During NC Comicon in Durham, NC, held November 9-10, artist/writer Jeff Lemire was featured in a panel that focused on his career in comics. Lemire began by giving his own “secret origin.” He told the audience he started reading comics when he was 4 or 5 years old and he never let go of them. He recalled buying Marvel and DC Comics off the newsstand at the end of the 1980’s in the small town in Canada where he grew up. He became a “DC kid” only reading a few Marvel books. He can’t remember when he hasn’t been reading and drawing comics.
He specifically mentioned Crisis on Infinite Earths, New Teen Titans and Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. It was in the Who’s Who that he first noticed different art styles were like handwriting and that was different from film making. This led to an understanding of individuals creating these comics and he began to recognize the different art styles and put names to them.
He got his start in comics after graduating from film school in Toronto and finding film making really didn’t suit him. Attesting to the great comic shops in Toronto, he found his love of drawing rejuvenated through independent comics. This led to him deciding to do comics for a living. While working in kitchens to pay the bills, he self-published Lost Days in 2005. He then wrote and drew Essex County which was picked up by Top Shelf and produced a trilogy of books. After that he did Sweet Tooth which was picked up by Vertigo.
He then mentioned some of the stuff he was reading that inspired him, mentioning early Paul Pope, specifically THB, noting Pope’s energy and brushwork. He also mentioned Daniel Clowes noting how his work showed him the potential for the medium. He then switched gears, claiming he never thought he’d work for Marvel or DC and be in the mainstream. However, it became attractive to him because it provided work.
His first work for DC Comics was the Atom feature in Adventure Comics and then a Superboy series back in 2010, noting it was the first time he not drawn what he was writing. This led to his critically acclaimed work on Animal Man during DC’s “New 52” publishing initiative. He explained he found a way to bring not only himself, but some indie stuff into it by drawing from his own life and making it personal.
He went on to explain that he felt more comfortable collaborating with others after having success on his own. He recommends finding people you work well with and sticking with them. He expanded on this point saying that try to control less as a writer and that collaboration is better. He explained further, stating that the more he is in control the more of himself he is able to put in it. He prefers to drawn his own stuff and write stories for others. Other artists are able to bring something of their own to it. This allows him to pick and chose what he draws himself, and he feels lucky he’s gotten to do both.
In addressing the challenges when working for Marvel or DC, he talked about editorial direction and inheriting a storyline. He then added it’s always great to work with a great artist and that every project is different.
Next, he turned to Royal City. He explained that for this project he took something personal, filtered it through his own life and it came out as something different. He looked his own life and made all the wrong decisions and destroyed the life of a fictional character, channeling his own anxiety.
In talking about doing multiple books at once he mentioned that you have to get far ahead. Switching back and forth between different projects keeps things fresh, it allows him to avoid getting in a rut, get ahead on one book switch to another and then come back after having been away for a while.
In addressing his writing, he stated that he comes up with the ending right away. Sometimes the idea moves a bit and sometimes things in the story surprise him as he writes. He also stated that an artist’s layouts can also change a story.
When asked about how he chooses what Marvel and DC projects to accept, he responded that early on he needed work so he had to accept everything. He did mention somewhat offhandedly that he’s done with The Terrifics, indicating he may have written all the issues of the series he’s doing.
He finished with a few more questions indicating that he wants to draw comics all the time, but having children has changed that and when asked about a writer or artist he wanted to work with he responded with “DC Black Label!”
Earlier in the weekend, I was able to speak with Jeff Lemire one-on-one and he was happy to answer some questions for me.
I first asked about The Terrifics, how the idea came about and its inspiration from Marvel’s Fantastic Four.
He said it started with a joke with Dan Didio. But, he wanted to do a story that felt like classic Fantastic Four with that science fiction element and settings. He asked about using Metamorpho and Plastic Man, noting they share a similar but not identical power set.
I asked “How do you keep it DC?”
Jeff stated that the characters keep it DC. These aren’t one for one copies, they are great characters with great histories. This allows him to explore as much about them to discover why they are the way they are.
I then asked which one of these characters he enjoyed writing the most. He revealed quite quickly, Mr. Terrific, mentioning his intensity and potential as well as his history with the Justice Society of America. He also explained that there are very few characters who have explored multiple worlds.
He answered my next question about his storytelling approach by explaining that it all starts with character and that the plot engages to explore the characters. He tailors the plot around what he wants to get out in the end. He also explained that sometimes the story goes in different directions not anticipated at the beginning of the arc.
I switched gears and turned to Jeff’s previous work at DC, noting the quality of both Animal Man and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E in the launch of “The New 52.” After describing my personal affection for Frankenstein personally, he surprised me by saying that it was one of his favorite books to write. He recalled leaving it to write Justice League Dark, and that he wouldn’t make that mistake again. Given the choice to make a second time, he said he would have stayed on Frankenstein.
Trying to find out what DC character he hasn’t written he’d like to write, he could only say that there is one such character and that he can’t say. This apparently hasn’t been announced yet!
I concluded by asking if he preferred writing high profile characters like Wolverine or low profile characters like Frankenstein more and his answer didn’t disappoint. He explained that he preferred lower profile characters because there aren’t as many stories and there’s room to explore them. It can be difficult to find a new angle on existing characters. You’ve got to be able to make characters your own y finding a different interpretation.