on 29 July 2011
I'm not usually a fan of comic books or graphic novels, not out of prejudice but after having read so many different works and been disappointed by them. I have generally found them to be immature - perhaps because they tend to be aimed at teenage boys - slightly sexist, and usually also over-the-top with grimness.
If you want to read an entirely different graphic novel that shows what the genre can really be, then I recommend the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley.
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is the first graphic novel in a series of six. The main character is, of course, Scott Pilgrim, and the plot centres around his supposed dead-end life, and his willingness to overcome his weaknesses for the love of his life, Ramona Flowers. When we meet him, he is dating a 17 year old girl called Knives Chau, who is slightly obsessed with him ('My name is Knives Chau, and I'm a SCOTTAHOLIC!!') and also his band's biggest groupie. Her character had me in stitches of laughter throughout the book.
I especially like Scott's deadbeat character, as I have met a few 20 year olds a bit like him - thinking that they are old and that there is nothing more to life, in a not-too-serious way, at such a young age - and generally lazy bums ('I wish I could turn into a morphing ball and roll to the bathroom from here, instead of having to get up'). The book really is all about Scott's 'precious' little life.
Scott falls for Ramona at first sight, and they start 'hanging out'. She tells him that she has seven evil exes, who have to be overcome if they are to have a relationship. Each book tackles Scott's battles with these exes, and each ex is a strong stereotype in his own right. I found Scott's battles with them to be hilarious: there is no limit to the sudden action and drama of their encounters as they battle physically, and also immensely entertaining verbal banter ('You headbutted my boyfriend so hard he burst!') There is also occasional commentary about the events and characters from the 'narrator', and there are a lot of quirky occurrences like this throughout the book.
Ramona is an uber cool character (Scott: 'When I'm around you, I kind of feel like I'm on drugs. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs, in which case I do them all the time'), with funky coloured hair, a job delivering post on rollerblades, and a magic handbag which transports us into a non-world representative of her consciousness.. Or something like that! There are a few very endearing geeky things like this in the book, which also pushes it gently into the fantasy genre. The film deserves a separate review, but I will mention here that I thought it captured perfectly the 'video game' nature of the book, where characters score points, collect coins when they triumph, amongst other old-school game references.
Although Scott and Ramona are the main characters, the other people in the book are just as individual and 'real'. We meet Scott's gay roommate Wallace, who is a good friend to him, though their friendship is based on the fact that Wallace is cool, popular, independent, and seems to own everything in the flat, while Scott seems more like his leaching bum of a friend (Wallace: 'If this girl is really the one from your dreams, you have to fight for her, it's your destiny. Plus, I need you to move out'). We also meet Scott's fellow band members, Stephen Stills and Kim Pine. Stephen Stills is another cool character - 'the talent' - who is always referred to by his full name (Knives: 'Do you always refer to him by his full name?' Scott: 'Who, Stephen Stills? Yes'). Kim Pine is Scott's ex girlfriend who is negative and bitter about everything (Kim: 'Scott, if your life had a face, I would punch it. I would punch your life in the face'), but apparently a very good drummer.
One of the biggest letdowns of other graphic novels, in my experience, has been the dialogue. There are some amazing comic book artists out there, but few seem to possess the same skill in the literary field. O'Malley, in my opinion, definitely has both: the speech in Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is witty, funny, and reads very naturally. I think the way the story is told is very Canadian- although I haven't actually been to Canada!- it gives a very strong sense of this little corner of it.. What I mean is that this book is very clearly not British or American: it has a very specific sense of humour, uses the word 'guy' a lot (instead of, say, 'dude'), and has a very relaxed feel to it- an ease, if you like, which reflects the nature of the 'chilled out' characters.
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is in black and white print, I think the drawings are excellent. The text VERY easy to read- I whizzed through the first book in less than an hour, and then I HAD to buy the next one- and the one after that! The books are slightly addictive, but they're worth buying as you'll end up reading them again and again, and/or lending them to other people. There is nothing quite like them in the graphic novel scene.