Jeff Lemire is one of the rising stars in the world of comics. A Xeric winner and multiple nominee for the Eisner, Harvey and Ignatz awards he is probably most familiar to librarians as the writer and illustrator for his book Tales From the Farm, a 2008 Alex Award winner and the first volume of his critically acclaimed Essex County Trilogy. His current project is Sweet Tooth, a monthly title published by the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics and a 2010 Eisner nominee in the category of best new series. The first trade collection of the series, Sweet Tooth Volume 1: Out of the Woods, was published on May 12. Lemire answered the following questions via email in the month of May.
1. For our readers who didn’t pick up Sweet Tooth in single issues, can you give us your quick pitch on Sweet Tooth and its first trade collection?
Sweet Tooth follows Gus; a little boy born with deer-like antlers left to survive in an American landscape decimated a decade earlier by a still mysterious pandemic. Even more remarkable is that Gus is part of a rare new breed of human/animal hybrid children who have emerged in its wake, all apparently immune to the infection.
Jepperd, a hulking drifter, soon takes in Gus, and promises to lead him to “The Preserve”, a fabled safe-haven for hybrid children. But, like everything in Sweet Tooth, Jepperd may not be at all what he seems, and he may have a few surprises in store for little Gus.
2. Your work before Sweet Tooth is primarily made up of self-contained stories. Did you have to change your thinking any for writing a longer story told in serial form?
No, this is still a self-contained story, just a REALLY long one. I knew the ending before I started, so it really is just a matter of breaking it up into 22 page chapters and following through. The process is just quite a bit longer than say a 200 page graphic novel. I don’t think I could tell an open-ended story, without an ending in sight.
3. Even though we only get pieces of it in this first volume, there is a sense of a full, complete world here in Sweet Tooth. Will we see how this apocalypse has hit the wider world in later volumes? And any hints for us on what you might have in store for Gus?
We will only ever see what Gus or Jepperd see. They are our eyes into this world and our experience within it is limited to theirs. So, we may never see the whole big picture. But, they will be traveling further and wider than we’ve seen so far.
4. A lot of your work contains elements of fantasy and science fiction. But instead of using these elements to build a straight action/adventure story you seem to use them more to create unique ways to explore character and theme. What draws you to tell character driven stories in this way?
I like using genre elements like sci-fi or horror as metaphor. It allows me to be a bit more free creatively, indulge my desire to tell more fantastic stories, but still root it all in character. It’s like directing a b-Movie as if it were an art film, I guess.
5. You’ve had some big announcements of late, getting signed to write the stories for Brightest Day: Atom Special, an Atom co-feature in Adventure Comics, as well as the ongoing title of Superboy. How has it been adapting your work to more mainstream superhero comics? Do you write differently for works like these since someone else is doing the artwork?
I have always loved Superhero comics, but I don’t want to adapt my style too much to do them. For me Superboy is an extension of the themes I was exploring in Essex County, but again with a more fantastic side to it.
It requires a lot more preparation to write for someone else. When I’m writing and drawing myself a lot of things come out in the creative process. It is a very organic process and I don’t really separate the writing from the drawing. Drawing the book is writing the book for me. So in order to try and maintain my storytelling “voice” whatever that may be, I need to put a lot more time in to actually crafting the script for someone else, I have to be much clearer about my intentions, and my visual approach to each page in the scripting stage.
But each artist also brings something new to the stories. They will inevitably interpret my ideas differently than I would, and I like that. I like being surprised by what I get back.
5. First you had Lester in Tales from the Farm, then Gus in Sweet Tooth and now Superboy. You seem to have a real affinity for writing younger characters. Is there something that draws you to writing characters in their teens and tweens? Is your approach to writing younger characters any different than when you create and write adult characters?
I like getting into a character at the beginning of a journey, instead at the end or middle, and having the freedom to put them through new experiences and change them.
6. What kinds of stories—-from books, comics, tv, movies—-really grabbed you as a kid and as a teenager? Do you think the kinds of the stories you enjoyed then made an impact on the types of stories you like to tell now?
Most definitely. I was really into David Lynch films as a teen. I think they showed how an artist could create a very distinct, personal and idiosyncratic vision and style and then have it permeate every inch of their work. That’s exactly the kind of artist and storyteller I wanted to be.
Thanks to Jeff for taking the time to answer these question. You can learn more about Sweet Tooth and Jeff Lemire’s other projects on his official website www.jefflemire.com and follow his activities even more closely on his blog, jefflemire.blogspot.com.