Essex County Vol. 2: Ghost Stories (Top Shelf)

essexcounty2-header.gifJeff Lemire’s graphic novel series continues with this deep, sad tale of estranged brothers, mistakes, and hockey.



224 pgs. B&W; $14.95

(W / A: Jeff Lemire)

I don’t typically care what people think of me, but I do often find myself trying to explain to people that there is so much more to comic books and graphic novels than just super-powered beings in tights or weird tales of monsters and spacemen. I try telling them there is a whole genre of sequential art that tells real stories with true character development, that these books with pictures are written every bit as well, if not better than, many of the bestselling novels of our time. The person I am speaking to usually gives me a condescending smile and says something like, "That’s cool," then walks away. Well, the next time I find myself in this conversation I will have a new weapon in my arsenal to use as an example of how comic books can be serious fiction.  That weapon will be Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire.

Ghost Stories—a deep and sad tale of estranged brothers, mistakes, and hockey—is the second in what will be a trilogy of stories in Lemire’s Essex County series. Lou is in the last stage of his life, deaf, alone, and possibly in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He spends his days wandering his dilapidated farm and trying to hide from the in-home assistant that seems to nag him more than help him.  As Lou’s memories fade in and out of the present and the past, the reader is taken back through Lou’s life as he narrates the elements that have brought him to his current station.

The cover to Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire. Click for a larger image.The tale starts in the early 1950s in Toronto, Ontario, when Lou’s younger brother Vince had just joined him on the Toronto semi-pro hockey team, the Grizzlies. Vince is the shot in the arm that the Grizzlies needed to jump from being a losing team to a playoff contender. Everything is going great for Lou: his team is winning and he’s playing professional hockey with Vince, which is a childhood dream come true. Then one fateful night after celebrating a team victory in Lou’s apartment, Lou and Vince’s girlfriend, Beth, have an intimate exchange and everything changes forever. Beth discovers she is pregnant soon after the encounter, and she and Vince move back to the farm to be married and raise their child. Not long after that, Lou blows out his knee and is out of hockey for good. He suddenly finds himself alone in the city with no purpose and too much guilt to go back home. 

Whatever it was that made the Notebook so great to women, Essex County captures that same element in a more masculine story. But this isn’t just a guy’s-only tale. Lemire zeroes in on real life scenarios and emotions, exploring how delicate our relationships can be in a way that everyone can relate to. He focuses on how we can perceive ourselves and how we can be the antagonist in our own life story. He does an excellent job handling the jumping back and forth between Lou’s present and his past memories, bringing out the raw emotion of Lou’s mistakes.

From an art standpoint, the book is a masterpiece. Lemire often uses very thick, hand brushed lines that add much emotion and depth to the characters on the page.  Much of his work looks like it was drawn from the beginning with ink and brush and never used any pencils to sketch the images first, adding a very fluid, organic quality to his work that is a pleasure to look at. Lemire also expertly uses the contrast of the black ink on the white paper to add even more dynamism to his work. Some of the most exciting features of the book are Lemire’s depiction of the hockey games, with well-paced action drawn from a first person perspective that gives you the sensation of being on the ice during the game.  It is a very charming, fun part of the book. Most importantly, Lemire never seems to cram too much in or stretch too many panels out.  Everything has a purpose and makes perfect sense on the page. Plus, there are some very clever story tie-ins with the first Essex County volume, Tales From the Farm.

Ghost Stories isn’t just a good graphic novel, it is a good story for any medium. It has rich imagery, layered depth, and realistic characters with true emotions. It tells its story in a straightforward manner and doesn’t rely on any silly plot devices to keep moving. Jeff Lemire writes and draws a very raw and personal story that will draw you in and most likely have you choked up in a few places. Art at it’s finest. | Ryan Parker

Click here for a 6-page preview, courtesy of Top Shelf!



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