By Bryan Lee O’Malley
168 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
Last December, I read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea and was blown away by what I found. Up until then I’d only encountered O’Malley as an artist for other people’s stories, not as a writer/artist in his own right. By the time I was done reading Lost at Sea I already knew that it would be on my “Best of 2003” list, easily. This actually made me a little nervous to read the first volume of Scott Pilgrim, O’Malley’s new series. Would it be able to hold up to the high expectations that Lost at Sea had placed on any future works of O’Malley’s? Or was I doomed for an inevitable disappointment?
Scott Pilgrim is 23 years old, and he’s dating a high school girl. His friends and acquaintances are a little thrown by this, but that’s really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing Scott Pilgrim. He’s a member of the band Sex Bob-omb, and he lives in an apartment where everything of value (and even most other items) are owned by his roommate Wallace. Then Scott has a dream about a beautiful bicycle messenger that he’s never actually met, and his life goes in a strange new direction that he never saw coming.
Lost at Sea was a dreamy, introspective book that plunged into the depths of its characters’s psyches to drag truths to the surface, one at a time. I think that one of the reasons why this first volume of Scott Pilgrim instantly worked so well for me is that it doesn’t try to be Lost at Sea 2: Still Lost but instead goes wildly in a different direction. Scott Pilgrim is fast and goofy, catapulting Scott from one situation to the next. From the cast of characters that Scott gets to interact with to the scenes just with Scott, there was always something to bring a smile to my face, be it the little “ratings” that appear next to each character as they’re introduced, to the dry wit where the reality of the world is casually noted in contrast to Scott’s crazy actions. That’s not to say that there isn’t any seriousness in Scott Pilgrim. Scott’s first extended encounter with Ramona Flowers, for instance, starts off silly but gradually moves into something that shows a great amount of maturity. If it had just shown up that way it might have felt out of place, but O’Malley slips these moments into the book so perfectly and gradually that it never feels like the tone of the book has shifted until you stop and think about it afterwards. Of course, lest you think it’s ever gotten too serious, O’Malley responds with rock-and-roll-meets-Nintendo fight scene to end all fight scenes. (You may think I’m making this up. I’m not. And it’s wonderful.) In the end, the writing for Scott Pilgrim is just good old plain fun.
The art is unsurprisingly strong in Scott Pilgrim. At a casual glance it might be easy to categorize it as being “cartoony” but there’s a lot more going on here. From the opening page with Ramona’s head tilted down as she walks across the snowy lawn, to her wide-eyed expression of terror as she shows up unexpectedly to Scott’s front door, there’s a lot of variety and energy in the art. These aren’t loosely-drawn characters because O’Malley has no choice; it’s a very deliberate drawing style, able to bring a lot of depth of emotion onto each of their faces and bodies as they appear on the page. Additionally, O’Malley brings Toronto to life as a living, breathing location in Scott Pilgrim, with each location coming across as more than just a background, but as real neighborhoods and places that our characters are moving through. Little details like the ever-growing snow that Scott and Ramona plunge through comes across almost like part of a dream, with the sudden diving down towards the door amidst the assault of the elements on our characters. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and it gives the entire book an extra high quality level with its entire look and feel.
I really hate to use this comparison but this is one of the only books for which I think it’s truly accurate: Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life truly is a synthesis of English-language and Japanese comics. Using the best of both worlds, in many ways this is a real sort of “crossover” comic; I think people who have found their sensibilities catered to by either school of comic creating will find a lot to love in Scott Pilgrim. I think just about all of my readers are going to love it too: romance, love triangles, fight scenes, flying bad guys, rollerblading book messengers… how can this not be a home run? I’m so sure you’re going to fall in love with Scott Pilgrim that I’ve even got a baker’s dozen pages for you to read. Read! Buy! Scott Pilgrim demands it!