If planet-sized robots appeared tomorrow and eradicated hundreds of millions of people without warning, you might become a little edgy around artificial intelligence. Distrust between organic and mechanical life forms is just one of the themes explored in writer Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Animal Man) and artist Dustin Nguyen’s (Detective Comics, Batman: Lil Gotham) Image Comics series Descender.
If you’ve yet to read this engaging space opera, which returns from a brief hiatus November 4 with Descender #7, it follows TIM-21, a young android who wakes from a 10-year slumber to find a universe that has become extremely hostile toward robots. Bounty hunters, a scientist with questionable ethics and an aggressive mining droid named Driller are just a few of the characters TIM-21 encountered in Descender’s first story arc.
To find out more about this series – which has already attracted Hollywood’s attention – as well as the men behind it, AiPT! went straight to Lemire and Nguyen.
Writer Jeff Lemire
AiPT!: Since we’re just six issues into Descender, we’ve only glimpsed bits and pieces of what’s clearly an expansive fictional universe. For you, the creators of the series, is the world building a big part of what makes writing and illustrating this space opera so rewarding?
Jeff Lemire: Absolutely. I spent a lot of time building the world, the various planets, etc. before writing and scripts. And Dustin really brings them to life in a way that is so much better than I could have ever imagined.
One of the main attractions to sci-fi is the world building. Using sci-fi as a big metaphor for things I care about in my real life and building an imaginary universe around that.
AiPT!: The Tin Stars trade paperback includes an atlas with details on the core planets of the United Galactic Council. How extensively do you have this universe – and the series itself – mapped out?
Lemire: I have each planet mapped out at this point and the series itself I have outlined in total detail. I pretty much have every issue outlined now. That stuff will change and evolve as we get deeper into it. With a series this detailed and built around a big central mythology you can’t really just wing it. You need a detailed map.
Artist Dustin Nguyen
AiPT!: Dustin, your Descender artwork is gorgeous and truly sets the series apart from the comics it shares shelf space with. When readers open an issue, it’s like they’re reading a classic storybook, not a comic book from 2015. How did the idea to tell this tale with watercolor paint come about?
Dustin Nguyen: Thanks so much. In the beginning, I really just wanted to draw the book in a way that would be fun for me to do on a day-to-day basis, as well as get better at working in watercolor. Fortunately, it hasn’t turned out awful and I’ve been able to hold a steady schedule.
AiPT!: We at AiPT! love robots, and it’s clear you two do as well. It’s hard not to notice hints of Astro Boy and Transformers when looking at TIM-21 and Driller, respectively. How much did existing robots – real and fictional – influence the various character designs in Descender?
Nguyen: You would be correct, lots of influences from obvious things we’ve all grown up with. Driller is very 80s/90s clunky mecha and Tim’s movements and emotions I have to give credit to Jon Bogdanove’s Power Pack comics, particularly Jack and Franklin Richards.
Driller, one of Descender’s many robots.
AiPT!: While on the topic of robots, which would each of you say is your favorite robot of all time? (And sorry, Descender characters are off limits)
Lemire: Dustin is my favorite robot. How else can you explain being able to fully paint a monthly comic and always being on time? In addition to Dustin-Bot, I’m fond of The Vision, Machine Man, Red Tornado and the robots from Interstellar.
Nguyen: There’s just too many to name, but I can narrow down to either Wheeljack from Transformers (G1) or T-Bob from M.A.S.K. Wall-E is a close contender, but I’m not sure if it’s Wall-E himself or just the movie.
AiPT!: The first Descender arc flows very well. Jeff, as a former film school student, would you say studying filmmaking impacted your approach to comic book storytelling?
Lemire: I think I was influenced by a lot of different things as a storyteller, not just film or comics, but also songwriters and all kinds of things. I think it’s important to reach outside of just comics and just sci-fi or you really limit your experiences and influences. But studying filmmaking at a young age certainly helped to inform the way I tell stories, that’s for sure.
AiPT!: If you could travel back in time and tell film school Jeff about all the Hollywood interest Descender has received since it was announced, what would his reaction be?
Lemire: I would have been too drunk to react much at all.
AiPT!: Jeff, in addition to Descender, you’re also writing several new Marvel titles, including Extraordinary X-Men, All-New Hawkeye and Old Man Logan, with a new Moon Knight series on the horizon. I’m sure many aspiring comic writers would love to get a sense of what your workweek is like and how you ensure each series receives the proper attention.
Lemire: Monday to Friday, I bike to my studio in Toronto around 7-8 A.M. and work until 4. This time is still almost exclusively spent drawing (I am currently drawing a graphic novel for Image that Scott Snyder is writing). I still consider myself a cartoonist first, and the writing comes second. And drawing takes much more time than writing. So my Mon-Fri is all drawing.
I write one script per week. And I do that at night after my son is asleep and usually finish them on the weekends. I’m currently writing six books, so I rotate them so I am actually only writing three titles per month. One month I write Descender, Bloodshot and Old Man Logan, the next month I write Black Hammer, X-Men and Moon Knight.
AiPT!: You’ve both achieved success in the comics field – what’s one nugget of advice each of you would share with future writers and artists?
Lemire: Write and draw the stories you love and want to read, not what you think is popular at the moment or what you think an editor or publisher will want. Be true to yourself. If you’re honestly enjoying what you do, chances are someone else will enjoy reading it. I never aspired to write for Marvel or anything like that. I just did the stories I wanted to do. I did Essex County and Sweet Tooth, etc. And by doing that I developed my own voice and that led to other things.
Nguyen: I think from my experience with Batman and Descender, I’d say to always stick to doing what you love most and going with projects you truly feel passionate about. It’s the only way to not hate your job every month.
AiPT!: Robots in the Descender universe are feared and hated – reminds us of another group you’re tackling in Extraordinary X-Men, Jeff. Times look pretty tough in the X-Men’s post-Secret Wars world. I’m wondering how much of the classic “feared and hated” angle we can expect in your run.
Lemire: It’s definitely a part of things, but not the only story I’ll be telling. I think that angle is an inherent part of X-Men. It’s necessary. But I have a lot of different stories planned. I hope each arc feels like its own complete story. I have a big sci-fi story planed, a big supernatural/horror story, big super hero stuff, etc.
AiPT!: In your opinion, Jeff, what’s one character in Extraordinary X-Men you’re writing that you think will really surprise longtime readers?
Lemire: Well, I hope I surprise readers with my take on all of the characters in the book. I want to put my own spin on all of them and lead them all into new territory. I have little interest in just retelling all the old stories again. Having said that, I think I have some great plans for Magik that will be surprising.
AiPT!: Descender #7 will be released November 4. What are some things readers can expect to see in the issues ahead?
Lemire: Arc two is called MACHINE MOON, and the title itself is a bit of a hint. We will see the hidden home world of the HARDWIRE, the robot resistance. More specifically, Tim-21, Telsa, Quon and the gang will be brought there. But not all of TIM’s companions will make it that far.
We will also delve deeper into the origin of TIM-22 and what makes he and TIM-21 unique from one another and what their existence means to one another and to the larger mystery.
And on top of that we will introduce a MAJOR new character. One I am very excited about. One with links to TIM-21’s past and one who will change the course of the series completely.
AiPT!: Thank you, both, for taking the time to chat with AiPT!
Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars is currently available and Descender #7 will be on sale November 7.