Essex County Volume 2: Ghost Stories is the second in a trilogy of graphic novels by
Jeff Lemire (
Lost Dogs), which are set in a fictionalized version of Lemire’s native soil of
Essex County, Ontario. The first volume,
Tales from the Farm, is connected to Ghost Stories because one of the leads in the former is a minor supporting character in the latter.
Ghost Stories is the tale of the relationship between two brothers,
Lou and Vince Lebeuf, as seen through the eyes of elder brother Lou. Born on the farm in rural Essex, the brothers were extremely close, and grew up playing hockey. In fact, Lou spent his youth dreaming of the day he could leave the farm and go to the big city where he’d play professional hockey.
The narrative opens with Lou, an old man (80ish?), living alone on the family farm. Lou has always lived alone, and being hearing impaired has exacerbated the loneliness of his later years. However, his isolation allows him to relive in his mind the decisions he made that deeply wounded his family – if not destroying his family, then certainly ruining it. His mind travels back to the 1950’s, when Vince arrived in Toronto to join Lou on a semi-professional hockey team. From there, Lou revisits the guilt and regret as he relieves his lonely life.
On the surface, Ghost Stories might seem sad and heartbreaking, and to an extent it is. It is, however, a joy to read, simply for the fact that Jeff Lemire, in these sad and lonely Essex County comics, affirms the humanity of comic books. So much of the American comic book industry has been publishing comics that are bastard children of science fiction and fantasy, with their fantastic and supernatural characters, plots, and settings.
Essex County, on the other hand, is so painfully human. Lemire seems to hold a mirror up to humanity. Ghost Stories isn’t a tragedy, but rather it is the beauty of a real life lived. Through these fictional characters, Lemire reaches for his readers’ souls. We can recognize in Lou Lebeuf – a man living a life he claims he doesn’t want, but living it anyway – the manner in which so many people live. This reflection of humanity that speaks both to the heart and mind of the viewer is what many through the ages have called art – art with a capital “A.”
I am ready for another trip to Essex County.