Interview with Jeff Lemire
Years ago, around 2008ish, I did a number of interview for a comics fan site. Long story short, that website doesn’t exist anymore, and the interviews I had done for them have disappeared from the internet. Until now! I’m re-running these interviews on Stir Fry Comics so that they can stay on the internet where they belong! The first interview I re-posted was with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird. This one… the great Jeff Lemire!
Once again, this interview takes place at an interesting point in the creator’s history. At the time of the interview– mid-June of 2008– Jeff Lemire’s break-out book, Essex County, was being published by Top Shelf, and he was currently working on The Nobody for Vertigo. We sort of talk hypothetically about him working for DC proper, and a mere year later, his Sweet Tooth would debut for Vertigo, a big hit, which would lead into his doing a lot of work for DC as one of their top writers. Now, of course he’s a really big name within the industry, and has many projects going with various publishers.
At the time of the interview, I had also received the first Essex County book, Tales from the Farm, from Top Shelf, to review. I immediately fell in love with the book, and have followed Jeff throughout the years. I was so pleased to see such great success come to someone with such deserving talent. What a great treat it was to chat with him, right before he exploded! Okay, I’ll shut up now, and let the interview speak for itself! Enjoy!
So, going back to the beginning, what got you interested comics originally, what did you grow up reading?
I’ve been reading comics for as long as I can remember. My first memories are buying the old DC Digests at the grocery store with my Mom when I was really young. I used to sit and copy drawings out of them for hours at a time.
At what point did you realize that you wanted to create your own comics?
I was always drawing, and always coming up with stories. It was never so much a decision I made, as it was something I just always did. But, as I got older, I got out of comics for a few years and got really into film. I went away to Film School here in Toronto and did a four year course.
Ironically, I got really disillusioned with the film industry. And, near my last year I rediscovered comics with people like Paul Pope, Dan Clowes, and Chris Ware. So, when I graduated, I just got right back into it, and decided I was going to work towards being a cartoonist full time.
I did a graphic novel called Lost Dogs, which is a far cry from my current work, but was a real step forward for me nonetheless. I submitted it to the Xeric foundation and won a $5000 grant. It was really the only way I got my foot I he door of the industry and got Diamond to distribute my book. It also helped to have something published when shopping my next book around.
Your artwork has a very unique style to it. How did you develop this style, and were there any notable influences?
I really assimilated a lot of pretty diverse influences. The one’s who come to mind are Dave McKean, Jose Munoz, Kent Williams. But I also really love Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and all the Silver Age guys.
Currently you’ve been having the Essex County trilogy coming out. I recently reviewed Tales From the Farm (fantastic, by the way), and I have to say it has an autobiographical feel to it, but I know much if it is fiction. How much of it is autobiographical?
The town itself, and all of the key locations in the books are real places, near where I grew up in rural Canada. The characters and situations are all fictions though. I do think Lester is very much like I was at that age though, reclusive, lost in my imagination.
I’ll be honest with you, Lester’s comic he makes in Tales reminded me a lot of comics I made as a child, how did you nail that one so well?
That was actually a comic I drew when I was nine years old. I found it while working on the book and included it as “Lester’s comic”. There are more of those in Vol.3: The Country Nurse.
What can you tell us about the other two installments?
If Tales is about youth, and losing yourself in your imagination, than Vol.2: Ghost Stories is about old age, and losing yourself in the memories of the life you’ve lived. It tells the story of Jimmy Lebeuf’s (from Tales) Grandfather. It will all tie together more closely in Volume 3, and we’ll see a big generation spanning story of one family and the things that push and pull them apart over time.
Top Shelf has been putting out some really great stuff, Essex County included, how has your experience been, working with them?
Chris Staros and Brett Warnock are amazing publishers and editors to have. They are enthusiastic, fun and just great people to be around. Being with them is truly like being a part of a family.
It is called THE NOBODY, and takes the character of the bandaged stranger from HG WELLS’ “The Invisible Man” and puts him into a modern small town. It’s a thriller and a mystery, but at it’s core is the friendship between him and a teenage girl in the town, and how two outsiders are drawn together.
What comics are you reading these days?
I just finished a beautiful graphic novel called “SKIM” by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. On a monthly basis I’m buying Criminal, Scalped, Walking Dead, Green Lantern, All-Star Superman and Justice Society. I’m a fanboy at heart.
While your work and art style can definitely be categorized as “indie,” some affection for the superhero genre rings through in Tales From the Farm. Would you ever have any desire to take a crack at the more “mainstream” super-hero genre?
Absolutely. I am a die-hard DC fan, and would love a crack at any of their Sliver Age characters. I especially love The Unknown Soldier, Flash, Adam Strange and Green Lantern.
Well Jeff, thanks again for taking the time to talk with us here, I’m looking forward to what you’ve got cooking in the future.