Comic-A-Week March 13-19: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

I’ve been hearing good things about Essex County for a long time, so finally reading it almost felt like coming home to something I’d been missing. I can think of so many adjectives to describe Essex County: haunting, epic, real, beautiful, authentic. There are so many, and all of them good. It’s a sweeping family drama that starts at the end and slowly winds itself to the beginning and back again.

I don’t know that I really want to go into the specifics of this comic, because watching the history of this family unfold is what is so beautiful about it. You don’t really know how things are connected until the very end and I loved that about it. You can guess, but all of the intricacies and twists of the family trees play out slowly throughout the course of the stories. This is a collection of shorter comics and each one focuses on a different person in Essex County. Geography initially seems to be the only thing connecting them, but it is much more.

I was recently listening to the Bookrageous podcast about taboo topics in literature and the topic of comics was brought up. Bookrageous contributor Josh was talking about graphic novels and comics when he said something that really expressed how I feel about the medium: the ability to express emptiness. He goes on to say that a blank page can be extremely powerful in a graphic novel and I couldn’t agree more. Essex County is filled with moments like this, of not necessarily blank pages, but nearly blank pages. The beginning chapter takes place on a farm, and every scene involving the corn and its progression were perfect in expressing a character’s loneliness, along with the passage of time. Or when another character returns to the farm, all lines denoting where the image ends and begins are abandoned and the landscape of the farm takes over completely, accompanied by a long, lonely shadow. Or more still, when the pane focuses solely on the ice. How do you draw ice in black and white? Lemire does it.

Another favorite part of Essex County? When one young character loves drawing comics and we get to see the comics he draws. They are amazing. As someone who has zero talent for drawing, I wonder what it was like to go back and draw in the style of a child. I love it when a comic pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a comic. It is such an open medium – why not include photographs? Why not include multiple styles?  Why not draw part of the comic as if you were 12? I also love a comic that has such a strong sense of place. See my review of Local. Essex County is so completely relates what it is like to live in rural Canada that I feel as though I have been there. Even though I have never stepped foot in a place more north than Rhode Island, I can feel the cold, I can feel the vast, openness of it.

I always find these comics after they have been collected into an omnibus. Where are the comics now that will be collected together in a few years? Can anyone point me in that direction? I want to be on top of this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. In the mean time, get out there and read Essex County. You won’t be disappointed.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else

An Adventure in Reading (Vol 1 & 2), So Many Books, So Little Time (Vol 1, 2 & 3), Monniblog, Buried in Print, all have posts about Essex County. Do you? Link to it in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Comic-A-Week Jan 30-Feb 5: Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

When I picked up Local from my library, I knew instantly that I was in for a treat. There’s something about a graphic novel that’s lovingly constructed. Do you know what I mean? Heavy paper, deep, ink drawings (or beautiful color work), a sturdy cover and a cover illustrations that perfectly captures what the entire book is about but that doesn’t reuse any old image from inside. I know that’s a silly request. It is a book full of images! Why shouldn’t they use one that is already in there?

Well, because there is more to the story than that. In the same way that a book cover of a traditional novel is an extension of the story, so too should the cover of a comic be an extension of that story. It’s no easy feat to come up with one complete image that stands for the entire story, but Local‘s cover is perfect.

Local was a serialized comic that has been collected in an omnibus, which is the edition I read. Originally intended to be about different places across the country, Local eventually took on the narrative of Megan, a young girl who can’t seem to stay in one spot for very long. Essentially these are stand alone stories about Megan’s life, or sometimes about the people in Megan’s life, that are all connected by the desire to find a place that we create for ourselves, that is our own.

The comic is perfectly researched. I have only ever seen one of the cities in here, Richmond, VA, but judging just based on how perfect the Kelly got the Plan 9 storefront, I can safely assume that other cities were equally well-researched. Like most collections of short stories, there were comics that I liked better than others. My favorite was probably The Younger Generation, where Megan has grown up a little bit and is faced with a young woman not unlike herself 10 years ago. I also enjoyed Polaroid Boyfriend, The Last Lonely Days at the Oxford Theater, and Theories and Defenses (the comic that takes place in Richmond).

But those were just my favorites and the ones that played to my particular sensibilities when it comes to comics. Thereis a lot to love here, for all kinds of comic readers. As for Kelly’s art, I loved the way he drew Megan. You could tell that he had spent a lot of time with her and knew her every facial expression and he knew how to illustrate her movements. That being said, sometimes I had a hard time distinguishing between the male characters. There is one point when we see them all next to each other and I can tell the difference, but when their story lines were separated, once in a while I got confused. It never bothered me enough to take me out of the story, though. Kelly’s style is well-defined and makes beautiful use of shading and negative space. I’m always impressed by the way black and white comics manage to create such depth with no color.

An added bonus to this collection of Local is the endnotes. For each story, Kelly and Wood talk about the story and what it was like to write it or illustrate it. Also included is a collection of renditions of Megan by other artists and the covers for each of the issues of Local. It was a real treat. I will definitely be reading more of Wood and Kelly’s work in the future.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Have you read and reviewed Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly? If so, add your link in the comments and I’ll add it here.