I met Jeff Lemire during the MoCCA festival last summer at the Top Shelf booth, and bought a copy of his "Essex County Volume 1: Tales From The Farm" graphic novel on the spot.
This week the sequel, "Tales From The Farm Volume 2: Ghost Stories," is coming out & to mark the occasion I thought an interview with the Canadian artist might be in order. And don't forget to check out the six-page preview of "Ghost Stories" at the end of the article!
OS: What was your first professional comic book gig?
JL: Five pages of Beowulf, from the now defunct Speakeasy Comics (for which I was never paid!)
OS: There is a very memoir-like feel to "Tales From The Farm." Is the book at all autobiographical?
JL: I grew up in the "real" Essex County, on a farm much like the characters in my books. The settings are very much real, but the characters, plots and themes are mostly fictional.
OS: There seems to be a Jack Kirby-like influence in the design of the character "Jimmy" -- he seems almost reminiscent of "Rocky" from "Challengers of the Unknown." Were you a fan of Kirby's work?
JL: Wow, I never thought about the Kirby-look of Jimmy before. It's funny, at the time I wrote and drew Tales I wasn't really into Kirby. I was always more of a DC Silver age fan, Kubert, Infantino and Kane. But recently I have started to look at more Kirby. So, no at the time Jimmy wasn't directly influenced by the King, but I can totally see it in the big blocky fingers etc...I guess Kirby's shadow is so big that as a comic artist you're standing in it even when you don't realize you are.
OS: Was the comic book that Lester drew in "Tales From The Farm" a real book you drew as a child?
JL: Yeah, I drew that when I was 8 or nine years old, I found it around the time I was working on Tales and wrote it into the book. I have a couple of other comics I did around that time, a lot of them are my own version of DC's original Who's Who series, which I was obsessed with as a kid. If Top Shelf ever does a collected version of the Essex County books, maybe I can include more of "Lester's" work in the bonus features.
OS: "Tales From The Farm" seems to be a book about defining the real "heroes" in one's life. What is your definition or example of a hero?
JL: Anyone who does what they love, and does it for their own sake, and not by anyone else's agenda. Weather it be a musician, comic artist, athlete, doctor, plumber, farmer ...whatever.
OS: Would you ever try your hand at drawing a mainstream superhero comic, given the opportunity? If so, which character would you like to draw?
JL: I would absolutely love to draw and write a mainstream comic for Marvel or DC. I would love to take a crack at Hellblazer, The Unknown Soldier, Green Lantern, Captain America. As I said, I love all the old silver and bronze age DC stuff.
OS: How has been your experience working for Top Shelf? Do you feel they have supported your vision on this project?
JL: Chris Staros and Brett Warnok at Top Shelf have been incredible. They are the most generous guys I could ever want to work with. They create a real family like feel at shows and whenever we get together. I've made a lot of new friends among other Top Shelfers like Jeffrey Brown, Matt Kindt, David Yurkivich. They have been nothing but supportive of by work, and letting me do what I want.
OS: Your new book, out this month, is called "Ghost Stories." It is titled as Volume 2 of the "Essex County" series, of which "Tales From The Farm" is Volume 1. Are both stories related -- do the characters exist in the same general space? And can you tells us something about "Ghost Stories?"
JL: Ghost Stories is the 2nd in a trilogy of books all set in Essex County, this fictionalized version of my own hometown. The characters all interconnect and the books all tie together thematically. Ghost Stories follows the lives of Jimmy's Grandfather and Great Uncle as they go to play hockey in Toronto in the 1950's right up until there last days as old men on the farm.
OS: What's next for you after "Ghost Stories?"
JL: I am currently working on the third volume of the Trilogy "The Country Nurse". I should be done drawing it before Christmas, for a 2008 release. I am writing my next graphic novel as well, which I will start drawing in 2008 for an eventual release with Top Shelf. I'm also pitching another sci-fi project with Noel Tuazon (Elk's Run) around, we'll see what happens.
OS: Thanks for the interview, Jeff!
You can purchase "Tales From The Farm: Ghost Stories" at your book store or comic speciality shop or order it direct from Top Shelf Comix here.
Preview Starts Here! (click for larger image)