I know what you’re thinking: I bet he only read those books because of the movie. And you’d be correct. I shamelessly am reading these books because of the movie.
I loved that movie. It was an awesome type of weird that Hollywood doesn’t usually make. Critics loved it, people who saw it loved it, and it didn’t do jack at the box office.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
No. Instead, we get Transformers 12 and Fast and the Furious 48.
But it is a bad habit of mine to read a book after watching the movie (and in some cases, I’ll read the book after the movie comes out but before I actually watch the movie). I use it as a barometer that the book must at least be halfway decent if it got a movie, so I’ll at least look into them.
Now these books are a little different for me. I’ve never read graphic novels before.
The logical starting point would have been comic books, but I never read them as a kid (I only remember owning one Spiderman comic as a kid). They never appealed to me. I liked to read. I also liked watching superhero cartoons and movies, but I could never get myself to read comics. I don’t know why. Something just didn’t mesh.
As graphic novels gained prominence for telling great stories, I started looking into it more and more, especially for things I already liked, like Dragonball.
And then a couple of weeks ago, I finally took the plunge. I bought the starts of two series: Scott Pilgrim and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. And both were bought because I knew of offshoots that were relevant. I’d seen the Scott Pilgrim movie and loved its weirdness. I’d read one of Gaiman’s books and was about to start another (ended up loving it too), and I’ve repeatedly head of The Sandman series referred to as Gaiman’s seminal work.
In other words, if I was going into a new world of literature, I was starting off with the good stuff. I was picking randomly off the shelf.
That gets us to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. There are six books in the series, and I’m through the first two. They’re quick enough to read, but I honestly wanted to be able to critique each book individually (except now because I’d finished the second book before I’d started this blog).
Cliff notes version: The story follows our (sort of) hero) Scott Pilgrim who begins dating a girl. To date her, though, he has to defeat her evil exes. Scott is also a bassist in a band and is dealing with his own exes.
I don’t have a good comparison. I don’t read graphic novels, but I know it takes some from manga styles, but is very much a product of Western culture, albeit Canadian instead of the ever-present American version (I learned that Amazon in Canada is amazon.ca, not amazon.com; I should have realized that would happen, but I’m an obnoxious American, so I just assume everyone does what we do and likes it.). I do watch some anime, so you see the Japanese influences at least somewhat in the books.
So far, so good.
Book 1 was Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. It introduces us into this Canadian universe and our slacker hero as he navigates doing nothing with being a bass player in a band, along with making some morally questionable decisions. Book 2 is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. This is when we start getting more back story and start digging more deeply into the plot.
As I mentioned, I’ve seen the movie already. Reading the books makes me appreciate the movies even more, when the opposite is usually the case.
The movie was wonderfully weird. On its own, it’s fantastic. But as you read the book, you realize how many elements that were weird were being pulled straight from the books and in a way that isn’t truly cheesy (maybe ironically cheesy, but still cool). Think of the Adam West Batman series where they keep those comic elements. It just doesn’t work. It’s pure camp. In these books, the camp is the joke. While Scott is eating, the sound effect is “Chew. Chew.” It’s stupid, and it works.
This sense of humor is what made me like the movie, and it’s what made me like the books (so far; it could always take a turn for the worse).
And the sense of humor shows up in other ways. You learn the chords to one of Scott’s band’s songs. You get a cooking lesson from a character in the middle of a scene. You get these little elements sprinkled in visually that you can’t quite have in a regular novel (or even a movie when the frames keep rolling automatically).
Now that it is an adjustment that I’ve had to make reading these books. I’m used to words or pictures, not both. My go-to is to read the words and ignore the pictures, which ruins the books. I’ve had to force myself to slow down to get used to the pace of the books, as well as being able to fully appreciate the visuals of every frame and the little jokes that hide everywhere in the books.
I don’t have a good way of delineating between the books and how good they are beyond their parts in moving the plot forward. I’d say like most series, the first book is more straightforward, while the second has to deal with the task of making the characters and their world more real, more vibrant.
In general, I tend to like second books the least. It’s probably because the author is forced to take something they didn’t know would necessarily get published as a series until the first book was successful and turn it into a viable world to make a series work. They always seem to force a larger plot that the first book didn’t hint at.
Now in this case, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World didn’t seem to fit that mold. The first book was never going to be a one-off effort. You can’t walk away from it with any sense of satisfaction like you can with many series’ first books. This meant the book that followed didn’t have to build on what its predecessor didn’t.
You can’t take these books too seriously. That’s not to say there aren’t things to pick up that have a base in the real world, but there are so many absurdist elements that you need to go in expecting fun to be able to enjoy the books.
Scott Pilgrim isn’t a traditional hero. If you told the story from someone else’s viewpoint, he’s easily the bad guy (or at least a douchey side character). But that’s what makes it fun. Your hero isn’t always a good guy, and the other characters know it (and point it out).
The books also do a good job of taking elements from video games and comics to use a meta (God, I feel pretentious saying meta) approach to telling the story.
While the books look child-friendly, they’re not. Teens 13 and up would easily be able to handle the material, but an 8-year-old wouldn’t know what was going on and would probably start robbing liquor stores if they were given this book.
As for everyone else, if you like absurd elements, this could be good for you (especially if you just want a starter kit for getting into graphic novels). You should be able to laugh, and also get a realistic story (about a bass player who begins fighting evil exes to the death).