“Well, if you wanted honesty, That’s all you had to say
I never want to let you down
Or have you go, it’s better off this way”
While Remy Boydell has been working on comics projects for years now I would stake money that many, myself included, got our first taste our her work with 2018’s The pervert. Writer Michelle Perez’s deeply grounded, brutally honest and unflinching look at a trans girl’s experiences of sex work in Seattle. Bringing the same sensibility to her own story in the pages of 920London, Perez captures the slowly disintegrating relationship of two young scene kids as it burns down to the embers and, against the growing of illegal hallucinogenics before the end of the world.
“I like sleeping next to her” one of the pair, Hana bluntly sums up early in the book “We don’t fuck anymore, we’re just co-dependent” She’s struggling with her mental health whilst her partner fluctuates between moods. Kiki already nursing the feeling of having missed out on her big chance for fame, her ex’s having struck huge mainstream success even when he is portrayed as being the most odious of manipulative “superstar” cliches.
Boydell herself recently commented on twitter on the books release, having worked on it for two years since her collaboration on The Pervert with Michelle Perez. The two years of work, the refinement and confidence is there on every page of 920London. The majority of The Pervert’s pages were broken down into strict nine panel grids and while this worked to compliment the story and it’s narrator there, for her own story Boydell experiments a great deal more allowing for a more dynamic looking book from the character poses to page layouts.
In one particularly atmospheric dream state, Kiki finds herself walking around a large ominous pumpkin patch punctuated with bright bursts of orange from the spooky fruits, rendered expertly on the page in Boydell’s gorgeous watercolours. With all the tensions of a cult horror movie, she eventually comes face to face with a twisted version of her ex Jake Price. He reassures her “all the time you felt alone and weird, everything is going to be good from now on”, mixing both terror and wish fulfilment to an uncomfortable degree.
Their day to day activities and attempts to kick start their lives into something grander and far more exciting will most likely resonate for those far away from what anybody would reasonably call “the pulse” in the arse end of nowhere. The laid back tempo and deliberate pacing that calls to mind a certain sort of cool British Indie film, the book’s splash pages serving here as quiet cutaways that gives the story a lot of space to breathe an let it’s quiet moments hit with full precision. The most striking of which occurs when Boydell depicts Kiki worriedly questioning her friends almost romantic and idolised take on suicide. It works alongside the perception of “emo culture” and it’s detractors most repeated arguments to convey something really impactful in this moment and throughout the book. When the story needs it the bold watercolour spreads pull back into the smallest vignette moments alluding to the characters mood or mental state, like cutting between mundane objects and details of a therapists office, Hana looking down at her feet, so succinctly sums up that feeling of concentrating on anything else, of normality happening all around everyone and everything but yourself.
Something shared with her previous book The Pervert, is a great knack for visual pop culture shorthand when it come to secondary characters, opting to spend time developing her two protagonists instead. Even before he is elaborated on by Kiki, Jake Price is portrayed on poster for his “Epic Riot Tour” as a smug blue Garfield looking motherfucker, arms out in a Christ like pose which tells you everything you need to know about the guy at this point. Even a cursory glance at Boydell’s instagram shows a clear passion and a distinct flair for fashion and costume design. 920London leans heavily on the emo sensibilities of the early 00’s, all Nokia flip-phones, checkered Vans and pink Leopard prints. Here the duos distinctive ensembles quickly set them apart from the muted greys and blues of their loathed, rural hometown. Bright for Kiki that is, as Remy expertly ties her designs to their respective characters and even introduces and expands the trans threads of the story through the artwork and ultimately by commenting on Hana’s darker and more relaxed wardrobe. “Just exercising my god given right to wear hoodies” explains Hana in an inner monologue on not having to explain herself or to conform to gender norms as it defending it to herself the most.
920 London has an almost treacle thick melancholy that Boydell expresses through her storytelling with the vibrant, life changing parties you imagined for your youth, the reality of long boring bus journeys, and the extreme effort for parties and gatherings that will end up limp and soul destroying. Whereas Kiki is somewhat more optimistic, Hana is acutely aware of the wafer thin edifice in these social events, recalling a previous party where the host had bought and imported, at great expense, the iconic red cups that are the staple for any happening party teen party in America, commenting “bare depressing” in a reference that had me smiling and cringing to at the same time.
Don’t come to 920London expecting heart wrenching or overwrought statements, instead the story settles into it’s own very low burn brand of despair. Things get hinted at or go unsaid, or talked around that feels more instep with it’s grounded grey English setting. Kiki and Hana only feel able to push the uncomfortable subjects so far with each other before pulling back and retreating mentally, at one point Hana trying to explain why she didn’t make an appointment with a therapist, and after a few panels deflecting, says simply “Tell me a story or something okay?”.
The unusual pacing and tone might strike a lot of readers as mood over storytelling when it steadfastly refuses to spell things out for you but as with Perez’s The Pervert, 920London isn’t necessarily about a grandiose running storyline but concerns itself more with being more a character study and ultimately I found myself taken in by the moody tone and overall feel of the book, the quiet fatalism that pervades throughout in it’s moody, brilliant and always brutally honesty portrayal of mental health, relationships and through it’s the intricately layered and fascinating lives of both Hana and Kiki.