Essex County is a fantastic collection of stories by Canadian artist Jeff Lemire about a fictitious group of people in the Lemire’s real hometown in Ontario. Lemire has a very interesting graphic style and line work that manages to simultaneously be expressive and legible. He has a very odd way of portraying people but it’s handled well. Each character has a specific personality in the small community, intensified by the tight-knit social settings of a small community before any real technology or communications. Like an opera, Lemire’s characters are archetypes of their individual professions. The story explores several decades of several lives within the country, all centered on a precocious and imaginative boy who is trying to figure out his past.
It’s a dramatic story but it’s not heavy-handed at all. In fact, it’s quite engaging and the story arc is natural. The drawing is minimalist but fantastic and Lemire manages to control a wavy line that sets an overall visual tone for the graphic side of it, which inevitably enhances the drama of the story without the reader’s being conscious of it. For story it’s up there with Spiegleman’s work, but the drawing is a lot better.
A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. (Drawn & Quarterly) $29.95
A Drifting Life is a comic autobiography by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It’s quite unreadable after its first hundred pages as Tatsumi outlines every single incident of his young life. His experience with his brother (who is better at drawing but terminally ill) is presented with the dryness and cold objectivity of a BBC news report. Perhaps it is Tatsumi’s status a major literary force in Japan that’s given him leeway to publish such a tedious book, of interest, I would imagine, primarily to those readers already acquainted with his work. It’s the Dr. Zhivago of autobiographies.
Having myself not engaged with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s other published works and knowing little of his role in the history of manga, it’s tough to pass a harsh judgment on A Drifting Life. And it’s also possible that the Japanese original is more engaging and the translator should be fired, as the English captioning is often stilted and clumsy. Still, if you’re a first-timer looking to explore Tatsumi’s works, you might want to turn to a different publication.