It's happened time and again. Human beings find some place they've never been before, mine it for resources/glory/whatever and wind up screwing with the Natural Order of Things. Terrible consequences follow and life as we know it gets a little bit more miserable. In Jeff Lemire's new comic series Trillium, mankind faces extinction in the year 3797 as a result of the same awful pattern. The whole thing looks pretty hopeless. Of course, two crazy people — from different centuries, mind you — have to go and fall in love.
The first issue of Trillium, coming from DC's Vertigo imprint, hits comics shops and digital storefronts tomorrow and offers only the smallest of hopes of human survival. That glimmer comes in the form of 38th-Century scientist Nika Temsmith and 20th Century explorer William Pike, who mysteriously cross paths in the jungles of Peru. Trillium's initial chapter comes as a flip book where Nika and William's stories each take up half of the book, showing how they meet. It's a neat trick, sure, but what really makes the book shine is its tautly drawn portraits of people trying to get what they want even if it's something they shouldn't have. I spoke to writer Jeff Lemire — who also writes Green Arrow for DC Comics — about the creator-owned Trillium and the superhero archer who's now on a hit TV show.
Kotaku: Talk to me about the genesis of Trillium as a project. Part of it feels like a throwback because there's a very pulpy half with this jungle expedition but the sci-fi half feels bleeding-edge for how it thrusts us into a bleak future. I wanted to know what your influences were going into this.
Jeff Lemire: I grew up reading a lot of pulp and sci-fi, and I've always wanted to do a pulpy sci-fi story in the future where I could design the whole world, and design spaceships and space dudes, and have fun doing that stuff.
But I've also really been drawn to more personal smaller stories like the stuff you're seeing in World War I that went into the book. It's really just combining those two aesthetics, and combining humanity's last legs, and the end of the universe, and the end of human exploration, and comparing that to the Golden Age of exploration in the 1920s when the world seemed wide open and full of possibilities. Just kind of building a story around those different aesthetics and different opposing ideas.
Kotaku: Part of it is weird because you're in the far future, which is when humanity should ostensibly know better, but here we are making similar mistakes?
Lemire: Yeah, well that's not hard to believe. If you look around, we all keep making the same mistakes you'd think we'd learn from. I don't see that ending anytime soon. Yeah, her story is a very much more immediate and desperate one because we're quite literally seeing humanity's last stand and last hope, so there's a lot of drama to pull out of that.
Kotaku: Talk to me about the flip format. What made you focus on the delivering the story that way?
Lemire: I love the idea of symmetry and these two characters who are separated by thousands of years and still having this link, this destiny, and it felt like the flip book was an interesting way to do that because you kind of mirror their stories. I tried to have every page of his story and her story have the exact same page layout and panel count.
The book is like a perfect mirror just creating perfect symmetry in the sense of inevitability. It just seemed like a fun way to make the book stand out. So many new comics come out every month. I thought it would be a good way to make it a bit different and make it something unique, something the fans could have fun with.
Kotaku: Are you going to do this for the whole series moving forward?
Lemire: No, no, it's just the first issue. But I am trying to do something unique with each issue. The second issue, I play around a lot with language. These two characters, obviously her language is so far evolved from his that they can't understand each other.
I kind of play around with comic book storytelling as they try to find new ways to communicate with one another visually and stuff. I try to have some fun with that. Then in the third issue, I start to mix the two drawing styles a bit more and have some fun there. Each issue has its own unique… I wouldn't say gimmick because it's all story-driven, but it's something that makes it unique for sure.
Kotaku: It's good to see you penciling again. You are somebody who came up through the independent scene, and now you're doing superhero work obviously. What does it mean to launch a Vertigo book now, which kind of gets you back to some stuff that people may know you better for?
Lemire: I love doing DC work and writing stuff for other artists. But my real passion is always the stuff that I'm writing and drawing myself, whether it be stuff like Trillium, Sweet Tooth, or whatever. It's important for me to have those personal, creator-owned projects going.
Even during the months between this and [the] Sweet Tooth [cancellation], I was working on this and developing it, so I never really stopped drawing. But it's good that stuff is coming out again and to remind people that I'm not just a writer..
Kotaku: Speaking of writing, the stuff you've been doing with Green Arrow has been building a family around Green Arrow. But it's different than the family that the last version of the character had. Do you feel like Oliver Queen needs a band of merry men, so to speak? What are the reasons he needs to be part of a network of people like this?
Lemire: It's tricky. The pre-New 52 version of Green Arrow/ Oliver Queen was a pretty popular character. I liked him as well. But, I felt there were certain things about him — his relationship with Black Canary for instance — that were so inherent and became so important to the character, that he almost became more about that relationship than about the man himself.
I really wanted to stay away from just repeating the same stories that were told before, because as soon as you get the Green Arrow and the Black Canary together, let's say that they're together and there's no more romance or other possibility, for me, it as just a matter of creating a new supporting cast around them that we hadn't seen before just so that fans didn't know what to expect, and it wasn't like you were just retelling the old stories again. But trying to create a new mythology around the character and something that had story potential for years in the future with the character rather than limiting him.
Kotaku: Yeah, and relationships with characters like Arsenal — who was like Green Arrow's adopted son before the reboot — are more antagonistic now. How much input did you have in the crossover in the Red Hood & The Outsiders annual, which shed a lot more light on Green Arrow's previous partnership with Arsenal?
Lemire: That was all happening when I first got on the books. It probably wasn't as much input as I would have had if they was doing it now. But since then we've talked and we're trying to develop a plan for those two characters and where they're going and revealing their history and stuff like that. I think maybe next year you'll start to see a bit more about that Arsenal relationship kind of come out in my book as well.