The Collected Essex County

by on Aug.30, 2009, under Comics

essexcountysoftcover_lg

Essex County is an ambitious effort. It reminded me a bit of Faulkner’s The Bear. (Okay, not that ambitious. What’s another example of a book that weaves family histories in separate stories set in the same place over a long period? I’m tired and my brain isn’t working right.)

The collection brings together three graphic novels all set in a fictionalized version of author Jeff Lemire’s home of Essex County, Ontario, a farming county whose inhabitants only ever seem to make it to the city if they play pro hockey. Each of the graphic novels is centered on a separate family, but as the stories unfold it becomes clear that the families are all related–albeit in ways often unknown to at least some of the family members.

Yet their tragedies are the same even when they don’t know each other. These are all stories of men whose children grow up without them, men who spend their whole lives lonely because they are cut off from the families they should have. The last of the three is putatively about a woman, but most of what she does is try to force resolutions in all the male-dominated stories around her. I don’t mean this as a feminist critique of the work; graphic novels have less space to develop their themes than other kinds of fiction, and I think it works beautifully to have all the stories echo each other in this way.

The art reminds me a little bit of fellow Canadian Chester Brown but with heavier, unrulier lines. Like Chet Brown crossed with a German Expressionist woodcut. Everything looks very sad and empty. I was particularly impressed with the way Lemire managed not only to create instantly recognizable characters with relatively few lines and simple outlines, but fairly subtle family resemblances.

Partial preview below the fold. Much fuller preview here.

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