Sanja Gligorić
Popular Culture in Twentieth-Century Anglophone Literature Hockey as Canada’s Uniting Force in Jeff Lemire’s The Collected Essex County (Volumes I & II)

I Introduction

Jeff Lemire is an eminent Canadian cartoonist who achieved great acclaim after publishing his trilogy of graphic novels that came out in a collected edition in 2009 titled The Collected Essex County. In this trilogy, Lemire attempts to depict the Canadian mindset and discern the role hockey has in the country as a uniting force between people, at the local, as well as at the national level. Lemire's work is essential for understanding these existing bonds, and as far as its structure is concerned, Will Eisner and Lan Dong, respectively, outline pivotal observations that explain the graphic (novel) form as such,

The fundamental function of comic (strip and book) art to communicate ideas and/ or stories by means of words and pictures involves the movement of certain images (such as people and things) through space (Eisner, 1985: 38).

Commonly known as book-length comics, graphic narratives include both fiction and nonfiction. The past three decades have seen an increase in the readership of graphic narratives as well as in scholarly interests in this subject (Dong, 2012: 5).

Dong goes on to point out "the legitimacy and value of graphic narratives" which can, and have been, used when it comes to representing important issues and questions, and can also be employed as an aid to better "understand social, political, and cultural issues" (Dong, 2012: 5). Not only is the graphic novel deserving of study and can help illustrate important cultural and social points, but so can hockey, too, which is precisely what Jean Dion, in his foreword for Hockey and Philosophy (2015) titled "Thinker on the Rink", playfully asserts by sharing his viewpoint on the importance of hokey in the mindset of Canadians,

One could chuckle that hockey has attained the status of a religion in this country. Hockey Night in Canada as Saturday night mass. Montreal, the Mecca of hockey. The Montreal Forum, the Temple on Saint Catherine Street. The Canadiens are known in French as la Sainte-Flanelle, the “Holy Flannel.” And if we had Stanley Cup parades a bit more often, we could certainly talk of religious processions. Therefore, like all religious expression, and like all human endeavour (rational or otherwise) to explain one’s mortality, to express one’s allegiances, or to find one’s place in a seemingly absurd universe, hockey is deserving of philosophical study. You could even say it has a duty to be held up to the light and taken seriously, to transcend its frivolous and playful identity (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: xi).

Many academic writers who are enthusiastic about studying sports in an attempt to better grasp its importance in modern life do point out that sports in general (and hockey by extension) can be marked as a marginal part of cultural reality if we were to compare it to economy, education or politics (Giulianotti, 2015). However, Đorđević presents the following arguments as a means to disclose his viewpoint regarding the essential place sports have in contemporary lives,

The marginality can be comprehended conditionally if we were to take into consideration that sports in our contemporary global culture presents one of the most important phenomena, and that it involves a large number of people, whether that be directly or indirectly. In this meaning, the lesser importance of sports in the context of general societal power loses on its relevance if this phenomenon is observed solely from the angle of researching popular culture, as it is usually done, regardless of its huge influence on creating and reproducing identity in the contemporary world (Đorđević, 2009: 1-2).

Adding a further affirmative remark, "sport is said to inculcate values and virtues" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: xvi), which is precisely the role hockey attains in Jeff Lemire's graphic novel trilogy where, in its three parts differing in volume and content, Lemire explores and depicts the importance hockey has in Canada both in terms of local communities and at the national level. Lemire shows that for certain members of the Essex county in Ontario, Canada (which is where the graphic novel takes place) hockey players attain the status of superheroes, as well as that they can be viewed as national superheroes at the level of the entire nation.

This is one of the ways in which the love for what might be the biggest of Canadian sports instills feelings of togetherness into Canadian life and helps create a group identity among its citizens. On the other hand, Lemire also explores the role hockey can have in representing the divide between the francophone and the anglophone parts of Canada, as well as the role it takes on in bringing closer members of the same family who have grown apart due to misfortunate circumstances – a father and a son, as well as two brothers who were magnanimous hockey players when they were young.

The main body of the paper will be divided into two sections, corresponding to each of the two covered graphic novel's volumes (I and II), and will present an analysis of how hockey plays the part of uniting the local community at a micro level, and show its role in building the nation's sense of community at a macro level.

II Volume One: Tales from the Farm 2.1. Superheroes and Hockey Players

The first volume in Lemire's trilogy opens with an iconic image of the ten-year-old protagonist Lester Papineau claded as a superhero, as he is starting to fly – a dreamy sequence that is abruptly interrupted by his uncle Kenny's voice who brings him back to reality by reprimanding him for not having fed the chicken on the farm before playing, and orders him to "take that damn outfit off" (Lemire, 2009a: 12). The flightless chickens can be seen as an analogy to Lester, who is also grounded despite his immense desire to fly. This is also represented in two panels that align Lester and one chicken (he is depicted in the panel above the chicken) both looking equally lost and desperate to escape (Lemire, 2009a: 53). Throughout the entire volume, the uncle and nephew will fail to find proper ways to communicate, which is what Lester manages to do with another character – Jimmy LeBeuf, the two sharing mutual appreciation for the game of hockey, as well as an understanding of the world of comics and superheroes.

This installment is segmented into four parts - Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, and it depicts the protagonist Lester's life at the farm with his uncle. It is soon disclosed that Lester's mother Claire died from cancer, and as the volume progresses, it becomes clear that his relationship with his uncle is not as good as it should be – the two need time to learn how to get along. One day in the fall, Lester goes to the creek, where he sees Jimmy LeBeuf, a former hockey player, spearfishing (Lemire, 2009a: 32). The two befriend each other in this volume and share musings on both hockey and superheroes. Both characters spend a lot of time alone and share the feelings of being misunderstood by people surrounding them, and the friendship they develop helps Lester become more sociable while sharing his private world of comics with LeBeuf, to whom he shows a comic of his own creation on a winter's day while Kenny is out selling chicken from the farm.

The tie that binds the nephew and uncle is precisely their immense appreciation for hockey, a game that first appears in a panel that represents Kenny watching a game on TV (Lemire, 2009a: 14). The rift between him and his nephew is presented through the disrupted ritual of watching the game, because Lester refuses Kenny's call to join him, but goes into his room and turns on the TV to watch it by himself (Lemire, 2009a: 15). Thus, both of them watch the same hockey game – but the game fails ever so abysmally to bring them together, i.e. it does not bridge the gap between the two men. It is with LeBeuf with whom Lester shares both his love of superheroes and his love for hockey (Lemire, 2009a: 18, 33, 56, 67 ) .

It comes as no surprise that Lemire has the character of Lester feel so strongly towards both superheroes and hockey players, for it is the latter who can be interpreted as national heroes who are off to save the world, and they symbolize hope due to the beauty of the game they are partaking in. Upon proposing that sports (in particular hockey) be regarded as worthy of academic observation and philosophical enquiry, the two editors of the volume Hockey and Philosophy, Normand Baillargeon and Christian Boissinot steadily draw on the aesthetic element of philosophical discipline and point out "the concept of beauty", i.e. "the way in which a sport may be considered an art form" and the need to understand "its practioners artists" as well as "its spectators appreciators" addressing the need to clarify "the nature of the aesthetic emotion that we can be said to feel when witnessing an athletical performance" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: xv). Such a high regard of hockey is what this volume's protagonist, a boy who fails to fit into the rural Canadian farming life, fosters and it is precisely his love for hockey that ultimately ties him to yet another Canadian misfit, Jimmy, who owns the gas station in their town, and used to be a hockey star.

The aesthetic element of the game, which both Baillargeon and Boissinot point to, and the idea of hockey players as artists can be elaborated on by using Lemire's graphic novel as a solid corpus for at certain parts in this installment, as already mentioned, it is noticeable that Lester cherishes superheroes who are present in his daydreaming, in the comic book Heroes and Villains that he creates from scratch, as well as on the walls of his room in the form of posters, next to which he places posters of hockey players (Lemire, 2009a: 40), who can be analyzed by extension as taking on the role of national superheroes, both on a local level (in Lester's mind), as well as on the national level (in terms of how Canada treats and puts on a pedestal its hockey players). The ties between 'regular' heroes and supermen do exist,

The Greek term heros refers to a figure with the charisma of a sacred and religious being. The hero is someone who serves as an inspiration and symbolizes the ideal of the group who venerates him. This gives him something in common with the superman: the hero is not real because we admire him for what he represents — what he ought to be, not what he really is (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 67).

A hero can be further defined as "someone whose exploits are interpreted in a mythical fashion" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 63). Thus, by regarding hockey players as superheroes, Lester mythologizes them, which might be of aid to him when it comes to finding balance and security in his life, and even some sort of escape from the daily mundane. To understand Lester's way of thinking in this regard, it might be of use to place myths in a contemporary context, which is precisely what Ivan Kovačević attempts to do in one of his books when he embarks upon explaining why the contemporary man relates to such a particular way of thinking about the world, i.e. what makes him regard it in terms of myths and beliefs, stressing that it fulfills "the metaphysical and psychological needs" of an individual person, or a group of people, and goes on to state the following,

Even today, key mythological paradigms represent a referential framework during instinctive choices that groups make in situations of risk. That is why myths determine 'destiny patterns' of peoples – its makers and carriers. (...) Myths are a cultural necessity for they bring imaginary satisfaction, thus restoring the balance of sense (Kovačević, 2006: 9).

Kovačević also points out that myths concerning heroic acts, heroes, war heroes, saviours of people, and others, serve to "symbolize the values that national groups are adamant to affirm as its identity, regardless of the negative, or even openly repressive reaction of the general public" (Kovačević, 2006: 9-10), and goes on to state that the contemporary science aims to deconstruct myths and therefore disclose what made them be constructed as such by particular groups or individuals.

In this sense, when Lester relates hockey players to superheroes, he, in an elaborated manner, creates a myth out of athletes, because it is precisely in this process that he and other members of their community manage to ascribe values they hold in high regard to famous men, i.e. a hockey players. Lester might have been stopped in his attempt to fly at the very beginning of the novel, but hockey players are the ones who can assume the role of heroes at any point of the day and do their job of 'saving the world' by playing the game.

Simultaneously, Lester and other people from his surroundings bring to the character of hockey players those virtues upon which the entire Essex county community bases and affirms their sense of togetherness. This feeling of belonging together shared among social groups interested in a sports activity is the point on which Brand and Niemann base their understanding of identity in the context of football, an area of their academic interest, and are also inspired by the notions of group identity (Eder, 2009) while forming their following definition of identity in the framework of sports, Identities are collectively held self-understandings which are grounded in frames or narrative constructions delineating the boundaries of a network of actors. Consequently, identities are about 'us versus them' phenomena, normal/ foreign, acceptable/ unacceptable actions, ideas and lifestyles, about 'membership' and the stories upon which it is founded, emotional attachment and delineations from 'others' in a situation of group plurality. (Brand and Niemann, 2014: 44).

By employing this definition of identity in the context of sports and extending it to the game of hockey, and the reception it has among individual Canadians in this installment, it can be stated that Lester, and every other individual of Essex county feel strongly inclined towards the 'us' in the dichotomy 'us versus them' and it is precisely their high opinion of hockey players and the immense love for the game that makes them embark upon this mutual accord and shared understanding within the group that they have formed and feel as they are members of. It is no wonder that Baillargeon and Boissinot term hockey "the sport that is closest to Quebecois' hearts (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: xvi), and go on to say that it is "an emblematic part" of the country's culture, as well as that it "plays a defining role in its identity" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: xvii). As representatives of any two Canadian people, the graphic novel's characters Lester and Jimmy LeBeuf become friends and start spending time together because they discover that they are both interested in hockey – it is precisely this uniting string, a love they share, which strengthens their relationship.

2.2. Maturing with the Help of National Heroes

In addition, it is not solely the individuals that think so highly of hockey and are tied to each other because of that shared love, the entire nation does so. Thus, hockey players can also be regarded as national heroes, which leads to the discussion concerning the macro level, i.e. how hockey ties people not solely on the local level, but also on the national level. National heroes can be persons who truly existed, as well as those about whose existence we are not sure, where even for the ones who did exist, people tend to weave fictional stories making it sometimes impossible to draw a line between truth and fiction.

Individuals that go through the process of being attributed the title of national heroes (whether they are politicians, scientists, athletes, etc.) share similar characteristics, which is what Dragana Antonijević points out in her work concerning the mentioned process in the context of Serbian historical figures that have attained the status of national heroes, and she states that the creation of national heroes "represents a cultural and social construction" which heavily relies upon the historical setting and the political context, and goes on to state that there are three elements that are key to defining a national hero: "historical circumstance in which the hero is brought into attention", "heroic character", and "the property of the national symbol" (Antonijević, 2007 :20) and she sees as one of his most important virtues "the hero's' ability to place social and national values above his personal ones" (Antonijević, 2007: 22).

It is precisely the final remark that sets in motion and perpetuates the identification of a community or people with the person they see as a national hero – they adore and glorify these persons because they "embody the highest national and cultural values" and therefore "serve as a model for identification" (Antonijević, 2007: 23), i.e. it is through the character of a national hero that a community and nation manifest and affirm their aspirations. It comes to no surprise, as stated on the Radio Canada's website, that "Canadians carry hockey in their skin" and that "from the beginning of the 20th century, the sport has become a part of the social fibre and even of Canadian society." 1 Following Antonijević's outline, hockey players can surely be interpreted as models with which the nation identifies itself and to which it ascribes numerous values.

In addition to a steady inquiry into ways in which hockey, and love for comics brings together two people (Lester and LeBeuf, the latter is later even disclosed as Lester's real father) and how it can by extension create cohesion in the Canadian mindset, this volume also shows a gradual development in the character Lester's personality. By showing characteristics of temporal discontinuity, that has become a characteristic of postmodernism, in that postmodernist fiction "disorders the linear coherence of narrative" (Lewis, 2001: 124), Lemire provides the readers with flashbacks. This occurs in this volume in the instances in which both Kenny and Lester remember Claire, and her funeral (Lemire, 2009a: 85), and these glimpses of the past help piece together what both Lester and Kenny have gone through, represented in one of these

1 "Les Canadiens ont le hockey dans la peau.  Ce sport fait partie, depuis le début du 20e siècle, du tissu social même de la société canadienne."  ("Fous de hockey!" on www.radio-canada.ca).

flashbacks as being truly heartbroken while crying at her funeral (Lemire, 2009a: 87).

One other device that Lemire uses is that of employing birds (Lemire, 2009: 41, 68, 88) as symbols of stability, goodness, and love, which function as a transformational and transitional space in the very form of the graphic novel, i.e. they themselves take on the form of gutters, and fill the empty spaces between separate temporal aspects, which is why Lemire uses them at those points when he switches between perspectives, as well as between temporal aspects. This technique is an indication of Lemire's innovation when creating this volume, and is deserving of analysis because it aids a well-established flow. In addition, by taking an empty space, or blank space between times and turning it into a bird, that is a presence, Lemire argues that transitions and times in-between occurrences, can be seen as ways in which we ultimately manage to connect with each other.

The first installment ends in an encounter between Lester and Jimmy, during which the former wears his superhero outfit, and the latter his hockey gear. It is precisely at this point that Lemire depicts Jimmy's full understanding of his son, as well as his true love for the game because Jimmy plays along with Lester's idea of an ensuing attack demanding heroic action and when being asked why he is wearing his gear, he replies, "If I'm gonna go, I figure I wanna be wearing this. Besides, it's the closest thing to battle armour I got" (Lemire, 2009a: 92).

A scene ensues of an attack seemingly occurring, with Lester saving the world, following the realization that LeBeuf is his father because he utters a sentence that Kenny marked to Lester as being employed on numerous occasions by his father. This realization might be the point at which Lester reaches maturity, for we see him at the end of the volume leaving his mask and cape hanging from a branch of a tree while he is walking away. LeBeuf was not the only one wearing an armour, Lester did so, too. But his affiliation with the world of superheroes, athletic national heroes and daydreams might be seen as an allegory for his process of growing up, which can lead to this volume being analyzed as a "coming-of-age" story, or a bildungsroman, a term that applies to fiction "detailing personal development" ( Childs and Fowler, 2006 :18), where the character "takes major steps" in the direction of maturity, after having gone "through a difficult experience in order to come out the other side with greater strength and wisdom"2

2 The definition was provided on the Literary Terms website, www.literaryterms.net

III Volume Two: Ghost Stories 3.1. Hockey in Anglophone and Francophone Canada


The second installment in the graphic novel series opens with the following quote from Stephen Leacock,

Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive. (Lemire, 2009b, 4).

Speaking of "capturing the essence of Canadian experience" (as stated by Lealock) in terms of numbers, the Focus Canada 2012 survey, conducted by the Environics Institute, presents data concerning how the public regards ties that bind the country, and it ranks hockey as the ninth symbol of Canadian identity (44%), preceded by the following symbols: Health care system, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadian flag, national anthem, RCMP, multiculturalism, and Canadian literature and music. 3 Regardless of these results, academics such as Patoine do point out in their work that "hockey sparks" Canadians' "passion and unites" them "much more powerfully than the Queen, the RCMP, or universal health care" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 3). Moreover, Patoine states that,

In its journey from the arena to radio to television over the years, hockey has become more than just a simple pastime: it is a true Canadian tradition, a quasi-religion. For these reasons, it’s tempting to present hockey in Canada as a “total social fact” 4 (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 6).

Thus, the volume "Ghost Stories" shows how hockey concerns all members of Canadian

society by dealing at large with the lives of hockey players themselves, and touches upon the

way the teammates, both from the French-speaking and the English-speaking parts of Canada,

communicate among themselves. Thus, one of the preoccupations of this volume resides in

making space for a well-elaborated observation of how the two sides of Canada work together

when placed next to each other, and it marks the points of discord that arise from such acooperation.

3 The survey can be accessed on www.environicsinstitute.org.

4 In this chapter of Hockey and Philosophy, Tony Patoine refers to the sociologist Marcel Mauss's observations regarding the "total social fact", which according to Mauss "concerns all members of a given society and tells us something about all its members".


When Patoine discusses hockey, nationalism, and identity in Quebec and Canada, he states his following observation regarding the function hockey plays in gluing together the 'two nations':

Two nations: Québec and Canada. One national sport: hockey. (...) No matter where you are in Canada, there’s no denying it. The Canadian media are incurably fixated on it, and the fever it gives us during the Winter Olympics proves the point further: more than almost any other part of our culture, hockey binds Canadians together a mari usque ad mare. Despite what some public opinion surveys say about the importance of certain symbols with respect to Canadian identity, hockey sparks our passion and unites us much more powerfully than the Queen, the RCMP, or universal health care. Only snow, ice, cold, and the Tim Hortons that dot our highways come close to competing with the sport. In a very visceral way, hockey is linked to what it means to be “truly” Canadian (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 3- 4).

Patoine sums up his observation with the following remark, "hockey is synonymous with Canadian identity" and goes on to ponder where Quebec fits into this viewpoint wondering whether hockey could "assimilate the province into the Canadian monolith" i.e. "could the sport be a key ingredient in building the national unity and identity" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 4) of both the francophone and the anglophone parts of the country? Such observations are followed by an in-depth inquiry into the actual role that hockey plays in both parts: Quebec and Canada,

Hockey (primarily in the form of the Montréal Canadiens) is less powerful as a nationbuilding tool for Quebec than it is for Canada. In Canada, hockey behaves as a multifaceted ideological tool that participates actively and positively in nation building. It plays an integral role in affirming Canadian national identity on a daily basis.

(...) By contrast, in Quebec, barring an extreme change to the political landscape, hockey appears doomed to contribute to a reactive and barren discourse on national identity (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 5).

As it was shown and elaborated in the previous chapter regarding the first volume, "Tales from the Farm" hockey's role in building a sense of unity and togetherness is very much so present in the English-speaking part of Canada, both at the level of individuals, as well as on that of the community. As far as Quebec is concerned, hockey's role can be elaborated on by using two literary examples: this second installment in Lemire's trilogy, as well as Roch Carrier's famous story written in French and translated as "The Hockey Sweater", who parallels Lemire's depiction of animosity existing between teammates who speak different languages.

To analyze the latter, Carrier has based this story on his very own experiences of a child living in Quebec and rooting for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. He developed a particular fondness for his athletic hero, Maurice Richard, alongside his childhood friends. All of them wore Montreal Canadiens' sweaters with Richard's number 9 printed on their backs,

Through our daydreams it might happen that we would recite a prayer: we would ask God to help us play as well as Maurice Richard.

I remember very well the winter of 1946. We all wore the same uniform as Maurice Richard, the red, white and blue uniform of the Montreal Canadiens, the best hockey team in the world. We all combed our hair like Maurice Richard, and to keep it in place we used a kind of glue – a great deal of glue. We laced our skates like Maurice Richard. We cut his pictures out of all the newspapers. Truly, we knew everything there was to know about him (Carrier, 1985: 1).

Considering the fact that Carrier sets the story in 1946, and that "the construction of the hero image [pertaining to Richard]" was at its highest "from 1942 to 1955, the period in which Richard racked up so many impressive performances and distinguished himself from his peers" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 64), it comes as no surprise that the youth of Quebec think so highly of him. Carrier depicts the boys in such a manner that they think of their favourite athlete, Maurice Richard, as being endowed with "heroic character" (Antonijević, 2007 :20), and as such he represents "a model for identification" (Antonijević, 2007: 23), which is precisely what the boys do by attempting to imitate their athletic hero. In words of Julie Perrone, Maurice 'Rocket' Richard can be described as a very important part of cultural heritage, "a hockey player whose renown has outgrown the walls of the Forum, extending beyond the borders of Canada and transcending generations", and "a Quebec hero" whose example is employed in order to "epitomize important values" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 61-62), thus it comes as no surprise that the boys living in Quebec hold the athlete in such high regard.

The story's plot revolves around the following situation: Carrier's mother, as a French- speaking citizen, attempts to order from the big city (Eaton company, Montreal) a new sweater for her son because he grew out from the old one, and failing to communicate properly because she doesn't speak English and thus cannot understand the order forms included in the catalogue and written in English, Roch is sent a sweater of the Toronto Maple Leafs instead, who are Montreal's biggest rivals. The outcome of such a failure in communication leads to Roch being put on a stand by both his friends, their coach, the referee, and the young curate, who ultimately prevents him from playing the game to its finish. The story in itself can be analyzed as an allegory of the tension that exists between the francophone and anglophone sides of Canada, and it is considered as a pivotal work that discloses the nation's undying passion for the game of hockey.

The rift between the two sides, which extends to the rift between Roch and his teammates, can be explained by the fact that,

Quebec nationalism with respect to hockey has revolved around two major facets: the presence of the Montreal Canadiens and the absence of a truly national Quebec team, a “Team Quebec.” The Montreal Canadiens can be viewed as a barometer or a mirror indicating the sense of identity and vision of the Quebec nation as historically expressed by the Francophone majority (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 11).

It is for these reasons of identification and confirmation of national values that they cling ever so tightly to Richard and the Montreal Canadians. A similar discord comes to pass in Lemire's second installment of Essex County in flashbacks in which the volume's protagonist Lou LeBeuf remembers his youth in Toronto, where he played hockey with his brother Vince. In a panel that covers a whole page of the comic their entire team is shown while welcoming Vince when a repartee is shared between two English-speaking (Teammates A and B) and one French- speaking (Teammate C) players, who exchange the following teasing utterances:

Teammate A: "Oh great, another hayseed! Just what we needed!"

Teammate B: "At least he's not another Frenchie, eh Gerry?"

Teammate C: "Oui, gros porc ignorant! Illetre!!"

Teammate B: "Porc!! What's that, like a pig or something!? What the hell'd you say to me !?"

Teammate C: "Pig? Oh no, no, no... It means pal, buddy, chum! You are my best 'porc', eh!"

Teammate B: "Humph!! I better be!" (Lemire, 2009b: 32-33).

Tension between them is tangible due to the presence of a language and cultural barrier – the anglophone teammate who is on the receiving end of the joke fails to grasp it. Also, it is the francophone player who can communicate in both English and French, because he has to, but the anglophone player is not obliged to, and cannot speak French. Furthermore, during one game, Lou refers to them in a teasing manner, as "our 'French boys" who "got one back for us" when he remembers the occurrence in question (Lemire, 2009b: 38). Thus, both Roch Carrier's short story, and this installment in Lemire's trilogy depict the tension between the two sides and point to the difficulty of claiming a unified national identity, especially when the two sides, anglophone and francophone, fail to understand each other.

3.2. The Ties that Bind: Hockey and Family

Another of Lemire's fields of inquiry in this installment is yet again the way in which hockey connects people (just like it was the case with Lester and his father Jimmy in the previous volume). The installment opens with the now elder Lou LeBeuf reminiscing on his youthful days in Toronto and remembering his relationship to his brother Vince. Lemire again employs his technique of disrupting narrative continuity and employs flashbacks to piece together what went wrong between the two brothers. The second in a row of flashbacks begins with Lou stating the following: "I guess some things go deeper than memory. Some things just can't be forgotten" (Lemire, 2009b: 25) while returning in his mind to the year 1951 in Toronto, asking himself whether that was the best or the worst year of his life. It is precisely that year that Vince followed Lou to Toronto to play hockey for The Grizzlies, a "defunct semiprofessional hockey club" (Lemire, 2009b: 30), where Lou already played for two years as a third line centerman.

A panel shows an instance of one of Vince's best games where he appears across an entire double page in a moment during the game in which "he was unstoppable... like a bull!" (Lemire, 2009b: 41) uncannily resembling an iconic photograph of Maurice Richard while charging down on ice, titled "Maurice Richard with the Puck"5 This first quarter of the volume shows the strength of their bond while they both played in Toronto, and it is only near the end of the installment's first half that we discover what caused the rift between the two, it was Lou falling in love with Vince girlfriend, Beth, with whom he shares a kiss and consumes their passion on a rooftop of a building  (Lemire, 2009b: 91), which they never repeat again. Regardless of the fact that Vince didn't know, Lou was heartbroken,

5 The iconic photograph "Maurice Richard with the Puck" is available at:

https://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/news-photo/montreal-canadiens-right-wing-maurice-the- rocket-richard-news-photo/515015008?adppopup=true.

I knew I had to stay away... let them be happy. I started a new season with The Grizzlies. But, it wasn't the same anymore. My lifelong dream of playing pro hockey seemed empty without my brother beside me (Lemire, 2009b: 100).

One of the volume's most iconic images ensues right after Lou suffers an injury on ice, which makes it unable for him to continue playing hockey competitively and presents him standing quite alone, drawn tiny, with the Toronto's skyline branching all around him as if its immensity is out to swallow him whole, which is when he states,

And without hockey I had nothing left. In a city of over a million people, I felt completely alone. And I'd never felt so far from home. (Lemire, 2009b: 102).

It is in this instance that Lou resembles Knut Hamsun's protagonist in the novel Hunger, who at the very beginning of the book pinpoints his view of Kristiania (now called Oslo), "that strange city which no one leaves before it has set its mark upon him" (Hamsun, 2011: 3). It is precisely the experiences in Toronto that have left permanent marks on Lou and have saturated his opinion of the city, enforcing the feeling of loneliness.

Another Lemire's iconic usage of panels and gutters is the one in which he opts to have two separate panels interact whereby he makes a whole out of them – one half of which represents the hockey game Lou watches on his TV set in the city, and the other half shows Vince's TV in Essex County, who is watching the same game at the same time (Lemire 2009b: 120); with this remarkable and innovative idea, Lemire manages to bridge the gap between the two, and shows how hockey still presents a steady and unbreakable bond between two brothers who live in different cities and who have grown apart. A shared love for hockey can here be seen as indicating the strength of their relationship, that might be cracked on its surface, which caused them to lose intimacy, but regardless of that occurrence, their connection still remains steady and deep.

The way this volume tackles nation building as represented in this particular example can also be interpreted in terms of Benedict Anderson's idea of imagined communities, played out here in a text, i.e. in an image, or panel. Anderson defines it as follows,

In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.

(...) In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contract (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined (Anderson, 2006: 5-6).

What is meant by Anderson's concept is that in a country that is as immense as Canada most of the people will never meet and get an opportunity to interact in person, because the experiences in one lifetime are so specific and limited, and thus much more local and regional in nature than they are national, which is why projects are set in motion that would build a nation that is imagined. Anderson's idea plays out in the following manner: two people who live at completely different parts of Canada can wake up early on a Sunday morning, and read The National Post knowing that there is someone whom they will never meet and who is doing the same thing at the same time somewhere far away, which is the manner in that the two persons connect, by having something in common, i.e. by the shared experience of cherishing the same cultural or national interests. On Lemire's example – hockey does that, because two families who are no longer in contact and live in different places are represented as watching the same game at the same time, and there is an imagined sense of community and bond between the two.

This volume also contains several profound exclamations of love that Lou expresses for the game perceived as "an emblematic part" (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: xvii) of Canada's culture,

It was calling me... The scrape of skates on the ice. The smell of musty old equipment. The black puck stains on the boards. To the uninitiated they're nothing, but to a hockey player they're home (Lemire, 2009b: 168).

The game is like family... It won't let you go, no matter how long you've been away. My lost love had come back to me (Lemire, 2009b: 170).

The latter string of Lou's thoughts strikes home, for it is in it that Lemire pins down his abovementioned endeavour to make an analogy between hockey and family  love in this installment by equating them and pointing out that both represent ties that cannot ever be broken, but will last until eternity.

IV Conclusion

Lemire's trilogy of interconnected novellas set in the bleak, stark, sparse, yet hopeful place called Essex County, Canada, two of which have been analyzed in this paper, presents an important inquiry into the Canadian mindset and its viewpoint regarding hockey, one of its most recognizable national symbols.

The paper marks that in volume one titled "Tales from the Farm" the author successfully depicts the way in which hockey players can be regarded as national heroes, and points to the importance the heroic image has for a young boy because it helps him to connect with an unknown relative and rise above his fears so as to find comfort, solace, and ultimately to reach maturity.

Following the analysis of the first volume, the paper sheds light on the second volume, "Ghost Stories" as an invaluable depiction of a tumultuous relationship between two brothers: Lou and Vince, who used to play hockey for the same team. Regardless of the discord and rift between them, hockey is what ultimately remains their strongest bond, next to their love for each other. The paper shows that the volume also depicts the tension between English and French- speaking Canadian teammates (and citizens), which is then analyzed alongside a seminal francophone Canadian short story, Roe Carrier's "The Hockey Sweater", where a similar pattern of animosity between the two sides is at play.

As Patoine states,

We see that hockey contributes to Canadian nation building at all levels: it participates in creating Canada’s identity, unity, and national myth. Accordingly, it is a keystone of Canadian lore and ideology. All people who live in Canada, regardless of ethnicity, age, or gender, are Canadian and identify as Canadian at least partly because they like, watch, listen to, or play hockey, or because they hear about it every day. This means that hockey unites them regardless of the regional boundaries and petty feuds that divide them. (Baillargeon and Boissinot, 2015: 10-11).

The paper concludes, relying somewhat on Patoine's final remark, that in Lemire's trilogy of graphic novels, the role of hockey as a Canadian force and as a bind that ties families and community members is depicted, alongside the questioning of language and cultural barriers that exist between Canada's anglophone and francophone athletes. The paper also shows that hockey players do manage to find common ground on the hockey rink regardless of their rift in life.



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identity'". European Journal of Social Theory 12, 2009, pp. 1-21.

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"Fous de hockey!". Radio-Canada. http://archives.radio-canada.ca/sports/hockey/dossiers/1545/. Accessed 12 August 2019.

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