It's hard to measure just how much Bryan Lee O'Malley's following has grown over the past decade, but here's an unscientific juxtaposition: in 2004, Oni Press published "Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life," first in a planned series of digest-sized volumes about the indie-rock-playing title slacker, his mysterious love interest Ramona Flowers, and a league of seven evil exes he must defeat to continue dating her. A launch event was held at much-loved Toronto comics shop The Beguiling. That event drew about 50 people. O'Malley returned to the city on Monday for the midnight release of "Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour," the sixth and final entry in his story. The book party was hosted by The Beguiling once again, but the store only functioned as the home base for a kind of nerdy block party. This time, organizers estimate, a throng of 2,000 passed through.
Scores of fans were already lined up for the first of two O'Malley signings at 8:00pm. The devoted response made sense - Oni Press had arranged for concurrent release parties at shops across North America, but only this one shared a home with Scott Pilgrim himself. The Toronto setting is integral to O'Malley's series, made mythological by his visual language of vintage video games and stylized manga. Most of the venues along the Beguiling's stretch of Markham St. were hosting related programming, right next to Honest Ed's - the huge cheap-stuff emporium known for its blinding exterior and a memorable showdown in "Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness."
Volunteers temporarily equipped one restaurant with a wall of consoles and controllers for games both old-school ("Super Bomberman") and new ("Nom Nom Nom Nom"). Meanwhile, several bands dashed through suitably jangly indie pop at the Central. Sister, which features half the lineup from Plumtree - a long-defunct Canadian group who cut the O'Malley-influencing 1998 single "Scott Pilgrim" - welcomed another ex-member onto the bar's narrow stage for a nostalgic cover. (The inspiration for that song is actually named Scott Ingram, now an accountant. He showed up too.)
Up the street, an Italian restaurant premiered the soundtrack from Edgar Wright's imminent film adaptation, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Its looming August 13 release date explains why "Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour" is entering the upper reaches of Amazon's Top 100 list, but perhaps not why so many existing readers were determined to get Vol. Six as soon as possible. The handful of confused bystanders seemed to be taken aback by the crowd's excitement. One man told me, "I've never seen people so enthusiastic about a book." Then he asked, "'Scott Pilgrim?' There aren't any vampires in it, are there?"
Later, the lineup for O'Malley's second wee-hours signing was wiggling its tail around the other end of the block, a parade of neon hair, teenage couples, friendly chatter and a few families. Even the guys who smuggled along cans of beer did so politely. A significant fraction of attendees were also dressed as a particular character; nearly a hundred people entered the Beguiling's costume contest. The winner in each category was whoever got the loudest cheers from a teeming crowd. And Ellen Wong (Knives Chau in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") made an impromptu appearance. But Beguiling manager Chris Butcher, megaphone in hand, managed to preside over a spectacle rather than chaos. No cast member seemed too obscure for cosplay: there was a quartet who competed as Crash and the Boys and just about every evil ex was represented. The forces of good/ambiguity were more popular, however. A line of drumstick-wielding Kim Pines count themselves in together was a highlight, but fans of sheer quantity were consoled by the 30 Ramona Flowers lookalikes who capped things off. One had a homemade Scott Pilgrim head peering out from her magical handbag.
Any real human with a role in one of the books was barred from entering the contest, which disqualified several people hanging out at the party and possibly Butcher as well. The store manager was O'Malley's roommate during his time in Toronto, and Scott's droll gay roommate/ignored voice of reason Wallace Wells is famously based on him. Looking both exhausted and elated as midnight approached, Butcher told CBR, "I'm happy for Mal to see it done. I'm glad it has an ending." He was also happy that one of the cosplayers imitating his analogue went pantsless for maximum accuracy, and embraced the friend who inspired the minor character "other Scott" with a mock spoiler: "In the book, we fuck!"
When a mass cheer greeted the arrival of July 20, there were roughly 600 people waiting to meet O'Malley and 300 more just scurrying to grab the book. O'Malley signed "Finest Hours" by candlelight until 3:45 am.