When it came to bringing his Essex County trilogy to television, comic creator Jeff Lemire was the only man for the job. But the experience of transforming the critically acclaimed comic book series into another medium was enough to convince him that he wouldn’t be making another television series, according to Lemire himself.
Speaking at Thought Bubble in Harrogate Saturday afternoon, Lemire explained that he’d become involved with the CBC Television adaptation of the show after an earlier attempt ran aground.
“Originally, I wasn’t going to be involved at all, I was going to be very hands-off,” he tells a rapt audience after the first public screening of the first episode outside of Canada. (Or, as Lemire joked, “the first time this has been shown outside of Canada… legally.”)
The first attempt at transforming the story into a TV show resulted in something “that didn’t feel anything like Essex County,” he say, leading him to step in and become more involved.
That wasn’t a straightforward process, however; after what Lemire described as “several years of false starts, and writing different versions that didn’t work,” Lemire started working with Irish filmmaker Eilis Kirwan, and the two found an approach that worked. The show was greenlit in late 2020, and, as Lemire puts it, “in 2021, I decided to stop making comics and do this full time.”
Working as showrunner on the series, he said, was stressful.
“We didn’t have the whole series written when we got greenlit. We were writing all the way up to shooting. We were just kind of manically writing and re-writing… Shooting was really stressful, [because] we were a small production, we never had enough money.”
Because of the amount of work required in his position — “I was there for every shot,” he tells the crowd — and the location of filming, Lemire says that he was “away from my family for six months, I was away from comics for six months. It was a very strange time.”
Although he’s proud of the resultant five episodes — which were nominated for four nominations in the annual Directors Guild of Canada awards, winning two — the experience ultimately just made him realize that he wanted to work in comics.
Returning to work in comics after the show, Lemire says, was “the greatest day of my life. It was so comfortable, so relaxing. It’s so nice to sit at a desk and not talk to anyone.”
Comics as a medium is, he says, “the best. It’s the best thing in the world… I’ll never do TV again.”
Interestingly, however, at another point of the Thought Bubble panel, he also said that he was "actively adapting another [of his comics] right now, but I can’t say anything about it." Hmm...
While Lemire explicitly told the crowd that he’s “never going to do” a second season of the show, Essex County is going to live on… for international viewers, at least. The series finished its run in Canada in April 2023, but Lemire said that the show, which was a co-production with the UK’s ITV Studios, “will be [airing in the UK] in 2024 at some point, and it’s beginning to look like it will be in the States in 2024, as well.”
Why has it taken so long to bring the show to UK and US audiences? “It’s so slow, everything’s so slow [in television],” Lemire explained, adding as a joke, “I’ve created seven comics in the time it’s taken to get this up and running.”
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