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.


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