Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim has a life that’s totally sweet. He’s 23 years old, in a rock band, “between jobs,” AND dating a cute high school girl. Everything’s fantastic until a seriously mind-blowing, dangerously fashionable, rollerblading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers starts cruising through his dreams and sailing by him at parties. Will Scott’s awesome life get turned upside-down? Will he have to face Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends in battle?

Scott Pilgrim is write what you know at its finest.

Bryan Lee O’Malley took everything he knew at the time – manga, anime, video games, indie rock band-hood, post-collegiate/career-avoiding limbo, 20-something life, young adult relationships, life in Toronto – and created a perfectly unique story.

A really good story.

Actually, an amazing story. With great characters, pitch-perfect dialogue & excellent art.

It’s my favorite comic of ALL TIME.

I LOVE Scott Pilgrim. And I don’t care who knows it.

This site would not exist without Scott Pilgrim.

It’s the story that sucked me in and when it spit me out, I wanted to make comics. I wanted to take the weird, non-superhero stories in my head, and make comics out of them. I’m reading it for the fourth or fifth time now and it still blows me away.

There’s literally nothing that I don’t like about it. Let me count the ways:

I love the art.

Well drawn and well designed characters. Consistent AF (a struggle for many of us developing artists). Good, recognizable style. Even the backgrounds and minutiae are drawn well. Both black & white and color versions are great in their own way.

Scott Pilgrim & Ramona Flowers
Scott & Ramona

I love the story.

I have not been a superhero fan for years. When I read this for the first time in 2010, I had only just discovered the world outside of DC & Marvel (the slippery slope was started by 30 Days of Night sometime in 2009 – just don’t EVER watch the movie).

I love how it’s a comedic action romance story. It reminds me a bit of some of the Bollywood movies I grew up with, where they tried to literally squeeze in scenes of every genre into one movie (example: Sholay, which I found on YouTube and embedded at the bottom). It’s laugh out loud funny in parts, with awesome action and fight scenes.

(Speaking of Bollywood, Evil Ex #1 Matthew Patel is totally Bollywood inspired and is ones of the best scenes in the books & movie.)

Scott Pilgrim relationship web
This would be a sweet poster. Click for the full-size version.

In between are recognizable slices of life for anyone who’s been in a band; been in relationships; been in school; been just out of school; been a 20-something slacker; loved video games. It’s quite remarkable. Book 4 is especially good in this regard, and is making me interested in more romance/slice of life comics (like Sakana).

I love the characters.

The story wouldn’t work without the characters, who are all real and fully realized.  You know how, with people you know, you can see whether something is in character or not? Like, So-and-so would NEVER do that? Every character in Scott Pilgrim is consistent like that – and to Edgar Wright’s credit, the movie nailed that as well (more on the movie below).

I love the dialogue.

Dialogue is something that can be a major, major issue for me. I haven’t watched a Tarantino film in years because I can’t take the snappy dialogue and perfect comebacks that everyone has. I can deal with so bad it’s good dialogue (like Pacific Rim, see below) but not unrealistic, smart-ass, everyone’s-got-a-clever-comeback-or-speech-ready-at-the-drop-of-a-hat dialogue.

BLO’s dialogue is different. Sure, there are some smart comebacks & witty repartee. But there are also plenty of common or awkward conversations – many of which I completely recognize as having heard or partaken in. Regular ass, real life talk. It makes the characters uber-relatable.

This may be BLO’s greatest gift, moreso than the art, the story or anything else. His characters talk like real people.

I love the craft.

I’m a comic geek, through and through. Every time I read a comic, I notice the craft. Not just the story and art but the choices made. Is the creator using a grid or not? If not, why or why not? Are panels bleeding off the page – and why? How are the specific content, arrangement, and sequence of the panels helping to tell the story? What are the changes in the word balloons and lettering saying? What’s the overall flow of a page, and what is emphasized – and how?

The famous Scott Pilgrim pee bar.
The famous, oft-imitated pee bar – comic vs movie. Extra points to the movie version for reflecting it in the mirror.

In this respect, BLO really kicks ass. He has a tremendous manga influence, rather than DC/Marvel superhero styling. Every page has a different panel layout – every single page. He uses white space judiciously. Backgrounds can be detailed, all white, all black, or patterned to create emphasis or make the page more interesting (there also may be manga tropes that I’m totally missing due to my unfamiliarity with the medium).

In Scott Pilgrim, BLO’s panel choices and layouts are critical for storytelling. Panels are almost all rectangles, except for action pages where panels are angled and dynamic (this includes pages with strong emotional content). He throws in some video game inspired imagery and iconography (the pee bar being a particularly funny example).

(If you’re interested in the craft of comicking, check out the Strip Panel Naked youtube channel. That, along with Scott McCloud’s work, is a joy.)

That about covers it. Is there anything I missed? Oh – I like the manga-sized books too.

Black & White vs Color

I love them both, for different reasons.

Scott Pilgrim group shot
I haven’t done a giant hangout, drink & eat with friends thingee in years – but this panel captures it so well. Especially the gaps & spaces between people.

I read them originally in black & white, back in 2010 after the last book came out (or maybe I read the first 5 and then had to wait for the 6th? That rings a bell…). It’s what I fell in love with. It’s what inspired me. That being said, I prefer making color comics because … it’s harder to make good-looking comics in black & white. And Scott Pilgrim looks GREAT in black & white.

Scott Pilgrim Work
So. Relatable. (And so glad these days are in the past.)

That’s no surprise considering BLO’s manga influence, which I mentioned before. Panel choices, patterns, text, action lines – everything is great in black & white. I highly recommend reading it in black & white the first time. Oh – it makes for a cheaper book too, which is certainly an easier sell to a publisher.

But I have to admit that the color versions, released between August 2012 and May 2015, take things to the next level. I mistook Ramona’s first appearance because I’d missed her in the background of a panel (her hair color is noticeable in the color version). And it is cool to see Ramona’s hair actually change color throughout the book.

From Nathan Fairbairn’s process post, linked below.

But the dynamism of the action in color? It practically jumps off the page. Tons of credit go to Nathan Fairbairn, who did the coloring, as well as BLO who was very hands-on in the collaboration. Each book has a dominant color, based on the original cover for each volume:

Well, the first one, since so much of it was established in the movie and the movie came out first, I basically just told Nathan to watch the first half hour of the movie a million times and do his own version of the palette of the movie. And the other thing, we started color-coding each book, so the first one is yellow. So there is a lot of yellow in the first book, and there is no real reason to do that other than it was just kind of a fun challenge. If you flip through it, you see a ton of yellow. If you flip through the second one, you see a ton of blue, and there is this color-coding based on the original covers.
BLO (link above somewhere)

But the best reason to get the color versions is the bonus content at the end: sketches, character designs & descriptions, notes & other stuff from BLO (and friends). This stuff to a nascent creator like myself is PRICELESS.

I’d actually like to have both sets on my shelf (so far I’ve only borrowed them from libraries, which is a travesty but also a testament to how awesome libraries are). I need a paperback set of the original black & white versions, as well as a set of the full color hardbacks. Perhaps a box set that involves a cool poster. (btw this is the first poster I’ve wanted to put up since I was 22.)

What about the Scott Pilgrim vs The World movie?

The movie? It rocks, especially the first half that was straight out of the books. And it is the best rock movie ever, the music is completely entwined with the visuals.

The movie as a whole is great and the cast is on point & outstanding (three superheroes plus Aubrey Plaza is pretty damn good). I don’t have anything for or against Michael Cera but he’s really, really good as Scott. I am, however, able to completely separate the books and the movie in my mind. It does help that the first half of the movie is so true to the books (and the latter half keeps the tone & vibe while departing a bit from the books).

The first half/second half dichotomy is due to the scripting & production occurring in the midst of the series. Here’s a quick timeline on the how the books & movie relate:

I want that Plumtree t shirt SO BAD but the ones available online don’t have the album title on the back. I might have to get one made locally.
  • August 18, 2004: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life published
  • “I think I was partway through the second book when Edgar first called me.” – BLO
  • May 2005: The studio signed Michael Bacall to co-write the script with Edgar Wright
  • June 15, 2005: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World published
  • May 24, 2006: Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness published (BLO lurves him some Smashing Pumpkins…)
  • “…basically what happened is they wrote the screenplay after the third book and when the fourth book was finished I sent it to them and they did a rewrite that was largely—the through line of it is based on the fourth book.” – BLO
  • November 14, 2007: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together published
  • February 4, 2009: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe published
  • March 2009: Principal photography begins
  • August 2009: Movie production wraps
  • July 20, 2010: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour published
  • July 22, 2010: Scott Pilgrim vs The World movie premiered

So that’s why the first half is exceptional and the second half is pretty good. They took quite a few things from Book 4 and used them in the  second half of the movie, but not in the same way. Dialogue goes to different scenes, or different characters.

They were still borrowing things from Book 5 for the movie – and vice versa for Book 6: “Well, Book 6 is a little weird because I was working on it while we made the movie, so stuff from the movie actually made it into Book 6 in some ways. And I stole a few lines of dialogue because I felt like I was entitled. And also Book 6 came out first, so I could pretend that I wrote them. ” – BLO

Due to the differences in the 2nd half of the movie and the books, you can safely watch the movie first if you want. But usually it’s a good idea to read first and then watch a movie, because books are always better (except for Tolkien, in which case the movies are way better).

There’s a video game too

This was news to me – last year – though it came out in 2010.

I don’t know jack about it. I need to play it. Maybe someone will emulate it so I can check it out on a PC? Though it would be pretty cool to have a Super Nintendo and play NBA Jam with the kids…

Hot damn – my love letter to Scott Pilgrim is looooooong

tl;dr: I love Scott Pilgrim and everything about it and it’s awesome and you should read it and if you don’t like it you suck.

I guess that should have gone at the top?

I didn’t expect to write a little book about it but I love it. If you haven’t read it, STOP EVERYTHING AND READ IT NOW.

Hey – here’s that Bollywood embed I promised…

This is completely tangential to Scott Pilgrim but it’s a great, great film that anyone interested in Bollywood should see. It’s a quintessentially Indianized spaghetti Western. A Western with comedy and music (pre-synchronized dance Bollywood, the music is woven into the story like The Sound of Music). It’s loooooong AF but it’s a great film.

Also Amitabh Bachchan is the greatest actor ever and I wanted to be him for most of my first 14 years and I still kinda wish I wore tank tops because he wore them in all of his good movies from the 1970s even though he was scrawny AF and had no muscles.

(In fact I looked for a navy tanktop with lime green green piping for YEARS and I might have to go buy one online right now…)

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