Thanks to the unexpected success of the New 52 title Animal Man, readers are discovering the unique voice of the comic's writer, Jeff Lemire.
Incorporating his frequent theme of families and small towns confronted by the supernatural, the writer/artist's work first won critical acclaim with his quirky small town series, Essex County.
But this year, high-profile projects like Animal Man, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. and Sweet Tooth helped land him a 2012 Eisner nomination as Best Writer. Lemire will also be writing the first issue of DC's new National Comics title in July and is starting on Justice League Dark in May.
But readers who want to check out other work featuring both writing and art by Jeff Lemire are going to get more than one opportunity over the next few months, thanks to the upcoming release of two graphic novels showcasing his work.
In August, Lemire's new 250-page graphic novel, The Underwater Welder, will debut after more than four years of work by the creator. Focusing on the pressure of being a new dad — and a mysterious sci-fi twist that tears the main character away from his wife —
And in May, Top Shelf will re-release Lemire's first graphic novel, Lost Dogs. Although it's been available as a digital comic since November, the May release is the first time that readers have had the chance to get the printed graphic novel in years.Newsarama talked with Lemire to find out more about the themes behind the two new graphic novels and how important his creator-owned projects are to him.
Newsarama: Wow, Jeff, this new graphic novel has been in the works for a long time. How many years have you been working on The Underwater Welder?
Lemire: Like four and half years, I think.
Nrama: People who know your work will see some familiar themes. But this has a pretty cool sci-fi element involved, doesn't it?
Lemire: Yeah, I describe it as a really emotional Twilight Zone episode. It's about this guy who works off a deep-sea rig off the coast of a small coastal town. So he spends a lot of his time diving underwater and working on an oil pipeline.
And then one day, when he goes down and comes back up, the world is a completely different place. It's completely changed. Something changed while he was down there.
It's about him trying to find his way back home to his wife before his baby is born.It's kind of creepy and moody and weird. It's like a lot of my stories in that it's based on a small town environment, and it has a central relationship as the core, with the relationship between him and his wife and his son. But it's got a sci-fi twist and a time travel element to it.
Nrama: You know, between Animal Man and now The Underwater Welder, it's obvious you are exploring what it means to be a dad.
Lemire: Yeah, I'm very subtle, aren't I? No kidding.
Nrama: But with The Underwater Welder, it's obviously focused on the pressure of being a new dad. Was that because you came up with this concept before you were a dad?
Lemire: Yeah, and it's been such a long time coming that I can look back on it now and see a part of my life represented there in the book, really. When I first started working on it and came up with the original idea, I hadn't started working for DC or Vertigo yet. And I didn't have a kid yet. That wasn't even on the radar for my wife and me. We hadn't even talked about it. So I was in a completely different place personally and professionally than I was when I finished the book.
And I think, as a result, I saw the book change from its original intent and my original story grew and morphed into something completely different by the end of it. So on the page, you're going to see that, as the character goes through things, exactly what I was going through. And feelings about parenthood.
It starts off with the pressure of impending parenthood, but by the end, it becomes a celebration of accepting parenthood. It obviously all came right from my life.I think it's something kind of special as a result. Hopefully, the realism of those emotions and that experience will come across on the page.
Nrama: And we'll also see a new release from you in May, when your graphic novel, Lost Dogs, gets a new printing. Was that your first graphic novel?
Lemire: It was. I did it awhile before Essex County. It's been out of print for quite awhile. I only printed 500 or 600 copies originally. But Top Shelf is releasing it.
Nrama: Do you think your style has evolved since you first drew it?
Lemire: Somewhat. I mean, it was my first book that I did, so the art style is pretty raw compared to what I do now, but I think the story really holds up.
It's about this big hulking farmer character that gets separated from his family one day. And it's about him being involved in an underground boxing ring in Victorian England, and fighting his way back to his family.There are a lot of similarities thematically in Lost Dogs to what I'm doing with Animal Man. I can really see a direct line there.
Nrama: As one of the rare creators who finds a way to balance the creator-owned stuff with superhero stuff, do you feel that it's important to work in both worlds?
Lemire: If I had to choose, at the end of the day, if I wasn't as fast as I am at drawing and couldn't handle all these projects, to me, the things like Sweet Tooth and these graphic novels would always be what I choose first. It comes from a different place, you know? Obviously, my own stories and my own creations are going to be more important to me than a DC character is, but that's not to say I don't love doing the DC stuff. I definitely do, and I try to put as much of myself into Animal Man as I do in Sweet Tooth. It's just that there's a different part of yourself that you put toward something you create from scratch. And of course, for me, there's the added joy I get from being able to draw my own stories. Not that I don't enjoy working with another artist. It's just that drawing is something I wouldn't want to give up.
I guess I'm lucky that I can balance everything. But I think just doing one or just doing the other wouldn't be all that satisfying to me. I love that I can do both.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!