By Jeff Lemire and Steve Wands
A good comic will continue to roll around in your head long after you finished reading it and put it in your long box, complete with a protective plastic sleeve and board. That is exactly what Royal City is: a great book that reads easy, but stasy with you long after. Lemire has a true creative passion for making comics, and never has it been more apparent than with Royal City #1.
Lemire does double duty in this issue as both writer and artist in this new monthly comic from Image. His irreverent approach to comic writing comes across the entire issue with his distorted art style and complex story. This tale, about a family within a rural city out of its prime, should not be mistaken as a simple ‘slice of life’ depiction of a city and family struggling to change with the times. This book takes you places you never saw coming, and in the best way possible. Lemire has a way to lead the readers down a seemingly predictable path, with obvious tropes and familiar characters that give the readers a sense of comfort and ease while reading. Maybe that’s the key to Lemire’s approach; he knows how to set the tone and then switch it when the reader least expects it.
This seemingly normal family, the Pikes, features two aging parents and a few adult children. They are going through the pains that comes with having adult children and parents that are facing their own mortality. This family is made even more vivid from Lemire’s art style. The character’s facial expressions are more comical than literal, highly expressive with rosy hews and wrinkles that seem to exaggerate normal expressions. This gives almost non-human expressions to these people in the most relatable of scenarios, a clever ruse Mr. Lemire.
There is a dream like quality to the pages of Royal City, with intentionally sloppy lines and colors the book seems out of place while also looking completely purposeful. There is a tenderness to this comic that comes through with the soft colors and irreverent art style on top of the deep themes. Lemire as both artist and writer is a delicate balance of these two oppositional forces, purposefulness and foreignness. The pages seem innocent and honest like a child’s drawing at times, with no disrespect intended. It is like asking a child to draw how they see their parents look, or how they see the city look. It is stripped of all the polish and refinement people put on, just the bare essence of the person and city come across in this issue. The pages are filled with watercolors that add to the dream like quality of the book.
This is a ballsy book from Lemire. It is a sleeper hit that many could overlook on the comic shelves. There are no iconic super heroes or crazy sci-fi premises to draw in readers, just the name. Please, let that be enough. Trust Lemire enough to know that he can produce a story that will surprise and delight you. You have to give it to Jeff Lemire, the man never stops. This creator has had success with comics like Essex County, Black Hammer, Descender, and even does big superhero titles for DC and Marvel like Moon Knight and Green Arrow. This is a passion project, which is saying something because of all his time in this business he still has passion for what he does and can step out of his comfort zone is refreshing. Read this book, and do yourself a favor and read until the very last page. Lemire includes a few extras in the last few pages which includes a personal essay that really is a cherry on top of this sundae of a comic.