“Memory and myth fused to provide a story greater than truth”
That statement appears about eight pages into Reel Love, but it stands as the perfect epigraph for this book as a whole.
This wonderful short graphic novel tells the tale of Owen Johnson’s love affair for film. Like many loves of this sort, it starts young and becomes life-consuming. We see the cinema through the eyes of young Owen, and it’s a realm as magical as a child’s imagination – medusas and men with swords, werewolves and vampires come alive and trains that seem to come right into your lap, along with hideous, saggy-breasted witches who seem to cast hexes on our child protagonist.
There’s noise and fear, and Owen’s first experience is terrifying – but also somehow bewitching. And like many of us fans of a certain age, his life changed and opened up around 1977, when Owen was taken “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” As the narrator reminds our adolescent protagonist, “you’d just taken your first steps into a wider world.”
These middle scenes, when ten-year-old Owen sees his existence through the prism of Star Wars, were especially delightful for me because, well, I was that very same boy during that time. I discovered Lucas’s magnum opus at the movie theatre in Cooperstown, New York, in 1977 (yes, we only had one theatre – there were 2000 people living in our little town), and I was completely enraptured in that fictional world. I seeked out everything I could find that had the name Star Wars stamped on it. I had the cheesy action figures with the lightsabres that collapsed into Luke Skywalker’s and Darth Vader’s arms, the bedsheets and the comics and the novels and magazines and everything else. I occasionally saw my teacher as some sort of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I was hooked.
So when Johnson depicts a kid totally immersed in Star Wars, I smile and guffaw and say, “hey, bud, me too!” And when Johnson shows the thrill of finding another boy who is as crazy about Star Wars as he is – I could relate, and I had great friendships grew from that relationship in my life, as well.
The section that shows Owen’s growing bond with his Star Wars pal Joseph are the sweetest in the book, a Neverland of happiness and rapport that were created by a mutual passion for film. “We make each other exist,” he says to Joseph at one point, such a sweet and clear expression of that special sort of relationship.
And when that friendship goes sideways, as happens in intense friendships, there’s a strength and confidence that comes from having lived through that experience that helps to drive future success – your own movie, your own professional career in a creative field, your own ability to create a charming short graphic novel.
This is clearly a passion project, created out of love for the subject matter and an appreciation for treasured memories. Like a lot of passion projects, this is loose, sincere, a bit experimental at times, and produced straight from the heart. Johnson’s art is all of that and more here. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s rough-hewn and awkward; it’s sometimes tightly drawn and sometimes loosely drawn, in deference to the story itself. I loved the way Johnson depicts the world as an impressionistic landscape, always changing at the whim of a young boy and as a reflection of the way that boy sees his experiences.
This book resurrected some wonderful memories for me, and did so in a thoroughly creative and interesting manner. I’m glad that Owen Johnson shared his Reel Love with us.
Reel Love goes on sale at Glasgow Comic Con this weekend, and will be available online soon after.
Jason Sacks wishes he still had his Star Wars bedsheets, but his wife would refuse to allow them on the bed anyway. Jason is the Publisher of Comics Bulletin and he tweets @jasonsacks