Bryan Lee O’Malley’s indie comedy/action/romance series Scott Pilgrim has cultivated a rabid fanbase quick to shove the first book into the hands of any non-comics reader expressing even the vaguest interest in the medium. As they should. Because it’s glorious. Get in on the action before Universal’s film adaptation arrives this month.
Scott Pilgrim’s storyworld operates akin to a sort of 8-bit videogame magical realism in which a heartfelt “I love you” gives the protagonist enough experience points to gain the “power of love” achievement bonus . . . and a flaming sword to wield against his enemies. The series, told across six digest-sized graphic novels (starting with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life in 2004 and culminating in last month’s Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Moment), propels itself forward with a bombastic Ritalin-and-Pixy-Stix mania perfectly at ease with inhabiting the space between Street Fighter and Gilmore Girls. It follows twenty-three year-old slacker hero Scott Pilgrim’s effort to find love, employment, a venue willing to book his band Sex-Bob-Omb more than once, and generally get his act together. The impetus for change comes when Scott meets and (so very awkwardly) woos oversized mallet-wielding street samurai and Amazon.ca delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers. Before he can win her heart, however, Scott must first defeat her seven evil exes in physical combat, which isn’t as unlikely as it seems in a world where your prowess playing beat-‘em-up video games directly translates to your fighting skills in real life, and in which your opponents, once vanquished, burst into a shower of coins familiar to anyone who’s ever played Nintendo games in the 1980s.
O’Malley chooses a deceptively simple style for the series, combining expressive manga-tinged character work with a visual representation of Toronto faithful enough to inspire at least one “Scott Pilgrimage.” His ability to convey the series’ cartoonish action is impressive, but O’Malley’s capacity to capture his cast’s emotional motivations and reactions—subtle and outrageous—is key as they negotiate an ever-increasing spiderweb of interpersonal relations threading in and out of multiple timelines. Dozens of characters populate O’Malley’s work, both as part of the Toronto scene’s larger social circle and several subcliques (every primary character has his or her own group of friends and rivals), all realized with their own backstories, impulses, and quirks, united only in their penchant towards highly quotable buffyspeak. Indeed, perhaps the most treasured page of the series is the map at the end of the third book (the halfway point) that traces out the top dozen characters’ relationships with each other. It, for instance, reminds us that minor player Julie Powers is on-and-off dating Sex-Bob-Omb frontman Steven Stills, loathes band hanger-oner Young Neil, and wants to re-friend college roommate (and Scott’s ex) Envy Adams now that she’s famous.
Scott Pilgrim’s status within the canon of comics is assured. Excitement over the movie and the final volume is at a fever pitch. The former, buoyed by a pair of Apple.com-crashing trailers, a series of seven video remixes featuring original music and previously unreleased footage as part of a massive internet marketing campaign, and above all else, director Edgar Wright’s reported obsessive adherence to the source material, has driven fans to extremes of anticipation so great that Wright himself has attempted to temper their excitement. The series currently occupies the six top spots on the New York Times’ Paperback Graphic Novels list, and the final volume ranked #5 overall in Books (topping the Julia Roberts film cover edition of Eat, Pray, Love) and #1 in Comics and Graphic Novels at Amazon on the day of its release. All that said, Scott Pilgrim might very well end up being more of an orphan than progenitor—despite it’s success, few, if any, creators have attempted to replicate its success in either style or content in the half-decade since Oni released the first volume.
To put it simply, there’s absolutely nothing out there like it. Those interested can find a lengthy preview of the first book here.