Apirl 22 2011
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Bryan lee O’Malley is the author of Scott Pilgrim, a seemingly simple and childish comic which has more to it than meets the eye. O’Malley has a Japanese style of art in his comics, with a mix of American style makes him a unique author and artist. A simple story with a deeper meaning is what O’Malley sets out to accomplish throughout his comic books. O’Malley is known for pure entertainment by using many references to retro gaming such as Mario or Street Fighter. Many of his works are a throw-back to simpler times. O’Malley also breaks the forth wall as his characters are aware of their own existence in the comics. His narrations put a spin on conventional story-telling.
Bryan Lee O’Malley was born on February 21, 1979 in Ontario, Canada. When growing up, he realized that his love of creating comics was the only thing in his life that he enjoyed. Later, he decided to make a career out of it. Although he has pursued other interests such as film-making at the University of Western Ontario, he dropped out before completing his degree to create music under the band name “Kupek.” O’Malley started his main career in comics by doing illustrating and lettering work for Oni Press, then went on to release his first Graphic Novel, Lost at Sea, also through Oni. These works set the stage for his next project, which would become his main vocation for the next six years.(Albert, Aaron, 2008)
That project was Scott Pilgrim, the series was heavily influenced by a manga series called Beck, which is also about a group of kids starting a band. O’Malley stated in his blog, “I feel like BECK (the band), doing my **** comics for my small fan base, trying to one day compete with world-class comics like BECK (the manga)!” That small fan base quickly grew into a full time gig as it was highly praised by critics and fans alike. The Scott Pilgrim series’ popularity grew through the video game and movie. In regards to O’Malley’s future plans, he said, “I’ll never tell. If there’s one thing I’m learning, it is to not tell anyone anything about what I’m doing. It just creates weird and false expectations” (O’Malley, 2010)
The Scott Pilgrim series was started in 2004 and had just had its final issue in 2010. O’Malley’s Cartoony-looking and manga-inspired artwork managed to express the character’s emotions with few, seemingly simple lines. His style also often references Japanese manga artists, such as Kiyohiko Azuma and Osamu Tezuka. The style choices are also made in part from his departure from more dramatic content such as in Lost at Sea.
The Scott Pilgrim books are the same as most manga, but rather than reading right to left, O’Malley as made the series read left to right, like a traditional American book. In one of volumes of Scott Pilgrim the last page has the words, “Stop, this is the back of the book. What do you think you’re doing, who do you think you are?”(O’Malley, 2007) Go to the other page and start reading at page 1. Your mother and I are very disappointed with you.” This sets the mood for Scott pilgrim because it lets the reader know it is being different and something new. Go back to the first page and don’t read it like any other comic book, is what O’Malley is implying. It is a unusual for an author of a comic book to address the reader directly, and brings the reader in as part of the joke.
Scott Pilgrim is all about being funny while the story progresses forward and never loses its momentum throughout the series. O’Malley does not rely on slapstick comedy in his novels, but most of his jokes come from the irony of young adult love, references to video games, and the way O’Malley draws the characters and expressions. All drawings by O’Malley are simple with few lines and details. However, all the expressions of his characters are spot on and there is never confusion with how O’Malley wants the reader to feel.
The story of Scott Pilgrim is a simple, but an odd one. There is a boy named Scott Pilgrim and a girl named Romana Flowers. Scott defeats all seven of her evil ex-boyfriends in order to be her boyfriend. The initial story allows the reader to understand that Scott Pilgrim should not be taken too seriously, but at the same time, the reader does not know what to expect from the novel. Seven evil ex-boyfriends…has that ever been done before?
The story of Scott Pilgrim follows the “Aristotle rubric” with the beginning, middle, and end progression. It does not deviate from the original formula. The story can be summed up easily; Scott Pilgrim meets Romana, they begin to date, her ex- boyfriends come in the way of their relationship, Scott must defeat all of them, and the two end up together in the conclusion of the book. It is simple, but the story relies on dynamic and constantly changing characters. As Aristotle has said, “Discovery is a change from ignorance to recognition, leading towards either friendship or hostility in people bound for good or bad fortune.” Some characters die, some characters become gay, and some characters change from a lazy bum into someone that is respected by the rest of the cast. It is all a constant flow of progression that O’Malley depends on. There are no static main characters in O’Malley’s stories.
O’Malley’s first graphic novel was Lost at Sea, in which Raleigh, an eighteen year-old girl is on a journey of self-discovery. Raleigh is a shy girl who never speaks her mind and believes a cat stole her soul. Over the progression of the story, she learns that she can trust people, especially her new-found friends, rather than believing she is alone in the world and only having her long distance boyfriend to look forward to.
O’Malley’s stories, at their core, all have basic plots that are about improving yourself and becoming a better person. No matter how many jokes or video game references he puts in his comics, the story always ends up with a moral lesson to a better life. The story starts off with Scott and his friends listening to him talk about this new high school girl he just met on the bus. Scott Pilgrim is twenty-three when the story begins and Knives is seventeen. Right in the beginning, you start noticing little things like “RATING: AWESOME.” It is as if the author was not taken completely out of the story, as he does not actually narrate the story. When he feels like making a comment, he jumps back in. Think of O’Malley as the announcer, if you will. Looking at the panel where the band plays a song, he says, “Hey kids! Now you can play along with the Sex-Bob-Bomb at home! Because they are kinda crappy! Look, this whole song only uses 3 chords!” This connects to what Wayne C. Booth’s argument that the author cannot be removed from his work. If you remove the comments and captions made by the author it, everything still makes sense.
This gives the tale of Scott Pilgrim a more personal touch to it. It has O’Malley’s words and his own personal take on what goes on in the novel. The viewer accepts this and does not question whose voice’s are speaking in the text bubbles. Obviously, you cannot remove O’Malley from his own story, otherwise you would have some faceless narrator trying to make a few snappy comments from time to time. There would be no connection.
Scott starts dating Knives, a high school Asian girl, and feels pretty happy with her until he starts having several dreams where a girl, who he has never met, is rollerblading through his dreams. He eventually sees her at a store and then he realizes that she is real. He later finds out that she is Ramona, a mysterious lady and Scott ends up dating her without breaking it off with Knives first. As the story progresses, it slowly loses its grip on reality.
First off, the characters are self-aware about the fact that they are in a comic book, which gives a sense of illusion because as we are reading the book, we know that they are not real. When characters provide commentaries about their own characters, it makes things interesting and as Schopenhauer would say it gives a sense of “fakeness”.
Ramona would later explain that she works for Amazon, and that she uses Scott’s head because it is usually empty for her inner space highway travels to deliver packages lightning fast. The random nature of these events baffles and delights the reader. Then, a snow storm starts building up and Ramona finds a star door out of nowhere and that leads them right to her house.
Scott pilgrim makes sense but at the same time, does not. Things that happen could not happen at all, and the explanations behind some of them do not explain anything. The major plot points and character arcs make sense to the point of being pedestrian, but the subplots are bizarre to the point being incomprehensible. In Scott’s first fight against Romana’s ex-boyfriend, the ex-boyfriend breaks into the building when Scott and his band is about to play, and then right away, they jump into a battle. Once Scott defeats him, he breaks into a few coins and no one thinks twice about it.
The way which O’malley diverges from the typical Aristotelian conception of story resembles the structure of video games. In a video game, there is an overarching hero’s journey, but the scenes themselves are digressive and less connected to each other than the scenes in a Greek tragedy or traditional novel. O’Malley’s choices in his comics are all related to video games that explain the reason why the ex-boyfriend turned into coins. It would not make any sense anywhere else except for inside the book, but because you know O’Malley is constantly making connections to video games, it does not even matter anymore.
The way Ramona’s first evil ex-boyfriend was defeated and blew up into a few coins is similar to the rest of the comic. Saying that “it doesn’t matter it anymore,” meant all of these crazy things which happen only give the viewer a humorous feeling. The reader will not stop reading for a minute to question with why or how, but simply chuckle, and continue on. O’Malley constantly gives his comic incidents that happen, weather it is a magical door; dreams, or enemies that explode into coins. The reader gets used to this and no longer questions at all. Now if something like this happened in, The Lord of the Rings, then the audience would flip over it because it is unexpected. If Gandalf exploded into a pile of coins there would need to be a reason — something scientific, or at least logical. Someone that reads Scott Pilgrim, however, gets used to the abnormalities in the beginning, thus allowing O’Malley to put whatever he wants in his comic and his readers will be able to take it.
Scott Pilgrim’s biggest emphasis is its carefree, nostalgic, retro video game comedy. Everything does not have to make sense. For example, in the world of Scott Pilgrim, you can have super electricity powers just because you are a vegan. Scott gets a sword to fight one of the evil ex’s, because he tells Romana he loves her and then receives the power of love. Many of these strange events are attributed to the love between the two. Comedy is important though, just like how humans love tragedies and dramas so much, we also have very good amount of comedy shows. Even though it has a reputation of being the lowest form of entertainment, sometimes it can potentially be the most entertaining. Now-a-days, we have complex video games with 3D models, next-gen technology, and deep stories with hundreds of cut scenes between gameplay. Sometimes the reason we play video games is for the story, but we could just read a book or watch a movie. What O’Malley does with his comic is throw back, with all these imagery from video games, they all have one thing in common: they all date back to the 90’s when video games were simpler, like Mario or Sonic. In Mario you are a plumber, the princess gets kidnapped by a giant turtle, and you have to go on this vast journey to rescue her. In your journey, you will have to fight man-eating flowers, giant squids, turtles, mushrooms, and ghosts. There is no reason for any of this — nothing logical at all. So what O’Malley does with Scott Pilgrim, is that he uses these retro gaming icons to make his comic also seem retro. O’Malley puts his graphic novel in a spot where not everything needs to be explained so thoroughly that it makes sense in all aspects. In Mario, if you just defeated a giant evil turtle by stomping on its head and then moving forward to save the princess, you would not question it. O’ Malley wants the reader to sit down, read his books, and just have a good time — just like how video games were back then.
Bryan Lee O’Malley is known for his style and appreciated for his writing. He has been given many awards for his comic books in the past years. Some people have said that comedy is the lowest form of entertainment, but it takes a smart person to pull off comedy well. Using his techniques mentioned before, he is able to create something entirely unique. O’Malley’s works are unique, ranging from his art style, characters, humor, plot, and the way it constantly links back to those 90’s video games. Bryan Lee O’Malley is still young, but has left his mark on the world with the Scott Pilgrim series already.
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Miller, Joshua. “EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY (SCOTT PILGRIM) | CHUD.com”. Web. 5 May 2011. </www.chud.com/18195/exclusive-interview-bryan-lee-omalley-scott-pilgrim/>.
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