Tales From The Farm by Jeff Lemire

Categories:  Reviews

Essex County Vol. 1: Tales From the Farm
By Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf

Jeff LemireLester is an anti-hero. Not in the gun-wielding, broad-banging, I’m-turning-in-my-badge-chief, sort of way we’ve come to know and quickly tire of over the past three decades or so, but rather one who, despite the best intentions, fails to attain his own self-imposed terms of heroism at each and every turn.

Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a 10-year-old boy, stuck on a farm without superpowers, in the bleakly flat surroundings of Essex County, Ontario. Maybe it has something to do with the once-a-month comics-run down at the gas station, a few miles away, instilling uattainable ideas of superheroics for a dollar and change a pop.

Whatever it may be, Tales From the Farm plays out like a melancholy parallel to the old Superman origin story, forever ingrained in our collective psyche. Despite never removing his cape and mask, during the chronological duration of the book, Lester’s heroic feats are few and far between, taking a backseat to far more person issues: the recent death of his mother and coping with a new life living on a farm with his uncle.

What fantastical feats he does engage in, are as much a manifestation of personal pain as the literal mask he hides behind, as kids on taunt him with names like ‘Super-Faggot,’ and he withdraws further and further from his well-meaning uncle. Then there’s the harsh realities of life on the farm: from the monotony of daily chores to the slaughter of livestock.

Lester’s only companion, befriended over the course of the book, is Jim (the Huck Finn allusions are tough to avoid), an employee of the nearby gas station, an ex-hockey player, injured during his only professional game; left a bit slower and worse for the wear, because of it. He insists that he isn’t slow, and that the night of his injury wasn’t so bad—after all, he did score a goal in the first half.

Suffice to say, Jeff Lemire’s first volume of stories from Essex County is hardly fodder for the Ontario tourists board, nor is made of the stuff of mainstream superhero books. What Tales From the Farm is, however, is one of the most bleakly realistic portraits of childhood to appear in the medium in a long while. The book is the work of a subtly skillful storyteller as adept at telling stories through panels with dialogue as those without, the latter best conveying the book’s sparse landscape.

There’s a moral to be had here, too, of course. One about heroes, about growing up and moving on. No story starring a 10-year-old boy in a cape would be complete without it. Lemire’s lesson is not heavy-handed—well, not too heavy handed—and of course it has to wait until after Lester has finished off battling those evil alien hoards.

–Brian Heater

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