Scott Pilgrim is a six volume digest style graphic novel series penned by Brian Lee O’Malley. For the uninitiated this series appears to be a manga or a Japanese style comic popularly enjoyed worldwide. However, upon a further inspection one will find that this series is more of a hybrid than a true manga. To draw some common similarities the series has the common digest style release schedule of a manga but is read left to right like a traditional western comic. Scott Pilgrim is in all accounts a fantastic read and as it stands I would recommend it even if you don’t like manga. It’s been universally praised and has even had a very good movie adaptation, so let’s dive into Scott Pilgrim
The story of Scott Pilgrim begins in the mystical land of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old Canadian slacker. He doesn’t have a job, he lives with his gay roommate in a tiny apartment, and he plays bass in a band with a couple of his friends. Scott is now dating an 18-year-old Chinese girl named Knives Chau who deeply admires him but soon Scott finds Ramona Flowers, an American delivery girl who he first sees in a dream. Scott begins dating her and breaks up with Knives beginning a love triangle that persists for a majority of the series.
However, once Scott and Ramona start dating Scott comes under attack from a league. The League of Evil Exes, Ramona’s seven evil exes to be specific. To gain the right to date Ramona, Scott must defeat her Evil Exes a la Megaman-style boss rush. Each of the Exes has their own beef with both Ramona and Scott and holds up nicely with each ex being stronger than the last, culminating in their leader, Gideon Graves. I would love to dive more into the story but to do so would spoil some of the great twists and turns Scott and Ramona go through in their relationship.
The art for Scott Pilgrim is rather hit and miss in many places, but in my opinion the art is very very good. The style for the characters is based off of a mix of the manga Ranma 1/2 and traditional American style cartooning. Every character is well designed and is very expressive. One facet that I feel a lot of comics miss is the character’s clothing, which is for the most part unchanging in comics, but in Scott Pilgrim each character has a different outfit they wear which adds to the believability that all of these characters are real characters.
Ramona specifically goes through many redesigns, almost one to two every volume with a different hairstyle and accented accessories. For the backgrounds I personally feel O’Malley knocked it out of the park. Each place in Toronto is accurate to real life locations and feels appropriately desolate or lively. Another facet of the art is the grungy style or dirty/scummy locations in the later volumes. These darker locations are attributed to the series inspiration which is heavily rooted in the late 90s, early 2000s indie pop and grunge rock which adds to the aesthetic of the environments and characters, appearing appropriately untidy or messy but retaining the likable designs.
As in any comic book worth it’s weight in salt, the characters are the best part of the series. Scott Pilgrim is the lead, as previously stated. Scott is a slacker, college dropout, musician, mooch. He’s wishy-washy and doesn’t really know what he wants as well as being incredibly unintelligent on top of it all. While he may sound like a weak lead, he actually is an incredibly deep character. Most of the story revolves around his emotional turmoil, his horrible memory, and his great fighting skills, which for some unexplained reason qualify him to beat up each of Ramona’s Exes.
The female lead is the girlfriend in question, Ramona Flowers. Ramona is a mysterious character in the beginning of the series, being literally the girl of Scott’s dreams, but it turns out there is just a really convenient space highway through Scott’s head. Either way Ramona is from America and works as a delivery girl for amazon.ca. She cares for Scott and her friends, and a lot of the time she comes off as aloof. But in comparison to Scott, Ramona acts as his foil, his diametric opposite. She is independent; she knows what she wants (most of the time), and has her life together. Together the two make for the main intrigue the series holds exploring the peaks and valleys of a relationship with two people who are fundamentally dysfunctional.
The side characters deserve mention here as well, not only for their great personalities but also for their role they play in the story at large. First, I have to mention Knives Chau, Scott’s ex girlfriend. Knives’ main attribute for a majority of the series is the fact that she still loves Scott. Eventually she gets over him and decides to move on with her life, but she has a well-defined character arc and is a great support for Scott throughout. We see her as a high schooler, and by the time the series ends she has matured and is on her way off to college. The next major side character I need to mention is Wallace Wells, Scott’s roommate who happens to be gay.Wallace serves to add some comic relief and give Scott life advice when he needs it as well as researching each of Ramona’s exes and providing Scott with vital information on them which admittedly Scott tends to forget.
Next up is the band members of Sex Bob-Omb, the band Scott is involved with. The talented Stephen Stills is the lead guitarist and lead vocalist. Stephen is again a source of comedy and wisdom but comes off as a very calm individual, unless stressed, in which case he pukes. Next in the lineup is Kim Pines, drummer, friend, and another of Scott’s exes. She seems generally disinterested with everything going on and serves to add an outsider’s perspective. She comes off as hateful, but truthfully Kim is around to support Scott entirely due in part to some feelings she still has for him since they dated way back in high school. There are tons of other side characters, but alas I feel we need to move on to the antagonists.
The antagonists of Scott Pilgrim are the titular League of Evil Exes. The league consists of six guys and one girl, and each and every one of them are out for Scott’s head. Each Ex brings more pressure and has more power than the last with the weakest being Matthew Patel who dated Ramona for like a week in middle school. He has weird fire demon dancing chicks he can summon but ultimately isn’t that much of a challenge. Next is Lucas Lee, who is a rich and famous movie star pro skater, who does his own special effects. He is by far the weakest of the exes in terms of character depth and development and his death via wipeout is totally appropriate. The third evil ex and my personal favorite is Todd Ingram. Todd is a bassist in a band spearheaded by the woman who broke Scott’s heart, Envy Adams. Todd is a vegan and because of it has magical psychic began powers and is an escalation as he is given backstory and has legitimate beef with both Ramona and Scott.
The fourth evil ex is Roxie Masters, Roxie is the only non-male in the league and is a half-ninja American girl. She persists through volume four as both comic relief and has no beef with Ramona but is delusional to the point of believing that Ramona still has feelings for her. Scott doesn’t actually fight her this time but all in all she gets dealt with. The fifth and sixth exes are a pair, twins in fact. The Katanayami twins are Japanese DJs and have a terrible grudge with Ramona because she cheated on both of them with each other, splitting them apart. And the ultimate evil ex is Gideon Graves, a megalomaniac and generally very intimidating figure. He is the greatest of the exes and I feel the only truly evil ex.
Scott Pilgrim is a great series, and one of the few I continually reread on an almost annual basis. The characters are fun and memorable, the art is unique, and the aesthetic is fun and campy. The series is short and relatively cheap to pick up on Amazon ($45 for the entire thing). Plus, there are awesome other products for when you finish with the movie adaptation and the side scrolling beat’em up. I would say I thoroughly enjoy Scott Pilgrim and will continue to love it for years to come.