FanExpo Canada 2011: Spotlight on Jeff Lemire (With DC’s Dan DiDio!)

Jeff Lemire and Dan DiDio

Though FanExpo’s spotlight panel on writer/artist Jeff Lemire didn’t start until 5:00pm this Thursday, fans were packed wrapped around the block for days to make sure and grab a seat in the convention center’s airy Room 713. Most were dressed as their favorite characters from Lemire’s seminal Top Shelf series ESSEX COUNTY STORIES, though it was shouts of, “Sweet TOOTH! Sweet TOOTH!” that rocked the center as five o’clock drew near. And when Lemire entered on stage, it recalled nothing less than Springsteen in his heyday, if The Bruce was instead a Canadian comic book creator. So a totally different guy, we mean.

The cover to Animal Man #1

Okay, we’re kidding around a bit, but as Jeff Lemire (who will be writing ANIMAL MAN and FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. for DC’s “New 52” ) is Canadian born and bred, and a dual threat talent on the rise, there was a fair amount of interest in getting a one-on-one hundred interview with the creator; particularly as one of the kick off panels to this year’s FanExpo. As an added bonus, DC’s Co-Publisher Dan DiDio moderated the panel.

While waiting for Lemire to arrive, DiDio kicked it off chatting extemporaneously about DC’s New 52, and Lemire’s role in it. “He chose wanting to work on Animal Man and Frankenstein,” said DiDio. “He’s taking on a direction on this book that really follows what Grant Morrison was doing with the series. A lot of people try to avoid following in Grant’s steps, but it was fun to watch Jeff step up to the challenge.”

Cover to Omac #1

Still vamping for time, DiDio opened to questions. Asked why he wanted to write OMAC, DiDio said, “It’s one of those low-end books… I was a big Kirby fan, and we tried to find the widest range as possible. That’s what drew me to DC Comics – the war comics, the horror comics. We needed a monster book, and we got two. Frankenstein with Jeff, and OMAC. We’re talking about a crossover.”

Moving on to Wonder Woman, a fan asked about the recent reports that it would be a horror title. “It’s hard to pin down,” said DiDio. “When you hire Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang you kind of want to let them go with it. It’s kind of the horror of Greek Mythology, and the things that go with that. It’s not straight horror.”

Wally West: Off the table for now.

And then the Wally West question came up… Specifically, what the fan favorite Flash character’s role would be in the New 52. “We’ve talked a lot about Wally West,” said Didio. “What happened with Wally West, when we were relaunching we wanted to stay away from the legacy characters. We kept on sectionalizing our audience. So we said, where do we want to put all our bets. Wally was derivative of Barry, even though he was a great replacement. When we younged down Barry Allen, we had a problem with Wally West. Bart was a teenager. When Barry is mid-20s, where does that leave Wally? At this moment, he’s off the table.”

On whether Aquaman will get new villains, “Even before this whole process started, you find this real derth of villains for Aquaman. You’ve got Black Manta, you’ve got Fisherman… And then we’re off the table. That’s one of the things Geoff wanted to do immediately, to create new characters. We didn’t just want to rehash old ground again.”

…And then Lemire showed up, so DiDio started in talking about how Lemire first got into the comic book industry.

“I started here in these shows here in Toronto, stapling comics and handing them out on the show floor,” said Lemire. “You just start writing every day until you find your voice as a storyteller. I started small and bad, and just tried to get better every day.”

Lemire then talked about how SWEET TOOTH started as a pitch for KAMANDI: THE LAST BOY, so he could potentially use it as a doorway into writing for the DCU. The title, of course, ended up as an ongoing at Vertigo.

The cover to Sweet Tooth #25

Showing off some art, Lemire talked about the cover to SWEET TOOTH #25 which he painted himself for the first time, and, “kicks off the next big part of the book.” #24 was also painted by Lemire, and foreshadows strongly the end of the series. Matt Kindt from REVOLVER will be painting the next arc, which flashes back to 1904 and shows the origin of the plague that plays into the series. Lemire then said that he plans on ending the series at issue #50.

Two quick audience questions on Sweet Tooth:

– Lemire hopes DC will release a deluxe hardcover of Sweet Tooth once its all done.

– On whether SWEET TOOTH will come out digitally, “Vertigo is not at the start, but it’s probably down the line,” said DiDio.

…And then we moved on to finding out about how Lemire ended up at DC proper, starting with a back-up in ADVENTURE COMICS. “It was my first time working with another artist, so it was a real learning curve,” said Lemire. “Some of the concepts I played with in the back-up will play into FRANKENSTEIN. Ray Palmer, he’s a scientist at S.H.A.D.E.”

Talking about writing SUPERBOY, Lemire feels like it was the title he, “really started to get my legs as a writer, and writing for another artist, rather than as a cartoonist.” He credits his ESSEX COUNTY TALES for inspiring Geoff Johns to give him a “Smallville-esque” take on SUPERBOY.

Showing off a cover for the recent Flashpoint mini FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN, Lemire said it wasn’t part of the original plan, but after he pitched it, and FRANKENSTEIN was suggested by DiDio and Editor Eddie Berganza, and they were ready to go. Lemire considers the mini a, “warm-up” for the ongoing series, though, “tonally the Flashpoint one was really linked to World War II, while we’re making this new one really modern.” He said that he’s trying to make S.H.A.D.E. a big force in the DCU, by giving it a different feel from other spy organizations.

The cover to Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

DiDio then teased Lemire, saying that he was offered pretty much everything in the DCU, but settled on Frankenstein and Animal Man. “There’s so much more freedom to take them on your own, and establish who they are,” said Lemire, as opposed to Superman who’s pretty set.

The talk then turned to ANIMAL MAN, and what it’s like to follow in Grant Morrison footsteps. “It’s really intimidating at first because I’m a huge fan of him…” said Lemire. “A lot of my interest in these characters is because of what he did. If you try to repeat the things he did, you’re not going to make it. At the same time, there’s some great concepts at the core – the relationships between Buddy and his family is what makes this book different in the DCU. I saw Grant in San Diego, and he said, “Don’t fuck with his family.””

“It’s funny, there’s about ninety issues,” said Lemire. “At some point you have to boil the origin down to some essential stuff. Some of the concepts those guys introduced, I’m reintroducing them. And some of the concepts I’m reintroducing – boiling them back down to a simple idea.” Lemire said that The Red will play into the title, as will The Green in SWAMP THING – both elemental forces in the DCU; but that other elements will stay with Morrison’s run.

“So you won’t be appearing in the book any time soon?” joked DiDio.

“No, but you will,” quipped Lemire

This was followed by DiDio surprising Lemire by telling him that both these books were on the cusp of making the first fifty-two titles, but when Lemire signed, that was what tipped things over. “It was the one case where the writer signing made the decision,” said DiDio.

Animal Man #1 pencils by Travel Foreman

Showing off covers, Lemire teased that Animal Man can potentially transform into animals in the series, and will explore other aspects of Buddy Baker’s powers throughout the series.

They then opened to audience questions:

– Animal Man has been operating for a while in the DCU, but was never a big deal. In the first issue, his daughter starts developing powers, and he has to figure out where his powers are coming from.

– Lemire’s outlines of SUPERBOY went to issue #16, but got to do most of the major beats he wanted to in eleven issues before the title ended.

– On how he writes Animal Man: “I’m a father, and he’s a father. I’m married, and he’s married. So it’s not hard for me to put myself in his shoes,” said Lemire. “Frankenstein, not so much.”

– On whether S.H.A.D.E. and Stormwatch will ever interact in the new DCU, “Yeah, I actually had a conversation with Paul Cornell at San Diego,” said Lemire. “Maybe in the second year down the road. Midnighter and Frankenstein.”

– No news on the Essex County movie. Sorry!

– Asked whether Frankenstein will interact with the DCU, DiDio joked, “I think issue five of OMAC and FRANKENSTEIN will be really cool.” It’s not written yet, but he did reveal that the two issues will cross over.

– A fan questioned whether there was a six or twelve issue commitment to Lemire’s series, which both agreed it came down to sales. DiDio addressing the line as a whole said, “We’re extraordinarily pleased by the first issue numbers. In fact, it’s so good, you get nervous. You don’t want books to just sit there, you want them to get in people’s hands. There’s a real excitement that’s palpable.” Lemire added that he has both titles planned out to issue twelve, but we’ll have to wait and see.

– On whether being nominated for the Canada Reads program, “It was huge. I sold a lot of books out of that,” said Lemire to laughter from the audience. He added more seriously that having indie comics and superhero comics was great, because he can get people exposed to both sides of the industry.

– Lemire thinks that having more off-beat books like FRANKENSTEIN and ANIMAL MAN as part of the first fifty-two means more people will check them out than if they came out the next month, or two months later. “And if the books are good – and I think my books are good – people will keep checking them out,” said Lemire.

– Getting back to the crossover, Lemire said that though they still need to work it out, but ideally you should be able to read either book and not have to read the other, it would be the same story from different perspectives. “Within in an hour, Keith Giffen faxed me two images,” added DiDio. “One had OMAC holding Frankenstein over his head. The other had Frankenstein holding OMAC over his head. He said, “Which one is it? Tell me how this works.””

– OMAC is done-in-one stories with an overraching thread. NOTE: This is still a Jeff Lemire spotlight panel, but you wouldn’t know it at this point.

– FRANKENSTEIN is one-offs, maybe two-offs. ANIMAL MAN is just one big huge story. “There’s more room to do different approaches to storytelling,” said Lemire, adding that you can do one-offs, or write for the trade.

– Asked about whether DC would consider doing original digital graphic novels, DiDio said, “That’s something that we’re considering right now. We’re going to be constantly evolving with the medium. If that’s something that would work with day-and-date digital, we’ll do it; we’re going to see how it goes.”

Wrapping up, DiDio, asked Lemire what other characters he’d like to write or draw.

“Writing, I’d love to do Superman one day, and I’d love to get my hands on the Spectre some day,” said Lemire. “And drawing, I’d love to do a Paul Pope style Batman mini-series.”

After that, Lemire soloed for another three hours, ending, of course, with “Mr. Nobody,” which drove the crowd nuts! Hardest working man in comics, bar none.

But seriously, that was the end of the panel. We’ll see you back here for plenty more from FanExpo Canada!

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FanExpo Canada Starts Today – Here’s What We’re Looking Forward To!

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