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Sara Quin defends: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

essex-140.jpgThe book: Jeff Lemire's Essex County (Top Shelf Productions) is composed of three interconnected graphic novels: Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse. The minimalistic though intensely emotional trilogy gives form to the author's inspired vision of what it means to live, work, dream and even die in a Southwestern Ontario rural community. Read more >>


The author: A graphic novelist and comics illustrator who has garnered international acclaim, Jeff Lemire paid tribute to his rural roots in his remarkable trilogy, Essex County (Top Shelf Productions), and the world of comics responded with a plethora of major prizes and rave reviews. Read more >>

The panelist: She's a musician who has been in the limelight for more than a decade, though she's only 30. Calgary native Sara Quin, one half of the indie music sensation known as Tegan & Sara, has been singing and writing songs with her twin sister, Tegan, since she was 15. Read more >>

On the Canada Reads blog:

Read and listen to Essex County excerpts

Jeff Lemire on Canada Reads launch day

Meet musician Sara Quin

Jeff Lemire gives readers a tour of Essex County

Canada Reads resident blogger Brian Francis on Essex County

The Beguiling offers the inside scoop on Essex County

Podcast: Sara Quin defends Essex County


Around the CBC:

The Next Chapter interview

Airplay interview

Homerun event in Montreal

Cheering for Essex County?

Get your Champion Badge here!

Support Essex County on Twitter and Facebook with a Twibbon!

Andrea Chiu defends: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Andrea Chiu Essex County

November 28, 2010

Hello internet! I'm Andrea, an interactive producer at CBC Radio, and I'm excited to be the online defender of Essex County by Jeff Lemire. When I heard there would be a graphic novel on Canada Reads this year, I was immediately excited. Not only have I wanted to read Essex County, but I think this will be a great opportunity for graphic novels to gain some respect. I realize that it will be an uphill battle since some people (ahem, Georges Laraque) have already turned up their nose and dismissed Essex County as "just a cartoon." But anyone who has read Art Spiegelman's Maus or Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis knows that graphic novels are more than cartoons. Graphic novels can be just as moving and credible as traditional novels. Essex County may not have the historical weight of Maus or Persepolis, but flip through its pages and you'll see that it tells the story of Canada in a beautiful way.

Will you be championing Essex County this Canada Reads season? Why or why not?

Andrea on her first impressions of Essex County

December 5, 2010

In last week's introduction, I made the argument that graphic novels can be just as powerful as a traditional novel. I used Maus and Persepolis as examples, but I wasn't sure how Essex County would achieve the same level of emotion as a book about the Holocaust or the Islamic Revolution. After all, Jeff Lemire's collection is just a story about the people of Essex County and...what ever happens there?

I dove into the 510-page collection without any expectations and was immediately hooked. If it wasn't for the arrival of house guests, I would have read it all in one sitting. This is a book full of emotion. Essex County isn't a story that is driven by plot but by the relationships the characters have with each other. This is most true in Book Two: Ghost Stories, which tells the tale of a former hockey player who leads a lonely life full of regret. I'm no wimp, but I admit, I almost cried.

For readers who would normally pass over a graphic novel, I encourage you to give Essex County a fair shot. From his evocation of the tap of hockey sticks on ice to the cold silence of falling snow, Jeff Lemire has given us a book that's not just a treat for the eyes but all our senses.

What were your first impressions of Essex County?

Andrea on why Essex County is an 'essential' read

December 12, 2010

What does the word "essential" mean when we're talking about Canada Reads? Some people love period fiction, others read science fiction exclusively but if you fancy yourself a lover of literature, you're likely someone who approaches all books with an open mind...right? An essential book means that it's a great example of a certain kind of book, whether it's fantasy, historical fiction or mystery. It's not only a great representation of its genre, but is enjoyable for people who don't usually read that kind of book.

Essex County is exactly that. It's not just an essential graphic novel, but an essential book. It is a perfect example of how good a graphic novel can be, but has a reach beyond those who are already fans of the genre. Yes, author Jeff Lemire is a skilled illustrator, but he has also created universally captivating characters and a story that is uniquely Canadian. The product is something that all Canadians should read.

Is Essex County an "essential" read for you? Why or why not?

Andrea on the 'Canadian-ness' of Essex County

December 19, 2010

Jeff Lemire'sEssex County may be based on a fictional county in Southwestern Ontario but it could take place in almost any part of Canada. Except for scenes in Toronto, the landscapes are vast, often lonely and quiet. Hockey plays a prominent role as the characters are players, has-been stars of the ice or enthusiastic fans. Lots of land, wintry scenes and hockey -- for most Canadians, it doesn't get any more "Canadian" than that. Even though I'm a city girl who can barely skate and has never played a game of hockey, I still felt pride and connection to the characters of Essex County. I know the landscapes that Jeff has illustrated, but an overarching theme in the book is loneliness -- in a land so big, it's hard to feel anything but alone. Ultimately, the book and its characters find love and help within their own communities. It's a reminder that despite how big Canada is, we can all find our own communities close to home. Hockey or not, it's something all Canadians can identify with.

Do you feel that Essex County is a "Canadian" book? Why or why not?

Andrea discusses her favourite character

January 8, 2011

"You know, there are only two ways to be completely alone in this world...lost in a crowd...or in total isolation."

These are words my favourite character Lou Lebeuf says in Essex County. He's a farm boy turned professional hockey player and later a streetcar driver who eventually returns home to Essex County. Perhaps it's my fondness for the elderly that drew me to him, but it is Mr. Lebeuf we get closest to as we cover almost his entire life.

He's an old, senile man and we see his life through confused flashbacks. We learn of his happiest times as a professional hockey player, his unrequited love and his tumultuous relationship with his brother and teammate, Vince. Never married and estranged from his family, Lou is flawed more than any other character. He's selfish, stubborn and drinks too much and although his family has suffered through tragedy, it's Lou himself who is to blame for a life of loneliness and regret. He knows this though and that makes Lou likable for me. He has made mistakes, but his self awareness and lack of self-pity make him endearing.

Who is your favourite character in Essex County?

Andrea on her favourite scene

January 15, 2011

It's a good sign when I can see and hear a graphic novel like a movie. Essex County is a book that treats all the senses and that's one of the reasons it's great. It also makes it difficult to choose a favourite scene. One panel sticks out in mind and it happens at the end of Ghost Stories, the book I've already pointed out. In it, Lou is looking back on his life to perhaps one of the saddest points. It's a heartbreaking scene that captures what makes Essex County so powerful:

Lou is sitting on the porch when he hears his brother Vince call him from inside the house. He has fallen and can't get up. He goes to him and holds him in Vince's final moments. Lou begs him to hold on but his brother just doesn't want to. "I'm tired...tired of being without her," Vince says, referring to his dead wife. Lou's responds with "I just don't want to be alone again. I've spent too much of my damn life alone." But it's not enough and Vice passes away in his arms.

With the image of an old and wrinkled and tearful Lou holding his brother, we hear the gradual "tap, tap" of hockey sticks on the ice. We turn the page and in a two-page panel we see the Lebeuf's old hockey team surround the old men. They're all somber but tapping their hockey sticks on the ice as a sign of respect. "Thanks boys," Lou says and the reader is transported back to present day.

Which scene in Essex County is your favourite?

Andrea on Essex County's biggest competition

January 22, 2011

Although the other books are all worthy opponents, Essex County's biggest obstacle is not a book. Its biggest challenge will be overcoming the prejudice other panelists have against graphic novels. On Canada Reads launch day, Georges Laraque dismissed Essex County as a "cartoon" before reading it. Assuming he has read it by now, I wonder if Georges still feels the same way.

I haven't met anyone who has not loved Essex County once they have given it a chance. As Brisei02 wrote on the site, "I never read graphic novels only because I didn't think they 'qualified' as a 'book.' There is so much to read that I didn't want to waste my time on a cartoon. Thanks to Canada Reads, I read Essex County and was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this style of writing. Sometimes less is more, that couldn't be more true in this case."

Once panelists and readers get over the format of Essex County, I'm confident that it will go far in Canada Reads.

Which book do you think is Essex County's biggest competition?

Andrea offers Sara Quin advice

January 29, 2011

Dear Sara,

Before the final rap battle in 8 Mile, Eminem's character is asked how he will defend himself against the taunts of his opponent. He already knows he'll be made fun of for his skin colour, his alcoholic mom and his unfaithful girlfriend. So what does Eminem do? He takes the stage and admits all these things and then challenges his opponent to "tell these people something they don't know about me."

Essex County's biggest obstacle is overcoming the prejudice against its format: the graphic novel.

My advice to you is to follow Eminem's lead: address the book's comic status early on and force the conversation to be about the quality of Essex County, not its format. Everyone who has read Essex County agrees it has complex characters, fantastic scenery and a relatable story. If you steer the debate to focus on the quality of characters and story of the book, Essex County has a very good shot at winning Canada Reads this year.

What advice would you offer to Sara Quin?

Discuss the book here.

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