Publisher: Changeling Studios
Writer/Artist: Owen Michael Johnson
Lettering/Production: Colin Bell
Release Date: 4th July, 2015 (Glasgow Comic Con)
The second act of Owen Michael Johnson’s Reel Love takes our leading man into his awkward teenage years as he enters a far darker, far less optimistic period of his life. Filled to the brim with teenage hormones, acne and all the bullshit that comes hand-in-hand with the onset of puberty, his outlook on the world has gradually changed. The love of cinema that defined his childhood has faded over time, replaced by a sense of frustrated urgency that I’m sure we can all relate to. He knows he should be doing something with his life, but he isn’t sure exactly what that something is yet. Hell, even his own stop-motion movies have become a source of anger and frustration, his ‘actors’ mocking his awkward attempts to bring them to life.
This act features a wonderfully expanded cast of characters as our leading man meets the ‘Monster Squad’, a rag-tag group of ushers and would-be revolutionaries who become his co-workers as he takes his tentative first steps into the world of gainful employment. Each of the characters introduced are distinctive enough to merit a smile, a nod, and a ‘yeah, I know someone just like them’ from the reader, which speaks to the accessibility and measured approach of Johnson’s writing.
The dialogue is top class throughout, displaying the same mixture of angst and poignancy that made the first act such a hit, and the same Chris Morris-esque sense of aggressive humour that made his other recent release, Beast Wagon, so goddamn wonderful. There are some genuinely lump-in-the-throat moments here, born out of the connection that Johnson forges between us and his leading man. We’ve all been an awkward teenager, desperate to make our mark on the world but struggling against our own limitations, and it’s that sense of familiarity that makes Reel Love resonate so deeply.
Oh, and it also features one gloriously magnificent hotdog slapping scene, just for good measure. Yup.
Once again, Johnson’s use of visual metaphor is truly sublime, from the ‘zombie invasion’ style rush at the cinema to the hauntingly ever-present harbinger of our leading man’s seemingly doomed relationship. His artwork is polished in places and rough in others, with certain pages feeling like the scribbles of a bored schoolchild on the cover of the textbook he’s supposed to be reading. That’s definitely meant as a compliment, for the record, as Johnson’s edgy, chaotic style enhances the overall tone of this book immeasurably; this isn’t a story that would work with a polished, ‘conventional’ artist, so it’s a relief that Johnson’s body of work thus far has proven to be anything but conventional.
Deeply personal and infinitely relatable, Reel Love is packed with emotion and humour in equal measure, and if the first act served as a love letter to the world of cinema, this latest chapter serves as an awkward, painful breakup. Once again, the whole story resonated deeply with me and my own experiences, proving that while situations and specifics may change, the core emotions and frustrations of growing up are universal, and while this act may end on something of a downer… well… that’s life, folks. Highly, highly recommended.
You can pre-order Reel Love: Act Two HERE, or pick up a copy yourself from Owen this weekend at Glasgow Comic Con.