In part two of our weekend long discussion with Jeff Lemire, we sat down with him to discuss his newly announced Dark Horse creator-owned title The Black Hammer to find out more about the influences of the title, its potential metaphorical under-pinnings and why he chose to go with Dark Horse for this series specifically.
When you’re getting into a creator owned title like The Black Hammer, I’m sure there’s a sense of freedom due to your direct ownership of the book, but is there a sense of added pressure of finding its audience as well?
I don’t feel a lot of pressure, not really. I just get excited about the idea and want to work on it. I stopped worrying about those kinds of things a long time ago. You just make the books you want to make and people will like it or they won’t. As long as you’re happy with it, who cares?
Why Dark Horse for this particular title? I know you have a new book (Descender) with Image, and all your upcoming work with Valiant. Why was Dark Horse the right publisher for The Black Hammer?
There’s a couple of reasons. I was at DC exclusively for four or five years. Coming out of being for only one company for that long, there was certainly a sense of wanting to try new things and wanting to work with different people and not being locked in with one person or one company again right away. With Dark Horse, one of my best friends is Matt Kindt, and they had done so well with Mind MGMT and Matt was very happy with how that book has been handled so I thought it would be cool to come over and do a book with Matt.
The actual premise of The Black Hammer has been talked about at length elsewhere at a number other sites, so what were some of the influences that led to getting to that point?
Well, the concept itself kinda reveals the influences: its about a group of superheroes who come from every era of comics. They’ve been wiped out of continuity, and one day they wake up in this small farm and they have no idea why they’re there or how to get back. The influences are all there, you have a different character from each era of comic history that I love. You have a character named “Madame Dragonfly” who is sort of the embodiment of all those great 70’s House of Mystery/House of Secrets horror comics. You can see everything I love growing up is in there, which is kind of mashed with the stuff I normally do in my independent work like in Essex County with a focus on family and small town life. More quiet, character based storytelling. It’s mixing those two things together into something hopefully unique.
Is this the kind of story where the majority of the “super-hero action” takes place in flashback?
I guess you’d call them flashbacks. The bulk of the book is very much their life now, taking place in the small town, ten years after they arrived. They’re trying to live as normal people, a normal family, despite how strange they are and how strange their background is. That’s the bulk of the book, the in-continuity adventures and stuff from their past is just that, they’re vignettes or flashbacks that reveal more about their history and their relationships with one another and things like that.
Is there an ending already in place or planned?
Yeah, I know the ending just like how I knew Sweet Tooth was going to end. I knew the last page of that and I know the last page of this as well. But between the beginning and the end, it’s very fluid. There’s a lot of room to explore different things along the way. So, I know the end-point, but how long the whole series will be, it’s hard to say.
Is it a great amount of fun to write in different character voices from different eras?
Yeah, it’s definitely fun, but there’s also a balance…I had to experiment a bit. When I’m writing something from the 30’s, do I go full-on and try to emulate the writing style completely and go pastiche or do you adapt the sensibilities of that with a more modern voice? I just tried to find a balance there.
Is there any metaphorical material that you’re looking to mine into, ala Kingdom Come?
There is that, but I don’t really want to talk about it…it’s not a spoiler thing, but my thoughts and feelings on superhero comics will probably become pretty clear by the end of this, so we’ll just leave it at that. There’s stuff I love and stuff I don’t, I have opinions. There’s certainly a commentary about the state of the industry. It’s pretty blatant. But also, I have a love for that stuff, for all of comics history, and I think this is a pretty sincere love letter to comics as well. It’s not just satire or commentary, it’s me kind of trying to show all the stuff I used to love to read.
You’ve had this idea for quite some time right?
It’s funny, this project has been gestating longer than anything I’ve ever done. I finished Essex County and I started working on this. You’ll be able to see the influence of Essex County in it right away; it very much is Essex County, but with super-heroes. I’m not ashamed to say that’s pretty fun to write. So that was about 2007-2008 when I started working on it, and I was going to draw it as a graphic novel. Then I started to work with Vertigo and DC and my career kind of took off doing other things like Sweet Tooth, and now I’m working on new things that I’m drawing myself. It just became obvious that this was something that I really wanted to do, but that I wouldn’t have time to draw the whole thing myself and that was part of the decision to come to Dark Horse and find an artist like Dean.
What does Dean bring to the book that is different from what you would have done had you drawn it yourself?
It’s very different, I met Dean at Thought Bubble, a festival in the UK, about two, maybe three years ago. But I had known his work before that, I followed his work at Vertigo and was a fan. I really admired his stuff, I felt it was very graphic, very bold style. He also has a sense of strangeness, like he can draw monsters, but with a strange humanity to them. I thought it would be interesting to filter superheroes through that strange dark voice that he has, I knew it would be unique and that it wouldn’t look like a normal super-hero comic. It would look like a strange super-hero comic. It can’t just be a thing I’m emulating, it needs its own voice for sure.
When we see the flashbacks, will different styles emerge?
We’re still very much in the process of deciding how far we go with that. How do we use color? Does he completely alter his drawing style for each era? So those are the creative things we’re sort of in the process of working out. I’m not sure what the answer is yet, as I’ve written two scripts and he’s still in the design stage. We’ll see how it plays out.
Having spent so much time at DC under your exclusive, you’re now spread amongst several different universes per se, is that an overwhelming feeling at all?
It’s fun, I love DC. I grew up reading DC and I have nothing bad to say about my time there. They treated me really great. There’s stuff I’m proud of and stuff I’m not so proud of. That just comes with doing a lot of stuff. It’s cool to play in new playgrounds like the Valiant stuff with new characters and a much smaller universe that I wasn’t familiar with. It’s brand new to me, so that’s fun. And, with this book, I’m creating my own comic book universe that is a combination of my own sensibilities and pulling things from history. It’s not so much overwhelming as it is fun. It’s fun to have fresh starts, new people to work with and new things to play with.
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