Jeff Lemire (Royal City, Underground Welder, Sweet Tooth) has tackled everything from mundane, small town concerns to superheroes with raw, emotional honesty. Next up in his sizable creative repertoire is BERSERKER UNBOUND, a sword-and-sorcery epic fantasy that drops a battled-hardened barbarian in the middle of a modern metropolis in a fight between good and evil. And he’s found a willing partner in Mike Deodato, Jr., the Brazilian artist known for his collaborations on Avengers and Infinity Wars.
Lemire and Deodato talk about their collaboration on BERSERKER UNBOUND, their new four-issue mini-series with Dark House that launches on August 7, 2019.
Nancy Powell: Can you give us a brief preview on what the BERSERKER UNBOUND will be about?
Jeff Lemire: BERSERKER UNBOUND focuses on the greatest barbarian hero of another world who is thrown into our own “real world” and has to figure out how to survive. He soon meets a homeless man named Cobb and they bond. The story really is about these two men from different worlds and the things that bind them together.
Mike Deodato Jr.: It is about the greatest warrior who ever lived and how he ends up wounded and powerless in a strange world—our world—and is taken care of by a homeless man named Cobb. I had the chance to draw the greatest fight scenes I have ever done, but the heart of the series is the friendship they build.
Powell: How did the two of you team up for this book? And what is the working relationship like?
Lemire: I first got to work with Mike at Marvel a few years back when we launched a Thanos series there. I had admired his work for years, but that was our first chance to collaborate and it instantly felt like a great fit, both artistically and personally. Mike is a great guy, super generous and kind, and he has an incredible work ethic.
We only got to do five or six issues of Thanos together. After that we kept in communication and talked about doing other things. Mike was keen to try and do a creator-owned book and when I asked him what he wanted to draw, he said a barbarian story. So, I wrote the scripts for BERSERKER for him over the course of a few weeks about two or three years ago and he chipped away at the art in between all his Marvel commitments.
Deodato: I fell in love with Jeff’s work during our run on Thanos, so when he invited me to do something together I was so excited! I wanted to do a barbarian book, but I was ready to do anything with him, to be honest. The thing I liked the most about him, is he is always open to ideas and suggestions. I didn’t contribute anything besides the art for this first arc but he was so supportive for a small scene I suggested for the next arc and for an idea I had for our next project that I finally felt what it is like to be really collaborating with someone.
Powell: Looking at the cover of the first issue of BERSERKER UNBOUND, I get this He-Man goes to the future vibe. Was there any Masters of the Universe inspiration going on there? Or Thor? If not, what was the inspiration behind this new series?
Lemire: Honestly neither He-Man or Thor ever crossed my mind. Perhaps they did for Mike, but I’m not sure. I was thinking more of the Robert E Howard, Conan archetype. Having said that, I have never actually read any Conan stuff, so this was more what I imagined those stories were kind of like. In a way that is probably for the best—that was I was not too influenced by actual Conan lore. When we started this project three or so years ago we had no idea that Marvel would be getting the Conan rights back and publishing new stuff. So now I’m glad I didn’t know very much about Conan, because BERSERKER has its own feeling and mythology.
The other big inspiration here was one of my favorite films, The Fisher King. The relationship between Berserker and Cobb is really inspired by the central friendship in that movie.
Deodato: My inspiration whenever I draw barbarians is Frank Frazetta. He has been a major influence in my art since I saw his work for the first time in the mid-seventies.
Powell: Is the modern metropolis the Berserker finds himself transported to in the first book a parallel universe to his own or is it the future?
Lemire: I can’t reveal that! Read on and find out!
Deodato: Sorry, I can’t spoil that either!
Powell: And how does he deal with modern conveniences and technology after the savagery he has experienced in his own world?
Lemire: He is a total fish out of water. Luckily, he soon befriends Cobb, who helps him navigate this new world. But even Cobb is a man who lives outside of society, so these two outsiders really live on the fringes of things where modern technology is not as prevalent or important.
Deodato: He cannot just fight his way out this time, like he would do in his own world, but he leans on Cobb to help him.
Powell: Jeff, this story is different from some of your creator-owned titles like Underwater Welder, Royal City and Essex County. How is writing for a series with Mike different from the creative process you use when writing and drawing your own titles? And will Berserker feel the same kind of alienation we see in some of your other works?
Lemire: Well, when you are writing and drawing your own work, the process is obviously very different. Really it all comes down to the fact that writing for another artist is a collaboration, whereas writing and drawing myself is a more isolated and meditative experience, whereas collaborating allows you to create something that I could never do on my own. Both are very rewarding, and I’m lucky to have been able to build a career where I can follow both of these creative avenues.
Having said all that, Berserker and Cobb are characters that would fit right in with many of my other books. Their relationship is the heart of the story.
Powell: Cobb and Berserker are the new buddy-buddy pairing in this fantasy series. How will they reconcile their differences—time, place, temperaments—to work together effectively?
Lemire: Well, that’s the story, so I don’t want to spoil it here. But these two men will soon learn they have much more in common that it first appears. Simple human connections that transcend their differences.
Deodato: They are both fighters in their own way. Although they are from such different worlds, they will find a strong connection based on their life experiences.
Powell: Do you anticipate BERSERKER UNBOUND to go beyond its original four-issue run?
Lemire: We will see what the reception is to this series. Mike and I will definitely do more creator-owned stuff together and have been discussing various possibilities, more BERSERKER being one of them.
Deodato: I really hope so. There is so much more to be told.