Overview

The Complete Essex County

Review

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The Complete Essex County

Credits

  • Words: Jeff Lemire
  • Art: Jeff Lemire
  • Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
  • Price: $29.99
  • Release Date: Apr 27, 2011

 All roads lead to Essex County, eh?

I found this out a month ago, after receiving a call from my father, during which he informed me he was moving to Amherstburg, Essex, Co., Ontario. He said it was a pretty little place – small and somewhat flat but he was cool with that. Having come from the tedious peaks and valleys of British Columbia, he was ready for some easy driving.

A couple of weeks later I came across Jeff Lemire’s collected Essex County in a bookstore, on my way home from work. I’d heard of it, of course, but was more familiar with Lemire as the current writer who was apparently turning enough heads on DC’s Superboy, he’d recently garnered an Eisner nod. I picked up Essex County a couple of days later and…

And I really don’t know where to begin. A part of me is still trudging through the endless white, snow-blanketed fields; still soaring through the air, my cape streaming behind me; still streaking down the ice, stick in hand, and a little black rubber disc frozen for a just a perfect moment as I wind up, eyes on the top righthand corner…

If it isn’t already plain, I entered Lemire’s fictional childhood stomping ground a little biased. I did a lot of my growing up in small town Ontario, on a big island in the middle of an even bigger lake. Although geographically hundreds of kilometers from Essex County, Manitoulin Island is right down the road from Lemire’s home, in spirit. To say this book resonated with me would be a gross understatement.

First appearing from Top Shelf in 2008, Essex County is a trilogy of graphic novels chronicling the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of a small farming community in southern Ontario. Billed as a fictional account of Lemire’s childhood home, each volume in the trilogy explores themes of loss, grief, and reconciliation as traced through the winding history of the Lebeuf clan. Each book is lovingly crafted and exquisitely plotted; infused with a brutal honesty and deep, abiding love that could only belong to someone who grew up amongst the wide open spaces and colorful inhabitants of the setting. Lemire exercises remarkable restraint throughout the series, taking the time to let Essex County shape the tales as it sees fit. Each chapter in the saga of the Lebeuf family unfolds so easily and organically, it felt as if the story was telling itself.

For his part, Lemire serves as a conduit for his chosen themes, his raw, cartoony style somehow capable of expressing complex emotions in surprisingly few strokes. His storytelling technique is subtly brilliant and multi-layered, as he utilizes space and contrast to manipulate time and perception. The pacing too is exquisite. Lemire know intuitively when to draw out a scene for an extra beat, optimizing the emotional impact.

In his introduction to the collected edition, fellow Canadian comic book icon Darwyn Cooke positions Essex County as one of the best modern works of Canadian fiction in any medium, stating it transcends the graphic narrative as one of those works that touches its audience regardless of form. I’m not sure he goes far enough. The cumulative thematic and emotional impact of Essex County reminded me of the similar feelings I had upon turning the final pages of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. These are stories for people about people and just as there are lessons for all of us hidden deep within the Colombian jungle, in the magical town of Macondo, so too is there a thing or two to be learned from the quiet folk of Essex County.

Featuring fifty pages of new material and packed full of cool extras, The Complete Essex County is the perfect introduction to Lemire’s acclaimed series. One of my favorites works of graphic storytelling of all time (so far, anyway), right up there with Smith’s RASL, Moore’s Watchmen, and Bryan Talbot’s The Tale of One Bad Rat, Essex County should be required reading for any true fan of the form.

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