Essex County is comics phenom Jeff Lemire’s toughest adaptation yet

Jeff Lemire might be the most famous man you’ve never heard of.

Then again, if you know a thing or two about comic books it’s unlikely you’ll remember his name. The golden boy in superhero stories has earned credibility at all major publishers during the first decade of his career — with projects that will eventually find themselves in the world of cinema. industry of both the Marvel and DC film and television universes.

For fans of those things, it could be Marvel’s Moonlight Knight, old man label And Hawk Eyeor DC Alliance justice, Green Arrow And Super boy whose name reminds me of; All the big names that find their way onto the screen — as well as the comics, have, for a time, been under Lemire’s creative direction.

If you tend to keep up with the original stories, you can wait patiently for the plan Black Hammer adapt (by Lemire Twilight Zone-esque takes over the genre) or the second season of sweet teeth (post-apocalyptic play, deer boy Produced by Robert Downey Jr.)

For the British crowd, it could be his book raw neckGordon Downie’s collaboration Secret pathTwins downward And ascension series or underwater welder that stands out. But for Lemire himself, it’s a much earlier story that sets him apart from the rest.

For him, it’s Essex County: the book about his hometown, and that really got him into the industry — and helped him define who he is.

VIEW | Essex County trailer:

“I think that’s the book where I found my voice as a creator,” Lemire told CBC News. “I feel like this is the first and closest project to my life… It’s based on where I grew up and a lot of people I grew up with.”

Today, the story of – among other things – growing up in Northern Ontario becomes his latest work to hit TV, as it premiered on CBC Gem. And while it may not be his first, and it’s far from the first to find its way to another medium, it may well be the most authentic Lemire adaptation.

Sexy, minimalist

Look at any reviews of Essex and you may stumble across one word: quiet.

The graphic novel is actually a compendium of three separate, loosely connected stories of 10-year-old Lester (sent to live with his reclusive uncle after his mother’s death), brothers Lou and Vince Lebeuf (as older Lou reminisces about a canceled hockey career) and local nurse Anne (struggling to serve and care for others while balancing family crisis) happenning).

Lester in the Essex County graphic novel.  We see six black and white backgrounds depicting a boy in a superhero costume, standing in a farmer's field.
We are introduced to Lester in the Essex County graphic novel. (Jeff Lemire/IDW Publishing)

All of these stories are told as sparingly and subtly as possible in what adaptation co-writer Eilis Kirwan has described as “visually suggestive, rather minimalistic” – it’s a deliberate style. leaving many pages unspoken, more suggested, and spread out without any dialogue.

Kirwan and Lemire (who, unlike sweet teeth, credited as one of the main writers of the show itself) worked to keep that feeling. Efforts, for the most part, work – Essex County works and feels more like a stretch movie than it does on TV, even in the streaming era’s mini-series.

But there are also changes needed. To make the story work, Lester (played here by 11-year-old Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, whose mother happens to be from Essex County) takes on more roles. The stories of Lou (Nova Scotia’s Stephen McHattie), Anne (BC’s Molly Parker, possibly the series’ most popular star) take up equal space here, while Ken (Brian J. Smith, Essex Countyonly non-Canadian protagonist) whose character Lemire says includes “nearly the sketches in the book” have been added.

A woman sitting in a car.  She is staring out of the camera.
Molly Parker, who plays local nurse Anne, appeared in a scene from Essex County. (Peter H. Stranks/CBC)

At the same time, instead of being shown sequentially like in the book, the series has all the storylines taking place at the same time. That could have led to a cramped story with so many complicated small-town relationships and dramas that I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of them all, but that’s what Lemire said. that adaptation is needed.

“For me, I realized early on that I finished the book the way I wanted. I didn’t need to do it again,” he says. “[I decided] I’m doing something else and I’m working in a different medium – and I need to embrace that.”

Canada’s focal point

The changes don’t end there. Instead of taking place in the Essex County of Lemire’s younger days, it is certainly, and at times perhaps a little awkward, in the present; here, Lester has a cell phone, and at one point it blows a cloud of dust off an old cassette tape – only for it to play Broken Social Scene’s National anthem for a seventeen year old girl.

Also, what’s novel is Lemire’s decision to both adapt something unabashedly Canadian, and rely on a Canadian performance. Almost the entire cast is from Canada — including Tamara Podemski (sister of film producer and actress Jennifer Podemski), Rossif Sutherland (son of famous Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, and he and his wife). half-brother to Kiefer Sutherland) as well as a clear standout performance: Thunder Kevin Durand of Bay as Jimmy.

The reason is intentional. After failed attempts at working with an American studio to make the show, Lemire said he learned that to tell this story, it had to be told here.

“I knew that if I were to write this book, it would have to be done here,” he said. “Because there’s something inherent about it – there’s a Canadianness to it that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t from here, you know?”

But even if it’s a conscious choice, that effort speaks to whether Essex County will eventually sink or swim. While Essex County finally showcasing Lemire’s unique voice and tone, the series takes a little longer to draw you in – the early episodes are slow (understandably), while it flickers intermittently because of the seriousness of the show. itself and the excessive tone that the graphic novel has so skillfully avoided.

Meanwhile, a wave of shows like Arrange, alphabet And Schitt . Creek proved that the world loves Canadian content — comedy specifically. Aiming to convey a more serious story unequivocally—successfully thanks in large part to its original medium—while still holding on to this country could be a losing game or a turning point for TELEVISION.


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