Jeff Lemire returns to cartooning in Image Comics’ Royal City. In this profound new series, we see one family’s lives, loves, and losses as they deal with a health emergency. Patrick Pike is drawn back into a dramatic home life with his adult siblings, unstable mother, and father (who just had a stroke). The catch is that each of them is still haunted by different versions Tommy, the youngest sibling, who drowned and died decades ago. This is seriously one atmospheric, heavily thematic, literarily genius, and artistically masterful piece of work. Jeff Lemire is back with his most personal series yet, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Pat Pike is a failing literary star whom Lemire describes as his “opposite doppelganger.” There are a lot of strong personalities in this issue, and Lemire assures us that we’ll see all of them and their stories in detail soon enough. Tara is a successful real estate agent. Richie is the “black sheep,” out of work and broke. Patrick’s mother is an overbearing and powerful matriarch, while his father is just about the opposite.
The one character, though, whom I am most eager to read more about, is Tommy. He seems to be the center of focus for a lot of the Pike family, but we don’t know anything about him other than the fact that he’s dead. He died at 14, but each family member sees him differently—a child, a teenager, an adult, a drunk, a church-going man, an innocent human… There are two things that could be happening: Tommy is doing this on purpose, or the family members’ mental states aren’t so sound.
There could be a chance that Tommy’s spirit, specter, ghost, whatever is haunting them as different versions of himself to try and get along with everyone. Tommy is to everyone what they want him to be. To his mother, he is pious, to his brother, he goes drinking with him, to his sister, he is a child. From what I can tell, though, it’s probably not Tommy’s ghost haunting as different people and personalities.
If the family is to blame, it’s a bit different. This issue, so far, tells us more about the family that’s alive than Tommy himself. These people are creating versions of Tommy that have never existed. Obviously a death in the family is a hard thing to deal with, but this “haunting” is a little more in the realm of mental health than any “traditional” haunting. People are seeing Tommy as they want to instead of remembering him for how he was. It seems a bit disrespectful, but their lives are crazy enough that this could just be a coping mechanism for the rest of the chaos that surrounds them.
We’ve seen so many different visualizations of the same person; I’m curious as to what the kid was really like. Lemire wants to focus more on the Pikes as a whole and use it as an umbrella for multiple stories, but I’m hoping somewhere in there, we get to see Tommy for who he actually was.
Lemire’s illustrations are gorgeous. This is, however, an art style that you really have to appreciate. You’ll either love it or hate it. If you like clean lines, this probably isn’t your favorite type of artwork. The illustrations aren’t realistic, and have a certain abstract quality to them. The colors are pale, dull, and watered down to look almost mystical. There’s a dark aspect to this issue, reinforced by the heavy shadowing in certain places and general tension within every relationship we see. The messy lines, think inks, and pale colors look absolutely stunning. They go along perfectly with the script and look beautiful alongside the themes within the writing.
The panel layouts are fantastic, keeping the pace of the issue really steady. We are kind of forced to linger on certain panels longer than others, which is honestly not a bad thing in this issue. Lemire’s facial artwork, with red sticking out and bags with stress lines under the eyes clearly signifying the stress that the Pikes are under. These characters seem especially real, relatable, and unique due to Lemire’s superb artistic skills.
This series is all Lemire’s. He controls it all, and is able to do whatever he wants, creatively, to give us a work of art that is truly his own. Aside from his work on Hawkeye, X-Men, Wolverine, Descender, Black Hammer, Moon Knight, and more, Lemire is showing us a lot of talent here. This is a really enthralling issue that is bound to get your attention and never let it go. For your own good, visit your local comic book shop and give this a read.
Written & Illustrated by: Jeff Lemire