The Indie Corner: Jeff Lemire

Published on April 15th, 2013

Hello my lovely adoring public and welcome back to the Indie Corner with Matt Dunford. If you don’t know me I’m Matt Dunford, connoisseur of all things comics, and if you are familiar me then I’m so sorry for your misfortune. Here in the Indie Corner I get to talk about comics that aren’t published by Marvel and DC. Now that you’re backed into a corner, (The Indie Corner to be precise) we shall begin the festivities.


The focus of this article is on Jeff Lemire. You mean the guy who writes Green Arrow, Animal Man, Superboy, Justice League Dark and Constantine? Yes, that one. While Mr. Lemire has written his fair share of great superhero books for DC the bulk of his better projects comes creator owned work where he both writes and draws. So without further delay let’s talk about the indie comics of Jeff Lemire.

SweetToothSweet Tooth

My introduction to Jeff Lemire’s work came from a Vertigo series by the name of Sweet Tooth. I remember that fateful Wednesday in September of 2009 when I was picking up my books for the week, already a massive stack of comics in my hand when I gazed upon a weird looking comic from the Vertigo line by the name of Sweet Tooth. I didn’t recognize the name Jeff Lemire and the art style of a kid with antlers eating a candy bar was wasn’t exactly to my artistic tastes but I decided to pick up this comic because it sported a $1 price tag. Purchasing that weird looking $1 comic turned out to be one of the smartest choices of my comic reading life. Sweet Tooth is a story of a post apocalyptic world populated by a group of human/animal hybrids, these hybrids range from all sorts of animal traits from birds, cows, wolves, etc. The remaining members of the human race are dying of a mysterious plague. The main character of Sweet Tooth is a young human/deer hybrid named Gus who lives by himself in the middle of the woods and is relatively untouched by the events that are going in the outside world until two men enter the forest attempt to hunt him down only to find themselves dead at the hands of a mysterious badass by the name of Tommy Jeppard. After Jeppard rescues Gus from the would-be killers they begin traveling together to a place known as “The Preserve” where the hybrids are said to live a life of peace. Along the way Gus and Jeppard meet new enemies, make new friends, lose friends and fight for their lives in a desperate world. So we have a world gone bad, people fighting for their survival, weird mutants and a plague that is killing slowly killing the world and adding others survivors to their group, sounds just like every other post apocalyptic story ever right? Sweet Tooth isn’t about running from freaks and searching for food (though there is a bit of that here and there) but it’s about boy who has lost everything and a man with nothing left to lose. But what sets Sweet Tooth apart from the other post apocalyptic stories is that Sweet Tooth actually engages the reader by revealing the details of how the plague occurred. One of the biggest issues I have with other post apocalyptic stories is that often times the cause is never explained or when an explanation is given it never lives up to the expectation. Sweet Tooth on the other hand is 100% post apocalyptic payoff, little by little the reveals start happening and they actually make you much more interested the story as it keeps progressing. It is really hard to praise the ongoing plot of Sweet Tooth without spoiling much of the story, but I can say that for 40 issues straight it never misses a beat no other comic has ever made me shocked me time and time again like Sweet Tooth.

Essex County

EssexCountyAt the 2010 San Diego Comic Con I was walking away from a trashy yet delicious dinner at Kansas City Barbeque when I ran into none other than Jeff Lemire. This was a great opportunity to tell him how much I loved Sweet Tooth and how he was going to sweep the Eisner Awards the next night, which he responded by “Thanks, so you liked Sweet Tooth and Essex County that much?” Then comes the awkward moment when I had to tell him that I had only read Sweet Tooth but not Essex County. As a gesture of kindness he invited me to swing by the Top Shelf book the next day to pick up a copy the book that got him noticed by the comicbook industry. So in the days following Comic-Con I sat down with a big hardcover of Essex County but I never imagined it hit me so hard. I used to think that Blankets was the definitive tearjerker graphic novel, until I read Essex County. Essex County is a trilogy that tells stories about a young boy, two brothers and a nurse whose stories occurring over the course of a century and how they are connected to form the Essex County Trilogy. The first story starts off humbly enough with a young boy named Lester who lives on a farm with his uncle Ken. Lester’s mother died of cancer the previous year and he never knew his father, and his uncle Ken is inexperienced with kids and has no idea how to relate to him. So Lester finds an escape from his world in superhero comics given to him by a gas station clerk named Jimmy who is a former pro NHL player with a form of mental retardation caused by a head injury sustained during a hockey game. Due to Jimmy’s slow mental state Lester finds him easier to relate to than his distant uncle. In this first chapter of the trilogy Lemire demonstrates the child/youth bond that would later be seen in Sweet Tooth. Lester needs someone to relate to and Jimmy came in to be the only friend that Lester has, although Jimmy isn’t the best role model and it brings up a conflict with Uncle Ken. The second story in the Essex County Trilogy is about an old man named Lou who is beginning to experience senility, but still can reflect on the his younger days as a hockey player alongside his brother Vince. Lou starts off playing minor league hockey for a year until his Vince joins him in the big city a year later. Vince and Lou are happy and quite successful in the minor leagues but what kept the brothers distant is Vince’s girlfriend and a night she shared with Lou. After reading the entire Essex County trilogy I was really touched and deeply saddened for all of the problems that these characters endured over the years. All of them share a family connection but are driven apart by betrayal, accidents and insecurities. But those betrayals, accidents and insecurities are the things that unite them in this connected story. Essex County is the work that put Jeff Lemire on the map. Essex County was Eisner nominated for Best Graphic Album 2008 and Best Reprint Graphic Album 2010. It won the Joe Shuster Award, The American Library Association’s Alex Award, The Doug Wright Award and even made the Top 5 Best Novels for Canada Reads in 2011 (even I was stunned when Essex County beat out Life of Pi in the top 10). The Essex County Trilogy is available from Top Shelf Productions and I highly recommend it if you want a great tearjerker.

TheNobodyThe Nobody

The Nobody is an original graphic novel by written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire. This story is Lemire’s person twist on The Invisible Man. The Nobody opens in a small town called Large Mouth with a population of 754 people when suddenly a man named John Griffen whose entire body is wrapped in bandages appears in the small fishing town. John Griffen checks into the local motel and the whole town starts gossiping about him. Who is this man? Is he a wanted criminal? Is he a burn victim? They throw around their theories until Griffen shows up for a meal at the local diner, there a 16-year old waitress named Vickie takes it upon herself to learn about John Griffen. Vickie called it her “personal obsession” to learn everything she can about the mysterious stranger who in a dark room through the day and night scribbling chemical equations. What really appeals to me about The Nobody is that it is pure mystery throughout the entire story. This shows just how versatile Lemire is as a writer from such a stark contrast. Sweet Tooth raises many questions and answers them while The Nobody raises many questions and answers none of them. But despite not answering the questions raised in this story The Nobody is just as powerful and emotional as the other works he has produced, the end result is satisfaction in the mystery.

The Underwater Welder

TheUnderwaterWelderThe most recent indie work by Jeff Lemire is The Underwater Welder. In the past few years Lemire’s works have been snubbed by the Eisner Awards but I really think that he’s got Best Graphic Album in the bag this year for The Underwater Welder. The underwater welder could just be Jeff Lemire’s masterpiece. Like most of his works it features a main character in a small town with a feeling of isolation. The main character of The Underwater Welder is a man named Jack Joseph who lives in a small town off the in Nova Scotia where he works as a welder for an offshore oilrig. Jack has a relatively normal life, a steady day job a wife with a child on the way but things start taking a turn when Jack realizes how his life has begun to mirror his father’s who was an offshore diver and disappeared mysteriously during a storm. Jack never experienced any closure from his father’s death and he begins to experience psychological issues that begin to exact their toll on his wife Susan. The psychological trauma he has experienced worsens when Jack begins a shift welding pipes at the seafloor and begins to have visions of his father. What I enjoy most about The Underwater Welder is that how it becomes something the reader doesn’t expect, you come in thinking it is another coming of age family story and then you are hit with a tale that feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone. It is a great story because (forgive the pun) has so much depth and really goes down to the core of Jack Joseph to his life, his problems and how he confronts those problems. Reading through this story a few times you discover new details, I can say that I stayed up at night interpreting the story’s moral in every which way. The Underwater Welder will make you think about family, it will make you sad, and it will blow your mind.

The things I love most about Jeff Lemire stories are the suspense and mystery he crafts into every tale and just keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning, middle and end. Now there are some people, who don’t like his artwork, and admittedly it is a very rough and unrefined style but there is no denying that he is a gifted storyteller. The way he lays out panels and sequences is a cinematic style and you get immersed into the story and the next thing you know the issue is over and you want more. Personally I think that type of immersion is the most important element of any story, to be taken away to a post apocalyptic world of animal hybrids, a small county is southern Canada, a snowed fishing town or an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia, Jeff Lemire has no trouble at all capturing the reader into worlds he has crafted. Of course I enjoy Lemire’s superhero work but there is so much more power to the tales he illustrates on his own, they are so much more personal and imaginative. The personality is the best what sets Jeff Lemire apart from the rest, sure more than often it’s a small town story but he knows how to keep the reader hooked. So if you haven’t checked out these stories I highly recommend that you pick them up, they are all so rewarding to read and are genuinely entertaining.


Right now my most anticipated comic of 2013 is Trillium which will be written and drawn by Jeff Lemire though all I know is that it will be a sci-fi love story I can hardly wait to read it. Thank you so much for reading; once again I’m Matt Dunford for Comic Impact.

 Uncle Dunfy