This book collects together what I think is one of the greatest achievements in comics in the last 10 years, Jeff Lemire's Essex County stories.
Essex County is a part of Ontario, Canada, and the three books collected here - Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories, and The Country Nurse - explores the area and it's inhabitants.
Tales from the Farm follows a lonely boy called Lester who has recently lost his mother, never knew his father, and is in the care of his uncle. The two have an awkward relationship as they struggle to come to terms with grief and the balance of their relationship. Lester draws comics and dresses as a superhero, and finally makes a friend in the form of Jimmy LeBeuf, a gas station attendant who used to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs before an injury brought an end to his career. The two find a small measure of happiness in their bleak lives in their time talking together about comics and hockey.
Ghost Stories follows the story of two brothers, Lou and Vince LeBeuf, who play minor league hockey in Toronto. They both dream of making it into the big leagues but Vince (the more gifted of the brothers at hockey) meets a girl, marries her, drops hockey, and starts a family and farm out in the country. Lou tries to crack the major leagues but incurs a career ending injury and spends his life driving a tram in Toronto. A dark secret splits these once close brothers so that they never speak for decades.
The Country Nurse follows the story of Anne Byrne who looks after Lou LeBeuf as well as other people in Essex County. We find out about her lonely home life and her family's ancestors. The revelations in her family tie together the LeBeuf family and ties the trilogy together.
Also included are the stories "The Essex County Boxing Club" and "The Sad and Lonely Life of Eddie Elephant Ears" as well as "Barnyard Scraps: Bonus Material".
Lemire's artwork is nothing short of breathtaking. The haunting shadows of the bleak landscapes and the expressions on his characters' faces stay with you long after you've put the book down. There are many pages which stay in mind: Lou and Vinnie LeBeuf's final embrace, Lester and Uncle Kenny sitting down to dinner, Anne sitting at her kitchen table crocheting to Roy Orbison, and the final few pages with the crow. They're all imbued with a quiet tragedy and melancholy that you don't often see from comics.
If you're a fan of comics but in particular the kind that you hope will match Will Eisner's "Contract with God Trilogy" for emotional power coupled with masterful storytelling and artwork you wish was big enough to decorate your walls, Jeff Lemire's "The Complete Essex County" is your book. I can't recommend it higher.