Monday, January 31, 2011

Jeff Lemire at Drawn and Quarterly Bookstore

Last week I went to Drawn and Quarterly to catch an interview and panel discussion with Jeff Lemire to promote his book Essex County, which is currently on the shortlist of CBC's Canada Read contest. This is the first graphic novel to make it this far in the competition, so in order to celebrate this landmark, they recorded a portion of the Homerun radio show at the D+Q bookstore. Lemire was first interviewed by host Sue Smith, then there was a brief Q&Q from the audience. Finally, there was a panel discussion with Montreal comics creators Sherwin Sullivan Tjia and Matt Forsythe, and Drawn and Quarterly head publisher Chris Oliveros.

You can listen to the interview and discussion that followed on the Canada Reads website.

About 12 minutes into the first audio clip, you'll hear me very awkwardly asking the first question in the Q&A. If I could go back in time, I would definitely rephrase that question and get to the point much quicker, but I think it was a good question. Lemire had mentioned during the interview that he'd gone to film school, so I asked him how much that background informed his storytelling. I was thinking mostly of the pacing of his stories, which (to me at least) often has a very cinematic feel, with brief scenes or "shots" dedicated more to establishing mood than advancing the plot. I was thinking in particular of this page from Sweet Tooth #13, where all you see is a helicopter blade moving in and out of the frame:

Lemire replied that while cinema probably does have a big influence on his style, more and more he's looking for ways to tell stories in a way that is specific to the medium, for example by experimenting with layout to do things that you just couldn't do in film. He brought up these two pages from issue #16 as an example:

I also got a chance to talk to him briefly during the break and to ask him about something else that I was very curious about. Ever since the first issue of Superboy, I've been wondering how detailed his scripts are and whether he provides any specific layout instructions to artist Pier Gallo, because I'd noticed some striking similarities with Lemire's own style in books like Sweet Tooth. Lemire confirmed my suspicions and said that he is very specific in the scripts and that he even provides layouts for the artist in some cases. "You can probably tell which parts," he said. I asked if Gallo ever surprises him with the art in those cases where Lemire hasn't asked for something super-specific, and he said no. One of the things he specifically looked for when they chose an artist for the book was someone with a very straightforward storytelling style, but with the skill to get more experimental when the script called for it.

My only regret is that I didn't ask Lemire for a sketch. Somehow it didn't feel like the right context, this being a "literary" event more than a "comic book" one, and I didn't want to come across as an annoying fanboy. Maybe next time.


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