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Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Finest Hour

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Right now, students, layabouts and a whole host of teen slackers are divided into two camps:  those who have read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, and those who are in the process of reading it, wondering why it took them so long to discover its existence.  If, for some unknown reason, you don’t happen to fall neatly into these two categories, then allow I Review Too to fill you in on what you’re missing out on.

Scott Pilgrim is 22,  jobless, a bassist for garage band Sex Bob-omb and he’s dating a teenager, Knives Chau – for Scott Pilgrim things couldn’t be more awesome.  That is until he falls head over heels for the mysterious Ramona Flowers.  They meet, fall in love and live happily ever after, well…not exactly, that would be pretty boring right?  Scott soon discovers that in order to win Ramona’s heart he must first fight and defeat her seven evil ex’s, all of whom are eager to introduce Scott to their fists.  Including super powered vegans and skateboarding meat-heads, the ghosts of Ramona’s past roll in one by one whilst Scott tries desperately to escape Knives (his teen stalker) and avoid Envy, the ex-girlfriend who kicked his heart in the nuts.  Yep, things are about to get real complicated for Scott Pilgrim.

Divided into six instalments, with the climactic finale Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour briefly hitting UK shelves on July 22 before being snapped up by hungry fans, Canadian author Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series has quickly become the talk of the comic book store. In the five previously released Scott Pilgrim books, O’Malley has managed to bottle the experiences of the everyday dude and the modern romances he encounters, which, as Scott discovers, aren’t always by the book.  Packed with plenty of nods to classic video games, some balls-to-the-wall fight sequences, a whole lot of humour and a whole lot of heart, it’s no wonder Scott Pilgrim has become such a success with geeks and fan boys alike.  It wasn’t long before movie studios came a’ knocking, creating more buzz around this already buzz heavy series.  With Edgar Wright, director of cult-fave’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz behind the wheel, Scott Pilrgim Vs The World will hit UK cinemas on August 27 with Superbad star Michael Cera playing Scott and Grindhouse actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the dark horse Ramona.  Early footage and test screenings suggest that the adaptation is the perfect marriage of text and filmmaker, blowing O’Malley’s artwork off the page and onto the screen.  With one book left to read and one penultimate evil ex left to defeat, now more than ever loyal fans are eager for answers.  I Review Too was lucky enough to chat to Bryan Lee O’Malley during some downtime between cranking out Scott Pilrgrim’s Finest Hour, time that has become increasingly rare for the 31 year old cartoonist as Pilgrim fans become more rabid and the movie release looms.

“It’s been very hectic! I’ve had a lot on my plate,” explains O’Malley, “I’d say it has been the busiest time of my life.”  It’s an experience that must not have been made any easier with the imminent release of the movie, which began shooting while O’Malley started to put together Finest Hour. “It actually ended up contributing to the writing process.  I spent more time in Toronto during the filming than I had in a few years and sort of rekindled my feeling for the city,” explains O’Malley on the pressure of writing the final graphic novel alongside aiding Wrights movie, “It helped me to figure out where the book was going.” Toronto is of course the hometown of both O’Malley and Scott, a major influence on the books, from Honest Ed’s Discount Store to Sneeky Dee’s Tex-Mex bar; many aspects of the city make an appearance in the series.  And it’s not only the city of Toronto that finds its way into Scott Pilgrim’s universe, “Scott has some of my worst qualities,” describes O’Malley, “he’s lazy and immature, and so am I.  It’s fun and easy to write a character who’s stupid and lazy.”   Music also plays a huge role in defining the mood of each instalment, so much so, that O’Malley often lists which artists he’s been listening to whilst creating each book; this time around can we expect a European twinge? “I’ve been listening to a lot of Swedish pop, The Cardigans, JJ, The Tough Alliance, Lykke Li, and coincidently reading Swedish novels by Stieg Larsson,” says O’Malley.  But perhaps the biggest influence on the series are the frequent references made to video games and game culture.  As someone who grew up during the video game boom of the late eighties and early nineties, O’Malley makes no secret of his love for retro classics. However, he claims that all the nods and winks in Scott Pilgrim come naturally; “You know, for the most part they just creep in,” he explains, “a lot of them crop up in the drawing phase or even as I’m lettering” adding that “only the biggest gaming references are premeditated, like the multi-page homage to Ninja Gaiden in volume 4” (below).  This all of course leads to the ultimate question, growing up during the golden age of video games, was O’Malley a Sega or SNES man? “Well, I had both systems,” he admits, “but I suppose I was more of a Sega guy – very into the Sonic the Hedgehog games.  I believe the only SNES game I actually owned was the great Super Metroid.”

As our time with O’Malley comes to a close, conversation turns to the topic of endings.  Scott Pilgrim’s adventures may be coming to a close, but that’s okay, O’Malley isn’t the sentimental type, as I Review Too discovers when we ask if he has a favourite book or standout scene “no, I despise them all equally. I find them to be incomprehensible gibberish for sub-literates,” he jokingly replies.  What O’Malley is fond of however, is the endless stream of fan art the series has encouraged, “I love it!” he enthuses “I have a Google alert for fan art and I love seeing it. It makes my day.”  O’Malley’s coming to the end of a hectic year where everything has been put on hold until Scott Pilrgim’s Finest Hour is released into the world.  If it feels a little strange saying goodbye to a character who has formed such a large part of your career, he wouldn’t know it “ I haven’t had time to think about it” explains the work weary author.  Surely the question on everyone’s lips is what next?   Is the heat now on to top the success of Scott?  “Is it? I don’t know,” muses O’Malley, “I think the pressure for me was to make each volume better than the last, and especially with the final volume, to make it as exciting as the idea of a Hollywood blockbuster film.  I feel like I can do whatever I want next,” he concludes, “the pressure is off, at least for a bit.”  So the sure to be climactic final book may be the last time we see Scott Pilgrim’s precious little life grace our comic book pages,  but does Finest Hour wrap up all the loose ends? “I can’t promise either way,” responds O’Malley mysteriously, “I’m sure I’ll sell out eventually and come pandering back to Scott.”  While he can’t confirm or deny that we will see Scott Pilgrim resurface in the distant future, he does have some exciting news for British fans of the series, hinting that a surprise visit to the UK may be on the cards; “I’m hoping to this year! I haven’t been to the UK since 2006.”  Keep an eye on the blog site for London based comic book store Gosh! for more information.

One thing is for sure though, fans will be reunited with Scott Pilgrim on the big screen come August 24.  And all those die hard fanatics who fear that the upcoming movie may lose some of it’s charm on its journey from the page to the screen can breathe easy knowing that Edgar Wright stays true to the graphic novels.  “I was quite involved in the script stage. The production relied heavily on my books moreso than my actual brain because my brain was busy with the sixth book.  But walking around the offices and sets, my art was everywhere and well used copies of the books were piled up on every surface,” reassures O’Malley.  Having seen the final product, does he feel fans of the series will be satisfied? “I certainly hope so; it’s easily the best film I’ve ever seen.  It’s far better than all other films, perhaps all other films combined,”  claims a confident O’Malley.  A review like that can’t be wrong, right?   Looks like it’s not game over for Scott Pilgrim just yet.

Buy Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour here.

Special thanks to Oni Press.

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