[2 August 2006]
The quality of comics has always been in question. Too often, gimmicks are used to propel story-lines, and characters get so bogged down in continuity that new readers fail to appear. Another problem is that sometimes, comics are just not that much fun. They lack the sense of wonder and adventure that can be found in various other mediums. Enter Bryan Lee O’Malley and his popular creation, Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim tells the tale of an early 20-something and his attempt to get through life in the city of Toronto. He lives with his gay roommate, and is dating an 18-year-old girl named Knives. It’s shortly after he and Knives start dating that he meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers, who works for Amazon.com as a delivery girl. Once Scott decides to pursue Ramona, it is then that his adventure begins, as he learns that in order to date her, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in battle.
So far, in the first three volumes (Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness), Scott has had to battle one ex-boyfriend per volume, putting him that much closer to his ultimate goal: Ramona Flowers. The concept itself is simple, but it is quirky enough, and with the injection of such pop culture references as comics, video games, and movies, it makes the Scott Pilgrim books some of the most entertaining comics around right now. It is this kind of work that shows why independent comics, much like independent movies, can sometimes be far more entertaining and rewarding than what the major publishers put out. In fact, the first volume was not on the shelves for more than a few months when Hollywood took notice and currently the director of the zombie love-fest Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, is attached to direct the adaptation.
Scott Pilgrim conveys an atmosphere that irresistibly draws the reader in. Perhaps it is the universal tale of falling in love and having to struggle to keep it; perhaps it is the numerous references to video games, comic books, and other geeky pleasures; or perhaps it is just because all of these factors meld together so well, that rather than being cheesy or silly, this comic comes across as genuine, entertaining and enthralling. The only downside of it is that fans have to wait months, if not an entire year, between each volume.
O’Malley skillfully blurs the line between reality and fantasy as he depicts his characters as realistic, going through the same problems everyone else does. He even touches upon the issue of not being able to find work after attaining a university degree. Where the blurring begins is when he injects elements of fantasy, such as having Scott fight Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her. These fights, however, are far from the standard punch-out that one would expect to see. Rather, they may have more in common with video game battles than anything you have seen in movies or on television. O’Malley also injects funny quirks, such as having Ramona’s ex-boyfriend in the third volume be telekinetic because he’s a vegan, or having Scott find health bonuses and power-ups. It is these details that invoke the world of classic Nintendo video games such as Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda.
O’Malley’s artwork is very much influenced by Japanese Manga comics. In fact, his publisher, Oni Press, publishes each volume in a digest format with a high page count. It would be difficult to see these volumes broken down into 22-page comics, as a lot of the storytelling and pacing would be lost. The higher page number format allows O’Malley to develop his characters and build the tension as Scott prepares to battle a new evil ex-boyfriend each volume. In fact, the character development has gotten so complicated, that in the third volume, O’Malley felt it necessary to include a guide at the back to describe how each character is connected to one another.
Scott Pilgrim is one of the most enjoyable comics out there today, blending western and eastern artistic influences, as well as infusing its plot with various video game, comic book, movie and other pop culture influences. It shows what comics are capable of, and that fun comics do not have to lack intelligence and complexity.