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Where I Come From

[Editor's Note: Jeff Lemire is the writer/artist of the Essex County Trilogy, the most recent volume of which is The Country Nurse: Essex County Volume 3, winner of the American Library Association/Yalsa "Alex Award." Lemire has received the Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist, the Doug Wright Award for Canadian Cartooning's Best Emerging Talent, and has been nominated for one Harvey and Two Eisner Awards.]

I thought I'd use the opportunity to talk about setting, and how it informs the work I've done (Essex County Trilogy, published by Top Shelf), and the work I'm currently doing.

All of my stories start with the setting, and even more than that, location totally informs how my characters and plots grow and take shape. The Essex County books (Tales From the Farm, Ghost Stories, The Country Nurse), all started when I decided to do a book set in the tiny Canadian farming town where I grew up. I'll admit, the rusted old farm equipment, teetering windmills and concrete grain elevators that littered the wide open fields of Essex County meant little to me growing up there. I couldn't wait to move to the big city. But, ten years after leaving EC, and living in said Big City, the sparse lonely landscaped of my childhood started to evoke a strong, almost guttural pull inside of me.

Moreover, they seemed like a natural fit with the jagged, expressive inking style that had become the earmark of my cartooning. And, as soon as I sat down and started scratching out drawings, all of those lonely roadside power-lines, and rickety old farmhouses quickly became equally lonely and rickety old characters. The "rural decay" of southwestern Ontario became the rural decay at the heart of inhabitants of my fictional Essex County. And from there plot and narrative structure sprung up.

To my surprise, location, or more specifically places where I spent significant parts of my childhood, has continued to inform the work I do, well after the completion of the Essex County Trilogy. My next two projects, while quite different in tone, are both set in the Northern Canadian fishing community where my family has vacationed almost every August of my life. The old bait and tackle shops, lakeside diners, aluminum fishing boats, earthworms and walleye, and the smell of gasoline coming of an outboard motor are my new drug. They have provided an equal amount of inspiration for me as I work on The Nobody, an original, two-color graphic novel for DC's Vertigo imprint. That tale takes The Bandaged Stranger from H.G. Wells' classic The Invisible Man, and recasts him as an oddball drifter taking up residence in a tiny northern lakeside Motel in 1994.

And, my next Top Shelf book (sorry, too early to spill the beans on that one) will be equally entrenched in a tiny Canadian fishing village.

For me, as a storyteller, it all starts with the place, once I have that, the characters and story all come easily. Which poses the question: I wonder what I'll do when I run out of places that I lived as a kid? Probably go back home to Essex County again for another round, I suppose.

÷ ÷ ÷

This week we welcome five accomplished comic creators from Top Shelf Press: Bill Kelter (Veeps), James Kochalka (American Elf), Jeff Lemire (Essex County), Alex Robinson (Too Cool to Be Forgotten), and Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole).

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance Used Hardcover $5.95
  2. American Elf: Book 3 Used Trade Paper $10.95
  3. The Country Nurse: Essex County Volume 3 Used Trade Paper $6.95
  4. Too Cool to Be Forgotten Used Hardcover $5.50
  5. Swallow Me Whole New Hardcover $19.95

  6. The Invisible Man (Bantam Classics) Used Mass Market $2.95

Top Shelf Productions is the author of Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance

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