The library is a great place for readers to discover comics, and it’s a great place for comics readers to check out things that they want to try without spending their hard-earned cash. I’m looking at comics that I find in the New York Public Library system.
With Jeff Lemire’s profile rising higher on a seeming daily basis – his soon-to-be-released Vertigo graphic novel The Nobody and his recently announced Vertigo series Sweet Tooth – I found myself pressed to finally check out the acclaimed and popular Essex County trilogy of books that Lemire authored through Top Shelf Books during 2007-2008. Fortunately, I was able to get all three books from the library: today, Vol. 1, Tales From the Farm.
Young Lester lives on a farm in rural Essex County, a fictional setting somewhere in Ontario, Canada, with his Uncle Ken. Orphaned, emotionally disconnected, lost in fantasy, Lester wears a domino superhero mask and a red cape wherever he goes. Ken, well-meaning but unable to connect with the dreamer boy, struggles to find ways to relate to his only nephew, the son of his only sister. Lester’s closest friend is Jimmy, the slow moving and thinking owner of the local gas station and garage.
Subtle and quiet, Tales From the Farm explores the tension between dreamer and a pragmatist, from the perspective of both surrogate son and surrogate father. Casting no blame, Lemire allows both Ken and Lester’s vantage points to express themselves to readers, suggesting familial tragedies and secrets that underscore their tenuous relationship.
The artwork, powerfully chiaroscuro, has a sloppy, loose energy, yet a delineated clarity of strong page composition and character design. Lemire’s use of blacks and whites would be impressive coming from a 20-year veteran of the medium. Tales From the Farm is definitely one of the best comics I’ve read recently.
Next week, I’ll discuss the second book in the series, Ghost Stories. But a tease: it’s better. If you find any of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County books at your local library, definitely pick it up. Like me, you’ll probably decide that they belong in your personal library.