Created, written, and illustrated by Jeff Lemire
Letters by Steve Wands
Royal City takes place in a factory-town and centers around a family and their adjustment to major life transitions. Peter, the father, is going through a midlife crisis, struggling to find meaning in his work, and emotionally absent toward his wife and their children. Patti, the mother struggles to make up for her husband’s lack of engagement while her older two sons, Pat and Richie, underachieve. Tara is the overachieving daughter. The youngest son, Tommy, has a major health diagnosis and struggles to adhere to the medical guidelines. Add to this a host of connected characters and this is a richly developed world that a middle-aged, married father can relate to. Not that this story has anything to do with me.
In this issue, Tommy goes to a party with his two older brothers, Richie and Pat, to escape being alone. While at the party he feels invisible and is surrounded by people he doesn’t like. Tommy drinks some beer, which he’s not supposed to do according to his doctor, and walks out to the woods to get away. While on a walk he runs into Clara, Richie’s girlfriend, who is upset after she learns that Richie cheated on her. Both agree that Richie is a jerk. One things lead to another, bada-bing-bada-boom. The end result is shocking, and, also pictured on the front of the issue. Tommy blacks out.
Sandwiched in the middle of the issue, Tara has a conversation with her boyfriend about her pregnancy. Steve wants the baby, Tara says no. She understands the responsibility and how it would change her life. Steve doesn’t. This interlude is a microcosm of the story unfolding around Tara. Generational regret and loneliness connected to feeling stuck.
An underlying emotional theme throughout the book is loneliness, which is demonstrated in a parallel process: Tommy, who at the beginning of the issue is thinking about “the Black behind his eyes”, which he equates with dying constitutes one layer. In addition, the boy’s mom, both the art and exposition showing that she feels alone. For example, she is shown walking through her home calling Tara and Tommy’s name and then sitting in a room alone and contemplating her existence. In essence, mom holds the pain of Tommy’s sickness and the regret her older sons feel for underachieving. Lemire has constructed a complex story which is both beautiful and tragic. The layers flush out themes of loss, adjustment to illness, growing up, pregnancy, a woman’s right to chose, and much more. I highly recommend this book for its sensitive treatment of these nuanced topics. Pick it up