Back in June publisher Dark Horse Comics announced Mazebook, a new five-issue series from writer/artist Jeff Lemire. The series follows a building inspector, Will Warren, who has cut himself off from making personal connections with the rest of the world in the decade following the death of his daughter, Wendy. A mysterious phone call leads Will to believe that Wendy is trapped in a labyrinth, and sends him on a mission to rescue her.
An intense and deeply affecting examination of grief, Mazebook is the latest work from acclaimed cartoonist Lemire, whose work has gained more attention than ever thanks for the success of the Netflix Sweet Tooth show based on his Vertigo series. The Beat chatted via email with Lemire about the development of Mazebook, his perspective on the series as a father, and the role memory plays in all of his work.
Joe Grunenwald: The lead character of Mazebook, Will, is a father whose child has died, which is an immensely heavy subject. How has being a father yourself influenced your approach to developing and writing this character and this series as a whole?
Jeff Lemire: Well, it is a heavy subject. Probably the most terrible thing that can happen to a person. And something so horrible, I can barely let myself truly think about it as a parent. For me, the impact that something like this can have on a person was scary and hard and I felt, worth exploring. The point of view I was interested in here is not the immediate aftermath of a traumatizing loss like this, but rather seeing how it could affect a person years later, in this case a decade later. To see a person who dealt with this by shutting out the world and cutting off emotion. And this was a really interesting point to start the story for me.
Grunenwald: Will is a very solitary figure as the series opens, though readers do get to meet some of the people around him, namely his coworkers and one of his neighbors. What role will they play as the series progresses? Might we meet any of Will’s family, or the Elena he mentions early on?
Lemire: We will meet Elena, his ex-wife in issue 2. And the people around Will will all play roles in his journey as well. Obviously, I don’t want to spoil the story too much so this one is hard to answer with any specificity, I’m afraid. Will’s loneliness and his sense of isolation are a key part of the journey throughout Mazebook.
Grunenwald: You’ve described the series as being about Will going on a “metaphysical journey” to reconnect with humanity. Has it been a challenge to represent that journey visually? What different art techniques are you using to do so?
Lemire: I really keyed in on the potential of the maze as a graphic element. I had a lot of fun using mazes as part of the layouts and in storytelling of the book. In addition to this I played around with my art style as well. I used a watercolor wash on my inks and then played around with the color balance in photoshop to create this sort of dreamy veil over the pages. And color plays a key part too. Different color choices were made to represent different “layers” of reality that Will is experiencing.
Grunenwald: The first issue of the series also deals with memory – the things that stick with us and how we remember those things. How does that theme apply to the larger journey Will is going to undertake?
Lemire: The idea of memory has played a pretty big role in all my work. You see it in Essex County, with characters looking back on their lives and rediscovering important things they may have lost, you see it in Underwater Welder as well. I became really interested in the malleability of our memories as time passes, the idea that we can almost reshape our own pasts my applying a narrative to our memories that may not even really be accurate. Then, as time passes, what is more real? The real events or how we choose to remember them? These are all key themes in this book for sure.
Grunenwald: Each issue of Mazebook is extra-long, which I really enjoyed with the first issue as I felt very engrossed in the story by the time the issue was over. How did you decide on making the issues oversized?
Lemire: The honest answer was that I originally created Mazebook as a graphic novel without knowing who would publish it or in what format. So I was not concerned at all with page count. I just told the story the way I thought served it best. Later, when I decided to work with Dark Horse, they proposed the idea of splitting the book into separate issues. I was hesitant at first, until I looked at it and saw all these interesting break points that seemed to be baked right into it. And then I saw the tension that would be created at key points in the book by having these breaks. I became sold on the idea and actually went back in and added some pages and material to make it work even better in this format. I love the end result. I also love putting out these 48-page chapters. It just feels more substantial than the typical 20 pages of comics we get.
Grunenwald: What do you hope readers take away from checking out Mazebook?
Lemire: I want to take them on a journey that is unlike anything else they can get from other monthly comics. I wanted to create something unique that stands out and reads like nothing else out there.
The first issue of the five-issue Mazebook arrives in stores on Wednesday, September 8th. The final order cutoff date for the issue is Monday, August 16th.