Like many people, Lemire first entered my life in 2011 when his seminal modern classic Essex County Trilogy was chosen as one the finalists for CBC Radio’s annual Canada Reads competition. Defended by indie rocker Sara Quin, it quickly fell victim to a blatant bias against graphic novels. But Lemire remained upbeat about the experience. “It was really great, I think it opened up a whole bunch of doors for me,” he said. ‘The whole thing was a really really positive experience for me,” Lemire continued. The extra exposure graphic novels received from the show also makes him happy. “I think a lot of people, read the book and became aware of graphic novels in general, because of that, that’s really great,” he said. And he had nothing but praise for Quin’s tireless work promoting Essex County, saying “I thought she did an incredible job.”
And this nationwide exposure quickly rocketed him to stardom. At this point, Lemire was already at DC Comics, writing various stories and growing more and more in popularity. Now, as part of DC’s The New 52, he has found instant success with Animal Man. Also his long running series Sweet Tooth, for the Vertigo imprint of DC, is filling many readers post-apocalyptic cravings.
But back to the beginning. Having vaguely heard of Lemire for years, I was like a legion of other readers who discovered Essex County through Canada Reads. Mesmerized by Lemire’s excellence, I quickly began cheering for Lester and his journey. An ode to the wonders of small town life, the ties we do not even realize exist, and the healing to be held. Stop what you are doing right now and read Essex County. We’ll wait. Finished? Okay, read on.
While as Essex County, which was released in it’s completed form in 2009, is a hallmark card to his hometown, Lemire wanted to showcase the flipside with a darker tale called The Nobody. Gossip, innuendo, and nasty rumour-mongering infiltrate this modern retelling of the Invisible Man and his existence in a small town. “That was the purpose for it,” he declared. “Essex County is sort of a romanticized version of small town life and family and things like that and I thought it would be fun to do a sort of noir version with The Nobody where I can turn it inside out and start to see the small mindedness that small towns can have,” Lemire said. “Their is a part of me that can look back fondly on certain aspects now, and obviously when I was the their I couldn’t wait to get out, so I could see both sides,” he continued.
Lemire, who came to the big city years ago, said he was getting away from that territory and going to be exploring new concepts. “Because I think you will start to see some themes emerging in my upcoming work,” he promised. When asked if we could expect maybe a “Queen Street Trilogy” coming soon, he answered “No, I don’t think so.”
Far a field of these works is the aforementioned Sweet Tooth. This is another comic, like Essex and The Nobody, that Lemire is pulling double duty on as both writer and artist. The world has fallen into disarray since a epidemic has swept the populace, causing children to be born with animal mutations. Focusing on a young, antler adorned boy named Gus and his old man protector Jeppard. Lemire says he “Always loved post-apocalypic stories, so I really wanted to do one.” Much to my eternal delight, he told me he has read and liked The Hunger Games.
One of his breakout hits this past year is Animal Man. Launching as part of the celebrated and controversial DC The New 52, Lemire is composing the story of Buddy Baker, his family, and the modern horrors they encounter while living the superhero life. And the cat talks as well. When asked if he had ever chatted with legendary Animal Man scribe Grant Morrison, he responded “I met Grant one time briefly and it was before it was announced I was writing the book, and he wished me luck.” He is very happy to a part of DC’s The New 52 relaunch last September, saying “It’s pretty exciting. We knew their would be a lot of buzz and a lot of promotion behind it, so it was exciting, since we knew that books like Animal Man that normally would be launched and kind of lost in the shuffle, would get a chance to perform on a bigger stage.”
With all his current workload, I wondered how Lemire manages to keep abreast of all his projects. “I kinda do things in chunks,” he said, doing Animal Man for a week or so until he is far ahead, then switching to say Sweet Tooth, or say some other project. “It kind of keeps me fresh,” he continued, “I usually am working on just one thing at a time. I kind of get really focused on that one thing until that energy is sorta used up.”
When I mentioned the movie-like quality of much of his work, Lemire told me “Their was a period where I really wanted to be a film maker,” and he had gone to film school. “Their is a cinematic approach to the storytelling, it is pretty prevalent especially in the earlier books,” he continued. This affects the pacing of much of his work, because “You just have the story kind of breathe and let the story kind of flow a bit.” Lemire said “Let the story dictate,” and their is “No impact” if you do not give “The quiet moments and the big moments room to breathe.”
And impact is what you will experience with Lemire’s works. Impact you will thank yourself for feeling. And breathing in.
P.S. Besides Essex County, his previous accomplishments includes writing the Atom co-feature in Adventure Comics, and Superboy. His current labours of love are writing Animal Man, finishing up his run as on Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E, and starting up on Justice League Dark. And coming this summer is the new original graphic novel, The Underwater Welder, which he is again both writing and illustrating.
P.P.S. Essex County, The Nobody, Sweet Tooth, and Underwater Welder are copyright 2012 to Jeff Lemire. Animal Man is copyright 2012 to DC Comics.