Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

This past weekend, I read the first two volumes of the Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.

Scott Pilgrim is a twenty-three year-old Canadian, who can best be described as "ineffectual." Not so much a hipster as a "slacker," Scott spends his days playing classic video games, listening to indie rock, and playing bass guitar in a garage band called "The Sex Bob-omb." He is also a part-time ninja. Somehow, in the version of Toronto in which the story is set, that is not exceptional - all sorts of unassuming characters display impressive fighting skills when necessary. That's not the only thing unusual about the book's universe; captions and pop-up video-style explanations appear to give us the "statuses" and motivations of its characters. It is to the novels' credit that, after the first couple of chapters, this bizarre little world is so well developed that it actually makes sense to us.

At the beginning of the story, Scott meets cute with a pretty, insane, 17 year-old Chinese girl named Knives. Scott does not seem to worry about the fact that her name is Knives, probably because he hasn't dated in more than a year and willing to take what he can get. In relatively short order, he also meets Ramona Flowers, a beautiful American ex-patriate, living a similar slacker lifestyle and working as a rollerblading delivery girl for Amazon.ca. (In a clever piece of character development, Scott asks "that's the online bookstore or whatever, right? What's the website for that?") Then, two things happen - Knives decides that she is in love with Scott and needs to fight Ramona to get him back, and Scott learns that he has to fight each of Ramona's six "evil ex-boyfriends" in order to win her hand. These fights, which pop up out of nowhere, end, in true video game style, with the defeated party turning into a pile of coins, and, on occasion, they leave behind them "items," like skateboards, that Scott can use in future fights.

My favorite thing about the comics are the little, marginal comic details: characters wear t-shirts bearing the names of Neko Case and Calexico and a lot of obscure Canadian bands; the fight scenes, which play like crosses between Moral Kombat/Street Fighter II-style fights and Bollywood production numbers, the hilarious slacker dialogue ("I . . . but . . . it's . . . not . . . its totally . . . its . . . y . . . you're not the boss of me?" passes for a comeback), and the way in which none of the characters can keep a secret because they keep running into/overhearing each other at the same small handful of coffee shops and bars. They're wonderful graphic novels, and I'm looking forward to the next two.

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