Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review of Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley: Book 15 of 52

There are spoilers here.

From here
Reading Bryan Lee O'Malley's six Scott Pilgrim books (Precious Little Life, vs. the World, & the Infinite Sadness, Gets It Together, vs. the Universe, Finest Hour) has been on my to-do list for a number of years, and they moved into my "read very soon" stack when I read and enjoyed Lost at Sea back in January.

Scott Pilgrim and his friends inhabit a world of magic realism, where their otherwise normal lives are occasionally interrupted by video game style fighting, 1-ups, and intrusions into their dreams. I think of it as a digital-age twist on Watchmen. Where Moore asks, "what would superheroes be like in real life," O'Malley pushes at "what would happen if a 23-year-old slacker handled his problems like a character from Street Fighter 2?"

I really enjoyed watching Scott struggle to grow up. He doesn't know what to do with his life, he doesn't know how to be a reliable friend, and he certainly doesn't know how to behave in a relationship. This, of course, doesn't stop him from believing that he is awesome. I especially the moment in the 6th book when he realizes that the way he remembers himself is not how others remember him, when he's forced to confront the fact that his creation myth (how he learned to fight, how he became friends with Kim by beating up a bully and rescuing her) is a lie he's told himself so many times that he believes it. Kim forces him to remember that the kid he beat up was just another nerd, and more importantly, was a person. The world is not divided into friends and enemies; that approach only works in video games and (some lesser) comic books.

O'Malley's artwork is a real treat. Simple, clean lined characters inhabit a richly detailed world. The fullness of the world was reiterated over and over again. Pop-up balloons frequently appear with notes on who's who, what items are laying in the background, what action a character is in the midst of performing. Again, this emphasized the video game spirit of the books, playing to our expectation of unlockable tools and skills, while also serving as a way to make the world more textured (and more dork-tastic).

The framing of the panels was another tastefully handled reminder of just how big Scott Pilgrim's world really is. In comics, framing works just like the framing of a shot on television; it tells us where our attention should focus. Throughout Scott Pilgrim, O'Malley's framing skewed off center, so that the characters (and sometimes even their speech bubbles) would spill off the frame and off the page. What we are given is truly a "window on the world" in the classic sense, allowing us to see but also limiting what we can see. O'Malley's deft framing was one of the first things that stood out to me in Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, and I was thrilled and rewarded to see it continued throughout the series.

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