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Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life Vol. 1
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
Published by Oni Press; $11.95 USD
Preview available here

Bryan O'Malley strides an appealing line between manga and artcomix styles in this first volume showcasing the life and times of Scott Pilgrim, a young Canadian in his 20s who begins dating a 17-year old high school girl. Life gets complicated for Scott when he also becomes infatuated with an Amazon.ca delivery girl closer to his own age, but skeptical of his intentions and unaware of Scott's other love interest.

Oni's James Lucas Jones was quoted in a Newsarama interview with O'Malley as calling the book a "rock-n-roll-romantic-comedy-fight comic," and that is all technically true; but, since I would flee from a book described like that like I would flee lava from a bursting volcano, it bears examining why I find Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life so wonderful.

The art immediately suggests itself as a key component of the book's great appeal; readers of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's Demo who enjoy Cloonan's stark design and humanizing, emotive linework will immediately take to O'Malley's technique here, which gives his characters depth and personality even while utilizing manga conventions such as wide eyes or bursts of energetic chaos to suggest the power of rock and roll. The opening page's spare rendering of snowy rooftops, bare trees and falling snowflakes are accompanied by a single, expertly-placed word balloon that prepares the reader for the story ahead: "Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler!" We don't know yet who Scott is or anything about any of the story's characters or situations, but man, that page is a grabber. It transitions into a natural and energetic exchange around a kitchen table as Scott gets busted on by his friends for his nascent relationship with the interestingly-named Knives Chau, a 17-year old of Asian descent that Pilgrim met-cute on the bus.

During the bus scene, O'Malley introduces a narrative device wherein the character and his situation are summed up in a small text box: "Scott Pilgrim. 23 Years Old. Rating: Awesome." O'Malley uses this a number of times for both informational and comedic purposes, and it serves the cinematic purpose of freeze-framing the narrative (as a freeze-frame in a movie or tv show might) and both giving us new information and time to reflect on what we know so far. In just a handful of pages O'Malley has masterfully set the stage for the entire novel, delivering an appealing batch of people for us to (want to) get to know. This is one of the best opening chapters in a graphic novel I've read in quite some time; O'Malley's sense of confidence in his own story is not only surprising but entirely earned by the tale that follows.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is, among other things, a story about the dumb things guys do in their 20s, and the complicated minefield that is the relationship tapestry of any group of people, but especially, again, those in their hormone-soaked early adult years. Scott's saga is reflected in an almost Greek Chorus manner by Scott's roommate Wallace, who was based in part on Previews Review's Christopher Butcher, a former roommate of O'Malley's. If you think this makes the story one big in-joke, well, maybe it is for them, but O'Malley's writing is so human and natural that we're all in on the gag too. The palpable sense of established, comfortable relationships is intoxicating -- you're not reading about a bunch of made-up characters, you're being given access to a genuine circle of friends and coming to feel the same affection for them that they must feel for each other.

There's a depth to Scott Pilgrim that surprises given the witty banter and relaxed, eye-pleasing style of cartooning. Scott's relationship with Knives could easily have been mere fodder to mock his lack of confidence or inability to attract women, and certainly his friends make wisecracks to that effect -- but when we see them meet, and more importantly see them begin to get to know each other, there is a sweetness and caution in their growing closeness that suggests a greater narrative purpose than just jokes. O'Malley clearly respects all his characters here, and despite the obvious problems that a relationship between Scott and Knives could (and very well may) lead to, I found myself charmed by her and hoping he'd treat her right.

And then there's that damned Ramona Flowers, also a sweet, interesting and compelling character. Her insertion into the proceedings at first irked me, but only through verisimilitude, not critical observation. By the time she showed up and knocked Scott's life off-kilter, I was already fully invested in his relationship with Knives. "Scott!" I found myself thinking. "What the hell are you doing?!?" O'Malley brilliantly moves the pieces around on the chess board of his story with grace and perfect timing. I was fully prepared to hate Ramona, but of course she is charming and funny and beautiful and damn it, what the hell is Scott doing?!?

There's lots more I could tell you about -- rock and roll battles and nervous first dates and disturbing dreams and -- did I mention that Wallace is really goddamned funny?

In the end, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is charming, funny, sexy and packed with creative power and the love of storytelling. It's a great start to what I hope is a long-running series of graphic novels about people you'll be delighted to get to know as you share their victories and defeats, their romances and mistakes. Better still, the storytelling is so clear and open that it just invites new readers to explore this strange, undiscovered country of comics. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is one of the most dynamic and engaging stories I've read all year, perfect for a mid-summer read, and dense and joyous enough to invite future re-readings. I can't wait for more. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane


The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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