Derek Ouellette’s glory days are behind him. His hockey career ended a decade earlier in a violent incident on ice, and since then he’s been living off his reputation in the remote northern community where he grew up, drinking too much and fighting anyone who crosses him. When his long-lost sister Beth shows up, on the run from an abusive boyfriend, the two escape to a secluded hunting camp in the woods. There, living off the land, they reconnect with each other, the painful secrets of their past, and their Cree heritage…and start to heal. But Beth’s ex-boyfriend is hunting them. As he circles closer, he threatens to shatter this newfound peace and pull both Derek and Beth back into the world of self-destruction they’ve fought so hard to leave behind. Touching and harrowing, this is a deeply moving and beautifully illustrated story about family, heritage, and breaking the cycle of violence.
Jeff Lemire writes and provides art in this new graphic novel which defies expectations and presents a story about family and an abusive past. The story isn’t flashy, it’s about family drama and an individual’s choice as to how they deal with what’s in front of them.
At its heart, Roughneck is a story about abuse, and by setting it in Canada, Lemire layers the story on top of the history of abuse faced by people of the First Nations in Canada. The story itself is a discussion of the cyclical nature of things and the abuse faced by those individuals by the colonizing white individuals. In this case, the microcosm is Derek and his sister Beth, and the abuse by their father.
At first read, the story is about two individuals and their adversity, but when you dive deeper into it Lemire creates an allegory for history and the reverberation that’s felt today by some of the people of Canada. As a whole, the story is a haunting one that leaves the reader in a funk, like a depressing drama, but its ability to create emotion in the reader is a sign at the talent of Lemire who is one of the most consistent writers in the comic business.
The art by Lemire matches the haunting nature of the story with a minimal use of color in Lemire’s distinct style. I absolutely love his art in general and find myself lingering on every page to catch all of the detail. Lemire is one who only puts what’s needed on the page, and in some cases some of that transcends the graphic novel with works of art that deserve to be hung on walls to be admired.
While set in Canada, Roughneck is enjoyable by all with a story that focuses on the pain of two individuals. But, beneath that Lemire explores the abuse of a nation towards its people. Easily one of the best graphic novels released this year so far.
Story: Jeff Lemire Art: Jeff Lemire
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy
Gallery 13 provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review