Welcome, everyone, to the Scott Pilgrim Book Club. For those who missed our earlier announcement, we’re revving up for Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (due out July 20) and the Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World movie (due out August 13) by discussing each volume of the series over the course of six weeks. This week, Techland’s Douglas Wolk, Graeme McMillan, Mike Williams, Evan Narcisse and Time.com’s Christine Lim are talking about volume 1, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, and we’d like you to join in–please comment below!
DOUGLAS: Looking at volume 1 almost six years after it appeared, it’s pretty fascinating to see how much O’Malley’s work has changed, and to notice the ways in which it hasn’t. From the very first page, it’s a huge leap over his previous book, Lost at Sea, but he’s still figuring out what he’s doing–the look of his characters is a little bit inconsistent even over the first few dozen pages. (Even the bit at the end of the book with the “studio audience” going “ooooh!” seems like more of a gag that would have appeared in Hopeless Savages when O’Malley was working on it.) At first, it just looks like he’s playing with manga tropes in the context of a Canadian relationship comedy. Actually, “relationship comedy” is one way to put it, but–without having seen volume 6 yet–I’m starting to suspect that Scott Pilgrim is actually what Stanley Cavell would call a “comedy of remarriage.”
GRAEME: I came to Scott Pilgrim late – I think it was between the second and third books, but it may have been the third and fourth? – and so read the first two together, and it always surprises me when I re-read the first how unfinished the art seems, and how “unlike” the characters everyone looks. There’s a confidence in line that comes later that is missing this early, and as a result, it feels at times like someone else trying to do Bryan Lee O’Malley, if that makes sense. Visually, it all begins to fall into place as the book goes on, which is interesting; it’s as if Bryan suddenly realized at some point “Oh, THIS is what it’s meant to look like.” But still: Compare the way that Scott looks at the end of the book and the beginning – there’s a definite shift.
DOUGLAS: I think just about everybody came to Scott Pilgrim late (aside from Matthew Perpetua, who’s perpetually ahead of the curve). As Christopher Butcher (the real-life Wallace Wells!) has pointed out, the first volume wouldn’t have made Diamond’s current cutoff mark for distribution based on its original orders. I didn’t discover it until sometime after volume two came out, when enough people said “no really dude I seriously think you’d like this” that I finally sat down and read it. And they were right, of course.
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I’m not sure at exactly what point O’Malley realized that grafting the tropes of old video games into a relationship-comedy comic book would be unbelievably hilarious and effective, but that’s the point when Precious Little Life really takes off, I think. “This really convenient subspace highway happens to go through your head” reads like a joke explanation for an earlier scene that was too good to let go of; maybe O’Malley planned the whole thing earlier, but that particular moment feels like a breakthrough one way or another. Certainly, the first couple of chapters don’t look like they’re the beginning of a book that’s going to end with the big Matthew Patel fight scene/dance number and the “Sweet! Coins!” moment.
The characters and dialogue, on the other hand, are there from the get-go: Kim Pine–that has to be her speaking the first line of the book, right?–Knives, and especially Wallace, who’s one of the great supporting characters in comics. (My first crack-up on this rereading was nine pages in: “You’re totally my bitch forever, Scott.”) Ramona’s a little bit of an idealized dream girl, but that’s also her job at this stage of the plot: to be somebody that Scott’s so in love with the idea of that he doesn’t pay enough attention to the actual person.
Other people have annotated the game references at length (any favorites, gamers?), but it’s probably worth calling attention to a couple of music references, besides the Stephen Stills/Young Neil gag:
Scott Pilgrim himself is named after a song by Plumtree–he can be seen wearing a Plumtree shirt (with their album Mass Teen Fainting namechecked on the back) both in this book and in the movie trailer (and the song’s going to be on the movie soundtrack).
Sex Bob-Omb: Thanks to my post-2600 game illiteracy, I totally didn’t get that this was a videogame joke. For years. The part of the joke I got was the reference to Flipper’s American punk classic “Sex Bomb”–one riff, over and over forever, with exactly as many words as there are in the chorus of “Scott Pilgrim”-the-song.
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MIKE: Well, of course, there is the Shoryken uppercut to the air juggle. Scott could do Street Fighter schtick till volume 30 and I would still eat it up. Then there’s allusions to Super Mario warp pipes and Metroid rolling ball attacks. And let’s not forget DrumMania. These are all well and good but some of the in-jokes in the later volumes crack me up, specifically the RPG ones. We’ll get to those when the time comes.
CHRISTINE: All of my knowledge of video games comes from the era of NES, Super Nintendo, chunky Gameboy and Sega Genesis–no later. I play NES and Gameboy “Color” (not DS) to this day, so I enjoyed the many video game references and gave myself a nerdy pat on the back for understanding them.