Jeff Lemire talks THE ATOM and SUPERBOY
“Hey Jeff, this is Geoff Johns!” That’s not what I expect to hear when I pick up the telephone. But it’s exactly what I did hear a few months ago. I’d been working away on inks for an issue of Sweet Tooth (the Vertigo series that I write and draw) one afternoon when my wife passed me the phone. “Who is it?” I mimed to her, annoyed at the disturbance. She just shrugged. I rolled my eyes, put down my brush and answered. “Hello?”
“Hey Jeff, this is Geoff Johns!”
And that’s how I ended up writing The Atom co-feature in Adventure Comics and then the new monthly Superboy series. Well, truth is told there was a bit more to it than that. I had to pitch and develop my ideas for both characters with DC Editors and all around great guys, Matt Idelson and Brian Cunnigham, over the course of a three or four month period. But really it all kind of happened rather quickly.
I never really set out to write superhero comics. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, always have. But my work has always tended to skew pretty far from the mainstream. I started out self-publishing my own mini-comics, and from there went on to do a number of indie graphic novels like the Essex County Trilogy. I was, and am perfectly happy working on these more personal projects. So I never expected, or lobbied to get writing gigs in the DCU. But when Geoff called and offered me the chance to do it, I didn’t hesitate for a minute.
I grew up reading DC comics. Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans and Levitz and Giffen’s Legion of Superheroes were the duo-bibles of my own personal religion as a kid. I know the DCU in and out. So the opportunity to put my stamp on one or two DC characters was too good to pass up. And luckily I’m a really fast artist, so figured I’d still able to balance my “personal” work like Sweet Tooth, with Superboy, The Atom and whatever else came up at DC. Boy was I ever wrong.
Again, don’t get the wrong idea, I am able to keep up with, and in most cases stay way ahead of, all my deadlines. What I was wrong about was presuming I’d never care as much about the DCU stuff as my creator-owned work. Because as soon as I started digging in the rich old soil of Smallville, and messing around with Superboy’s life, I knew that this project was going to be every bit as important to me as anything I’d ever done before.
I grew up on a farm, in a really small town in Canada that may as well have been Smallville. So it isn’t hard for me to inject some of that experience into the book. And I love the idea of telling truly rural superhero stories. So many of today’s comics are set in urban centers, especially superhero comics. So it is really important to me to allow the new Superboy book to fully exploit it’s country setting and hopefully bring a unique point-of-view to the monthly comic racks.
But what about Superboy himself? What do I hope to say about the character of Conner Kent anyway? What makes him unique, other than the where he lives? Well , to me Kon-el is the ultimate outsider. He never had anything resembling a childhood, or a real family or parents. He was born in a lab and missed out on all of that. And. As a result he’s never had anyplace to truly call home. So, as our series starts, he’s finally trying to allow himself to find both of those things, family and community, in Smallville.
Community…that leads us to the supporting cast of the book…and to Geoff Johns again. In Geoff and Francis Manapul’s amazing Adventure Comics run with Superboy they set up some great new characters in Simon Valentine and Lori Luthor. Basically they gave me two incredible gifts. Simon is brilliant young man who is either destined to become Superboy’s greatest friend, or his greatest enemy. And Lori is Lex’s niece, so she and Conner are (sort of ) cousins, yet clearly have some unresolved feelings for each other. This is more rich soil to farm with. So expect them to be a BIG part of Conner’s life and adventures moving forward.
And then there’s THE PHANTOM STRANGER. One of my all-time favorite DC characters ever since he showed up in the classic Alan Moore Swamp Thing run, which I worshipped as a kid (and still do). You might not expect a dark and mysterious guy like The Stranger to pop up in pastoral Smallville. But he’ s going to be there a lot. Which might clue you in that there are a few dark and sinister things going on under that small town veneer that are going to make Superboy’s life even more interesting as my first year on the book unfolds.
All that and Krypto too. What more can a writer ask for?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pier Gallo, the artist on Superboy -- and colorist Jamie Grant. He is simply fantastic. He’s enthusiastic, passionate and talented. He brings an insane amount of detail into each panel, but never loses sight of the importance of clear storytelling. He has a singular voice to be sure, with a real European influence in his drawing. Between the two of us, I really think that Superboy is going to be a very unique comic.
The book hits in November, and If Pier and I do our jobs right, you’ll become as passionate about the new adventures of Superboy as we have. And if not, I’ll sic The Phantom Stranger on you.
See you in November, and until then, be sure to check out The Atom in Adventure Comics!