Guest Blog: ILYA on Room For Love (Part Five)

In the fifth in his series of blog posts about Room For Love, ILYA talks about how the book nearly became a comic for DC Vertigo.

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As an addendum to last time’s ‘Almost a Manga’ blog, here’s an annotated sheet that contains the origin of Frank (nee Willie).

At first the notion of Young Bic (from my self-published saga Skidmarks, later reissued by Tundra and then collected into a single volume by Active Images) presented me with various possibilities – principally as a Mooncalf, or “born idiot”. But then, the idea of Young Willie (based on another of my signature recurring cast of characters) suddenly presented more, and took hold. Brought forward a further few more years in age, he entered into dangerous, rich territory. My Own Private Idaho is cited among my notes, the film by Gus Van Sant, River Phoenix’s finest hour and 44 minutes.

I can make out penciled scribbles probably taken down during a telephone conference with French Kodansha editor Pierre-Alain, prior to my submission of the thumbnail version of ‘The Bridge’, seen previously. I’m being advised to give it a lighter ending, to end it with the beatific line “don’t worry” or similar, in response to Samantha’s apologies. Similarly the directions, “make pretty for Japanese”, a “sunshine boy”, “big hearted” and (ironically, I feel, given the former…) the clincher, “not so caricature”. “Rake thin” and “gobby”, perversely, are my Notes To Self, which I have stuck to. They asked for him to have “older friends”, and it was here that I obviously hit upon the image of this young runaway included amongst a “line-up of ancient beery faces” – other, much older tramps – which appears in the final book (page 49). Another survivor from these very first exploratory drawings is my experimentation with a few different hairstyles, including “Suedehead” and…well, take a look. Other scrawlings clipped here read “an observer of street life”, and – my favourite, a description that probably sums up a lot of my work – “Dickensian Moderne”.

'Twist' - a proposed newspaper serial adaptation for Cityreads

‘Twist’ – a proposed newspaper serial adaptation for Cityreads


Pretty soon after my Japanese excursion, focus turned to America.

I had been unhappily engaged as a penciller (read: hired hand) on a-miniseries-we-won’t-mention (because it sucked so very hard) for comics monolith DC’s Vertigo imprint. Unluckiest of all, my editor had died in the saddle partway through. I’d brought down entire magazines before (securing the cover spot on the very last issue of the UK’s Deadline, home of Tank Girl, for instance). But I’d never actually managed to kill anyone. The assistant or junior editor in this case was Axel Alonso, who later went on to a Marvelous future. Down the line some, following the conclusion of that-which-shall-not-be-named, he proposed that I submit short story ideas for a “weird romance” genre miniseries they had coming up in their schedule – something to do with maintaining copyright on a long-defunct DC title, Heart Throbs.

Cover to Heartthrobs 2 by the inimitable Glenn Fabry. Check out who I ultimately got to work with on my story on the inside!

I prepped a short story, ‘By The Way’. For myself at least, this narrative notionally tied into the continuity I had set up for my Willie character as a younger man in ‘The Bridge’, my abortive attempt to make manga for Japan. I’m not sure where this actual story came from, except fairly fully formed from out of the bright blue yonder (true believer!). It may have come to me in my sleep, as much of my material does.

Here are the original thumbnails for that, and a clip from the script, which I typed and sent to Axel from my then housemate Mark Pawson’s computer set-up (thanks, Mark!) because – back in the early mid-90’s, a galaxy oh so very long ago and far far away, or so it seems – I had neither a keyboard, computer, nor internet connection yet to my name. You can skim this next bit, since it is almost exactly replicated as the opening chapter of Room For Love. I felt huge satisfaction in finally getting to ‘By The Way’, as I feel it, alongside ‘The Body’ in noir anthology It’s Dark In London (Serpent’s Tail 1993/Self Made Hero 2012), and my non-graphic prose novel The Clay Dreaming (Myriad Editions, 2010), is one of the strongest things I have written – so far.

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I liked my short story ‘By The Way’ because it was dour and sour and seedy. It fulfilled the Vertiginous brief, of a modern era romance or even “anti-romance”. The above script and thumbnail set, complete, was presented to editor Axel as just one of a number of possibilities for what I might do, and he ultimately plumbed for a different option – what became the strip ‘Romancing The Stone’ in their second of four issues, an entirely ecstatic collaboration with Scotland’s finest, Frank Quitely, on art duties. That was about a man who got his jollies from screwing pavements…sadly outside of our remit here. Should you chance to find this little gem of a series in the bargain bins, check it out. It has never been collected.

ILYA’s graphic novel, Room For Love, is available now from all good book shops. You can buy it online here (Amazon) and here (Waterstones).

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