Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Scott Pilgrim, the comic book series

Scott Pilgrim vs the World has become my latest favorite movie. Since getting the Blu-ray, I've watched it alone, with the trivia track, and then with the director, screen writer, and comic creator commentary. I've still got the actor commentaries that I plan to go through. On the director/creator track Edgar Wright and Bryan Lee O'Malley discuss differences in the movie versus the books without being too spoilery, and it all left me really wanting to read the books to find out what happened. So I bit the bullet and bought the rest of the volumes.

While the movie relies more heavily on the video game influences, the books are much more heavily manga inspired. First off, they're the approximate size of a manga book. There's even a parody sheet in one of the volumes that tells you how to read the comic "appropriately." (If you've never read manga, Japanese comics start at what we Americans consider the back of the book, and the boxes flow from right to left. It can be quite an adjustment the first time you go to read manga.. and it's even more fun to remind yourself how to read American comics again afterward!) While the character designs are not straight up manga/anime style, there is definitely an obvious, cutesy influence here, with ultra expressive faces and lots of style lines all over the pages to show action. If you've seen the movie you've already seen some of it, as actual artwork from the comic was used to create the animated flashback sequences. The only complaint about the artwork I have is that it can occasionally be difficult to identify some of the characters, particularly when you've got Ramona who loves to change her hairstyle frequently. I think I now understand why a lot of animated TV shows give their characters one set of clothes to wear all the time.

The main difference between the movies and the comics are the two differences you would probably expect: we get more background information, particularly on the supporting cast, and things play out over a longer period of time. If you read my movie review you know I loved the supporting cast more than Scott Pilgrim (and even Ramona), so I was very happy to be able to see a bit more of Knives, Kim, Nat/Envy, and Wallace. Especially Kim. I now love Kim about 50 times more than I already did. There's also at least one character who never appeared in the movie and has a fairly important part to play to the development of Scott and Ramona's relationship. This is also where the long period of time comes in to play. We get a few more twists and turns and their relationship develops and grows in a much more natural way than most fiction allows us to see. It also helps the metaphor of physical fight as way to overcome the past become a bit more clear, as Scott and Ramona talk to each other and their exes in a bit more detail. Ramona also felt much more real here and not quite as distant as she does in the movie.

While there's plenty in these books for all lovers of video games, comics, manga, and music, there were two recurring things that made me feel like the books were made just for me. Scott makes X-men references over and over again. The first time it's explained, when Ramona asks why he's got a patch on his jacket. His answer "Well obviously one of us went to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, and one of us didn't." I think I literally cheered out loud when I saw that. A couple other times throughout the book, he just starts explaining old X-men storylines to her, and there's no explanation to the audience about what he's talking about... you just have to be a giant X-men geek like me to know it. The other "just for me" reference is all the band related stuff. I'm not in a band but I've been band adjacent for 7 years now, so I know all about what it's like. He especially touched on one thing about small time bands that I've never understood and drives me crazy. Sex Bob-omb stop playing shows and stops practicing. Why? "We're recording." A lot of bands seem to find the act of singing/playing into a microphone so challenging that they must stop all other band related activities when this occurs. It was especially fun in the book when they finally stop recording and they have a whole whopping 17 minutes worth of music to show for it with the added bonus that when they go to play together again they really, really suck.

As you may know, the series wasn't finished when the movie began production. As such the further along the story is, the more they diverge. Bryan Lee O'Malley provided Edgar Wright with lots of notes on where the story was going to go, but they each handle the same material a bit differently. The movie follows the first volume almost exactly, but by the time we get to volume 5, the Katayanagi twins are actually talking and designing robots.. not creating dragons out of sound waves from their keyboard. Both are pretty cool though, so who can complain?

The last volume of the books is largely a tease, constantly flirting with who is Scott going to end up with. The problem with this is that chances are, this bonding he does with each girl is probably going to make you choose which one you want him to be with.. and there's no guarantee it's going to be the one he does end up with. In my case, it wasn't. (Strangely, the movie also has an alternate ending where he ends up with someone else.. and there's a part of me that likes that ending better too.) This didn't make me dislike the ending though as much as it took the wind of out the sails for me. The good thing about this really long wrap up is that we do get to see where just about every character has ended up now, with still a bit of room to grow so you can make up your own "what happens next" if you want to.

I have purposely avoided any major spoilers because I really found these to be an enjoying read. I highly recommend you giving them a shot. If you've read them already, I'd love to know what you think about the differences between the film and books.

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