Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Indy Spotlight: Jeff Lemire

One year and three days ago, I recommended Jeff Lemire's last book, Lost Dogs. It surprised me with its quality. This year, I'm recommending Lemire's follow-up: Tales from the Farm. It's a better, more mature work, with cleaner (though still expressionistic) linework, and a more deeply resonant story.

What Lemire does best, in both of his graphic novels, is develop simple but powerful relationships. Both works have focused primarily on the connection between an older man and a youngster. Both works have explored rural, working-class settings. Both works have displayed a quiet power, both within the characters and within the storytelling itself.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once stated something to the effect that anyone under thirty looks to the future and anyone over thirty looks to the past. In Lemire's comic book worlds, that maxim seems true, with an underlying sense of imagination and fantasy. His characters don't just think about the future or the past, they romanticize it to an almost dangerous degree, but their fantasies protect them from realities that may be too difficult to face, similar to the way Gatsby adopted a new persona to recapture the illusion of the past. Like Fitzgerald's, Lemire's characters need their imaginations to survive, especially in Tales from the Farm. And because they do not confront traditional reality as we know it, they are misunderstood and find companionship and strength only in each other.

Unlike Fitzgerald, Lemire is not cynical about any of this. His characters are not destroted by the harsh reality which they attempt to avoid. Instead, the fantasy world bleeds into their provincial lives, and the ending swerves in an unexpected direction. I'm rarely surprised by a comic book story anymore, but Lemire took Tales from the Farm in a direction I didn't anticipate, and I look forward to seeing what he's going to do next.

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