It’s ‘Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour’ and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s, too
Four years ago, Bryan Lee O’Malley was introduced by film director Edgar Wright to the vast and cavernous Hall H, the room that seats 6,500 adoring fans and the main event arena at Comic-Con. And on Thursday, O’Malley’s slacker hero Scott Pilgrim is the one bringing him to that big stage.
While he may not be one of the most recognizable faces on a panel that includes Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman and big-screen Superman Brandon Routh, there would be no presentation for the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (in theaters Aug. 13) if not for O’Malley’s popular cult indie comic. Begun with Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life in 2004, the series ends today with the Oni Press release of O’Malley’s sixth volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour.
In a move usually reserved only for a blockbuster movie release or a new Harry Potter or Twilight book, more than 150 comic shops around the country had Scott Pilgrim midnight release parties last night. And also in true Potter fashion, it was important to O’Malley that the story not get leaked ó he kept story and art elements close to the vest so readers and fans wouldn’t have anything ruined for them.
“It’s the ending,” says the native Canadian writer and artist, and recent transplant to Los Angeles. “I tried to make it as satisfying as possible. It’s the longest one and I tried to bring everything home in a way that meant something to me, but also would be fulfilling to readership.”
Way back in the first volume, 23-year-old Canadian underachiever Scott Pilgrim, bassist for the band Sex Bob-Omb, finally found a goal: to woo and win the heart of colorfully coiffed American Amazon delivery girl, Ramona Flowers. One caveat, though, was that he had to defeat her seven evil exes, including a vegan rock star, an Indian guy with magical powers, a skateboarding actor, a pair of twins and their robot, and Ramona’s former roommate who’s also a ninja.
Finest Hour focuses again on the relationship between Scott, now 24, and Ramona, but also stars the seventh and most evil of the exes, Gideon Gordon Graves. The final fight between Scott and Gideon is ó as most things are in the world of Scott Pilgrim ó epic.
“Yeah, I had a lot of fun with that. I felt this need to try and outdo the movie, to do set pieces that would be too expensive to put in a movie,” O’Malley says with a laugh. “We did some pretty intense stuff. I got an assistant helping me on the art, and I tried to make it just as amazing as possible.”
O’Malley listened to a lot of LCD Soundsystem and the Cardigans in the weeks of scrambling leading up to finishing the book, and he was too busy to be sad when he finished the final page. “For weeks after, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there have to be more pages to be done!’ I was lost in the world of deadline,” he says.
While he was doing the final volume, O’Malley, 31, was also spending a lot of time working on the Toronto set of Scott Pilgrim the movie, directed by Wright. Seeing a lot more of the city than he had in about six years added to his own writing and drawing, in addition to having plot and design elements from the film worming his way into the graphic novel.
“In some ways, it’s a second draft on the books,” O’Malley says. “It’s like this comic book that is inspired by the making of the movie of the comic book.”
Now having seen the final cut, he finds it to be a “really weird movie,” he says. But in a good way. “I feel weird about having written some of this stuff. When I’m writing my own books, I don’t really experience them the same way other people do. Seeing it fed back to me in movie form is eye-opening. Like, wow, I’m weird!”
Unlike some other comics creators, there was a never a time when Hollywood came calling where O’Malley was going to say no. “When they first came to me, I was 25 and I had no money and I had just gotten married and I was like, ‘Yes! Please! Turn this into the worst movie in the world, I don’t care. I’d just love the paycheck,’ ” he admits. I never anticipated it would be so faithful and so indebted to the books, and that we would share the aesthetic and make this project together.
“The books and the movie and even the video game are intertwined at this point. We’re all friends now, and I never expected that. I expected some Hollywood jerk to take the idea and turn it into a really bad, offensive comedy about some guy getting into fistfights with ex-boyfriends. It turned into so much more, and I think that’s amazing.”
O’Malley always envisioned doing a series of six graphic novels ó Oni thought it would be a good idea “to raise my profile a bit,” he says ó and while he knew he was committing a good five to six years of his life, he never thought it would reach the level it is now, where a tight-knit but ever-expanding group of fans think it’s bigger than Batman. “It’s bigger than Batman to me, too,” he quips.
The appeal differs from age group to age group, according to O’Malley. At least for his people in his demo and younger, they tend to see the video-game references first, be it to old Nintendo games or Sonic the Hedgehog.
“They get it, they’re inside the club,” he says. “But hopefully there’s more to it. There’s the relationships and stuff, and they identify with one character or another and the situations. That’s my hope, anyway, that they get drawn in by the surface elements and they stick because of the relationship elements.”
And because there were 18 months to two years between volumes, instead of being a monthly comic, the Hollywood-like build-up helped build the fan base and kept the hardcores thirsty for the next. “I don’t think we’d be having a midnight release if it was like Scott Pilgrim issue 38, instead of volume 6,” says O’Malley, who took inspiration from other writer/artists such as Jeff Smith of Bone fame.
“I feel like that’s how comics should be done,” O’Malley reasons. “I’m doing original graphic novels, 200 pages at a time ó not 32 or whatever. I don’t know how much that’s going to spread. I don’t even know how much I’d want it to. It’s a nightmare to do this kind of work. It takes too long and so much out of you.”
With now a movie on his resume, O’Malley wants to expand the comics audience in America more, fitting other projects in when he can. Even though he’s one of the hottest creators around, ironically the likes of Marvel and DC aren’t knocking on his doors as they once did.
“In the middle of Scott Pilgrim, I had a few people coming to me to do weird stuff. It would basically be rogue editors who really liked Scott Pilgrim when it was not a big deal. Now that it is a big deal, there’s been one editor asking me questions, but nothing major. Maybe it’s because I’m a jerk and I’m constantly ragging on the comics industry,” says O’Malley, who grew up on X-Men and Transformers.
“I don’t really have much interest in doing that, especially now that I’ve had success on my own. I feel like I can do anything, and the first thing on my list is not writing X-Men. I love X-Men and I would do X-Men if certain things were right, but I’m not really into what they’re doing lately.”
He’d rather focus on the ideas that comprise “the whole folder of junk that crossed my mind at some point” over the last six years.
“At first, while I was working on this book, I was like, ‘I am so ready to start the next thing. I’m just going to immediately start it. It’ll come out in September!’ But now that I’m here, I am going to take it easy and hibernate,” O’Malley says. “I don’t think anybody wants another book from me a month after Scott Pilgrim’s done!”
It’s ‘Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour’ and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s, too