Graphic Novel Review: The Scott Pilgrim Series by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Now well over a decade old, the six-book collection stands as a landmark in the world of comics and graphic novels. It’s become a veritable classic and a touchstone in millennial literature. Does it deserve all this praise? Yes it does. Here are some reasons why:

It’s hard to imagine, but awkward humour and references to old video games were once not in vogue! In fact it wasn’t until shortly after the Scott Pilgrim series ended that the mass proliferation of geek culture happened. One must remember that the internet in 2003 was still a vast unconquered wilderness; social media and community sites were still percolating in dorm rooms. There was LiveJournal, and roughly hewed messageboards, but nothing remotely close to the online world we’ve got today.

So it’s a testament to Lee O’Malley‘s singular sense of humour that he was able to craft a seminal work of art seemingly borne out of nowhere. The anime-meets-Genndy-Tartakovsky drawing style, the naturalistic dialogue, the seamless integration of retro iconography into the story- all of this was soldered together unlike any other work at the time. Also novel: the use of meta-humour as something integral to the plot. (References to the story being a story and various unrealistic situations being called out on their fantastical nature.) Scott Pilgrim never took itself seriously, and ended up as a cohesive and non-farcical narrative. After all, at its core it’s just a coming of age tale about an early-20s Toronto slacker and his romance with the girl of his dreams (literally).

A few alarms might have gone off there- “girl of his dreams” smacks of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. But Ramona Flowers is just as much a central character as Scott is, with a full backstory, motivations, and flaws. In fact all the main characters (and many secondary ones) are fully developed people; archetypes are flipped around and everyone is handled with tact and in control of their agency. Antagonists are given empathetic treatment. Damsel-in-distress scenes are inverted. Romantic triangles are expanded and retracted. It’s complex and messy like real life.

Scott too is messy and complex, downright annoying at times- something that everyone in the books acknowledges. He’s no saviour, and makes a lot of mistakes constantly. Some subplots are direct results of his mistakes (Knives Chau‘s dad). This makes him all the more sympathetic as he gradually ascends on his very slow learning curve.

Like any other work of art ever, the series isn’t perfect. There are a few scenes (notably the Honest Ed’s challenge) that are convoluted. Big bad Gideon‘s backstory could have been fleshed out a little more. The self-awareness just barely skirts overbearing at moments. But these are minor notes that can ultimately be disregarded when taking into account the massive amount of positives the series brought to the world.

Final Grade: A+