Essex County and the Lens of Memory

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

After stumbling upon Jeff Lemire’s “The Underwater Welder”, I then sought out Essex County”, his widely praised 2009 graphic novel about life across several generations in a small county in rural Ontario.  Wow!  What a masterfully written (and drawn) elegy about the power and frailties of memory and personal connections.  Highly recommended.

Essex County -- Jimmy Used To Be A Good Hockey Player

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Essex County -- I've Been Here Before

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Essex County -- Playing Hockey

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

The Underwater Welder

As I’ve recently mentioned, I’ve been checking out what’s worth reading when it comes to Canadian graphic novels.  As part of that winding exploration,  I stumbled across Jeff Lemire’s The Underwater Welder, which was published in 2012 by  Top Shelf Productions (right here in Atlanta).  Lemire, who lives in Toronto, is an award-winning writer and illustrator whose previous works include the highly acclaimed  Essex County and Sweet Tooth.


Through the fascinating story told between these covers, Lemire showcases the best in the literary graphic novel form.  The Underwater Welder offers a glimpse of Jack Joseph, an oil rig welder in Nova Scotia, and his search for meaning in his life as he and his wife await the birth of their first child and he struggles with ambivalent memories of his father, who died years earlier in a diving accident off the nearby shore.   With masterful storytelling complemented by his creative graphics — drawn from many vantage points and skillfully using flashbacks,  scene blurring and other innovative techniques — Lemire touches eloquently upon the themes of memory, loss, parent-child bonds, relationships, love and purpose.


In an introduction for the book, noted television writer and producer, Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek, etc.), likens Lemire’s story to an episode of The Twilight Zone and that is certainly one way of approaching this well executed tale.  However, unlike with what might be expected of a typical Twilight Zone sketch, the ending in The Underwater Welder is not discordant but instead signals a note of grace.   Lindelof’s praise for Lemire includes this amusing, good-natured observation:  “I am deeply threatened by Jeff’s creativity, a fact mitigated only partially by the fact that he is Canadian and thus, inherently non-threatening.”

More information on The Underwater Welder, Lemire and his other outstanding works can be found on his blog here.


Canada at War: A Graphic History of WWII

Canada At War

I’ve long been a fan of graphic novels as both an art form and literary form.  Over the past decade, it seems that graphic novels as a genre have come into their own and are no longer dismissively regarded as just comics for grownups.  I like them as much for the elements of creativity that a well done volume can bring to telling a story as well as for their being excellent reflections of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  So a couple of weeks ago my curiosity sent me in search of graphic novels either about Canada or by Canadian authors.  Unsurprisingly, given the many other contributions of Canadians to the culture of popular entertainment, there appear to be a fair number of such graphic novels.  In particular, Canada boasts the quite prolific graphic artists Seth (a/k/a Gregory Gallant), who has released several acclaimed graphic novels in recent years, including It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken (1996), George Sprott (2009) and The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (2011), and Scott Chantler, whose works include Northwest Passage (2005-2006) and Two Generals (2011).

I’m still exploring the Canadian graphic novel, so for now I’ll share a few thoughts on Canada At War:  A Graphic History of World War Two, written by Paul Keery and illustrated by Michael Wyatt, which was published in 2012 by Douglas & McIntyre publishers and which I just finished.  This non-fiction graphic novel provides quite an eye opener about how WWII greatly contributed to the maturing of Canada’s armed forces and the national identity.  It also helped me to understand better the circumstances that gave rise to the disastrous battle at Dieppe in 1942, one of the more tragic episodes involving the Canadian military and which I had heard mention of before but had not fully appreciated.  Among other things, Keery provides an overview of the role of each branch of Canada’s armed forces and major battles or efforts in the Atlantic, the Pacific, in Europe, in Asia and at home. There are numerous vignettes throughout the book highlighting daring acts of bravery and heroism as well as facets of the country’s war effort that remain well below the radar screen but which were, nevertheless, vitally important to the eventual success of the Allied forces.  Keery’s graceful writing and Wyatt’s riveting illustrations are well paired here.  Highly recommended reading.

Update:  Since posting the above, I discovered that Keery and Wyatt have a site devoted to Canada At War, which makes for great additional reading, especially their thoughts on the creative process and their preference in referring to the book as a graphic history as opposed to a graphic novel.  Their site is here and contains additional excerpts.

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