As four previous volumes have proven, a new installment of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s ongoing “Scott Pilgrim” series of graphic novels is always cause for celebration amongst fans. But with the fifth and most recent book, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe,” having debuted this past weekend at the 2009 New York Comic Con, the excitement surrounding the titular 20-something slacker’s adventures battling his girlfriend Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends reached a new level.
Without a doubt the “it book” of the show, Oni Press’ “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe” showed up with a surprise foil cover, special New York-only premiums like a wraparound band and T-shirt, a slew of NY area signing events and some nifty Scott Pilgrim downloadable paper dolls. That doesn’t even get into the harrowing adventures of Scott as he faces a pair of robot-building twin d-bags.
To get a feel for how the massive amount of attention and products surrounding his creation affected his con experience, CBR News sat down with O’Malley during the show to discuss the series as well as its upcoming movie adaptation directed by “Hot Fuzz’s” Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera.
CBR: You landed in New York and went straight into an appearance at the Comic Book Club, then a midnight release party and then another release party the next night. How’s your signing hand feeling?
Bryan Lee O’Malley: Good. There were too many people at the events to do a lot of sketching and stuff like that, so it was mostly just sign it and be done with it. It wasn’t too bad.
The book sold out at both events.
Yes! Um…yeah. [Laughs] I guess I could say more about it, but that about says it all.
You had set the goal to finish the book and ship it to the printer by NYCC. Were there any stressful moments in the last few months where you thought, “Crap! I’m not going to get this through on time!”
A little bit. There’s always a little bit. We announced it was going to be out for New York Comic Con at [Comic-Con International in] San Diego last year, so I knew for six to eight months, and I thought I could get it done. I’m pretty laid back and easy going most of the time, but in the last month or so I was kind of scrambling, which happened to be Christmas and New Year’s and stuff. It was a little busy.
What’s the response been so far? Have you had any people who bought the book at the midnight signing, went home to read it and then came back to tell you what they thought?
I haven’t heard too much. I didn’t really get to converse that much. The second signing was less than 24 hours later, so some people had read it, but we really didn’t discuss it that much. I saw a few comments online and stuff, but so far since I’ve been on the road I haven’t got a feeling for the response yet.
Does it feel like the Scott Pilgrim experience is getting bigger and bigger for you, or is it the same process of “Do a book, hit a con, back to the drawing board?”
This one’s definitely the biggest – by far. But I didn’t get to experience much on the fourth one. I was in the middle of immigrating to the U.S., so I didn’t go anywhere when the fourth one came out because I’d just moved. I kind of missed that cycle and got a big jump from 3 to 5. Three was the first one that felt pretty big, but this one was obviously much bigger.
You guys had a lot of extras at the Oni booth, with the T-Shirt and the wraparound, but it feels like aside from general fan art and things, you get a lot of Scott Pilgrim material created for you by other artists. Is that how things like the digital art on the back of the book come about?
Yeah, definitely. Two of the things on this book were the pixel art on the back – that was this guy who had done some Scott Pilgrim animated sprites on his own and I saw them online and said, “Man, these are awesome” and asked him to do some original stuff for the book. And he did, and we’re going to continue working with him in the future because he’s awesome. His name is Ben Berntsen. The other thing was the Cubeecrafts. I don’t know if you saw those. This guy makes these paper dolls that you print off of the internet and fold. He’s done everything like “The Venture Bros.” and superheroes and all this stuff, and he did a Scott Pilgrim one last year, so we got in touch with him and said, “You should make a whole set, and we’ll like…pay you and stuff.” [Laughs] So we did that for the release too.
What was the process for deciding to do the chrome cover for the new book? Are you trying to think of ways to top yourself like you did with the color pages in Vol. 4?
Yeah. It’s like this secret desire to either trick people or blow their minds. Like when they get to the store, they’ll go, “Oh my God, there’s color pages!” or “Oh my God, there’s foil!” We kind of ended up announcing it a little bit before, but I still think a lot of people will end up finding it and going, “Oh my God, it’s shiny!” So that’s a simple desire, really. Just a little extra.
The book’s selling like hotcakes on Amazon, and you’ve had sell outs here in New York, but there have been struggles in the past getting the volumes a wide release in stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Any movement on that front this time around?
It’s getting [out there] a little bit, but it’s still the same. Plus, the whole economy tanking thing isn’t helping out. Borders and Barnes & Noble are both on the skids right now. Amazon probably orders as much as the entire book market combined, I think, for the rest of the year. So it’s getting there. Hopefully, things will correct themselves and the last book will sell like hotcakes in every market.
We don’t want to spoil anything about this book or what’s coming up, but that movie stuff has been really taking off lately. How much did the parallel preparation of the screenplay and the comic affected how you wrote? Did you take more time in scripting to ensure the comic was its own thing?
I do want the book to be its own distinct thing. When I started writing this book, I’d just read the second draft of the screenplay. So the first draft of this book was really influenced by the movie stuff, and it took me a while to break out of that mold. Like, I started writing the characters the way they wrote the characters instead of how I saw the characters. So I wrote a couple of drafts of this one, and eventually it became completely different from the movie, and the movie people were kind of confused, but whatever…it’s my book. I’m really happy with it.
And that attitude’s going to carry over into what you know about Vol. 6?
Right. The movie is a lot shorter, obviously, than the whole series. So I have a lot of freedom with the last book, which can be paralyzing as you might know. I’m still hashing out what’s going to happen. I really only have a couple of paragraphs written, or I had a couple of paragraphs written for the last several years written about what happens in the last book. So I’m still getting into details here.
In the preview pages that have been out there, we’ve seen that Vol. 5 contains Scott fighting yet being ignored and left to the background of things. At this point, are you trying to come up with ways to structure the books so it’s not just “Dude shows up. Fight fight fight?”
Yeah. This one does actually have more of a fight at the end than most of the books have had, because I wanted to have some. But for the most part during the book, there’s a fight in the very first chapter, but most of that occurs off camera or to the side or in the background. It was a conscious decision. I wanted to kind of undercut the concept a little bit but just in a way that doesn’t really change anything but reveals new sides of it.
And it kind of fits that classic nerd mold of “The Empire Strikes Back” where everything getting worse before the end…
Right. It’s kind of “the dark one.” That’s what I’ve heard so far. Everyone’s like, “Oh my God, it’s so dark!” But it’s still funny…and entertaining…and shiny.
We’ve been following you on Twitter. It was bizarrely entertaining to watch you narrate as you went up to the movie set and then watch casting announcements get made and then watch you react to the really poorly written and inaccurate stories on movie news sites. Has it been very weird to have what seems to be a pretty strong relationship with the guys making the movie but then have to deal with this whole other Hollywood element in the press?
Yeah. When I was up there, the whole office was kind of “Oh my God, what’s going on?” because blogs were just exploding with inaccuracies, but they’re continuing to do so, and I’m trying to come to terms with it. I can’t ignore it, but I can at least try and not talk about it because it’s not going to do anything. The internet is going to be the internet no matter what I say, so I’m just going to let it ride.
We heard you were trying to make sure that Plumtree’s “Scott Pilgrim” song that inspired the character’s name gets in the movie. Do you think it’s going to make it?
Yeah, I hope so. They’ve definitely been talking to the band and everything so, hopefully we’ll have at least one or two songs in the movie, which is great.