Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Vs. My Brain

When I first read Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, I was in my mid-20s, sort of floating around, working crappy jobs and half-heartedly entangling myself with mildly disresputable young men in an attempt to work through some of the heartache my Big Ex had landed on me in the midst of our fraught breakup . In other words, I was the prime-time demographic for this graphic novel, and the blend of Toronto city landmarks, sarcasm, video-game tropes and weirdo 20s love was intoxicating.

I wasn't first on the scene - the books started coming out in 2004, the series wrapped up to huge fanfare last summer, and I started reading sometime around volume 4. Scott and his romance with the mysterious Ramona Flowers was progressing about as well as you'd expect: he was living (and sharing a bed) with his gay roomie, not working and mooning over Ramona, while she zipped around, delivering packages, dying her hair, and alternately making Scott miserable and terrifically happy. In other words, it was the perfect encapsulation of what most of Canadian slacker-types go through in our mid-twenties. We grow up, albeit dragging our heels and moaning about it the whole damned time.

I love Scott Pilgrim. I love Ramona Flowers. I love all the weird side characters, like Joseph, the incredibly bitchy dude who engineers Scott's band's horrible album. I love Kim Pine, the drummer of that horrible band, because she wears a warm-up jacket in every panel and can be friends with Scott while simultaneously knowing he's a moron. We all have friends like that - people we know are idiots, whom we hold dear because they're funny, or play bass passably well, or because the people we're friends with between the ages of 17 and 26 are often bonded to us in a way that brings to mind shamans and blood-brother ceremonies.

The movie, which was released last year to great critical success and indifferent audiences, captured some of the comic's delights. The supporting cast was superb, but Scott was whiny and Romana never once cracked a smile. It was hard to imagine why the two of them would even date, let along battle seven of Ramona's evil exes in order to be together. The comic, with its meandering storyline and jokey asides, allowed for the readers to get a glimpse of Scott's neuroses outside of Ramona: the absentee parents, the recalcitrance about getting a job. It also showcased Ramona as Awesome Girlfriend. She was funny, sweet, caring, and genuinely seems to dig Mr. Pilgrim despite, and maybe because of, his flaws. It becomes much easier to see what works about that pairing when we're allowed to sit back and watch the relationship take form.

While the spotlight tends to be trained on Ramona's evil exes, Scott also needed to work out his romantic shizz. Cue Knives Chau, the hilariously obsessed 17 year old Scott ditches for Ramona, who gets her own story arc. The awkwardness of hanging out with a teenager when you're in your early twenties is so well-done in some scenes that I cringed. That dynamic can be so tense - we all like to pretend that we're so much smarter than people five years our junior, but the things I've learned since I was 23 include "check the pasta sauce for mold," and "you can't wear monthly contacts for 56 days in a row." Knives would appeal to an underachiever like Scott, but as Scott grows up, girls become less appealing than women. Knives, with all her excitable fervor and devotion, is a girl.

Likewise, Kim Pine is also a Pilgrim ex, and the relationship they've created, based on music and pretending that their romance never happened, isn't exactly a foreign concept. We all have people we adore as friends who were auditioned for the girlfriend/boyfriend role - maybe even understudied - but never quite made it to opening night. Scott, gratifyingly, works through some of it. Some of it stay unresolved, because Brian Lee O'Malley is smart, and his comics, though they feature video game-inspired fights, are pretty honest.

I don't know if the comics are going to be timeless, or if they'll become a time capsule of early millennial Canadian urban angst. Maybe both. Re-reading the comics recently, I was struck by how funny they are. The characters make fun of each other, fall down, aren't perfect. Scott's comebacks are often "You...something....mean words!" which is pretty much exactly how most people's brains work when faced with surprising meanness. The characters go to shows, come out of the closet, go off to university and have wilderness sabbaticals. They also make terrible music, have fights with their ex-boyfriends, and get kicked out of their apartments. They keep trying. Scott and his buddies are some of the most perfect 20-somethings ever created, because they radiate that indomitable spirit of the young adult: anything is possible, nothing can't be conquered, and flying, fanged ex-boyfriends are nothing compared to the ass-kicking getting a job will give you. Oh, and falling in love with the right person? Worth fighting for, both with your fists and your heart.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post.. wondering around the net and found this! I just saw the movie.. im exactly in my mid twentys, adn im definitly reading the comic now! thx