COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: The "engrossing, relatable, minimalist" drama of Jeff Lemire's "Essex County"

Essex County: Writing and Art by Jeff Lemire

Essex County is comprised of three stories: Tales from the Farm (2008), Ghost Stories (2008), and The Country Nurse (2009). There are two short stories, but I'm going to review just the three main stories.


Lemire pays tribute to his home of Essex County, Ontario, Canada, through three interwoven stories about loss and being lost, but in the end, finding your way.

Tales From The Farm is a story about Lester and his Uncle Kenny; Lester was forced to live with his uncle after his mother passed away, and in the face of an absentee father. Lester deals with being forced upon his uncle as any kid would: with discontentment and sorrow, but they grow on one another. The boy befriends a gas station owner (sorry, petrol station owner) who may have more connections to the boy and his family than we know.

Ghost Stories revolves around two brothers, the LeBeufs, and their hockey careers. Told through the memories of one of the brothers as he's aging in his home and eventually a nursing home, visited by his day nurse, it's a story of realizing your dreams, losing those dreams, and eventually coming to terms with what you have in life.

The Country Nurse ties it all together with the nurse from the previous story. The story follows a literal "country" nurse, as she makes her rounds to the characters in Essex County. Most we've met before, and in her story a similar pattern emerges: a lost husband, a stubborn son, and trying to find oneself. Throughout the story, we get flashbacks to a nun, a caretaker, an orphanage, and the trials and tribulations in their midst. This is the story that literally ties everything together, every piece of the puzzle, every player, and wraps it up nicely.

Why it's good:

Lemire has crafted a story that's engrossing, skips on being verbose, and evokes emotion through small sentiments and the art itself. I found myself feeling emotional at the sight of a crow (which plays a big part in this story), or Lester simply asking to be excused from dinner. Lemire knows this place and these characters and it really shows. The dialogue is, at times, stilted, but that's a young writer finding his bearings. On the whole, we get an emotional ride through Essex County, while meeting its complicated but relatable characters.

The art is minimalist but still superb. There are panels of almost nothing, where empty space is the prevalence. Then there are panels where the art is true to Lemire form: sketched out contours but with detailed precision. It's a pleasure to look at.

If you haven't had the pleasure, please pick up this complete edition. It's almost 500 pages and I found myself almost completely through it in an hour and a half. It deserves a second glance for the art alone. The complete collection is available on through their Unlimited plan, or you can ask your Local Comic Shop for a copy.

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