In only ten years, writer and artist Jeff Lemire has had quite the storied career. All puns aside, though, he has achieved numerous awards for his written works, worked for most major comic book publishers, and even helped headline a major event crossover at DC Comics. All of this and more before the age of 40. We recently had a chance to speak to Mr. Lemire about his upcoming Image Comics release, Descender, as well as his career since going creator-owned and the exclusive Descender playlist he designed specially for us.
Nerdist: Jeff, thank you so much for talking to us today about Descender. It’s a beautiful book with some very interesting twists. The first question I have is: Why do a space opera story in the time of Guardians Of The Galaxy and Star Wars Episode VII?
Jeff Lemire: [Laughs] Well it’s my pleasure, but if I’m being honest those aren’t things that were really on my radar. I know it sounds terrible but I’m not really a big fan of the Marvel movies and that big budget franchise stuff isn’t really in my wheelhouse, so it isn’t really an influence on me in either way. For me it was more of a personal project coming out of a book I did at Vertigo last year called Trillium that was a sci-fi story and I really just enjoyed the scope of it and the world building. I really wanted to do more after that. Descender was also inspired by a few different things in the past year. I read a manga called Pluto by Urasawa, which is a modern retelling of the Astro Boy story. I just loved the way that book depicted robots in a very human way and that really inspired me. For some reason I also got really into these old 70s comics by Jack Kirby, including his adaptation of Kubrik’s 2001, which is my favorite film. He did an on-going series for Marvel called 2001, which bore very little resemblance to the film but was more of just Kirby doing this crazy cosmic stuff and in that series he introduced a character named Mister Machine that I just fell in love with. So I had all of these things just kind of floating around in my head while I was working on Descender more than whatever big, Hollywood stuff might be coming up. Any time you try to follow a trend you are always one step behind. Even if no one was doing sci-fi right now I would still want to tell the story of Decender.
Nerdist: Are you looking to make an ongoing series out of Descender or will it be a limited run?
Lemire: Well I do already have the ending planned. It’s not too prominent in the first issue, but there is a lot of mystery in Descender that needs to be planned out. I really needed to work out the mythology of the robots and where everything is going before we got too far into it so I wasn’t scrambling to try and make sense out of everything at the end. I’ve done a lot of groundwork in plotting out the whole story, and at the moment we have it set at about 24 issues, so it would still have a decent run as a monthly series. I know from past experience, though, that once you have your basic plot laid out it gives you a chance to explore and experiment. So I would say there is a good chance it will get bigger than that. So, right now, it is a minimum of 24 issues but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up doing more.
Nerdist: Tell us a little about this Spotify playlist for Descender you have sent our way.
Lemire: I will do my best. I have to be honest I am completely illiterate when it comes to discussing music. [Laughs] Music is another language to me, I love listening to it but I do not speak it. I just kind of like what I like and listen to it. I don’t think about it too much about it otherwise. [Laughs] It was really hard to try and pick songs for Descender. I mean, it is sci-fi, future technology, and robot stuff and I could try to find songs that fit that, but there really wasn’t anything that I listen to that would work. So, instead, I went back into my iTunes library and tried to look at what I was listening to when I first started writing Descender. I thought, if anything, that would at least be appropriate. I tend to make playlists in iTunes every two or three months and just listen to it all the time when I’m writing or drawing stuff. So, I looked at what I was listening to when I started working on Descender, about a year ago, and that’s really what these songs are. In past few years I have started to drift away from more guitar-driven music and more toward electronic music, so if there is any line to be drawn to the story and robots it is that. [Laughs] I don’t know how much it inspired Descender itself, but it is what I was listening to while I was writing it. I think the only song on there that is meant to be me trying to create a soundtrack for the story was probably the one by Mark Rushton. He tends to release these ambient albums all the time, and it felt very cinematic and fit with the mood of Descender.
Nerdist: Since you are both an artist as well as a writer did you and Dustin [Nguyen] make the decision to do watercolor art together or was it something one of you pitched to the other?
Lemire: No, that was his. I was a huge fan of Dustin’s stuff when he was at DC, and I knew he did a lot of watercolor too. He did a little bit of it here or there at DC, but never anything on a monthly basis like this. I knew if was something he was a fan of doing from meeting Dustin at conventions, seeing his sketch book and seeing all these pieces that were watercolor. I even started doing more and more of it with my own work as well. I did it with Trillium and it really added something to that. While sci-fi can tend to be very cold and sterile in its visual, the watercolor on Trillium added a very interesting sort of visual tension. A mixture of the mechanical and the organic colliding on the page brought something very different, and I knew Dustin felt the same. So, when he said he wanted to do Descender in watercolor I was thrilled. He comes from a design background, I believe he did architectural design before he did comics, so when we are building the machines, the robots, and the architecture of different alien races he really brings a design sensibility to it. He’s not just drawing things that look cool he is actually designing it and imagining how these things would be put together and how they would actually work. To take that mechanical kind of thinking, and execute it on the page in the organic medium of watercolor really just embody the themes of the book itself. It’s really perfect.
Nerdist: Did the two of you know each other before he saved your life?
Lemire: [Laughs] That was my first introduction to Dustin. We were in Seattle about three or four years ago on the DC panel and I was seated at the end of the table, at the edge of the stage, with the rest of the writing talent. Dustin was late to the panel and as he got on stage I went to go shift my chair to make room at the table, forgetting that I was already at the edge of the stage. I started to fall off the stage and he grabbed me and saved me. So that was how we bonded instantly. [Laughs] After that I would see him at all the various conventions and we were both working for DC. We never worked on anything together while there, but we had a lot of mutual collaborators we were always in the same places. We are both kind of easygoing guys and like to joke around a lot so we got along right away. So when I left DC and wanted to do more creator-owned stuff I knew Dustin was eager to do the same after working for DC for 15 years. The timing just worked out for both of us.
Nerdist: Now that you have parted ways with DC you have projects going on with just about every other comic distributor there is. Are you feeling a strain with keeping all of them balanced or with answering to so many different bosses?
Lemire: Not at all. I feel like I’m in a great spot right now. At the moment I have five creator-owned projects going on as well as two or three work-for-hire projects. With the creator-owned ones the only people you really answer to are yourself and your collaborators. We have a greater sense of freedom in a project like Descender or a book at Dark Horse I’m doing as well as working with Scott Snyder at Image and we have complete freedom on those books. In terms of the work-for-hire stuff that I am doing at the moment, I’m doing a book called Bloodshot for Valiant and those guys have been incredible to work with. Warren Simons, their editor, has been incredibly supportive and super hands-off in his approach. He’s really fun to work with. Like-wise, my experience with Marvel has been quite fun and they’ve been letting me tell the stories I want to tell. I haven’t had to worry about editorial interference, and this last year I have been in the best spot I have ever been creatively.
Nerdist: Have you been tempted to re-sign with DC in some fashion to work for all of the major houses and complete the Comic Publisher Voltron?
Lemire: [Laughs] I really am working for a lot of publishers. Right now I am at a place that I am very happy with and am balanced just enough. My happy space seems to be four to five books and one that I am drawing. At the moment I am happy.
Descender is on sale now, and be sure to also check out our review of the first issue later today.