Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Real Essex County

Last week was Top Shelf week at Portland bookstore "Powell's "website. They periodically have guest authors posting on their blog. Nate Powell, Alex Robinson, James Kolchaka, Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger and myself all contributed posts. This was my entry which went up last Thursday...

All of my stories start with the setting, and even more than that, location totally informs how my characters and plots grow and take shape. The Essex County books (Tales From The Farm, Ghost Stories, The Country Nurse), all started when I decided to do a book set in the tiny Canadian farming town where I grew up.
I’ll admit, the rusted old farm equipment, teetering windmills and concrete grain elevators that littered the wide open fields of Essex County meant little to me growing up there. I couldn’t wait to move to the big city. But, ten years after leaving EC, and living in said Big City, the sparse lonely landscaped of my childhood started to evoke a strong, almost guttural pull inside of me. Moreover, they seemed like a natural fit with the jagged, expressive inking style that had become the earmark of my cartooning. And, as soon as I sat down and started scratching out drawings, all of those lonely roadside power-lines, and rickety old farmhouses quickly became equally lonely and rickety old characters. The “rural decay” of southwestern Ontario became the rural decay at the heart of inhabitants of my fictional Essex County. And from there plot and narrative structure sprung up.

To my surprise, location, or more specifically places where I spent significant parts of my childhood, has continued to inform the work I do, well after the completion of the Essex County Trilogy. My next two projects, while quite different in tone, are both set in the Northern Canadian fishing community where my family has vacationed almost every August of my life. The old bait and tackle shops, lakeside diners, aluminum fishing boats, earthworms and walleye, and the smell of gasoline coming of an outboard motor are my new drug. They have provided an equal amount of inspiration for me as I work on The Nobody, an original, two-color graphic novel for DC’s Vertigo imprint. That tale takes The Bandaged Stranger from H.G. Wells’ classic “The Invisible Man”, and recasts him as an oddball drifter taking up residence in a tiny northern lakeside Motel in 1994. And, my next Top Shelf GN (sorry too early to spill the beans on that one) will be equally entrenched in a tiny Canadian fishing village.

For me, as a storyteller, it all starts with the place, once I have that, the characters and story all come easily. Which poses the question: I wonder what I’ll do when I run out of places that I lived as a kid? Probably go back home to Essex County again for another round I suppose.