For writer Jeff Lemire, it's the best of two worlds.
As he launches a new Superboy ongoing later this year, he's taking his love of the DCU and mixing it with his near-obsession with stories set in small towns.
The writer, who is best known for his Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, first won critical acclaim for the Top Shelf comic Essex County. Between the two comics, he's pretty much established that he's got a knack for writing quirky characters in rural settings.
But he's also a long-time DC Comics fan and is writing The Atom back-ups in Adventure Comics, getting the chance to write the superheroic world in which he's immersed himself since childhood.
The two worlds mix later this year with the new ongoing, and as DC announced today, Lemire and artist Pier Gallo will debut their take on Superboy in August's Action Comics #892 with a 10-page co-feature.
Newsarama called up Lemire to find out more about his background and what he hopes to bring to Superboy.
Newsarama: Jeff, how did you hear about the opportunity to write Superboy?
Jeff Lemire: I was doing the Atom co-feature in Adventure Comics, after Geoff Johns just called me out of the blue one day and asked if I'd be interested in writing more DCU stuff. I grew up reading mostly DC stuff. I wasn't a Marvel kid at all, so I was really excited to do that.
So I was just talking to Geoff about The Atom one morning and he mentioned something about how DC wanted to launch a Superboy book and wanted to know if I'd be interested. And to be perfectly honest, I was initially a little tentative. I like the character, and I like Geoff's run when he did Adventure with Conner. But I was kind of hoping for something a little more off-beat or dark in the DCU next, like one of the supernatural books. Or a Batman book or something.
But then, the more I thought about it, I realized Superboy really suited my obsession with telling stories in rural settings.
And it just kind of went from there. I pitched it and it just sort of happened.
Nrama: Were you feeling overwhelmed by getting the gig, or completely confident, or somewhere in between?
Lemire: Somewhere in between. It's something I've always wanted to do. You kind of imagine how you would approach these things if given the opportunity. But then when it's actually staring you in the face, it is a little daunting.
It's been a little bit of a learning curve for me, to be honest. I'm so used to drawing my stuff myself. I've had to very quickly learn how to communicate my vision to an artist, and that's been a bit of a learning process. But I'm getting my footing there.
It's been really fun and interesting, and a whole different way of working than what I'm used do doing. But I'm enjoying it. It's a nice balance from doing everything yourself all the time.
Nrama: You mentioned that you've always been a DC fan. What kind of stuff first attracted you to the DCU?
Lemire: It was always DC. I remember the first things I used to get were the DC Blue Ribbon Digest that they used to have in supermarkets when I was really young. I loved those. But those were just reprints of old '60s and '70s stuff.
Then as I got older, I really got into the Wolfman/Perez Titans run, and the Levitz/Giffen Legion run. Those were my two favorite books. And then, you know, I was the perfect age for Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that was great for me, seeing everyone together and the whole mythology of the different earths and everything. So I got sucked into DC really early. I love that early '80s and late '80s era of DC.
Nrama: And you got your start self-publishing?
Lemire: Yeah, I had self-published some smaller graphic novels with limited print runs, and then I did a trilogy of graphic novels for Top Shelf called Essex County. They were set in the small town where I grew up, which is a lot like Smallville, actually. It's a little farming town in Canada. And it just sort of followed one fictional family through different generations in a small town. And that was what got me noticed by the Vertigo editors. And I think it was the work that made Geoff think of me for Smallville and Superboy.
Nrama: So that led to you being attracted to the "rural setting" of Smallville?
Lemire: Yeah, that was really a draw for me. I know he's back in the Teen Titans and he's going to pop up other places in the DCU, but this is a chance for me to focus on his Smallville adventures again, and really build that sense of a small town and community around him, and to build his supporting cast. And tell these superhero stories that are set in a country setting. That was something that really appealed to me. It seemed like a natural fit.
Nrama: Have you already started plotting out everything?
Lemire: Yeah, I've been working on it for over a month now and I've got a pretty detailed breakdown of the first year already. I'm pretty much set on the cast and the plot and everything for that first year.
Nrama: Can you tell us a little about the supporting cast and the villains you're introducing?
Lemire: I'm keeping some of the cast that was introduced in Geoff's Adventure run, like Simon Valentine, his new best friend/future arch-nemesis, and Lori. So I'm taking them and using them as my main supporting players, but then I've come up with a few of my own, some of which are villains. But I'm just rounding out the cast.
Nrama: Are these new supporting cast members along the same line as Simon and Lori?
Lemire: No... [laughs] they're actually really bizarre characters. I can't really tell you without ruining some of the future storylines. But there are a few outcasts and freaks living in this small town.
But, you know, one thing I'm trying to do with the supporting cast is, I also want to make it something that portrays teenagers in a way that's believable. On TV or movies, you see how teens are portrayed and, most of the time, it's pretty unbelievable. So I want to give it some sense of realism, if only in the way these kids talk and interact.
Nrama: OK, we've definitely covered the setting and the supporting cast, but let's talk about Conner Kent a little. The character has been pulled in a lot of directions over the last few years, even including dying, but what's your take on Conner as you start the new book?
Lemire: As much as I can, I want to leave all that recent stuff that's happened to him in the past and have this be him trying to settle down in Smallville and build some sense of community around himself.
I feel like, with everything that's happened, it's time for him to really focus on himself and try to build a new life for himself there, and take on new responsibilities. He's finally getting his life together as Conner Kent in Smallville, with a social life and a family, just taking care of the farm, getting a part-time job, and kind of finding his own life there.
But in the story, what happens is that whenever he turns into Superboy, he keeps messing up. It's almost a spin on the old Peter Parker thing where he's a mess in his real life, but being Spider-Man is great. For Conner, his life as Superboy keeps messing up his personal life, and he's trying to find a balance.
Nrama: As you try to make the teens more believable, have you been trying to find Conner's voice at this stage in his life? Or maybe the character himself is even trying to find himself a little bit?
Lemire: Yeah, that's the thing. That's exactly what it is. It was hard for me to figure out, at first, who he was, because he's been written a lot of different ways over the years since he first appeared. I think he started off being this really annoying, kind of cocky kid, then Geoff did his characterization in Teen Titans. And I was trying to figure out what voice I was going to bring to Conner at this stage in life.
And then I realized that kind of was the voice, just this kid who's trying to figure out who he is as he grows up. When you're Conner's age, which I'm treating as somewhere between 16 and 18, you're trying to figure out who you're going to be. He can see adulthood ahead now, so it's at the point where he can see the man he's supposed to become, and it's him figuring out how to get there. I think that's something a lot of teenagers go through.
Nrama: We saw a preview of Pier Gallo's take on Superboy, but most readers aren't really familiar with his artwork. Can you describe his stuff a little?
Lemire: I honestly wasn't very familiar with him either. A lot of his work was done in Italy, in the graphic albums they publisher over there. I think he's done some sporadic DC work. But most of what I've seen is his online portfolio, and the stuff [editor] Matt Idelson sent me. He's got a really hyper-detailed style; it's almost like Geoff Darrow or something. And he has a way of bringing realism to faces.
When we were looking for artists, he seemed like a good fit for what I'm hoping to do, to bring a realism to the people and add some detail to the town.
Our first little story will be in Action Comics #892. It's going to be a 10-page back-up. But it won't just be a preview of Issue #1. It's going to be an original story that leads into Issue #1.
It's been great working with him so far. He's a super nice guy, and really open to experimenting and trying new things. So I think it's going to be great.
Nrama: Experimenting? Between that and the way you describe the supporting cast and your ideas behind the setting, it sounds like you're really trying to make this a unique book.
Lemire: Yeah. I mean, I love superhero books, and this will definitely be a superhero book. Conner will have plenty of adventure in his life. But I'm also trying to do something a little different. I think the fact that it's set in Smallville kind of makes it in its own little pocket in the DCU, and I can play around with the tone a little. I want to try to do something that's unique to Smallville and unique to the character, and hopefully build this unique mythology for Superboy in Smallville.