Tales From The Farm Volume One Of The Essex Country Trilogy
Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire Top Shelf Productions
Cover Price $9.95; Available Now
When Lester’s mother dies and he is orphaned, Lester’s uncle reluctantly brings him to his farm in the small county of Essex in Ontario, Canada. Uncle Ken doesn’t really know how to deal with kids, Lester doesn’t know his uncle all that well, and their relationship becomes strained and distant almost from day one. While in town getting gas, Lester pops into the store to pick up a new comic book. It is there that Lester meets Jimmy, a ex-hockey player who was injured in the NHL and has been written off as being “slow” and “different.” Jimmy and Lester soon become friends, and the pair of them set off on superhero adventures fighting an alien invasion and picking up games of hockey on a frozen pond. Ken, however, is not too fond of their friendship, and while he is determined to keep the two apart, Lester is all the more determined to keep the relationship going.
We all have memories, however distant or distorted from the really real truth, of when we were ten years old. It is a strange and bittersweet time when we begin to realize there is a lot more out there than just the backyard and math homework, where childhood rests and balances on a branch in our favorite climbing tree and can be blown off by just about anything. For Jeff Lemire‘s Lester, he has tapped into a cross-section of all those things that can close the final chapter on childhood before hurtling into those dangerous and often overlooked tween years.
As the year that is chronicled in Tales From The Farm continues, Lester’s life becomes more and more separated into the black and white that is reality and fantasy. Lester becomes increasingly alienated with his uncle, who is trying to cope with a most difficult situation. His life at school, which is looked at with only a single page as if it is too painful to look any further, is lonesome and filled with bullies. But his fantasy world becomes the comfort zone he so desperately needs, even at the expense of Ken’s outward reaching hand, and Jimmy starts to fill in the void where his father should have been.
Lemire’s artwork fits into the framework of the story incredibly well. His stark black and white work is jangley and loose, but filled with expressive emotion. The book is broken down by seasons, and in each chapter, Lemire pays special attention to the weather. You can feel the warm breeze flowing through fields of wheat, and the numbing chill during a muted snowstorm. He pauses at random in between scenes to reflect on a windmill creeking or a bird pecking for seed, forcing the reader to pause and think about what has happened in the previous scene. His flashback sequences, illustrated with pen and a ghost-like greyscale of water colors, is haunting, and all the more painful as these memories shown here already appear to be fading away just like ghosts.
During one point in the story, Lester draws a superhero comic book and shows it to Jimmy. Lemire takes the time out to draw every single page of Lester’s comic, and it looks exactly like the ones we all used to crudely draw, even if we won’t admit it. This is Lester at his most vulnerable as he exposes his very soul on paper to Jimmy, and allowing us to reading it along with him is a true honor. You get the feeling that no one else will ever see this comic. After Jimmy finishes reading it, he showers Lester’s budding talent with compliments, and Lester smiles reflexively. It is the only time that Lester smiles during the entire book.
Lemire’s story is quiet and fragile, and a rather quick read (though you’ll instinctively know when to slow down) that should be all be taken in one sitting. We have all known someone like Lester, and maybe have even been him at some point, and this collective homage to all those “Lesters” out there is nigh-perfection. Read it alone, and leave time afterward for some introspective searching and bubbling memories of days long since past. Tissues may be needed.