Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #14: The Scott Pilgrim series, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
I bought my husband Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Boxset (all 6 SP books) for his birthday, and at some point, I decided to just sit down and read them myself. Since they take about 30 minutes apiece, I don’t really feel appropriate counting them all separately (although boy, would that help my cause!) , plus given their episodic nature it’ll just be easier to review them as a whole, so that’s what I’m going to do.
First let me say that I’m not at all a comic book/graphic novel kind of girl. I didn’t really grow up with them (aside from the odd Archie comic here and there) and they’ve just never held that much interest, even as they’ve become much more of a literary genre over time. In reading the Scott Pilgrim series, I have realized that the main reason for this is that they’re just too busy for me, and make me a little ADHD. Attempting to look at both words and pictures and connect the two at the same time is apparently too much for my brain. Does anyone else have that problem?
Anyway, Scott Pilgrim! Scott is an underachieving 24 year old who has no ambitions in life and seems perfectly content to sit around in a studio apartment and freeload off of his gay roommate, Wallace. He lives in Toronto, plays bass in an apparently really crappy band (called Sex Bob-Omb) and has recently started “dating” a 17-year-old named Knives Chau. All of this starts to change when he bumps into a girl he’s only previously seen in his dreams. Her name is Ramona Flowers, and she’s mysterious! And American! Scott is immediately smitten, but if he wants to woo her, in addition to breaking things off with Knives, he will have to fight all of Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes, who have apparently formed some kind of coalition for the purpose of destroying anyone who attempts to date her. Along the way, in addition to his video game-style fights with a motley crew of characters led by evil mastermind Gideon Graves, Scott will have to come to terms with himself, make peace with his past loves, and maybe do a little growing up as well.
These books have a lot going for them. They’re obviously a love song to the city of Toronto, to video games, and to comic books themselves. Additionally, they’re a funny and original take on the standard tropes of coming-of-age, and of love and relationships. In fighting the Seven Evil Exes, Scott and Ramona both have to work through their issues with past relationships in order to arrive at a place where they can make an adult attempt at maintaining the one they are in together. In realizing his feelings for Ramona, Scott has to come to some kind of determination about his own self-worth. He’s a pretty selfish and clueless character, to be honest, and as he moves along, he develops at least a little more depth and understanding, although I have to say that I didn’t find him to be a great deal more redeemable at the end than at the beginning. The secondary characters are generally more enjoyable than our hero; Knives is a fun caricature of a teenaged girl, Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer (and one of Scott’s exes) Kim Pine is biting and sarcastic, and serves, in some ways, as Scott’s conscience. Scott’s roommate, Wallace, is the voice of reason, or at least of practicality. Ramona herself is somehow sympathetic, although I feel as though we get a little too much of her through Scott’s eyes, making her less of a fully-realized character and more an object to be attained.
Mainly, I think it’s the format that I had difficulty enjoying. Again, associating a brief piece of text with the images around it was somehow hard for me, and I often felt lost trying to keep things connected. Additionally, maybe I’m just not a visual person, but all of O’Malley’s female characters looked nearly identical to me, and I was never quite sure who was talking. In a larger frame it was ok; Knives has black hair, Kim has freckles, Ramona has a distinctive hairstyle, but in any kind of close-up image, they all just look like the same big pair of eyes. I had trouble with some of the male characters, too. I spend a lot of time reading picture books to my daughter, and I don’t have any issues there, so it’s something about the busy formatting here that bugs me. I do feelingly apologize to any and all comic/graphic novel/anime enthusiasts, and I gave it my very best try, but mostly reading these just gave me a headache. I could definitely appreciate the finer points of the series as a whole, although I would have wished for a most sympathetic main character, and I can totally see why these are so popular. But I think I’ll stick with my overly wordy Victorian novels for the time being, if nobody minds.