Essex County Vol. 1: Tales From the Farm (Top Shelf)

essexheaderAn orphaned young boy dreams of being a superhero in the first volume of Jeff Lemire's intimately personal, well-crafted coming of age story.

 

 

112 pgs. B&W; $9.95

(W / A: Jeff Lemire)

 

Lester is an orphaned young boy with his head in the clouds, constantly dreaming of being a superhero in his new home, the small rural community of Essex County. His guardian, Uncle Ken, is a no-nonsense farmer who simply can't understand his nephew's interest in a fantasy world of comic books and space aliens. When Lester forms an unlikely friendship with local gas station owner Jimmy Lebeuf, he begins to see things in a different light and comes to terms with his hardships.

 

This story may at first sound like fodder for an after-school-special, but Tales From the Farm is a subtle and well-crafted coming of age story. Creator Jeff Lemire based Essex County on the town he himself grew up in, and it shows. The book feels intimately personal, as if it must be at least in some part autobiographical. It isn't hard to imagine that comic book lover and budding artist Lester could be an approximation of Lemire as a young boy.

 

The cover to Essex County. Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Lester's relationship with his Uncle Ken is quite strained. Neither of them would have chosen to live together, but they are forced to do so because of the Lester's mother's tragic death. Ken has no children of his own, and is unsympathetic to Lester's need to play and daydream. Lemire's writing style is almost minimalist; he conveys his characters' complicated situations and feelings with sparse illustrations and relatively few words. Tales From the Farm is a very quiet book, devoid of melodrama, but even more powerful as a result. Each character's experiences are wisely under-the-top and feel true.

 

Perhaps the greatest moment is when Lester shows Jimmy the comic book he made. Lemire dedicates 7 pages to "reproduce" the comic in its entirety. The comic, titled "Heroes and Villians" truly looks like it was drawn by a child; believably crude shapes, disproportionate bodies and lack of perspective may make viewers wonder if the pages were drawn by some young relative of the author. Even the dialogue in Lester's book is written in an undeveloped, block-lettered penmanship. This moment further develops the feeling of intimacy and authenticity that makes this book so successful on the level of storytelling.

 

Lemire's art style is quite rough, and has a sketch-like quality. Despite looking somewhat unpolished, it manages to show a surprising range of emotion and detail. There isn't as much movement as in most comic book art, but here it works. Each panel feels like a separate moment, rather than flowing from the last to the next. It adds to the tone of loneliness that permeates Lester and Ken's lives at every turn.

 

Tales From the Farm is definitely a departure from the majority of action-packed or at least drama-filled comics you'll come across. It is a very well told story about self-discovery and family. It also introduces readers to Essex County, the rural emptiness of which seems as alien as Earth-2 to many multi-tasking, tech-savvy, city-dwelling comics fans. Hopefully Lemire has more stories to tell about the citizens of Essex County and their community. If this first installment is any indication, there might be great things to come from this writer. | Elizabeth Bolhafner

 

Click here for an 8-page preview, courtesy of Top Shelf!

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