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Descender: Sci-Fi Splendor, Heartfelt Wonder [Interview]

Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, two incredible creators in their own right, team up each month to bring you DESCENDER, the story of TIM-21, a young robot boy and one of the last surviving robots, and Andy, the human boy who was his best friend. TIM-21 wakes up years after robots have been outlawed and hunted to the ends of the known universe, and within his head may be the secret that can save humanity from an apocalyptic future. But the only thing on TIM-21's mind is finding his buddy, no matter what the government agents, bounty hunters, scrappers, and worse who are hot on his tail have to say. DESCENDER's a space opera with a focus on the long-lost friendship between two boys.

IMAGE COMICS: What was the original genesis of DESCENDER? Did it come from you two wanting to work together and tossing ideas back and forth, or did one of you approach the other with the kernel of the idea?

JEFF LEMIRE: I had a few ideas I was tinkering with, DESCENDER being one of them, when I approached Dustin about collaborating. It was just a very basic premise. 

He loved the DESCENDER idea, so I really started developing it from there. He was looking to do something where he could do a lot of world building and draw a lot of different environments and I think he saw the potential for that in my initial DESCENDER ideas.

DUSTIN NGUYEN: Yeah, that was pretty much it, plus I think the fact we both really enjoy telling stories involving children really helped shape DESCENDER into what it is.

IC: DESCENDER is remarkable in part because you've gone with such a soft palette and art style in comparison to this kind of subject matter is usually approached. Dustin, what prompted you to go with this art style? Did you test other approaches before settling on this one?

DN: Thanks. I think right off the bat, I mentioned to Jeff I wanted to paint whatever book we were working on. The biggest reason is I just wanted to paint more, and I was never able to really able to do it on a monthly schedule. Being now we can set our own publishing dates and I was able to get a head start on things, it made the move easier. Jeff had also mentioned he enjoyed my more loose style he's seen me do outside of the regular books, so that only boosted my confidence to try it even more.

IC: This second arc has broadened the scope of the series considerably, from the introduction of a new focal character to a galaxy-wide subplot bubbling up in the background. How do you two see this series? Is it the story of TIM-21 and his search for Andy, or are they just the igniter for the bigger conflict?

JL: I always approach everything I do from character first. So for me DESCENDER is really just the simple story of Tim and Andy. Two boys lost in a big galaxy looking for one another. Everything else is just built around that to support and augment it. It's a very small story with a really big canvas.

DN: Same here, it's all about Tim and Andy. Much like real life, you cant really control what's going on in the rest of the world/universe, but when you're connected to someone the way these two are connected, they're each other's world and this is their story.

IC: I think it's interesting that TIM-21 is almost a beacon of innocence in a time when most of the cast is either grumpy, scarred by the past, or worse. Tell me about how you view TIM-21 as a character. What does he represent to you now that the story's a couple arcs along?

JL: Tim represents all children really. He is the epitome of innocence but on the cusp of a bigger adult world. And how he moves through that world, like all kids, will change him and test that innocence. We see how Andy's life after childhood changed him so drastically. At one point he and Tim were so similar and now they couldn't be more different.

IC: The creature and robot design in DESCENDER feels unique. Are you looking to anything for inspiration, designing on the page, or just going for something that's story-appropriate and looks cool? Jeff, do you make suggestions for design, or just leave it in Dustin's hands?

JL: I leave that all up to Dustin. I have total faith in his abilities and love to be surprised by what he comes back with. He's an incredible designer. All the machines and robots have such thought behind them, they all look like they could actually be built, like they could actually function in the real world.

DN: Jeff lets me know what characteristics and personalities each location or character has and I try my best to go from there. We shoot ideas back and forth, and luckily, they've always worked out great. We almost get into each other's heads with the greatest of ease, so it's super fun. In the back of issue 11, you'll see a short write-up of what I mean. It's craziness.

IC: The smaller emotional moments really stand out in this series, like TIM-21 trying to have fun with a peer or Driller gaining a grudging respect for a certain hume. I'm curious—do you two have any favorite character combinations or scenes along those lines? Anything you're particularly proud of?

JL: I love all the characters so it's hard for me to choose between my babies. But I am really enjoying the Blugger/Andy relationship, that one is a lot of fun to write. I think Telsa and Quo is also really interesting and starting to evolve in new ways I didn't anticipate.

DN: Telsa and Quon has been my favorite so far. There's so much anger and distrust between the two but they have to get along in their situation. By the end of this arc, though, I really do like the short interactions between Tullis and Driller, another duo forced to make the best of the situation they're in to get out of it.

DESCENDER is available in collected editions and ongoing single issues. DESCENDER #11 is available now.