Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of “Scott Pilgrim,” joined New York Times bestselling author Cory Doctorow in conversation at New York Comic Con on Friday. O’Malley’s latest graphic novel, “Seconds,” was published on July 15 by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House.
Doctorow started the conversation by asking about Toronto, where O’Malley used to live and where “Scott Pilgrim” takes place. O’Malley called it “a good place for me to develop without having to spend a lot of money on rent.” He worried about the intrusion of apartment blocks and rising rents, but said that he has been pleasantly surprised to encounter a number of young cartoonists living in Toronto.
O’Malley revealed mixed feelings about his Canadian origin. “I might have resented Canada a little bit, because I became this unofficial ambassador.” While on a book tour in Canada for “Seconds,” he said that he “loved it more than ever,” but acknowledged that much of that was due to the summer weather.
“Scott Pilgrim” clearly takes place in Toronto, but “Seconds” is more ambiguous about location. O’Malley said, “I didn’t want to specify; I wanted it to take place in this realm of the mind.” But he said that he had been thinking about Nova Scotia and Ontario while creating the fictional setting.
Though O’Malley published “Lost at Sea” before his breakout success “Scott Pilgrim,” “Seconds” is considered by many to be his second act. About creating in the wake of the success of the “Scott Pilgrim” books and film, O’Malley said, “It started out being sort of reactionary. I wanted to do something super arty and weird and dense and ambitious. To prove the haters wrong.” Initially O’Malley had planned to make the ending of “Seconds” “dark and horrible,” but changed his mind after everyone around him reacted negatively to the idea. “I took all of my dark thoughts and tried to turn them into fun,” while writing the book, he said. “Maybe next time I’ll have a super dark ending,” he mused.
Working on the “Scott Pilgrim” movie was, “Very weird because it was something that came from my head originally. But it was thousands of people, like an army, working on this project,” said O’Malley. “Scott Pilgrim” was a particularly personal story for O’Malley because Scott’s story so closely mirrored his own experiences: “I gave Scott Pilgrim the initial conditions of my life, then I spun it off in its own direction.”
O’Malley compared the time-travel element of “Seconds” to the writing process: “In your book, you try to make it perfect. You try to edit out everything that doesn’t work or scenes that don’t add up. You wish you could do that with your life, too.” One thing O’Malley did not regret was his choice not to pursue a college degree. After two attempts at a degree in film studies, which was “the only thing that my school offered that seemed like it had anything to do with comics,” O’Malley, “ran away to California to make comics with friends.” He said, “For me the university environment was not fruitful for my mind,” but that his education continues on his own terms: “When I want to learn something, I just go and get a bunch of books about it and I read them.”
In addition to taking inspiration from his own experiences, O’Malley cited authors and musicians that have been influential to his work. Dianna Wynne Jones is one of O’Malley’s favorite authors. “There’s so much to explore,” in her books, he said. “They always fascinated me and they still do.” He called French cartoonist Christophe Blain a big influence on his work, as well. Canadian rock band Metric, which featured in the “Scott Pilgrim” movie, was “an actual influence on the comic and on the creation of the characters,” said O’Malley. Lead vocalist “Emily Haines was one of these like, super cool, outlandishly cool figure in Toronto in 2005. So I thought, I wonder what a character like that would be like in my world.”
When asked about the source of inspiration for his relatable female characters, O’Malley said that, “Every female I’ve ever known has inspired me.” Much of his focus on writing the feminine experience comes from his tendency to write characters unlike himself. “I’ll never actually know what the female experience is actually like,” said O’Malley, but that leads him to find women “for the most part more interesting than men, because I already am a man and I kind of know what that’s about.” A self-proclaimed introvert, O’Malley created “Seconds” main character Katie in the image of an outgoing rock star. “I want to write these brash characters who just kind of barge through life,” he said. “When I try to write characters who are not like me, I think that’s just me trying to understand them.”
O’Malley has already taken the first step on his next project: crafting a playlist. “I can’t get into the headspace unless I have the exact perfect mix.” A few of the songs from his “Scott Pilgrim” found their way onto the film soundtrack, he said, after he played the mix for director Edgar Wright. O’Malley revealed that the playlist under construction for his next project has two songs by indie band Spoon on it right now.
The panel ended with a question about the potential for a musical adaptation of “Scott Pilgrim.” O’Malley said that the film’s producers also produced the Broadway musical “Wicked” and the upcoming film adaptation of “Into the Woods,” so he has hope but thinks that the property should lie low for a while. He said that he would be “so down” with a musical reboot of “Scott Pilgrim” in 20 years.
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