Owen Michael Johnson is fast becoming the name to keep an eye on in indie comics. His bizarre psychedelic zoo saga Beast Wagon stands up as the best debut of the year so far (and in a year with We Can Never Go Home and Secret Wars, that’s really saying something), and this month brings us the second issue in his ode to cinema, Reel Love.
Reel Love Act One was a story of boyhood friendship, filtered through a love of film. It was nostalgic and sad. Johnson’s writing and artwork gave the book a real pathos and recalled many memories of going to the cinema as a child. It was also a really smart dissection of friendships and how they drift apart.
Act Two is about friendship in a very different way. Right from the start we’re warned that, as per cinematic cliché, the sequel is always darker than the original. This isn’t going to end well. Our titular character needs, according to his family, a job and a girlfriend. He’s not so sure, but when he applies for a job at the local cinema, he falls in with the crowd of dropouts who work there, and finds both.
As always, Johnson excels at characterisation. His lead is disaffected and alienated without resorting to cliché, and his frustration at trying to write and make the film he’s dreamed about since he was a child is captured perfectly. The gang he winds up falling in with, from the charismatic Foley, through to the rebellious Ellie, are equally well portrayed. These guys are your friends from your late teens. Full of hormones and opinions. They’re assholes, but you want to be friends with them so badly. They remind you of those hours you wasted hanging out wherever it was you’d go hang out, and of all the things you said you’d go and create with them that you never quite managed to do.
Johnson’s art too is spot on. Check out the expression when our lead pitches his film to the rest of the guys, or the hilarious panel of Foley slapping a Waterworld fan in the face with a hotdog. His pencils are sharp, and his use of imagery superb.
So, Reel Love Act Two is as good as the first and in the tradition of Godfather II, Empire Strikes Back and Terminator 2, the sequel is better than the original. Roll on Act Three.