I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled Wednesday new comics post in order to heap acclaim upon some of the best things I’ve read through the first half of 2017. With the Eisner Awards ceremony just a few days away (which, by the way, I’ll be attending for the first time; pretty excited about that), it felt like a good time to bestow some additional accolades upon the hardworking creators whose passion for comics continues to push boundaries and enrich the medium.
I’ve been doing these mid-year check-ins for some time now, and I usually know exactly which comics I’d like to single out, resulting in a neat & tidy Top 5. This year, however, my list excludes some books I’m loving, like Grass Kings by Kindt and Jenkins, Avengers by Waid and Del Mundo, 4 Kids Walk into a Bank by Rosenberg and Boss, Hostage by Guy Delisle, and Paper Girls by Vaughan and Chiang. So if you thought those books were good, check these out..!
Royal City – Jeff Lemire
Like the graphic novels that comprised his Essex County trilogy, beginning with 2008’s Tales from the Farm, Lemire’s new book is a realistic family drama set in smalltown North America. Unlike those singular, well-defined stories, however, Royal City is an ongoing title, a format that lends itself to longer “seasons,” if you will, and an opportunity to fully explore the Pike family and the human tremors that epicenter from the titular town. In his afterword, in fact, Lemire mentions being inspired by this Golden Age of Television. And I have to say, the first thing I thought of after reading the first issue was Netflix’s Bloodline. There’s a shaky familiarity to every tense exchange, every terse comment, like the way you’re afraid of a Eugene O’Neill play because of the truths it uncovers.
The inciting event, family patriarch Peter’s stroke, brings the three siblings and their associated baggage into focus. Patrick returns from the big city, where he’s a novelist struggling against writer’s block; Tara is a real estate developer looking to turn the city’s manufacturing center into a resort community; and Richard works at the aforementioned factory – or would work, if he was ever sober. And then there’s one more sibling, Tommy, who moves through the narrative as a haunting memory unique to each family member. We’ve been reading plenty of Lemire books lately, but it struck me that, apart from variant covers and his work on After Death with Scott Snyder, it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to appreciate Lemire’s art. His style is raw, like the emotions each Pike is unable to cope with, but with a brilliant attention to detail, creating a comic that is a layer of puzzles and mystery. It’d be more haunting if it also didn’t feel so disturbingly real. Royal City is a story that perfectly intertwines ghosts with the even more unsettling, the living.