Jeff Lemire is a busy, busy man. In 2021 alone, he announced plans for a new series from Dark Horse Comics, titled Mazebook; contributed a story to Green Arrow’s 80th anniversary special; launched Snow Angels in the beginning of the year; helped guide his beloved series Sweet Tooth onto Netflix; and continued work on a variety of other titles and projects. But there’s always room for more, and Lemire has reunited with artist Andrea Sorrentino (Old Man Logan, Green Arrow, Gideon Falls) for a new series via Image Comics.
Primordial is described as a “mind-bending sci-fi [colliding] with [a] Cold War thriller.” It follows a group of animals launched into space at the height of the cold war: the USSR’s Laika (a dog) and the two American monkeys, Able and Baker. Press for the six-issue miniseries explains that the animals “did not die in orbit… they were taken. And now they are coming home.” What follows is a compelling and truly otherworldly tale, where Lemire’s penchant for heartfelt narratives marries wonderfully with Sorrentino’s minimalist style for a true ride into the stratosphere of the unknown.
Ahead of the issue #1’s September 15 release, we spoke with both Lemire and Sorrentino via email. The pair talked about the collaborative process, why space travel is so interesting, their message and overall influences, the state of the current space race, and much, much more.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for this series? Is it “X meets X”?
Jeff Lemire: Primordial is The Incredible Journey meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a healthy dose of ’70s conspiracy films and The X-Files mixed in for good measure.
AIPT: hat’s it been like to collaborate again after so many other titles? Does it become easier or harder over time, and are you feeling any pressure for another “hit?”
JL: It definitely becomes easier to collaborate with Andrea as we go. Primordial is our fifth project together and we just know each other better than we did when we started. We know each other more on a personal level and can be more honest about what we do and don’t like and the things we want to work on, but also we know each other creatively as well and can each play off each other’s strengths more.
Andrea Sorrentino: I don’t think we’ve ever had any pressure about trying to put out a hit. We’re just honestly and genuinely working on the things we like the most. When Jeff sent me the pitch for Primordial I was so excited and intrigued by the concept that I couldn’t wait to start working on it.
AIPT: Building off that last question, is there anything in terms of feeling or aesthetic, or even lessons learned, that you’re carrying over from other projects/titles together?
JL: I learned very early that whatever I give him, Andrea will take and expand upon and go off in wild tangents I never could have anticipated and I need to be ready to react and adjust in turn. So you really need to shut down your ego and just be really open to the story evolving and changing. This is true collaboration, and it is actually very rare that this sort of back and forth happens in comics.
AS: Yeah, we developed this work partnership where Jeff throws some concepts at me and I try to make them something different or unexpected. And this challenges him to push even further is some kind of circle where we feed each other’s creativity issue after issue.
In terms of lessons learned, I think I’ve also had the confirmation of always being brave. I think this is what art is for. To just do whatever the hell we want and push it to the limits of our creativity. You won’t always succeed, but it’s probably better to fail because you’ve tried too much than because you haven’t tried enough.
AIPT: It’s interesting that this book picks up on the Space Race, especially given the, um, lackluster state of the current “Billionaires in Space” saga. Are you trying to let people know of the magic of this bygone era, or is that just perfect timing?
JL: I try not to pay much attention to modern Billionaires and their giant space penises. But honestly that stuff wasn’t on my radar at all when I came up with the ideas for this book. I was really looking back on the Cold War as a fascinating era and one ripe with stories. I had visited Berlin in 2018 and was really struck by the history of the place and the Wall and that planted the seeds for the Cold War thriller aspects of the book. And on top of that I had long wanted to do a book where animals were the protagonists and knew Andrea would do something really interesting with this.
AIPT: If I’m thinking about the projects you’ve done together, there seems to be a thread of people uncovering mysteries that break open their own life and the world at large? Would you agree, and why is that such a compelling focal point for stories?
JL: I often build my books around a central mystery. From Sweet Tooth through Descender and Gideon Falls. It’s just such a wonderful driver for story and I love the idea of awe and wonder that comes with a big mystery that’s larger than the characters can fathom. It’s a wonderful place to create story from.
AS: I’d add that aside from the mystery, the story has also a very unexpected twist that turns the tables on what you would be expecting to see. It was quite a surprise when I read it in the script, and I’m sure you’ll get what I’m talking about when you see it in the book.
AIPT: I know this book is being likened, at least in part, to We3. The thing I liked about that book is how the animals are treated in terms of their development and emotionality. What can we expect in terms of development for the animals, and are they meant to be your “standard” heroes (or maybe even villains)?
JL: We both love We3, but the last thing we want to do is just copy something we admire. We were conscious early to set our own path and make this our own. The characterization of the animals is part of the mystery of the book and part of what’s fun about reading so I don’t want to say too much, but the evolution of the animals both intellectually and emotionally is a key element of the story for sure.
AS: I love the way Jeff writes Able, Mrs. Baker, and Laika. Drawing them has been for sure the best part of the work and the nuance of ‘humanity’ he gave to them pushed me to try to keep the same level of empathy through the art. It was a wonderful journey to spend with them and I know they will stay with me for a while after the end of the project too.
AIPT: Why is space travel so interesting of a concept to explore? Is it just so terrifying and open-ended that we simply can’t help but ponder and make comics about it?
JL: I love the unknown. That idea of big, vast mystery that comes with space and sci-fi like this. It’s scary and exciting and unknowable in all the best ways. And it’s so fertile for the imagination.
AS: Yes, especially in a book like this one, where readers start the story with the same level of knowledge as our main characters. They’ll experience the wonder and the discovery of the unknown together with them, page after page.
AIPT: I love the art style here; the disjointed bits/segments and also just the retro-leaning aesthetic of it all. Is there a certain set of influences here, and how does the style inform or expand the story itself?
AS: As the book is set during the cold war, I’ve tried to go for a style that could convey that kind of retro feel to the story. I hope it will help to give the right vibes to the readers, to give them the feel of an old, vintage, movie that could have been produced in the ’60s.
But there will also be some reasons for me to go with two other different styles throughout the story. Can’t tell the reason why, obviously, but I can tell that there’s really a lot more of what you’ll see in the first issue in terms of visuals and approach, and I hope it will make for an interesting and exciting visual experience through the series!
AIPT: Would you ever go to space, and whatever your answer, could you explain?
JL: No! I would be so terrified of the vast, empty terrifying void of it all. I don’t think I could handle it at all and would crumble into a shivering pool of existential dread.
AS: Omg, yes. Alone, in silence and far from the collective madness the world is diving into more and more year after year…? Would be a dream. Just give me a good Wi-Fi connection and we’re done.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
JL: Andrea and I really think we have created something that is both heartfelt and also unlike anything else on comics stands right now. Andrea and I are just getting started and Primordial looks to be the first in an exciting new body of creator-owned work we will be producing at Image in for years to come.
AS: why shouldn’t they?? I mean… It’s Jeff Lemire writing animals and me deconstructing them into cubes and rebuilding them. And they’re in space! Who would ever want to miss all this???
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