This Wednesday, Nov.3, my first issue of DC Comic's new SUPERBOY series launches. In a way the release of Superboy marks a sort of milestone in my career, one I never saw coming. But, when I look back at how I got here, the path seems clear and natural.
It's been quite a journey for me both creatively and personally over the last 3 or 4 years. Four years ago...2006. I was still working full-time as a line cook at La Hacienda restaurant on Queen Street West in Toronto. I'd work night shifts and then get up early to draw all day before I had to go back in for my next shift.
I'd finished my first long-form comics work, the self-published LOST DOGS about a year and a half earlier and I'd been struggling with what to do next. There were a few aborted projects in there, but none of them really seemed to stick. I can't remember exactly how the idea for Tales From The Farm came about. But I do recall the original idea for that book was much more sci-fi heavy. It was a full-on genre book about a little kid living on a farm who dressed up as a superhero, and a big ex-hockey player. The two were the sole survivors in a small town after a plague wiped everyone else out (Sweet Tooth fans might find this concept eerily familiar).
But as I worked on that idea, I ended up dropping the overt genre elements and simplified it. It became a love letter to the small town where I grew up and to my own childhood on the farm. Tales From The Farm was meant as a stand-alone work. But it took off and the idea expanded into a series of books that would eventually be the Essex County Trilogy. It became a sweeping multi-generational epic about small town life and family, all filtered through the central metaphor of hockey.
The success of Essex County led to work at Vertigo, thanks to then editor Bob Schreck and the great Karen Berger. I did a book called The Nobody, another rumination on small town life, and then launched my current monthly book SWEET TOOTH, which oddly enough re-purposed some of my original ideas for Tales From The Farm and mashed them up with a bunch of other fun sci-fi and horror ideas I had floating around in my sketchbooks. I finally got to quit my kitchen job and work at comics full time. Life was good. But then it got better...
I never thought I'd ever write mainstream superhero comics. I just thought my style was a bit to personal and idiosyncratic to translate. And I never thought editors at DC or Marvel would be interested. I was wrong. Within a few months of Sweet Tooth's release I had offers to write superhero books for both Marvel and DC. It's no secret that I grew up reading superhero comics. Anyone who read Tales From The Farm can pretty clearly see young Lester's love of comics as a nod to my own childhood obsession. I loved them as a kid and still do now. So the opportunity to take on a superhero book of my own was really exciting, if not a bit unexpected.
DC offered me a chance to write an ATOM story in Adventure comics. I took it, and it was going pretty well. I admit, in hindsight that there was a pretty steep learning curve going from writing and drawing everything myself to trying to filter my "voice" through another artist. But Mahmud Asrar, the Atom art-phenom made the transition in those early chapters go a lot smoother, and eventually I started to get the hang of it.
Then came the chance to write Superboy. At first I wasn't really interested. I actually didn't think the character or the book would be a good fit for me. Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to see. But then I took a step back and saw how perfect I was for the book after all. I saw how all of the themes that I loved exploring in Essex County and The Nobody could also be present in Superboy...small town life, community , family...it was all there. Only this time instead of filtering it through the metaphor of hockey, I could filter it through the metaphor of the super hero.
And that's how I began working on Superboy. Where it would lead me was even more unexpected, but I'll pick that up tomorrow. I'll also explain a few homages to Essex County "hidden" within the first couple of issues, and tease some upcoming storylines. See you then!