Jeff Lemire made a name for himself in the comic book industry by writing and drawing powerful and personal stories that not only examine the human spirit, but also blend, bend and break genre lines. For the past several years, the cartoonist has been focusing on writing creator-owned books like “Descender” and “Black Hammer” for Image Comics and Dark Horse respectively, and titles like “Extraordinary X-Men” and “Old Man Logan” for Marvel — or so it would seem.
Lemire has actually been drawing ever since he ended his runs on “Sweet Tooth” and “Trillium” for Vertigo Comics. It’s just that these new projects have yet to be released.
We knew “A.D.: After Death,” which is written by his pal Scott Snyder, was coming from Image in November, and “Roughneck,” which he wrote and illustrated for Simon & Schuster, is slated for next spring. But news broke right before Comic-Con International that Lemire had also secretly been working on a new ongoing series for Image that he again is writing and drawing: “Royal City.”
After reading the already completed, 40-page, first issue, we connected with Lemire to discuss the upcoming series he says is expected to launch in March 2017. Lemire also shared an exclusive reveal of the covers for the first five issues of “Royal City,” which the New York Times best-selling creator expects will run 20 issues over the next two years.
CBR News: I loved the first issue of “Royal City,” and I’m watching “Bloodline” right now on Netflix. Why does observing dysfunctional families in our fiction give us so much pleasure?
Jeff Lemire: [Laughs] Whenever you tell stories about families, there is always all of this built-in history. And you can never really escape from your family even if you don’t like them. [Laughs] It automatically creates all of this tension and hang-ups that you can never really just walk away from. I always find that really interesting to explore. I don’t think any family is perfect. The Pike family certainly loves each other, but like any family, there is tons of baggage and tons of history that makes it more complicated than it needs to be.
The plan with the first issue was to introduce the family and the town, but you’re also immediately thrown into the dynamic of it. We won’t see the family built from the beginning in “Royal City.” We don’t see the kids growing up. We’re coming at it as the kids are reaching middle age, and there is a whole unseen history that I get to explore as the series goes on. I get to reveal it with something I love to play with, time, telling their story in the past and present. This is something that I have done in the past with “Essex County” and “Underwater Welder,” and it’s one of my favorite things to do. This series, which is ongoing, allows me to do that on an extended basis.
I don’t want to give away too much, as we are nine months away from the series launch, but there is a great line on the first page that lays it out pretty clearly: “Things are different here.”
There is a real fine line that you can walk, and I think I’ve done it in the past with “Welder” and “Essex,” between there are magical or fantastic things happening but they are not necessarily supernatural. The term people use is ‘magical realism.’ There are amazing, extra-normal things, but they are not sci-fi or supernatural. They are just part of everyday life. They are more like poetic expressions of what’s going with the characters, like what’s going on in “Charlie.” I love doing that stuff. I have set Royal City up as this place where, yes, it is a very grounded, thriving-now-dying industrial town, but underneath it all, something different, something strange and even magical, binds this family and, as we go on, the whole town together.
This first issue is 40 pages and is quite satisfying as a complete story. It’s like a really awesome and weird episode of “Twilight Zone,” with a spectacular ending.
Thanks. I think that If you are going to do something like this, I want to reward the monthly readers as much as possible. I want to try and keep that monthly audience as much as possible and not just have readers waiting for the trade, which I do [understand], and that’s fine, but I would love to build a monthly readership for “Royal City” and make it special to the people who follow it. And especially, for the first issue, I wanted to give a lot of story and really hook the reader into this world.
So yes, the first issue is 40 pages of story, plus a bunch of backgrounder stuff that ties into the story. I will keep it all at the very affordable price of what a normal 20-page comic would be, and hopefully that will attract a lot of people to the book. Beyond that, on a monthly basis, I want to include a lot of additional material. Usually Image comics have 22 pages of story and a little bit of backgrounder and some ads, but I want to try use all 32 pages available to me and make the whole thing “Royal City.” There won’t be any ads or anything like that. The story will be a little bit longer than 20 pages each month, and the back of each issue will have things that won’t be in the collected edition, that won’t be in the trade paperbacks.
For example, in the first issue, there’s one of the journals of one of the kids when he was a teenager in the ’90s. The second issue will have the New York Times book reviews of the character Patrick’s novels. [Laughs] That will really fill in his backstory and show how his books have been received over his career. Doing things like that, stuff that won’t be in the trade paperbacks, in the monthly series will really start to build the history of this family a bit more. I really want to make the monthly something important and vital so you can’t just wait for the trade all of the time.
I’m glad you mentioned Patrick Pike, because I was going to ask you about him next. You have compared him to your “opposite doppelgänger.”
Yeah, I think there is a little bit of me in each of the characters in the family — either exaggerated versions of me, or extreme versions of me. And yes, Pat is the easiest to draw comparisons to. He’s the same age as me. He grew up in a smaller town and moved to a bigger city, like I did. It will be revealed later that his career path followed very closely to mine. He was a cook in kitchens in the city and was writing all of the time and finally wrote this one breakthrough novel called “Royal City” that was set in his hometown, just like I did with “Essex County.” And that made his career.
But then his career took a nosedive and, thankfully, my career hasn’t yet. [Laughs] He made some bad creative decisions once he “made it,” and got lost in the whole fame thing. When we meet him now, his career is really on the downturn and he’s desperate to turn it around. He’s got money issues and marital problems and lot of things that I’m not dealing with. It’s like me if I had made of all these wrong decisions after making “Essex County” and my life had fallen apart and thankfully, my life has gone the opposite way. But it’s kind of fun to explore those what ifs and the dark side of things.
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