Bryan Lee O’Malley Trade Post: Lost At Sea & Seconds

lost at sea Lost at Sea (Oni Press)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Two weekends back I decided to re-read my copies of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books. Since I’ve already reviewed them back in 2010 after watching and loving the movie when it came out, I won’t be reviewing them again. I will say that, I really enjoyed myself this time around, probably more than I have any other time I’ve read those books. The “ums” and “whatevers” still drove me nuts, but since I was already familiar with the aspects that I didn’t quite like previously, I was already in. I also noticed more elements and details this time around making this a series that works more and more for me with each reading.

After having such a good time, I went to my library’s website and put O’Malley’s first and most recent graphic novels on hold. I knew the older of the two, Lost At Sea, had come in when we went to the library over the weekend, but was surprised to also find Seconds waiting for me because it just came out in the past few weeks. So, for the second weekend in a row, I spent a good chunk of my reading time with words and pictures by O’Malley.

Lost At Sea, finds an 18 year old named Raleigh on a trip from California to Canada with some classmates who thinks a cat might have swiped her soul. Why else would she feel soulless? While on the trip, Raleigh warms up to Dave, Ian and Steph and eventually comes to terms with a few of the things she’s processing.

She’s dealing with huge questions like why is she here, what is a soul, does she have one, what is her relationship with her mom, what is she going to do about this new love that lead her to Cali and that everlasting classic, what’s she going to do with her life? There are other questions that come up that I’d love to know the answer to like, did she really have sisters, was that picture really of her and why did she spend so much time talking about a best friend who doesn’t really have anything to do with the book?

Some of those questions might have actually been answered, but Raleigh is one of those characters who talks in a wildly noncommittal fashion. Whole statements will be followed by “or whatever.” Is that supposed to be the truth or is it whatever? I think this is just the way a certain portion of the population talk(ed) that I have difficulty tapping into because it’s like a snake eating its own tale. Also, if you barely care what you’re saying, why should I?

While I thought this book was generally really well done and a fine first outing for a cartoonist, it wasn’t really for me. I can remember those wildly complicated says when I was 18 wondering what I was going to do, but to a 31 year old guy with two kids, so much of that seems juvenile to me now. Reading Lost At Sea was like watching a really well done, emotional indie movie, but one I just wasn’t plugging into on that important emotional level. I see and understand how good it is and how intensely personal it must have been, but I just wasn’t as emotionally invested, partially because the characters don’t seem connected to much of anything, including each other.

secondsSeconds (Ballantine Books)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I was far more on-board when it came to Seconds, which I think is O’Malley’s best offering to date. This is a 323 page graphic novel (his first work after finishing up Scott Pilgrim in 2010) with additional art by Jason Fischer, letters by Dustin Harbin and brilliant colors by Nathan Fairbairn. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing, which was kind of a nice treat.

But, if you want some information, Seconds is about an almost-30 chef named Katie who helped open a restaurant that the story takes its title from. But, since she didn’t have any money to invest the first time around, she’s looking forward to the opening of the one she does own with her business partner, but the process is slow going. One night while hanging out in her apartment, which is above Seconds, she finds a book and a mushroom in her dresser drawer with basic instructions: write down a mistake, eat the mushroom, go to sleep and “wake anew.”

So those are the basics, I’ll label this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY because it’ll get into a few more details. Katie starts using the magic mushrooms and talking to one of her employees named Hazel who introduces her to the idea of house spirits which play a huge part in the book. The one living in Seconds is called Lis and she’s not a big fan of how Katie winds up abusing the mushroom power, mixing things up and tampering with reality.

Alright, no more spoilers. I got a Neil Gaiman vibe while reading Seconds because it does that thing he does so well where very modern characters and put them up against very old supernatural elements and seeing what happens. Fantasy’s pretty far from my realm of expertise outside of comics and Gaiman’s books, but Seconds seems like a solid modern fantasy project that didn’t feel like a rehash of previously existing fairy tales, but instead something new inspired by a classic idea (though a classic I’m not familiar with, which puts it into Hellboy territory). I also appreciate that this graphic novel felt more researched instead of plucked from the author’s life. I’ve got nothing against pouring your soul onto the page with a variety of your longitme influences, but the clear research into restaurant life and food is also impressive.

I also really enjoyed the look of this book along with the feel. O’Malley and Fischer work so well together that you can’t tell that the former’s using a drawing assistant. The drawings of food in this book are actually mouthwatering. I wanted to eat these pages, but didn’t think the library would appreciate that very much. I was also blown away by Fairbairn’s colors. Lately, people have been doing a lot of talking about the credit colorists deserve on covers and whatnot. I’ll be honest and say it’s not the kind of thing I’ve thought of throughout much of my comic-reading career, but Fairbairn really brought it. He also did the colored Scott Pilgrim books, which makes me want to go back and pick up those versions! Hell, this also made me wonder if I could try my hand at coloring. I think I’ll look into that.

Anyway, after reading O’Malley’s full body of graphic novels in two weeks, I found myself picking up a few interesting themes throughout. Most of the main characters feel clueless and empty in some way. They also have a really hard time letting go of a finished relationship (though I’m not sure where Raleigh’s relationship really was). Numbers are also pretty important. Though Lost At Sea didn’t have one I noticed, Scott Pilgrim is set around seven evil exes and Seconds features 12 magic mushrooms. Oh, cats also feature prominently, though less so in Seconds.

My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

I actually had a pretty good time compiling last year’s list of my favorite albums of the year and figured now’s as good a time as any to get around to this year’s. The funny thing about this year is that, while I probably acquired more CDs than I have in quite a while thanks to flea markets, garage sales and sales, I didn’t actually buy a lot of new music. New to me of course, but not new new. So, with that in mind, I’ll probably do another post about my favorite new-to-me discs of the year next week. Anyway, my favorite records of the year are a mix of smokey rockers, soul sisters, pop rock stalwarts, metal dudes, collaborators, introspective song writers and more. Hit the jump for the full list! Continue reading My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

Scott Pilgrim Trade Post: All Six Volumes

After walking out of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (the movie), I was conflicted. I liked Edgar Wright’s direction a lot. It was crazy and frenetic and had a strong sense of being of a comic book. I don’t mean that in the colorful, over-the-top way most people do, but in the way he would have a conversation over several different locations with jump cuts acting the same way as your eye passing over a panel. It took me a while to understand that’s what he was doing, but once I did, I had a lot more fun. Plus, the acting was great as were most of the fight scenes and the casting was spot on. Seeing the movie did make me want to read the books again. I though I had read the first five volumes along with one of the Free Comic Book Day specials, but not the last and wanted to see how they compared.

So, I ordered them off of Amazon for  pretty good price and had them a few days later.Before I get too far into my reading experience this time around, I want to make a few comments about how I felt about the books going in. I knew it was a weird video game/action movie-inspired world going in, but thought the way O’Malley revealed it wasn’t so great and wished there had been more evidence of this being a reality where people have Street Fighter-like fights on a regular basis. That turned me luke warm on the first book. My impression of the others was that, while they were fun books, I guess I never really got why this book of all books was so incredibly popular.

I’ve heard the Scott Pilgrim books called the Harry Potter of comics, but I think that’s a ridiculous overstatement. I read the first Harry Potter book and while it wasn’t for me, I could see that J.K. Rowling had a clear grasp of storytelling, characterization, subtext and plot development, while O’Malley seemed to have a lot of cool ideas. When Michael Cera was cast as Scott, I had my doubts if he could pull off the manic, hyper character in my mind and he didn’t really, though I liked his interpretation of Scott in the movie. But, after thinking on it for a while, the only ideas I had in my head about Scott as a character were that he was really stupid, dimwitted, loveable and can and will fight hard for the love of a girl, meaning he felt fairly flat as a character. Basically, it felt like a lot of other indie comics I had read about slacker protagonists from Snakepit to Box Office Poison, but with fighting and explosions. I got that people like the lovable loser in love angle, but I’d seen enough of that for it to be super appealing to me.

I wound up reading all six volumes in about a 24 hour period which was actually a lot of fun seeing how writer and artist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art, storytelling and timing had improved over time. It was also interesting seeing how Scott and Ramona’s relationship developed and fell apart as did Scott’s battles with her seven evil exes (I like how she makes a big deal of calling them exes in the movie instead of ex-boyfriends). I still wish the first book telegraphed the weirdness of the world a little earlier, but the second time around it didn’t bother me as much. The movie borrows heavily from this book, which makes sense because it’s all of the set-up for the following. I did a lot of comparing between this volume and the movie because of that and I applaud Wright for being able to pull so much wacky shit off, though I really wish they would have included the line about Scott being the best fighter in town. It’s a short, small line that helps the overall idea be understood better in the comic than the movie in my opinion.

After that, though, reading Volumes 2-4 was almost like reading a brand new book. I had very little recollection of what had gone on in those comics, which made it kind of nice and refreshing to read this stuff as if for the first time. I must have been really uninterested when I read them the first time around. They’re so short and easy to burn through (I read 1-4 in one evening) that I guess I consumed and moved on without really absorbing. This time around, though, I really enjoyed them, especially as they differed from the movie. There’s just so much more material to delve into, with flashbacks and explanations of how Scott and Kim started dating to Knives finding out about Ramona much earlier and actually fighter he in the mall (a cooler fight than Scott’s in this book for sure). You’ve also got a lot more history with Envy and Scott and Kim’s friend Lisa coming back into the picture. These volumes are interesting because they seem to almost crawl along. They’re still super fast reads, but you get your fights and then a lot of interactions between characters to build the emotional/personal world they’re dealing with. We also find out that their world involves Vegans having super powers and robot arms, which is pretty cool, though the personal world gets built much better than the sci-fi/fantasy world.

Then the fifth book comes in and pulls the rug out and develops lots of status quo changes from domiciles to characters coming and going. It’s the Empire Strikes Back of the series, for sure and it feels like the most plotted out of the books, like O’Malley had more in mind than “fights a dude” when he sat down to write. There’s so many beats that he needs to get to in order to set up his ending, but I think he nails them all pretty well, at a good pace and with his characters in mind, though, again, I’m still not sure who Scott is as a person. Is his naivete all an act? Is he a dumbass? I like him, but I kind of don’t want to. By the end of this volume you’re pretty firmly on his side because SPOILER he was wronged and Ramona just teleported out of her place, he got locked out and the cat ran away. At least he got a cool pad to live in thanks to his parents. 4 also has one of my favorite smaller bits of business when Scott’s trying to explain the X-Men’s ridiculous history to Ramona who’s focused on other things. I remember explaining The Death Of Superman in a similar way to my Grandma in the early 90s and her being nice enough to act like she knew what the hell I was talking about.

While the fifth volume felt like a lot was going on, but it was all paced well, 6 had kind of the opposite feel with a lot happening that didn’t seem completely necessary, like Scott spending SO MUCH time with Envy. I did like seeing him go around to see his other exes (for some reason, I never made the connection between this book/movie and High Fidelity, one of my all time favorite movies, until it was mentioned on the Creative Screenwriting Magazine Podcast which interviewed O’Malley, Wright and Wright’s writing partner, I highly recommend giving it a listen here or on iTunes) and I thought the finale was really well done and full of potential danger (obviously I knew how the movie ended but wasn’t sure how the book would end). Overall I liked the ending and thought it fit well with the rest of the book. Oh, and I think I finally started to see Scott as a character.

One thing that the movie picks up more on than the comics do is that Scott has been building up a potential army of evil exes himself with his callous nonchalance masked in naivete. Again, I’m left wondering if he’s really that clueless or an ass. It’s hard to tell really. And again, I lean towards him just really being that clueless, though hopefully less so with the end of the series.

Something that bothered me this time that I don’t remember bugging me before was the inclusion of SO MANY “whatevers” and “or somethings.” Jesus, do people really talk like that still? It just seemed very 90s/Reality Bites. Then again, it might take longer for hip slang to make it’s way up to the Great White North.

Overall, I found reading these books to be a fun process. It’s like watching a romantic comedy written by a guy who’s played as many if not more video games than me and has a knack for making the ridiculous seem commonplace and for that, I give O’Malley a lot of credit. The series isn’t perfect and it’s defintiely no Harry Potter, but it still got me really interested in a different kind of comic than I usually read and seems to have done the same for a lot of other people because I saw a lot of younger kids leaving the showing before us and joining the missus and me in our showing. I’ll be passing these on to her next, by the way and am curious to see how she responds as she doesn’t have that video game base that many of us geeks have.

Scott Pilgrim Trailer

In case you haven’t seen it on every other blog on the internet or YouTube or iTunes, then feast your eyes on the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World trailer.

Like I mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of the books, but I think it will prove to be amazing source material for a genius like Edgar Wright, like The Birds was for Hitch. Anyway, this trailer looks great, but I wonder what norms who’ve never heard of Scott Pilgrim will think. It seems to be a pretty good idea of setting up the kind of movie it is and the plot. I’m jazzed, even if I’m not 100% sure I like the Michael Cera casting. We shall see in a few months I guess.