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Why Comics Can Make You Cry: The Work of Jeff Lemire

Jeff Lemire is the 36 year old, Canadian, writer of such works as Lost Dogs, Sweet Tooth, Animal Man, The Nobody, and most recently The Underwater Welder.  He has won multiple awards for his work including having Essex County named one of the five Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade.  He has quite a range in his body of work and is able to do many things with his words and pictures, which are typically drawn by him as well.  His work is also known for having a long and storied history of making me cry like a small child.  Today, I examine why this is so and seek to promote his work.

The first thing that I ever read from Jeff Lemire was Sweet Tooth.  I had heard that there was a Vertigo title with a kid with deer antlers in a post-apocalyptic near-future.  That was enough to warrant acquiring it.  As I read through the first and second arcs of the story, I found myself riveted to my seat.  It was incredibly long-form storytelling, but it was also SO GOOD.  Thank God I started a little late to the game, for it seemed like three months went by between issues.  I grew to feel a bond to the characters and an empathy for the situation and all of a sudden, Jeppard opens the duffle bag and I was floored with emotion.  If you have read the comic book, you know what I am talking about and if you haven’t, I will not spoil it for you.  It was one of the biggest visceral, gut punch moments that I have ever read in the medium.  Sweet Tooth trucked along great as I followed in issues, but started to drag and now I am ready for it to be over.  Even now, I still can’t fault it for anything other than deliberate pacing and that is not a damnable sin.  Read this collected.  It gave me feelings and was intense.  A good introduction to Mr. Lemire.

The positive experience brought me to Lost Dogs.  Done with watercolors and a heavy black pallet, Lemire’s early work is intriguing, but on the whole, it didn’t grab me.  15-20 pages in, I found myself bored and shelved it for a rainy day.  I could see the same skill, but in it’s rawness it didn’t captivate me.

Deep longing for more Lemire led me to The Nobody.  A quirky cover and a mysterious premise helped me to cruise through this one.  So much so, that at the end, I felt like I must have missed something.  I went back through and read it again over the next week and found that nothing was missing, it was just simple.  The plot progresses, there aren’t many shocks and the overwhelming smoothness causes it to read very quickly.  In rehashing The Nobody, I found some really impressive intricacies that I had missed beforehand.  The whole thing ended up as a quick-read, but a long literary experience.  It was a good comic book with it’s power in it’s stark visuals and silent panels.

Somewhere along this way, I started reading Animal Man in issues, but the voice in it is so much different when Travel Foreman illustrates as opposed to Lemire himself.  The story is still gripping and the art is terrifying and it brings you to the edge of your seat, but most of Lemire’s “sweetness” is absent.  It’s more action oriented, as it should be.  It’s good stuff, but by the end of an issue of Animal Man, my heart strings are untouched.

Lost Dogs and The Nobody didn’t prevent me from diving into Essex county.  I say “diving in,” but at first I dipped my toes.  Essex county is split into three volumes and when I entered the county line, I was only planning on reading the first.  That thought proved to be great folly as I ended up reading until nearly 3am.  By the time I had finished “The Country Nurse,” I had taken in the 360 degree view that Lemire had envisioned.  The three parts of the story come together to make a beautiful whole.  I was almost immediately invested in the characters.  Jeff Lemire’s vivid storytelling ensures that.  I found that although I never played hockey, grew up on a farm, or stole my best friend’s girl, Lemire packs enough strong characterization that somehow I can relate to the characters that did all of those things in a very real way.  Especially “Ghost Stories,” volume 2 has some simply heart-breaking moments.  Jeff Lemire is an emotional shotgun.  He fires out his buckshot of inspiration, love, loss, longing, regret, shame, and joy in a burst so wide that it penetrates parts of you that you don’t know that you have.  And that’s the thing about Lemire’s work, it reaches out to everyone and much like a shotgun shatters a glass decanter, Essex County left me changed.  It left me with a deeper appreciation for life.

When you consider the subject matter, it is no surprise that Lemire’s latest work, The Underwater Welder, would pull some emotions up out of me.  It deals with what being a man and a father really means.  I have two small children and often struggle to feel adequate as a parent.  They are my greatest joys in my life and failing them is my greatest fear.  I often cry a little bit when I share a sweet moment with my son, but this book had me crying like a little kid.  The way that Lemire writes and draws a coming of age book for adults is masterful.  It’s paced well and I found it lead me, effortlessly, through a twisty tale into the past and back again.  It should easily win some awards and I give it my highest recommendation to you, the reader.

I tell you about these great stories to show you that not all comics are the same.  Sure, if you are looking for spandex and onomatopoeia sound effect bubbles, there is lots of that to be had.  But, if that is not your scene, don’t write off comic books altogether.  If you did, you would be discounting the beautiful character work of Jeff Lemire.  You can purchase all of his work at for greatly discounted prices and take part in a great emotional experience, that may have otherwise been missed.


~ Scott Deaux ~

About Scott Deaux

Favorite Comics: Lazarus, Essex County, Chew, Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, Age of Apocalypse stuff, The Nightly News, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Pax Romana, Avengers, NEXTWAVE: Agents Of Hate, Sweet Tooth, We3, others... Favorite Quote(s): "Journalism is just a gun. It's only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that's all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world." - Warren Ellis "People who hold signs go hold many other things" - Eddie Pepitone


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