Janet is a character type many readers can identify with: She’s only got a few close friends. She spends a lot of time by herself or with her best friend and roommate, a ghost named Paul. She’d like to have a relationship, but she’s unsure she’s ready to put in the work involved or whether she’s found the right guy to be worth the effort.
When her friend Freya sets her up on a blind date with Derek, the two hit it off, but Janet’s uncertain whether to share her secret, that she can see Paul, with him. Plus, he has a secret of his own.
Renee Lott’s simple art in Festering Romance made me think that this book was originally a webcomic, because the thick lines and rectangular panels with little variation would reproduce well online at smaller resolutions. It’s done with skill, and it’s easy to read quickly, but it’s not something I got lost in or noticed unless I was paying attention to it. It didn’t draw my eye, in other words, acting functionally instead of attractively.
I also was led to the webcomic assumption because of the pacing, which is leisurely. 180 pages are spent only on the relatively straightforward story of how these two meet, date, fight, and reconcile… well, it feels over-long to me, like a story that had been developed and drawn a page a day instead of something plotted and edited as a whole.
Some of the times when the art is exaggerated art are amusing (such as when Freya and Janet nearly come to blows over a Ouija board), but the extremely cartoony portrayal doesn’t always mesh well with the relatively low-key real-life attitudes of the characters. Also, that Paul’s a ghost doesn’t really matter to the story. (Some of the elements, like him growing up with her, actually contradict his state.) It could as easily have been Paul being something else a new flame might find embarrassing, like a huge geek or something.
Editorially, I would have recommended tightening up some of the events, speeding up the pacing, and making sure everything supported the main story. The theme, that these two young adults aren’t ready for a relationship until they eliminate the “ghosts” of their past guilts, is rather obvious, and the story takes too long, in my opinion, to get there. Once upon a time, I would have welcomed seeing any type of relatively realistic romance in comics. Now, with so many amazing stories being told in graphic novels, the bar is higher. But this is a first work from the artist, who recently graduated from art school, and there’s enough skill and promise here that I look forward to seeing more from her.
Preview pages are available at the book’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)