Hello. My name is John and I’m a male comic book fan from Toronto.... and, um, I don’t really like the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels.
I know, that’s total heresy to some people, but it’s true. I do not enjoy the series. Although I enjoyed the film starring local hipster hunk Michael Cera, I just can’t get into the graphic novels, try as I might. They’re just not my bag.
For the uninitiated: Scott Pilgrim is about the blossoming relationship between the titular hero and his American sweetheart Ramona Flowers. To win the day and the girl, all Scott needs to do is get a job, mature as a person and, oh yeah, defeat her seven evil exes in fights to the death.
The books are heavily influenced by anime, comic books and especially video games. Scott’s band is called “Sex Bob-omb”, combining Tom Jones with one of the more obscure villains from the Super Mario games. There’s a lot to like in that concept, but it just never clicked for me.
This isn’t about going against the grain either. I’m not saying I dislike it just to fly in the face of indy scenesters everywhere. I was actually on board with the series pretty early on. In fact, when I was in undergrad I worked at a very large bookstore in downtown Toronto one of my co-workers was wild about Scott Pilgrim.
When she learned that I was a fellow comic book nerd she insisted I catch up on the series - at that point only three of the six books had come out – and so I dutifully bought the first volume (Scott Pilgrim’s Previous Little Life) and demolished it in about 30 minutes of dock-side reading at a cottage.
There was certainly a lot to like about the book. It had its funny moments, particularly the climactic battle with Matthew Patel, and the characters had some charm. As a young man in Toronto working in a mind-numbing retail job, I had some sympathy for Scott.
Unfortunately, it was also crowded with too many of Scott’s friends and peers, and O’Malley’s artwork wasn’t sophisticated enough to make it clear who was who. Characters bled together on the page and in my mind.
Also, although I could I identify with some aspects of his life, Scott is the kind of person I’ve got little patience for in real life. He’s directionless, insensitive and oblivious to his surroundings. His friends are huffy and prone to inexplicable bouts of anger while hating their dead-end jobs.
If they were real people, I’d go out of my way to avoid them.
So after that first book I gave up on the series and moved on. When inevitably confronted by a hysteric Pilgrim-fan - they are legion in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood - I’d politely shy away from the subject and explain I was really behind on my reading.
But the film trailers grabbed my attention and I went to see the Edgar Wright-directed movie on opening weekend. After all, it’s a movie that prominently features my hometown and I’m a sucker for all things Toronto.
It was smart, fun and moved quickly. The acting, particularly Cera in the title role and Kieran Culkin as his roommate Wallace Wells, was sharp and witty. I loved it.
That experience, coupled with reports from many friends that the art and writing improved with each book made me think I should give the series a second chance. I borrowed the remaining volumes from the library -Wychwood Branch, a prominent location in the series - and see if the books could redeem themselves.
Well, they didn’t. I still didn’t really like any of the books.
Although I got a better handle on who all the characters were, many were still incredibly whiny. There were too many throwaway scenes, too many pages of Scott lying around on his couch in a sulk. Characters fly into rages for no apparent reason, storming off dramatically to prove their invisble point.
I hated that kind of histrionics when I was in my early 20s, and I’m not keen to re-live it in graphic novel form.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some positives in these books. As far as a coming-of-age story, Scott Pilgrim is very good. There is a real sense of maturation in our hero and he really does develop into a more sensitive and thoughtful person. His complex relationship with Ramona is handled by O’Malley with a deft touch and there is much to be learned from both of them.
The books are also occasionally entertaining. There are pages and scenes that are legitimately funny and seeing stores, restaurants and clubs that I’m intimately familiar with printed on the page never really got old. But all that isn’t enough to overcome some of the deep flaws in this series.
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series is a fine entry point to the world of graphic novels, but there are at least a dozen other books that a neophyte fan could start with that would be more satisfying. It’s probably best to just watch the Michael Cera movie and then seek out recommendations that are like the books.