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An Epic of Video Games, Music, and Growing the Hell Up
on September 24, 2010
I first encountered the Scott Pilgrim series a few years ago and, to be honest, didn't think much of them at the time: mostly because -- on the surface anyway -- it seemed like a story about rock-stars fighting evil exes. It wasn't something that really appealed to me at the time and I suspect that at that time, I wouldn't have gotten as much out of the series as I have now.
A few years later, the film came out and I heard that it was an "epic of epic epicness" from quite a few people. Then I was told that there were quite a few video game references in that world. This got my attention because while the books' references to popular and independent (or indie) music escaped me, classic and vintage style video games were and definitely something I can relate to: something I grew up with.
I watched the film and was very impressed, but I was told that the books were in some ways even better. I like to read the comics that comic book movies are inspired from, so I eventually picked up all six of these books on my own. So what can I tell you without spoilers?
Scott Pilgrim has a few things in it that I can really relate to. For one thing, I am Canadian and I live in Toronto so there were a lot of places and elements -- like the TTC subways, streetcars, and buses -- that I could really relate to and it was a blast to see a fantasy-adventure romantic comedy with video game references taking place in a city I've gotten to know.
I also feel like the books really appeal to a certain generation: both the generation that saw the rise of video games as we know them, and the people who grew up during the times of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega. There are a lot of in-jokes and references that I really appreciate, though no means do you have to have played or known the games to enjoy this story.
Scott Pilgrim also appeals to me on another level as well. I think that in addition to the video games and music of the latter part of the twentieth century, it also appeals to the twenty-something generation that exists in this contemporary 21st century. The story attempts to capture that feeling of being caught in-between adolescence and adulthood, of Scott Pilgrim still in the stages of growing up and finding maturity even during a point where many might believe he should already be an adult.
I like the fact that Scott and his friends deal with moments of epicness inter-dispersed through the uncertainty of keeping a job, keeping one's apartment, finding something to eat, finding and trusting the right romantic partner(s), and trying to find meaning and make it in a world that makes things relatively tough. There is also this tremendous feeling of ennui that is captured in the narrative -- of boredom and a need to live through and fix it somehow. This is an element that isn't so much seen in the film as it is in these books and I think it might say something about our generation at this time: though what it may say and if this generalization holds any water at all is another story entirely.
In a lot of ways, Scott Pilgrim is a bildungsroman -- a coming of age epic -- and the creator himself as said that this book is centred around Scott: even in his mind. This is the craft of Bryan Lee O'Malley. As quite a few people have pointed out, his illustration and panel-drawings are very deceptively simple. I would venture to say that his drawing style is very reminiscent of Tezuka Osamu's manga or manga itself with regards to the exaggerated eyes and cartoon figures of the characters, though at the same time I can definitely see his work to be not unlike a softer lines version of Genndy Tartakovsky's drawings and animation.
I really appreciate how throughout the graphic narrative, O'Malley manages to tell a story slowly and deliberately and reveal something of a character right to your face, while the protagonist Scott Pilgrim may not be entirely aware of it. O'Malley also knows how to pace his jokes and even manages to utilize some meta-narrative or fictional elements through his characters while still managing to have some fun. When the epic fight scenes occur, they are all the more very striking and have more meaning in complement to the difficulties of everyday life and heartbreak that Scott and his friends go through.
O'Malley manages to capture the spirit of a time, a city, some subcultures, and personalities well and in a way that can capture hearts in turn. I see Scott Pilgrim as a modern twenty-something year old Pilgrim's Progress into a semi-mythical world of video games, indie music, Toronto city life, epic adventure, love, and maturity ... and whole load of humour. I couldn't rate this series any higher.