Monday, October 27, 2008

Scott Pilgrim article

My new piece on Scott Pilgrim is in the autumn issue of Naked Eye. It looks amazing in person-and it's two full double page spreads! Make sure to pick up a copy if you can.

Why Scott Pilgrim is Awesome
By Andrea Warner

It might just be that this first decade of the 21st century will go down as the Dawn of the Geeks. Iron Man, Batman, and X-Men have all achieved massive box-office success and spawned (or re-started) successful franchises.

And now, an entirely new brand of comic book hero will ascend the throne, rising up from the pages of his six-book series and brought to life by Canada’s own favourite man-child, Michael Cera, in the upcoming film adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Suck on that, Spidey.

Bryan Lee O'Malley, a 29 year-old Toronto writer and illustrator, published his first Scott Pilgrim book in 2004. The manga-influenced art and wickedly funny story quickly acquired legions of rabid fans. And who wouldn't want to be Scott Pilgrim?

At the start of the series (we’re now four volumes in, two to go) Scott Pilgrim is 23, dating a high-school girl named Knives Chau, and kicking ass in a rock band. Then he meets Ramona Flowers, the dangerously intriguing, inter-dimensional roller-blading delivery-girl—but before they can be together, he must fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends.

Here are the top five reasons why Scott Pilgrim is awesome, and what this means for you, Canada, and the world.

1. Scott Pilgrim, Every Man

That roommate you have? That guy you used to date? That face you see when you look in the mirror? Chances are, if you’re between the ages of 20 and 40, you are Scott Pilgrim and he is you.

Part of Pilgrim’s appeal as a protagonist is that he feels real, minus the super fighting skills. Sometimes he hurts girls’ feelings, he’s often lazy, and he frequently says the wrong thing. His best friends freely warn the women in his life that he’s not good enough for them. He’s flawed and he feels human, and this is partly because he’s loosely based on O’Malley’s 23-year-old self.

“I was living in Toronto, and I just had come out of a breakup and I started writing down ideas for a story that was like exactly what I was doing and then it kind of just grew out of that,” he says, over the phone. “Then I started dating a girl from the US (graphic novelist Hope Larson, now his wife) and I had a gay roommate and I joined a band and so it kind of developed over a couple years.”

Talking to O’Malley is a bit like reading a SP book. The cadences, rhythm, and word choices are eerily familiar—Pilgrim and O’Malley both sound like any average person raised on a steady diet of pop culture.

And this isn’t surprising.

In creating Scott Pilgrim, O’Malley has captured the defining interests of a lot of 25 to 40-year olds, a cross-generational group whose desire to find love while playing video games and getting their geek on has given rise to this new brand of hero.

James Lucas Jones, the Editor-in-Chief of Oni Press in Portland, Oregon, publishers of Scott Pilgrim, remembers being impressed by O’Malley’s ability to make Pilgrim so relatable.

“I think it's fun without being dumb or empty,” Jones says. “Almost everyone knows somebody that's like Scott or had a similar approach to life as he does.”

Christopher Butcher, manager of The Beguiling in Toronto, is also a big fan of the series, and attributes its universal resonance to O’Malley’s ability to infuse the story with grander themes.

“I think the unexpected dark bits in the books really work,” Butcher says. “There’s a depth to the characters and story that you wouldn’t expect if someone just described the premise to you.”

SP has also proved that independent publishers can become major players in the comic book industry, and has helped solidify Portland’s reputation as a haven of originality and creativity.

Brett Warnock co-owns Top Shelf, a fellow comics publishing house in Portland, Oregon, and he remembers reading SP for the first time.

“It blew my mind. In fact, I wrote at the time that it was my favorite graphic novel of the year,” Warnock says. In addition to loving Scott’s constant girl drama, Warnock appreciates O’Malley’s ability to mix genres and influences into witty and realistic teen drama, and is excited about what SP’s success means to his business.

“It shows that smaller publishers are just as, if not more capable than the big New York publishers, in finding talent and crafting little gems like this,” Warnock says. “It’s a new style for an evolving audience.”

2. Scott Pilgrim, a Lover and a Fighter

All’s fair in love and war in the SP universe. Pilgrim, as it turns out, is one of the best fighters, like, ever. And, almost every major character has been involved in some kind of battle by the end of the fourth book. The fights are equal opportunity (boy vs. girl, girl vs. girl, etc), and typically involve some element of the inventive or surreal. One of the evil ex-boyfriends uses a signature cheesy move whereby he woos girls by punching a hole in the moon.

And no landscape is off limits: Knives Chau and Ramona end up in an epic brawl at the Toronto Reference Library when Knives goes a little crazy after finding out Scott cheated on her.

Part of the appeal of Pilgrim as a fighter, is that the sequences often mimic that of the videogames Pilgrim and O’Malley love so much, incorporating the fantastical and the surreal with equal aplomb. When Pilgrim wins a fight against a bad guy, he might randomly collect coins ($2 for one, $14 for another), or earn an extra life, or pick up a sword or a mushroom. It’s part fun throwback, part witty commentary on becoming the hero of your own fantasy, which leads to...

His constant parade of hot ex-girlfriends almost rivals that of Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends. His callous break-up with Knives Chau breaks our hearts, but his utterly sweet devotion to winning Ramona means all is forgiven. And O’Malley gets the details just right: Scott and Ramona’s courtship may be fraught with supernatural predicaments, but it’s juxtaposed with earthly delights, such as their first sleepover, or holding hands under the moon.

The real reason for Scott’s vast assortment of beautiful women is rooted in the same influences that O’Malley used to create the series’ distinctive look.

“It comes out of Japanese comics, which I was really into in high school and stuff,” O’Malley says. ”There's just a whole genre of stories about one guy who's pursued by all the girls who are all way hotter than him and that's kind of ridiculous and unrealistic so I wanted to take the germ of that but make something a little more emotionally true out of it.”

O’Malley also attributes Scott’s attractiveness to the opposite sex as “selective world-view. I think he's mostly awesome in his own mind.”

3. Scott Pilgrim, Rock star

Who doesn’t have dreams of playing in a band with their best friends, rocking out in a battle of the bands, and having adoring fans?

Sex Bob-omb, Pilgrim’s band with Stephen Sills and Kim Pine, borrows its name from a character in Super Mario Bros. Every other band mentioned in the book also borrows its name from a video game. Among them, Scott’s high school band with Kim Pine recalls the Sega Genesis game Sonic & Knuckles, and Scott’s ex, Envy, plays in The Clash At Demonhead, which references both an NES game and the punk band, The Clash.

O’Malley’s own one-man band Kupek is actually pretty good. The sound is slightly countrified with great beats, think Wilco with a smattering of older Counting Crows (that’s a good thing!), and boasts song titles that could be lines from any of the SP books, such as “You Practically Rock” and “Poster Child for Happiness.”

4. Scott Pilgrim, Canadian

O’Malley was raised in London, Timmins, and North Bay, Ontario, and then lived in Toronto for just three years in his early 20s, but it was long enough to make an impression. Serving as the backdrop for the SP universe, quirky reference points from the cityscape punctuate the art, bringing a coolness to TO O’Malley never intended.

“I've kind of unintentionally become this Toronto ambassador,” O’Malley says. “I don't really have that much great love for the city, it just happens to be my setting. Like, Sneaky Dee’s. I always kind of hated Sneaky Dee’s, but everyone would go there, and they still do, so I just wanted to keep that in. One of the ideas was to have a record of what we did in Toronto in 2003-04.”

Butcher, for one, jokes that the books border on being too Canadian.

“He might even confuse our American neighbours, with his Toronto landmarks and his superfluous U’s,” Butcher says. “All we need in the fifth volume is for him to be crying while watching one of those Canadian Heritage Moments on TV.”

O’Malley also writes a blog where he posts an annotated Scott Pilgrim with photos and landmarks that inspired scenes in the book, including the Wychwood Library, Casa Loma, the Dufferin Mall, and the CN Tower, all of which could serve as potential locations when the Scott Pilgrim movie finally commences shooting in the fall…

5. Scott Pilgrim, Movie star

Edgar Wright, the director of the SP movie, had just come off of filming Shaun of the Dead when Universal sent him a random assortment of stuff to consider making his next film. He clicked with SP, and sparked a long-distance friendship with O’Malley that’s spanned the last several years.

The majority of information about the movie is pretty speculative, but a few concrete details as of this writing:

• The film, tentatively scheduled for 2009, will span the entirety of the series, even those books that haven’t come out yet.

• Michael Bacall, who has acted in Free Willy and Grindhouse, is set to write the screenplay. He’s also adapting a film based on the documentary King of Kong.

• Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Juno, Superbad) will play Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard, Grindhouse’s Deathproof) is attached to play Ramona Flowers.

O’Malley’s involvement in the film’s slow evolution is music to SP fans’ ears, and heralds a promise that the film won’t stray too far from the books’ trademark wit and heart.

“It’s been three and a half years-ish we’ve been talking about it,” O’Malley says. “So, they (the movie) definitely had an influence on the books as well. But, I’ve gone over the books with them and what the references are and what I made up and kind of stole or whatever. I’ve read the screenplay drafts and stuff like that. I’m like a sounding board for them, I guess.”

His official role is consultant, which suits him just fine.

“I didn’t really want to write it,” O’Malley admits. “I’ve never written a screenplay. And when they started writing it, I was still finding my feet in this world and I didn’t have any interest in trying to take a stab at it. I think what the’ve done is pretty cool.”

He’ll also likely play a big part in co-creating the soundtrack, if he and Wright have any say in it. For the last few years, the pair has been trading music they feel fits with the SP universe. And, it promises lots of Canadian content on O’Malley’s side.

“Sloan and Plumtree,” he says, naming a few of his favourite bands that inspired some of his SP work. “And then we (Wright and I) just kind amalgamated the best of our tracks into a couple discs of music and sent that to Universal, so I think it will be a pretty interesting and eclectic mix.”

Ultimately, if the movie does well, it could potentially spawn into an SP franchise, taking on the big guys like Batman or the Hulk. Marvel Comics is unleashing a torrent of Avengers-based hero movies over the next several years, and with comic-book sales reaching record numbers in print and on film, the genre shows no signs of slowing down.

But, as much as the world loves the quirky Canadian comic book hero who has helped change the face of independent publishing, O’Malley is ready to look beyond Scott Pilgrim.

When asked if he’s thought about crafting any spin-offs or plans to carry on the series, he laughs and quickly says, “I hope not! I'm really ready to move on to something else once it's done.”

Good luck, O’Malley. We think the Scott Pilgrim craze is just getting started.

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