Welcome back, gals and pals, to another Comic Book Wednesday! Today I want to talk about a brand new book from Vertigo (an imprint of DC Comics): Jeff Lemire's Trillium.
I will admit that I knew nothing about Trillium before it hit the shelves. Since the departure of Karen Berger, editor extraordinaire, from Vertigo, I'd stopped paying a lot of attention to the company. A lot of people thought Berger's departure signaled the end for the imprint, which has been publishing almost no new material lately, instead relying on books like Fables and American Vampire to keep it afloat. The imprint, which has given us some of the best creator-owned comics of all time like Y: The Last Man, 100 Bullets, We3, and Transmetropolitan, seemed to be fading into obscurity as companies like Image Comics began attracting all-star creators like Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and Jonathan Hickman.
But DC/Vertigo doesn't seem to be out of the race quite yet. They've snapped out of their funk and have started new ongoing series, including Scott Snyder's The Wake and Simon Oliver's Collider, but nothing has been a breath of fresh air quite like Trillium. Right when I unpacked it a couple weeks ago at work, I knew it was something special.
So, what is Trillium, you might ask? First and foremost, Trillium is a love story. It's a boy meets girl story, with a unique twist on how they met. Rather than a couple of co-eds, the girl is a scientist trying to save the dying human race in the year 3797, and the boy is a soldier-turned-adventurer with severe PTSD courtesy of World War I. That's right, there's a 1,876 year time difference between them. Makes your long distance relationship seem not that quite bad, huh?
How does this all work? I don't want to give too much away, but somehow Nika (the girl) and William (the boy) find themselves at the ruins of an Incan Temple and sparks fly. Nika arrives as part of her search for the Trillium flower, which can be used to produce a vaccine for the Caul virus— a sentient virus that has reduced the human population to a mere four thousand people. William, mentally destroyed after the horrors witnessed in the Great War, dives into the jungle and exploring in an attempt to escape both his memories and his post-war life.
The content of the book is something else, and would be worth reading due to the story alone. Thankfully, Lemire isn't just interested in telling us a good story, he's interested in creating a storytelling masterpiece.
The book is a flip book. I don't mean the kind you played with when you were little kid, though. I mean that one story starts at the beginning, one starts at the end, and they meet in the middle. Pick up the book, read starting with the cover featuring Nika, and you'll get her story. Flip it over, read starting with the cover featuring William, and you'll get his story.
But here's the thing, it's not just two stories for the price of one. The two stories are told in perfect symmetry.
William and Nika's stories have mirrored panel layouts on every single page: the book is a visual palindrome. The result is two wildly different narratives that have a remarkably similar tone, a tone so subtle that you barely notice it but still irrevocably linking these two characters together. They are not just star-crossed, time-crossed lovers. They are perfect mirror images of each other. They are the same soul, repeated across time. Their stories are the same before they even meet.
Lemire is certainly not the first artist to use the 'flip book' format, but I don't think I've ever seen a comic book creator do so with such simple elegance. It's breathtaking. The symmetrical aspect reminds me of some of the incredible stuff that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did in Watchmen #5: Fearful Symmetry, which is one of the best issues of Watchmen.
On top of all of that, not only is Lemire utilizing a fantastic visual literary device, his artwork is some of the best of his career. I thought I had seen the best Lemire had to offer with Underwater Welder, a beautifully surreal story told in black and white ink work, but I was wrong. Trillium has fantastic pencil work and ink work, which I've come to expect from Jeff Lemire, but the real beauty of the book is the watercolors laid over the ink and pencils. The colors give the world of Trillium a dream-like quality. It's almost attainable, but just a little bit held back from reality, just like the love between Nika and William.
And you know what? This is one of the first times Lemire is using watercolors for a project like this. Just look at what he said over in an interview with Comic Book Resources:
You're talking about doing watercolors — how do you normally work? Do you hand paint everything?
Yeah! I don't do any digital work at all; I really enjoy the tactile nature of drawing and getting my hands dirty. Especially since this style is so expressive and organic anyway, I think it lends itself much more to that than digital work. I'm penciling and inking traditionally and water coloring over that. I was actually pretty intimidated to do this because I haven't done a lot of painting and coloring of my own work, but you just have to do it to push yourself to get better at it!
I'm almost disgusted that the man can be so good at something the first time around, but then I remember that I get to buy his awesome comics and I don't care.
Speaking of buying Trillium, I know there are a lot of you who don't like to buy single issues and instead wait for the collected edition. I'm going to recommend not doing that this time. I don't know how the 'flip book' effect is going to work in trade, but it's certainly not going to be as effective as it is as a floppy. For one, the trade will force you to read the book a specific way
Lemire has created not only a great comic, but a great comic you can really interact with. How you read this story is completely up to you. Will you start with Nika? Will you start with William? Will you read a page of William's story and then a page of Nika's? It's up to you, and how the mysteries of Trillium unravel is entirely dependent on how you read the story. And don't worry, only one issue has come out, so it'll be easy to track down at your Local Comic Shop (or digitally for those of you who prefer to read your comics on your tablet device).
Issue #2 will be out on September 4th (next Wednesday). I hope that many of you will pick it up!
See you next Comic Book Wednesday!