Jeff Lemire Talks Writing Superheroes, Working With Friends and 'The Valiant'
Today sees the launch of The Valiant, a new mini-series from Valiant Entertainment that features writer Jeff Lemire's first work for the publisher. Co-written with Matt Kindt and with art by Paolo Rivera, it marks the end of a big year for Lemire, with major projects at DC Entertainment (including the end of his critically-acclaimed run on Green Arrow and his work on the New 52: Futures End series) and announcements of future projects with publishers including Marvel and Image Comics.
The Hollywood Reporter talked to Lemire about The Valiant and his career to date, with the publisher providing exclusive preview art from the series' second issue, out January, and Lemire's Valiant series Bloodshot Reborn, set to launch in April.
Heat Vision breakdown
"I never thought I would work in mainstream superhero comics, or Valiant or Marvel," Lemire told THR. "I just set out to make the kinds of stories I wanted to make, which at the beginning was small personal stuff like Essex County. My Valiant co-writer, Matt Kindt, came up the same way — we both started off at Top Shelf Comix, and we both were just making the kinds of comics we wanted to make without any aspirations of breaking into superhero comics. As a result, we both developed really strong voices, and a sense of the stories we wanted to tell."
His voice was what brought him to DC's attention, beginning with work for the Vertigo imprint (including Sweet Tooth and the recently-completed Trillium) and going on to superhero series including Superboy and Animal Man. The transition from personal work to superheroes wasn't easy, however. "It was the first time I was writing something that I wouldn't be drawing myself, and there was a real learning curve there," he admitted. "I lost my voice in the plot-driven stuff superhero comics can become if you're not careful, and it took awhile to get back to finding it again."
Not being responsible for illustrating the stories was part of the problem, he said. "You can write a script, but that's just a starting point as a cartoonist," he explained. "The heart of the process comes when you start to draw it and you work out how to lay the page out, how best to tell the story." These days, he's learned to trust the artists he works with — but also be selective in choosing which artists to collaborate with.
When it comes to discussing the work of Rivera, the artist on The Valiant (He's also illustrated Daredevil and The Amazing Spider-Man for Marvel), Lemire was effusive. "He's such a storyteller," Lemire enthused. "He really complimented the way we wrote the script, and his work is so rich with emotion and acting, so we knew he would nail the character stuff. As big and epic as the story is, it's really a character piece, and Paolo can deliver that."
Rivera's art brought one of The Valiant's leads to life for Lemire in a way that he didn't expect. "Bloodshot, to me, is always such a tough character," the writer said. "He's so cold to begin with, just the nature of the character, he's hard to relate to — but the way Paolo draws him, there's such humanity to the character. He isn't over the top; he looks like a real guy." Rivera's art obviously inspired something within Lemire; following The Valiant's conclusion, he's slated to write a monthly title spotlighting Bloodshot, launching in April.
"Sometimes if you have a lot of history with a character, and a lot of affection, it's hard for you to do anything with that character," he said. "Like, with Swamp Thing for instance, I revere the Alan Moore run so much that it would be hard for me to do my own Swamp Thing. I care too much about the way it was done before. I've found I sometimes have the best success working on characters I didn't really connect to right away."
In the case of Bloodshot, he explained, "I always found the character a bit creepy. This emotionless killing machine that epitomized the idea of the hard, over-the-top action hero — that wasn't something that I was really attracted to. That then became, how could I make that character into something I did like? And a story started to come about from that." The new series, titled Bloodshot Reborn is, he said, "about how to make Bloodshot more human, more relatable. There's an almost-Frankenstein-like story there, and a lot of emotional hooks for me to get into." (The following art is from the first issue of Bloodshot Reborn, by Mico Suayan and David Baron.)
Bloodshot was one of the first names thrown out by Valiant when it started discussing bringing Lemire onboard, he said, but what convinced him to join the publisher wasn't the fictional characters, but the real people involved.
Kindt, he said, "was raving about working at Valiant, and about Warren Simons, his editor — just talking about how it was a great creative environment. I knew other creators there — [XO Manowar writer] Robert Vendetti was at Top Shelf when I was there, and [Harbinger writer] Josh Dysart was at Vertigo when I was starting Sweet Tooth with them — and it's just good to work with your friends."
The size of the company was also a plus, he added. "Valiant feels like a small universe, to the point where Matt, Robert, Josh and I — along with Fred Van Lente — can work together and act as architects of the universe. It feels very fun, and natural." And, it turns out, Lemire agrees with Kindt's fondness for Simons. "Warren is one of the best editors I've ever worked with, for sure," he said.
Bloodshot Reborn is just one of five new projects Lemire is launching in 2015, with his original Black Hammer and Descender series being joined by a new Hawkeye series for Marvel and a graphic novel he'll write and illustrate (He'll also be continuing Justice League United for DC). While that might seem like an overwhelming amount of work, Lemire appreciates the variety it offers.
""I try to choose things that are really different from each other. I feel that if I was just writing one book with four different names on it, it wouldn't be very challenging for me," he said. "I feel like I have a really diverse body of work coming out in 2015 [and] it also feels very different from the work I've done for DC over the last few years, which is very refreshing. Change can be creatively reinvigorating. It's been very stimulating for me; I think the books that are coming out next year are the best things I've ever done."
The Valiant No. 1 is already available digitally and in comic stores; the second issue, previewed below, will be released in Jan. 2015.
by Rick Porter
by Rick Porter
by Etan Vlessing