This first volume in Jeff Lemire's graphic novel trilogy Tales from Essex County sets a high mark with powerful writing and moving artwork. After losing his mother to cancer ten-year-old Lester moves in with his Uncle Ken, a gruff and solitary bachelor who owns and works a small farm in rural Ontario, Canada. Ken tries his best to reach out to Lester but can’t relate to this weird little boy who wears a super-hero cape all day and prefers reading comics to watching hockey on television. Lester spends most all his time by himself escaping into a rich, super-powered fantasy life until he makes friends with the least likely of characters: Jimmy, a disgraced pro hockey player who now runs the convenience store at the local gas station.
Jimmy enters Lester’s imaginary world by helping him build a fort to stave off an alien invasion and encouraging him to write and draw his own comic book. The bond that grows between the two helps both Lester and Jimmy move beyond the tragedies life gave them. Lemire’s writing---with its spare, tight dialogue---really nails that complicated mixture of anger and sadness that comes with losing a parent. His artwork is equally effective, its rough and chunky lines powerfully recreating the solitary nature of farm life and Lester’s vivid imagination.
There are a number of similiarites in theme and concept to Hornschemeier's Mother Come Home, but Lemire shifts the focus almost completely on Lester's inner struggle to overcome his sadness at being left behind.
The book certainly has an indie feel; it deals with a serious subject and uses artwork that's well outside the norm of daily strips and super-hero comics. In fact, it's probably one of the better matches between artwork and story I've seen in a good while. But a lot of indie titles get too racy or complex for teens, especially younger teens. They will get this book, though. Teens and adults will both love the humor in Lester’s odd imagination and even more love the heart of this book a powerful look at tragedy and how to move on after it strikes.