Scott Pilgrim Rocks!
July 25, 2010

I am spending the weekend re-reading the Scott Pilgrim books:

Links go to my reviews, which looked at now, are shallower than I would like, because it took me years and multiple re-reads to truly appreciate what Bryan Lee O’Malley was doing with the series and characters. He’s created the defining comic series of the late 2000s with a unique visual language and a complex use of narrative devices that powerfully involve and entertain the reader. It’s astounding to read the books one after another and see how much he developed over the years.

Anyway, that was a lead-in to wallowing in the concluding volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. I have also been sampling the various videos available, including this new featurette:

Which sums up the movie’s approach brilliantly in a quote by director Edgar Wright: In musicals, people burst into song to express emotion. Here, they break out in fights. I applaud Universal for making all of the promo trailers and ads available in a dedicated YouTube channel. It’s easy for customers to sample the film and see how cool and faithful it’s going to be. (Out August 13!) I have no idea how they’re going to get everything from the books in there, but most of what I’ve thought of has been shown in some fashion, so I can’t wait to see it. Even more fun is the remix channel, which uses clips to create weird little spoken-word raps.

15 Responses  
Argo Plummer writes:  

OK, I’m gonna put myself out there and be ready to take some lumps. Go ahead and add Scott Pilgrim to the list of things that you and I don’t see eye to eye on Joanna, like Lucy Knisley or Xxxenophile.

To be fair, I have only read the first volume, but that speaks volumes about my level of disinterest regarding all things Scott Pilgrim.

Much like the first Twilight novel (yes, I just compared Scott Pilgrim to Twilight and I stand by the comparison), when I was finished with the first Scott Pilgrim I just didn’t care enough to read the second volume.

IMHO, it was fine–nothing great–amateurish art, confusing storytelling, characters that I didn’t care about or much like. I moved on, but have been amazed by how this series of OGNs have received so much praise and love.

I just didn’t get the hype then and I sure don’t now

Johanna writes:  

Oh, Scott Pilgrim is nothing like Twilight — except maybe that it’s easier for the young to see its appeal. It took me a few reads to warm to it, originally, because I’m older than the writer, so I didn’t get the visual video game language at first. I had to open up and see its strengths and realize it wasn’t aimed at me.

If you don’t like it, that’s fine — nothing is for everyone, especially if you didn’t like the characters. But there’s a difference between “I didn’t like it” and “it isn’t any good, it shouldn’t be praised”, which you seem to be shading into at the end there.

Argo Plummer writes:  

I’m not saying it isn’t any good–rather I am saying it is overrated in my opinion–just like Twilight. Boy, that comparison just looks better and better to me. I think I’m gonna spend a little time honing that.

Anyway, I got the video game language, I just didn’t think it was very clever or well done–certainly not revolutionary as many reviewers have called it.

I have definitely wondered if I too was outside the target audience and that’s why I didn’t like it, but that has never stopped me from liking other entertainment vehicles that are aimed at those who are significantly younger than me–Buffy is one of my all time favorite shows, I was with Dawson on the Creek–at least for the first two seasons, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Teen Titans (even if the current comics are really atrocious), 10 Things I Hate About You and Clueless are two of my guiltiest pleasures (as an almost 40, straight male) and the Legion of Super Heroes was at it’s greatest when all the boys, lads, and lasses really were.

Again, it’s not that Scott Pilgrim isn’t any good–rather it just not that good.

Johanna writes:  

I have yet to see anyone praise Twilight as well-written. Most discuss its popularity in spite of its poor quality, even offensiveness in certain concepts. That’s why your comparison doesn’t follow through — unless it’s simply “things lots of other people like that I feel defensive about not liking”. :)

Maybe instead of trying to damn Scott Pilgrim by association, you could talk more about why you think it’s not that good? Beyond “I didn’t like it”/”it didn’t speak to me”? That might provide more fruitful ground for discussion.

Argo Plummer writes:  

Oh, but I think damning Scott Pilgrim by comparing it to Twilight is very fruitful–at least for me and my enjoyment.

I have always enjoyed our discussions/disagreements, but I was a little taken aback by your assertion that I am defensive about not liking something that lots of other people like. Although you have pegged me correctly that I am often the dissenting voice when other people love something–Bill Clinton, Titanic, Brett Favre, Wall-E, I never simply dislike things indiscriminately–I always have my criticisms–valid or not. However, in this instance, I feel as if you are the defensive party, taking great offense to the fact that I level any criticism at Scott Pilgrim. You may not like my Twilight / Scott Pilgrim comparison nor feel that it is valid, but from my frame of reference, they are both poorly written, overrated works of fiction that have inexplicably (to me) captured their respective corners of fandom (teenage and pre-teen girls and comic geeks and gamers). I am not defensive about this at all, other than the simple fact that I am defending my position, which by definition I must do when entering into a discussion or argument that involves differing opinions (now I sound like a Monty Python routine!).

You make a very valid point that no one that I am aware of has praised Twilight’s writing while many people have praised Scott Pilgrim for it’s writing–I’m just not one of them.

As for what it is about Scott Pilgrim specifically that kept me from liking it–first, I find the art unappealing. I don’t dislike cartoony art as a rule–Sergio Aragones or Judd Winick are two “cartoony” artists whose work I enjoy, but here, I found O’Malley’s cartoony style a hinderance to my enjoyment. The characters lacked a visual hook for me and were reduced to the equivalent of college newspaper comic strips. Maybe the art wouldn’t have been as much a negative if I felt any connection to the characters. I found very little redeeming about Scott or Ramona (is that even the female lead’s name?–I honestly don’t remember, that’s how little this book impacted me) and was not interested in the least in their burgeoning romance. Scott turned me off with his selfish behavior, lack of any direction, and poor treatment of other characters. Ramona was little more than a cipher in my reading–a stereotypical “mystery, bad girl” (Not like the bad girls of 90’s era comics, but more like the bad girl from any number of tv shows, movies, or comics not published by Chaos!) who offered very little for me to care about. The most likable character to me was the roommate (whose name I can’t even come close to remembering), but even he fell into several stereotypical roles.

However, the biggest hurdle to my liking this comic was that I never bought, not for one second, that Ramona would be interested in Scott. Yes, he is interested in her and I bought that–literature is rife with the lonely character who instantly falls for the mysterious other with little or no real knowledge of that person, but as I said, I was so turned off by Scott, that I didn’t believe Ramona would care for him at all.

While the video game language and imagery was amusing at first, by the end of the first volume I was tired of it. Maybe a better comparison than Twilight would be Wall-E. Visually beautiful at the beginning, but by the end I was bored of pretty and wanted something to cling to which that film never gave me–although many people found it in both. I never bought the love story in Wall-E, nor did I in Scott Pilgrim (nor in Twilight either by the way–one of the things on my list of similiarites between Twilight and Scott Pilgrim) and at the end of the day, it was the lack of a believable love story that ultimately killed this comic for me.

Again, I didn’t hate it when I first read it (and for the record I did read it twice in about a six week period in an attempt to see if I missed something in the first reading)–I didn’t anything it. I didn’t move me or stick with me. Other than the novelty video game stuff, it left my brain fairly quickly, only returning when I read praise for the series and I am left scratching my head as to why.

All that being said, I hope the movie is a huge success and continues to make people aware of the possibilities of the comic medium and that the majority of the fans of the books are satisfied. Mostly, I want to see Michael Cera play a different character, but I don’t think I’m going to get that from this movie.

Can’t wait for your reply

Johanna writes:  

The defensive thing was a joke. Although I would like to hear more backing up your assertions that it’s “poorly written”. I get that it didn’t work for you, but again, that’s not the same thing as “it’s bad”. You may find the art unappealing, but it does have a great deal of skill and creativity, all the more so as the series progresses.

I’m not going to argue you into liking it, but I hope you do come to see why it’s well-praised and what others see in it.

Re the characters: I’m not sure you’re supposed to like Scott Pilgrim (although you’re focusing only on his negatives, not the charm of his innocence or the appeal of his loyalty). And I’m not sure where you get “bad girl” from for Ramona. She’s more of a mystery than a negative. I found her willingness to put up with Scott, which then deepened into something more, very believable.

Much of what you criticize is the point of the story. We see Scott develop a great deal over the series, as he and Ramona learn more about each other. But I believe that graphic novels should be satisfying as stand-alone volumes as well as series, so I’m not going to use that as an argument, only to mention that you might have felt differently if you’d stuck with it.

I’m curious to know what love stories you do find believable, given that two I found very touching you poo-poo. And I do think that your dislike of Scott — which all of your criticism seems to rest on — is likely generational. That also raises the question of whether you have to like a protagonist in order to enjoy a story. I’m sure I would find the early Scott incredibly annoying in person at times, but I greatly enjoyed reading about him and his friends and his life.

Johanna writes:  

Enjoying the discussion, by the way. Thanks for starting it.

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