This summer is shaping up to be a busy one for writer and artist Jeff Lemire. Beyond co-writing “Trinity War,” DC Comics’ first major event since the advent of the New 52, with superstar Geoff Johns, Vertigo Comics is also releasing the Canadian writer/artist’s newest creator-owned miniseries, the sci-fi romance “Trillium.”
Announced along with Scott Snyder’s creator-owned miniseries “The Wake” at last year’s NYCC, “Trillium” tells the story of a woman from the year 3797 and a man from 1921 who end up falling in love, a simple action that will destroy the universe. Written and drawn by Lemire, the ten-issue miniseries beings in August.
Taking a break from his convention travel, deadlines and recently announced DC Villains Month title, Lemire took the time to speak with Comic Book Resources about his upcoming creator-owned miniseries, his evolving art style and his future at Vertigo.
CBR News: The first issue of “Trillium” is out in August and marks your return to Vertigo following the conclusion of “Sweet Tooth.” What was the inspiration for the story, and why did you specifically want it to be a sci-fi romance?
Jeff Lemire: It came from a couple of places; as a kid I really loved sci-fi and I read a lot of classic sci-fi like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and things like that — Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” was probably my favorite movie when I was younger. I saw that for the first time and it had a pretty profound influence on me artistically. So sci-fi is something I always wanted to tackle. “Sweet Tooth” was a multi-year project and I was talking to Mark [Doyle], my editor at Vertigo about what I might want to do next. It was a couple of [ideas] that he kind of called me on as similar to things I had done in the past, and maybe it would be a good idea to do something totally different. Doing sci-fi and it being a romance would just be completely different from “Sweet Tooth” or “Essex County” or my other creator-owned stuff. I really wanted it to be super fresh and to write something I hadn’t done before. On top of that I had these unconnected ideas about a story about an explorer from the ’20s who had been in the first World War and somehow those two things got mashed together into this story.
Obviously the year 3797 you’re fabricating whole cloth, but what interested you about the 1920s?
That time period for some reason has always held my interest, especially World War One. This is kind of a sidetrack, but a couple of weeks ago at a convention I met George Pratt the painter and artist and he and I were talking about that because he had done a graphic novel years ago set in World War One. We were talking about how there’s just something so visceral about that time period visually that we both connect to. Particularly from a visual standpoint it’s such a rich thing to draw, trench warfare. But also I’ve always been interested in that early age of exploration, of people exploring the Amazon or the Arctic. I saw that I could parallel that first great era of exploration with this sort of futurist incarnation of that where they’re exploring worlds. It really was me just combining the things I like! [Laughs] I came up with a story that somehow fits it all together.
Since we’re talking about the visual, looking at your work the word “bleak” always comes to my mind — there’s just something very spartan and truthful about the way you draw landscapes and people. What were you trying to do with “Trillium” artistically? Will it look similar to “Sweet Tooth” or any of your previous projects?
No, I think it is a lot different and I can already tell that my art’s changing just on this project from what I’ve done. There are a couple of things that are different; first off, building the world of the future is something I’ve never done. Even though “Sweet Tooth” was set in the near future it really was still our world. There wasn’t this visual world building I’m doing with “Trillium” where literally I’m designing a whole planet and space stations and space suits and imagining futuristic technology, things like that. All of my stuff, really, has been set in the present. The 1920s stuff is new too — for the first time I had to do a lot of research on costumes and architecture and things from the ’20s. Both of those things have pushed me in new directions.
Also I’ll be painting a lot of the book myself. Jose Villarrubia, who’s colored my work on “Sweet Tooth,” is involved. We’re doing two different styles, visually. The stuff set in the future will be watercolor painted by me; it kind of gives it a much more organic look. The stuff in the ’20s [Jose will] be coloring, and then the two will weave together later on. So again, this is a lot of me trying to push myself visually. In each issue I’m also trying different things with storytelling that I don’t want to spoil yet, but for instance the first issue is kind of a flipbook even though there’s these two stories they parallel one another. So there’s a lot of stuff going on visually, trying to expand myself.
You’re talking about doing watercolors — how do you normally work? Do you hand paint everything?
Yeah! I don’t do any digital work at all; I really enjoy the tactile nature of drawing and getting my hands dirty. Especially since this style is so expressive and organic anyway, I think it lends itself much more to that than digital work. I’m penciling and inking traditionally and water coloring over that. I was actually pretty intimidated to do this because I haven’t done a lot of painting and coloring of my own work, but you just have to do it to push yourself to get better at it! Luckily I have some pretty talented friends, like Matt Kindt who does “Mind MGMT” and watercolors that book. He gave me a few pointers before I got started. I’m really enjoying it, again this is something I haven’t done before so it’s all fresh for me.
We know from the last time CBR spoke with you that a Trillium is a flower and is also the symbol for Ontario. How is it related? Why did you want to name the sci-fi romance miniseries after the flower of Ontario?
I didn’t! [Laughs] It’s a long story, I swear to god I spent more time trying to figure out the title for this book than I did writing it. It took us months; we had a number of titles that for legal reasons couldn’t get cleared, all sorts of things. Eventually we narrowed it to this one element of the story, which is this flower that mysteriously appears in both the past and the present. The word trillium also sounded sci-fi and so it just stuck. The fact that it was Ontario’s flower and everything was just a nice double meaning for me living here. Now that word has almost become part of the story itself in a weird way, so it all worked out.
You’re heavily entrenched in DC in the superhero world right now with “Trinity War.” What do you see as your role over at Vertigo now? Do you want to do more miniseries going forward rather than ongoing series?
Honestly, I’m not sure yet. This book will take me to the end of the year in terms of finishing it. I have a couple ideas for projects I might do after, some graphic novels, some miniseries. We just kind of have to wait and see when I’m a little closer which one really starts to take hold and then I’ll figure it out at that point. Right now I’m just focused on this.
To expand on this question, in general do you want to keep working on superheroes or go back to creator-owned work at some point, or possibly even revisit any of your old stories?
I don’t think I’d ever go back to any of my old stuff; you’re told to never say never but I don’t have any plans to go back to the worlds of “Sweet Tooth” or “Essex County” or anything like that. I really enjoy doing the DC stuff. I don’t know if I can continue to do the amount of DC work I have been doing the last couple of years, the monthly schedule and all that stuff is pretty grueling. I think at some point in the future I will scale back and try to focus more on creator-owned stuff, but like I said the next year of my schedule is all I’ve got planned out at the moment. Ideally the goal would to get to a place to just do creator-owned work and support myself on that at some point.
While we’re talking Vertigo you’re also contributing to the “American Vampire” anthology. Are you writing and drawing your story?
I wrote it and my “Justice League Dark” co-writer Ray Fawkes drew it. Ray’s also a cartoonist and I think a lot of the DC fans don’t realize he does his own graphic novels as well. It’s a chance for him to showcase his art, and we had a lot of fun. We did a short story and we painted the whole thing, so it looks really cool.
To end, I remember reading about the first sci-fi project you tried to write a long time ago called “Soft Malleable Underbelly.” Did writing “Trillium” bring that project up again in your mind?
[Laughs] Ah no, that one died a long time ago! Some ideas are better left in the ground, you know? That was a formative work that should remain unpublished and unexplored forever! [Laughs]
“Trillium” #1 is on sale August 7.