I decided to read some comics.
Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire (2009)
I’ve read books by Jeff Lemire several times before, most recently his excellent slow-paced alternative reality wormhole graphic novel, The Underwater Welder.
Essex County is what made his reputation around fifteen years ago, when the various parts of this (now very large) book began being published.
It is set in Essex County, a rural, agricultural part of Southern Ontario, a four hour drive from Toronto and just outside of Windsor, the border town and former auto-industry hub where my lover’s parents live.
So what this means is that I have been to many of the places and landscapes depicted in this book
Obviously, my lover’s parents live in a city and they are not farmers, but having been in that part of the country and that part of the continent, having driven there myself from the city a couple of times and having been in car journeys and train journeys there more than once I recognise the flatness and the barrenness of this very fertile part of the world.
This book isn’t about the city of Windsor and the collapse of its automotive industry (it’s just across the Detroit River from Detroit and the city’s finances and history has always been very tied to that famously post-industrial location)-
Essex County (the book, the comics series) is about a farming community, it’s about these people who live from the land and who live over the land who live outside of-
who still live “a more traditional life” (in inverted commas), the lifestyle of a “real” farmer any time from 30 to 200 years ago.
Of course if you go back much farther than that then the land would have been stewarded by the indigenous peoples of the region.
There isn’t really any exploration of colonialism in this text
in fact there is almost a pre-“postcolonial” idea of “stasis” exhibited by the beginning and the continuation of the narrative in the text.
In Lemire’s Essex County the farms have “always been there”, the land has “always been there”, [ice] hockey has “always been there”, Christianity has “always been there”, westernized methods of extractive agriculture and empty education have “always been there” and Toronto has “always been there” as the Chekhovian Moscow (which it kind of still is to some of my lovers’ acquaintances/friends I have met in city where her parents live.
But aside from it’s generally objectionable attitude towards land as something to be exploited and turned into produce, into capital-
But beyond the objectionable ideological premise, Lemire tells incredibly engaging stories of these small town lives, he explores grief and death and childhood and ageing and mourning and responsibility and failure to live up to one’s own potential and engage with oneself in a satisfying and honest open manner.
The characters cover the last 100 years or so there are orphans in a rural orphanage, there are semi-professional ice hockey players who then never do anything again, there’s a lot of bah
it looks like a pretty unsatisfying and unhappy place to live.
I’m from a small town where nothing happens to you and honestly I don’t trust anyone born in one of these places who doesn’t do whatever they can to get out
Alan Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance (2009)
This is a story by Alan Moore adapted into a comic by Anthony Johnston, whoever that is, with artwork by Felipe Massafera.
It’s about how television is like a god, yeah.
It’s overwritten tbh and I hope the story itself predates the comic by a couple of decades, as the ideas it explores are very 1980s and so if Moore was cracking this out in 2009 I will have to temper my vague enthusiasm for eventually reading some of his prose works, which I so far haven’t done.
The pictures I can’t imagine add much, the text is verbose and Beckettian (I mean that as an insult), while lamely Gainanesque in their insight and intelligence.
Anything was going to suffer after Essex County, I suppose, but Alan Moore’s name on a book is normally a guarantee of quality. This time, alas, it isn’t.
Raid.one edited by Rob Coughler and Ramón K Pérez (2017)
RAID is a Toronto based collective of illustrators, designers, writers etc who work together (and apart) to create Canadian and international comic books.
This anthology, produced in 2017 after the collectuve had existed for fifteen years, brings together 10 or 11 eight page comics, some of which are cohesive, stand alone pieces (including a gorgeous, bleak, depiction of purgatory called ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors (by Kyle James Smith and Gabe Sapienza); a near-harrowing piece about post-apocalyptic, zero gravity rag and bone men finding a sealed, pressurised box with a living human trapped inside; an embarrassingly sleazily-drawn piece about a naked moon worshipper murdering an ogre; and a clichéd – but not unenjoyable – piece about a despised beggar who is secretly a powerful warrior in disguise.
The quality of presentation i.e. paper size, depth of colour and the artwork itself, is very impressive, and it’s no surprise that many of the creators included get regular work with famous and international comics publishers. Tho it also makes clear why most of them have writers when they do so.
It’s a fun collection and obviously it’s good to support local independent presses and artistic endeavours, but of the almost twenty contributors included here, there’s only one whose work I’m even slightly tempted to look up afterwards, which isn’t really a resounding scream of praise.
Back to some “real books” next. Or maybe not.
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