More Than What First Appears – Japer Reviews Jeff Lemire’s The Nobody

In The Nobody (Vertigo), author and illustrator Jeff Lemire shows us that every small town has its secrets. And he should know. Lemire, born in small town Woodslee, Ontario, Canada has traversed this thematic ground before in his award-winning Essex County trilogy. In this latest hardcover graphic novel, he delves deep into hush-hush rural life once again.

Even though it’s his first work for a major comic book publisher, Lemire ensures that The Nobody never loses the sense of the personal found in his earlier works. Characterization is at the forefront of his storytelling here.

Using H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man as a springboard, he transports the character of Griffin into the fictional town of Large Mouth. With a population of 754 citizens, it boasts the world’s largest fish of the same name – but it’s the colourful inhabitants of the town that propels the story forward. Readers are quickly introduced to June Jacques the manager of Large Mouth’s motel, who has, funny enough, a bit of a big mouth herself. Big Reg is the owner of the local diner and single father to his teenage daughter, Jackie. The distrustful Teddy Henfrey spends his evenings drinking at the local tavern. Deputy Ayde sees himself as being more important to the community than his job might dictate and his fishing buddy, Jack Jaffers is husband to Millie, she of the wandering eye. Mr. Marvel, a poor, old, black man lives in a run down cabin by the lake and rounds out the cast. If you’ve read H.G. Wells’ novel, you might recognize the names of the various cast members. Lemire uses the names of the characters from the original science fiction novel, recasting them in his tale that is neither a re-imagining nor a sequel but instead something akin to both while being, at the same time, something more.

Still, it’s the relationship between Griffin, the mysterious stranger and Jackie that grounds the tale. Their friendship, although strange, is real. Both provide something fundamental, something tangible to the other – something that the other lacks in their own life. For Griffin, it’s companionship. For the teenage Jackie, it’s the idea of experience – something that her hometown cannot provide her. The Nobody, at its heart, is the story of the search for reason and identity. In that search, all the base human traits that bubble below a calm but thin surface of respectability, be it in a small town or a big city, come to the fore. Just as the bandages that cover Griffin’s visage begin to unravel, so too do the roots, the personality and the secrets of Large Mouth’s townsfolk.

Lemire’s artwork is perfectly suited for the various questions The Nobody asks. His impressionistic line work and sense of shadow and light both deepen the drama and heighten the sense of mystery inherent in the story. When Griffen’s past catches up with him and violence finally erupts in the small town, all are affected and it is Lemire’s artwork that ensures that the reader feels it as well.

Evident, too, is the fact that Lemire is a fan of comic book literature and its long history. This love of the genre rubs off on the reader. Each of the three full-page chapter inserts that make up The Nobody are rendered to resemble an historic DC Comics title. Whether it’s the old “horror” titles like House of Mystery or the girl-centric “love” comics of the 1960’s and 1970’s or the sophisticated suspense stories of Swamp Thing from the 1980’s, each episode carries its own distinct identity. Even the company bullet changes in design to reflect the shifting times, a love-struck homage to the very company publishing the book!

The Nobody is a moving story by a writer/artist just now garnering a mainstream audience. It is a fantastic early chapter in a career that promises more suspense, more mystery and more strangeness. Lemire touches upon those things that we hide below the surface of ourselves, where there is far more than what first appears, and brings them to the light of day for all to bear witness.

The Nobody, published by Vertigo, is released July 8.

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