Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #23: Royal City Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire

I respect the hell out of Jeff Lemire. He's a creator who could easily go Bendis: stop drawing entirely to concentrate on writing, which is generally quicker and more lucrative. But he never has, and the books he draws are smart, literary, and usually more demanding than the ones he writes for other people.

He walks the walk, man. He not only does good comics, he does them on hard mode, over and over again.

Royal City is his new series from Image -- I can't imagine that it's "ongoing" in the sense that it will run forever if allowed, but it doesn't have a pre-defined length. It's most like Sweet Tooth in that; it will run until this story, in all its permutations, is over, and Lemire needs to get further into the story to have a good sense of how long that will be.

This first collection is called Next of Kin, and it sets up the story: the is the story of a family, and, through them, their city. The Pikes are an unhappy family, which means they're particular: sour mother Patti and quiet father Peter, content to putter with his old radios. They had four children, all of them now near or north of forty: Patrick, a novelist who got out of town and is now getting sucked back as he tries to figure out a third book; real-estate dynamo Tara, ready to rip out the factory the town limps along on to build it a new future it doesn't actually want; and drunkard ne'er-do-well Richie, in too much debt to men too bad to cross.

Oh, and Tommy. Tommy killed himself when he was fourteen, in 1993. He's the most prominent character in the book, in nearly every panel.

That's Tommy on the cover: all of him. Each of the surviving Pikes has a version of Tommy -- Patti sees him as a young priest, Richie as a instigating hellion who leads him astray, and Peter as a young boy -- who seems as real as they are. The Tommies talk to the other Pikes, accompany them through their days, comment on their actions, push them to do the things they really want to do anyway.

Patrick doesn't have a Tommy when the book opens; he got out long ago and has been away too long. But he sees Tommy as he crosses into Royal City -- ghosts are traditionally tied to their haunts in life, of course. And Tommy has a particular reason to haunt Pat, something at the core of Pat's writing life.

Royal City is going to be a book about secrets, obviously, as much as it is about family and the places that aren't dead but feel like they're headed that way. It is fantasy, inherently, but not the kind that makes it into comics all that often -- it's a ghost story, a story of loss and regret and broken things, about the people we wanted to be and the people we became.

It's a Jeff Lemire book. It's strong and vital and true. It's worth reading. He's worth celebrating. Check it out.

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