Festering Romance

By Renee Lott
184 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

I almost feel bad in saying this, but at times Festering Romance didn’t feel like a graphic novel, but rather an illustrated movie pitch. Renee Lott’s graphic novel has it all built in; a small cast, a simple setting, and a strong core idea involving a potential romantic relationship being hindered by each of them hiding the ghost in their lives. And you know something? I think Festering Romance would have the potential to make a ton of money at the box office, with "hit" written all over it.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of romantic comedies (or romantic dramas) where one side of the potential romance is trying to hide the presence of a ghost from the other. Lott takes that idea to the next level, though, as both Janet and Derek are trying to hide that they each live with a ghost. I appreciated that Lott doesn’t go for the same sort of living/ghost relationship on both sides, though; there’s a very different vibe between Janet and her childhood friend Paul, and that connecting Derek and Carol. It would have been the easy way out, and as we learn more about Derek and Carol it certainly complicates the situation. Instead, it puts all four characters in a different light, especially once Lott reveals just what is keeping Paul and Carol in the world of the living instead of passing on.

On the downside, while I like the basic premise of Festering Romance, some of the execution left me a little cold. The basic plot structure is a little too predictable, one we’ve all seen before. Every time Janet and Derek hit a speed bump on their path to happiness, you can see it coming a mile away. In some ways, that’s why I think Festering Romance would actually work better as a movie, because you could have talented actors distracting you from the predictability because of their delivery of the lines and giving some physical comedy. There’s also a fifth character, Freya, who feels like she either needs a larger part of the book or should alternately be dropped entirely. With her limited page time, she comes across a little too one-dimensional as the conniving friend who sets everything up. And, unfortunately, the resolution arrives a little too quickly; once we get the revelation of what is keeping Paul around, everything else happens in such a fast manner that it all gets lost in the shuffle. Even another dozen pages from Lott, I think, could have fixed the problem.

The real star of Festering Romance for me, though, is Lott’s art. It has a slight similarity to Jim Mahfood’s art, with the sharp angles on characters’s faces and crisp ink lines. Lott’s art is more cartoonish, though, prone to humorous exaggerated moments that always made me crack a smile. Her characters are expressive, and there are fun little touches along the way, like the wispy way that a ghost’s trails off at the end of their legs. What struck me upon a re-read, though, is that Lott not only sets up basic rules in her storytelling but knows when she should break them. Most of Festering Romance is drawn in a basic six-panel grid, with three rows of two panels. It’s an easy format to follow, and is more than functional. Occasionally, though, a row has an extra panel squeezed in when there needs to be some additional transition available, or sometimes rows are knocked together to form a larger panel. I appreciate that Lott is savvy enough with storytelling to know when the method she chose to tell the book needs to be temporarily put aside so that she can make it a better experience for her reader.

Festering Romance isn’t a perfect book, but it shows a lot of promise. Lott’s art is certainly beautiful, and there was enough I did like about the story of Festering Romance that I’m still glad I read the book. It’s certainly an attractive final product, too; the 6×9" dimensions of the book help show off Lott’s art, and the paper stock for both the cover and the interior not only shows off the art but actually has a smooth quality about it that is pleasant to the touch. I look forward to seeing Lott’s next book down the line; it’s certainly a good debut.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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