Word Balloons: 'Roughneck' graphic novel follows ex-hockey player
Canadian writer/artist Jeff Lemire returns to his indie roots with "Roughneck," a tale that will remind many of Lemire's breakthrough "Essex County," as both have ties to rural Canada and hockey.
"I spent some time up north, in Canada here, Northern Ontario, in 2012-2013, in a place called Moose Factory, which is a really remote northern community with a big indigenous population ... the town in the book, I gave it a fictional name, but it's based on that area," Lemire said in an interview with The Oklahoman.
While the graphic novel expertly brings the reader into the world of rural Canada, readers in Oklahoma and elsewhere will be able to relate to these characters.
"Kind of like with 'Essex County,' there are some very specific Canadian locations, but hopefully like with 'Essex,' the small town that I set things in becomes universal," he said.
Lemire has written superhero tales for all the major comics publishers in recent years, but "Roughneck," released by Simon & Schuster subsidiary Gallery 13, feels more novelistic in form.
The original graphic novel stars retired hockey player Derek Ouellette, living back in his hometown after leaving professional hockey. The bruiser refers to himself as a "thug," and that characterization holds some weight on and off the ice, as Derek is quick to wrath with those who wish to needle or otherwise disrespect him.
"I think that summer of 2012, there were three, possibly four NHL ex-tough guy enforcers who died under kind of tragic circumstances," Lemire said. "Those stories came one after another, and I started thinking about the psychology involved in that, a guy who's built his whole life around violence: His job is every night to go out and fight in front of a crowd. What happens when the game or the sport leaves you behind, and you suddenly have no skill set that's applicable to real life?"
In the book, Derek's world is shaken up with the return of his sister, Beth, into his life, running from an alcoholic boyfriend with a story that reminds Derek of his father's ill temper.
Lemire talked about making the reader feel the violence in "Roughneck" in a different way from a typical superhero comic, both through art technique and through the development of the characters.
"We've become so desensitized to violence in comics," Lemire said. "I wanted the violence in this book to feel real, and to feel ugly, and to feel kind of brutal."
As brother and sister seek escape in a remote hideout, their shared past and divergent paths are recalled.
"There's something about those bonds, those family ties in childhood that are so resonant in all our lives, and how we grow up influences who we become. And I felt like with this character especially, Derek and his sister, it was no different. ... I felt like rather than just exploring it with Derek, it was interesting to explore it from a woman's point of view, as well."
Lemire said many challenges face indigenous women in Canada, including poverty, lack of education, unemployment and domestic violence. Meanwhile, Derek continues to face his own issues with violence and finding his place in a community.
"I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose those two things and have them come together, and maybe the weaknesses of both and the strengths of both somehow mix in a way that they can find healing together, where they couldn't on their own."