In a medium defined by its hyper-nichification, Bryan Lee O’Malley is one of the few graphic novelists to have truly found a place in the mainstream. Born in London, Ontario, but raised on Japanese manga and indie rock, the L.A. based O’Malley defined a generation with his Scott Pilgrim series—the story of a twenty-something musician from Toronto who falls in love with American delivery girl but must defeat her seven evil exes in order to date her. The series spawned a videogame, movie and single handedly made wearing colorful wigs “a thing.”
Now, four years removed from the finale of Scott Pilgrim, O’Malley is back with Seconds a complex and novelistic stand-alone story about a young restaurant owner named Katie who, after being visited by a magical apparition, is given a second chance at love and to undo her wrongs.
During a recent trip to his old stomping grounds in Toronto we caught up with the beloved author to talk about the importance of fashion in comics, rewriting the past, and of course, all things Seconds.
While the backdrop of Scott Pilgrim is the Toronto indie rock scene (a place you know well as a former musician), much of Seconds takes place in a restaurant. Where did the story come from? What’s your relationship to food and restaurant culture?
They’re directly tied. The friend who I was in bands with ten years ago was a chef at a restaurant in Toronto called Kalendar and after the first Scott Pilgrim book came out, it was not really selling and I hadn’t made any money from it, he got me a job at the restaurant so I worked there for a about six months and just sort of lived in that world and observed that world and I always wanted to do a book about it. That friend went on to start his own restaurant called “Me & Mine” in Toronto and he helped me out by making sure everything makes sense.
The new book grapples with the question of regret and the desire to rewrite one’s past. If you had a time travelling mushroom like your heroine Katie, would you go back and change things? Or, as the book seems to be suggesting, are people bound to make the decision they do because of their immutable nature?
I don’t think I would change anything. I feel like every mistake you make creates your path and is necessary. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I believe in predestination but I almost do. Things just seem to happen. That’s kind of the message of the story: if you had a magical ‘out,’ you probably wouldn’t want to use it.
Fashion plays an important role in many of your works. How do you use fashion to enhance the stories you tell or individualize your characters?
Fashion is a good way of expressing character when you’re working in a visual medium like this. And that’s one of the things that has always appealed to me about comics—being able to portray characters over a length of time and in different settings and getting at different aspects of a character, even just visually, through what they’re wearing, or what they’re doing with their hair that day. So, it’s been something that I’ve been increasingly aware of and feel is increasingly important to my work.
How do you feel you’ve changed or progressed as both an artist and a storyteller since the Scott Pilgrim days? Seconds seems like a more complex project on several levels.
I definitely set out to make something more layered and complex, but at the same time something that had a simple framework. I think it’s a classic fable. And in terms of storytelling and drawing, they’re all one in the same to me. This is the first book that I started writing and drawing it at the same time pretty much. I wrote myself a very detailed outline and then I started just making up the dialogue and the movements and the action all at the same time just composing comic pages. It was a fruitful process for me.
Finally, as a graphic novelist, what are you feelings on digital reading? Do you think fans of graphic works are ready to embrace the digital format?
I hope so. I really like reading comics, feel like I read more comics on a digital platform than before, so I think it’s a great vehicle, especially for serialized comic books and I think we’re at the technological point where they look great, they look at least as good as paper and sometimes better. A few years ago I would not have said that. When the last Scott Pilgrim book came out I was like no way [to digital reading]. But since then screens have like quadrupled in resolution so it’s a good time.