This week: What being a movie actually brings to Scott Pilgrim, a look at some Bryan Lee O’Malley originals and a super-sized What I Read.
BOY, HE’S SURE BEEN WRITING ABOUT THE SCOTT PILGRIM MOVIE A LOT FOR SOMEONE WHO CLAIMS NOT TO BE ALL THAT ENTHUSIASTIC
I’VE WRITTEN BEFORE about my reservations regarding the film version of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. I got a chance to see it at a screening here in Portland last month and, while some of that trepidation turned out to well founded, I was pleased to see much of it prove baseless. Overall, I came away feeling the movie was flawed, but a lot of fun, and even if it doesn’t quite capture the charm of the original, it comes close enough to consider the movie a success. But the greater realization came from the very appreciative audience I saw it with.
The Scott Pilgrim series works wonderfully as comics, taking advantage of the form in countless ways and drawing much of its comedy from manipulation of comics’ rules. In that respect there’s very little for a movie to add, but the best thing it can offer by far is the audience experience. Scott Pilgrim has always been a crowd-pleaser without a crowd, since reading is a solitary experience, not generally given to group cheering (as Warren Ellis memorably put it, when we open a comic we “come in alone”). And so the theater I saw the movie in was filled with people who loved the books or, like the friend I brought, had never read them but was looking forward to a loud, rowdy time, shared with a crowd.
I’m still never going to be convinced that most books or comics need to be made into movies, that they are any more interesting as movies or for having been made into movies, but watching Scott Pilgrim did remind me that there is an impulse when we love something to share it, and movies are perfectly suited to sharing an experience.
As for the movie itself, I had a good time. It works best when it takes advantage of the film form like the original did with comics, with clever editing carrying conversations across scenes and getting laughs from changes to characters’ appearances between cuts. It doesn’t work quite as well when it wears its comics influence too obviously on its sleeve, and I quickly got tired of tricks like ringing phones shooting out visual RRIIIINNNNGG sound effects. As Scott, Michael Cera surprised, turning in a better performance than I’ve seen from him before. He didn’t stretch quite far enough, but at times he was almost convincing as a cocky dim bulb. The supporting actors were excellent, and Ellen Wong as Knives in particular made as much as possible of her role, despite the script simplifying her arc considerably. In general, the changes made for concision work, even solving the problem I had with the comics of too many similar peripheral characters, and many of the original lines are as funny as anything in the comic.
Where Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is less successful is in the thematically confused climax, which like the comic feints away from the actual conclusion, but in a way that doesn’t feel like it resolves properly, leaving a few characters and subplots hanging and presenting a final confrontation that is anti-climactic. The need to move the story along makes the last third of the film an unbroken series of fights, and the lack of any breaks becomes somewhat tiresome. I found myself wishing as well that more was made of the setting. While the comics are full of real locations and give a sense of Toronto, the movie takes place largely in apartments, clubs and on nondescript snowy streets. Since the unusual setting was part of the comics’ charm, it’s disappointing to see it largely absent from the film.
Most irritatingly, in classic Hollywood fashion, much of the subtext of the story turns into dialogue, Ramona in particular explaining to Scott, and us, what the story is really about. Not only are viewers likely to get the point even without being told, but one of the pleasures of the series is how well it works on both the surface and subtextual level, so it’s enjoyable whether one delves below the surface or not. It’s also always a little depressing when a movie assumes you aren’t smart enough to grasp its subtext.
Those objections aside, the film is fast-moving, funny and very entertaining, only dragging a bit in the third quarter leading up to the last evil ex. It doesn’t come close to matching the affection I have for the books, but it was a pleasure to experience it in a crowd setting. And the friend I mentioned, who hadn’t read the comics (and isn’t really a comics person at all, actually)? On the way out, he said he planned to buy the books soon, which is about as positive a review as a comics movie can get.
I still think most comics benefit from the intimate author-reader relationship, though, so let’s not go crazy, okay?
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE FLOATING WORLD
Click on any image for a larger size
SPEAKING OF Scott Pilgrim, my local comics shop, Floating World Comics, opened a gallery show of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original art from the series on First Thursday (a monthly, citywide night of art and other exhibits) this week. The show was pretty full when I arrived, and stayed that way for a few hours, tapering off before the store closed at 10PM. There was a lot of movement, with people coming in to see the art and leaving, replaced by new visitors, but it being a Portland event, there were also a lot of comics people sticking around to chat and drink the free PBR and Full Sail Session lager. Vancouver, BC, cartoonists Brandon Graham and Simon Roy were in store for a signing as well, receiving less attention than the exhibit, but each with a steady trickle of fans showing up to chat and receive a sketch.
I knew it was a fantasy, but in the back of my mind I hoped this might be the last moment in which Scott Pilgrim art would be selling at a price I could afford it. Alas, the originals on display were $1,000 apiece, which I could technically pay if it wasn’t important to me to eat, at all, for the next few months.
Still, it was a pleasure to look at the artwork up close, and fascinating to see how the work broke down between the work O’Malley did on the boards and what was done digitally or by assistants. Since each original was accompanied by a copy of the published page, all the space left for toning, unfinished backgrounds and spotting of blacks was evident, like in this page:
On this page, it appears that an entire panel has been left for an assistant to ink:
Here some of the second panel is uninked, but more interestingly, Kim Pine’s throat is inked black, but in the final version O’Malley has decided to simply black in her whole mouth except for her tongue:
And finally, these two pages made me desperately wish I wasn’t poor:
READ THIS WEEK:
Between a much-needed day off spent napping and reading, and the effort I made to turn my old minicomic storage system (spread out on surfaces all over my apartment) to a new one (in one box)—which led to reading several I hadn’t gotten to before—this was a big comics-reading week.
- Adventure Comics #516 by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza, Jeff Lemire, Mahmud Asrar & John Dell
Brightest Day: The Atom Special by Jeff Lemire, Mahmud Asrar & John Dell
Sweet Tooth #12 by Jeff Lemire
Comics is a funny thing; behind a nifty, paint-by-numbers cover, DC’s most indie-style series, Sweet Tooth, goes for an issue-length homage to issue #10 of Crisis on Infinite Earths, perhaps its most superhero-y series ever. Definitely some unexpected mashups coming from the current generation of young cartoonists’ apparent affection for both mainstream and indie comics (everyone caught the Watchmen reference in Matt Kindt’s 3 Story, right?). Anyway, I’m really enjoying the narrative experiments Lemire has been trying out in Sweet Tooth, with #10 my favorite so far. Meanwhile, in The Atom and Adventure Comics, Lemire makes his, I think, superhero debut. It’s definitely wobblier so far, but I’m happy to give it a chance to pick up based on Lemire’s track record.
- Avengers #3 by Brian Michael Bendis, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Dean White
Liked this more than #2, less than #1. I may just stick with New Avengers, both issues of which I’ve enjoyed so far.
- Blacksad by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido
- Chi’s Sweet Home vol. 1 by Konami Kanata
Not sure yet if there’s enough here to keep me coming back, but I had already preordered vol. 2, so I’ll decide after I read that. Definitely cute, though.
- Chronicles of Wormwood by Garth Ennis & Jacen Burrows
Crossed by Garth Ennis & Jacen Burrows
Thumbs up for Avatar giving Ennis and Burrows these outlets for whatever they want to do.
- Comic Book Comics #1 by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
Opening with the clearest explanation I’ve ever read of just why exactly The Yellow Kid was so revolutionary, this goes on to recount the history of comics in extremely entertaining fashion. It actually reminds me slightly of glamourpuss, but broader in focus and without the frequent breaks for fashion magazine parodies. I’ve actually been borrowing this from a friend for probably over a year (which you totally cannot do on the iPad—the iPad would prevent me from being a jerk who doesn’t give something back for a year. Buy an iPad and Brendan Wright won’t “borrow” your comics and take a year to give them back. Apple, you can have that ad idea for free), so he’ll probably be happy to get it back, while I wonder what took me so long to read something so enjoyable.
- Controller by Robin Enrico
I bought this pretty much just for the packaging. The cover of the comic is a Nintendo cartridge, complete with the illustration and title being on a sticker, and the whole thing comes in a paper sleeve like the sleeves Nintendo games came in. Turns out the story inside isn’t too bad either, a “semi-autobiographical” short that gets into how video games both provided the main character with escapism at a pivotal moment and threatened to ruin his social life through subsequent addiction. You don’t see those two sides both addressed in the same place often.
- Cromartie High School vols. 1 & 2 by Eiji Nonaka
I’ve never seen any manga like this before. I’m still on the fence about it after two volumes; I got a few good laughs out of each one, but it feels like a formula has been pretty quickly established, and if the author’s notes are serious, he doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. It’s funny stuff, the kind of absurdist humor I didn’t know existed in manga, but American humor it reminds me of is niche enough that I can see why it hasn’t made it big in English. However, I also watched the two anime episodes that came packaged with volume one, and while I don’t have cable and can’t say for sure, I’d be shocked if this hasn’t shown on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. It seems like exactly the type of humor their shows are built on.
- Dead Lands #1 by Simon Roy
Good Business by Simon Roy
Pillow Fight by Brandon Graham
Universe So Big #2 by Brandon Graham
These all come from the Brandon Graham/Simon Roy signing that Floating World held alongside the Scott Pilgrim art show. I was already a fan of Graham from King City and Multiple Warheads, but Roy is new to me, though clearly someone to look out for.
- glamourpuss #6 by Dave Sim
- Legion of Super-Heroes #3 by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher
- The Man with the Getaway Face by Darwyn Cooke
Loved the bigger size. I’m looking forward to The Outfit, but it’s too bad this format is a one-off.
- Over the Surface #1–#2 by Natalie Nourigat
- Scarlet #1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
One of the best debuts I’ve read in a while. I am definitely a Bendis fan, but having largely opted out of the major Marvel universe stuff the last few years, this is the most excited I’ve been by a new project of his in ages.
- Secret Warriors vol. 2: God of Fear, God of War by Jonathan Hickman, Alessandro Vitti & Ed McGuinness
- Strange Science Fantasy #1 by Scott Morse & Paul Pope
- Twin Spica vol. 2 by Kou Yaginuma
The people who tell you this is good are right. Once again reminds me why as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. This is great stuff.
- Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol. 1: The World According to Peter Parker by Brian Michael Bendis & David Lafuente
Images from Scott Pilgrim movie © Universal Studios. Images from Scott Pilgrim © Bryan Lee O’Malley. Images of Sweet Tooth © Jeff Lemire.