While here at Comic Book Resources, we love chatting with some of the biggest talents in comics, we understand that sometimes it’s best for us to just get out of the way.
That’s why this week, CBR News is launching a special, brand-new series of interviews: The DC Writers Relay! Each day for the rest of the week, an up-and-coming writing talent from DC Comics will interview one of his peers about their work, life, career and more. The next day, the interviewee becomes interviewer before handing off the mic to the next round in the run. Kicking things off, we’ve asked brand new “Detective Comics” writer and “American Vampire” scribe Scott Snyder to interview his friend and peer, Jeff Lemire!
An acclaimed cartoonist and storyteller, Lemire came into the world of mainstream comics through one of the rarest outlets imaginable: the alternative literary comics scene. After selling the first of an eventual three-book series of stories about life in rural Canada titled “Essex County” to Top Shelf in 2008, the Ontario native quickly earned praise for his personal storytelling and unique style of cartooning. After winning multiple awards, Lemire landed at Vertigo in 2009 where he produced “The Nobody” -Â a modern day twist on the classic “Invisible Man” story. Soon, his talents gained the attention of both sides of the DC monthly publishing world by selling the ongoing post-apocalyptic series “Sweet Tooth” to Vertigo while also earning the attention of DC CCO Geoff Johns who championed the creator as a DC Universe writer on a series of The Atom stories in “Adventure Comics.” Today, “Sweet Tooth” continues apace with its 17th issue on tap for January 5 while Lemire has also launched the new ongoing “Superboy” series with artist Pier Gallo with the second issue hitting shops last week.
Below, Snyder draws details from the artist’s entire career, from the early work before “Essex County” that you’ll never see through the sketchbook origins of “Sweet Tooth” on to the themes that make “Superboy” as personal as his creator-owned work. And all the while, the pair riff on what it takes to make it as a working artist, discuss the ways breaking into comics may be easier than you think and share an exclusive first look at the covers to the March issues of Lemire’s DC work! Read on, and then check back tomorrow to see who Lemire will pass the baton to!
Scott Snyder: Well, to start off, it’s a pleasure to be interviewing you. I’m obviously a big fan of your work.
Jeff Lemire: Yeah, yeah. [Laughter]
Snyder: One of the things about being friends with Jeff now – and I consider him one of my closest friends…
Snyder: Yeah. It’s sad, isn’t it? [Laughter] But I was a fan of your work from a long time ago, so it’s exciting to talk to you as a fan and a colleague rather than just sitting around and shooting the shit. Let’s start with how you got into comics in the first place. Was it something where you were a kid like Lester in “Essex County” where this is all you wanted to do from when you were a kid, or is this more of a winding path? How did you come to make comics in the first place?
Lemire: Yeah, I pretty much was that kid who got obsessed with comics at a really young age. I must have been four or five when I started getting into them and I spent all my time copying pictures from them. It just seemed like it was all I wanted to do from the moment I knew they existed. I never really veered from that.
Snyder: So how was it that this began as a professional career? When was it that you moved from something you loved doing to something you could do professionally?
Lemire: Well, doing it professionally as in making a living off it is only a fairly new thing. The longer answer is that when I was in my late teens, it didn’t seem like something that was possible. I didn’t aspire to be in comics because it didn’t seem like…I mean, it’d be like a kid dreaming of playing in the major leagues. It was completely out of reach. When I had to figure out what I was going to do after high school, it wasn’t an option to try and be a cartoonist.
Snyder: Did you do a lot of odd jobs in between?
Lemire: Yeah. That came later, but when I had to go to school for something, I knew I wanted to tell stories. I was also really into film at the time, so I went to film school out of high school for a couple of years. It was actually going to film school that got me really serious about doing comics. I was frustrated because there were stories I wanted to tell, and I was already developing a visual style in terms of film, but it was so hard to get those ideas out with actors and a crew and a budget. It seemed so frustrating and so limiting. That’s when I turned back to comics. I just started reading a lot of indie comics and it opened my mind to the potential comics could have. So when I graduated film school, that’s pretty much when I just decided I wanted to be a cartoonist. Again, I didn’t really aspire to make a living off of it because I didn’t think that was possible. I just figured I’d spend my days working shitty jobs and then drawing comics on the side. [Laughter]
Snyder: What sort of jobs did you do, and did you start right off with “Essex County” and take that to Top Shelf?
Lemire: No. This was back in ’99 when I got out of school. There was a good eight or nine years there where I was drawing comics every day while working in restaurants and stuff. And none of that stuff will ever see publication. It was all just formative work where a lot of it wasn’t very good. It was just me trying to do things and slowly getting better and better. Long before “Essex County,” I was really just trying to figure out what I was doing because I didn’t know anyone who did comics. I didn’t have anyone in my life I could turn to just for practical tips on drawing or what tools to use. All that stuff was just self-taught. While I was doing that, I was basically working as a cook in restaurants around Toronto because I could work night shifts doing that and then draw all day. It’s kind of what I did for the better part of ten years.
Snyder: That’s interesting, because your style and you books are such worlds into themselves. I feel like all the things you draw and write show how you’ve had a gestational period as a creator. Your work is so distinctive, not just because of the art style, but because of the themes. It feels that when I became aware of you, you were so fully formed in terms the kinds of stuff you write about. That is what impressed me most, book to book.
Lemire: I think that’s because of all that formative stuff where I didn’t know what I was doing. No one ever saw that stuff, and I think I waited until I’d done something good enough to publish before I even sought out a publisher.
Snyder: That’s one of the weird things about the contemporary mythology of becoming a comic book writer -Â you write something and then burst onto the scene, so you have your formative years as a writer. But one of the things that’s interesting for me is that a lot of people I talk to do what you did. That’s what I did in the literary world in the same way. You discover yourself as a writer before seeking publication.
Lemire: It takes a long time to find your voice, I think, as a writer or an artist. One of the things that is so different now -Â and I say “now,” but it was really only ten years ago when I was in that stage – but with the internet and Twitter and all that stuff, everything is so accessible. Everyone is so accessible to each other, and it’s easy to put your stuff out there right away. The line between professionalism and the amateur world is so blurred, now that the formative stuff is in everybody’s hands.
Snyder: I feel the same way. I feel like a cranky old man saying it, but I was watching a Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction. Bono was giving a speech about Springsteen or somebody – my wife was watching it when I walked in -Â and he was saying that if the music industry was the way it is now when U2 was forming, there wouldn’t have been anything past “October.” Because they had a gestational period! It’s like any of the bands I love -Â since there wasn’t an internet when Nirvana was forming, you have time to play in the dark by yourself and figure out who you are. But it does, now, seem like the spotlight is so aggressive. It’s so intrusive that the moment you do anything that shows any promise, somebody can pluck you up. There is a certain amount of protection you have to give yourself as a writer or an artist.
Lemire: I feel like a lot of young people trying to do whatever it is they want to do don’t have the patience or the work ethic to really develop. Everybody wants to be famous right away. Hence, the fame and notoriety is more important than the work itself. No one takes the time to find their voice. They just start throwing their stuff out there, hoping it catches. I’m really glad -Â God, this sounds terrible – but I’m glad that I didn’t really have a lot of friends in comics or a lot of friends, period, in that time of my life. Like I said, I spent the good part of ten years alone and working and trying to get better. I’m glad that I have that. It feels like if you go to school for comics and be with all these other kids with so many other influences, it’d be hard to make it. Maybe that’s why my stuff is so distinct. I just did it in a bubble.
Snyder: But that’s what made it so appealing to me from the beginning. I think what you offer even titles that are major, marquee titles like “Superboy,” is a point of view. When it comes to a story, I remember reading some of your scripts for “Superboy,” and it’s such a singular vision of the approach and what it’s about. It’s about something that matters to you, and it’s thematically central to your work in general. It’s what makes you valuable, as well, to a company. I think it’s not just the ability to write something that’s commercial. It’s the ability to bring something to the world that’s uniquely yours. Your take on something. I just feel bad, honestly, for a lot of people younger than us who come into comics or fiction or illustration or film or music now. It feels like there’s such an instant transformation. If you show a glimmer of promise, they give you a giant stage.
One thing for me, personally, that’s the narrative of the way I’ve been in comics is that, even though I did this thing, and now I’m writing “Detective,” I was writing forever. I’m 34. I was writing for 16 years before this. It’s the same thing that develops who you are, and once you’re there, it makes you valuable to companies, not just in a commercial way but in terms of being a storyteller.
So going back to what you’ve worked on, one of the things that really struck me as so impressive about “Essex County” is how fully formed book-to-book it seemed. For those of you who haven’t read “Essex County,” it’s a multi-generational epic that’s also very personal, with small drama about people living in this town of Essex County in Ontario. It begins with Lester, who’s a young boy who loves comics and is orphaned and goes to live on a farm with his uncle. He becomes friends with a guy who’s kind of slow-witted and works at a gas station. With something like that which is so close to your heart, do you feel like it’s hard to put so much of yourself on the page? Were you intimidated to put something so close to your own experiences out there?
Lemire: Not really, because, like I said, I was kind of in a bubble when I was doing that book. I didn’t expect it to be published because I was just doing it for myself. It wasn’t until later that I found out it was going to be published. There was no expectation at all. If anything, it finally felt like after all those bad comics I’d been doing on my own that I had a moment where I really found my voice. It was more exciting than anything to discover that.
Snyder: Like I said, it feels so fully realized as soon as you begin it. With a project like that, did you find your way through it, or were you confident enough that you built the whole thing before that? What’s your process as a writer, I guess is what I’m asking.
Lemire: It really wasn’t fully formed at all. I did the first volume as a standalone thing.
Snyder: It was never intended as a multi-volume book?
Lemire: Not at allllllllllllll. [Laughter] I didn’t have the other two ideas even in a rough sense when I was doing the first one. It wasn’t until near the end of making the first one that, because I was enjoying it so much, I thought of a way to expand the world and do another story. It was coming at it backwards. And I didn’t pitch the first volume to a publisher or anything until it was completed. Yeah, I was either going to self-publish it, or I figured if I was going to have it published, I’d only go with one of a few different publishers. I only sent to to two people, one being Top Shelf, and they wanted to do it. Once they agreed to publish the first one, I started in on the second one and made that loosely connect to the first. It wasn’t until the third volume that there was an intentional attempt to tie it all together. They’d been out and were selling well, so it was obvious that I needed to make that into a complete story.
Snyder: It’s interesting, because they feel so coherent. Going back to what we were talking about before, thematically it’s so much about one of the things I think I see moving forwards towards “The Nobody” and “Sweet Tooth.” One of the themes I see in all of your stuff is how the characters are always searching for some sense of home, whether geographical or spiritual. I was wondering if you could speak to that. Do you think that’s at all a part of having grown up in a more rural setting?
Lemire: I don’t know. [Laughs] Let me ask you, as a writer, are you really aware of your themes before you start writing? Or when it’s all done, do you go, “I guess this is what it’s about?” Because I don’t know if I think about it beforehand. I just write whatever, without a theme in mind. I just write stories, and later I go, “Maybe this is what it’s about.”
Snyder: It’s funny. I have a couple of friends who are writers who have the opposite process from me. If they know anything about where the story is going, they don’t want to write it at all.
Lemire: Really? That’s really weird.
Snyder: Yeah! If they know the ending, they don’t want to do it. I have the opposite thing where, as long as I know the ending and I can figure it out as an individual piece, I’m good to go with the middle being kind of fuzzy.
Lemire: That’s exactly what I do. For me, the ending is always the first thing I think of. You get the idea or the setup and then the end point. The rest is easy. You just try to get them from point A to point B.
Snyder: Maybe that’s what I mean. Your books always feel like they know what they’re about. I could pick a theme out of it that has to do with home, or someone else could pick out a theme of regret on the part of anyone, from Jepperd in “Sweet Tooth” to Lou in “Essex County.” The point is, it feels like you know the ending before you start.
Lemire: I do always know the ending. “Sweet Tooth” is being built around the ending that I’ve always seen.
Snyder: Same with “American Vampire” for me.
Lemire: That’s not what you told me.
Snyder: Well, yeah – I mean, Skinner decides that he…I’m not going to tell, here.
Lemire: Well, should we reveal here that both “American Vampire” and “Sweet Tooth” have the same ending and that the two stories meet up?
Snyder: How Skinner and Gus lobby for inter-species marriage and they connect? It brings all the family trees together.
Lemire: See, we’re trying to be funny here, and we’re not. [Laughter]
Snyder: What I was seriously trying to get at was, in reading your stuff – anything from “Sweet Tooth” to “The Nobody” to some of your “Superboy” scripts -Â is that even when it’s a long-form story, it feels like it has a very clear sense of direction. I wanted you to talk about that, because something that’s so appealing in your work is that it’s very confident.
Lemire: Yeah, it’s exactly what we said. Since the ending is always the first thing I think of, I don’t structure the story around plot or themes. It’s more a journey of getting characters from A to B, and in the case of “Sweet Tooth,” the plot is literally a journey. Once you know the ending, you can just go for it. I don’t know how to answer it. I often don’t think about that. Maybe other writers do and they’re more methodical about how they approach the work, but for me it’s a little more haphazard, where I just sit down and write a story and let it happen. I figure it out later, so it’s good that you think it reads so well.
Snyder: It does! I think you think it’s not fully formed, but part of that is how you’re moving the character from A to B, and seeing the ending let’s you know what it’s about…
Lemire: I know what it’s about, of course.
Snyder: That’s what I mean. You know what it’s about, and somebody else may look at themselves as a writer and go, “This is what the story is about – these themes,” but it’s no different from you saying you want to get Gus from his house in the woods to wherever he’s going at the end of the series. It’s all the same thing. But getting more concrete about it, I love “Sweet Tooth” more than anything else at Vertigo.
Lemire: Me too! [Laughter]
Snyder: For anybody who hasn’t read it, it’s a post-apocalyptic book about a world that’s been ravaged by a mysterious virus that’s wiped out almost every human being on the planet except for a small few. Yet at the same time, there are these children being born on the planet that are animal/human hybrids who are immune to the virus. The main character is a young boy named Gus, who is a deer/human hybrid with antlers.
Lemire: It’s kind of hard to describe him.
Snyder: Yeah, and the book tells the story of his leaving home once his father dies, along with an older mysterious guy named Jepperd. Their stories seemed tied together. For a book like that, how did that come to be?
Lemire: It came from different places. Technically, in terms of how I pitched it and how it got approved, it was really just a matter of my doing “The Nobody” with Bob Schreck at Vertigo, who’s no longer there, but who was my editor. There were some slots for ongoings, and he suggested I pitch something. I literally spent the weekend coming up with “Sweet Tooth.” I pitched it on a Monday, it was greenlit by, like, Thursday, which almost never happens. You know how these things take a long time. So it was a weird thing to happen so fast. It seemed easy, but the truth is that it had been percolating for probably a year and a half before that. That’s just when I had to sit and put it down. But it came from a couple of different things. I’m sure you hate the question, too, of “Where do your ideas come from,” because it’s kind of hard to say.
Snyder: Well, what was it that caught you? How did it begin?
Lemire: Most of my stuff comes to me visually, rather than with plot or whatever. It’s just a matter of how I spent a lot of time -Â or at least I used to before I got busy -Â sketching in my books every day. I’d doodle whatever came to mind and would work over ideas visually. That’s how “Essex County” started. I just kept drawing that kid in the mask and the cape, and I was really into hockey at the time. I’d played as a teenager and had just gotten back into it around then. I got sucked up into the history of the game and was drawing these old time hockey players. At one point, you just sit there and look at your sketchbook over the past month or two, and these same characters and images kind of pop out and a little story starts to formulate.
It was the same with “Sweet Tooth.” I just kept drawing this kid with antlers. Sometimes he’s a kid, and sometimes he’s a bit older with antlers. I don’t know where that came from, but like with anything, a story started to spring up around him. You give a kid antlers, and then you start thinking of all this stuff like hunting lodges and him being chased through the woods by deer hunters. It just forms into a story, and you build it. Once it starts to take root, you go. I guess it all starts with the doodling for me. That’s how I write too. I write mostly by doing thumbnails and layouts, and I just do the writing as I go.
Snyder: I feel like the same way. Stuff comes from a scene in mind -Â something that’s a visual scene. For “American Vampire,” it was a character that could walk in the sunlight.
Lemire: Yeah. You get one idea for one central image, and it just sticks with you so much that the rest starts to form around it.
Snyder: I think part of this is that gestational period we were talking about, where you have to be able to learn what your gut is. You get so many ideas that you think would be a good story or be commercial, but you have to understand when that sensation comes where you go, “That might make a terribly uncommercial story, but that’s my story.” [Laughter] In teaching, that’s always my golden rule – you can only bring something to class if you’d like to open it up as a book and read it.
Lemire: It’s the same where you have tons of ideas that you jot down and you think it’s going to be the next big thing you do. Then two days later, you’ve lost steam on it and never go back to it. Other things come the same way but don’t stop. They keep going. That’s what it was with “Sweet Tooth.” It could have gone nowhere, but it kept growing as I work on it, whereas other things just die away. They may come back in some other form later, but it’s kind of a mystery as to why.
Snyder: But it shows in the work itself. I remember when I was talking to you, and you didn’t didn’t know how long “Sweet Tooth” would go…
Lemire: And still don’t! [Laughs]
Snyder: But your enthusiasm for the characters and the story shows in the work. It doesn’t flag.
Lemire: It’s been an interesting thing doing it as a monthly book. I’ve never done that before. I’ve always done something with a beginning, middle and an end where I sit down and write it, it’s finished after a certain amount of pages and then I move on to the next thing. This has been really challenging every month, and to have it be kind of open-ended -Â I know the end, but it’s open in terms of how I get there – it’s challenging, because there are days like today where I can’t even seem to get a page down. I go, “I’ve just got to end this fucking thing at issue #20 and move on because there’s no way this will make any sense.”
Snyder: That’s mostly my fault for calling you up to gossip about things. [Laughter]
Lemire: No. It’s just that there are days where you’re so uninspired by it, and you think, “I’m bored of this idea.” And then the next day you could wake up and decide to figure out why you’re so bored with it. You realize, “I’m just going through the motions” and I’ll stop halfway through an issue and completely rework it into something I want to write. Then it sticks with you for another month.
Snyder: That’s just the thing. It’s what separates you and makes your stuff so exciting. Not to go off on a tangent, but there’s this myth that there are all these novels and comic book ideas and TV and movie ideas that are great that are sitting under beds -Â that people send them to publishing house and production studios but the gates are just closed to everyone except people who know people. The truth to me seems like the opposite. They’re desperate for good ideas, but usually with your first attempt at a good idea or a story, it gets tedious at some point. You have to go back to it day after day, even when you don’t get inspired. The thing that separates people who actually do it professionally from those that don’t is just a matter of being able to stomach how bad it feels to sit down when you don’t feel inspired and still continue with the story beyond. My feeling is that a lot of people could be writers. It’s not this incredibly hard thing to do, where you have to be touched or have an amazing ability.
Lemire: Well, I’m touched like that.
Snyder: [Laughs] But aside from you, the amount of natural aptitude that it takes to be of competence where you could do this as a career is accessible for most people, or reachable for most people, but it’s so romanticized. It’s just a job.
Lemire: Yeah, it is!
Snyder: And there are moments where you have to sit down and do it when you don’t feel like doing it.
strong>Lemire: It’s just as grueling as any other job some days. What’s that saying? “Being a professional is doing the thing you love to do, even on the days when you don’t feel like doing it.”
Snyder: I want to bring it back to “Sweet Tooth” because right now seems like a good time to jump onto the series.
Lemire: I think so. It is coming to a good point because I’m nearing at what – for this moment anyway – I view as the halfway mark in the bigger story. It’s probably a good time to jump on.
Snyder: And it seems like certain chapters have wrapped as Gus is just starting to realize his potential. He’s ready to lead the kids and lead the story forward, so people who haven’t been reading it could jump on now without having read everything before it and be able to go forward.
Lemire: I feel like it’s a fairly accessible book because if you haven’t read it, you can pick up any issue and get the gist of it. You might want to fill out the details later, but it’s fairly straightforward: this kid and his quest to find safety and home in this world. I do think it’s a good point to jump on because all of the storylines I’ve been planting for a year and a half are coming to an end, and we’ll be starting fresh.
Snyder: One of the things that’s so gratifying about the series is that it feels like you build it in arcs or plan pieces of it out. The first one feels like Gus is depending on other people or searching for who he is and for a home, and it ends at a moment where he’s going to be empowered moving forward -Â that he’ll be a protagonist who doesn’t just take up most of the room but feels active.
Lemire: The whole book is not rocket science. Each different arc is structured around a different stage in his growth from early childhood to whatever he’ll become. The first two books are him as this literally wide-eyed embodiment of youth with this innocence. Then, that is shattered. Now we’re entering adolescence. He’s growing to see what he’ll become. He’s been betrayed. He’ll see potential as a leader, but it’s kind of scary that he’s becoming more like Jepperd. Or is that scary? Is it what he has to become to survive? He is at a crossroads, and that does make it a good point for new readers to jump on and get involved.
Snyder: So for anyone who’s not reading it, if you’ve got any interest in anything from high-concept, post-apocalyptic stories to really personal, emotional, psychologically engaging characters, you have to jump on this book. [Lemire Laughs] I’m serious! Even if I wasn’t your friend, I’d feel the same way. I always feel like there’s this fine line when I meet Gail Simone or somebody who’s stuff you’ve read – Geoff Johns or Jim Lee. One of the weird things about working in comics is that you meet people who you’ve respected, and there’s a fine line between being the obsessive crazy fan and being the guy that knows you work with them.
Lemire: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s pretty fun to be a part of Vertigo right now. There’s so much good stuff, between “American Vampire” and Brian Wood’s stuff being so good and “Scalped.” I grew up reading Vertigo. It’s what kept me into comics for a few years there after I grew out of the superhero stuff.
Snyder: Well, speaking of that, let’s go to “Superboy.” Moving on from “Sweet Tooth,” one of the impressive things is how when you write and draw something, it feels like there’s a seamlessness between the illustration and the narrative. Your illustration echoes a kind of storybook quality in the way you depict characters. They have a simplicity to them that makes you feel the story is going to be morally or ethically simple, but then you have these stories that are so dark and complex. The simplicity of the art makes it so rich – that contrast.
Lemire: And from our experiences talking to DC folks, don’t you get the feeling that people think it’s a much lighter book than it really is?
Snyder: Yeah. One of the things that’s so funny is that the perception at DC is that I’m a much darker writer with “American Vampire” than Jeff is with “Sweet Tooth.” But my perception is the reverse! [Laughter] “American Vampire” pretends to be dark by having people rip each other’s faces off, but “Sweet Tooth” is really dark where Jepperd abandons him and there’s a real emotional darkness to it.
Lemire: And it’s getting darker with the stuff I’m doing now.
Snyder: When we first both signed contracts with DC, we proposed doing something together, and one of the editorial notes was that we might not fit because I was dark, and you were lighter. It’s like slight of hand, because the illustration makes your stuff deceptively whimsical. So let’s look at “Superboy.” How did it come to be in terms of you figuring out the logistics of a book like this in the first place?
Lemire: It was a funny way of happening. You know how you try to pitch stuff forever and it doesn’t go anywhere, but then something else falls in your lap and you get it really easily. I had just starting doing “The Atom” stuff, and it was going really well. I made a casual comment like, “Somebody should be doing Superboy.” Then Geoff Johns was like, “You’d be good for that!” I think I felt like, “Superboy? That’s lame?” [Laughter] I wanted to do something darker, like “The Spectre.” But when I got off the phone with [Johns], I started thinking about my past work and “Essex County,” and it really was a natural fit to do a rural superhero story. It stopped being something I thought of as lame or a goofy teen hero thing, and I made it into something that was really important to me. It echoes the themes of my past work and was a natural fit.
Snyder: Were you intimidated by taking on this iconic character?
Lemire: No, not really. I didn’t see him as an iconic character because it’s not really Clark Kent Superboy, you know? It’s more of an open book to me than if I was doing classic Clark Kent stories.
Snyder: What’s so impressive in the stuff you showed me is that you really seem to hone in on this idea that he’s somebody who’s fully formed into adulthood without having a childhood. He seems desperate to find a sense of place or a sense of home in that way that we’ve talked about. For a character who I thought of from “Infinite Crisis” as being so defined, you’ve cut to the heart of what he’s about and built a series around it.
Lemire: I mean, the whole thing for me was that he never had a childhood of any kind. He was literally born in a test tube and came out as a teenager. He never had any sense of normalcy or the things we’d grow up having. Now, after all these crazy things that have happened to him in his life, this is about him trying to recreate that sense of family and normalcy and to do it in this idyllic Smallville -Â the perfect American town. He’s trying to do what Clark did as a teen, and what happens is that any attempt for him to be that normal kid keeps being thwarted by dark and weird things coming to Smallville to prevent him from being normal. It’s going to wind up where he’s got to decide whether he wants to protect the people in his life and stand up to the responsibility of who he is, or does he want to find something he was maybe never meant to have. It’s an ongoing series, but I know where I’ll end with him and what that end point will be. So for now, it’s just a matter of building that up and getting there with him.
Snyder: And that shows in the first scripts. You have a sense of purpose with the character – Conner is desperate for a place in the world and an identity. Things stand in the way of him being who he is on top of all this stuff with him being a hybrid of Lex Luthor and Kal-El.
Lemire: [Laughs] It’s a weird medium for normalcy, where the only people he feels like he can make friends with or connect to are these weirdos in the town – some of whom we’ve seen before in various ways and some of who are new characters that I’m creating.
Snyder: The cast you’ve created feel like they’ve been there forever in Smallville as components of Conner’s psychology and his fears and hopes. Was it hard for you, as somebody who usually has full creative control, to work with someone as a writer and them draw the book?
Lemire: Yeah, it really was hard. I’m so used to doing everything myself and controlling every little detail on things. A lot of my writing comes through in the subtlety of the art. So it’s really hard to try and keep that voice but channel it through someone else. If I’m being completely honest, I think that some of the early Atom stuff I did was mediocre at best because I was really struggling with that. It was my first time with another artist. I think you can see me struggling to find my voice. In the later Atom stuff and by the time I started on “Superboy” I’d found that voice. It’s like I have to be a whole different writer on this stuff because you’ve got to communicate your ideas and have them come out. You’ve got to get to know each of the artists you work with and bring out the best in them. So I guess the short answer is “Yes, it’s hard.” [Laughs] I’m getting better at it, but I feel there was a real learning curve there. But I feel like I’ve got my legs now.
Snyder: One of the things that’s interesting, as somebody who doesn’t draw or who wanted to draw but wasn’t good enough and wound up just writing, is that to me, it’s artist-to-artist. The script alters based on whether I’m working with Jock on “Detective” or Rafa on “American Vampire.” With the very early Atom stuff, one of the things I noticed is, if you were drawing it, there would have been a really interesting aspect to how the visuals worked with the dialogue. Your characters don’t speak often, but when they speak, it’s very earnest. So the fact that your art is so anxious and unsettling in some ways works perfectly. It’s interesting to me consider how hard it would be to transfer the writing in what you do to someone who draws things more literally or more directly. There’s a subtext in all your stuff.
Lemire: For me, the learning curve was trying to find ways to get that subtext across without the art – just in the scripts -Â or maybe finding a way to do it through how that artist draws. It takes time and practice like anything.
Snyder: It seems seamless in “Superboy.”
Lemire: Well, I think part of that may be that I’m a better fit with that character than I ever was with the Atom. I think I understand Superboy and his world more than I ever did the world of a scientist. It was tough.
Snyder: I think you’re being humble about it, because I’ve read the scripts. And panel-to-panel in the stuff you draw, the subtext comes from the tension between the art and the dialogue. But in “Superboy,” you’ve put that subtext into the dialogue in the expressions and the way the characters act panel-to-panel.
Lemire: Yeah, all right. [Laughter] But I’m very excited to see people read this, too. I never thought I’d be so excited by this character when they offered him to me. Being able to make it my own so much -Â and you know my plans and how I’ve got some pretty creepy stuff planned.
Snyder: On the one hand, it feels perfectly appropriate for the character, and on the other hand, it feels of a piece with what you’ve done by yourself. It’s a perfect fit. Nothing feels out of place. I urge everybody reading this to pick up “Superboy.” It’s going to be the best series of 2011.
Lemire: Except for “Detective Comics.”
Snyder: Well, that goes without saying. [Laughter]
Credit where credit is due, CBR would like to note our inspiration from the BBC’s excellent Chain Reaction radio show. Check back with CBR tomorrow as the DC Writer Relay continues with Jeff Lemire interviewing Nick Spencer!