Scott Pilgrim series – Bryan Lee O’Malley
Volume 1 – Oni Press - 9781932664089
Julie: Guest bloggers who made me laugh while introducing me to an addictive graphic novel series--is there a better way to start the week? Hope you enjoy this review by Benjamin Andrew Moore, New School compatriot, and Dan Eldrenkamp, Avid Music Listener, as much as I did.
Benjamin Andrew Moore: I've only recently become thoroughly, personally, creepily acquainted with the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels created by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Like, in the past year or so? Yeah. Yeah, I think that sounds about right. It's that rare book/movie/whatever that comes along and forces you at gunpoint to love it unabashedly. Like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. Vis-a-vis the power of literary Stockholm Syndrome, it's now one of my favorite books of all time, and definitely my favorite book of the past year or so.
Scott Pilgrim (five volumes long so far, the sixth and last to be released in July) is brimming with the best, weirdest pop culture references I've ever seen--particularly of the videogame, music, and comic book variety. Truly, this book was hand-crafted for my oft-coveted demographic, and not in the belittling and pandering sort of way that, say, The Big Bang Theory is. (I hate that show and everyone who doesn’t.) But underneath all the incredible and incredibly ridiculous videogame+manga+comic book action sequences, there's this very heartfelt tale about a messed up boy with a broken heart who falls in love with a messed up girl (also with a broken heart) and all the crap they have to go through in order to be together. In Canada. And therein lies the premise: A Canadian 20-something fellow falls in love with an American 20-something lady and has to defeat her seven evil exes in deadly combat just in order to date her.
I forced my good friend Dan to read it, partly for the purposes of writing this blog-post, but mostly because it's just that fantastic and I’m a really good friend. So what'd you think, Daniel?
Dan Eldrenkamp: Let me begin by saying this may be the graphic novel equivalent of Veronica Mars—which is to say, when hearing about the plot, most people (including me, initially) scoff and write it off, but upon reading (or viewing, in the case of Veronica Mars) the story engulfs you and makes you come back for more. I was able to relate to the characters in Scott Pilgrim more closely than any other piece of literature I've ever read. The cultural references and dialogue are a perfect artistic representation of how current 20-somethings interact with each other. This graphic novel IS today’s culture condensed into a simple (and slightly over-the-top/ridiculous) story about love. Fans of indie rock, comics, and good reading will like this graphic novel. Also, the writer is more than happy to embrace gay characters within the plot (one of whom is Scott's roommate). Incorporating gay characters is nothing new, but they're woven into the storyline very effortlessly and without stigma--which I feel represents the current 20-somethings’ view, which is more open and accepting of gay culture. The music and comic references are current, relevant, and subtle, showing the author's attention to detail and his personal taste.
Ben: I want to point out that I also introduced you to Veronica Mars, Dan, and that everything I have ever recommended to anybody (ever) has always been and will forever be met with slavish, obsessive adulation.
Anyway, yeah, the main gay character—Scott's roommate, Wallace, who shares a bed with him because they're poor—is one of my favorite characters in this book. He's not some beacon of hope. Some cliché or stereotype. He's just awesome. He drinks way too much and he's hilarious and he wants to beat the crap out of Scott's ex-girlfriend, the main villainess of volumes two and three. Really, it's the characters of this series in general that makes it the masterpiece that it is. No, wait, that's not fair. It's the characters and the story and the pop culture references and the hilarity and the dialogue and the art and the everything all at once. But the point is, the characters feel alive. They're your friends. They're people you've met and hang out with every damn day and sometimes twice a day. Like Dan said, Brian O'Malley has created a perfecto representation of our generation. And he's not even American!
Speaking of art and/or perfection, Brian's art—which is black and white, no color as of yet (perhaps in a yet-to-be-released hardcover edition?)—is so perfect in its simplicity. The style is a hybrid of American comic strip and Japanese manga and it works wonderfully for the subject matter. With naught but a few spare lines here and there, Brian has created the most emotive facial expressions in all of comic-dom. Page after page after page after page. It's really freaking brilliant. Perhaps even...award-worthy?
Dan: It's true, you did introduce me to Veronica Mars. And it's a great show. However, when you first told me about it, I kind of scoffed when you said you were watching a TV show about a high school girl who solves crimes...very Nancy Drew-esque. (Editor’s note: That’s a bad thing?) Now when I try to recommend the show to someone they either lose interest mid-conversation or look at me like I'm crazy for liking a show with that plot. The truth is, I would say it's one of the best shows of the last decade. (Editor’s note: I would say ever.) And, yeah, Ben, you've got decent taste. (Editor’s note: You mean extraordinary.)
I would agree that the characters in this graphic novel are like your friends. I guess that's sort of the point I was trying to make in a roundabout way. All of the relationships and interactions never seem forced—they're very real. In a way, it's the sort of world I wish I was living in.
The art was very interesting. I think you pointed out to me, before I started reading, that the emotions shown in the characters’ faces are very expressive, yet created with subtle artistic changes.
I think what I like best about the story is that it shows us at least a glimpse of each character's insecurities. Obviously, the main characters show more insecurities, and I think this is what helps the reader relate to them so well. These aren't perfect people. These are real people—in a fictional world, of course. Not a one of the characters is one-dimensional.
Ben: My exquisite taste is undeniable, Dan. Undeniable.
Speaking of Scott—the character, that is—I just...I love him so damn much. He's such a bizarre combination of funny and sarcastic and clueless and clever and stupid and charmingly aloof and jerky and good guy and bad guy and badass. After all, he is the "greatest fighter in his province." But what's wonderful is that you would never in a million years know this by looking at him. He's not unattractive (in fact, you might even go as far as to say he's attractive), but he's not some massive brute with muscles bulging, et cetera, et cetera. He's a fairly average guy, so far as physical prowess goes. He's wily, though. He's resilient. He's like Spider Man in that he constantly goes up against villains way more powerful than he is, but through the power of clumsy perseverance, he eventually and sometimes randomly (by which I mean luckily) wins the day.
Yep, this picture will work fine right about here...
Dan: Scott is the everyman. I think any guy from our generation can find some quality within Scott that they can relate to. He is very average—and insecure, which makes him more likable. In an earlier conversation I had with Ben, I compared Scott to Holden Caulfield, the main character in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. The only difference is that Scott is a far less divisive character than Holden. Scott is likable because of his coolness/clumsiness/stupidity. Scott is a guy who knows he doesn't have all of the answers, and he's not too concerned about finding them. Holden is often considered very whiny and anti-social. Both characters, however are terrified of growing up: Scott shows this by not having a job (at least early on) and Holden shows this by leaving school. The two characters are like opposite sides of the same coin.
It's also pretty funny how quickly Scott falls for Ramona (the main female character). It's basically "love at first sight" for Scott. Ramona comes on the scene as a very mysterious character. Even after she and Scott have been dating for a while, Scott knows little more about her than he did the first day they met. Yet he's still willing to go and fight her 7 evil ex-boyfriends.
What was the name of Scott's ex who is in the band? I think she's a pretty intriguing character, who may become more prominent in the last volume of the graphic novel.
Ben: But that’s the thing, Dan. Does Scott really love Ramona? I mean, I know I prefaced this whole entire interview/review deal with the tagline “a story about a boy who falls in love with a girl, blah-blah-blah,” but unfortunately for Scott, the issue’s a bit more complicated than that. Now, I’m not going to spoil the story for you (mostly because I don’t know the ending myself), but the point remains: The “love” Scott finds thus far, like that of real life, is neither pure nor simple nor altogether enjoyable. It’s nebulous. It’s intangible. It’s barely visible, if it is at all. And it’s emotional (painfully so) as all hell.
Envy was Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Daniel, and in one of her two volumes (#3, I think?), she did indeed make reference to the fact that she’ll return one day for round two (Spoiler Alert!). She wasn’t incredibly trustworthy, though, if I recall correctly, so everyone everywhere might want to take her shit-talk with a shovelful of salt.
Last but not least—and this has little to do with the books themselves—Edgar Wright, the man behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and my personal favorite of the three, Hot Fuzz, is making the film version of these books (starring Michael Cera as Scott) and it’s due in theaters this August. (http://www.scottpilgrimthemovie.com/) You should check it out if you haven’t already.
Dan? Any closing comments? Or sexy comments? Or both??
Dan: You make a great point. I wasn't sure about the legitimacy of Scott and Ramona's relationship either. Also, there's that weird dimension Ramona (and occasionally Scott) escape into. It's like a place that exists outside of time and space. How is this place significant? Is it significant?
I wasn't talking about Envy. I was talking about Kim. Part of me feels as though Scott will realize being with Ramona is some kind of fantasy he's hoped for, but can't actually hold on to, and that he'll realize that he and Kim were supposed to be together all along. I know it's a pretty generic/lame/redundant story arc, but you can tell Kim still likes Scott--the question is whether or not Scott still likes Kim (I think he does). Then again, why have Scott fight Ramona's 7 evil ex boyfriends only to have him end up with another girl?
I guess I'm raising more questions than making more revelations—just call me season 6 of Lost (ZING!). Anyway, I'd just like to add that anyone who enjoys music, comics, and video games should definitely check out this graphic novel. It's well worth your time and you'll probably end up reading it over and over--it's just that good.
Ben: (Sexy comments it is, then!)
Oh, oh, oh, okay. See, I thought you meant the other ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend ex-girlfriend. But yeah, Scott's got like...five or six ex-girlfriends, technically-speaking. And the one you're referring to? I totally agree that there's something fishy going on there that has yet to be resolved. Frankly, I'm in the camp that thinks Scott absolutely, positively will not end up with Ramona and may potentially but who knows because I sure as shit don't end up with said Kimberly-ex-girlfriend. (We may be veering into heavy Spoiler Alert! territory here, but—oops, too late.) Would that be a big damn cliche? Would that be your typical young person tale of love and woe trope? Yes, maybe, I guess, I don't know. I'd have to see it up close and personal to throw my real life opinion at it. Only a couple months to go and I'll be able to.
Well, I guess that's as good a place to end this as any. Uhm, this was a great little...a great little chat we had here, Dan. The honest-to-god truth is I hope we ruined all of this awesome book, every single page and cliffhanger, for anybody who was even remotely interested in reading it prior to five minutes ago. No, seriously, I do. (And isn't that the point of this blog? Please don't read this book or something? Mission accomplished, I say.) Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is: I love Scott Pilgrim so damn much that I don't want to share him with anybody (Dan Eldrenkamps not included). Have fun reading THE TWILIGHT DIARIES...or whatever...instead.