It’s come to the point where if you like strong character driven stories–the type of stories that say something about the human condition–Jeff Lemire is your go-to for it. His new ongoing series from Image Comics, Royal City, starts this week and we take a peek. Is it good?
Royal City #1 (Image Comics)
So what’s it about? The summary reads:
NEW ONGOING SERIES written and illustrated by JEFF LEMIRE (DESCENDER, A.D., Sweet Tooth). ROYAL CITY charts the lives, loves, and losses of a troubled family and a vanishing town across three decades. Patrick Pike, a fading literary star who reluctantly returns to the once-thriving factory town where he grew up, is quickly drawn back into the dramas of his two adult siblings, his overbearing mother, and his brow-beaten father, all of whom are still haunted by different versions of his youngest brother, Tommy, who drowned decades ago. ROYAL CITY is a return to the literary and thematic territory of LEMIRE’s breakthrough graphic novel Essex County and is his most ambitious, and most personal, project to date.
Why does this book matter?
His work with Scott Snyder on A.D.: After Death feels purposeful, his writing for Marvel meaningful, and historically his outlook on life is contemplative. He’s the kind of writer that could probably be a novelist in the 70s, but here we are enjoying his comic books.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
We open on a house.
Lemire writes and draws this issue with an attention to detail that makes it obvious he’s been thinking and working on the concept for some time. The issue takes you into Royal City where we meet a father and mother, their children, and the goings on of a middle America type place. It’s not the most eventful of places; people work 9 to 5 jobs, and marriage certainly isn’t all roses. We meet the father, Peter, to start, and quickly meet his angry nagging wife. The man wants a snack dammit, and is forced to go to his shed to eat it in peace. This leads to a strange event, and so the plot spirals off as we meet his children.
There’s a poignant sort of story going on here that makes you contemplate each panel and linger longer than may be necessary to soak it in. After reading the issue I read it again, in part because I thought I may have missed something, but also because I was trying to understand these characters. They’re deeply real and interesting. The dynamics between them are complicated and Lemire gives us just enough to gather how this family has functioned for years, but not by beating you over the head. A factory is in threat of closing in Royal City, the father is now old and the kids moved out, and all in all Lemire paints a picture that’s easy to relate to. A premise that allows you to think about family today and how we all grow and change over time. All of these elements combine to give the characters in the book a sense of disconnect and a need to find something to fill a void. It’s something I think we all are in search of as we grow older and preconceptions are rendered true or false.
The funny thing is, there’s a fantasy element to the book–or maybe it’s supernatural–that probably didn’t need to be there to make this book good. It enhances your anticipation and makes things gel in a compelling way by the end, but really it’s written well enough you’ll be captivated by the characters’ lives alone. Lemire has a way of looking into his characters that feels genuine and raw. If that sounds like something that appeals to you, read this book.
The art is everything you’d expect from Lemire and maybe even more. The layouts are well composed, pacing the book well. A few double page layouts help convey the stranger element of the book which helps remind the reader even in average, everyday day life, the fantastic is possible. I particularly like how Lemire draws faces, the bags and red under eyes or the lines in the face. His style isn’t hyper detailed by any means, but you quickly can gather the state of a person in how he draws around their eyes. It’s one reason why the characters seem so real and easy to understand.
It can’t be perfect can it?
As far as first issues go, I have a lot more questions than answers even when the book is lengthier like this one. Essentially we get to meet everyone that’s important right out of the gate, which helps get the chess pieces aligned, but the supernatural element is more befuddling than intriguing. There isn’t enough detail to figure out what it is we’re seeing. It’s like seeing an obtuse trailer, understanding the key players, but never getting the hook of the thing. Coming from Lemire the character element is strong, it’s what I expect, but the obtuseness of how the magical element factors in left me wanting more.
She seems lovely!
Is It Good?
Viola Davis’ now famous speech from the 2017 Oscars stated, “I became an artist and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” Jeff Lemire’s Royal City is exemplary of this celebration of life and by the end of this issue you’ll be wagering all of these characters are real.