The Post-Apocalypse is Personal in Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth, Superboy

Canadian comics creator Jeff Lemire is a challenging indie crossover. Having made some of the most independent titles of the past decade, he’s now taking on the post-apocalypse for DC Comics, penning Superboy and the human-animal hybrid thriller Sweet Tooth. I picked his weird brain for Wired.

Post-Apocalypse Is Personal in Sweet Tooth

Comic book writer Jeff Lemire specializes in post-apocalyptic storytelling that’s far more subtle than the nightmare scenarios typically churned out by pop culture.

Instead of bombastic crises wracked by interstellar conflict, his work takes a more personal approach to dealing with the standard tropes of science fiction and horror.

“The idea is to take a high-concept, clichéd, almost B-movie setup, but then execute it in a very intimate and quiet way,” the writer told in an e-mail interview. “I did the same thing with The Nobody. I try to focus in on character and emotion and that allows the high-concept setup, in this case the sci-fi or post-apocalyptic elements, to become more allegorical. In short, it’s a character-driven story, not a plot-driven one.”

It’s not that Lemire’s work doesn’t contain violence. His terrifying comic Sweet Tooth finds its half-boy, half-deer protagonist Gus at the mercy of a post-apocalyptic outpost where sinister, brutal forces experiment on human-animal hybrids. (Volume 2 of Sweet Tooth, which collects issues No. 6 through 11 of the comic, will be released Tuesday by Vertigo with a $13 cover price. Issue No. 17 arrives Jan. 5, 2011.) Meanwhile, Lemire’s second issue of DC Comics’ new Superboy series, released last week, follows the Smallville psychodrama of Superman clone Kon-El.

Lemire’s character-driven narratives are the perfect antidote to the apocalypse fatigue that has desensitized comics lately, in story arcs like the galaxy-shattering conflict of Infinite Crisis and the zombie apocalypse of Blackest Night, both of which also featured Kon-El.

The Canadian writer’s stories draw from his upbringing in the small Ontario farming community of Essex County, which he extrapolated into the award-winning Top Shelf comic Essex County. Recently named one of Canada’s top five books of the decade, it’s set for a new printing in January.

Lemire’s infectious indie spirit haunts the proceedings in Sweet Tooth and in Superboy, which is set in rural Kansas rather than shiny Metropolis. talked with him about his comics crossover, his upcoming Essex County sequel (titled The Underwater Welder) and whether Superboy can ever break out of Superman’s shadow.