Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Graphic Lit: Scott Pilgrim and Ron Rege


The first day of the Museum of Contemporary Cartoon Art’s annual festival in New York City hadn’t even ended, and already Canadian artist Bryan Lee O’Malley had completely sold out of his latest book, "Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness."

That fact shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those who follow O’Malley’s work. "Sadness," the third book in the projected six-volume "Scott Pilgrim" series, has taken the comics world by storm. It’s a bonafide sleeper hit in an industry where such things are hard to come by.

The success of the book has come as an especially pleasant surprise to O’Malley.

"I didn’t think anyone was going to read it, honestly," he said during a break in the festival. "Right before [the first book] came out I was agonizing, ‘No one’s ever going to read this.’ "

The Scott Pilgrim of the title is a somewhat dorky, somewhat cool twentysomething who plays bass in a Toronto band and generally lives a relatively happy if undistinguished life.

Things become considerably more complicated when he meets the stunning Ramona Flowers and falls head over heels for her. In order to earn the right to date her, however, he must first defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends, one of whom happens to be dating Scott’s own former ex, whom poor Scott’s still not completely over.

Oh, and this particular evil ex-boyfriend also has super psychic powers. Because he’s a vegan.

If this all sounds slightly goofy, well, that’s a large part of the series’ charm. Scott’s universe is a magical one, where save points and extra lives appear nonchalantly; where bands have the ability to "manipulate pure sound waves through hard work and willpower alone;" and where bargain basement stores have the power to drive you mad. Those hoping for a sober, dour literary work should head elsewhere.

Those looking for a funny, fast-paced and heartfelt comic, however, will be delighted. With considerable skill, O’Malley takes various tropes from video games, anime, indie rock, comics and twentysomething angst, puts them all in a blender and hits "frappe." The resulting mixture is nothing short of intoxicating.

O’Malley’s original goals for the series were pretty simple.

"I wanted to write something that would entertain [my friends]," he said. "That was one of my big goals with Scott Pilgrim, to make my friends laugh. I guess my friends are more representative of the culture than I expected."

The story itself, O’Malley said, "is sort of based on my life situation at the time when I was that age. I lived in Toronto and I had a gay roommate, and I was dating an American girl and it sort of grew out of there."

The success of "Scott Pilgrim" has even led to a movie deal. Currently optioned by Universal Pictures, a "Scott Pilgrim" film is in the works, tentatively scheduled to be directed by Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead").

In the meantime, however, fans can look forward to at least three more "Scott Pilgrim" volumes, which O’Malley hopes to publish annually over the next three years, ending the series "by the time I turn 30."

Ron Rege Jr. offers 2 new books

It’s hard to think of a more idiosyncratic cartoonist than Ron Rege Jr. One or two artists out there might give him a run for the money, but that’s about it.

Last month saw the arrival of two new books in Rege’s ongoing "Yeast Hoist" series, a sort-of catch-all for Rege’s thoughts, drawings and weightier stuff.

This first book, "Yeast Hoist No. 12," (Buenaventura Press, $5.95) mainly consists of sketchbook art and other random doodles. It’s nice for fans of Rege’s work and provides some notable insight into the way he works, but it’s far from essential.

"The Awake Field" (Drawn and Quarterly, $7.95), on the other hand, is a bit more substantial. Here, heart-on-sleeve musings are tempered with a heedless energy.

Rege’s obsessively detailed universe is filled with pig-nosed people who always seem at the peak of some sort of spiritual ecstasy while mysterious spirits hover over the proceedings. "Awake Field" is about as far from your typical comic as you can get, but Rege’s work shows such awe at the wonder of the world that it’s worth checking out.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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