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‘Royal City Compendium One’ TPB (review)

Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire 
Published by Image Comics

 

When I was a kid, there was a prime-time soap opera called Peyton Place that ran for several years. It was based on a hit movie, which was, in turn, based on a best-selling book. It was an ensemble piece about the lives, loves, tragedies, and scandals of a bunch of different characters, all living in the title small town.

Jeff Lemire’s Royal City reminds me of Peyton Place…only with ghosts.

Jeff Lemire, as you might know, is known as a bit of a renaissance man in comics, having sheparded some popular runs of established characters for Marvel and DC, as well as his own award-winning indie projects.

Before Royal City, it was his work as a writer with which I was most familiar but his own artwork here fits perfectly too.

Although a compendium of a previously published 14-issue Image series, I was unfamiliar with the work going in, and I’ll admit the first chapter confused me pretty much but it won me over soon afterward.

Like Peyton Place, Royal City tells the story of a dysfunctional family, in this case living in a factory town. In the beginning, it looks like the family patriarch will be the main character but then he falls victim to a stroke and is out of the picture for most of the rest of the story.

We’re introduced to all of the other family members, and their issues and problems—drugs, alcohol, loneliness, depression, and guilt. A lot of guilt. But the main character turns out to be…Tommy. And Tommy, you see, is dead as the story begins.

Tommy’s ghost at various ages, even some ages he never attained in his short life, haunts most of the family to various degrees, in some cases more directly than others. Little by little, we come to realize what is happening, and then and only then are we slowly let in on what actually happened to the poor kid, and learn his unexpected legacy, which helps to bring hope to everyone. Not a happy ending, really, but a hopeful one, and that may actually be better.

Lemire’s lovely watercolor and pen or pencil art—at least that’s what it looks like—sets and carries the style for the town’s very human secrets and his writing clearly defines the different characters, showing us that there are no completely good or bad people here. Just…people.

There are 15 pages of behind-the-scenes extras at the back but it’s the nearly 400-page but extremely readable illustrated story of Royal City that makes this particular graphic novel really a standout NOVEL.

Booksteve recommends.

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