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

In his eighth – and final – blog post about Room For Love, ILYA talks characterisation – and reveals how Frank was almost William.

TO BE FRANK, FRANK TO BE

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Rothmans and boy – models for Frank (L to R: DJ Ebeneezer Goode, Mister C; Tim Roth, an over-actor that by and large I can’t stand; and ladies and germs, Mr Johnny Rotten, PiL head). Clips from my image file, from the FACE magazine and other likely places for tasty faces.

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The Juva Merda (Young Shit) artfully draws on his cigarette

In very light blue pencil, at the bottom of this assemblage of character poses cribbed from similar clips from my image files, is another page-study of nothing much doing, based on the above, that had to be cut. One day, graphic novels might sell enough copies that we can keep this sort of stuff in, and go for extended Directors Cuts of our stories. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

ALTERNATE REALITY COVER – SQUARING THE CUBE

Almost as soon as you sign up to make a graphic novel, often before you’ve yet drawn a page of the insides of it, market forces require that you design and produce a final cover. My first attempt was very different to what finally ended up being the final cover…

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Early Room shot, for rejected cover design…

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FOUR AND A HALF MONTHS LEFT…

Lawks! And I start in on the final artwork pages in earnest. There’s no time to pause or reflect, little allowance for either mistakes or corrections. The drawing has to be direct and emblematic, rather than illustrative – and, I think, gains strengths from that. I become a bit obsessed with the rhythms of panels across pages, as according to size, and scene, dialogue and pauses. Making comics feels more than ever like (what I imagine) composing music (to be). With both an American speaker and an Irish dialect to monitor for accuracy, marked up copies of the thumbnails are given to folks who will know better than me if something reads as tin-eared.

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WHAT SIN, A NAME

Nearly over. Everything’s done and dusted and we’re about four days from finally going to print when I’m reliably informed (thanks, John) that William (Willie, Bill or Willy Yum) is the very last name a Belfast Catholic boy would be christened with. This is because of history, the ins and outs of which we should all be more familiar with than we are. At the very roots of the “troubles” is Protestant King William III (“William of Orange” and the Battle of the Boyne, etc – seriously, wiki it all now). Argggghhhhh!

The trouble is, I have used this same character for years throughout many different storylines and books, only some of which have seen print but, you know, enough. And he has always been Willie. Room For Love has a declared setting of 1996, not only to honestly reflect how long I’ve been nursing it, but also to gel with End of The Century Club continuity and cycle of stories, wherein Willie is a lead player – one of the older members or abusive “daddy”, effectively, to his pretend family of assorted runaways, outcasts and delinquents. Notionally at least, come the Millennium, he is about 21 years of age.

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First edition cover of The End of The Century Club, 1997.

It won Best Graphic Novel at the UK Comic Art Convention that year, eventually running to three English language printings, a number of excellently translated foreign language editions, spawning a sequel, Time Warp, for 1999, and…out of time. Out of print, stupidly!

Prizes if you can spot what detail in the view of Trafalgar Square in Room For Love (page 29) helps tip us off to this period setting of 1996, long before it is definitively declared on page 51.

Anyway, I agonised about this last minute change of name, but needs must, it had to be done. So Frank it is. But he’s Willie, really. I explain it away to myself that although he might have been christened Francis Fergal Crowney (brother to Deanne, also from End Club), and still goes by that name at the time of Room For Love, he then went on from there adopting William as his new moniker, precisely to get back at (protest?) and disown his staunch Catholic parents. (SPOILER: it doesn’t go well after the end of play witnessed within Room For Love. Cue The Stark Fist of Removal.) If you’ve never read any of Willie Frank’s other appearances – in The End of The Century Club series, or, er, a single episode of my abortive serial ‘Superfly’, from Marvel UK’s short-lived Strip magazine – then this is all gobbledy and you probably won’t care…but there’s a couple of thousand people out there who might!

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Issue 5 of Marvel UK’s STRIP magazine, April 1990, edited by Dan Abnett. My ‘Superfly’ story within, cover-featured as “Jobs For The Boys”, features WillieFrank after Room For Love but prior to The End of the Century Club, continuity-hounds. I’m confused.

Did any of you folks know that there were seven episodes in all plotted out for ‘Superfly’? Plus five books in all for End Club? (I only ever managed to get one ‘Superfly’ and two Ends into print. Lesson learnt: never coin a time-specific title in a game as slow as publishing).

Repeat and remix endless versions of this long drawn out behind-the-scenes tale of My Struggle, usually running up to a dozen threads concurrently, and you will have the merest glimpse at the life of an independently minded comics freelancer…

COULDA BEEN DRAWN BY POSY SIMMONDS

And finally, one last curio before we all collapse exhausted in a heap. Only a year or so ago, I got the bug back again to try once more to make something of Room For Love. At one point, I actually approached cartoonist Posy Simmonds with a serious proposal that we develop up the graphic novel together, in collaboration – with myself as writer or at least co-writer (she has a very excellent ear for dialogue, including street slang) and her as artist. Like me, Posy is more accustomed to doing it all by herself, whole kit and caboodle, and in the event she politely declined. She has her own fish to fry, and rightly so. I have no doubt this wasn’t anything like a near miss. I think it was always something of a longshot, or daydream – chutzpah on my part. But I like to imagine how things might have turned out, had she said yes…

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Posy Simmonds – the Bus Stop Girls from her graphic novel Tamara Drewe

…very differently, I’d expect.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

From the world of comics – Touchstones rather than influences, for the most part, whilst limbering up for production on Room For Love:

Helen Lord, UK – Here Comes Everyone (self-published)

Michel Fiffe, USA – Zegas (self-published)

Igort, Italia – Letters From Korea (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

Posy Simmonds, UK – ‘Ask Doctor Derek’, faux hospital-set romance from Literary Life (Cape)

A tip of the creative hat to you all, Ladies and Gents. Seek out their work!

LOGLINE/TAG

So there you have it.

Room For Love.

I like to sum it up as a story of opposites; a May to December romance (quite literally, if you look closer at the approximate timeline); more accurately speaking, an anti-romance; Chalk (Pamela) and Cheese (Frank); SOHO (Frank) versus SUBURBIA (Pamela); Heartbreak Soap.

I sincerely hope that you will buy it, and, once you’ve bought it, that you enjoy it. Please try and let me know what you make of it.

Stick a review on Amazon, why not?

Thank you for watching. Oh, and Tom? I’m SO sorry…

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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