♦With the publication of Jeff Lemire’s new, and very personal book, Royal City from Image Comics – on which he pulls double duty on both writing and illustrating the book – we felt there was no better time to catch up with Jeff and talk with him about this title and what next after his recent departure from Marvel. Tripwire sent its Contributing Writer OLLY MACNAMEE to find out more…
Olly MacNamee: On the surface this seems to be a story of returning siblings from their various walks of life, coming together because of their father’s stroke. But, it’s something more than that, right? It’s more than a kitchen-sink drama, isn’t it?
Jeff Lemire: Yes, I hate the term “slice of life” comics. I think it sounds so boring. And I have no interest in just doing 20 pages a month of talking heads. Royal City is much more than that. There is a healthy dose of surrealism in the series that walks a thin line between magical realism and supernaturalism. There are, I hope, a lot of layers to Royal City. It is much more than it first appears and I’ll continue to add layers to it as the series goes on.
At the same time, I didn’t want to do another straight genre book. I already have Descender and Black Hammer and all the Marvel and DC stuff. Plus the last three projects that I drew myself, Sweet Tooth, Trillium and AD, were all sci-fi. So I wanted to do something that was more grounded and rooted in real life and real people.
OM: Thomas Wolfe once famously wrote that “you can’t go home again”. Can this be levelled at any of the characters in Royal City? After all there is an author, Patrick – like in Wolfe’s novel – struggling with past successes, who has indeed written a book about his home town took and returning to a town, as in the 1940 novel too, on the brink of vast changes. Or, am I reading too much into it all? I am an English Teacher, and we’re renowned for finding themes that just ain’t there!
JL: No, that is definitely a major theme. For me it comes from a pretty honest place. Like Patrick Pike, the protagonist of Royal City, I too wrote a successful book based on where I grew up (Essex County) and I too struggled to live up to that success in the years following its publication. But Pat is sort of a cautionary tale, what would have happened if I had made all the wrong decisions both creatively and personally. So I get to live vicariously through him and let him self-destruct so I don’t have to.
OM: I was struck by the geographical make-up of Royal City itself, itself a rather ironically named town. The current landscape, and at times your art style, reminded me of LS Lowry and his own bleak paintings of his home town of Salford. But, this is a book that deals with a number of real-world issues too; such as the consequences to a community, on the brink of gentrification. Is this something you’re writing from personal experience, out of concern for the unequal world we are witnessing being forged, or something else entirely?
JL: Royal City, the town, is based on so many mid-sized North American cities that were once booming industrial towns, and now, with everything being outsourced, are dying off and rusting away. I grew up in an auto- town myself and worked in an auto factory every summer between the ages of 14-21, so I wanted to bring a lot of that into this book. Aesthetically, I also really find a lot of beauty in industrial decay.
OM: I couldn’t help noticing the mixtape depicted on the back cover. With ‘Bad Luck” by Royal City in amongst the tracks, is this something we should be encouraged to look into? Or, was it simply the music that inspired you as you created this book? I mean, it’s a pretty evocative track, which I feel is fitting for the tone of the first issue. As are some of the other bands there too, such as The Fembots and Modest Mouse.
JL: I am always listening to music while I work, and sometimes certain songs or lyrics can evoke ideas for me, or even just a tone or a mood that I am trying to capture. But there is certainly no hidden clues to be gleaned from the songs. At least nothing intentional. They really are just another fun way to try and build a bit of a “community” around the book.
OM: The family members are all their own people, aren’t they. Pat, the author, seems to be using the excuse of visiting his sick father as a reason to put off handing in a first draft to his new novel, while his sister, Tara, is the complete opposite: throwing herself into work to distract her from the reality. How is it they all see Tommy, their brother, so differently?
JL: They are all very different people with very different lives. And their youngest sibling, Tommy, died back in 1993. He impacted all their lives in different ways. Unfortunately I can’t get too deep into answering this question without spoiling what I coming. The connection each had to Tommy will be explored in detail very soon.
OM: There seems to be a lot of tensions within this family and barely below the surface. The Pike family seems to be more than happy to live separate lives and as such, seemed to have drifted apart, only to come together again because of their father’s debilitation. We can choose our friends but not our family. Are these words Patrick – or even Tara for that matter – live by?
JL: It’s really the theme of the book. These people who were born into a family, but could not be more different. It’s all that links them. And they have all gone off and tried to live very independent lives. But those lives are not working and now they are back together. What happens next? That will be what the book is about. Are these people destined to tear each other apart or can they all find some sort of salvation in each other and in dealing with their shared history.
OM: And finally, with your other Image title, Descender ,and now Royal City, are we going to see more creator owned comics this year, I hope?
JL: Yes indeed! As you may have seen online recently I am finishing up my commitments with Marvel Comics and am trying to change the balance of my workload so that creator-owned work will be the majority of my projects. I enjoyed my time at Marvel, but I just want to do my own stories more and more. I think I will always play around with Marvel or DC characters. It’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy doing it, I just don’t want to do as much of it. There was a point last year when I was writing six or seven books for Marvel each month, plus drawing my own book and writing Descender and Black Hammer. It was way too much.
As of now I have four creator-owned projects on the go, Royal City, Black Hammer, Descender and the newly announced series Family Tree with artist Phil Hester. And I am also working on two other creator-owned things with two other artists that will probably be 2018 releases. It feels great to me mostly doing my own stories. And, like I said, I can dip my feet back into the mainstream super hero world again later this year if the right project comes along.
Royal City starts at the end of this month from Image Comics