Lemire’s Lines and Other Summer Wrinkles


The past few weeks have been unusually crazy for me, I haven't been in town at all, which has made it impossible for me to get my books, and I feel, honestly really disconnected from what is going on in comics.  I was at Isotope last week looking over the week's issues and I felt terrible feeling of "oh man I am way too behind, I will never catch up"–but this article, I promise, won't be about not reading comics.  (Indeed, I caught up with iFanboy writer Ryan Haupt, who quipped that my articles have been all my not reading comics!)  
It's good to get some space, of course, but usually you want that space.  I don't. I look at the Pick of the Week podcasts collecting in iTunes and I am like, "Oh, man, that's out? Sweet!" and I hope, desperately, that my comic book store will somehow know to pick that up for me. Of course, it might be easier to get a comic book store that isn't a half hour from where I live and easily an hour from where I work, but that's another issue entirely! 
So, when I was falling asleep, having my inevitable panic of what I was going to write about today, I figured I would just discuss what's actually happening with my reading and assorted realizations.  Maybe you can relate.
First off, I need to talk about the trade I am reading now. This past weekend I was at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, which, for me, is a level of hell that Dante forgot to write about. You see, I am a lousy shopper: I hate selection.  I vastly prefer a store that has 3 pairs of jeans, a few shirts, and a couple pairs of shoes. I don't like to dig, for the most part.  Back issues, that's one thing–that's important, dammit–but when it comes to general shopping, especially when it's hot and most of the stuff around you just looks like junk from someone else's move, I fail. Miserably. But I wanted to check out the flea market because it's supposed to be big and huge and an institution and all that, so I went.  Imagine my surprise, then when I saw the "Comics and Collectibles" sign, pointing, wonderfully, to an underground cavern!  Heaven!
The showroom resembled the shopping area in a particularly anemic Star Trek convention, but I didn't mind; San Diego is coming next month, and I wasn't really expecting to find anything I wanted, but I was pleasantly surprised to get a copy of The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire. I am sure there are several of you out there who have already read this book, but, for whatever reason, I just haven't read it yet, despite the iFanboy crew's hardiest recommendations.  I am about a third of the way through this 512 page tome, and I must say, I am entranced. Lemire's work is somewhat new to me–I have been reading Sweet Tooth in issues but am rapidly deciding to wait for it in trade, thanks to this compilation, I think it will read a lot better–and, honestly, I have been on the fence with him, but this book has really opened my eyes and helped me come to my first realization: I am starting to like art that makes me somewhat uncomfortable.
What do I mean by "uncomfortable"?  Really, it all comes down to the character design, line quality and camera angles. Lemire's work has this almost queasy feeling–like, the faces…they represent more than inhabit, feelings.  That sounds strange and pretentious, I know, but Lemire's characters tend to look straight to the camera much of the time, which makes for some particularly haunting shots, especially in Sweet Tooth.  His characters in both books are incredibly isolated and alone, haunted by fears of the unknown and seemingly incapable of managing when left to their own devices. I talked about the feeling of dread I had when thinking about reading Walking Dead, this is the same kind of thing. Essex County has been really incredible so far, with Lemire's use of..well, what–third party materials? That's not right.  When the character shares a comic with another comic, Lemire shows you those pages, as if you were the one given that book.  The same thing happened in book two, when the protagonist reads a scrapbook: suddenly we are leafing through those old pages with that character, we are sharing the same experience.  Incredible move, really.  Kind of blows my mind, how well he executes that simple, yet incredibly effective device.  Oftentimes, the materials are actually a bit more rich, offer more detail, then Lemire's regular art, which adds another dimension to the book.
But it's really Lemire's crazy style of drawing (and inking) that stick with me. I have to say, I don't think the comic book fan that I was a decade ago would have been able to deal with his art. I vastly preferred much more straight-ahead superhero art, or, at least, actual color art.  I guess tastes change. I think about other books with art that is just…different, where the art form is as much as part of the book as the story is, that is, the book itself would feel fundamentally different if another artist drew it.  I already referenced Eddie Campbell's art in From Hell, but there are other books, like I Kill Giants–impossible to imagine that story without J.M. Ken Nimura's sketchy art.  These artists use simple lines to create complex experiences, and, oftentimes, I find myself remembering their work much more clearly, with a deeper emotional connection, than more popular artists.
I was going through my stack and realized that Whitney has not really checked out Power Girl, though she really liked Amanda Connor's sketches at Wondercon earlier this year. So, I did what we have all done: I handed her a comic book.  This act (and second realization)…this ability to take a book and share it with someone, is an experience that is beginning to change.  (I hate using that word, "experience," to describe that act, but bear with me.) I love sitting down next to someone and going through the pages with another person, exploring the pages with a newbie.  I had a similar experience when the Wednesday Comics trade arrived at my desk.  I had many a co-worker stop by my book to get a look at this massive-and-I-mean-massive volume.  There was just a certain thrill people were getting as they went through those pages. The scale made me think that this might have been what it was like when we were tiny little kids going through large picture books, you know? Like, this book fills your field of vision, these pages become your surroundings.
Though I have admitted that comics look great on an iPad (and they do), I honestly think that when you have someone over and they are curious about comics, I bet you'll be more likely to take them to your bookshelf rather than grabbing the tablet from your coffee table. Nothing inspires exploration like a bookshelf filled with trades, big and small. One of the first things I unpacked when we moved into our new place was get all of my trades and throw them into the bookshelf in the corner–it looks awesome.  The feel of the books, the size, the weight..the smell–we'll always enjoy these aspects of the physical book, you know? We'll always desire them.   I hope that Wednesday Comics proves to be a fantastic seller for DC — it's a perfectly awesome holiday gift — and they do the whole program again. I can see getting your work included in an edition of Wednesday Comics prove to be a real status-maker in the comics industry.  Given the pedigree of the first volume, I think it already has.
My third realization is that I am really intimidated, as silly as that sounds, at the idea of diving back into the weekly comic realm.  Yes, I realize this is what Ryan was chiding me for last week, but I admit it–it's a lot to get back into! I think the key for me is to really force myself to get into the shop more regularly, because, as exciting as it is to leave the shop with forty books, at some point you actually have to read these things, and that can be overwhelming.  Still, it's a good problem to have, this variety.  It's not even..it's not even the money or the quantity of books, to be honest. It's really more like figuring just how much I want to care about particular storylines, you know?  And I think this is just another result of having so many storylines end over the past few months.  Like, we all went through the ringer with the Blackest NightSiege, and New Krypton storylines.  Like, we should get a rest, you know?  The Heroic Age could really have opened with a bunch of issue 0's where everyone is hanging out at the pool and figuring out their new costume designs or something(issues would have to be 25¢, of course). I mean, that's what I feel like doing, I tell you what!
Honestly, I think I just need a vacation so I can grab all the books that I have been waiting to read and just enjoy comics again, instead of trying to catch up before I fall asleep each night.  That's cool–I am working on that.  Until then, I just feel very fortunate that I can go on iFanboy and keep up with what's happening, so at least I can keep abreast of the news and goings on, until I find that beach chair and associated margarita and get back on board.  I know there are good stories happening, and I know I am missing out on stuff, but I also know that my I have a pull list that being added to each week, and, when I am ready for the madness of superhero books, they'll be waiting for me.
In the meantime, I think I am going to take my time with Essex County and really savor Wednesday Comics.  I am getting a lot out of Lemire's pacing, not to mention I am learning a whole lot about growing up on a farm and playing hockey, two things I have no experience with at all, and, honestly, I never actually finished Wednesday Comics when I was getting it in single issues.   Ah, the lazy days of summer.  
See ya in seven!


  1. mike–i really agree with you and can relate to what you were saying about being all about the Superhero stuff and moving towards stuff like Essex county. A couple of years ago i would have completely dismissed it but now i just love it. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it gets away of a lot of the predictability of superhero stuff? For me Lemire is the total package. His art is unique and engaging combined with great storytelling and dialog that is enjoyable. Its fun to read and hard to put down. I actually see his art evolving away from what he was doing with Essex county and wish he’d recapture some of that magic. 

    I really hope Wednesday comics gets another volume. Its one of the most exciting things to happen to mainstream comics in a long time. 

  2. Lemire’s art reminds me of Kent Williams who did a lot of stuff for Epic Comics which I read as a kid. Artists like Bill Sienkiewicz, Jon J. Muth, John Bolton and Mike Mignola really helped me appreciate the art in comics. Sometimes a thick brush stroke can create mood and atmosphere or just express emotion better than words can and artists like Lemire really show that. I’m really glad I listened to the iFanboy guys and picked this up last Fall. All three stories are great, but the 2nd story is especially wonderful and had me (yes) in tears.

  3. @Romo – First off, I just want to say I really enjoy reading about your more personal experiences of, or sometimes lack thereof, of comic book reading. 

    In all seriousness though, you bring a unique perspective to the ifanboy table.  I can always relate to your articles in some way.  In this particular case, I can relate to the general idea you speak of, but the specifics, for me, are the exact opposite.

    To make what could be a very long and convoluted story short:  I had for a very long time, been drawn to the non-superhero stuff, but then I took the leap of faith into super hero comics with Invincible and then Savage Dragon.  Those comics opened my eyes to the power of classic super hero goodness in the modern age of comics and they are now two of my favorite books. Super hero or not!

    I still read less super hero books than non, but because of those two specific titles I am much, much more apt to pick up more super hero books on a regular basis.  As you might expect, most of the time I am very pleasantly surprised with the reading experiences.

    The point of all this is to say that I am totally with you on your perspective from a general comics reading and appreciation level, but I revel in the thought that the terms and specifics of perspective come from opposite angles.




  4. so, about the flea market thing, eh?