Jeff Lemire is jumping into the Marvel Universe, and he’s bringing his bow and arrow with him. Lemire, along with artist Ramon Perez, are the new creative team behind Marvel’s next volume of Hawkeye. Lemire, who just finished a contract as a DC-exclusive writer, is no stranger to the world of costumed archers. During his time at DC, he delivered one of the most critically praised runs on the company’s signature marksman, “Green Arrow.”
Now, he and Perez have big quivers to fill. The latest volume of Hawkeye, by Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Annie Wu, netted four Eisner Awards and unanimous praise during its 22-issue run. While Lemire and Perez intend to meet the bar set by Clint Barton’s previous caretakers, they’re also determined to bring a style that’s all their own. Below, Lemire and Perez talk about working under such a large shadow, incorporating new folds into the Hawkeye mythos, and how Clint Barton is nothing like Oliver Queen.
So, how did the whole project come together? Were you approached by Marvel, Jeff, or did you pitch them on a story?
Lemire: I think it all started when it was known that my DC exclusive was ending, and I was open to working with Marvel. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso reached out to me, and the first thing he mentioned was possibly doing "Hawkeye." He knew that Matt Fraction and David Aja were closing their run, so he approached me with that. One of the first things he mentioned was Ramon as a possible artist. I knew Ramon—we’re both from Toronto—so I had seen him around. I’m a huge fan of his work, and knew that he would bring a really interesting sensibility to the book. I started getting really excited about it, but I still had some apprehensions. What Matt and David and Annie Wu have done is so wonderful. It’s one of the best comics published in the past couple of years. It’s an exceptional run on the character; so trying to follow that is very daunting. I hesitated a bit , but the more I thought about it, the more a story for this character came together in my head. It just wouldn’t let me go. So I said yes, we got started, and we’ve been working on it for a few months now.
Very cool. Ramon, what attracted you to this project?
Ramon: Editor Sana Amanat mentioned possibly doing this Hawkeye series with Jeff, and sent me an outline of the series’ potential story arc. I sat back and read it, and just fell in love with what Jeff was planning for the characters. The elements he was playing with would allow me to experiment with my style, which is always exciting. I felt like I could find my groove on this particular series, which was another exciting element. I’ve never been on a series for more than five issues, so this is the longest commitment I’ve ever been attached to. And I have a lot of respect for what Fraction and Aja are doing with the series and how they’re playing with the graphic medium. It felt like a daunting story to follow-up, like Jeff mentioned, but it’s also exciting to see what we can bring to the table and make our own. It makes me want to up my game and bring my absolute best. I’m want to live up to what they did. There’s a bit of a challenge there that’s hard to back away from. So, I had a really hard time saying no (laughs).
I bet. So how are you trying to follow up their act? Are you going for a similar narrative and visual style, or are you trying to forge your own path?
Jeff: Well, Matt and David really set the bar for incorporating a personal point of view into a superhero comic book. They also created a very specific visual language, which was very “them,” while also being brilliant and distinct. Ramon and I wanted to do the same, but we wanted to bring our own sensibility, our own point of view, and our own language to the book. We don't want to just repeat what they did, or try to copy their style. Both Ramon and I are creators in our own right. We’re both cartoonists, we’ve both been around long enough to have our own sensibilities. We want to bring something that definitely feels like ours. But at the same time, it’s the same Clint and it’s the same Kate that Matt wrote. We’re not going to completely erase what they did and give a 180-degree different take on the character. The relationship between Clint and Kate is still there, and that’s going to remain as the book’s heart. And a lot of the stuff that Matt did going into the past with Clint and Barney as children really struck a chord with me. That’s where a lot of my ideas start to come from. It’s really taking what they did and bringing our own point of view to it.
Perez: Yeah, we aren’t by any means trying to emulate what they did. We’re just trying to carry the torch forward and bring our own voice to it.
Cool. And what do you think your perspective, as you put it, might be?
Perez: I think from my artistic point of view, David’s interpretations of Fraction’s scripts were so particular. But by no means am I trying to go down that road with that particular language. I’m just going through the scripts and trying to create my own language. I’m still in the process, but I have a lot of good ideas that cover a wider range. I’ve never changed my art style so much within one series, so that’s the exciting part for me.
Lemire: Yeah, it’s hard to get into specifics without spoiling the plot, but we can say that there’s a perspective in this book that explores Clint’s past, as well as his present. We’re going to split the first arc pretty evenly between Clint and Barney as children in the circus, and then Kate and Clint in the present. And were going to use completely different visual styles for each of those timelines. I’m excited to see them go back and forth. It’s going to create a unique flavor.
So will the series start with a longer-running arc, or are you going to do more self-contained stories?
Lemire: I’m trying to tell a longer story. I have no set plan for when the story ends or anything. It’s going to be broken up into four or five issue arcs, but they’re all adding up to a bigger story. It’s more like writing a novel, as opposed to short stories.
Ramon, you mentioned this a bit earlier, but I was hoping you could talk more about how you’ve switched your style for this book.
Perez: There are two distinct styles that start off the book. Like Jeff was saying, we’re exploring Clint’s past with the present. One thing I’m trying to figure out is, how do you emulate memory? For the most part, they’re just blurs in your head. There aren’t any concrete elements that you can anchor to. So I want to bring that element to the younger Clint storyline. We’re going to be there with Clint’s perspective, so it will have a rougher feel to it. I’m still developing the contemporary stuff a little bit. I’ll do something a little more traditional, but I’m still playing around with it. The present will be more traditional ink work, like what I was doing on Spider-Man, but I’m still swimming in the script and figuring things out. The present will be more of a grounding point for the story, so I want the art to have a more traditional feel.
Lemire: Yeah, I think we discussed that past story arc being a little more impressionistic and painterly. Then like Ramon said, we’ll render the present day storyline a little more traditionally. But, I would say that even the present day storyline isn’t your traditional superhero comic. Much like Matt and David did, we’re not making a regular punch ‘em up comic. What they did was very grounded and very character-driven. The core of that was the relationship between Kate and Clint. And while it sounds like the book is more geared towards Clint’s story, it’s really about Kate as well. She’s an equal partner, and an equal starring role in the book. The book could have easily been called “Hawkeyes,” because it really explores the both of them.
So I guess we have to address the elephant in the room, Jeff. People might start looking at you as the “Archer” writer now (laughs).
Lemire: Yeah. After this, I’m doing an extended run on Rob Liefeld’s “Shaft,” haha.
But the timing was really just a coincidence. I don't see the characters as being similar at all. The fact that Oliver Queen and Clint Barton are both archers is kind of a superficial element. I think being an archer is more important to what I did on “Green Arrow.” That was more of an integral part of the story, whereas with Clint and Kate, archery is secondary to the characters themselves. Ollie and Clint are completely different characters. Oliver Queen was born into privilege and wealth and had this legacy to live up to, whereas Clint was born into a Midwestern American family and foster homes, and was raised in the circus. They’re really almost opposites. The tone and approach to both titles couldn’t be more different. The archery aspects, and the timing of going to “Hawkeye” from “Green Arrow” is more coincidence than anything. There’s nothing to read into it.
But in terms of developing a character, how has it been jumping from Oliver to Clint?
Lemire: Hawkeye feels more grounded than Oliver Queen. Oliver Queen’s life has a lot more fantastic elements in it. He’s a globetrotting billionaire who chases international conspiracies. There are a lot more super heroics going on. But the story I’m writing for Clint and Kate is much smaller and more personal. It’s a lot closer to my own experiences. I’m taking specific things from my childhood and putting them in Clint’s childhood. His upbringing in the Midwest was a lot like mine on a farm in Canada. This feels much more like writing one of my own independent graphic novels. There’s a lot more of my stuff going into it. What you see and Clint and his brother do in the first issue is something that I spent a lot of time doing as a kid.
Expanding on that previous question a bit—how has it been shifting from the DC Universe over to the Marvel Universe? Are you approaching the architecture of your world any differently? If so, what are the differences?
Lemire: That's a tricky question to answer, because I think “Hawkeye” is a little different from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Matt and David really established that as a distinct world that lived in its own little bubble. Marvel is letting us continue that, make it our own, and make it very personal. So it’s not hugely connected to the Marvel Universe, like if I were writing Captain America or Iron Man. If I were doing a project like that, then I would try to make a lot more connections to the Marvel Universe. And maybe this is more exclusive to the character than the universe, but Hawkeye has allowed me to bring a much more personal point of view to a superhero. “Green Arrow” was much more worldly mythology-building that tied into the larger DC Universe. They’re both wildly different projects, but both equally as rewarding. I loved my time on “Green Arrow,” but it was just different.
Definitely. So to wrap up, is there anything else that you guys wanted to mention? Is there anything in particular that has you excited?
Perez: I’m pretty excited about having the opportunity to be a part of a big story. I’ve never actually done that before. I’ve always been the guy doing short arcs. Even “Spider-Man: Learning To Crawl” was a nice touchstone, but it was still a short arc. But what Jeff has put together is really beautiful. It’s like a graphic novel that we’re telling in pieces, and I’m really excited to have a legacy at Marvel with a potentially great series and an awesome character.
Lemire: For me, it’s a pretty cool project for a lot of reasons. But one of the big ones is that Ramon and I both live in Toronto. This is the first time I’ve been able to sit down face-to-face with an artist before starting a project, and discuss the long-term plans for it with the art. Ramon and I are planning to meet up every month before we start a new issue, to discuss the script and how we’ll approach it. That’s a pretty unique opportunity to have, and a good element to take advantage of. Ramon is a great storyteller and writer in his own right. He’s done some pretty great stuff with “Tales of Sand” and his other work. It’s an equal that I’m collaborating with, and it makes me feel a lot more confidant about what we’re doing.
If you like what David and Matt did, where they made superhero comics that were unlike any other superhero comic, you’ll enjoy this. It won't be exactly what they were doing, because we want to bring our own thing to it. But I think people who enjoyed their run will enjoy the book.