Reel Love By Owen Michael Johnson Is A Magical Film Memoir

by Olly MacNamee

New from Unbound is a graphic novel collecting together the indie critical hit, Reel Love, and it brings the three orignally separate volumes together under one cover. Produced by Owen Michael Johnson and lettered by Colin Bell and Pye Parr, this is a book that is somewhat autobiographical, other times a coming-of-age saga, and also bleeds into the realms of magic realism to create a reading experience that, I dare say, many, many readers will be able to relate to very readily. A magical memoir of sorts, if you like.
Its a story of a boy’s first love; the cinema. A love affair that we witness across three fateful summers in Northern England. Cumbria to be precise, and as a boy from a small town myself, it resonated a great deal with me. It would do, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of film myself. Its also a love, like any other, that is not always smooth sailing, and even a love that plays at second best as the book’s protagonist grows and matures, and hormones set in. We all have our own memories of trips to the cinema, and like our boy, they often form part of our earliest memories. I was immediately transported back to the dingy cinema of yesteryear to relive my own experience of seeing Star Wars for the very first time as the sight of the never-ending Star Destroyer crawls menacingly over every head in the cinema. How it too became a huge influence on my young mind, and more.

As the young movie-buff grows, he never leaves his love of cinema behind, and by his teens he’s bagged a job at the local multiplex and met some like-minded friends, all who will seem strikingly familiar to you, when compared to some of the most iconic silver screen monsters. It’s moments like this that really make the book. The lines between reality and make believe are blurred and the fertile mind of this would-be film director take over, creating his own reality. As a child, he lives within the worlds of the galactic Empire as well as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, while as an adolescent he is surrounded by film and film-loving friends, while as a young adult lecturer, he specialises in film, even if film isn’t necessarily reciprocal any more. But, is he wise to leave the toys of his youth behind? We are never told as adults to “Never give up on your dreams”, but you never stop hearing it as a kid. Strange that, isn’t it?

As we progress through the volumes, the magic realism seems to dissipate as real life comes crashing in on our hero, who by Volume 3 seems to have lost his passion and his way. It’s a bitter sweet, humorous and emotive story that nostalgically looks back at a bygone youth, when the world was our oyster, until we realised that growing up isn’t always a story with a happy ending. Thankfully, this is also a feel-good book. If any message is to be gleaned from this love-letter to cinema, then it’s one of being happy in life and being true to yourself. We all feel love and lose loves. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up on yourself.
Reel Love is out now from Unbound and available online or in stores.

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