NYCC: Vertigo Heads to the Future (and Past) in Lemire's "Trillium"

After unleashing an übercool Ultra the Multi-Alien story on an unsuspecting audience in last year's "Strange Adventures" from Vertigo Comics, Jeff Lemire has been angling to do more science fiction for the DC Comics imprint.

Today, Vertigo announced a new 10-issue limited series from the Eisner Award-nominated creator at New York Comic Con -- "Trillium," which will be written and illustrated by Lemire.

Described as a mind-bending sci-fi thriller about the end of the universe, "Trillium" tells a story about the dawn of human exploration and its natural conclusion thousands of years away. But most of all, it's a love story.

Expected to debut in 2013, the series is partially set 1,784 years in the future in 3797. A botanist named Nika Temsmith is researching a species of strange, plant-based life forms on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space.

It's also set 92 years in the past, in 1921. War-scarred explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of Peru in search of the fabled Lost Temple of The Incas, an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties.

Nika and William, separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles, fall in love and, as a result, bring about the end of the universe.

Lemire shared his thoughts on the series, which is still very much in its infancy, revaling his inspirations for "Trillium," which range from the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Moebius to current science fiction comics like "Saga" and the classic "Mars Attacks" trading cards conceived by Wally Wood.

CBR News: Vertigo announced today that you have a new sci-fi series coming out in 2013 titled "Trillium." I know it's still a ways off from being released, what can you tell us bout it?

Jeff Lemire: It's a 10-issue miniseries, using the same model as "Spaceman" and "Daytripper." It's a self-contained series that can be collected in one, big volume at the end. It's a science fiction comic, which is something I have wanted to do for years. I really wanted to take a crack at hard sci-fi, like Arthur C. Clarke kind of stuff.

When I knew "Sweet Tooth" was coming to an end and I started to think what I wanted to do next, I pitched a few things to Mark Doyle, the editor, and [while] some of them showed promise, I really wasn't feeling it. Mark just challenged me to move away from my comfort zone and get away from the themes and elements that I've been using in a lot of my work lately -- just do something really different. It seemed like a really good opportunity for me to take on a project like this: a really sprawling, epic science fiction story.

The other key to this book is that it is a love story. There are not a lot of really great love stories that have been done in comics. It's an unexplored genre, really, and I'm really excited about it.

You and I are close to the same age, so I assume that you grew up on a steady diet of "Star Wars" and "Star Trek."

I was never a really big "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" guy. Anyone that is our age couldn't escape that stuff when we were kids, but I wouldn't call this a space opera in the vein of "Star Wars" or anything like that. It's much more of a hard sci-fi kind of thing. I'm much more interested in the classic writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein -- the great sci-fi writers of 20th century -- but specifically Arthur C. Clarke is someone that has really inspired me. "2001: A Space Odyssey," in particular, is one of my favorite films and one of my favorite novels, as well.

I really wanted to do a story set in a very, very remote part of space. And kind of extrapolate where the human race might be in another 1,000 or so years. And like I try to do with all my stuff, take that genre and then do a really quiet, personal story about this woman named Nika Temsmith, who is the main character.

Without giving too much away, she has been sent to this remote outpost and she's trying to make contact with an alien race that sort of holds the key to the future of humanity.

They've been unable to really make contact in a meaningful way and she's a scientist that might have the right skill set to broker some kind of relationship between the last remnants of humanity and this new race.

That's where the story starts, but it's a dual narrative. It also follows an explorer who leads an expedition into the Amazon Jungle in 1921, looking for the Lost Temple of the Incas, which he believes holds a secret healing power that he needs to help his brother.

These two stories, one set in 1921, which is sort of the dawn of the great era of 20th century exploration, and then its natural conclusion, which is set thousands in the future with this woman. Without giving anything away, these characters meet and fall in love and this is their story, their love story, and the universe kind of falls apart around them.

You and I are both from Ontario, Canada, and the trillium is our provincial flower. It doesn't sound like this book is set in Essex County, so what does the title tell us about this story?

It's tough to say too much without giving anything away of the big elements from the first couple of issues, but yes, the trillium is a real flower and it's the provincial flower of Ontario where we live. That flower does have meaning in the story, too. The importance of it will become pretty obvious in the first issue. It would be tough for me to explain the title any more without giving away some major spoilers.

Is Nika Temsmith a Canadian scientist? An American scientist? Where's she from?

This is so far into our future that the nations and nationalities that we have now are long forgotten. It's all been blended into a different sort of human society. She's not Canadian or American or anything. She's just an earthling.

You're drawing "Trillium," as well as writing it. Researching this project, what will be points of reference? NASA photos? Science fiction movies? What does Jeff Lemire's outer space look like?

The fun thing about a project like this is that we can take things from existing science and then extrapolate and make some really crazy designs based on real life science and guess what it might look like 1,000 years from now. But then you're also looking at the history of sci-fi comics, everything from Wally Wood right up to Moebius and even current stuff like "Prophet" and "Saga" and the other sci-fi books that are coming out now. You're looking at everything and then doing your own spin on it. The designing and the world-building is something I'm really enjoying. It's very freeing to not have to do a story set on Earth and set in the present. It's set in the future and the past. It's a new freedom for me, which allows me to really experiment.

Is the series black and white or are you working with a colorist?

It's going to be colored. Jose Villarrubia from "Sweet Tooth" will join me again. There are three narratives that run together, and I think at least one of those I will probably paint myself. I want to have a different visual style for each of the three narratives and Jose will help me develop what those are going to look like with color. It will be really fun to work with him on that.

Obviously, you have a very unique art style -- it's not difficult to pick out one of your covers from the shelf. Are you trying anything new artistically for this series?

I haven't actually started drawing "Trillium" yet, because I'm still finishing "Sweet Tooth." Right now, I'm just in the stage where I'm having fun in my sketch books and designing stuff. I'm really in the preliminary stages. But in general, anytime I finish a project, whether it's "Sweet Tooth" or "The Underwater Welder," especially "Sweet Tooth" because it's been ongoing for a few years, it gives me a chance to take a step back and look at how my artwork is developing and where I'm at with it stylistically. I can really be critical of what I like and what I don't like about how I draw. It gives me a chance for a fresh start, to try some new things and move away from stuff that I haven't been happy with. That's the stage I'm at right now.

I'm experimenting and trying some different things stylistically. I think it will look a lot different from what I've done in the past. But what the end result will be, I probably won't know for a few months till I actually sit down and get all that design work out of the way and experimentation out of the way and start drawing the pages.

One last question: I know for "Sweet Tooth" you came up with Gus, the boy with antlers before you wrote his story, and for "The Underwater Welder," you started by drawing a guy in a wet suit and a diving helmet. Did you have a similar sketch or concept that spawned "Trillium?"

That's a good question. I don't have that one iconic image like a boy with antlers or a guy in a diving helmet from which this one kind of sprang. In the past, a lot of my stuff has come from some visual place like some sketches that I've doing or an image that keeps repeating itself, but for "Trillium," it came more from a story point-of-view. I didn't really start drawing anything until I already had the characters and the story worked out.

It's a new way of working for me where I came up with the story and characters first. It was really just my desire to do sci-fi and do something really different and push myself in a new direction. I just started putting things together until it fit right.

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