Essex County by Jeff Lemire

I’m a year or two late to this party, but I’m glad I finally got around to reading the rest of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (I had read the first section previously). Lemire’s book became a cause celebre last year when it was in the running for the CBC’s annual “Canada Reads” competition; especially when a panelist considered it unworthy for being a comic.

I’d like to find that panelist and smack them in the head with a copy of this book in the hope that it knocks some sense into them. Lemire’s work here is everything we love about Canadian literature: the sense of place, the examination of family, the tension between city life and small town traditions, of dark secrets and coping with both human nature and mother nature. It is as brilliant and touching as anything I have read by Margaret Laurence, Stephen Leacock, or Alice Munro. Indeed, if someone had handed me the volume about the nurse and told me that it was written by Laurence, I would have believed them.

Essex County is not just just great Canadiana or great comics, it’s a great story and I found myself identifying with a lot of it. Lemire’s brush technique has a perfect weight and tension for this material; combined with a lack of gray tones and tiny hand lettering, as well as what I assume is Lemire’s own artwork from childhood, this is a well-executed passion piece for him. I plan to buy a copy for my parents; I only wish that my grandparents were around to read it too.

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