Writer, Artist, & Colorist: Jeff Lemire
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: July 12, 2023
Patrick Pike’s marriage is imploding. His manuscript was due a year ago, but he’s yet to start writing. When his father has a stroke, a family visit seems like an easy escape. Will a trip home help him get his life back on track? Let’s dive into Royal City: Compendium One and find out!
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Peter’s not the only one who needs to turn his life around. His sister, realtor Tara Pike hopes to find renewal and purpose by converting Royal City Manufacturing into luxury condominiums and a golf course. She’s separated from her husband and rarely sees her alcoholic brother Richard. Her bickering parents find meaning in separate pursuits: Peter tinkers with vintage radios in his shed, while Patty immerses herself in religion. It’s not just Patrick who’s hurting: each family member is struggling.
While steeped in loss–and feeling lost–Royal City: Compendium One is also a generational saga. It explores how people cope with change and view the world. Tara says the new project will absorb the factory’s 1,400 employees by creating as many jobs. Her mother claims it’ll put half the town out of work. Yet the sign outside Royal City lists the population at 45,300. The owner’s son—who supports Tara’s proposal–says the factory’s been bleeding money for years. Yet his father claims it’s still profitable. Each person latches onto facts that support the view they’ve embraced.
All this serves as the background to delve into each character’s life and relive their relationship with Tommy. He was the baby of the family, a gifted but troubled boy who died in 1993. His death cut the Pike family deeply. Impaled by grief, each member has struggled to escape guilt and pain rather than deal with his loss and move on.
I read the first two issues when the series debuted. Yet in 2017, I also struggled with family difficulties and found the story too painful to appreciate. In the intervening years, I’ve found my way forward and made peace with change and loss. With Royal City: Compendium One, I can take the characters’ pain onboard and share their journey toward healing in days rather than over a year.
Scribbly art makes characters relatable. Watercolor washes give scenes a timeworn quality. Jeff Lemire’s style breathed life into writer Scott Snyder’s 2016 series A.D. After Death. His surreal imagery in Royal City: Compendium One evokes Wes Anderson films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Pages reveal that each character sees Tommy differently. While relating the boy’s life, we learn that Tommy’s as much a prisoner of Royal City as his surviving family members.
Lemire leaned more heavily on art in the middle chapters than narrative and dialogue. Some issues took place almost entirely in the past. Events I thought followed Patrick related to his father’s journey. But even if I got lost sometimes, discovering the truth in the final chapter didn’t dampen my ardor for this series.
Sound effects punctuate action in Royal City: Compendium One, while easy-to-read uppercase dialogue appears hand drawn. Signs and facades suggest that almost every business has Royal in its name. Posters in Tommy’s room, and his ongoing attempts to refine his top ten favorite rock albums, lead to song titles written on Maxell cassette tape cases. A Spotify link lets you listen to the boy’s favorite songs while you read. Or should I say reread? Yes, it’s that good.
Real and surreal visions intertwine in Royal City: Compendium One, a story about family, loss, change, and finding your path forward by discovering the truth inside yourself.