Tales From The Farm Review

Another in my somewhat daunting pile of goodies from Comic-Con, Jeff Lemire’s book deserves its praise. Essex County Vol. 1 Tales From The Farm, to give it its full title, was published by Top Shelf last year. Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse are the two volumes that followed. All three are set in a farming community in Southwestern Ontario in Canada, and focus on the assorted characters who dwell there. Tales From The Farm is amazingly restrained in its beauty. With autobiographical comics, even loose ones like this, it can be difficult for writers to not thrown in the kitchen sink in order to increase its realism. Thankfully, Lemire knows better. As writer/artist it’s clear that he’s in charge and knows completely what he’s doing.

As for the story, it focuses on 10 year old Lester who recently lost his mother to cancer and is being raised by his Uncle Ken. It’s painfully obvious their relationship is a new and awkward one for both in moments where Lester chooses to watch the hockey game alone in his room rather than with his uncle and where Ken is unsure about how to deal with his nephew’s growing rebellion. Lemire’s skill lies just as much as in choosing what is not shown, as what is. In not over emphasising emotional moments, and giving us the barest of details he allows the characters to speak for themselves. With no narration it is merely the dialogue (of which there is little) to give us a peek into the hearts and minds of this pair. The only other character worth noting here is Jimmy Lebeuf, former hockey pro and man mountain who owns the local gas station and befriends Lester.

An orphan, a strained relationship, a misunderstood faded sports hero. You may be thinking that you’ve seen all this before. It sounds like the perfect ingredients for a independent film that makes critics swoon. However, there is more to it than that. Of course, sensitive comic fans will lap up any story with a comic loving outsider too, but its simplicity is its strength. That extends to the artwork as well. Using broad strokes helps convey the roughness of the two men in the story and the harsh terrain that surrounds them. Lemire sells the isolation of a remote town perfectly, and uses a lighter touch with more grey than black in the brief flashbacks of Lester’s dying Mum. A hand made comic from a 9 year old Lemire posing as Lester’s comic is also a nice touch, from the boy that never takes off his mask or cape. Well, almost never. A touching tale in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty, Tales From The Farm show that a boy’s imagination and curiosity can grow in the toughest of soils.

Top Shelf Reviews

I ordered a few books from Top Shelf’s recent on-line sale, and they arrived this week. It was a nice little gift, from myself. Apart from some free samplers, there was also Alex Robinson’s Too Cool To Be Forgotten, two James Kochalka books, and a CD inspired by Craig Thompson’s magnificent Blankets opus by the band Tracker (I’ll have to read it again now, with the accompanying soundtrack, though its 11 tracks won’t be enough to sustain the reading of the massive volume). I also picked up these two little numbers; Chris Staros’ Yearbook Stories 1976-1978 and Jeffrey Brown’s Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me.

The latter is an epilogue to his so-called Girlfriend trilogy, of which I have read none. However, this104 page book was still quirkily enchanting, and I’m sure very guy could relate to it. I showed it to my fellow office dwellers when my package arrived and the title alone brought many a smile. Brown is a respected cartoonist, as well as a prolific one. Told over three weeks as 2003 becomes 2004 it’s essentially an intricate, dialogue driven look at the ladies that come and go from his life and how he feels about them. With his e-mails, and phone calls he paints a picture of a heart that flits between hope, confusion and sorrow, with great realism. The sketchy art won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Harvey Pekar’s work, you’ll no doubt find another everyman hero here.

Top Shelf have also just released an awesome trailer for Brown’s other series, The Incredible Change-Bots, a Transformers parody, but I’m sure it’s much more than that. Watch it and laugh.

Yearbook Stories was a pleasant surprise. Consisting of two short tales in its 32 pages it centres on two formative tales of the author’s high school years. The first one, The Willful Death of a Stereotype, chronicles Chris’ anxiety and desire to fit in yet still be himself, when he is presented with a move to a new school and a chance for re-invention. The first step in this process means pinning his hopes on becoming the new class president. Iluustrated by Bo Hampton, and with great lines like, “But dreams are not made of logic, and that alone is their magic,” it’s more whimsical than Every Girl, but still honest and real.

The second story, The Worst Gig I Ever Had is considerably more mature, with its swearing and nudity and is drawn by Rich Tomaso. This focuses on young Chris’ first band and a job for a bunch of bikers in the woods, which explains the title. I much preferred this tiny tome rather than Every Girl, with it’s quaint vibe that’s similar to The Wonder Years TV show from a few years ago. Both tales of the young Chris are bite-sized episodes in his life that perfectly capture the typically curious world view of a growing boy.

You can go here for a Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me preview, and here for a Yearbook Stories preview.