NYCC 2012 Interview: Jeff Lemire On His New Vertigo Series 'Trillium'

As just announced at Vertigo's New York Comic Con panel, Jeff Lemire is back! Okay, fine, he never left... But as the writer/artist is finishing up his run on the critically acclaimed Sweet Tooth, he's getting ready to launch a new, twelve part mini-series from Vertigo in 2013. The book - 'Trillium' - defies our simple description, so here's the logline from Vertigo:

It’s the year 3797 and botanist Nika Temsmith is researching a species of strange plant-based life forms on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space.

It’s the year 1921, and war-scarred explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of

Peru in search of the fabled “Lost Temple of The Incas,” an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties.

Two disparate souls separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles. Yet they will fall in love and, as a result, bring about the end of the universe. Even though reality is unraveling all around them, nothing can pull them apart. This isn’t just a love story, it’s the last love story ever told.

We got a chance to chat with Lemire about the book, it's inspiration, and also why one of the characters may be inspired by a certain Batman writer (not really):

MTV Geek: To go from something so grounded like Essex County at the start of your career, to a comic that spans decades, time and space… What’s that career path been like for you?

Jeff Lemire: Well, it’s been strange! It’s not something you sit down years ago and plot out, definitely, it kind of just happens as it happens. After I finished Essex County, it was important for me not to get stuck doing that kind of story all the time because I think it could very easily have become stale and predictable. That’s not to say I won’t continue to do stories like Essex County, or Underwater Welder… I think I’ll always go back to that kind of a world, and really want to keep exploring it.

But it’s important for me to stay fresh, to try new things, and to grow. Also, I’m a big geek who loves to do superhero comics and sci-fi comics, too, so it would be a shame for me not to take advantage of that, and enjoy doing both things.

Geek: I know you pitched a few other ideas you felt weren’t out of your comfort zone before Trillium… I’m not going to push you for those ideas, but why was that important? And what is it about Trillium that takes it out of your comfort zone?

Lemire: Without getting into too much detail about what I pitched before Trillium, because that’s a project that I think I’ll go back to and do next… It was something where there were thematic similarities to Sweet Tooth. It was something that could easily have been seen as a “safe” follow-up to Sweet Tooth, where there are certain similarities, and certain themes that people who like Sweet Tooth could easily jump right in. Mark Doyle, my Editor pointed that out, and we both want to do the story. But he said, “Maybe it would be a good idea to do something really different,” to take on things I wasn’t comfortable with, and things I hadn’t done; push myself in new directions… Just to keep readers guessing, and not thinking I do one sort of thing, one sort of story.

All that went into it, and we had done that Ultra: The Multi-Alien story last year, and I really enjoyed drawing space. [Laughs] I wanted to do something bigger in space… The Underwater Welder, as well, can easily – you can easily take him into space and imagine the ocean. I like this visual idea, this lone figure peacefully in the depths of space. I knew there was a story there I wanted to tell, I went in that direction, to more sci-fi. Also some historical story like World War I, and the great era of exploration in the 20th Century, all these things that I’m really interested in, sort of combined them all together in this – what I hope – will be pretty compelling love story.

Geek: I’m curious to hear you talk a bit more about space, and what you find visually interesting… Not to be repetitive, but is it the use of negative space when you’re drawing, or is it something else?

Lemire: Yeah, visually it’s so interesting, the vastness of it, and the loneliness of it, the idea of this void, and man getting so far away from their own origin and exploring deeper and deeper and farther away from our origins, where we came from… The fear and wonder that can come with that. It’s all very interesting to me. The story is split between two narrative threads which come together. One’s set in the past, in the ‘20s, and very much the damn of mankind’s exploration. The story in the future is the end result of that, pushing our desire to explore to its furthest limit and see where it goes. That’s very compelling stuff to draw from.

Like I said, at its heart it’s a love story between these two characters, so I knew if I had that, my emotional core as a love story, then I could kind of go as wild as I want with the scifi adventure, and action elements, and have it all grounded with that.

Geek: Is the love story what you started with? Given the disparate elements you have going on here, what was the germ, if not that?

Lemire: The original genesis of this idea was this female scientist in the future, in the outer reaches of space, and she’s trying to make contact with this very alien race that they haven’t had any success in communicating with yet. She has a certain skill set – without spoiling too much from the first issue – that makes her the ideal candidate to make contact with these people. It was her story that I started with.

When I expanded it, and came up with the dual storylines, past and present colliding, that’s when the love story came out. When I came on to that… Doing a compelling and believable love story is something that’s difficult to do, and I thought that was a good challenge for me. It hasn’t really been done well a lot in comics. I can think of a few good love stories in comics; maybe Blankets, and a few others. It’s a genre that’s really hard to tap, because it’s difficult to do well. The love story became the thing I got most interested in, it’s what I latched on to, and built the rest of the story around it.

Geek: Without necessarily spoiling the book, what makes something a good love story to you?

Lemire: I don’t know yet! [Laughs] Maybe I’ll find out as I work on this. It’s easy to say what makes something a bad love story. I think the key is to create these two characters that are very believable, and very human, and very real on their own… If I can do that first, and then put them together, that’s a good start. A lot of times you get stereotypes, and so many quote unquote love stories are pretty cheesy, predictable… They’re romantic comedy stereotypes, and you know right away where the story is going, who’s going to end up together, and why. It’s very two dimensional.

Hopefully what I want to do is do is something much more emotional and real. It’s hard for me to get specific because I’m still in the very early stages of developing the story. That’s my challenge to myself, and hopefully I’ll succeed. [Laughs] No promises!

Geek: Are the main characters Nika and William stand-ins for your bromance with Scott Snyder? You could draw on that…

Lemire: I’m not going to comment on that. I will say that Nika does wear a Batman t-shirt a lot.

Geek: This is a limited series, right?

Lemire: The Vertigo model I really enjoy would be, like, Daytripper, Spaceman, Joe the Barbarian. That was the model I wanted to work towards, because it felt it was bigger than a standalone graphic novel, but I didn’t want to take on another ongoing series again after Sweet Tooth, after three and a half years of the same project. I didn’t want to get locked into that again. I wanted to do two or three projects in a row, six or eight months on each one. It seemed like a good balance between the two, and I really enjoyed those projects. I like how, at the end, they can be collected into one nice, big volume, where it’s a self-contained story as well.

Geek: I remember pretty clearly when you started Sweet Tooth – before the first issue had even hit, people were already asking you, “When’s it going to end?” Not wanting to get that question, did that factor in at all?

Lemire: It’s stressful taking on a creator-owned ongoing series because the comics marketplace is so fickle, and so competitive that you never know… Like, when I started Sweet Tooth, I had no idea how long it was going to last. I knew where I wanted to go with it, but you just don’t know if sales are going to warrant the book lasting that long.

Whereas if you do something like this, I’m guaranteed to get to that end-point I want to get to, and I can just work towards that. Right from the beginning, know the amount of space I have to work with, and really craft the story before I start. That was something I was really interested in doing… Coming from originally working in graphic novels where you have a set size, and you’re crafting the whole story before you begin drawing.

Geek: Any other thoughts, things we should know about the series?

Lemire: I’m going to be working with Jose Villarrubia again, who colored Sweet Tooth with me. We have such a great working relationship, so I’m excited to work with him. I think at least part of the series will be fully painted by me as well, so I’m going to combine two different drawing styles for the two different storylines at first, at least until they merge; so that’s going to be a good challenge for me, to fully paint a book.

I’m excited to do sci-fi, and I’m excited to get going on it!

Trillium hits comic book stores in 2013 from Vertigo.