Friday, 3 January 2014

Room For Love by ILYA Review

Pamela Green is a romance novelist who no longer wants to write romance. She doesn’t believe in it, she doesn’t feel it, and she certainly has none in her life. Single, divorced in her forties and living alone in a large, empty house with a cat who’s recently run off, she doesn’t know what she wants or where she’s going - until she happens across a young man called Cougar whom she believes is about to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge. She doesn’t realise until the police drag him out that he’s been living rough under the bridge and, feeling guilty, she impulsively asks him to come home and stay with her. So begins an unlikely relationship between a lonely middle-aged woman and an equally lonely teenage runaway in Ilya’s superb new graphic novel, Room For Love.

If you thought because of the title that this was a romance comic, the tone of the book is set within the first few panels: Cougar is a prostitute, trading sex to hitch-hike to London. His life is as unromantic as it gets: getting kicked awake by police after sleeping in a doorway, begging on streets before becoming friends with another young male prostitute. When they’re not turning tricks in side streets, they’re sitting in cinemas running classic horror marathons because they’ve got nowhere else to go - the almost cartoonish horror of the Hammer films is cruelly juxtaposed with the real horror of homelessness on the streets of London and, later on, the awful fate of Cougar’s friend. This isn’t an overtly polemical book, though it does seek to portray truthfully the real situations its characters would encounter, and often these situations are quite dire.

Compared to Cougar, Pamela’s life troubles are almost comical yet distinctly middle-class. She wants to give up writing popular romance novels under her pseudonym, Leonie Hart, and gain some credibility by writing something more substantial and less derivative. At the advice of her publicist and best friend Germaine, she tries dating in an effort to get out of her rut, but, as anyone who’s tried online dating will tell you, the dates are awkward at best. And then she meets Cougar.

Room For Love is a great book, a masterpiece even, because of its character-driven story. Ilya effortlessly brings to life two disparate characters and their worlds vividly and merges the two without making it seem forced or false. The characters behave as you would expect based on their different socio-economic backgrounds and their interactions feel real and convincing, while also being charmingly offbeat like when Pamela is talking about the Iliad to Cougar. Ilya also represents this visually by colouring Pamela’s panels blue and Cougar’s panels orange. As the two slowly get to know each other, their distinct colours soften and merge until the scenes between the two are a combination of the two, a muted copper colour.

Ilya tells his story without an overt narrator - the reader is never told the inner thoughts of either Pamela or Cougar from anyone other than the characters, and even then only sparingly, and there is no narrative voice intruding in boxes to set the scene. We primarily experience the story through the characters’ actions, their expressions, and the way they interact with one another. It’s a beautifully subtle and utterly masterful way of telling a story that shows the high level of sophistication Ilya has achieved as a comics storyteller.

There is a wonderfully layered story to be found in Room For Love. Like the title’s many interpretations - literal, metaphorical, a description of their situation - the story discusses the many types of love first codified by the Ancient Greeks and which we all experience. Human love being so abstract and complex it’s not simply just one person caring for another, there are many varieties of love like friendship love, family love, romantic love, love of the self; all types of love that are worked into the story. Pamela and Cougar’s difficult relationship is alternately made up of different kinds of love and, true to the way he handles the rest of the story, Ilya avoids giving either character a predictable, pat ending. Real lives do not have arcs and while these characters seemingly change in small ways throughout, they are ultimately themselves at the end, still with problems and still with struggle ahead - but with renewed hope.

As artistic as the comic is, it’s a book anyone looking to read a good story, whether you read comics or not, can pick up and be unfailingly moved by. Its story is unique because the characters are the story and they only exist in this book, and their story is an absolutely engrossing one. Ilya has created one of the most enthralling, heartfelt and outright brilliant comics of the year in Room For Love.

Room for Love

1 comment:

  1. Noel, you are my new best friend. Thank you! ILYA