Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire
Colors by José Villarrubia
Published by Vertigo
Trillium embraces the medium of comics, physically engaging the reader like no other book. Anyone who’s read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest will know the feeling: turning a book over in their hands to get to the endnotes until the reader finds themselves mimicking the infinity symbol itself. It’s something truly beyond the page, and Jeff Lemire finds a way to organically to connect those loops by juxtaposing two very different worlds: that of a PTSD stricken veteran of the first World War and an intergalactic scientist trying to save the last of human kind.
Their stories are so disparate that connecting them might seem laughable in other mediums. While William cuts through the forest to find an ancient temple protected by violent indigenous peoples, Nika struggles to understand an alien culture on one of the last human colonies not decimated by a sentient virus. The titular flower, trillium, only grows around a mysterious temple. As both characters struggle with past traumas, their fates collide via the temple existing on both worlds and in both times.
The first issue is a flipbook, with either character’s story being told depending on which side was up. In Trillium, it’s not a gimmick, but another layer to the story, disorienting the audience intentionally mimicking the upside down turn William and Nika’s worlds take when they collide. With everything right side up, the plot would be missing a key element. It’s the turning that subtly captures readers. Things have to be turned upside down to make sense. By forcing a shift in perspective, Lemire flicks a switch in his readers’ brains, changing perception slightly, but more than enough.
Trillium boasts itself as ‘the last love story’, though William and Nika’s relationship is one of the weaker aspects of the story. This seems to be a choice rather than a miscalculation. By the second issue, the main characters have met, but their bizarre situation coupled with a language barrier makes it difficult to connect. Sparks don’t fly in the vastness of space. Instead, the universe itself has tossed these two characters together, which seems appropriate given the circumstances. While not apparent early on (but mentioned in advertisements) William and Nika’s relationship threatens the entirety of existence. That’s where the ‘last’ part comes in. The stakes are higher than a typical romantic comedy.
Trillium’s art reemphasizes the medium. Villarrubia’s palettes contrast beautifully: washed out watercolors for Nika’s future among the stars, bold colors fro William’s violent past. The Victorian buildings feel musty, the jungles hot and space: cold and bleak. As a flipbook, issue#1 has two covers, either Nika or William’s face dominating the page and with the other character’s silhouette in view. Lemire’s drawing style lends a natural sheen to the uncanny plot. It gives the book an unfinished quality, as if things were just about to fall apart.
Trillium forces itself to be read in a new way by embracing the old one. It’s the opposite of digital comics; it has to be read either on paper, or on a tablet or by an advanced yogi. It cannot be clicked through. As the story turns the future and the past upside down, readers must do the same. Comic books, more than most mediums, are steeped in nostalgia. Few series manage to take readers back and forward so artfully. It’s a winning argument for the printed comics. The future destroying the past might be interpreted as digital ending the comics’ medium, but that’s probably for the next go around.