Long before he made a name for himself with critical hits like “Essex County” and “Sweet Tooth,” indie Ã¼bertalent Jeff Lemire grew up loving DC Comics. Now the Toronto-based comic creator has signed an exclusive deal with the preferred publisher of his youth.
DC Comics announced the news today, two weeks after a similar deal with British TV writer Paul Cornell (“Action Comics”) was made public.
Lemire will continue his work as writer and artist on the Eisner nominated “Sweet Tooth” for Vertigo, which sees it second arc come to a close this week. He will also be writing a co-feature in “Adventure Comics” featuring the Silver Age Atom Ray Palmer and launching a new “Superboy” series in August starring Conner Kent.
The deal also allows Lemire the flexibility to complete his next independent project, an original graphic novel for Top Shelf, entitled “The Underwater Welder.”
CBR News spoke with Lemire about his exclusive deal, and the writer/artist shared details on why the time was right for this type of an arrangement with a major publisher, what role Geoff Johns played in bringing him into the DCU fold and why he’s especially excited about co-writing “Adventure Comics.”
CBR News: Have you ever been exclusive to anything?
Jeffrey Lemire: No, I’ve never been exclusive to anything [Laughs].
Well, there’s your lovely wife.
There you go. This is my second exclusive contract.
Was this something you had in your sights when DC started talking to you about writing superhero stories?
Absolutely. I felt that if I was going to do superhero work, I would like to commit to DC. I’ve always been a DC fan. They have been so good in supporting “Sweet Tooth” and they were really excited about having me onboard. And [Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns was really excited about getting me to write some more stuff, so it just seemed like the right time, because if I was going to give doing superhero stuff a shot, DC was where I wanted to be. And with the family and everything, it’s certainly nice to have some security. I was going to be working on a couple of projects anyway, but now it actually feels like I can commit a bit more.
What, specifically, do you love so much about DC’s shared superhero universe?
Sometimes it’s hard to separate how much you love about something and how much you love about something growing up. Growing up, I was always drawn to DC, so it’s hard to know how much is inherent to the universe. I have a closer affinity to the characters, for sure. I really like how DC’s characters have a legacy and there are different generations of heroes, especially when you are working on something like “Superboy.” You really get a sense that this current Superboy that I’m doing is part of a history. That sense of history, I guess, if you had to boil it down to one thing, is what I love. It’s just really diverse and complicated and DC has this super interesting history, with all the multiple Earths and generations of superheroes. There is just something that really speaks to me and it’s really fun to get in there and add to it.
I know you love science fiction. Do you feel that working within DCU will allow you to explore the genre further than you have in some of your indie work?
DC certainly has a greater sense of science fiction at the core of its universe, where it is the most fantastic of worlds in so many ways, and that’s important when you are looking for an escape, which I think a lot of people are looking for when they read superhero comics.
Starting with the Julius Schwartz era, he was such a science fiction guy. He grounded a lot of the Silver Age characters in these crazy and great science fiction concepts, and that’s when you get into the multiple Earths and that sort of sci-fi thing.
What were some DC titles you just had to pick up as a youngster growing up in southwestern Ontario?
The big two for me were always “Teen Titans” and “Legion of Super-Heroes.” Those were my favorite books growing up – the Wolfman/Perez run on “Teen Titans” and the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen run on “Legion.” Those were both really great. In the early 1990s, I got more into the Vertigo stuff and I kept reading DC things.
And when you’re talking about that sense of fantastic, the Levitz/Giffen “Legion” run certainly comes to mind.
People complain that there are too many characters in those books, but that’s kind of what’s so cool about them. You just have these dozens and dozens of heroes. Sometimes one would just pop up for a couple of panels, and it would almost be mysterious. “Who is that guy?” And you would want to know more. I like that about DC.
It must be somewhat surreal, then, to be writing the co-feature for “Adventure Comics” with Mr. Levitz writing the “Legion of Super-Heroes” story in the title each month.
I have the entire Paul Levitz “Legion” run. I have all of my issues bound in these hardcover volumes on my bookshelf, so to have my name on any book with him, especially one with Legion in it, is beyond a dream come true. It’s really quite an honor.
Are you having fun writing The Atom for the co-feature?
Yeah, Ray Palmer just goes back to the science fiction core to all of these characters. He’s a perfect example. It’s just such a wacky idea of this guy that can shrink. You can do so much with that so with every chapter that I’m doing, I’m trying to focus on one application of his abilities and trying to illustrate it in a new or interesting way – just really re-establish how cool his powers are.
When we spoke last time, you mentioned that you have a big story to tell with him. Is that still the plan, or will we see done-in-one stories as the co-feature in “Adventure Comics”?
No, it’s one big story, for sure. I kind of created a new villain for The Atom. Or villains. It’s going to be something that is tied into his past and his future, so it’s going to set them up as a new force in the DC Universe, a force that The Atom, and Ray Palmer specifically, is a perfect person to stand against them. I hope it’s a really satisfying story that will set up the character and his world moving forward.
Before the co-features start, you have a one-shot coming out in “Brightest Day: The Atom Special” that really sets your Ray Palmer story in motion. Are you happy with how that turned out?
It’s funny – I was just talking to my editor about this. For whatever reason, I find when I’m writing and drawing my own stuff, whether it’s “Sweet Tooth” or whatever else, I’m a really good judge of what’s working and what isn’t working but I find with someone else drawing my stuff, there is a weird filter in front it where I can’t quite tell. I don’t have the same critical eye. I can’t tell when things are working, as well. It almost feels like there is a separation. So I honestly don’t even know if it’s good or not [Laughs] but people at DC seem to like it. It certainly looks great. The art [by Mahmud Asrar] looks really nice, and I hope the story I’ve cooked up will capture people’s attention. I guess I’m happy with it, but it might take some time and some distance for me to look at it critically.
Your other major project coming up is “Superboy.” Can you give us a tease about what we’ll see in that?
“Superboy” has been an incredible experience so far. I feel like I’ve hit into something pretty cool with that book already. I’m on the third script, so it’s starting to really take shape. I’m really happy with the tone and the mood of it and I’m really happy with the artist [Pier Gallo]. We seem to have a really strong connection already. I’m excited about the potential of that book and I hope people give it a chance. It’s certainly going to be a very different Superboy than anything else that anybody has ever read before.
Again, I have this big overarching mythology planned for that book that I’ve put a lot of time into. I think it’s going to be a book that, if people give it a chance, it’s going to be something really special. I’m kind of comparing it to “Lost.” There’s this overarching mystery that’s going to be going on in Smallville that’s going to slowly reveal itself. So I’m really excited about the potential of that book and it capturing an audience.
The last we spoke, you mentioned you were planning to have Ray Palmer visit Smallville. Is that still in the works?
It’s one of those things that I really wanted to do it, but it just doesn’t seem very natural at this point [Laughs]. But if something happens or I find a thread or plotline where it feels like it would be a good fit, I’d love to have him come over for an issue or something, but I don’t want to just cram him in for something to do. That won’t really work.
You mentioned Geoff Johns being heavily involved in recruiting you into DCU. Can you talk a bit about that relationship?
I wouldn’t consider it a personal relationship, because I actually haven’t met him in person yet, but I think we definitely have a mutual respect for each other’s work. He really respects my voice and I think he recognized, with me and a couple of other guys, that if you bring some new people in, they can re-energize some of the heroes and stuff and vice versa. And I really respect a lot of what he’s done at DC over the last decade or so. I feel he brought a lot of DC’s superheroes back to those great Silver Age roots but gave them a contemporary edge. I really enjoy how he writes and how he approaches the DC Universe and I think we’re both of the same generation, so I think we had a lot of the same influences growing up too.
In fact, I like that I got in the door not on any personal relationships or anything like that but that they just saw something in my work.
How does the exclusive contract affect your independent work, like your upcoming OGN for Top Shelf?
Well for me, it’s an opportunity that I probably won’t get again. If you get offered a chance to do the superhero stuff, I think I feel like I should take it because I can always do independent work. There is never any time limit. Basically, it’s all you when you are doing independent stuff, so I can do that at any time in my life. Whereas, I might get this window or this opportunity to play with the superheroes only once, so I really wanted to take it, and DC was really gracious about allowing me to keep working on my Top Shelf stuff so that’s still going to be published on schedule and everything. They were really supportive of me continuing my personal work. I’m never going to stop doing writer/artist stuff, whether it’s “Sweet Tooth” or with other projects in the future, and I think doing superhero stuff can only help because it just brings more people to my work, and the more people that read “Sweet Tooth” or “Superboy” or whatever are going to go back and look for “Essex County” or whatever else I do in that vein, so I don’t really see any drawbacks at this point.
Are you still surprised by the response that “Sweet Tooth” has received?
Whenever you try to do something a little bit different – that book is even different from what people expect from Vertigo – it can probably go either way; either people just don’t get it and it dies off quickly or else something about it intrigues enough people that keep it going and thankfully, it seems like the latter is happening. I can’t really control that, anyway. All I can do is make a really good book, so that’s what I’m trying to do.
The next issue of “Sweet Tooth” is a big one. It’s the end of the second arc and there are lots of reveals. With the first trade out and with the second arc wrapping up, this is a great time for people to jump into “Sweet Tooth” and see what it’s all about. When you combine that with the timing of “The Atom Special” coming out this week, and “Superboy” isn’t too far down the road, it’s a good time for some new people to check out “Sweet Tooth,” for sure.
We really get into Jepperd’s backstory this week, right?
Yeah, you kind of see what happen to him. I’ve got to say, it’s a really brutal issue. It’s pretty intense, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
Are we going to hear about any other projects from you at San Diego or later this year?
To be honest, I’m writing and drawing “Sweet Tooth” every month, and now I have a monthly and another kind of half-monthly, so my plate is pretty full for the near future. There probably will be other things coming, but nothing immediate because the three projects that I have coming are taking up all of my time. But I think when The Atom co-feature concludes, I’ll probably have a little more space in my schedule to take on something new, so we’ll see.
“Sweet Tooth” #11 and “Brightest Day: The Atom Special” are both scheduled to be released this week.