Review: Reel Love: The Complete Collection (Unbound)

The latest book to come out of the Unbound publishing platform (joining Ram V’s Grafity’s Wall and Rachael Smith’s Isobel and Blodwen) sees Beast Wagon’s Owen Michael Johnson bring us Reel Love: The Complete Collection, a 3 volume semi-autobiographical tale about growing up as a film fan, collected into a glorious hardcover boxset. But will it be a blockbuster or an arthouse flop?

Publisher: Unbound
Writer: Owen Michael Johnson
Artist: Owen Michael Johnson
Price: £14.99 from Amazon

Like all great movies, Reel Love is split into three acts. Act one is all about youthful discovery and sees our young hero find his love of cinema through his dad (“It’s like telly only bigger”) and a shared of love of Star Wars with his brother. It’s a bit like a Steven Spielberg coming age story, mixed with the wide eyed innocence of Cinema Paradiso. As such it creates this lovely and personal tale about growing up and falling into love with cinema. The movies are cast as almost like an imaginary friend and often referred to as a person, in a longing and nostalgic manner. There are also the ups and downs, like with any friendship, and as such it perfectly reflects those moment where you first fall in love with the movies.

Meanwhile for act two, things get darker – as all sequels do – and it sees our hero further that bond with cinema by getting a job at the local arthouse fleapit. In doing so, he makes new friends and even finds love, and as such it feels more like a John Hughes-esque teen movie, but with the foul mouthed antics of a Kevin Smith film. Especially when our hero attempts to make his own movie and discovers that working your dream job is not always as perfect as it might seem.

Finding real love in Reel Love

The final chapter sees him grown up and working as a media studies teacher, mentoring a potentially great student who helps him to rekindle his love of cinema. This final chapter is a much more thoughtful and reflective outing, like a Richard Linklater movie and of the three this is the most polished. As all three-quels should, it draws together elements from previous stories and brings everything full circle, to create a very satisfying and poignant [albeit slightly far-fetched] ending.

For film fans, Reel Love is a truly wondrous read and one that will definitely resonate with familiar tales of lost afternoons in the multiplex and friendships built and broken over adventures on the big screen. With the first two chapters being released in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and the final chapter only being released this year, you can see the leap in quality as Owen’s work on Beast Wagon has helped sharpen his pencil and fine tune his style.

The opening chapters have a ragged and chaotic charm to them which, in many ways reflect the youthful exuberance of the subject and Owen has resisted the urge to ‘George Lucas’ them up and redraw them. However in places they can be quite chaotic, and perhaps could have benefited from a bit of post-production! (We also got a bit confused by some of the timelines as Owen intercuts classic 70s nostalgia of Star Wars with 90s nostalgia about Nintendo 64s, but this could just be our own film fan/90s culture pedantry.)

Whether you are a film fan or not, Reel Love is packed full of the kind of heart felt moments and real human drama that the best on-screen rites of passage tales use so well – and they work just as well in print. Unlike most movie trilogies, Owen saves the best chapter for last and creates a poignant and emotionally truthful look at one man’s love of the movies.