Jeff Lemire Talks Image’s Family Tree

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Branching Out?

Family Tree is a new series from Image Comics by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Phil Hester. Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows just spoke to Lemire about the new comic…

TRIPWIRE: How did Phil Hester come on board?

JEFF LEMIRE: I have been a big fan of Phil’s for a while. I read his run on Swamp Thing with Morrison and Millar back in the day, and from that point on, I was a fan. More recently, it was his work on Shipwreck with Warren Ellis that really hit me. It was so bold and evocative,  and I had been working in the ideas for Family Tree when that book launched, so I really started to think about Phil’s art a lot when I was writing.

TW: You split your time between writing for other artists and drawing series yourself. How do you choose if a series is one you will just write or draw as well?

JL: I can really only draw one project at a time, since drawing is so labour intensive. So it really comes down to that fact that I’m usually already committed to drawing something, or in the middle of drawing something, when new ideas emerge and I look to do the as collaborations.  Also, sometimes the subject matter informs that as well. My drawing style is very specific and idiosyncratic, so it’s not necessarily suited to all types of stories. For example, I could never do something like Descender. All the tech and robots, I just don’t have that skill set. But Dustin Nguyen does. So it all just fits.

And often, I will be talking to an artist and we will express interest in doing something together, so I will develop an idea specifically with them in mind. Gideon Falls was like that.  Other times,  I will have an idea or story worked out and then look for the right artist afterwards, as was the case with Family Tree.

TW: It is described as a genre defying series so presumably it is part coming of age tale, part fantasy and part horror and having Phil Hester on board as artist was a real asset to the series?

JL: Once I knew that Phil was drawing Family Tree, everything fell into place, because I could see in my mind’s eye the way he would tackle certain characters etc. I knew that Phil could do horror, put also bring real humanity to the book as well. I don’t even know that this is really a horror book. It has some body horror elements, but it’s really a strange mix of genres and tones. Phil makes it all work.

TW: What else can you tell us about the series?

JL: Family Tree is the story of a little girl who literally turns into a tree as her family races to understand why, and to stay one step ahead of a bizarre cult hell bent on killing her and stopping the transformation. The more the story expands, the more we learn about the strange history of this transformation and how it stretches backwards, and forwards, in time.

TW: How closely have you collaborated with Hester on the series?

JL: With all my collaborators, I am generally pretty hands off. Once I write the scripts, I leave it to them and stay out of their way.

TW: Is Family Tree designed as a mini-series or an ongoing series?

JL: I always have 2 plans every time I start a series. It’s been this way with everything I’ve done since Sweet Tooth. I have a shorter plan, in case sales aren’t great, so that we can still tell a complete story, and a longer plan, that usually gets us to the same end point, but gives us freedom to expand and explore along the way. It’s just a safety thing I do for myself more than anything. But ideally, this will be a bigger, longer narrative like Ascender, Gideon Falls etc.

TW: Just like Sweet Tooth, this series takes a twisted look at the US, a theme that continues to fascinate you. What is it about the US for you as a Canadian that continues to appeal to you? How much is it the fact that you are an outsider to the US so you can offer that outsider’s perspective?

JL: Honestly I don’t put much separation between US and Canada when telling these stories. I generally set this in the US because that is where the bulk of the readership will be, but this one could just as easily be set in Canada. So I don’t think there is an “outsider” perspective at work in this one, so much.

Some of my more personal projects have been much more specifically Canadian, like Essex County or Roughneck. But this one is a bit more universal.

TW: You seem to write and or draw around a dozen books a month. How do you juggle all these different series?

JL: The trick is getting really far ahead of my artists. This allows me to juggle a lot of things, and jump between projects at my own pace, rather than always working up against a deadline. So I try to stay 8 months to a year ahead of all my artists. That way I am only ever really working on two or three books a month.

Family Tree starts in November from Image Comics by Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester

https://imagecomics.com/comics/series/family-tree

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