In the first chapter of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel, “Seconds,” there’s an effective two-page sequence showing how much protagonist Katie’s life has changed in just four years. And just like Katie, a lot has changed for O’Malley over the past four years.
Saturday’s Comic-Con International spotlight panel on O’Malley began with moderator Laura Hudson asking O’Malley to reflect on his Comic-Con experience four years ago, when O’Malley had just released the final installment of his six-volume Scott Pilgrim series, and promotion for the upcoming film adaptation was kicking into hear gear — complete with a giant-sized Michael Cera-as-Scott Pilgrim plastered on a downtown San Diego hotel.
The passing of time was a theme that resurfaced both during the talk of O’Malley’s career, and in the pages “Seconds.” Joining O’Malley’s spotlight panel was his “Seconds” art assistant, Jason “JFish” Fischer.
O’Malley said that since the Scott Pilgrim wrapped four years ago, he’s been OK being known as the Scott Pilgrim guy while he worked on “Seconds” in the background.
“It such a huge part of my life,” O’Malley said of the movie, adding that new people seem to be discovering it daily. When the room was asked to raise hands if they had seen the movie, only one person’s remianed lowered. “People always ask me how I feel about the movie, but there’s no other way I could feel but great.” Reflecting on the large chunk of time it took to complete “Scott Pilgrim,” O’Malley said the 10-year anniversary of the first book would be next month.
“That makes me feel very old,” Hudson said. “You are old,” replied O’Malley, jokingly.
O’Malley started the discussion of “Seconds” off with a disclaimer. “Every time I talk about ‘Seconds,’ it gets really depressing, so get ready.”
While the Scott Pilgrim series was about one’s early 20s, “Seconds” “is about staring down 30.” Now 35, O’Malley said he was conscious of the balance of creating something entertaining, with depressing themes.
“You can’t call it angst. When you’re getting old, it’s not angst — but it feels like angst,” O’Malley said.
Hudson and O’Malley talked about how Katie argues with the narrator in the opening pages of “Seconds,” saying she’s OK, even though the narrator suggests she’s “sleeping too little, worrying too much, and feeling too old.”
“I still feel like I’m 23 half the time,” admitted O’Malley. “You get older before you realize it… Especially when I see young people, which you do for the rest of your life,” he noted to laughter. Taking it further, O’Malley offered this sobering thought: “If you were five when ‘Scott Pilgrim’ started, you’re 15 now.” Hudson noted that the generational gap is something seen in “Seconds,” with Katie’s fresh-faced friends. O’Malley said he wasn’t sure when the story became a generational gap-type story, but that he relates and has many friends now who are younger than him.
O’Malley discussed the magical conceit in the book, noting that despite its existence, “Seconds” was much more grounded in reality than “Scott Pilgrim.”
“Even though it takes place in the sort of fairy tale town, it’s more real, somehow,” he explained. “And that’s part of why I had Jason help out, is to make the world feel more detailed, lived-in.” He said that the two spent a lot of time planning the dimensions of the restaurant, so that when things change, there’s more weight to it.
On the influences of “Seconds,” Hudson remarked that Katie’s journey resembles aspects of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, as she tries to discover her optimal past and has the chance to rewrite her history. O’Malley said the old Sierra Nevada games also influenced the story, adding that while playing those games as a kid, “I would save everything — I had, like, a thousand saves per game, just in case. And I would never use them. Later in life, I stopped doing that, and just have one save,” for video games, not real life, he clarified to laughter.
As for the music that helped fuel the book, O’Malley referenced a playlist he made 5 years ago, which he “listened to a thousand times.” Fischer said that for a lot of the magical, mystical moments in “Seconds,” he was listening to the “Final Fantasy VI” soundtrack, explaining it gave his work an added emotional resonance. “It powers my ability to draw to have something to listen to that gets me all riled up and excited.” O’Malley added that they listened to the “Speed Racer” soundtrack a lot as well.
“When we were working together, especially when we were actually physically working together for the last five weeks of production, It was great because we were able to bounce ideas back and forth with each other,” Fischer said of the pair’s collaborative effort, “and things got even more exciting and creative.” The two were working non-stop and got the point where they actually forgot they had finished pages.
“It was kind of a blur, but it was good blur,” Fischer said.
O’Malley talked about the need for an art assistant after he hurt himself working out and couldn’t hold a pen for six months. “I actually posted a drawing on Twitter the other day, and everyone was laughing at it, but it was really sad because it was from when I couldn’t hold a pen,” O’Malley said. “I just posted it to remind myself.”
O’Malley and Fischer later talked about their collaboration again, and working on the same physical pages. “We worked on the same pages. At first I was FedExing pages to Jason and we were working back and forth, and then he came down and stayed with me for five or six weeks and we worked in the same room for a long time and went crazy together.”
“There’s certain things Jason drew by himself,” O’Malley said, saying that he wasn’t sure what he wanted in some places and the two would pore through cool reference photos. Fischer revealed that many weapons from the “Final Fantasy” series are hidden in the background of “Seconds,” along with other Easter eggs.
“The city from ‘Seconds’ is kind of culled together from different places,” explained O’Malley. “It required a lot of imaginative drawing to stitch it all together.”
The two also talked about working with colorist Nathan Fairbairn and letter Dustin Harbin, noting that Harbin would hand-letter the pages, and then they would get scanned onto the pages. O’Malley who had earlier flashed the book to the audience noting Fairbairn’s colors, said the happiest part of their day was the new color pages that would come in every night.
Asked what he’s planning to tackle in the future, O’Malley said he’d like to create some short stories. He also wants to do another big series, but he’s likely a year or two away from getting to that.
“The more I think about it, the more I want to keep doing graphic novels. Even though it’s enormously taxing in every way,” O’Malley said. “I like when everybody gets a new graphic novel. It’s big and it’s exciting and it’s a moment. And especially doing a series that way,” he said of working on the Scott Pilgrim series, releasing a new book every year. “It was exciting. It was a good way to build up a readership, and everyone kind of gets pumped and makes up their theories about what’s going to happen next. I want to experience that again. So I’m willing to suffer.”