Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O’Malley

<em class="BookTitle">Scott Pilgrim</em>, Bryan Lee O’Malley

Six-book series made of…

  • Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, 2004, Oni Press, ISBN 978-1-932664-08-9
  • Scott Pilgrim vs the World, 2005, Oni Press, ISBN 978-1-932664-12-6
  • Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness, 2006, Oni Press, ISBN 978-1-932664-22-5
  • Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together, 2007, Oni Press, ISBN 978-1-932664-49-2
  • Scott Pilgrim vs the Universe, 2009, Oni Press, ISBN 978-1-934964-10-1
  • Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, 2010, Oni Press, ISBN 978-1-934964-38-5

Publishing success doesn’t often correlate with anything resembling quality, so it’s satisfying to see that one of the biggest comic series of the past few years has been Bryan Lee O’Malley’s idiosyncratic Scott Pilgrim.  Now ending its run with a sixth volume and the near-simultaneous arrival of its movie adaptation, O’Malley’s unlikely success blends a look at post-teenage male romance, videogame-inspired personal mythmaking, a deeply Torontonian setting, sharp writing, great characters and hilarious moments.  I first climbed on board the series when the fifth volume was released, but the movie adaptation gave me a great excuse to re-read the entire story in a single gulp, and revisit what makes it click.

I am, I’ll admit, too old and too square to truly empathize with much of the series: I’m now a good decade older than the series’ cast of characters, and my own path through life has been the university-to-cubicle professional fast-track rather than the kind of erratic McJobs-and-clubs slacker universe in which Pilgrim and friends live.  But Scott Pilgrim nails that post-teenage lifestyle in stunning detail: that slice of time not quite shackled by the demands and disillusions of full adulthood, in which people come to define themselves now that they don’t have to attend classes.  Pilgrim and friends are free to exist away from their parents, live in tiny apartments, hang out at hip venues, play in garage bands, work occasionally, and get mixed-up in complex romantic entanglements.  Their universe is one of pop-culture references inspired (unlike previous generations) by videogames, their personal mythologies defined by gaming heroism as much as anything else.

So it is that the series begins with “Scott Pilgrim is dating a high-schooler!” and ends with “So… we try again.”  In-between, it’s pure Canadian magical realism as Pilgrim falls for a mysterious girl named Ramona and must fight her seven evil exes in order to earn her affections.  That’s the plan, at least: the actual path to romantic bliss isn’t quite as clear-cut, especially when Pilgrim realises how much of “a crummy boyfriend” he’s been.  The last volume of the series is particularly unkind to its hero –and surprising to readers not expecting Scott to grow up in a hurry.

But as with many other graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim is more memorable for its page-per-page execution than its narrative satisfaction.  O’Malley peppers his series with a near-constant stream of small delights, whether it’s a number of Torontonian references, self-aware patter, absurdly fantastical plot devices and musical moments.  The series breaks the fourth wall frequently, but doesn’t cheapen its characters’ problems.  It’s such a compelling reading experience that every time I reached in my stack of volumes to check details, I ended up re-reading dozens of pages.

As a hip must-read reference for the younger set, it’s something that even the older ones among us are nearly certain to enjoy.  The cutting-edge references exist alongside gaming metaphors that will be familiar to anyone who has stepped in an arcade back in the eighties, and they all serve to pump up a universally appealing male romance to sustained reading enjoyment.  Don’t miss it (especially if you live in or near Toronto) and let it comfort you that, sometimes, sale numbers do point at something worthwhile.

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