For many queer youth, escape is the ultimate goal. Escaping a family that won’t accept you; escaping a society that diminishes you; and perhaps the hardest of all, escaping the internalized pain and trauma that eats away at you. Emo scenesters Kiki and Hana are trying to break free from their idle lives in Remy Boydell’s solo graphic novel debut, 920London (Image). Kiki has big dreams of moving away from their small town outside London to become a rockstar in Los Angeles, and Hana tries to cultivate psychedelic mushrooms for the relief that therapy doesn’t provide.
Like Boydell’s 2018 graphic novel with Michelle Perez, The Pervert, 920London is a candid look at young queer people navigating complicated lives, but it also marks a significant step forward in Boydell’s evolution as a visual storyteller. Boydell moves away from a set six-panel grid to bring greater variation to the book’s pacing and create more immersive images, and bold choices with watercolor shades and textures intensify the expressive qualities of the coloring. Palette and word balloon shapes work together to deliver dialogue without any actual words. You don’t need to know what Hana and her psychologist say in the flashback because their all-black word balloons indicate how heavy the conversation is, or what Kiki is rattling off during a breakup conversation with her ex, a rant depicted with a flurry of messy pink word balloons.
Boydell’s attention to small details makes 920London feel lived in. A full-page illustration of a bookshelf informs character with an assortment of stuffed animals, manga digests, sex toys, and piled-up dirty dishes, putting the reader inside both a living space and a mindset by spotlighting important objects and the mess that surrounds them. When Kiki recalls the aforementioned breakup, she lingers on the stickiness of the table at the pub, a tactile sense-memory that heightens the reality of that moment. Boydell keeps the visuals grounded and subtle, but there are sporadic moments of spectacle to depict the characters’ escapist fantasies, like Kiki’s dream meeting with emo figureheads or the microscopic close-ups of Hana’s mushroom experiments.
920London doesn’t have an especially defined arc, instead offering snapshots of different points in Kiki and Hana’s time together that spotlight the couple’s long-term incompatibility. That may disappoint readers who want a stronger conclusion, but a refusal to tie things up with a tidy bow is emblematic of Boydell’s approach to narrative. Reality doesn’t fit a three-act structure. Memory isn’t a film strip that you can replay at any moment. Boydell focuses on creating intimacy between the reader and characters, establishing closeness that heightens the tragedy as it becomes clear Kiki and Hana’s relationship is heading toward an inevitable end.