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The Collected Essex County
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 3, 2009
This hardcover collects Jeff Lemire's trilogy of graphic novels (plus some bonus stories) set in rural Essex County in Ontario, Canada. Lemire provides both the story and black-and-white artwork in this fictionalized account of life in his hometown. The first book "Tales From The Farm" centers on middle-school age Lester who lives on his uncle's farm after his mother's death. Unhappy with home and school, Lester develops a friendship with gentle, childlike ex-hockey player Jimmy who now runs the local gas station. This first segment sometimes seems slow, but contains plot seeds that blossom by the third book. I enjoyed the references to the 1979 Topps hockey card set.
The second and longest book "Ghost Stories" tells of the relationship between brothers Lou and Vince, primarily through a series of an aging and regretful Lou's flashbacks. This was the most interesting and powerful of the three graphic novels. The third book "The Country Nurse" follows the titular nurse on a few workdays around the county meeting characters from the first two books, as well as some history of Essex County. A common theme is undying love for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The book ends with a delightful genealogic chart that maps the trilogy's characters. I had a lukewarm reaction to the first book but enjoyed it more as I kept reading and would recommend this hardcover, especially to hockey fans.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2010
I've been thoroughly enjoying Jeff Lemire's SWEET TOOTH series from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, and had been interested in reading his collected ESSEX COUNTY book for awhile now. I finally purchased a copy at this year's (2010) San Diego Comic Con (from the publisher's booth) and devoured the thing in one reading. To put it simply, this is one of the best graphic novels I've ever read (and I've been a comic book reader for over 30 years). I was truly moved by the simple yet poignant stories in this volume. I especially love Lemire's unconventional and sparse artwork that still manages to convey so much depth and emotion in each panel. I hate reading comics that are cluttered with so many word balloons that it's an effort to read through a page. Lemire has a wonderful knack for creating stories with a minimum of dialogue but that are still complex and full of intersting characters. There are not many writer/artists who can do this as effectively as Lemire shows here (and as he also does in SWEET TOOTH, and his other Vertigo graphic novel THE NOBODY). Lemire is clearly a huge talent, both as a writer and an artist, and I look forward to enjoying his new works for years to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2014
The Collected Essex County compiles three different separated volumes revolving about the lives, present and past, of the same characters living in Essex County (Ontario) Canada: Vince, an ex-hockey player and his brother of Lou Lebeuf, also an ex-hockey player and tram driver who is in a age care asylum; Lester, a weird orphan kid and her uncle farmer Mr Kenny, and nurse Annie Quenneville.

Book 1 (Tales from the Farm), follows the friendship of Lester with Vince and his alienation from his uncle. Book 2 (Ghost Stories) tells the story of demented deaf Lou, who mixes past and present in his head; most of the story is set in Toronto in the 1950s. Book 3 (The Country Nurse) tells us the story of the nurse's grandma, and of the nurse's daily life. The book ends with some bonuses, the graphic story of the Essex Country Boxing Club, the mini-biography of The Sand and Lonely Life of Eddie Elephant-Ears and other scrap drawings.

Lemire's talent shines bright in Essex Country for many reasons. This graphic novel has the masterly of a talented painter, the atmosphere of classic movies, a good character creation (both in imagery and psychology), engaging narrative and stories, undeniable and genuinely Canadian themes, but also a universal way of depicting the human heart.

There is something in the characters that speaks to all of us, because they are not heroes, not even anti-heroes - just "normal". It is their humanity and loneliness but their willingness to connect. They are all lonely struggling people, alienated from their families, emotionally depleted or starved, hard working, down to earth. They are not handsome characters, they are tough looking, edged and angular in their bodies and facial features. Real life people, with big noses, small lips, elephant ears, and cracked hands.

The novel offers a post-modern multi-voice inter-connected story set in rural Canada, which will speak to both Canadian and non-Canadian readers. At a narrative level, this multi-voiced approach is far from new or innovative, but it works well for the story.

Lemire's black and white is glorious, his landscape compositions are simple but marvellous, his use of shadows masterly, as well as his depiction of snowy and night landscapes. The framing and POV of the images is very dynamic and cinematic and the pages flow with ease.

I love the way Lemire composes some of his rural magical landscape images, sometimes a full-page image, some others a severed or slanted full page that allows the reader to focus on individual elements in the same image, while others the landscapes are semi-fractured images with different elements of action. Lemire can go from minimal composition and drawing, to the extreme detail with which he depicts the urban environment of Toronto in the 50s. His depiction of movement in sports is also fantastic, with the images on hockey playing really full of action and very dynamic visually. I found most remarkable the way Lemire uses his versatile pen to visually describe how dementia feels in the mind of an elderly person, and how past and present are a fuzzy-line reality at times. Thus, the fully bodied tick black and white ink transforms into light pencil traces and sketched images, which allow the reader to dive into the same fuzzy territory that the character does.

The 500+ pages of Essex County are awesome. This is Comic with capitals, the sort of comic that you show to people who say that comics are for kids or freaks. The sort of comic lovers crave for. Lemire's talent and versatility are just wow.

The Kindle edition is gorgeous, cheap and user-friendly. The double tap system works well with this novel, especially in those pages in which there aren't many vignettes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2011
I am relatively new to reading this genre. I bought it for my partner but partially because of the regional location of it. I grew up in Cleveland area, but anywhere around Great Lakes region always grabs my interest. The stories were stark and moving. Sad but reality based, just life as life is for many people. Nothing extraordinary or glamorous, but the book exudes plenty of emotion. Sadness, growth, independence, love and loss, caring, regret, deception. I loved the regional feel of it, the hockey, the snow, the bird that appears throughout, and I got reminded of CKLW- the radio station I remember hearing in Cleve-back in the day. Search it on goog and it's still a station- news out of Windsor- it had been a top 40 radio station- pioneering the top 40 format back when I was a listener (mid60s-70s). I will surely check out more of Jeff Lemire's work.
-thanks Jeff!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2011
I read this after seeing it attacked by the panelists of Canada Reads, and quite honestly have fallen in love with this book. I'm a college student in New York, and this is definitely not a child's comic book but a full fledged novel (and a damn good one at that). I have recommended it to all of my friends and even my boss. Every one of them so far has enjoyed it as much as I did.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2014
I never was much of a sports fan. Don't get me wrong, I always loved to play sports but never could understand the ritual notion of watching sports. To this day, I still can't understand how someone can spend his days watching games either on TV or in the crowd on the stadium. I guess I'm just not wired that way. Still, I'm a sucker for a good sports metaphor. Can't remember how many I've seen (the years have been long and filled with all sorts of stuff) - I can't hardly even differentiate between them anymore (it seems that no one ever bothers with the craft of these narratives) – but I know a good one when I see one. Oh, why be modest. Jeff Lemire's „The Essex County“ is one of the best out there, in any medium available.

Hockey isn't a big thing in this country of mine. Neither is snow. We get mild winters and we're much more the soccer fanatics than anything else. „Essex County“ transcends these cultural boundaries. We have our own sweet and sour mixes of sports heroes, old legends, wasted opportunities and myths of making it big in big city. Everyone does. Once you become aware of that, it's just a matter of costumes. In Canada they cheer for a guy in armor with a helmet on top waving his big stick around. Here, we cheer for a guy that's really good running around on tended grass while kicking the round leathery thing that once was a part of a cow. It’s basically the same thing.

Jeff Lemire is well aware of this. That’s why he can use hockey and be understood all around the world. Because, after all, “The Essex County” isn’t really about hockey at all. It’s a bonus for sure. I’m sure that someone from those parts will get something from this that I possibly can’t. Some sense of nostalgia or deep understanding. It happens when you adapt your own experience to the book in front of you. But, I’ve seen my share of rural “neighborhoods” and tough, wiry, sad characters to last for a lifetime. Their stories differ though underlying feeling remains the same. Thing is, it takes an artist, a real good one, to make it all happen on paper. Sure, you have to know your craft, but storytelling craft can be learned. It takes a talent to breathe some life into thick and heavy ink that envelops these stories.

Slice of life stories in comics aren’t a new thing anymore. The market is crowded whit what once was a refreshing breath of the air in the musty old attic. Everywhere you look there’s someone trying to tell his story, trying to leave his own footprint in the cultural landscape that he was born in. Whilst this may be bothersome to a reader (in a sense that what once was sincere became a genre in its own rights), one can’t deny the fact that all of these stories should be told. Seeing them told in comics, which provide a much wider range of expression than literature does (which monopolized these kind of stories for more than one century), makes me hopeful for this medium. Especially when, once in a while, you stumble upon something like this that you’ve seen (in a way) countless times but it still manages to move you.

I’ve seen Lemire’s work on “Sweet Tooth” and “Animal man” and while it is true that his work there is one of the most interesting work in recent years, “The Essex County” outshines it by far. I don’t know if it is pure black and white nature of the stories (where Lemire’s drawing really comes alive) or is it that he’s not trying to do some all-encompassing-mystical-drama-answer-to-life – it’s just that within these pages he managed to create “believable” world, inhabited by “normal” characters caught within the mechanism of life. What really sells it to me is that there is no happy ending of any sort. “Essex County” is no drama in which we desperately try to find some cathartic moment that will save our souls. It’s a story about everlasting beginnings, it’s a story about successes and failures, wrongdoings and attempts of reconciliation. It’s a story of life itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2013
Review: Essex County

Summary: A trilogy of loosely intertwined stories explores the lives of some of the children, men and women of the farming community of Essex County, Canada in this graphic novel.

Review: Jeff Lemire is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I first came across him via the DC Comics series Animal Man and Justice League Dark. I will have to review his excellent graphic novel Underwater Welder later, but for now we'll look at his earlier work Essex County.

Unlike his writing for DC Comics, Lemire's personal works are drawn and written by himself. And rather than focusing on superheroes and end of the world scenarios, Essex County is a slice of life in a rural community that spans several generations.

His artwork is simple, but emotive. The stories are moving, often causing tears to well up in my eyes, but avoid sentimentality in exchange for realism.

The stories he tells are real stories about people who make mistakes, become vulgar when backed into a corner, and ultimately move through life with a mixture of joys and regrets.

And this might sound bizarre, but I enjoyed the smell of the black ink on the pages during this read. It's very distinct and an essential part of the reading experience.

Essex County is a very realistic story. It is a beautiful story.

Rating: 5/5 (I loved it)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2012
Emotionally moving and surprising. Love the connections between the stories. First two stories are definitely the strongest. The second is one I would read again and again. Great story of the power of memory, the scariness of losing it as you age, and the regrets that can pile up when you neglect and abuse relationships in pursuit of protecting your pride. Definitely made me value my siblings and recommit to maintaining those relationships now and in the future. First one is also great, though I've always just been drawn to stories of the old rather than the young. But age aside, both are stories of loneliness and being misunderstood. These two alone would've been five stars, but the others dropped off a bit for me. Just not as compelling, though still worth reading. I really appreciated the mood set by this collection-- recommend putting on some good music and setting aside an evening to at least reading the first two.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2014
If I could give a sixth star, I would. This is Jeff Lemire at his strongest. Not with capes and costumes but with family drama.

If your coming from Sweet Tooth or Trillium, you'll enjoy Essex County.

If you are bored with the Red and the Rot but hung onto Animal Man for the Baker family, you'll enjoy Essex County.

If you are exploring comics primarily for storytelling, you'll enjoy Essex County.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2013
Listen to me:

If you like graphic novels...

A) Buy this right now. Not the kindle version. Spend the 20 bucks and treat yourself to one of the most beautiful, soulful graphic novels ever created. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be different forever. I say this with no irony whatsoever. It's a work of art.

B) If you DON'T like graphic novels and think they're dumb, immature kids' stuff... refer to (A). Then thank me for opening your eyes.
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