Announced at Image Expo this year at San Diego Comic Con, Jeff Lemire’s first ongoing series with Image, Descender, is described thusly:
Ten years ago massive, planet-sized robots called “The Harvesters” materialized without warning and invaded the orbits of all the United Galactic Council’s worlds wiping out entire planets and civilizations before disappearing again. In a fear-fueled response to this machine holocaust, the galaxy blamed millions of robotic companions, whom they suspected of somehow spawning The Harvesters. All robots and androids were immediately outlawed and ruthless bounty hunters called Scrappers were charged with scouring the universe for any surviving robots.
The incredibly life-like artificial boy, TIM-21 may hold the secrets to the origin of The Harvesters deep in his machine DNA—and as a result is the most-wanted robot in the universe. With only his small pet-bot, Bandit and the lumbering mining droid, Driller at his side, TIM-21 goes on the run. Before long the entire galaxy is looking for this rag-tag group of unlikely companions, as they make their way from one exotic planet to the next with new foes advancing on them at every turn.
Lemire and I chatted briefly about this exciting new series as a third part to our earlier discussions about his upcoming DC Comics work and The Black Hammer at Dark Horse. We discussed some of the sci-fi direction of the series and just why the child-protagonist was such a key choice for Lemire and his collaborator Dustin Nguyen.
What triggered the idea for Descender? How long has it been percolating?
Descender actually started as an idea for a company owned character. Then I realized as if changed and grew that it was becoming something totally different and I would be better served to go all the way and make it into a creator-owned project. I’m drawing a 200+ page graphic novel for Simon and Schuster right now called Roughneck, so I knew I wouldn’t have time to draw Descender or The Black Hammer so I decided to try working with other artists whom I admire and want to work with.
With Trillium, Justice League United (to an extent) and now Descender, you’ve started to edge more towards science fiction, is that a major area of influence for you as a writer?
My work has always drifted towards genre. Even the first Essex County had scenes that were steeped in “magical realism” or genre. And I would argue that Sweet Tooth and Nobody were sc-fi too. So I don’t see this as a move towards sci-fi. And having said all of that, Roughneck is probably the most grounded thing I’ve ever done. No genre elements at all.
But, I do see what you’re saying in terms of “space-based” sci-fi. What I liked most about Trillium was the world-building, so Descender will allow me to develop and create not just one alien planet or race, but dozens.
I also seem to be reading more and more sci-fi lately. Dan Simmons has become a big influence. His “Hyperion” books blew my mind.
It’s difficult to pave new ground in science fiction, what are you hoping to contribute to the genre with this series?
Honesty, who knows? I don’t go into something trying to make a big statement or contribute to the genre, I just try to tell a good story. One that I like and would want to read. What it becomes beyond that is beyond my control.
I will say that I intend to use space opera here the same way I used the post-apocalyptic genre in Sweet Tooth. The genre elements will be the backdrop and the focus will very small, character based work.
What is it like to write from both the perspective of a child and a being that isn’t quite human?
I’ve always enjoyed writing kids. Right from the first Essex County. It just seems to be something I’m comfortable with and something that comes naturally to me. TIM-21, the lead character in Descender, is no different. He is probably the most “human” character in the book. At least at the beginning of the series. That may change as the book unfolds.
Androids aren’t often portrayed as children, ‘AI’ excepted, what made you decide to make Tim a child? And what differentiates a child android from an adult android in this context?
See above. I love writing kids and I love exploring story through a child’s point of view. That sense of innocence and wonder and awe. What a great way to explore big sci-fi ideas. There are so many different types of robots and androids in the book, not just human-looking androids or adult/child androids. And they all have different functions, personalities and motives.
What is the aesthetic of the setting? We’ve seen outer-space set stories in western like backdrops, steam-punk, Blade Runner type dystopias, clean minimalism and so on. Is there a particular direction that informs the universe of Descender?
All of the above. Each world and each planet they come to will have a different aesthetic and look. It;s a great way to keep the story fresh and let Dustin really cut loose. One planet may be a aquatic planet, the next issue they may be on a space-port that is like deep space old west. It just keeps reinventing itself.
What do you think, or hope, Dustin Nguyen will bring to this overall vision? Was he instrumental in the development of the concept, or did he come on-board afterwards? If the latter, did it change in any significant fashion from his involvement?
Dustin brings an incredible amount of humanity to the characters. Just look at that promo image. The look on TIM-21’s face is something I could never describe in a script. It’s just so perfect. He is also an incredible visual story teller.
It’s funny, I like to write kids and i knew from his sketchbooks, Lil’ Gotham etc… that Dustin likes to draw them. So it was a perfect match.
Does Descender center on humanity specifically, or will readers get an opportunity to see alien races as well?
Humanity is only one race that is represented in the book. The galaxy we focus on has a dozen planets, each with it’s own race and culture.
Are there any particular scenes or moments that you’re very excited for people to read?
The opening sequence in issue 1 is pretty “big” in scale. I can’t wait to see how Dustin draws it. And the cliffhanger in issue 2 is pretty good too.
Descender will debut in March 2015 from Image