Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness

Continuing a look back at my favorites from last year we come to Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness. I was a latecomer to Scott Pilgrim and something of a reluctant one at that. I'd heard wonderful things and I liked what little I'd seen, but I made three separate attempts to read the first volume, each time finding myself pulled out of the story despite my ability to easily identify with Scott himself. The problem, quite simply, was my own inability to accept the story on its own, occasionally goofy terms.

I went in with high expectations and was disappointed by what I initially interpreted to be a lack of depth to the story. What I failed to realize was the layered way in which Brian Lee O'Malley was going about telling his story, starting off with seemingly innocuous characters living a rather banal (if, again, familiar) existence. It was all a bit too much like reading about people I know, until suddenly Scott would be a Mario-like character in a video game. I just couldn't quite accept the looniness of the presentation coupled with the fairly straightforward story, as it felt too much like a failed attempt at magical realism.

On my third attempt, however, I decided that I was going to just plow through the book so that I could at least talk about it with friends and customers. And as I got deeper into the story, I began to realize that all of the seemingly random detritus were actually an example of how this story has been filtered through Scott's perspective and experience. I could just let it all wash over me and enjoy the ride (which got quite fun and fairly complex once Ramona arrived on the scene) or I could read two levels at the same time and either way the book would be an enjoyable experience. And since then, I've read (and enjoyed) each volume twice, once to just flat out enjoy the ride and a second time to read a narrative told by Scott Pilgrim in which everyday events like an awkward meeting between a new girlfriend and an ex-girlfriend gets magnified from his perspective into a massive kung-fu battle. The lack of an objective narrator adds a surprising level of depth, even for those scenes in which Scott does not appear (especially if those are also read as being told by Scott).

Ridiculously unnecessary analyses aside, this is a flat out fun series and 2007 saw the release of its third volume. It features the arrival of Envy, a character who is yet another example of O'Malley's ability to translate commonplace experiences (in this case reinventing oneself while at school) into an over the top metaphor that still functions as a believable character (once the exaggerated premise is accepted). On top of that, the history and baggage that everyone from Scott to girlfriend Ramona to roommate Wallace to band-mate Stephen Stills to heart breaker Envy bring to the table makes for some surprisingly complex character interactions and are great material for the flashbacks that O'Malley has begun using to great effect.

As deeply satisfying as the story is, though, the biggest draw is the laugh out loud humor. While there's a bit less of it this time than in previous volumes, there were still several moments (particularly involving a character's vegan status and a hilarious and therefore forgivable deus ex machina) that had me laughing more than any other comic this year.

The art is definitely rooted in the manga tradition, but O'Malley brings his own unique sensibilities to the table, especially in terms of page layout and backgrounds (often photo referenced from the story's setting, Toronto). The juxtapositions of detailed background with cartoony character designs only further reinforces the tension that makes this series successful on so many levels.


Blogger WAM said...

Great picks Sam.
Both are on my favs list for 2006 also.
I'd have to add

Pyongyang; A Journey in North Korea
by Guy Delisle and

American Born Chinese
by Gene Yang

11:28 AM  

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