Review: The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire – Canada Reads

3 Feb

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Released: Sept 1st, 2009
Genre: Canadian literature, graphic novel
From the fine peeps at CBC Books.

Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What could change two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the work of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception?

Set in an imaginary version of Jeff Lemire’s hometown, ESSEX COUNTY is an intimate study of an eccentric farming community, and a tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation. With the lush, expressive inking of a cartoonist at the height of his powers, Lemire draws us in and sets us free.

From Top Shelf Productions website.

Apparently some folks have their panties in a bunch because a graphic novel has found its way onto this years Canada Reads panel. I mean, it’s a COMIC for God’s Sake! How can a lowly COMIC be considered literature. Well,  I have two words for those folks: Read. It. Not the words you thought I was going to say, eh? Well, this is a PG13 blog.

From the first panel I was sucked into the lives and stories of Essex County. I’ve read a few graphic novels before, but this is the first one that literally took my breath away. I am now convinced that Jeff Lemire is a cartooning, story-telling Canadian God. Seriously. I was dumb-founded by how beautiful this book was. And I don’t give a rat’s ass what snooty literary folk say: Essex County is not only Canadian literature, it’s Canadian literature at its best.

I loved how all three of the stories tied into each other, but also stood on their own. Novels where lives intertwine in unexpected and unknown ways  have a special place in my heart. I love how what at first appears to be random turns out to not only have more structure, but more meaning. The idea that you could go into a store and buy a chocolate bar from someone who is an integral but unknown part of your life is amazing.

Of course, I can’t talk about Essex County without talking about the artistry behind it. I was blown away by the amount of emotion that Lemire could show in a single frame of a crow, or a silo or a man sitting at the kitchen table. No dialogue. No words. Yet it’s clear what’s going on in the story and the character’s mind. Those simple frames were stunning and moving. I never thought that a graphic novel could bring me to tears.

I loved Essex County. I loved the intertwining stories, the characters, the writing, the drawing. Hell, I even loved the thickness of the paper.

And as for you nay-sayers, well, isn’t Canada all about diversity and acceptance of things that are different from the norm? I think it’s high time the graphic novel made it’s way into Canada Reads. And Essex County, with it’s stories of loss, family and life in rural Canada is the perfect contender.


4 Responses to “Review: The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire – Canada Reads”

  1. octoberdaniels February 3, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Jeff Lemire is wicked nice, and does a lot of events in Maine. I haven’t read ESSEX COUNTY, but I am a huge fan of his recent SWEET TOOTH comic. Anyone who criticizes his work knows nothing about comics/graphic novels, especially on the “indie” level. The man draws and writes his own work, which is nearly unheard of for most modern publishers. And every picture of his is worth more than 1,000 words in this circumstance–and probably take longer to write.

  2. amymckie February 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much 🙂 I’ll have to give it a read as well I guess!

  3. jodi (bloomingwriter) February 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Well done! As someone used to love the Classic Story comic books in my youth, and who as an adult and Masters student in English who read Watchmen years before it was made into a mainstream movie, I say bravo for Lemire and Essex County. THIS is one I’m definitely purchasing…soon as my pile of to-reads declines a bit…

  4. nymeth February 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    I got this book recently and now I’m even more excited to get to it 😀 What a great review.

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