NYCC EXCLUSIVE: Lemire & Perez Take Aim on "Hawkeye"

With Matt Fraction and David Aja closing out their epic run on "Hawkeye" -- arguably one of the most critically acclaimed comic book series of the past decade -- Marvel Comics realized it would need a top shelf creative team to commit to the title if it was going to continue its high quality and craftsmanship.

The House of Ideas just hit a bullseye.

During the Axel-In Charge panel at New York Comic Con, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso announced that Eisner Award-nominated writer Jeff Lemire ("Sweet Tooth," "Essex County") and Eisner Award-winning artist Ramón Perez ("Jim Henson's Tale of Sand") would be teaming up on "Hawkeye" beginning in Spring 2015, thereby securing a dream team worthy of the series, which has generated multiple awards including being named an Official Selection for Festival d'Angoulême 2014.

This project marks Lemire's Marvel debut, with the superstar writer recently finished an exclusive deal with DC Comics and branching out with new projects at Image Comics, Dark Horse and Valiant. Once Alsonso and series editor Sana Amanat knew Lemire was open to creating comics for Marvel, Alonso reached out to the cartoonist personally to offer him "Hawkeye." Perez has been illustrating series for Marvel for a few years, including bestselling titles like "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Wolverine & The X-Men."

In this exclusive first interview about the upcoming series, which will launch with a new "Hawkeye" #1 in March 2015, Lemire, Perez and Amanat discussed the secret origin of the top secret project, how it was nearly named "Hawkeyes" to reflect the importance of Clint Barton's protege Kate Bishop, and why the brand of storytelling will be reminiscent of Lemire's work on indie hits like "Essex County" and "The Underwater Welder."

Lemire also compared his new leading man with DC Comics' archer-superhero Oliver Queen, as he just -- completely coincidently -- finished a celebrated run with the character in the pages of "Green Arrow."

CBR News: How did this collaboration come about, specifically bringing Jeff to the House of Ideas?

Sana Amanat: Obviously, it's no secret that the current series is a big success and so much of that is what Matt Fraction and David Aja put together. It's very much their perspective of Hawkeye, and Clint, and his entire world. We went in realizing that aside from what they've done, there is such a great fan response to this character and we needed to make sure that we maintained that love. Just because Matt and David are done, they've told the story that they want to tell, there is so much more to be told about Hawkeye and when we heard that Jeff might be open to doing work with us, this was the perfect opportunity.

I've been a big fan of Jeff's work for a while now and when I heard the opportunity was there, we just jumped on it. Axel [Alonso] reached out to Jeff and said this was something we wanted to do and of course, there was always going to be some nerves jumping into the deep end of the pool with a title like "Hawkeye," based on what's been done there before but we are very confident in what Jeff can bring to the table. He obviously is such an amazing writer. The first story he pitched was something that we fell in love with immediately. There was no back and forth. We were like, "Yep. This is it." [Laughs] We put all trust in Jeff.

And when I read it, one of the first names I thought of was Ramón. He is such an amazing storyteller and has such distinct styles. I worked with Ramón on "John Carter" and we've been friends for a couple of years now but I really thought that he would balance what Jeff put into the script. There's a romantic quality to this script or to the story as much as there is a gritty quality to it and I think that Ramón knows how to balance both of those and keep the audience engaged both visually and emotionally. And based on what we've been seeing, the pairing seems to be working out really well.

Fraction Sets the Stage for His "Hawkeye" Finale

Jeff, your love of DC Comics is well documented but did you read any Marvel Comics growing up in Essex County?

Jeff Lemire: It's no secret that I was a DC kid but there were certain Marvel books that I gravitated toward too. And this is going to sound like I'm making this up but Hawkeye really was always one of the characters that I loved. The two books that I really followed monthly were "Iron Man" and "West Coast Avengers" and then later I read "Solo Avengers," which featured Hawkeye. I always had a real fondness for that character and I loved drawing his costume as a kid too.

Ramón, what excited you most about this project? Were you a fan of the character growing up?

Ramón Perez: I met Jeff briefly here and there and I've been quite lucky pairing up with great writers at Marvel and this just seemed like another wonderful opportunity to not only work on a character of a series that I was currently enjoying, but also I love it when I am given a script to read and it excites me and gets my gears turning and pushes me as an artist in different areas that will let me play and bring in new elements to my art. Upon first pass of reading the script, after Sana sent it over to me, I was like, "Yeah. This is getting my gears turning."

In terms of the character, I am going to echo Jeff's sentiment. I don't know if it is because it was a #1 on the newsstand when I was a kid but I bought "West Coast Avengers" and then "Solo Avengers" too. Captain America was always the goody two-shoes while Hawkeye was a little brasher. He was like a nicer Wolverine. [Laughs] He had attitude but not so gruff that he's going to push people away. He just seemed more human and more fallible, which I liked as a kid. He had the Robin Hood-like quality as the archer and also he's one of the first Marvel characters that I read consistently. It feels full circle coming back and working on him now.

Jeff, were you looking for another archer to write specifically as you're just coming off a celebrated run on "Green Arrow" [Laughs] or is it just coincidence that you're writing another archer in "Hawkeye?"

Lemire: It is funny that I go from writing "Green Arrow" at DC to "Hawkeye" at Marvel. I don't think anyone has ever done that before but it really was a coincidence. I'm not a big archery nut. [Laughs] But honestly, the fact that they're both archers is kind of superficial. The characters are completely and utterly different. And the tones of the books couldn't be more different too. What I did with "Green Arrow," which I'm pretty proud of, is totally different from this in terms of tone and approach. And fundamentally, they are extremely different characters. They're almost polar opposites.

Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, was a boy born into privilege and wealth and his story is all about legacy and living up to that legacy where Hawkeye is a Midwestern kid born into poverty. They just couldn't be more different. It's really like writing two characters that happen to fly.

Will this new series pick up right from where Matt and David leave things or is this run a full-blown relaunch of the series?

Lemire: I'll be honest. When I was offered this book, it really stressed me out. Sana can confirm that. [Laughs] Matt Fraction and David Aja's run is fantastic. It's probably one of the best comics being published right now. It's pretty amazing. They really set a standard in terms bringing such an interesting point of view to a superhero comic. I think what Matt and David did was completely top notch and the thought of following them and living up to that was very daunting and it gave me a lot of pause but it really came down to, as Sana said, I had this idea for a story that just wouldn't let me go. I just felt it was a story that I had to tell and was unique enough to follow up what Matt and David did.

In terms of continuity and relaunching and all of that stuff, it really is a follow-up. I wouldn't say that it's a completely new direction. I feel that it's the same character that Matt's been writing and it's the same world but at the same time, Ramón and I are going to bring are own sensibility to it as well and do our own thing with it. It's really a bit of both. It continues on what they were doing and it is certainly in the same established world with the same characters but we're bringing our sensibilities to it, as well.

Amanat: It's told from a different point of view too. We didn't go into this saying, "We're going to do exactly what Matt and David do." Because they do what they do. They have a very distinct set of skills and Ramón and Jeff have a very distinct set of skills. And we want to tell their story too -- from their own point of view. Fundamentally, we're expanding what Matt and David did to an extent, in terms of the elements of Hawkeye's childhood, there is the relationship between Kate and Clint, which I think Jeff does so beautifully, and we're kind of pulling out those elements and focusing on them a little bit more. While this is definitely as expansion of what has come before, it is very much a fresh take in all aspects. Once you start seeing some of the art and you start getting more teasers about what the story is about, you'll get that. I'm more than happy by the way things have been turning out. You're always so lucky as an editor when you're working with very talented creators and once again, that's exactly how I feel.

I'm happy you mentioned Kate Bishop. In the solicitation for the first issue, the series is called "Hawkeye," but there is also a tagline stating, "Hawkeye AND Hawkeye take aim in Spring in 2015." Is this series more of a team-up book than a solo series?

Lemire: I proposed, at one point, calling the book "Hawkeyes" because Kate really is an equal player in the book. I think one of the many great things that Matt and David did was the relationship between Clint and Kate. There's some magic there that I want to keep going with. I think that she's an incredible character. When the story starts, it really feels like Clint's story but it quickly becomes about both of them. It's definitely a book about both of them.

Amanat: I hope I'm not giving away too much Jeff, but the biggest thing that the story is about is what it is to be Hawkeye. That term. That title. That legacy. What does it mean? I think that It's interesting that we've had a few different characters, all very close now, that have taken on that name. This story will definitely explore that. Hawkeye, that title, doesn't necessarily mean Clint Barton. It very much means Kate Bishop, as well, which is very cool.

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Ramón, can you talk about the look of the feel of the series?

Perez: Obviously following David Aja, who is a friend of mine and I totally respect his art, I want to carry on the legacy of his work but also I want to do my own thing. I don't want this book to be an extension of the previous series. I want it to be something onto itself. And Jeff's already done that with a great script.

I am still in the formative stages of actually figuring out the physical elements of the book like how I'm going to render Hawkeye and Kate but the way that Jeff has written the story, it's going to allow me to play artistically with a few different styles, which I'm looking forward to. Without giving away too much, I'll be going from cleaner line work, similar to what I've done on "Wolverine & The X-Men," to a lot rougher, painterly artwork maybe reminiscent of someone like David Mack comes to mind. I want to really use the art to help reflect the story and the elements of Hawkeye's past and his life in general.

I've been playing around for the last week and the look and feel is still coming together nicely but I'm really excited about what I get to do here.

Lemire: One of the things, visually, that Ramón and I have talked about is that David had a very distinct visual language that he clearly created for "Hawkeye" for their run. And we didn't want to use the same language because we're storytellers ourselves, and artists, and we have our own language. We want the book to have a look and a visual language that is just as distinct as theirs but we don't want it to just be theirs again. We want it to be our own. I think that's what we're heading toward and I think that's what we're going to get there, for sure.

I know you don't want to reveal too much just yet, but can you share any other details about the opening arc and the first major threat that the Hawkeyes are going to face?

Lemire: One thing that I was really interested in is Hawkeye's childhood and Barney's childhood in the circus. And Matt Fraction did some really beautiful scenes with Clint and Barney as kids that really touched me. And I really wanted to keep going with that and experimenting with it so the first arc is split pretty evenly between Clint and Kate in the present and Barney and Clint in the past as kids in the circus. We're looking at how the things that they did in the past are affecting Clint and Kate in the present. It's this cause and effect thing. It's really exploring Hawkeye from two different angles. We have Clint and Barney as kids and what's that means to them as Hawkeye is just forming and then we have Kate and Clint now, and what Hawkeye is at the moment. This really allows Ramón to visually play with the past and present and it's something that I've done a lot in the past too. A lot of my indie books like "Essex County" and "The Underwater Welder" really juxtapose past and present and in a lot of ways, this book feels really close to those for me. Exploring childhood and things like that.

Beyond that, I don't really want to get into plot specific details but you get the idea.

You've talked a lot about the visuals, will we see any collaborations on art, maybe even a Jeff Lemire variant cover? How's your Hawkeye?

Lemire: [Laughs] Sana, what do you think? Maybe there will be a variant cover at some point.

Amanat: That would be crazy. [Laughs] Jeff doing covers? Coordinating that schedule would just drive me crazy. I'd be stressed out the whole time.

"Hawkeye" #1 by Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez debuts in March 2015.

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