Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect with this months graphic novel release, Roughneck. I only knew one thing, I was going to love it. The new book is the first solo, creator owned, contemporary project in five years from Canadian industry leader, Jeff Lemire.
It is no secret that Mr. Lemire is a personal favourite for me- not only in the comic industry, but as a literary artist as well- and I have shared much praise for his work on this blog in the past. I have been a dedicated reader since the release of his collected breakthrough work, Essex County in 2011. To say the creator has blown up since then would be an understatement. Lemire has had success in a wide collection of projects including The Nobody, Underwater Welder, Trillium, Sweet Tooth, and Descender; as well as being signed on with the big guns Marvel and DC where he’s worked on titles from , Animal Man, Teen Titans, Green Arrow to his current runs on Thanos, Old Man Logan, and Moon Knight. At the same time Lemire has provided artwork for Gord Downie’s digital album Secret Path and Scott Snyder’s A.D.: After Death. Beyond that extensive list many of his works are being adapted to screen including a CBC television adaptation of Essex County (have you heard anything more Canadian not involving maple syrup and poutine). All adding up to one conclusion: Jeff Lemire is one of the most talented and hard working creators in the world today.
As I am anticipating the release of titles like Descender, A.D., and new ongoing project Royal City, the release of Roughneck caught me completely off guard. I thought Roughneck would be a short, cute, little book. The last thing I would expect from this busy man would be a full on 272-page graphic novel. How does he find the time to do all of this? Well, it was the best kind of surprise. Not only do I get to devour a whole Lemire book, it is a return to the contemporary roots that made me fall in love with his style in the first place.
Roughneck tells the story of Derek Ouellette, a retired NHL hockey player whose career was defined by his bruiser style, and career ending violence. Following a very realistic look at life after the big leagues, as Derek struggles with life back in his home town, Pimitamon, Ontario, as well as his own personal demons. Which come to face him straight on when his estranged sister, Beth shows up on his door step with her own tragic tale of life after Derek left to pursue his hockey career. With the help of old friends and haunting memories, they will push past everything holding them back whether they want to face reality or not. Culminated by profound moments that will help them break their destructive cycles.
The powerful original artwork created by Lemire has a magical way of bringing you into a relaxed, almost hypnotized state. Which helps bring out defining emotional plot points. From some very real, terrifying anger, to the deep connection, and billions of unsaid words that can be shared through one smile. The minimalist use of colour helps to tell and symbolize the plot. And like a true master, he has captured everything about living in northern Ontario, through simple and honest tells.
The plot and characters are so real I almost don’t believe that this is a fictional story. One of Lemire’s defining strengths has always been his true characters, and he’s only getting stronger with his unrelenting practice. They say ‘write what you know’ and Lemire knows life in rural Ontario to a tee, and it’s nice to hear that not only is Lemire a dedicated Maple Leafs fan, but he also partakes in a local beer league and is supposedly a pretty decent hockey player. What I appreciate most, is he is not telling your typical contemporary stories. This book has nothing to do with love, or growing, or facing outside adversary. It’s a real story about navigating life and overcoming those deep rooted struggles that we all face. A moral of cutting out old demons by meeting them head on, and moving forward.
Another Jeff Lemire book that has spoken to me on a deeper level and inspired me to be so much more. I often think about having the opportunity to talk about these amazing books one on one with Lemire, and the reality is: I wouldn’t know what to say, I would just listen. His art has been such an influence on my adult life, I am happy to just appreciate it. And seriously man, have an extended vacation, you’ve given us so much as it is, it’s okay.
I give Roughneck an instant 5/5, and have made way for it on my most cherished shelf beside Essex County. I recommend everybody go get a copy of Roughneck right now. Pick it up, and by the first few pages you wont be able to help yourself but to devour this book cover to cover.
Thanks booknerds, and thank you Mr. Lemire.