Writer Jeff Lemire's one of the latest DC writers to watch, thanks to the success of his Vertigo series Sweet Tooth and his upcoming runs on The Atom and a brand new Superboy series.
After his Atom story launched with a Brightest Day: The Atom special in July, Newsarama spoke with Lemire in the second part of our interview with him. (Our first part, focusing Sweet Tooth, ran yesterday.]
In this half of our talk with Lemire, we talk about his upcoming Smallville-focused Superboy story, which launches in August in Action Comics #892, as well as what's coming in his The Atom co-feature in Adventure Comics.
Newsarama: Jeff, we talked about how you both write and draw Sweet Tooth, and how that enables you to kind of tweak the story as you go. Now that you're writing The Atom and Superboy for another artist, was it a big adjustment?
Jeff Lemire: Yeah, it was. There was a bit of a learning curve for sure. I'm so used to doing everything myself, and being able to change things as I go. It's a completely different process now, where I have to have a script. And I have to finish it to hand it to the artist. I can't keep tweaking it as he's drawing it, you know?
There was a real learning curve there where I had to find a way to maintain whatever storytelling style or voice I had and make sure it comes through even when I'm not drawing. I think the first couple scripts, you can kind of see those struggles on the page, where maybe I didn't have my voice in it as much as I would have liked.
But I think now, I'm on the fourth or fifth script, and I'm feeling a lot more comfortable, where I'm actually thumbnailing before I even write the script. Then I write the script based on my own thumbnails. That helps me keep the creative process as a visual one, for me. The artist is free to take my script and change my layouts, based upon what he wants to do, but the initial idea is still based upon my visual idea.
Nrama: I was noticing, when I was looking at the structure of the Brightest Day: The Atom special, that there's some consistency at least in the way the stories are structured overall. You seem to be comfortable with a certain amount of information on a page, and a certain type of pacing. But it's clear the artist was creative with the layouts.
Lemire: Yeah, with The Atom special, it was kind of tricky. To a certain degree, I had a laundry list of what they wanted me to accomplish in that issue. It was basically me retelling the origin, and there's only so much you can do with an origin story. I couldn't just go off and do crazy things yet. But once we got that established, the back-up stories evolve. It's becoming wackier. I'm finding a way to get my voice in it more. I'm having a lot of fun with it.
It's weird, when I draw an issue, I can look at it and instantly see the mistakes and instantly see what's working and what's not. But when someone else draws it, I get the art back, and I have a lot harder time to be critical. I have a harder time seeing what's working and what isn't. It's been a really interesting process, for sure.
Nrama: With these type of collaborations, you probably have to rely on your editor a little more.
Lemire. Yeah. Definitely. I enjoy it though. It's been really cool working with the two artists on The Atom and Superboy, letting someone else do the heavy lifting.
Nrama: I know there's not a lot more you can say about Superboy, since not even the 10-page teaser hasn't come out yet. But when you say The Atom is getting wackier, what does that mean?
Lemire: Well, I can tell my own type of Atom story, so I'm trying to tell a really cool science fiction story. For me, what makes The Atom unique from Batman or Superman or whoever else is that he's really the science superhero. He's a scientist first and a superhero second. So I'm having a lot of fun with that, and creating some new villains who are really science-based.
Nrama: Can you tell us anything about the story you're telling?
Lemire; I'm trying to tell a cool, old school sci-fi story, but with a modern sensibility. I can't give a lot of details about it, because it's just a short back-up story, so if I say very much, I'll basically tell you the whole story.
But I can tell you that it's been a lot of fun. Visually, the artist and I are getting more in unison in what we want, with him really understanding what I'm going for.
The first couple chapters, I was still kind of finding my voice, and I think you'll see that. But by the end of the second and into the third, I think you'll see it evolves into something unique. There's a bit of a mystery that is slowly revealed more and more as the story continues.
Nrama: You've said before that the issues all fit together to tell one story, but are they structured as a "to be continued" chapter in something bigger?
Yeah, it's really just one story in little, mini-chapters. There's one big through-line. It's like those old serials you'd see before movies, where I'll just give you a little chunk of the story with a crazy cliffhanger at the end. When it's all collected, it will be one, complete story.
Nrama: And is it still a limited number of issues?
Lemire: Yeah, it's just 10 installments. There's the special, and then 10 back-up chapters in Adventure Comics.
Nrama: On Superboy, we've already talked with you about the launch in detail, but is there anything you want to clarify or tell people since we last spoke? I don't know if you ever go online to see reactions from fans.
Lemire: I very rarely go online to see that kind of thing. It's nice to read good things, but the bad things kind of stick in my head and then influence my confidence and stuff, moving forward. So I have to either not look at anything or read it all. So I don't know how people have reacted.
Nrama: Well, I think the overall reaction has been positive, but I don't think people know what to expect.
Lemire: Yeah, because this is kind of a new series, I'm sure there aren't a lot of expectations out there for a Superboy series at this point, which is kind of good. Like I said, I've already gone through my growing pains on the first couple issues of The Atom. So, by the time I was writing Superboy, I was already rolling and knew what I wanted to do with that book.
I feel like Superboy, moreso than The Atom, is a really personal story. I'm bringing a lot of myself into it. Superboy almost feels like a creator-owned book, because I've invested so much of myself into it.
I've seen art for the first two issues, and we have really great covers. It's just such a great project, and I'm really, really excited about it.
Nrama: It sounds like DC is really giving you the freedom to do your own thing in Superboy?
Lemire: Yeah, I think the set-up of the book is so Smallville-centric that I am kind of carving out my own corner of the DC Universe. There's never anything else going on there besides Superboy stories. I'm free to have him involved in stories there, then whatever else he's involved in, elsewhere in the DCU, can just be separate. So that's been important.
I really have a definite story I want to tell with the character and with that world. It's been great so far.
Nrama: Will we be seeing more from you at DC?
Lemire: Well, I can't say anything yet. But I will say that drawing one book and writing three of them has been more than enough to keep me busy. Depending on the reaction to the 10 installments we do on The Atom, there's a change it might get a spin-off, but I don't know if that would be something I'd have time to do. We'll see, when The Atom's done, if I have the time to take something else. For now, though, I have my plate full.