Balancing Personal Vision and Superheroes

An Interview with Jeff Lemire

by Michael D. Stewart

11 November 2011

As a writer-artist and a writer, Jeff Lemire has a tough balancing act ahead of him. In a PopMatters exclusive, Michael D. Stewart raps with Lemire at the historic New York Comic Con.
Banner Art from Animal Man #1. Interior art from Superboy #2, Animal Man #2 and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1

When it comes to Animal Man, writer Jeff Lemire has a tough balancing act ahead of him. Both in terms of the character and Lemire’s own shift from writer-artist to just writer. Animal Man, especially during his recent Vertigo years, has been about the balance between superheroics, family and strange dark elements. Lemire’s current work sees him writing and writing-drawing several series at once.

“It’s really two different parts of my brain – writing and drawing – so it’s somewhat easy to shift between the two,” he said between signing at this past New York Comic Con. “90 percent of my time is spent drawing because it takes so much physical time to do, but I’m always thinking and writing as I’m drawing.”

He’s done the writing-drawing thing on such wonderful books as the epic Essex County, the mysterious The Nobody and the ongoing post-apocalyptic Sweet Tooth.  These have all been intimate stories, firmly planted in his indie comic roots. The transition from that style to the larger scope of superhero or near-superhero comics can be tough.

“I think the important thing is to stay yourself,” Lemire said. “Keep that small, quiet voice and then apply it. The good thing about these iconic characters is that they’re like ciphers and symbols. The most successful superhero stories are when someone brings a personal vision to them.”

He gave a glimpse of what he was talking about in his short Superboy run prior to the launch of the New 52. Conner Kent on the farm in Smallville became more akin to Lester Papineau, the boy who dreamed of superheroes on the farm in Essex County. “You do you’re thing, but with superheroes,” added Lemire.

His plans for Animal Man, as revealed thus far in issues one and two, takes a dramatically different turn than his previous DC work, but not Animal Man’s recent runs. “My take on the character is, to Buddy Baker [Animal Man], his family always comes first,” he said. “There are really dark things trying to tear them apart. We’re going to see how far they can stretch before they break, and if they don’t break, they’re going to have to evolve into something new as a family to survive.”

There is a larger, ethereal connection between his Animal Man and his earlier work, in so far as the intimacy he achieved in books like Essex County and even Sweet Tooth, lends itself easily to the dynamic between Buddy Baker and his family. The bond between characters is strong, and in these early issues Lemire has stressed that as well as the dark and otherworldly, creating the balance he knows all too well.

“I’m excited that DC is letting me bring a really dark vision to this book [Animal Man], even though it’s a DC book” Lemire confesses. “And I’m getting away with a lot of crazy stuff.”

That excitement comes through on the pages. And while the journey of Buddy Baker from DC superhero, to Vertigo near superhero, back to DC but not a really a superhero, has not been arduous – readers quickly embraced the title, sending it into a third printing – the care and craftsmanship Lemire has shown has been nothing short of reverential…or as reverential as you can get in the New 52.

But as Lemire said, it’s about personal vision. That’s one of the bullet points for the New 52. As far as talent goes, DC’s employ of Lemire crosses that point off the long list.

Animal Man #4 is out shortly.

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