Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #294: Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire

I don't mean to be a snob, but sometimes I wonder if I fall into snobbery without thinking. For example, I know that Jeff Lemire is quite busy these days writing some superhero comics or other -- see, doesn't that sound condescending? but, really, I don't even know which of the Big Two he's writing for, let alone what characters he's handling, so I'm just being vague for lack of knowledge -- but I've never read any of that stuff. So the Jeff Lemire in my head is the one from his solo books, the writer/artist whose work is steeped in tragedy and whose male characters regularly have noses that exert their own gravitational pulls.

That's the "Jeff Lemire" I think of; the antecedent to anything I write about the books of his I read. But at least some of you are probably more familiar with his work on -- rushes off to another browser window to google it -- Animal Man, Justice League, or Green Arrow. So I want to apologize to you folks: I don't know anything about that Jeff Lemire. I suspect he's got the same tendencies, though they probably have to be sublimated when he's writing superhero punch-'em-ups. And my sweeping generalizations might not jibe with your memories of "Rotworld."

With that out of the way...I finally got back to Lemire's first book, Lost Dogs, recently. It won him the Xeric Award, it was his first completed long story, and it set the tone for his solo work to follow: it's dark, both in the art and in the story. Darker than that, even -- darker than you're thinking, darker than you expect. This is a young man's story, steeped in ink and gloom and fatalism and death.

The fella on the cover never gets a name, but he's our hero: a big palooka who lives out in the sticks with his wife and daughter, running a farm, around a hundred years ago. One day, they come to the city, for a reason Lemire doesn't explain, and bad things start to happen. Bad things continue to happen throughout this shortish book: there's no happy endings for anyone here, and no happy middles, either. (The beginning was happy, of course, before our family took that journey to the city.)

Lemire's style was looser and inkier here than he got later: these pages are almost dripping black, with thick-lined grotesque figures lurching out of the general darkness of the backgrounds and the only contrasting color the red slashes of the stripes on the hero's shirt. As I said before, the story is equally dark: everything goes wrong for that hero, first quickly and entirely, and then in repeated new and unpleasant ways as the book goes on. Lemire got subtler later and learned more tricks, but that just means Lost Dogs is closer to pure Lemire: stabs of ink, each representing a new pain.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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