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Scott Pilgrim
© Jay Willson
November 10, 2008

I heard good things about the Scott Pilgrim series for years, especially regarding creator Bryan Lee O’Malley in particular. However, I tended to write those comments off to the youthful exuberance of his primary fan base. Being a reader no longer in his youth myself, I gave the first Pilgrim book a look and found the artwork to be rather amateurish. Like many things in life, however, one’s first impressions are not always indicative of the eventual truth. Sometimes you just need to give a book another look.

After reading some positive feedback on O’Malley’s fourth release, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, I decided I must have missed something in my first impression. I determined a second look was in order. I bought the four Pilgrim books, all published by Oni Press, and sat down to read them all.

I was surprised at how immediately taken I was by Scott’s world, while also finding connections to my own past. This just helped to sweeten the pot.

Scott Pilgrim is the ultimate slacker. He leeches off of every friend in his circle, literally owing his survival to his friend, Wallace Wells. Wells is gay, and shares his apartment with Scott along with his food. He basically keeps Scott alive at the start of the series. Scott sees nothing wrong with this situation, and gets away with the unique relationship because he’s really a nice guy.

He surrounds himself with a number of friends, many of them female, such as Knives Chau, Scott’s 17 year old jailbait friend who wants to be more; Kim Pine, Scott’s high school girlfriend who drums for his band; and Ramona Flowers, Scott’s mysterious new crush, who becomes his focus as the stories progress through the volumes.

Scott plays bass guitar in a band that calls itself Sex Bob-omb, along with a guy named Stephen Stills (love that name), a relatively talented songwriter and the vocalist. The aforementioned Kim rounds out the group as the drummer. The trials and tribulations of Sex Bob-omb’s attempts to find success, or even just to collect enough energy to play, is one of the many terrific subplots.

O’Malley’s handling of characterization throughout the series is amazing. You grow to love these characters, even though half of them are complete wastes of human space. Other members display some honorable qualities, primarily because of their ongoing struggles to stay afloat in the sea of life. It’s fascinating to see how O’Malley weaves the lives of these characters together, and how dependent, at times, they all are on each other.

The complexities that develop between these friends, from broken relationships, sexual tension, flirts with homosexuality, financial difficulties, job changes, excessive drinking and the simple need for sleep, instill the readership with fun stories and even flashes of memory from their own existence.

There is a continual development of dramatic tension that builds throughout the series, which is often relieved by moments of comedy. In many cases, the tension is resolved by life changes to Scott or his friends. Much of it is also surprisingly touching and involving.

The series is very funny, as it incorporates a sense of playful fun while Scott figures out his life. He does so by often screwing up or displaying embarrassing moments of naivete. He’s also a nice, funny guy, and his colorful friends seem to appreciate that about him. Their moments of shared conversation and laughter are some of the most entertaining in the books.

The most inventive part of the Pilgrim series is the incorporation of video game concepts. After moments of character building, Scott and his friends are suddenly challenged to fight in ninja battles, with samurai swords and everything. Scott has an ongoing intention to fight all of Ramona’s old “evil” boyfriends, one at a time, usually at the most inopportune times.

During these moments, the lazy, slacker lifestyle that O’Malley incorporates into the stories shift suddenly shifts into manga-like fight sequences. These jumps add an improvisational structure to the books, which injects another interesting component of fun.

O’Malley incorporates energy level points that Scott gains or loses at times throughout the book, adding both a humorous tone and another link to the video game obsessions of the slacker culture. Of particular brilliance is the use of alternate realities and subspaces, which Scott jumps through, to move to other “levels” or scenes. In many cases, the sudden move will get Scott out of a jam. In one case, the subspace is inside Ramona’s head, which leads Scott to revelations about her. This may sound odd, but it works surprisingly well in context.

O’Malley’s artwork improves in dynamic fashion through each book as well. In the first, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, the artwork is rather awkward, and not as confident. With each volume, O’Malley’s technique improves, as he gains a greater handle on the look of the characters and a further development of his unique art style. He was even nominated for the Joe Shuster Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist award , and has been nominated numerous times for Harvey and Eisner awards. O’Malley’s work has developed tremendously in energy, confidence and style through the four volumes, which bodes very well for his future work.

The series includes Volume 1 , Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life; Volume 2, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Volume 3, Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness; and Volume 4, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together. O’Malley will release Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe in February of 2009.

Jay Willson is not a slacker, but he likes reading about one.

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