Saturday, October 29, 2011


In “Ghost Stories,” the second part of Jeff Lemire’s acclaimed Essex Country trilogy from Top Shelf Comics, readers follow the story of brothers Lou and Vince LeBeuf from their time playing amateur hockey together for the Toronto Grizzlies up until their final years. Lemire tells this story through flashbacks – seen from Lou’s contemporary point of view – and offsets it with Lou’s current struggle to keep his family farm, keep his independence (as a nurse comes in to help a few times a week), and the eventual inevitability of him moving into a nursing home.

The main plot is a fairly standard one – that of a rift between brothers over their mutual love of a single woman – but Lemire infuses the narrative with more soul and emotion than is in many of these tales. And, he does not take it in the direction one initially expects. What appears to be foreshadowing very early in the book is actually a result of Lou’s failing health and his inability to properly recall the memories of his life.

The most vivid, and most special, moments in Lou’s life revolve around his brother Vince, who was bigger and more skilled at hockey than Lou could ever hope. The year he shared a hockey line with Vince, when they led Toronto to the playoffs, burns bright on the horizon of his mind. This pivotal time in Lou’s life is also the point where things went so wrong for these two. And it all flows naturally from the characterizations of these LeBeuf brothers.

Lou’s fading health, as he cuts himself off from the rest of his family after the mistake made during that fateful year in Toronto, mirrors his emotional deterioration. It is notable that, once Vince and his fiancée Beth leave Toronto to return to the farm, Lou suffers a debilitating knee injury that ends his own hockey career. But, at that point, he cannot go home. So he remains in the city and finds a job driving a streetcar on the public transit lines of Toronto.

Eventually, Lou and Vince come together after a family tragedy. Things are uncomfortable, and the LeBeuf brothers are never able to recapture that special bond they once had. But they are there for each other, as well as for young Jimmy LeBeuf (whom we saw in the first volume of Essex County), whose limited hockey career is able to wipe the slate clean between these brothers, at least for the short time they are able to watch him play.

With this second part of his Essex County trilogy, Jeff Lemire continues to exhibit the skills of an artist of more advanced years. His pacing is pitch-perfect, teasing out the narrative in a manner that allows pieces of the puzzle to connect slowly until various points collide, bringing the entirety of the narrative into sharp focus.

And his artwork suffuses the story with such emotion, elevating it to another level. Lemire knows when to pull back and when to close in on a moment, evoking very authentic feelings that we all have experienced at one time or another. I continue to be amazed at the ease with which he paints these characters while swiftly engaging his audience and never letting go until the final page. I anxiously look forward to reading the final part of this landmark graphic novel. If you haven’t read this yet, you need to get out and find a copy. This is as good as it gets in comics.

Also, if you’re curious, my thoughts on the first part of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy – “Tales From the Farm” – can be found here.


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