Talking Valiant Beginnings and Futures Ends with Writer Jeff Lemire [Interview]

By | October 16th, 2014
Posted in Interviews | 2 Comments

I first became aware of Jeff Lemire’s work shortly before New York Comic Con 2010, when a friend insisted I buy “Sweet Tooth” Volume 1 after I mentioned how I really enjoyed the “Brightest Day: Atom” special earlier that summer. It is hard to believe that four years ago, Lemire was considered an unproven newcomer in the world of superhero comics. Now, after tackling some of DC’s biggest characters, as well as nurturing some of the smaller ones into acclaimed runs, Lemire is expanding his reach. We spoke on the show floor of New York Comic Con 2014, in front of a booth adorned with images of some of his upcoming Valiant projects; shortly after we spoke, Marvel announced Lemire as the writer of a new “Hawkeye” ongoing – adding yet another book to his already stacked plate.

But the book that we spoke most about was his upcoming Valiant title “Bloodshot Reborn,” which Lemire is relaunching out of the event “The Valiant” that he is co-writing with Matt Kindt. Lemire talks to us about what to expect from “Bloodshot,” as well as filling us in on some of his writing process and discussing what else he has going on (spoiler alert: he has a lot going on).

My first question is about the history that you have with the character. Growing up, were you reading Valiant Comics, or is this something you’ve come to more recently?

Jeff Lemire: Yeah, it’s more recent. I didn’t read the Valiant stuff growing up. It was part of a period in my comic book history where I sort of stopped collecting comics for a while; I guess it would’ve been the early 90’s? I’d been a comic fan growing up and then, you know, that was probably… I’m trying to figure out how old I would’ve been, but it was at that age where you kind of start getting interested in music or other things. Comics at the time weren’t really at their best, in a lot of ways. Marvel, DC, it was all very artist driven. I just got out of comics, basically, until stuff like Vertigo or Bendis brought me back. There was that lull where I wasn’t reading comics, though — and this is a very long answer, I know — and I was aware of the stuff, I remember seeing the Barry Windsor Smith artwork and thinking it was amazing, but I never really read it. It wasn’t until the relaunch and friends of mine like Rob Vendetti and Josh Dysart working for Valiant that I started digging into it, and other friends of mine who I follow their work. And of course with Matt Kindt, I started getting into more stuff and that’s when I really started to get really interested in Valiant.

How does coming to a character that has a history you’re maybe not familiar with impact the way you write? That must be a different experience than working on other publisher-owned properties where there’s all this history that, even if you don’t read the books, you’re familiar with the characters, like Superboy. How does that change your process in writing?

JL: I found for me it’s really a positive. Working at DC… I was a big DC fan. I wasn’t really a Marvel guy, but I was a big DC guy, so I had the opportunity to write a lot of characters who I loved growing up. I found that the more I loved the character and the more I knew about the character, the more restrictions I put on myself. All this baggage, all this stuff I loved, it overcame what I wanted to do and it was very limiting. Green Arrow was a character that I never really cared about, and I think I had the most fun writing him. It just felt the most free. So these characters — Bloodshot, and other characters I’m working with? They have no baggage, no higher expectations. For me, I get to come in, read up on their history, read all the back issues from a fresh perspective. I feel I do better work that way, actually.

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Lets talk about Bloodshot for a second. You’ve written some characters that have been full of heart, full of empathy and care for their fellow man. Bloodshot’s kind of a different character than that, though; a little bit more robotic, a little bit less empathetic. Is that fun after writing such heartfelt characters for a while? To let loose a bit with a bastard?

JL: No, because… You have to see how I’m going to write Bloodshot. [Laughs]

That’s a good point. [Laughs]

JL: Bloodshot, I’ve always liked the look of the character, the idea of the character — but it was what you just said that I found unappealing. He was so robotic and cold, there wasn’t a lot of humanity here. For me, that was an opportunity to come in and say, “ok, how do I add that depth into the character without ruining the core of who he is?” I think I found a pretty interesting way to inject a little extra humanity into the character. What we’re doing with Bloodshot has never been done with the character before. It’s going to be very different. It’s going to make you look at the character in a different way, and I’m really excited about that.

Obviously this spins out of “The Valiant,” which you’re working on with Matt Kindt and Paolo Rivera. I know you can’t spoil too much, but how does the tone of “The Valiant” influence what you’re doing on “Bloodshot”?

JL: It’s a little different. “The Valiant” is a collaboration between Matt, Paolo and I, so its all three of our sensibilities combining. You get something else, you know? It’s very big and broad and open. “Bloodshot,” it’s just me and it’s very specific. I have a different tone in mind. All my love of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch and a lot of artists that delve into darker territories, that’s what has influenced me on this. It’s a very specific, very dark tone, but ultimately there will still be a lot of heart to it as well. It’s hard to talk about “Bloodshot” without ruining too many of the surprises, but it’s not like anything I’ve ever written before and I think so far it’s maybe the thing I’m most proud of.

You’re also handling a bit of art in each issue, and then all of issue #5. How does the visual aesthetic of the character translate to your style?

JL: Uhm… I can’t answer that without ruining everything I’m doing with it. [Laughs] It’s a very specific thing to the story. My style, juxtaposing with Mico [Suayan]’s ultra-realistic and perfect draftsmanship is going to play out pretty cool on the page with a real story-based reason for it.

Lets talk about Mico for a bit, and you described him perfectly: a great draftsman, very precise work. Does that change the way you write, knowing the way he’s going to draw?

JL: I had the tone and the vision for the series in mind before we chose an artist, so we purposefully sought someone like Mico — someone who could do that dark, noir, realistic and gritty tone to the character. Really ground him, really bring him down to the dirt; dirty hotel rooms, things like that. We chose him knowing that he would do that, so it’s just incredible. The work we’ve seen… We’ve done two issues so far, and every page is jaw dropping. Really gorgeous artwork.

Line art from Bloodshot: Reborn #1

The Valiant Universe is a shared universe like Marvel or DC, but on a much smaller scale. Do you find there’s a benefit to working in a smaller shared universe?

JL: Oh, absolutely, yeah. You nailed it there. The smaller scale is brilliant. It’s eight or nine books in the line, and most of them are written by me, Matt or Josh, or Rob and Fred Van Lente. There’s just a handful of us, and we’re all friends, we came up in the same time; I think we all have different voices, but we respect each others voices. When you’re doing something this small, we can control everything and work on it together, respect each other’s stories in a way that’s a real collaboration rather than a scramble to try and make pieces fit.

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Is it difficult to come into a publishing line that is so closely identified with a certain period of time? I was really surprised by the Valiant relaunch; I really enjoyed it, but I felt like it was taking the essence of these characters stuck in the 90s and updated them very well currently. Do you ever feel like you’re fighting against this very identifiable period in time where the books originated from?

JL: I guess other people are probably more aware of that than I am. Like I said, I wasn’t a big Valiant fan growing up. I don’t associate Valiant with the 90’s the way I know a lot of people do. But that’s fine. You can’t let that influence the stories you want to tell. What I’m doing, it’s very contemporary. It speaks to what’s going on in the world right now. All that baggage, it’s out of my control. I worry about the things I can control and just telling a good story.

If you were to sell this to someone who has never read a Bloodshot comic before, how would you do that without spoiling too much?

JL: That’s tough. To me, Bloodshot… A lot of what we just talked about, that 90’s sort of feel? If you look at Bloodshot on the surface, he’s so 90’s; a two-dimensional action hero, just an archetype of the 90s. I’ve taken that and I’m using it as a vehicle to talk about violence and talk about America’s obsession with violence and guns, all of this stuff that I feel very passionately about. I’ve turned Bloodshot inside out and used him as an excuse to comment on that, turn it in on itself, and tell really heart-wrenching stories. But I’m very proud of it.

Do you have plans to do more Valiant after the five issues of “Bloodshot”?

JL: Well, I hope to do “Bloodshot” as an ongoing for a long time. I have 25 issues plotted already. It’s not just a five-issue thing, that’s just the first little story. I’m looking at it as a longterm assignment, and there are other things being discussed.

OK, real quickly I just wanna touch on some other stuff. You have a book coming out from Image, “Descender,” with Dustin Nguyen. Do we have a release date for that yet?

JL: March.

Tell us about “Descender” a little bit.

The cover to Descender #1

JL: “Descender”, it’s Dustin Nguyen who people probably know from his work on “Batman” or “Li’l Gotham.” It’s his first creator-owned book, it’s my first creator-owned book that I’ve not also drawn myself which is interesting–

How does that change your approach?

JL: It doesn’t. Not really. It’s just easier. [Laughs] But, yeah, for people who enjoy “Sweet Tooth” and “Trillium,” I think it’s a great project. It combines a lot of the themes of “Sweet Tooth” with the aesthetics of “Trillium.” It’s about a young robot in space on the run from bounty hunters, from this society that fears and hates robots. It’s very much about childhood and fear and prejudice and things like that, as a big sprawling space epic.

And at DC you’re currently writing “Justice League United,” #6 just came out, and you’re also part of the “Future’s End” team. “Future’s End” has been something that we’ve been covering on Multiversity every week, trying to figure out how to put all the pieces together.

JL: There’s so much. [Laughs]

How is it working with such a varied writing team? It’s really four completely different personalities. I think that makes the book interesting, but what are the challenges of that for you?

JL: It’s good. It’s challenging. It’s such a big project, just the scale of it. The scheduling is so grueling that you’re always going to have ups and downs in that. I think I’ve been working on it every week for well over a year now. We’ve all clashed at one point, we’ve all embraced each others ideas at others; it’s like being part of a big, weird, dysfunctional family. Keith Giffen is the grumpy old grandad, Dan Jurgens is my supportive father, Brian Azzarello is my grumpy brother who I still love. It’s a lot of fun.

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That’s a pretty great way to describe Brian, as someone who has interviewed Brian a number of time. I understand that.

JL: It’s been interesting, and I’ve learned a lot from those guys. They each come from such different eras of comic history. Keith is really 70s and 80s, Dan is the epitome of the 90s, Brian is the early 00s. I’m the more current guy, so we all have different perspectives of the universe. But it’s really interesting.

The cover to Justice League United #6

And with “Justice League United”, the creation of Equinox has been one of the more higher profile creations of the New 52. Obviously she has a very important ethnic background, with the Canadian setting of the team. Is it important for you to embrace your homeland and bring some of that into the DCU?

JL: Absolutely. It was a real thrill. I was really happy that Dan DiDio let me do that project and let me set up the team in Canada, and just let me really try and do something special. I did a lot of research, spent a lot of time visiting aboriginal communities in Canada, doing research and getting to know the culture and getting to know the people; just trying to create something for them. It was really definitely a rewarding experience.

Is there anything else you want to talk about? Anything else going on I’ve forgotten to mention? A little more “Sweet Tooth”, right?

JL: Yeah, I’m doing a little 8-page story in one of the anthologies. I’ve got a book called “The Black Hammer” from Dark Horse with Dean Ormston, another creator-owned book that’s kind of “Essex County” meets superheroes. I’m really proud of that one too.

And that’s early next year?

JL: Probably June. And then I have the “Teen Titans: Earth One” graphic novel with Terry Dodson in November, which turned out great. Terry really did a great job. So I’ve got a lot of stuff.

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).