- Posted by Johanna on December 20, 2005 at 3:05 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Bryan Lee O'Malley
- PUBLISHER: Oni Press; $11.95 US
23-year-old Scott Pilgrim plays in a rock band and dates a high schooler named Knives Chau. They go to Goodwill, eat sushi, and hang out with bandmates. One might wonder what a young adult would see in a younger kid, but during a band practice scene, it’s clear that Knives’ adoration of Scott would be hard to resist. Plus, he’s not all that much older emotionally himself, and he’s pretty simple in his approach to life.
When friends hear about him dating a Catholic school girl, they make all kinds of assumptions, but he finds merely holding hands with her to be nice. He also enjoys hearing about her friends the way one enjoys following a soap opera (subtly mimicking the appeal of this story to the reader). The book’s storytelling focuses on incidents, structured in an “and then this happened” way. The approach is reminiscent both of kids spinning yarns and the “anything goes” nature of world-building games, where various scenes have to be played through in order to progress. There’s a dream-like kind of logic to it, emphasized when the source of conflict appears.
Scott develops a crush on Ramona Flowers, a rollerblading delivery girl for Amazon.ca. (O’Malley has some of the best character names since Dickens.) She’s somehow traveling through his dreams, taking shortcuts on her route, and she doesn’t indulge his emotionalism and self-obsession. Of course, he’s smitten. Gay roommate Wallace is the cynical voice of reason, telling Scott how to place an online order, listening to Scott’s narration of his life, and encouraging him to do the right thing.
Ramona is Scott’s age, which means his relationship with her includes discussions about sex and other more mature elements, like having a history, as when they allude to unpleasant former jobs. More importantly, she’s had former lovers, one of whom shows up to do battle. As in a video game, he’s got to defeat seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to win her, setting up conflict for future volumes. That’s not the only influence: The name of Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, is apparently an in-joke, and characters, when introduced, have little caption blocks that give their name and vital stats. For example, after his age, Scott’s says “Rating: Awesome” and so he is.
He’s a terrific wish-fulfillment figure because we know about him only what he chooses to tell us. He’s simultaneously a deep pool, allowing for the reader to invest him with what makes sense to them, and a blank slate. Plus, he does all these cool things: he’s a musician, he’s got his pick of nifty girlfriends, he can fight, his friends obviously trust and care about him, he’s suffering for his art (sharing an apartment where all the furnishings belong to his roommate and lacking extra money) but not in any really painful way.
O’Malley’s art is distinctive, with his characters’ blocky heads dominated by huge round eyes. He’s got a strong grasp of how to anchor pages with solid black spots, drawing the reader through the story. The characters’ pupils, large dots that take up half the eye, are an important part of the composition, keeping the reader focused on the expression of the figures. When they’re shocked or astonished or come to great realization, their eyes become donuts, big circles with little dots that capture wide-eyed emotion.
This is the purest expression of American manga out there today, because instead of concentrating on look or subject matter or style, it captures what makes manga so attractive: a creator telling a story that matters to him in a unique way, one where anything can happen but the focus is on emotion. Energy and ideas permeate the book along with an easy-going sense of humor.