Interview: Jeff Lemire on DC/Vertigo’s The Nobody & Sweet Tooth

The Nobody Cover

The Nobody Cover

Jeff Lemire is the creator of the Essex County trilogy. His graphic novel, The Nobody, was recently published by DC Comics/Vertigo and his new ongoing series, Sweet Tooth, is coming from Vertigo this September. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently spoke with Lemire to learn more about these projects.

Westfield: What was the inspiration for The Nobody?

Lemire: I’ve always been a fan of H.G. Wells‘ books. When I was younger, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man were probably the first books I read. They left a pretty big impression on me as a reader. I’ve gone back to his books at different points in my life and still enjoy them. The idea of the bandaged stranger showing up in a small town, like the initial set up for The Invisible Man novel, is so compelling and full of possibilities. When I was finished with my Essex County trilogy of graphic novels, I was looking for a project that was a bit darker and more pulpy, and I thought that that would be a great set up – to take that character and spin it into my own modern small town story.

Westfield: Is this an updating of the Invisible Man story, or did you use the novel as inspiration?

Lemire: It’s not an adaptation of the book. Basically, it takes the idea of a stranger showing up in a small town wrapped head to toe in bandages. From there, it goes off on my own tangent. I don’t really follow the plot or the characters of the novel at all. I do my own thing with it. I make a few nods to certain characters and scenes from the novel, but nothing direct. It’s a public domain novel now so I have the freedom to do that with it.

Westfield: Who are some of the characters in the book?

Lemire: Besides Griffen, the bandaged stranger, the main character would be a teenaged girl named Vickie who works at the local diner that her dad owns. She’s the loner in town. She longs to escape this small town she’s stuck in. When the bandaged man shows up, he represents all the mystery and intrigue of the outside world. She befriends him and these two outsiders bond and form this strange friendship. In the back of her mind, she’s seeing him as a way out of town. There’s also her father and the other town folk who quickly become suspicious of this bandaged weirdo. Things turn bad.

Westfield: With both Essex County and The Nobody, and it sounds like a bit with Sweet Tooth, you’re dealing with small towns and small groups of people. What is the fascination with the small town for you?

Lemire: At its root, I come from a really small town. The Essex County books were based on the place where I grew up. Also, I find that so many novels or comics or movies today are all set in big cities or some kind of allegory for New York City. It’s nice to have stories that show a different perspective. Since I’m from one of those places, I feel like I have other kinds of stories I can tell. It adds some diversity to what’s coming out. I feel like there’s all kinds of great stories to be told all over the world and there’s no reason they all have to be set in a big city in the United States.

Sweet Tooth #1 cover

Sweet Tooth #1 cover

Westfield: Moving on to Sweet Tooth, what can you tell us about the book?

Lemire: It’s my first monthly book and my first book in color, so that’s really exciting. It’s ten years after some mysterious disease pretty much wiped out 90% of the population of the world. The world’s one big ghost town. There’s this little boy who’s grown up in seclusion in the woods with his father and he has some animal-like features. He has antlers and deer-like features. He has never left the woods. He doesn’t know anything about the world outside. In the first issue, he’s forced to leave the woods for the first time and what he finds is this world that’s basically been left behind and empty. The story follows him and this big, hulking, violent drifter who takes him under his wing. They have a road trip across this new American frontier.

Westfield: I know you were probably working on the books prior to this, but when I heard about the pandemic in your story, my first thought was the Swine Flu (H1N1) scare.

Lemire: Yeah. I was already done with the sixth issue when the Swine Flu scare started happening. We were all glad the guy didn’t have pig-like features or we would have been cancelled. [laughter]

Westfield: Where did the idea of the pandemic come from?

Lemire: I’m a fan of the great post-apocalyptic science fiction stories like Mad Max and Tim Truman‘s old comic, Scout. I was a big fan of that book. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road novel. Walking Dead, too. The idea of a post-apocalyptic world is such a great set up for sci-fi stories and action adventure stories. Somewhere inside, I always wanted to tell my own version of one of those books, but I didn’t want a world that was destroyed by a nuclear war or something like that. I wanted a world that was sort of our world, but left untouched and empty. I thought that was an interesting place to explore.

Westfield: Will there be other major characters in the book?

Lemire: The first six-issue arc mostly follows the two main characters, the boy and the big guy. It’s them making their way across the country. The big guy promises the kid that he knows of a safe place where other animal children are gathering. So, it’s their quest to find this place. I can’t give away too much, but at the end of the sixth issue, the story opens wide and there are all kinds of new characters and new mysteries posed.

Westfield: The first issue of Sweet Tooth is also coming out at a special price. Were you involved with that decision at all?

Lemire: No. That was a decision made through Vertigo. Sweet Tooth, The Unwritten, and Greek Street are all dollar first issues. I’m really happy about it. Hopefully it’ll get a lot more people to try the book than normally would have and bring a lot of attention to it.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to mention?

Essex County Vol. 2 Ghost Stories cover

Essex County Vol. 2 Ghost Stories cover

Lemire: The collected omnibus version of the three Essex County books is coming out in August from Top Shelf. It’s going to be in both hardcover and softcover and it’s going to have 56 pages of new material. I’m also in Dark Horse’s Noir anthology which is coming out in a month or two. And I’m working on another Top Shelf book on the side, but that one’s still in the early stages so I won’t be talking about it until next year.

Westfield: Are there any closing comments you’d like to make?

Lemire: Buy Sweet Tooth! It’s only a dollar!

Purchase:

The Nobody HC

Sweet Tooth #1

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