Jeffords action figure he had made (see this entry at his blog for more photos of the figure).
Tim O’Shea: In an April CBR interview about your Atom work, you revealed a clear affinity for the Silver Age science fiction roots of the character. With that in mind, are you hoping to explore the white dwarf dynamics of the character’s powers–or are you hoping to explore the science potential of the Atom in other ways?
Jeff Lemire: The white dwarf matter will be a central part of my story. I don’t want to say too much more with out giving away spoilers though. As important to me is establishing the character of Ray Palmer. What kind of man is he? Where did he come from? What does he want moving forward in his life. And I have tried to develop an exciting superhero plot that reflects this examination of his character.
O’Shea: Ray Palmer is a guy with a great deal of baggage, baggage that DC editorial is allowing you to abandon in metaphorical baggage claim. Would you have been as interested in taking the assignment had you not been able to shed that baggage?
Lemire: Probably not. I certainly wasn’t interested in another evil Jean Loring/poor Ray Palmer story. I really wanted to move past that and get back to telling really fun, really cool science fiction super stories.
O’Shea: Was the artist Mahmud Asrar already assigned to the project when you signed on, or were you involved in getting him onboard?
Lemire: He wasn’t on board when I took the assignment, but was hired very soon after. I wish I could take credit for “finding” Mahmud, but I believe that was Eddie Berganza and Brian Cunningham’s doing. Having said that, i couldn’t be happier with the artwork. He perfectly combines that classic superhero look with a modern sensibility the same way someone like Oliver Copiel does. I think he has the potential to be a star artist.
O’Shea: Break down your days in the studio: do you work on Superboy in the AM, Atom after lunch and Sweet Tooth just before dinner?
Lemire: I can’t break my days up on different projects like that. I need to focus on one thing at a time. Sit down in the morning and work on one thing all day whether that be drawing or writing. So rather than break my days up, I break my weeks up. I usually write on Mondays, then draw Tues-Fri. I find time at night and on the weekends to finish my writing. My days typically run from 7:30am to 4pm.
O’Shea: In the cases of Superboy as well as your Atom work–how are you approaching the collaborative process in your role as writer, are you giving the artist thumbnails with your script or going another route?
Lemire: I am writing full scripts, in a very few cases I have done thumbnails, but only to clarify my intentions if it is a particularly confusing layout to explain via text.
My scripts tend to describe page layout in detail. The visual aspects of comics is such a big part how I tell stories that I use the layout as much as say dialogue to communicate my ideas. Having said that, the artists are totally free to take my suggestions and ignore them if they have a different or better way of doing something. So the end result is really a true collaboration. I trust both Mahmud and Pier. They both have great storytelling instincts.
O’Shea: Speaking of Superboy, Phantom Stranger is one of the last folks I would imagine popping up in Conner Kent’s world. How’d you arrive on utilizing that character (among all of DC’s magci/mystical gang)?
Lemire: Without saying too much too soon, The Phantom Stranger perfectly embodies the tone and mood of my plans for Superboy. I love the idea of contrasting the small town Americana of Smallville with something a little darker and more mysterious. He won’t be the only unusual DC character that will play a major role in the book. I wish I could reveal who…but there are major hints in Issue 2. I am asssembling my dream cast of obscure DC characters to support Superboy as well as creating some new ones too.
O’Shea: In August, you’re giving folks a sneak peek of the new Superboy series (“an original 10-page story that is actually a ‘flashforward’ right into the heart of all the strange and disturbing happenings coming to a certain small town in Kansas.“) How challenging is it it to whet the reader’s appetite with a taste of what’s to come, without giving too much away at the same time?
Lemire: It is really fun actually, because the things they will see in Action will only bve the tip of the iceberg. Imagine seeing the crazy stuff from season 4 and 5 of LOST before watching the Pilot, than trying to figure out how all that stuff makes any sense or how it’s going to happen. That’s the idea.
O’Shea: I’m sorely tempted to slam you with a slew of Sweet Tooth questions, but I know you’re a busy fellow, so I’ll focus on just a few: How long had you been itching to do the staggering layout in the hypnosis [Sweet Tooth 10] issue (in particular when mini-versions of the doctor and Gus are walking the perimeter of Gus’ head)? Had you always envisioned that scene since you first started developing the project?
Lemire: I’ll never turn down more Sweet Tooth press! It actually was not ever a part of my original plans, it just kind of came out as it came time to write that issue. Having said that, it is clearly my favorite issue so far, and has really challenged me to push further conceptually as I move forward.
Lemire: A lot of people want one, including original series editor Bob Schreck, but she is too busy to make any more…plus her stuff tends to be one-of -a-kind. But I think everyone should start bugging DC direct to mass produce them!!
O’Shea: I’ve read Sweet Tooth from the start, but had forgotten Bob Schreck was the initial editor on the project. How critical was Bob when you were setting up the foundation and early days of the series?
Lemire: All three editors I’ve had on the series have brought something different to the book. I feel Bob, Brandon Montclare and now Pornsak Pichetshote have all contributed significantly to the direction Sweet Tooth has taken.
O’Shea: When the series started, I assumed the focus would always be mostly about Gus–but I dare say the series is as much about Tommy Jepperd. Had you always planned for Jepperd to play such a major role, or did it grow as you wrote the series?
Lemire: Jepperd was ALWAYS just as important as Gus. It was always equally about both of their journeys, and more importantly their journeys TOGETHER, how they change and effect change within the other. To me neither character is nearly as interesting without the other to contrast them.
While they may be separate at this point in the series, I don’t think I’m going to really be shocking anyone when I suggest they will meet again. The interesting thing will be to see how they are different now. Their relationship can never be like it was at the book’s beginning.
O’Shea: I recently was talking to a creator and he mentioned he was amazed at how quickly you are able to draw Sweet Tooth (and so well–he was quick to add). Do you consider yourself fairly quick or do you actually wish you were faster, given your increased writing duties?
Lemire: I’m pretty fast. I can pencil and ink on average two to three pages a day. If I couldn’t do that there is no way I would have time to write DCU stuff, so I am thankful that my style lends itself naturally to speed. You always want to be faster, there are never enough hours in the day…but I’ll be thankful for how quick I’m able to work now.
O’Shea: Back in November, in an interview with USA Today, you said in terms of Sweet Tooth: “I have it planned out to be 20 to 30 issues, but it could go even further depending on the response it gets” Has that number changed, based on response or stayed about the same?
Lemire: I would say it’s closer to 30-35 at this point. And, fingers crossed, but the trade sales seem to be strong enough that I think I will get the opportunity to complete the story as I always intended to!
O’Shea: I know since this February interview with CBR, we’ve already seen more of the women from Sweet Tooth 4. Can you talk more about your plans (without giving too much away) when you said “So the women in Sweet Tooth #4, for example, are going to become major characters, as well.”
Lemire: Wait until arc 3…they will very much become MAJOR players in the overall story. Lucy and Becky are quickly becoming my favorite characters and I can say that the things I have planned for them are some of the things I am most excited about moving forward. Without giving too much away the book will become more and more about family as we move forward.