When Image Comics held its Expo event in January, they announced a lot of new titles by big name creators who have worked in the mainstream and have had creator-owned hits in previous years. Doing her best not to get lost in the shuffle was a still slightly lesser-known creator, Emi Lenox.
While Emi does have an established fan base of passionate readers of her online bio-comic, EmiTown, this year will mark new territory for her, as she’s about to release two high-profile titles this year through Image.
The first is a collaboration with Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Descender) called Plutona, about a group of kids who discover the dead body of the world’s greatest superhero. Shortly after that series begins, Emi will be releasing Tadaima, a new travelogue about her recent trip to Japan with her mother for a memorial service at her grandparents’ tomb in Fukushima.
I met up with Emi shortly after she returned from Image Expo and we got to talking about her experience there, her new titles, and how she plans to keep EmiTown going through all of this.
You just got back from Image Expo, where you were one of the guests. How was that?
Emi Lenox: Horrifying. I felt like the infant amidst all of these adults. They all had prominent titles already in their repertoire, and here I am, little me. But no, everybody was super friendly. I don’t know if Image purposely does that, bring together the nicest people. Because they were all very nice and didn’t mind my nervous quirks that I got backstage.
Backstage? What was going on that you were backstage?
Erik Stephenson does the keynote and then he brings out everyone on stage, one by one, to talk about their projects.
I was so nervous. I don’t know if people knew, or maybe it looked planned, but when I came out on stage I thought Erik was going to say something but he just stared at me and so I just stared back and there was this, what felt like a millennium of silence until he was like, “So… What are you up to these days.” And I was like, “That’s a broad question. I don’t know. What do you mean?”
I was not prepared at all. Unlike Kieron (Gillen) who had a whole speech written out and he was reciting it in the hallway in the back. So, I was like, “I’m just going to wing it.” Goes to show that winging it wasn’t the best idea. I probably should have had bullet points of things to say.
Hopefully it left an impression. Maybe people said, “Well that was an awkward girl. She could have interesting stuff to read.”
That was when I was suppose to be talking about Tadaima and I have a lot of regret that I didn’t mention everything I wanted to, because I felt so hurried and nervous that I just rushed through the explanation.
Well here’s your chance. Tell us about Tadaima.
Basically, it’s a travel memoir about my trip to Japan with my mother that I went on two years ago. And we went to help renew these… it’s hard for me to think of the translation, they’re like these sticks by the tomb that have their posthumous name on it, but you’re suppose to renew them every couple of years.
So we went to renew these prayers for their tombstones. And I hadn’t been back to Japan for over a decade, so there was a lot of guilt for me for not having seen my grandmother before she died. My mother went back a lot toward the end and she would invite me, but I didn’t go. I kind of made up excuses because I didn’t really want to go.
So this trip was going back to this place where I would go almost every year when I was a child. And now she’s gone and visiting her tomb. Japan without gramma. It was so important to me that I wanted to document it. So I made Tadaima. Or, I’m making Tadaima. I’ve still got some work to do.
How far along on it are you?
It’s going to be full watercolor, which is why it’s taking longer than I thought. I don’t know why I assumed, “Oh, I love watercolor. I’ll have so much fun, it’ll be easy.” No, it’s not easy. It’s learning a whole new kind of art style almost.
And the process of scanning in the watercolors is something I’ve never done before, and it ended up being really hard because the paper warps and it’s difficult to get the colors right. Everything is hard. But that’s what I say about art in general. It’s all hard.
So when do you anticipate its release?
It’s coming out towards the end of the year, following Plutona.
We’re hoping to have the first issue out in the fall. I wanted to get a good amount of Tadaima underway before I started work on it. But we’ve got the first issue written out, Jeff’s working on the second. I already have the character designs down. It’s just a matter of putting it all on paper.
The concept for Plutona is something you originally brought to Jeff Lemire in order for the two of you to collaborate on, is that right?
It’s an idea I’ve had for a really long time, since the early 2000s. It’s partially the idea that I like shitty things happening to superheroes and also I really like movies like Stand By Me and Mean Creek, where’s it’s like children facing a really fucked-up situation and how it affects their lives.
I came up with concept a long time ago and I never knew what to do with it because it was just bare bones, and Jeff and I had always talked about working on something together, so last San Diego I brought it to him and we both started brainstorming and he added so much to the story. He really filled it out into something. I’m so excited, I can’t wait!
How do you know Jeff? I remember you did some art for a story sequence in Sweet Tooth.
We’ve been friends for six or seven years. I met him when I was interning at Top Shelf in 2008 or 2009 and he just always wanted to work on something with me. The Sweet Tooth thing was a long time ago, when I was starting my career (even though technically I always feel like I’m starting my career). He wanted to encourage me to draw comics so he asked me to draw something for Sweet Tooth, and that’s how that came about.
And what is the meaning behind the title, Plutona?
Well, just so you know, we wanted to call it Plutonia, but it turns out there was already a Marvel or DC character named that who only showed up in like one issue in the early 2000s. When Jeff and I originally looked, Plutonia was this really old novel from the early 1900s or so, and we thought, “Oh, we’re good.” And then I Googled it, and I don’t know why I didn’t Google image search it to begin with, because that’s when I saw the character. And I was like, “Damn it, we can’t use that name.”
But now, I actually kind of like Plutona better. I wish we had mentioned that at our announcement, because after Image Expo I saw some Twitter people who were like, “What the hell’s a Plutona?!”
So Plutona is the name of the main character?
It’s the name of the superhero. He’s the dead body the kids find in the woods. We don’t… It’s hard to talk about this book without revealing too much. Though it’s a character-driven book, I feel it’s the little details you discover along the way that help provide interest in the book also. I don’t want to give it away too early.
It’s going to be a dark book. Not so dark where you want to go hide in a closet and not talk to humans for a month, but it’s basically about how these kids deal with death. If you were a kid and you found a dead thing in the woods, how would you react? Especially someone you probably looked up to. It would probably destroy you a little bit. So each kid kind of reacts in their own special way.
We have a character named Ray who we named after our friend, Ray Fawkes. Then there are two Asian kids that I really wanted to put in that are like my mother and my brother. Not like their personalities, but named after them. The girl’s name is Mie, and my mother’s name is Mieko. And the little brother’s name is Mike, and my brother’s name is Mike.
And you recently started a Patreon account. What can you tell us about that?
Because of my announcement with Plutona and Tadaima, some people were like, “Oh, is EmiTown still going on?” It’s not that I don’t want to do EmiTown, it’s just that I have all these other things to do.
But after the Expo I had so many emotions and feelings I just wanted to dump out. And I was like, “Oh, I can start up EmiTown if people help support my life so I can worry a little less about money, maybe I can put in a day or several hours toward EmiTown and bonus stuff for that.”
I’m hoping to get three pages done per month and I’ve already talked to Image. I hoping we’ll put another book out after I have enough material. So there is an endgame. Maybe, who knows, this could just last forever until I’m done with EmiTown.
For the bonuses, I’ve already recorded my first podcast with Joe Keatinge. It’s pretty ridiculous. I hope people will join to listen to it. And I know I’m going to talk with Eric Stephenson for my podcast next month. I’m going to try to do the podcast once a month. I have plenty of people I think would be willing to be on my idiot podcast, which I’ve cleverly called Chit Chatz.
How do people get to listen to your podcasts?
It’s for the $5 tier. For $5 a month you’ll get to hear the podcast, see videos of my process or talk about whatever I want. I want it to be open to any dumb thing I wanted to share. And process photos.
But for a mere $1, you get to see the comics before anyone else. Right now, there are five pages of unseen EmiTown that I’ve drawn this year that no-one’s seen. I’m really excited about this and it’s going to help push things forward for me.