Ontario-based cartoonist Jeff Lemire is the award-winning creator of the Essex County Trilogy (Tales From the Farm, Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse) and Lost Dogs. Essex County, Lemire’s beautiful story about hockey, family, and rural Ontario life, is being collected into a hardcover edition later this year.
Despite his affinity for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jeff Lemire is one of my favourite comic creators right now. I love his distinctive thick-lined artwork and his ability to create powerful emotions using very quiet storytelling (I have cried real tears while reading his books). Lemire was recently drafted to the big leagues, with an all-new hardcover book, The Nobody, being released by Vertigo today. He will also be writing and drawing a new ongoing series for Vertigo starting in September called Sweet Tooth. I did a little interview with Jeff to find out more.
Can you describe what The Nobody is about in your own words?
The Nobody takes the protagonist from HG Wells’ The Invisible Man novel and reimagines him in a modern small fishing village. It’s about paranoia and rural clausterphobia and how outsiders are drawn together.
The Essex County trilogy was, I think, an amazing accomplishment. The storytelling was beautiful, and I actually had tears in my eyes when I finished reading the second book. Is The Nobody going to be a major departure from the Essex County series, or do you think there will be elements that readers will recognize from your previous work?
After finishing with Essex County I needed to try something new. Those books were obviously deeply personal, and drew from a lot of my own life. I wanted to do something a bit darker, a bit pulpier and a bit more genre-based. So, in a way The Nobody is almost the flipside of what I was exploring in Essex County. While those books looked at what pulls rural communities together, while The Nobody looks at what can tear them apart. But, having said that it still has the same earmarks and storytelling style of EC.
A lot of your work, including your upcoming Vertigo projects, is set in small towns or rural areas. What is it about these settings that appeals to you?
I just think that 99% of movies and comics are set in New York or a New York-like big city. There are so many others stories to be told, so why not explore smaller town and bring other perspectives to the table. Also, on a visual level open fields are easier to draw than buildings. (kidding)
One of my favourite things about Essex County is how Canadian it is. I know that your upcoming series, Sweet Tooth, is set in America, but it has a Canadian look to it, if that makes sense. How important do you think it is for Canadian creators to tell Canadian stories?
Very important. This is a rich and beautiful country full of diversity and character. I love mining it for my stories. Plus, I write and draw what I see and know. And both Vertigo books are not officially set in Canada, but unofficially they are to me. Sweet Tooth starts off in Nebraska. I chose that because it looks the most like southwestern Ontario.
I am really looking forward to reading your ongoing series, Sweet Tooth. Is this the first time you have told a story in serialized issues?
Yes it is, it was a challenge to try and maintain my style and voice and still cram it into 22 page chunks, but I think I’ve made the transition successfully.
I am guessing, given where you are from, that you are a Maple Leafs fan. Does that make it hard to get up in the morning?
It makes it very, very hard. But I have hope, because without hope you’re just a Senators fan.