Jeff Lemire is no stranger here; his work on DC’s mainstream books, such as Animal Man, is something we regularly harangue you about reading every few Wednesdays. But Lemire is also an accomplished writer/artist at Vertigo, having just finished Sweet Tooth. His new miniseries, Trillium, is a love story crossing ’20s British exploration adventure with a future where humanity is on the verge of being wiped out by a sentient virus. Lemire took a few minutes to talk with us about Trillium, working as both artist and writer, and discussing the book’s unique flip style and layouts.
Gamma Squad: Where did the concept for this story start?
Jeff Lemire: I’d always wanted to do SF. I grew up reading it, love it, but I hadn’t really had a chance to do anything in that genre in comics yet. When I was drawing Sweet Tooth, it was SF but very much grounded in our world. Trillium was my chance to draw planets and aliens and spaceships and all that fun stuff. That was really appealing to me, to build that world from scratch and populate it. I’d pitched a couple of things to Vertigo after Sweet Tooth that didn’t really go anywhere, and my editor challenged me to do something a little different. I decided that doing a love story that not a lot of comics people try to do. Combining the desire to do a really affecting personal love story and putting it against an SF backdrop seemed fun. (laughs) Something challenging.
Gamma Squad: One of these stories is epic and one of them is very personal. What drove that decision?
Lemire: I feel like William’s story is more personal, obviously scarred by World War I. I liked the idea of having these stories juxtapose; we see the end of time and the last gasp of humanity. And in the other story, it’s the great era of British exploration. The world seemed wide open and new. I thought there was an interesting juxtaposition there.
Gamma Squad: What made you choose the end of humanity as the stakes in this story? You don’t get bigger than that, really!
Lemire: Well, that’s the whole thing. I wanted my characters to do something pretty intense. So you go as far as you can with that. The best love stories to me are the ones with a tragedy mixed in, and you don’t get more tragic than finally falling in love as the universe is ending. It seemed like a dramatic and huge backdrop to pull out a lot of emotion.
Gamma Squad: As an artist, is there a shift between working in a historic era and going to the far-flung future? Does one take more work than the other?
Lemire: The historical stuff, it’s all there for you, it’s all designed for you already. Whereas the future stuff, it’s completely open. You’re building every little thing from the ground up, making decisions on clothing looks like, the planet’s surface. All that’s from the imagination, so designing the future stuff is a lot more work. But at the same time, it’s pretty gratifying to see it come together, to get your vision down on paper.
Gamma Squad: Do you sit down and do design sketches before you start drawing, or do it as you go along?
Lemire: I spent about a month and a half before drawing the comic drawing different aliens and spaceship, finding the stuff I wanted to use. It’s just too much stuff to decide to design it all on the page. There are so many storytelling things to be concerned with at that point that you don’t want to possibly figure out what the world looks like.
That was a fun period too. I was so used to doing comics every day, and comics can be labor-intensive, doing panel-to-panel storytelling. So it was freeing to sit with a sketchbook and just mull over ideas for a couple of months.
Gamma Squad: How far along were you before you decided you were laying out the book as a two-sided comic? Was that there from the beginning?
Lemire: It kind of was there from the beginning. It was just a matter of finding out whether DC would do it or not. They were really into it and worked with us to make it work. It just seemed natural for the story, juxtaposing two stories, especially in the first issue. It was also a good way to make it stand out, because there are so many new comics coming out every month. Especially if it’s not just a gimmick, but something that works with the story.
Gamma Squad: Were there any layout challenges in that design?
Lemire: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but both stories are perfect mirrors of each other. The panel count and the layout of the page are the same on each page of both stories. Every page is identical in layout and panel count. That took a lot of work, making sure that their stories matched up perfectly. It took a lot of trial and error. That’s where writing and drawing your own material is a real benefit, because if I was trying to work with an artist to coordinate that, or working with a writer to coordinate that, it would have been challenging. If something wasn’t quite matching, I could change the script!
Trillium #1 is out tomorrow from Vertigo.