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

In the fourth in his series of blog posts about Room For Love, ILYA reveals how the book was first conceived as a manga short story for the Japanese market.


OK, so, in the mid-1990s (before I made the Germaine Greer link, I’m pretty certain), I first drew up the “apparent suicide” – scene of Pamela and Cougar’s first meeting – as a short story. This would have been ‘The Bridge’, ostensibly for publication in Japan as a manga (in the weekly Comic Morning, published by the mighty powerhouse that is Kodansha).


Nothing, however, came of it at that time. Nothing, that is, until…


The comics studio that I share with Woodrow Phoenix and sundry others (at that time, Carl Flint and Chris Webster, in trendifying Shoreditch, the “new Soho” of the 1990s) was paid a visit by Pierre-Alain Szigeti, a French editor for Kodansha then trawling Europe for likely talents to fill out his “Pierre et Ses Amis” [Pierre and Friends] slot in this big fat manga magazine. We all had a go.


My first and only Japanese manga, in Japanese, appeared in Comic Morning issue 38 – this was “Good Sam (The Punk That is Good)”.

Pierre et ses amis

“Good Sam”, for Good Samaritan, was inspired by a favourite painted pub sign in Whitechapel, of a green-haired punk helping up an old gent who has taken a tumble (the pub is still there, behind the hospital, although the sign is sadly not). The Japanese editorial team (who take a very active hand) added the subtitle, since it was felt that the notion of a person who looks like a street punk being a good guy needed some explaining. This crucial cultural difference (or, hmm, maybe not so much) is likely what keelhauled my chances of further adventures for the “Good Sam” character – readers simply could not identify with him.


Dealing with the Japanese does bring into stark relief the sheer magnitude of cultural difference. For instance, they do not say “Yes” and they don’t say “No”. At least, not in business, nor under these circumstances. Keen to do more work for that market, in a land where comics creators are literally gods (cf. Osamu Tezuka, “God of Manga”), I persevered with submitting my story ideas and fully drawn-up thumbnailed stories many times over, before realizing that their “try this”, “think of that” suggestions were in fact strict commands, and then, after that, that what they were really saying the entire time was, “NO”.

The first of these abortive attempts was to pair “Good Sam” with his friend Willie (a pairing taken from another story cycle that has never seen publication, Seen And Not Seen – although Willie did go on to become a mainstay in my long-running series, The End of The Century Club – award-winning! Best Graphic Novel at the UK Comic Art Convention 1997!! – before returning in Room For Love. Sort of. But more on that, later…).


(PLEASE NOTE: these pages, intended for a Japanese readership and publication in Japan, read from Left to Right.)

There’s a detail in here, on the opening splash page, depicting homelessness on the streets of the capital. It is cribbed from a news clipping, from either City Limits or more likely The Big Issue, that I still have in my files.

homelessI drew up comprehensive scripted layouts for a full 8-page sequence – my opening chapter for the new adventures of Good Sam. It didn’t float. I tried again. And again. The Japanese editors did not like my humour (“It does not always have to be funny”), yet expressed an interest in my background depictions of homelessness (“Who is Homeless? Tell the story of Homeless”).


So, because of the aforementioned true-life incident that had happened to me on Hungerford Bridge, I thought up the storyline of ‘The Bridge’. We were all of us encouraged to be relentlessly upbeat with our stories, because Comic Morning readers liked to feel good. I had hit the right note with my first attempt, but with a central character that did not fly because he was a punk – culturally condemned as “no good”. My “good Samaritan” this time was therefore “Samantha” (Pamela from Room For Love by any other name…).

Here’s that 8-page sequence in its entirety. You will see how closely it relates to what became the pivotal scene of the central characters’ first meeting in Room For Love. By and large it wasn’t broke, so I didn’t have to fix it…although, inevitably, I had to compress it some from the more relaxed tempo of Japanese manga. I should stress that this work predates my latter-day and greater understanding re: the emotional and psychological underpinnings of manga pacing. Were I to do it over for the Japanese market now, I dare say it would develop quite differently.

(PLEASE NOTE: these pages, intended for a Japanese readership and publication in Japan, read from Left to Right.)

ilya pic1 pic2 pic3 pic4 pic5 pic6 pic7 pic8Now, nearly 20 years later, I finally get to replay this same sequence almost shot for shot within the larger framework of Room For Love.

I cringe at the saintly characterisation of the homeless kid, Willie, as well as the upbeat ending. My original impulse and instinct was for him to swear and sneer at his hapless, hopeless Good Samaritan, Samantha. “Thanks for nothing”. This was far more likely how events would play out in real life. The pressure was on, however. The oft-quoted Kodansha editorial stance (at that time) was to aim at pleasing their readers with upbeat characterisation and happy endings – although even their own Japanese contributing artists would continue to mount a challenge to this rose-tinted worldview, approaching, as well, other cultural, sexual and social taboos. The main stress notes that I got were “blond”, “smiling face”, and, I’m not kidding, “Mark Lester” (the kid from Oliver the film musical – from 1968!)

pic9Oy vey!

Here are a couple more story pages clipped from my thumbnailed proposals, with a bearing on what would later – much later – become content for Room For Love. Both familiar…if you’ve bought and read the thing…

pic10 pic11

…and unfamiliar…

cut scenes and extended play that, right or wrong, have never yet made it into any finished article. The following sequence takes place outside and inside a CHICK KING fast food moon palace. There’s nowadays a fried chicken franchise called CHICKEN COTTAGE, of course, which is a too great a gift to comedy to be sniffed at… Pack drill as before, read Right to Left in the Japanese manga style.


rfl blog6

It isn’t entirely clear from these scribbles, but the couple seen toasting soda cans and tucking in on the first page, on the second, exit the CHICK KING, to (keys jangled) climb into a waiting sports car, which then speeds away, leaving the hungry Willie to eat only their dust…

Such is life, harsh in the Big City. The Kodansha editors remained unconvinced. Back to the drawing board…

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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