By Steven Biscotti
A few weeks ago I was contacted by Alternative Mindz to conduct an interview with Jeff Lemire. It would be an understatement to say that I jumped at this opportunity – I leaped! Jeff Lemire is one of the hardest working and most talented of writers we have in the industry today. Not only has he written for Valiant and DC Comics, but he also has work for Marvel and Image. His upcoming title, “Descender” found Sony buying the rights for a film adaptation and is already one of the most highly anticipated releases for this year. “Descender” releases March 2015 and in our conversation, Mr. Jeff Lemire had more than enough to say about it to make this a book that you should immediately add to your pull list. Oh, and he has a little book about Marvel’s Hawkeye coming out this year too. Like I said, he’s one of the hardest working in the industry. Without further ado, here is Alternative Mindz candid discussion with Jeff Lemire.
Alt. Mindz: Hello, this is Steven with Alternative Mindz. Hello Jeff.
Jeff Lemire: Hey, how are you doing?
Alt. Mindz: I’m good. How are you?
Jeff Lemire: Good. Thanks.
Alt. Mindz: Thank you for speaking with us today and I just wanted to say, first and foremost, we really admire all of your work and this really means a lot that you’re taking the time to speak with us today.
Jeff Lemire: Oh, it’s my pleasure. I appreciate it.
Alt. Mindz: I’d like to say congratulations on “Trillium” being named one of the top ten graphic novels for teens. I think that’s an amazing accomplishment.
Jeff Lemire: Thank you very much. That was a nice surprise. Yeah.
Alt. Mindz: That really had me thinking about the changing tides of the comic industry and I was hoping we could speak about that. You’ve been in the business for quite some time and we’ve seen a clear signal that comic book writers are being respected in a way we have never really seen before. I’d like to get your thoughts on that.
Jeff Lemire: Yeah, I completely agree. When I was a kid growing up you would go to a bookstore and I remember being amazed the first time I ever saw a graphic novel in a regular bookstore, you know? I think it was probably ‘Dark Knight Returns’, ‘Batman; Year One’ back then in the mid 80’s. You would see ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Watchmen’ to really sort of break through to mainstream culture and start to get respect. Outside of comic book culture, with mainstream culture, now that was thirty years ago and in that time its changed so much to the point now that graphic novelists and comic book writers and artists are the vanguard. I think we’re really leading the way in putting original content out there, into the world that is challenging people and entertaining them in new ways. You could see Hollywood certainly following our lead now and that switch from this sort of ghettoized thing that was looked at as totally a children’s medium and now seen as, rightfully seen as, a leading popular art form, certainly seen as literature. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am and wouldn’t be able to have the career that I have doing the type of work that I do if it wasn’t for those thirty years of other people laying the ground work. Starting with Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Art Spiegelman and then running to people like Jeff Smith. I could just start listing all the great people that laid that foundation and earned that respect for us to be able to do what we do and be successful at it. Certainly for me I feel blessed that I came intro the industry ten years ago and it couldn’t be a better time to be doing what I’m doing. The kind of work that we’re doing is so strong now and comic book audiences have become so much more diverse and so much more knowledgeable that it allows someone like me to make a really good living doing what I love to do and I feel really, really blessed.
Alt. Mindz: I’m glad that you mentioned that writers/artists have become “the vanguard of original material” and I think that’s so clear with so much of your work. I’m sure it’s quite exciting when studios are having intense bidding wars over your material and knowing that your work will be what inspires the next group of artists. How does that feel to have a book [Descnder] that isn’t even out yet that already has so much attention?
Jeff Lemire: I think it speaks to what we’re talking about and the appetite for original material is really large right now both in Hollywood and in what Hollywood could turn into films because they’ve kind of run out of remaking all their films. Even for comics I feel like the appetite for original material is so strong right now with the rise of Image and BOOM and these other creator owned companies. I think you really see Marvel and DC struggling to maintain the readership because, and I try to say this as nicely as possible because I still work for some [of those companies] but you could only re-launch the same characters so many times, over so many years, before people start to turn towards wanting to see new ideas, which is why it’s a great time to be doing creator owned work. Speaking to the excitement around film adaptations and things like that, to be completely honest, it’s very nice and flattering to have these things happen for a financial point of view, and that’s certainly good as it allows me to do more creator owned stuff, but for me I don’t need my work to be turned into a film to feel validated or important. It’s the comic book that I feel is the most important thing and I know with Dustin [Ngyuen] and I creating “Descender” that the film option and [it being] essential that they developed it is not nearly as exciting as putting the comic book out every month, and letting that be what it is. I feel like that’s what we’re most passionate about and will remain most excited about.
Alt. Mindz: I agree with that. How far into “Descender” are you and Dustin at right now?
Jeff Lemire: Well I’ve written eight full scripts and that Dustin is on the third issue. I have the whole series really tightly plotted right through the end. Part of “Descender”, part of the nature of “Descender” is that there is a couple of big mysteries that are at the center of the story and a big mythology that I developed. I wanted to make sure I had the answer to all of those mysteries before we started the actual comic, I wanted to know where everything was going and that I had a satisfying solution to the answers to the big quetsions that we raised early on. I didn’t want to be scrambling near the end to sort of be trying to make sense of everything by throwing out cool ideas. I really spent a lot of time months before we ever wrote the first script, just developing the mythology and really plotting out the story from issue to issue to make sure it all tracts well. It’s pretty well developed and at this point it’s just a matter of me sitting down and making out those outlines and writing a script each month and I’m pretty far ahead. I’m well into the second arc and Dustin’s cruising along now on the third issue. The first issue took him a bit longer. It was an extra-sized first issue and just painting the whole thing and being a big science-fiction story dealing with so many different alien races and worlds, and all this technology that he sort of had to do a lot of design work on that first issue that now that it’s sort of established we’re feeling pretty comfortable with where we’re at.
Alt. Mindz: I really like the idea of how you’ve created this whole universe. I remember you had mentioned in a previous interview that you’ve created a bible of sorts governing your creations.
Jeff Lemire: That was part of all that pre-development ahead of time. I wanted to make sure I knew where everything was going. Dustin and I sort of mentioned that with the initial idea of “Descender” that he really wanted to draw a lot of different worlds and different environments; not just be stuck on the same planet all the time. To keep it fresh for him I kind of took that to heart and really tried to develop this whole solar system where the story takes places. To give each planet in the book that we’ll see a completely different feel and different environment with a different race and culture that obviously takes up a lot of time, but it was also partially by doing all that stuff it really allowed us to make the deal with Sony and not be bid on by all these different studios because I had done so much prep work that I could show them the complete story and this completely realized world before we even started the comics. So in the end it all paid off in that respect too.
Alt. Mindz: How long have you had the ideas for the worlds of “Descender” and the initial story?
Jeff Lemire: The initial idea for the story, I think could probably be traced back to a year ago. I would say I was coming off an exclusive at DC and in wanting to do more creator owned stuff “Descender” was one idea that just started to pop up. It was very general and a very big idea, but just had something to do with robots. In starting to talk with Dustin was when it really started to grow. I just tried to sit down and create a fully realized world with different planets and each planet having a different purpose and voice in the galaxy. It was really over the last year, but I think it was probably last Spring when I started to focus on “Descender.”
Alt. Mindz: It has a great unique flavor to it and I couldn’t be more excited to see fans pick up “Descender.” I’m happy to see that it’s with Image because they seem like a great company.
Jeff Lemire: Yeah, they’re great and from a business point of view they’re wonderful. The contracts that they have our very open and allow the creators to really control the property in every aspect from on the printed page to having Dustin and I to have full control over like what we ended up doing with the film rights and everything else – from a business point of view they’re really great. Right now, to be honest, all of my favorite comics are being published by Image and all my favorite creators are working at Image. It’s just a really exciting thing to be a part of this and it feels like a real golden age of creator owned comics right now being put out by them every month. Such a diverse library that they’re putting out every month, so many different kinds of books that they’re all so good and Dustin and I really wanted to be a part of that. It is exciting, you kind of feel like a family right now with people like Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen “The Wicked and the Divine”, Jason and Jason with “Southern Bastards”, Brian K. Vaughan and Scott Snyder, and Kelly Sue DeConnick and all these other wonderful creators doing really special work right now so it’s great to be a part of it.
Alt. Mindz: I’d like to talk about “Hawkeye” before we finish. For people that haven’t read “Hawkeye” and may only be familiar with him through “The Avengers”, why would you recommend someone adding this to your pull list?
Jeff Lemire: Hawkeye was a very daunting book to take on just because of previous incarnations from Matt Fraction and David Aja and Andy Rucik that was so successful. Those guys really brought a very personal point of view to a superhero comic with their run on “Hawkeye.” It didn’t really feel like a super hero comic. It felt like a real sort of story of what a super hero would do in his time off living in Brooklyn. To see other stuff behind the scenes on his days off and it felt like a very personal book and I wanted to continue that but also put my own spin on it. I didn’t want to just repeat what they did so luckily I’m working with a great artist Ramon Perez, who’s a great cartoonist in his own right. I think we’ve really come up with a take on “Hawkeye” that’s as individual as what they had done but also very much our own. This book will really explore Hawkeye from a lot of different points of view. The narrative is sort of split 50/50 between Hawkeye now in the present day, his adventures as an Avenger and sort of with his partner/protégé King Bishop, the other Hawkeye and that will be split 50/50 with the story of Hawkeye’s childhood, him with his brother growing up in the circus and sort of seeing all the things that made him become Hawkeye so we’re sort of doing a duel narrative, switching back and forth and time jumping to make it quite unique. Ramon’s really developed a completely different visual style for both the present day and the past and it’ll be stunning visually for sure. I’m very excited about the book and it doesn’t feel like a superhero comic. It feels like an indie comic in a lot of ways . This is much less traditional superhero arcs and much more a character study of these great characters. It really does feel like one of my more of intimate projects for sure.
Alt. Mindz: Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing what you have in store for the fans. We’ll be sure to look out for you, bet it at Special Edition, SDCC, or NYCC because we’d love to shake your hand. Thank you again for spending some time with us.
Jeff Lemire: Thanks so much. Like I said I feel really blessed to be able to do the kind of things that I want to do and to have it be successful enough to have this as a living. To all the people that read and support the work, I’m very grateful.
New York Times Bestselling author Jeff Lemire is the writer and artist beind the acclaimed graphic novels SWEET TOOTH, Essex County, The Underwater Welder and the popular sci-fi love story, TRILLIUM. Jeff is also a prominent writer for DC Comics where he currently writes the monthly adventures of GREEN ARROW and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED. He has also written the monthly adventures of ANIMAL MAN, SUPERBOY, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, FRANKENSTEIN: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and THE ATOM.
In 2009 and in 2013 Jeff won the Schuster Award for Best Canadian Cartoonist. He has also won The Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent. He also won the American Library Association’s prestigious Alex Award, recognizing books for adults with specific teen appeal. He has also been nominated for 6 Eisner Awards, 5 Harvey Awards and 6 Shuster Awards. in 2010 Essex County was named as one of the five Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade. He currently lives and works in Toronto with his wife and son.