Cartoonist Jeff Lemire made a name for himself in comics with his
"Essex County" trilogy of graphic novels for Top Shelf, which was
nominated for an Ignatz and two Eisners an won the American Library
Association's Alex Award for adult books with teen appeal. Recently
he's been working on an omnibus collection of those books as well as a
new graphic novel for Vertigo called The Nobody.
Scheduled for release in July, The Nobody is a modern-day reinterpretation of H.G. Wells' classic novel The Invisible Man,
in which the eponymous lead is hiding out in a small fishing village
and finding that although he's invisible it's still hard to blend in.
"Basically I take the character of "The Bandaged Stranger" and have him
hiding out in a small town Motel," said Jeff Lemire. "At first the
community embraces him, but then it all starts to go wrong. Like most
of my work, it's an exploration of rural communities, and small town
life. But unlike The Essex County Trilogy that I did with Top Shelf, which focused on family, and the ties that hold people together through tragedy, The Nobody
explores the darker side of small town life, the close-mindedness and
prejudice that can be prevalent in such an isolated place."
Originally published in 1897, H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man novella has been translated into both television and movies as well as a stage production, but Lemire's Nobody
uses Wells' story as a starting point to chart a new course and story.
In fact, Lemire's original inspiration for the book came not from the
Invisible Man, but another bandaged character.
Design work on Griffen
"I've always been a huge H.G. Wells fan, but to be honest, this project
really started when I was doing some fun warm-up drawings of The Unknown Soldier
in my sketchbooks one day, and I was just having so much fun drawing
Kubert's bandaged-faced hero, that I kept doing it," explained the
cartoonist. "And new ideas and characters starting growing from that.
The bandaged faced character is no stranger to comics, from Hush, to
Negative Man/Rebus from Doom Patrol, and it is just such a great
character design, he is like the perfect cipher to do whatever you want
with. And from there, I started thinking about going back to the
source, and Wells' original character. Using the basic setup of the
novel as a springboard to explore my own themes and ideas."
What is similar is the names of the lead character – in the novel he
was given the sole name of Griffin, and in this graphic novel Lemire
expounded it to be John Griffen. For any further similiarities, Lemire
"Without giving too much away, Griffen claims to be a chemist from
Chicago who has come to Large Mouth (a fictional small town) to be
alone and concentrate on "his work"," he explained. "But events unfold
that quickly throw his story into doubt. Before long he befriends
Vickie, a teenaged girl, and waitress at the local greasy spoon. The
two outsiders form a bond, and an unexpected friendship starts to
blossom. This is the core of the book. But, before long it all comes
crashing down on them, as the secrets of his past start to catch up to
Lemire's The Nobody transplants the invisible man from his
original surroundings of England to the expanses of Canada – a familiar
setting for the cartoonist as seen in his previous Essex Trilogy
graphic novels. In this piece, the town is a Northern Canadian fishing
community called Large Mouth. Although fictional, Lemire's got a clear
picture in his mind.
"[Large Mouth] is very much based on a small fishing town my family
used to vacation in when I was a child. Large Mouth itself is fictional
though and is most widely known to the locals for the giant wooden fish
statue that sits in the center of town."
The forthcoming publication of The Nobody marks a
full-scale expansion of the Vertigo imprint's offerings. Although
Vertigo primarily trades in single issues series and miniseries, it was
an early adopter of the graphic novel format for collected editions of
its series. The early success of collected editions of the popular
title Sandman was one of the primary instigators of wider
graphic novel releases in the comics industry at large. For the last
few years, Vertigo has expanded its offering with several original
graphic novels including Pride of Bagdad and Cairo. The Nobody is the first fruits of initiative announced in 2008 at New York
Comic Con. Future releases include works by cartoonist Peter Bagge as
well as works by prose authors Peter Straub and Kevin Baker.
For Lemire, working with Vertigo has been a "a complete joy" because at
heart, he's a die-hard Vertigo fan from its earliest days. " I was 16
or 17 when the so-called Berger books at DC (Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Sandman
etc) officially turned into the Vertigo imprint. I vividly remember how
exciting that was for me as a comic reader at the time," the cartoonist
gushed. "I had been reading those books for a few years, and to
suddenly have them pulled aside, and made into this imprint which
seemed directly marketed to me, it was amazing. And, for me to be
working with them now, it's such a thrill. I've read and heard a lot of
interviews with 70's writers like Denys O'Neil and Martin Pasko who
recalled being the first generation of comic book readers from the 50's
and 60's to actually get to write comics. It was the first time comic
fans actually started to become professionals. And, in a way I kind of
feel like now we are seeing that first generation of Vertigo fanboys
and fangirls starting to work for the imprint. It's exciting."
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