Tales From the Farm – Essex County Vol. 1
by Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf Productions
I grew up around farms, and this quirky little graphic novel captures that sense of openness and isolation. Young Lester was orphaned and now lives with his bachelor-farmer Uncle Ken in the flat middle of the Canadian Prairie. Both are alone, and neither connects with the other. They inhabit their isolation differently – Lester imagines himself a super hero and Ken is firmly grounded in the cycle of crops and livestock. Their alienation comes from two legitimate sources – Lester is “That age” and the arrangement wasn’t Ken’s idea, but that of his dying sister. As their relationship splinters, Lester befriends Jim Lebeuf, gas jockey and former one night hero of the Maple Leafs. They find common ground in comics and hockey, with precious little else to cling to in their world of planar agriculture.
Lemire’s drawings soulfully capture that feeling of isolation and expanse without ever becoming boring in themselves. Telescoping detail propels you from the transient landing of a bird on a silo to the enormous sky it inhabits, and the story mirrors the mundane detail that will become their entire lives. Sad and stirring, we still find a positive ending that leaves Ken the same, but makes Lester and Jim a bit more mature. This is unapologetically real farm life with none of the city dwellers’ golden vision of living off the land. It’s hard, repetitive and isolating, but not impossible to transcend.