Thursday, May 31, 2007

Down Here on the Farm

Next up on the Top Shelf review list:

Essex County Vol. 1-Tales From The Farm Written and Drawn by Jeff Lemire

I'm a sucker for coming of age stories. Even bad ones. Fortunately this is no "bad one."

For 10-year-old Lester life has been anything but a fairy tale. His Mom has passed away, he's never met his father and now finds himself in the care of his Uncle Ken, a man who means well but is out of his element raising a child. Lester watches hockey in his basement, wears a cape and mask and dreams of becoming a superhero (a fact that is explained with great effect later on). When he meets former NFL player (in one game at least), Jimmy Lebouf, he finds a kindred spirit. Jimmy knows people consider him "slow", but he hold his own in conversations with Lester, and you begin to think maybe he plays a little bit into the "slow" angle.

With Tales, Lemire has crafted a rarity among these types of stories, there's only one kid. Yeah, most C-O-A stories focus on one specific kid, but other children are sometimes a necessity, and more often than not a crutch, for the plot. You need certain archetypes to play against, to show how the main character is unique, why his/her story matters. Lemire never picks up a crutch.

The story is quite moving, and the crafting of the boy-man friendship has become a pretty fine line to walk. Their relationship never feels insincere, with Lebouf filling in the gaps that Lester's Uncle has left. While the two never discuss Lester's life in detail, you begin to understand (and are later shown) that Jimmy knows the details of Lester's situation. Rather than reminding him of it (like his Uncle does, often unintentionally), Jimmy allows the boy to escape into his fantasy world. Then, by joining him, Lester becomes a sort of comrade-in-arms. It never becomes a father-son relationship, or even a brotherly one, but something in between.

The characters aren't the only layered elements in the book either. The plot, which seems relatively simple at first, becomes infinitely more complex as Lester's past begins to unfold. Unfortunately this is the first of a trilogy of books, so there's no too too much that we get to see. If the future volumes are half as touching as this, Essex County is sure to be considered some of the finest the industry has to offer.


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