Thoughts on Comic Books part 2: Essex County

Nerd compulsions are like any addiction – once you’re on the wagon, you’ve got to be careful, because you can slide right back into the habit.  I hadn’t really gone on a comic book spree for some time, and it had been more than a year since I’d bought anything more than a single issue or trade.  Reading John’s X-Force books made me wonder what else I had been missing, and the next day I found myself out at a bookstore (taking the kids to get something, but really, I knew what I was up to) picking up something that had been on my curiosity list for a long time.

Jeff Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY is the only comic book that my mother has ever asked me about.  First off, it has been heralded as an important piece of truly Canadian literature, and was on a bunch of year-end lists recently.  Secondly, my family is from Essex County – the same place portrayed in the comic, not a coincidental similar name.

Like my family, Jeff Lemire grew up in Essex County in Southern Ontario, Canada, before eventually moving to Toronto.  I lived in the Windsor area and thereabouts for most of my childhood in the 1970s, and my grandparent’s house was always the destination for family gatherings and holidays.  My grandparents had a house in Comber, a small town that’s part of Essex County – or was a part of it.  I believe Essex has since been renamed Lakeshore or something (I don’t pay attention on the drive down, it’s been so many years, I just run on built-in programming). Before moving to Comber, my grandparents had a farm in Essex County, and that’s where my mother grew up, so she was curious to see what the book was about.

Essex County is a quiet graphic novel about a handful of characters that lived in the region, and is just a snapshot of their lives at a particular point.  One story is about a boy who dreams of being a superhero and lives with his uncle.  Another tale centres around the memories of an old man, while he things of his time in the hockey big leagues and his journey from his Essex farm to the ice rinks of Toronto and back.  We also learn a bit about his care-giving nurse, and some more history about others from the area.

All in all, it’s a quiet, contemplative work, and connects emotionally with the reader – or at least it did with me.  Most of my memories of growing up in Essex County are filled with quiet loneliness and solitude.  That’s a place where you can really go for a walk and not encounter a soul for some time; you can look out along the horizon (which stretches for miles – it’s a very flat place) and see no other living soul.  I’m sure my hazy memories have filtered out a lot of other things, but reading Lemire’s book totally took me back to the quiet and solitude of the small towns and country roads, and hidden playgrounds and bridges over creeks and frogs and… well, lots of things that I hadn’t thought of in a long, long time.

I haven’t done it justice, but it’s an amazing work, and touches on some of the rural history of Canada, the importance of hockey, and life on the farm.  If you’re interested in something other than heroes, something deeper that makes you think – or maybe just feel – I would gladly suggest picking this book up.  I was very touched by the work, and  it lead me to dig into Lemire’s work in DC’s New 52.  More on that coming soon.



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