Essex County: Jeff Lemire on Adapting Comic Series for Television (Exclusive)

Though Jeff Lemire had written comics prior to Essex County, the anthology series is what allowed the comic creator to make a big splash in the world of comics, earning Eisner and Harvey nominations for his work on the title. Lemire both wrote and drew the series, which was initially published by Top Shelf in 2008. Now, some 15 years later, a television series adaptation is getting ready for release.

The property itself found itself in a bit of development hell after its first round of publishing, finding itself optioned by John Dykstra in 2011. Four years later in 2015, First Generation Films picked up the option, and eight years after that, First Generation is the production house seeing the series through to fruition. And though others have had their hand in developing the series along the way, it was eventually written by a writer's room led by Lemire himself.

"Originally I wasn't the writer or showrunner of this. They spent a year developing it with someone else, with me just sort of consulting and it just never quite felt right. He was a really talented writer, but it's such a personal story," the writer tells us. Lemire grew up in the village of Woodsless, Ontario, a community of under 4,000 residents. The county the town resides in? You guessed it: Essex County.

"It just felt weird for anyone else to be writing it, and it kind of hit a dead end there in development. And Christina just one day asked, 'Well, what if you just do it? What if you just do it yourself the way you want to do it?'" Lemire adds.

The writer ended up thinking it over and ultimately decide to do it as the stars slowly aligned, creating the perfect opportunity for the adaptation.

"This was probably the best opportunity to do it here in Canada, where I'd probably have more creative control over it and to, like you said, to be the showrunner and writer and do it myself," he concludes. "So I just kind of dove in and embraced that. Yeah, there's a few books like this one that I don't think I would ever option them to someone else or let anyone else adapt them in."

Filmed last fall in Ontario, the series follows Lester (Finaly Wojtak-Hissong), who's forced to live with his uncles Ken (Brian J. Smith) and Jimmy (Kevin Durand) after his mother's untimely death. A second family, Anne (Molly Parker) and Lou (Stephen McHattie), also play a prominent role in the series.

Joining the ensemble for the five-episode mini-series include Tamara Podemski, Rossif Sutherland, Jim Calarco, and Jordyn GIllis. The show was written by Lemire and Eilis Kirwan, with directing by Andrew Cividino.

Essex County premieres on the CBC this Sunday, March 19th.