Recently I had a chance to chat with Jeff Lemire, Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Award winner, artist and writer of several fantastic graphic novels & comic series. Being a personal fan of his latest series from Dark Horse Comics, Black Hammer, I was quite thrilled to talk with Jeff.
Martin Boruta – Jeff, first, thanks for taking the time to answer a few quick questions. Before we delve into Black Hammer what is the one comic project of yours that is most dear to you or that you are most proud of?
Jeff Lemire – That is a really tough question to answer. It’s kind of like choosing between your children. But I would have to say that Essex County will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the book I built my career on and when I was drawing that book I was dirt poor and struggling to find my voice as a cartoonist. So it is always going to be special to me. I’m also extremely proud of Sweet Tooth.
But Black Hammer is also very special to me. It is the book I have the most fun working on for sure. It combines every aspect of my work into one world, the quitter character driven work of things like Essex County and Underwater Welder with my love of superhero comics.
Martin – You Sir, are a fellow Canadian. Do you find that being Canadian influences or affects your comic work?
Jeff – I’m not sure that it really does. I think things like Black Hammer and Royal City certainly are influenced by my rural upbringing, but are also universal and not specifically Canadian. I definitely like telling stories about small towns and small communities. That comes from growing up in a small town in Canada, for sure. I have done books that are specifically about Canadian issues like Secret Path and my upcoming Roughneck, but I also hope that all my work is universal and not so Canadian that it alienates other readers.
Martin – Black Hammer from Dark Horse Comics is currently one of my favourite comic series. It always manages to find its way to the top of my to-read pile when I get home from the local comic shop. How did the idea for Black Hammer come about?
Jeff – Black Hammer was actually the book I was going to write and draw myself back in 2007 after I finished Essex County. At the time, I never thought I’d get a chance to do “real” superhero comics, so I wanted to do a book that was my love letter to the genre, and to all the superhero comics that I loved growing up.
Fast forward eight years or so, I had been writing superhero comics for DC for about five years and I still loved the idea of Black Hammer but had a whole new perspective on superheroes. I resurrected the idea, but with the knowledge that I would not have time to draw it myself. I met Dean Ormston in the UK a few years back and hit it off with him. I loved his work from Vertigo and thought that his distinct style would be really interesting for a superhero story that shouldn’t look anything like other mainstream superhero comics. So we started working together and Black Hammer was reborn at Dark Horse.
Martin – Several of Black Hammer’s characters are obviously inspired by the Golden Age of Comics. Is that your favorite era of superhero comics?
Jeff – Actually, the characters are supposed to represent different aspects of comic book history. So Golden Gail and Abe Slam are definitely Golden-Aged heroes. Colonel Weird and Barbalien are space-aged Silver-Aged heroes, and Madame Dragonfly and Black Hammer are Bronze-Agers, influenced by House of Mystery comics and Blaxploitation heroes of the ‘70s. As the series moves forward we will see this history and timeline become clearer and we will also be touching on more modern superhero comics as well.
Martin – Was it just coincidence that you did a retrospective take on characters forced into retirement around the same time as the Distinguished Competition was retiring their Golden-Aged, Old 52 characters?
Jeff – These characters and concepts originated back in 2007 or 2008, when the JSA and other golden aged heroes were alive and well at DC. I will say that the DC Golden-Aged characters are some of my absolute favourites.
Martin – Are there any particular characters from the past that you used as a creative template for each of your Black Hammer characters?
Jeff – Some of the characters wear their influences on their sleeve. Golden Gail is clearly a twist on the Shazam mythos. Barbalien is very much Martian Manhunter and Jemm Son of Saturn-inspired. Colonel Weird is a mix of Adam Strange and David Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Abe is more mixed. There’s a bit of Captain America in his DNA, but really any Golden-Aged two-fisted pup heroes like Wildcat, Crimson Avenger, etc.; and Madame Dragonfly is a mix of characters like Madame Xanadu, Elvira, and Abby Arcane from Swamp Thing. And of course these influences are just the starting point, they all evolved as Dean and I started working on turning them into their own characters.
Jeff – I cannot possibly pick one. It changes issue to issue. I love Gail and Barbalien. But I also love Colonel Weird. It’s so hard to pick. Lucy Weber, Black Hammer’s daughter has become a joy to write as well. I have big plans for her.
Martin – Any neat little Easter Eggs in the series that some folks might not have picked up on?
Jeff – There are tons of them. For example, the men who attack Madame Dragonfly in her flashback are named Len and Bernie, after Swamp Thing creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; and the guy who turns into the swamp monster is named Alan, after Alan Moore.
Martin – Brilliant. Many thanks once again and just one more question before we finish up, what are your future plans for Black Hammer?
Jeff – I can’t say too much yet, but I have HUGE plans for the world of Black Hammer in 2017. It just keeps growing in scope and more and more characters and stories keep developing in addition to our main story on the farm. So . . . stay tuned!
Series: Black Hammer | Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Jeff Lemire | Artists: Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart