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Pilgrim’s Progress

Gutter Guest
Posted August 13, 2010

Pilgrim 80.jpgFormer Comics Editor, Guy Leshinski
has very kindly given us permission to reprint a prophetic interview
with Bryan Lee O’Malley in 2005.  Will Bryan Lee O’Malley attain the
Holy Grail of cartoonists? As Bryan says, “We’ll see…”

There’s a girl sitting on the subway.
She’s 16 or so, in a brown corduroy jacket and a pair of faded
sneakers, her feet propped on the seat across from her. She’s
absently brushing on lipstick, absorbed by Bryan Lee O’Malley’s
graphic novel Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life: Volume 1.

It’s an absorbing book. Small –
manga-digest sized (“That size just sells better,” O’Malley
says) – and crackling with invention, it tells of a young indie
rocker and the price of his obsession. Scott has lately begun
dreaming of a begoggled Amazon.ca delivery girl who rollerblades
through his unconscious. When he meets her in the flesh at a friend’s
houseparty, his life, and the book, turns from a keen freshman drama
into a surreal arcade. Scott is propelled into a series of mystical
battles with the girl’s seven evil ex-boyfriends, the first of whom
descends from the ceiling with a coterie of demoness cheerleaders on
his wing. The reader is left gasping.

“I guess it’s a metaphor for
dealing with a girlfriend’s past,” says the 26-year-old O’Malley,
who got married during the making of Volume 1. “Video games
are just part of my subconscious view. I wanted it to seem like
something that happens all the time in the book. The second book has
a bit more of a rhythm between the craziness and normalcy.”

Pilgrim 250.jpgSeated at a booth at Kalendar, his
radiant sketchbooks spread open on the table, O’Malley is every
inch the modern cartoonist. He even looks a little like Adrian
Tomine, with his black-framed glasses. The restaurant is an old haunt
where much of Scott Pilgrim took shape. “I did a lot of writing for
the second book downstairs in the kitchen,” he says, flipping his
portfolio to a page of doodles for the series’ next volume, due out
this winter. “I’d be scribbling dialogue and sketches in my
sketchbook. People would walk into the restaurant and I’d sneak
away to draw their outfits, their shoes, their hairstyles.” The
page overflows with juicy ink renderings of strap-on boots and lacey
sketches of girls in hoodies and army-surplus jackets. “It’s the
Toronto hipster aesthetic,” he says, a look that inspires many of
his characters, fresh-faced twentysomethings who say ‘like’ and
‘whatever’ a lot, but not in the leaden tones of most literature
about young adults. O’Malley’s ear is as sharp as his eye. “I
think of people I know for the voices. When I hang out with friends,
I’m usually the quiet guy.”

Scott Pilgrim, he says, began as an
idealized version of himself. Before long, the character had sprouted
its own life. “I wanted to make him happy-go-lucky, really content
with his place in life. Though as I write it, it becomes more of a
blank slate. A lot of the feedback I’ve gotten says that he’s a
jerk and an idiot. But so is everyone.” O’Malley has planned the
story as a series of six books, with the second to hit shelves
in the coming weeks. It’s set in Toronto and sugared with local
references – a TTC stop here, a Pizza Pizza there. “It’s mostly
my neighbourhood up on St. Clair,” says O’Malley. “I grew up in
North Bay, which is like a big suburb. There’s so much going on in
this city that I sometimes just drive around or take the bus and I’ll
see things I’ve never seen before.” The work is heavy with the
influence of manga, the copious speedlines, angled panels and big,
expressive eyes. Yet O’Malley pulls a few tricks of his own. One
page twirls to give us a 360-degree view of Scott’s apartment, with
labels above the furniture showing how much belongs to his roommate.
Another adds guitar tab and lyrics as Scott’s band practices. There
is the overwhelming feeling that O’Malley was having fun making the
book, and its good humour is warming.

Despite this, Volume 1 sold
poorly on its initial orders. Word of mouth, however, is changing
that. “The response has actually been overwhelmingly good; at least
on the internet. The community of blogs has definitely embraced it,”
O’Malley says, beaming.

Soon, he’ll also be reprinting his
previous graphic novel Lost at Sea, with a new cover and what
he calls “minor fixes” to the artwork. On its first release, he
says, the book “went completely under the radar. Now it’s getting
as much word of mouth as Scott Pilgrim, at least from girls
and ‘sensitive’ people.

“The holy grail for cartoonists is
the movie deal. I hear things like, ‘The guy who directed Shaun
of the Dead
read your book.’ We’ll see.”

~~~

As
well as having written about comics for Eye Magazine and The Cultural
Gutter, Guy Leshinski is a Toronto cartoonist and writer who thinks the
world is a funny place. See some of his cartoons at By Guy.

Comments

2 Responses to “Pilgrim’s Progress”

  1. NefariousDrO
    August 14th, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    It’s amusing to see this interview talk of the “holy grail” being a movie deal. It seems to me like Scott Pilgrim has all of the elements to make a movie deal almost inevitable.

  2. Chris Szego
    August 19th, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

    Inevitable… and AMAZING! Such a fun movie.

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