Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reader's Diary #515- Jeff Lemire: Tales From The Farm, Essex County Vol. 1

This year has been a crash course in graphic novels for me. Before then I assumed graphic novels to be mostly long forms of superhero comics, which I'd never been really into as a kid. Fortunately the world of "alternative comics" has opened up to me and I'm hooked. These are not about superheroes at all and I've been amazed at the complex characters, intricate plots, strong writing and artistry. I can say, without reservation, that I enjoy them as much as traditional novels.

I've also discovered one of my new favourite publishers in Canada: Drawn & Quarterly. They have cornered the market on alternative comics in Canada and I had assumed that any alternative graphic novelist in Canada worth his/her salt had been signed to them.

I've been proven wrong. Recently I won a Jeff Lemire prize pack from CBC's Canada Reads Book Club. Though Lemire is from Ontario and most of his books are set there, they are published by an American publisher, Top Shelf Productions. I was skeptical. It didn't help that on the cover of Tales From The Farm was a picture of a boy in a red cape. It just goes to show I've got a lot left to learn.

While I wasn't into superhero comics as a boy, I was into monster books. One of the more memorable was Betsy Byars' The Two-Thousand Pound Goldfish. I believe Scholastic had billed it as a book about a giant goldfish terrorizing the sewers beneath a city. I soon discovered that the goldfish part of the book was just the imaginings of a young boy, the main plot was about a boy coming to terms with his absent mother. My monster book was really one of those books. Imagine my surprise when I enjoyed it anyway.

Tales From The Farm will likely take readers off guard in much the same way. Beginning with a scene of the boy in the red cape flying over a field, we quickly realize this is just his imagination. Before long his uncle is telling him to feed the chickens and "take that damn outfit off." And so begins a story of a boy and his uncle. Uncle Ken has been left in charge of Lester, whose single mother (Ken's sister) had died recently. Lester feels his uncle doesn't understand him and Uncle Ken feels like he can't connect. To complicate matters, Lester befriends the local gas station owner Jimmy Lebeuf, who's suffered a head-injury from a one-game stint in the NHL. It's really a heart-wrenching tale and my heart went out to all the characters.

I also enjoyed Lemire's drawings, which resembled sketches in their loose, scratchy style. They are also heavily inked in black and at first glance would appear chaotic. However, there is a control to his style that gives the characters an unexpected consistency and emotion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Lemire. Now Drawn & Quarterly needs to sign him!


Ali said...

I, too, have been discovering the joys of the non-super-hero graphic novel over the course of the past year. This one's new to me, though, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

Nikki in Niagara said...

Well, I love superheroes, even as a kid, but the other kind of graphi novels are great too. I actually took this out from the library once and had to return it unread. I'll definitly have to make sure I get it out again (and read this time!).

Wanda said...

I actually quite like that cover, something about it reminds me of the old Highlights magazines I would read a a kid at my grandmother's house. The story too, sounds like something I would enjoy.

David Bird said...

To Shelf is also the publisher of the Scott Pilgrim books. They are very different from Essex County, but are probably the most popular Canadian graphic novels to date.