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Family Tree Vol 1 Main

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A Biblical Deluge – Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester Talk Family Tree

Interview conducted by James Ferguson

Family Tree hit with a bang, scaring the crap out of me from the first issue. Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester are joined by Eric Gapstur, Ryan Cady, and Steve Wands for this unsettling comic full of terror, family drama, and tension. I had a chance to speak with Lemire and Hester on the eve of the first volume's release from Image Comics.

When an eight-year-old girl begins to transform into a tree, her single Mom, troubled brother, and possibly insane grandfather embark on a bizarre and heart-wrenching odyssey across the back roads of America, desperately searching for a way to cure her horrifying transformation before it’s too late.Bestselling, award-winning writer Jeff Lemire (Royal City, Descender, Sweet Tooth) and superstar artist Phil Hester (Shipwreck, Green Arrow) come together for Family Tree, a genre-defying epic about the lengths a mother will go to keep her children safe in a world of unspeakable horrors. Collects Family Tree #1-4.

James Ferguson: The premise of Family Tree, with a young girl turning into a tree is simple, yet terrifying. How did this concept come together?

Jeff Lemire: I had done the Animal Man series at DC back in 2011 and I really loved working on that book and the feeling of a family hunted by horrific things and those horror elements acting as metaphor for all the things that can threaten to tear a family apart or bring them closer together. So I was looking to revisit these themes, but with a project and world I created myself. From this thinking I just started taking the term “family tree” literally and the idea grew out of that quite quickly.

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JF: You've both had some experience with horror in comics with some great titles. What is it about the genre that draws you to it?

JL: I love the intensity of emotion that horror can bring out in the characters. The heightened emotion that horror conjures is rich material, especially when dealing with a family. This is what really pulls me in.

Phil Hester: I wish I knew! I loved all kinds of comics as a kid, but felt especially drawn to weirder, darker stuff, even in the super-hero genre. I think it’s because the genre is such a great vehicle for larger themes than horror itself. On the surface, Swamp Thing comics are about a plant monster, but once that thrilling element has engaged a reader, they realize it’s a story about hubris, alienation, what it means to be human, etc. You’re drawn in by the grotesque imagery or shocking scenarios, but at the end of the story you’ve realized something new about the world.

I think my talents as a storyteller reflect that. I’m good at drawing weird stuff (if anything), but at the end of the day, like all artists, I want to express something that will enrich the audience’s lives in some way. Sometimes just a hearty scare is a sufficient gesture of this good will, but if you can scare and also go deep with your message, that’s the gold.

I think Family Tree has that dynamic. It is most definitely a body horror comic, but the horror illuminates a relatable family drama. In this case, the family has already been shattered by an earlier catastrophe (the disappearance of the father) and is just starting to repair itself. Then the terrifying transformation of the daughter comes along and shines a black light over those fault lines.

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JF: Do you have a favorite moment or scene in this first volume?

JL: I love anything with Judd. He quickly became my favorite character. So really any moments with him are a blast to write and I love how Phil draws him.

PH: The way we punctuated the bloodbath of a firefight in issue #2 with the tender moments between Judd and Darcy as (SPOILER) Darcy realizes he’s dying.

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JF: Have you looked at trees or houseplants differently since working on this series? Are you re-thinking that whittling hobby?

PH: Haha, no. I mean except how to draw them better!

JL: I love trees. I love looking at photos of ancient trees and I love the shapes they can take. I love drawing them too. So I am still not scared of trees.

JF: The family dynamic in Family Tree is interesting to say the least. How would you describe it as we prepare for the next story arc?

PH: In the first issue they are clearly not afraid to express their irritation with each other, like any normal family. But as they get put through the wringer over the course of the series you see how much they love each other, and how that bond can be a life-preserver in a biblical deluge that will destroy the
world as we know it.

Horror DNA would like to thank Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester for speaking with us. Family Tree: Volume 1 – Sapling is set for release on May 27th, 2020.

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About The Author
James Ferguson
Lord of the Funny Books
James has a 2nd grade reading level and, as a result, only reads books with pictures. Horror is his 5th favorite genre right after romantic comedy and just before silent films. No one knows why he's here, but he won't leave.
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