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Homerun celebrates Jeff Lemire and the graphic novel

Jeff Lemire Montreal event

Can graphic novels be considered another form of literature? Or are they a unique genre that shouldn't be lumped in with the traditional novel? And what does the buzzworthy term "graphic novel" mean anyway? How is it changing the comics community?

On Thursday, January 27, comics fans in Montreal gathered at the Drawn & Quarterly bookstore to discuss these industry-changing questions and more. Homerun host Sue Smith hosted the two-part evening. The lively evening kicked off with Jeff discussing Essex County and his journey to becoming the comics creator he is today.

Jeff grew up surrounding up comics and has been drawing and writing them as long as he remembers. Comics he created as a nine-year-old made it into Essex County, as the comics that Lester, the young protagonist of Tales from the Farm, created. Jeff's interest in comics occasionally wavered throughout his life, but he always returned to the medium, as he loved the directness and flexibility it offers.

"It's a medium that combines so many different things. You can tell stories with it, but you get the joy of illustrating stories and drawing, that visceral connection you don't get when you are writing prose," Jeff explained. "It's the combination of both. But telling stories is the most important thing."

Sue's conversation with Jeff was followed by a panel discussion on graphic novels featuring arts reporter Jeanette Kelly, Drawn & Quarterly's head publisher and chief, Chris Oliveros, and comics creators Sherwin Sullivan Tjia and Matt Forsythe, the award-winning illustrator and comic book artist whose book Ojingogo won the 2009 Doug Wright Award for Canadian cartooning.

Comics are becoming more mainstream, but the medium and those who work in it still face several hurdles: being able to support yourself in the medium (Jeff Lemire was the only artist on the panel who created comics full time); combating the "comedy" and "superhero" stigma associated with it; and overcoming the gender gap and the notion that graphic novels are a lesser form of literature.

"It would be like if you had Steven Spielberg and he just made a movie," Sherwin Sullivan Tjia explained. "And you were like 'So, Steven why can't you make it in the novel writing business? Do you just suck at writing novels? And that's why you made a movie?'"

Everyone on the panel agreed with this sentiment and are looking forward to when they can discuss content instead of form. However, all the panelists were grateful for the national platform for their medium.

"Since Canada Reads, 70 per cent of the questions are 'does your book deserve to be in this competition?'" Jeff Lemire revealed. "But that's fine. I'd rather answer questions about that than not answer any questions at all."

Listen to both parts of the evening below.

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