Revisiting Essex County

 Okay, I promised last post to pick up where I left off, talking about process, but I really want to go in another direction this month and talk about this book.

I had shared on my Mordecai Crow Facebook page that I was watching and very much enjoying the series adaptation of Jeff Lemire's Essex County (you can watch it here). This was an adaptation that felt very true to the original book, and small wonder as Lemire was closely involved in both the writing and production of the series. (I'm only guessing, but wonder if this was in reaction to seeing what happened with Warner Brothers adaptation of Sweet Tooth, which I have also watched and enjoyed - to a point - but that has not felt much like Lemire's work!)

Seeing the series inspired me to get out my own copy of The Complete Essex County (2009, Top Shelf) that I had last read when it first came out. Around that time (2010) it had been chosen as a Canada Reads selection and I remember hearing some of that debate on the radio. One person was generally trashing it as a selection, saying that they couldn't accept the title "novel" attached to something they could read in an hour. 

First of all, clearly this person did not get it and if you are "reading" Essex County in an hour or two then you are not reading it at all. It is like saying you watched a film by fast forwarding though it. I was blown away all over again when I re-read Essex County, swept up in the quiet, deep and at times painful story that Lemire magically produces with his pen and brush (guessing there, but it feels like pen and brush work). This book is a collection of stories, all taking place in the flat farm country of Essex County in southwestern Ontario where I am assuming Lemire grew up. The stories interconnect somewhat and that inter-connection was woven into a more cohesive version for the screen play, using the two main stories Tales from the Farm and Ghost Stories as the framework on which the series is built. Some of the collected stories don't even make an appearance in the screen version, but many do and those are effectively worked into a succinct narrative.

But what I really wanted to talk about is Lemire's artwork. It's probably impolitic of me even to mention this, but I'm not really a huge comic book fan. More on this later, but suffice to say I read a lot of comics as a kid, but I never had a superhero collection. And I have read quite a few comics and graphic novels since, and enjoyed some, but mostly it is the artwork that draws me to them, with Euro comics being my favourites. Most of my reading is traditional novels. 

However, to my mind, Lemire's work is transcendent, showing the true possibilities of the medium and how it can grab you on a very deep and emotional level. I have read a few other graphic novels that have done the same but very few.  I love how he can draw a page and you will just sit and stare at it and think, wow, how did he do that? Like so much great cartoon work, his line looks deceptively simple and even child-like at times, but I know it is something I could never accomplish. It is more like music in that it bypasses the rational mind completely and engages on a deeper, more emotional level. He has an almost cavalier disregard for perspective and his cast shadows sometimes make no sense at all technically. Children's faces at times appear as those of an 80 year old. But somehow it all works and as you look at it more closely you realize that Lemire doesn't really care if things are wonky - he draws what needs to be drawn to communicate what he needs to say. The pain and suffering etched into the faces is palpable, the darks and lights create a mood that takes you deep into the story and series of pages pass by without a word of dialogue, but speaking volumes.

I thought I would go out on a limb and share a coupe of images from the book here to show you what I am talking about. These were included in a posting by the defender of the book in Canada Reads 2010 (sorry, it is one of the twins Tegan and Sara and I don't know which!) and can be found here so I think I am safe in re-posting them. Interestingly enough, it is the exact same sequence I had in mind when I started this post.

Two images from Ghost Stories. This is an imagined sequence as Lou disappears into his memories. Lemire's use of darks and lights here, the brushwork in the underwater light, the tears streaming from his eyes as he descends into the water. How can you not be moved by this art??

There is so much more art I would love to share from this book, but my best recommendation is for you to go out and buy your own copy or borrow it from your local library and see for yourself why this book is a masterpiece. Re-read it if you haven't lately. Just please give the time due to each panel and let yourself soak it in on a deeper level. And experience the power that can reside in visual story-telling at its best.

Newsy bits

Now available in bookstores!

I almost forgot to add that Secrets of Jarrow is now available at bookstores and can be purchased online! And if you have enjoyed the book, please feel free to leave a rating and maybe even a review through the Goodreads link at the bottom of this page.

TCAF 2023

Signing Secrets of Jarrow at the Renegade booth at TCAF, with publisher Alexander Finbow.

In other book-related news, I attended the Toronto Comics Arts Festival at the end of April and had the pleasure of meeting face to face with Alexander Finbow, the publisher at Renegade Arts and Entertainment. Alexander lives in Canmore, Alberta, and up until now, we had only spoken though Zooms and e-mails (many, many e-mails!) Turns out he is as nice a person in person as he has been in all my dealings with him online.

The festival was terrific fun and I was excited to have the chance to share my book with so many indie comic book fans.