Regular readers of my articles on this site (all three of them) will know that I like to poke fun at the things I review. Okay, poke fun is a bit of an understatement. More like verbally bludgeon for my own twisted amusement.
However, I am sorry to say that this will not be possible in this review. The reason being because this comic book is… serious. Really, really serious. I couldn’t poke fun even if I wanted to. Which I kind of don’t. To poke fun at it would just… it’d be like a guy laughing at a puppy with only three legs. You just can’t do that. It’s not right. So, for the duration of this review I will be 100% serious. Well… 99% serious. Starting now. This is Room for Love by ILYA.
First off, this is one of THOSE comics. The ones where you have to turn your brain on. Where you have to pay attention. This is… a graphic novel. In every sense of the phrase. For one thing the characters talk like real people. I’ll let that sink in for a minute. They talk… like REAL people. Now, normally this would be a very stupid thing because when real people talk it is usually very boring. But here, they talk like real people… in an interesting way. There is no incidental dialogue, there’s nothing wasteful or pointless about it. It’s just realistic dialogue made interesting. This is perhaps the hardest thing to accomplish when writing. Making your dialogue seem like something a person would actually say, whilst still holding your attention. This in turn makes them infinitely more dimensional as characters.
But what’s the story? Pamela Green is a middle-aged romance novelist, writing under the pseudonym Leonie Hart, who has become disillusioned with her life and her career, specifically because she is sick of writing romance novels when she has no romance in her life at all. But things take an unexpected turn when she meets a homeless seventeen year-old Irish runaway who calls himself “Cougar”, who she invites to stay at her house.
It’s at this point I should mention the style of the art, specifically the colors used. In all the panels concerning Cougar, there is an orange-y/pastel-y kind of hue to them, whereas with all the panels concerning Pamela there is a blue-y hue. At first this seemed to be largely unimportant, even unnecessary. We don’t need to have some kind of distinction between the two characters because we already know that they’re two different people. We’re not going to mix the two up. And it’s not like the two characters are presented in two radically different styles. They’re drawn very much the same. Is it meant to reflect their emotional states? Well, they’re both unhappy. For different reasons, sure, but their emotions are pretty parallel to each other. So why have this?
Well, when the two characters first meet something odd happens. Their colors don’t mix, a new color isn’t made, but instead they retain their colors and sort of… share the panel together. Going further, in later panels, their colors are contained within the characters themselves, Pamela’s clothes become blue, Cougars clothes become orange-y, but the backgrounds don’t have either color as opposed to before when the whole panel would be in the color. The backgrounds become more muted in color, turning to dull greys etc. This, I feel, is an excellent idea, in terms of the artwork. The resulting effect is that it makes the characters stand out, becoming even more vibrant and noticeable. If that was ILYA’s intention then job well done! If not… hey, it’s still great.
What follows is a tumultuous relationship between the two of the which quickly turns sexual. In addition to that, each of them influence the other. Pamela finds inspiration from their relationship and proceeds to write a book partly based on it. Cougar meanwhile, has trouble adjusting from a life on the streets but is appreciative Pamela’s attempts to help him, mostly.
However, problems soon arise. Cougar refuses to tell her his real name and the revelation of the fact that he is only seventeen is a big shock to Pamela. Soon they start to argue frequently. Things come to a head when Pamela asks him to attend a dinner party she’s throwing for her friends. Eventually, Cougar gets drunk and behaves incredibly inappropriately, embarrassing Pamela in front of her friends because he believed that she only invited him to show him off and that she was using him for writing inspiration. Pamela tells him that the party is an annual thing and that she isn’t using him. Cougar then reveals that he was a male prostitute when living on the streets and is and has always been gay.
Things take a turn for the worse when Cougar’s appendix bursts. In hospital, he tells Pamela that he ran away from home because he was terrified of telling his deeply religious parents that he was gay. They both reconcile but mutually agree to end their relationship. Pamela let’s him know that there is still a place for him at her house if he wants it. The following day she goes back to the hospital to find that Cougar has disappeared. We see him back in Ireland in front of his parents house, frozen in fear. The story ends with Pamela sitting down and starting to write again.
Speaking of her writing, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between what Pamela would like to write about and what is actually going on. She’s sick of writing romantic fantasies and wants to write something more real, something with an edge to it. This is what happens. It’s not a love story in that they meet, instant attraction, maybe there’s a misunderstanding somewhere along the line but it all works out in the end. That’s not real. It’s fun, sure. Entertaining, definitely. But that doesn’t happen in real life. Things go wrong, frequently. Sometimes things don’t work out. And here, that’s what’s going on whilst still being a legitimate and entertaining story.
There are, however, a few problems. Specifically two things. Firstly, I kept getting the sense of: “Ooooh, she’s unsatisfied with her love life. Ooooh, he’s a bad boy from Ireland. Ooooh, she wants to write something edgier.” This is probably just me putting my own interpretation on it though. Secondly, although it does work, very well, there’s just a whisper of pretension. A flicker, if that. And you know, sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s what the reader needs in order to become more immersed in the story or for it to have a unique feel, which incidentally it does have. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are more odd, off-of-character things in the story, but thankfully they are few and far between.
So, at the end of the day the question is this: Is this a good graphic novel? Yes. Is it a great graphic novel? Also yes. Should you read it? Yes, yes and yes. This is a story that feels like what Alan Moore would write if he decided to write a romance graphic novel. It’s characters are just the right amount of flawed and completely three dimensional. You are immediately endeared to them and become fully immersed in their story. And as if that wasn’t enough, the style of the art is unique, or at least FEELS unique which is an achievement in of itself.
Plus, I get the sense that the author, ILYA, really CARED about this story. This isn’t a case of “Oh, y’know what would be a cool story?”. This isn’t just some throwaway story that the author just wanted to write because they thought it would be fun. This is a story that needed to be told. There are signs of effort and emotion behind every single panel.
In short, Room for Love is a fantastic story presented in a fantastic way and if you don’t want to read it then I hereby revoke your humanity card because you are clearly a soulless husk of a person. Well, so much for being serious.
But what did YOU think of Room for Love? Was it a unique and stylised tale for the ages or just another love story? Why not let us know in the comments below or on Twitter?