Wrapping up our two weeks of Comic-Con International coverage, Comic Book Resources is diving into the indie end of the convention spectrum bringing news from the spotlight panels of some of the hardest working cartoonists outside the superhero mainstream. Today, things kick off with Bryan Lee O’Malley -Â creator of the massively popular “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels – whose panel was hosted by “Understanding Comics” mastermind Scott McCloud.
Most of the panel consisted of a quick back-and-forth between the pair with McCloud asking everything from the lives of the “Scott Pilgrim” background characters to the role music plays in the series. Though in between the occasionally sardonic replies, O’Malley sketched out how his own style of comics came together explaining how he would draw characters from “Sailor Moon” and “Ramna 1/2” before discovering and imitating Paul Pope. O’Malley said that he was mostly self taught after “My art teachers in school were so opposed to me drawing comics or Japanese animation stuff…Only after I’d drawn hundreds of pages of comics did it really ‘hit’ its own style. I don’t feel like I’m trying to ink like Jeff Smith anymore. I feel like I’m just inking.”
McCloud asked about what genre “Scott Pilgrim” could be classified in, and while new labels like Arcade Logic made both creators chuckle, O’Malley explained, “I’m doing manga set in Toronto. That’s all it is basically, with a video game twist” before adding that several of his contemporaries like Becky Cloonan, Brandon Graham and Cory Lewis have been able to integrate western and manga influences into a singular style. “They’re all really unique now, which is really cool.”
The topic of Toronto as the setting for the series came up, of which O’Malley simply said, “I’ve been telling people lately my reasons [for setting the books in Toronto] were because I lived there, and I needed a place I could reference. So I was just discovering that if you draw something based on something real, it just looks better. In ‘Lost At Sea’ everything was just out of my head for the most part…I started doing ‘Scott Pilgrim’ based on what I was seeing. Thats my lazy excuse. I don’t know…I’ve never been that attached to places. I move around a lot, and I only lived in Toronto for like three or four years.”
Asked by a fan if there were any local Toronto area landmarks he wanted to work into the series but couldn’t, the artist said, “Pacific Mall is one I kind of wanted to do, but no one has a car in ‘Scott Pilgrim’ so they can’t get there. Maybe I’ll do a side story or something where they have a car.”
Cars or not, the characters of Scott Pilgrim took up a large amount of time on the panel. McCloud inquired about everything from when Knives Chau would become cool (“I think she already is cool,” said O’Malley) to whether or not anyone liked Julie (one person raised their hand). And of course, discussion circled around the series titular lead, of whom McCloud said, “I love him, but he’s kind of a douche bag.”
“I’ve always liked him the same amount,” O’Malley said. “I’m 100% behind him because he’s the protagonist…even if he does everything wrong, which he does most of the time. I think I feel a lot of affection for all of my characters. And I like when they screw things up and when they get it right.” A fan asked how Scott evolved from a barely three minute song by Canadian indie rockers Plumtree into a fully fleshed-out character, and O’Malley explained, “I wouldn’t say he evolved from a direct line. There’s nothing ‘direct’ about it.”
McCloud also asked, on behalf of his daughter, whether or not it was O’Malley’s plan to make Young Neil and Scott look so similar -Â a resemblance that became a story point for Knives late in the series. The creator admitted, “I suck. Both characters look the same, and then people were like, ‘They look the same.’ And then I realized they’re right, and I had so much trouble with that over the years. I didn’t realize for the first couple of books, then I tried to switch it up and got a lot of complaints with Vol. 3 and 4, and then I realized I gave everyone the same hairstyle.” He added of the constant hair redesigns of his leading lady, “Ramona’s the one who’s confusing. You can rely on that.”
Moving into discussion of side characters, O’Malley explained that fans will see the return of “Other Scott,” Stacey Pilgrim and Michael Comeau in the series’ final volume, some of whom played smaller roles in the comics because of their connection to real life friends. “There are a few characters who are based on real people, and I’ve tried to rely on them less over the years because I don’t want to be accused of not being a writer and not making stuff up,Â just stealing stuff…so I kind of have relegated them to really minor cameo roles. I don’t want it to be like, ‘You don’t know my life!'”
But as for the main cast, the sixth book holds a lot in store both in terms of their personal relationships boiling to the surface (“A lot of stuff will get said [in the final book] but not all of it,” O’Malley teased) and in terms of each cast member getting their own arc. “I’m trying to make it that way. I want everyone to be a little bit satisfied…just a little bit. I don’t want to disappoint everyone.” Asked whether or not the series had a moral center, the cartoonist said, “They all flash on [the truth] sometimes, but for the most part they’re all just fumbling around, I think.”
Overall, O’Malley wants to make Vol. 6 “awesome and long and satisfying because I have been kind of shamed by what they’re doing on the movie. The Gideon fight is what they’re working on right now, and they’ve been working on it for three weeks non-stop. I’ll try harder for you.”
The upcoming Universal film adaptation of the series loomed large once things moved into an audience Q&A, with O’Malley explaining of his day-to-day involvement. “I’ve spent probably a total of a couple of weeks there on and off, and it’s fun but also extremely boring. If you’ve ever been to a movie set, especially if Edgar Wright is shooting it, and he’s doing 250 shots of this one sword fight where each shot is like a quarter of a second long…it gets boring. But it’s really fun and it’s really cool to meet everyone, and it’s really cool when he actually shows me little bits that they put together. I just want it to be done so I can see the whole movie, but they said they won’t be done until April with all the effects and stuff.”
The artist remains committed to completing the final volume of the series before the movie’s release so the two will remain fairly independent of each other. He noted that characters like Mr. Chau and Lisa are not in the movie, nor are any of the flashbacks. “It’s the overall story arc of Scott and Ramona and fighting ex-boyfriends, and the fights are going to be way cooler than I would ever care to do in the comics because I don’t give a crap. I’m not a team of Chinese martial arts experts. They’ve got that on me.
“When they first started writing it in 2004, they asked me what I was going to do with the rest of the books, and I was like, ‘I have no idea.’ So I wrote a couple of pages basically. I wrote a couple of paragraphs about each future book. I figured it out…like I didn’t know what each ex-boyfriend was going to be, but I figured it out at that point and told them. That was really loose. So they wrote a draft based on that, and we talked about it for the next three years as I worked on volumes 3 and 4. So volume 4 influenced the movie a lot. They wrote the second draft at that time. Little bits of five and six get in there, but it’s more based on the first four books.”
O’Malley did express happiness with how the filmmakers translated the songs of the fictional bands of his comics to the screen, noting that he didn’t want the songs in “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” to sound worse than readers of the books imagined them in their heads – something he experienced when watching the film version of one of his favorite manga “Beck.”
But things ended on the comics front, with a fan commenting that the series revolved around people in a post-college slacker phase that she hoped they’d get out of by the end of Vol. 6, to which O’Malley responded, “This story isn’t about that, per se. Maybe they won’t in the context of the story. Maybe some of them will. That’s a part of life. I’m sure you know people like that. I have friends like that. Now I’m 30, and now they’re kind of getting it together.”