Behind the Scenes of Animal Man

Animal Man is one of the 52 new series DC is releasing in September, as part of their massive relaunch. Grant Morrison made the character his own when he wrote the series from 1988 to 1990 and now Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf’s excellent The Essex County Trilogy) is having a go at the adventures of Buddy Baker.

Here’s his original proposal as seen on DC’s blog, The Source.

ANIMAL MAN monthly series, September 2011
Talent:
Jeff Lemire, writer
TBD, artist

The high conceptFamily man or superman? With the power to absorb the traits of any animal Buddy Baker has made a career as a part-time superhero. But when his young daughter begins to develop incredibly dangerous powers of her own, the Bakers will have to give up their quiet suburban life and go on the run across America.

The Cast:

BUDDY BAKER: Animal Man. Father, husband and part-time superhero.
ELLEN BAKER: Buddy’s supportive wife. Her strength keeps the family together.
CLIFF BAKER: 12-year old son, rebellious and jealous of his sister.
MAXINE BAKER: 8-year old daughter. Possibly the next avatar of The Red and the most dangerous living creature on Earth.
THE TOTEMS: CONFIDENTIAL
THE HUNTERS: CONFIDENTIAL
SOCKS: Avatar of The Red from the 1950’s.

Overview:

Buddy Baker’s superhero career is a part-time concern at best. And aside from flirting with an acting career in arthouse indie films, Buddy seems to be doing little to pull in a steady income, putting undo stress on his already tumultuous marriage. To make matters worse, Buddy and Ellen’s young daughter, 8-year old Maxine, is exhibiting incredible and dangerous powers, powers she’s too young to understand or control.

Outline:

For our purposes we’ll skim over all of his involvement in 52 and Countdown. That stuff happened, but let’s move on and get back to Buddy as a suburban family man, rather than cosmic globetrotter.

Basically we start with Buddy’s best days as a superhero behind him. But, Buddy has found a bit of a second life. His past exploits, his politics and his involvement in various animal rights groups have made him something of a hipster icon. The young, left wing college crowd has latched onto the image of Animal Man as if he were something of an indie/alt icon of the 90’s. Unfortunately, that really isn’t helping to pay the bills.

As our series opens Buddy is actually reading an interview he did in a “Believer-type” magazine at the kitchen table as Ellen makes diner (the first page of the first issue is actually an excerpt from this interview, complete with the little illustrated headshot of Buddy, which catches readers up on Buddy’s recent past and his lessening involvement in super heroics, and his re-emergence within youth culture). There is clearly stress in their marriage. Buddy is doing little to help make ends meet and Ellen’s career as an illustrator is drying up.

We establish their quiet suburban life and routine and reintroduce readers to their three kids: Cliff, is now fourteen, anti-social and rebellious. Maxine is an introverted and shy ten-year old, and four-year old Josie is clearly the apple of Buddy’s eye.

As our story begins, Maxine begins to develop powers of her own. Buddy tries his best to help Maxine, but instead he accidentally sets into motion an ancient evil that will send The Baker family on the run across the dark and dangerous underbelly of modern America and right into the hands of [CLASSIFIED]. And there may be only one being who can save them…Alec Holland.

You can find the script from pages 9-12 of Animal Man #1 right here. You can also see pencilled pages from artist Travel Foreman and inked pages of the same.

Essex County Film

This is good news as this is one of those comics that deserves a wider audience. Official details below.

Variety broke the news this morning that Academy-Award-winning visual effects designer John Dykstra (Star Wars, Spider-Man 2, X-Men: First Class) plans to direct a film based on Tales From the Farm, the award-winning first volume of Jeff Lemire’s much-acclaimed Essex County trilogy!

The film, currently using the working title “Super Zero,” is adapted from Jeff Lemire’s graphic novel by John Carr, and will be produced by Steven Gilder and Alec Chorches as well as Top Shelf Productions. Jeff had this to say: “I’m excited about the news and optimistic that John Dykstra will make an entertaining film that stays true to the heart of Essex County.”

Tales From the Farm is the story of Lester, a 10-year-old boy coping with the death of his parents while isolated on his uncle’s farm, escaping into fantasy games with retired hockey pro Jimmy Lebeuf. The book memorably launched the Essex County trilogy by winning the American Library Association’s prestigious Alex Award (and instantly selling out its first printing). Essex County would go on to win the Doug Wright Award, the Joe Shuster Award, and a top 5 spot (and the People’s Choice Award) on Canada Reads’ Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade. Originally published in three parts, it’s now available as a single 512-page volume.

You can meet Jeff in person at his summer convention appearances: he’ll be in the Top Shelf booth at both the Calgary Entertainment Expo (June 17-19) and the San Diego Comic-Con (July 21-24). Hope to see you all there!

See a hefty preview of Essex County here and an interview with Lemire here about his work writing the upcoming Animal Man, and Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE titles for DC’s massive relaunch in September.

This Week’s Winners

Sweet Tooth #1 CoverJeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth#1. Worth much more than the $1 cover price, this debut ish from Vertigo is equal amounts enchanting and intriguing. Writer/artist Lemire mentions in the On The Ledge column that a friend of his described it as “Bambi meets Mad Max.” That’s not a bad way of putting it, though it’s still too early to see those references yet. Lemire is one of the new wave of indie creators making a splash and getting noticed. His Essex County trilogy from Top Shelf chronicled various inhabitants of a small town with great realism and warmth. He brings that same edge to Sweet Tooth, but with more fantasy than his usual work. We are introduced to Gus, a boy with antlers living with his dying father. Gus has never left his home and the area around it and knows no-one but his ailing Dad. Gus is one of the last few human/animal hybrids who came into existence after a mysterious pandemic 10 years ago. This is an ongoing series and Lemire has plenty of time to build upon this premise. It hooked me more than I thought it would. Lemire’s art seems slightly more refined here. The thick, black sketchy style of his previous work is still obvious, but there are rare places where faces appear odd. Jose Villarrubia’s colours sit slightly uneasily, but maybe that’s because I’m not used to seeing Lemire’s work in colour. There’s also a 7 page preview of October’s Peter and Max Fables novel from Bill Willingham. Sweet Tooth, like The Unwritten before it is yet another bold move from Vertigo, and Lemire is conducting a unique promo for the series.

Justice League: Cry For Justice #3. There’s still a few issues with this series, namely writer James Robinson’s occasional missteps with out of character dialogue, particulary with Hal Jordan, but with the build up towards the team’s formation, and the big reveal of the baddie, ie, Prometheus, it ticks a few boxes. Prometheus was always one of the great JLA baddies when Grant Morrison reinvigorated the JLA over a decade ago. Mauro Cascioli’s art is splendid and his ferocious depictions of action, such as Starman’s and Congorilla’s aerial assault are the highlights. Robinson’s extra pages on the origin of Prometheus and why he chose the “anti-Batman” give fanboys great insights too.

Star Wars: Invasion #3 CoverStar Wars: Invasion #3. The thing that’s immediately apparent from this new SW mini-series is Colin Wilson’s art. It’s the kind that you don’t really see in mainstream American comics, and it fits with the high drama and action of Star Wars beautifully. Tom Taylor keeps things fresh, knowing that it’s probably a mix of fans of the New Jedi Order series of novels and people who want to see Luke Skywalker do his thing again that are reading this title. Anyone who has read the books in which the alien species known as Yuuzhan Vong come to conquer will be relieved that they translate so well to sequential art. Taylor gives enough info about the Vong for curious readers, and starts to make serious strides in showcasing the menace of the creepy race. Plus, in the few pages that reveal Skywalker’s relationship with the apprentice Finn Galfridian, Taylor lays hints that he’s going slightly beyond the typical SW mentor/protege arc that we’ve seen many times before. Hopefully the characters shown here will continue in some form with Dark Horse after Invasion wraps.

SW: Invasion #3

Jeff Lemire’s The Nobody Trailer

Creator Jeff Lemire is a great new talent. Anyone who’s read his Essex County trilogy from Top Shelf will tell you that. All three books were moving and powerful. His new book, out on July 1 from Vertigo is inspired by the classic novel, The Invisible Man by H.G Wells. Press release and trailer below.

The tiny, isolated fishing village of Large Mouth never saw much excitement — until the arrival of the stranger, that is. Wrapped from head to toe in bandages and wearing weird goggles, he quietly took up residence in the sleepy town’s motel. Driven by curiosity, the townfolk quickly learn the tragic story of his past, and of the terrible accident that left him horribly disfigured. Eventually, the town embraces the stranger as one of their own — but do his bandages hide more than just scars?

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, THE NOBODY explores themes of identity, fear and paranoia in a small community from up-and-coming alternative comics creator and Xeric Award-winner Jeff Lemire (The Essex County Trilogy) in a special two-color story that’ll have you guessing until the very end.

   * Vertigo
   * 144pg.
   * B&W
   * Hardcover
   * $19.99 US
   * ISBN 9781401220808
   * Mature Readers


Tales From The Farm Review

Another in my somewhat daunting pile of goodies from Comic-Con, Jeff Lemire’s book deserves its praise. Essex County Vol. 1 Tales From The Farm, to give it its full title, was published by Top Shelf last year. Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse are the two volumes that followed. All three are set in a farming community in Southwestern Ontario in Canada, and focus on the assorted characters who dwell there. Tales From The Farm is amazingly restrained in its beauty. With autobiographical comics, even loose ones like this, it can be difficult for writers to not thrown in the kitchen sink in order to increase its realism. Thankfully, Lemire knows better. As writer/artist it’s clear that he’s in charge and knows completely what he’s doing.

As for the story, it focuses on 10 year old Lester who recently lost his mother to cancer and is being raised by his Uncle Ken. It’s painfully obvious their relationship is a new and awkward one for both in moments where Lester chooses to watch the hockey game alone in his room rather than with his uncle and where Ken is unsure about how to deal with his nephew’s growing rebellion. Lemire’s skill lies just as much as in choosing what is not shown, as what is. In not over emphasising emotional moments, and giving us the barest of details he allows the characters to speak for themselves. With no narration it is merely the dialogue (of which there is little) to give us a peek into the hearts and minds of this pair. The only other character worth noting here is Jimmy Lebeuf, former hockey pro and man mountain who owns the local gas station and befriends Lester.

An orphan, a strained relationship, a misunderstood faded sports hero. You may be thinking that you’ve seen all this before. It sounds like the perfect ingredients for a independent film that makes critics swoon. However, there is more to it than that. Of course, sensitive comic fans will lap up any story with a comic loving outsider too, but its simplicity is its strength. That extends to the artwork as well. Using broad strokes helps convey the roughness of the two men in the story and the harsh terrain that surrounds them. Lemire sells the isolation of a remote town perfectly, and uses a lighter touch with more grey than black in the brief flashbacks of Lester’s dying Mum. A hand made comic from a 9 year old Lemire posing as Lester’s comic is also a nice touch, from the boy that never takes off his mask or cape. Well, almost never. A touching tale in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty, Tales From The Farm show that a boy’s imagination and curiosity can grow in the toughest of soils.

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