‘Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour’ Arrives for Bryan Lee O’Malley [Interview]
The debut of the “Scott Pilgrim” movie is slated for August 13th, but for fans of much-beloved manga-influenced action-romance-comedy-drama comic, the real main event happened today — or in some places, at midnight last night. “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour,” the long-awaited sixth and final volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s epic about a hapless 20-something on a quest to defeat his girlfriend’s seven evil exes, has finally hit shelves, and if you have not bought it, PLEASE DO SO NOW. Go ahead. We’ll wait.
Got it now? Great. Because we had a chance to talk to Bryan Lee O’Malley about all the spoileriffic details in an extensive interview where he reveals the alternate ending that almost was, why Envy Adams is the character he identifies with the most, how much of the “Scott Pilgrim” series holds true after the revelations of the final book, and what’s next. Strap in, because HUGE SPOILERS FOLLOW.
ComicsAlliance: I had a chance to read Volume 6, and I’ve been holding in all these spoilers, which was really hard.
Bryan Lee O’Malley: You’re the first person I’ve actually talked to who’s read it, so it’s interesting.
CA: There’s a real effort to bring everything full circle, with a lot of nods to earlier volumes; Scott ends up back in the dream desert of loneliness, and “Things Keep Happening” becomes “Things Stop Happening.” Were you digging back into your earlier work as you prepared for the end?
BLOM: I feel like you have to. I wanted to just kind of ignore everything that’d gone before, but I didn’t think that was fair to anyone. So no matter how it hurts, I have go back and look at my old sh*t and see what I was going.CA: Scott has had this arc of personal development over the course of the series; given how much your work has changed since the first volume, do you feel like you’ve had your own arc as well? Do you look back at “Scott Pilgrim” as the experiment or the experience that transformed you?
BLOM: I don’t know. It’s so tightly intertwined. The whole book was a very organic process: figuring out the story as I was writing out the story; figuring out the art style; figuring out myself. Figuring out relationships between boys and girls – just everything. Everything I do is going to by necessity going to have to be an evolutionary process.
CA: There’s a strong theme of moving on in Volume 6 – of people getting over things. Was that something that came organically from the characters, or was that partly how you were feeling about the series at the time and wanting to move on from “Scott Pilgrim”?
BLOM: Yes. A lot of people throughout the series have been like, “He should end up with Kim Pine!” But for me, I’ve always felt in my own life — and in my judgment of everybody’s life — that you can’t really go back that way. You can only move forward, and you have to find a way to do that. That’s what the arc of the book is for me.
CA: You see Scott trying to do that, to go back, and he goes right down the line and tries his luck with Kim, and Knives, and Envy. Was that just Scott being needy and wanting to have someone, or was it him finding closure?
BLOM: It starts out as one and turns into the other. He’s needy and lazy. And he goes back to that because it’s easy. And when it’s not easy, it turns into closure automatically. At the end he has the panel [with Envy] that actually says “CLOSURE,” which was a callback to Volume 3 when he wanted a hug. And I wrote a hug into the script, but then I was like, no, he doesn’t deserve a f*cking hug in Volume 3.
CA: I was really struck by the transformation of Envy over the series and particularly in this book. She comes in as this malevolent villainess, this terrible person, but she’s really sympathetic in Volume 6. You flip the script on a lot of things with the revelation that some of what we’ve seen in the books is Scott’s invented narrative about his life and how he’s the noble hero, or the victim, and that it wasn’t true. Particularly the revelation that Scott broke Envy’s heart too – that blew my mind. And then when she tells Scott that Gideon isn’t a bad guy, suddenly I thought, hey, maybe everything I know is wrong.
BLOM: I just kinda wanted to highlight the fact that throughout this whole story, it’s been Scott’s narration… There’s really isn’t any omniscient narrator; it’s really all Scott’s personal narration of his own life. It’s been skewed ever since the beginning, but here I highlight it a little bit more.
CA: You really see the lens of his perspective in how his relationship with Envy is represented in this book, how it’s changed. In the second volume, when she calls him, the world stops, and that scene goes on for pages and pages. But when Envy calls him in this volume, it’s literally one panel, that’s it. Which is growth for Scott, to move on to a place where it doesn’t smash his mind like a light bulb to he get a phone call from her.
BLOM: He’s moved on to a place where if Ramona called him, it would be ten pages. He’s just substituting. He’s not obsessed with her anymore, because he has someone else to be obsessed with. I don’t know; I don’t know if that’s necessarily true either. I think it is growth. I think he’s moving on even if he doesn’t realize it.
CA: We never really find out what actually happened between Scott and Envy during their breakup, although it’s implied that Scott f*cked something up. Was there something you had in mind there? Does it matter?
BLOM: I was going to originally go back and fill in the story a little more, but I shied away from flashbacks from the most part. I don’t know if I really want to know, or want you to know. It’s just not what he thought. It’s that his own narration of his own life is unreliable to himself, and he just was tricking himself. I think we all do that.
CA: So instead of an omniscient narrator, we get an unreliable narrator.
BLOM: In the very beginning, the whole “Scott Pilgrim – Rating: Awesome” thing, that’s where it begins.
CA: And that’s where we get Nega-Scott, and this idea of choosing to forget, or intentionally misremembering.
BLOM: I figured that Nega-Scott was all this repressed crap. And if you’re just pretending that you don’t have a bad side, then you’re just fooling yourself.
CA: So Nega-Scott was there all along, Scott was just making the choice not to acknowledge him.
BLOM: He was making the choice to tell the story of himself as this flawless hero, which is not true.
CA: So how much of what we saw in “Scott Pilgrim” was “real”?
BLOM: It’s mostly just the flashbacks that were unreliable. But then you get into the fighting. Someone was talking about how there’s a line in the first volume that didn’t ring true, where Kim starts going on about how Scott’s this great fighter. But from the point when the fight starts, his friends are not his real friends anymore. They’re like background characters in the video game. They’re just versions of his friends that are just cheerleaders… I wouldn’t define it very much because I don’t really know what’s real or not.
CA: So, if Gideon was in their minds the whole time, was he seeing what we were seeing? Was he basically the reader during the series?
BLOM: Sure? Gideon was kind of me in my head in the beginning, and I don’t know if it really turned out that way in the end, but I think that’s part of it.
CA: At the end, you see Gideon with his whole coterie of ex-girlfriends that he’s frozen in stasis, and realize how much he’s hanging on to his own past. Scott makes this comment about he understands him, and I started wondering, how different is Gideon from Scott, really? Aside from being a little meaner and a little more ambitious.
BLOM: Yeah, exactly. He’s like if Scott grew up and kept being a douchebag, basically. Partway through the series, I kinda thought Scott was me when I started the series, and Gideon was me when I finished the series. You were talking about Envy before, and that’s one weird thing about this book; I realized I identified with Envy more than anyone else. So I had to bring her back. I’ve kind of gone through that same arc; I moved away and kind of became a big deal.
CA: Can you see everything kind of warp around you when things change in that way?
BLOM: Yeah. I came back to Toronto last year, and it was weird, and it was different. A lot of my experience went into bringing her back. And Gideon is like [“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” director] Edgar [Wright], to some degree. Because Edgar’s like, “let’s go back to Toronto and hang out!” And it’s not the same. It’s not like I’m 24 and broke. All of a sudden the famous people of Toronto kinda embraced me as one of their own, but I was never one of them back in the day. It was a very different experience. Throughout the movie thing, I saw different sides of the city that I’d never seen or never imagined. It was very strange. But I think it went into the book in an interesting way.
CA: There’s the obvious music analogy about how people start out making an album from this place of poverty or hunger, and then they make it big, and suddenly it’s not where they’re coming from anymore. And how that changes what they create.
BLOM: Comics are the same way. It takes just as long to make a comic as it does to make a record. But I’m doing a series, so I’m trying to tell this one complete story. And from some point of view a band is telling one complete story too, the story of the band. And the story of me is somewhat encoded in the story of Scott Pilgrim, I guess.
CA: With the release of the movie growing closer – and the huge influx of new readers it’s likely to bring – have you thought about how that’s going to affect the way that you interact with your audience?
BLOM: It already has, to a huge degree. It’s just exploded during the last six months. I don’t actually have my e-mail on my site anymore, because it started making me nervous. I still have a fan mail address up there, although I never got that much fan mail… I don’t know if I’m unapproachable, or too approachable in other venues.
CA: Well, you’re on Twitter. People can tweet at you.
BLOM: I do like to have the occasional conversation. Although now if I respond to someone’s tweet, it becomes more, “oh my God he replied to me!” It’s this weird, fluttery fan reaction rather than actually having a conversation.
CA: The last time we did a big interview was before Volume 5, and at the time you said you kind of knew sort of how the end of the series would work out. How close did Volume 6 come to what you thought it would be?
BLOM: Originally, it was going to be a little more down-ish. There’d be some closure, but [Scott and Ramona] were going to go their separate ways at the end. And I realized that it kind of wasn’t fair to anyone, so I fought to make it work… I always wanted to leave it open, because I wanted to see how my own life went. I was like, maybe if my wife leaves me, I’ll make it a really sad story. [laughs] But I’m still happy, so I went for the happy ending.
CA: I honestly thought Scott was going to pull a Kelly Taylor in the end and choose himself. What exactly does it mean for Scott to end up with Ramona in terms of his personal development?
BLOM: I think it means that he’s growing up; he’s committing to this thing that he doesn’t quite understand but that he wants to understand. It’s not the complete story of his life or anything, it’s just the story of him and this one choice.
CA: The first volume set up Scott and his friends in a certain way, and it seemed like everything after that was about Scott wanting things to stay the same, Scott wanting things to return to that point. It reminded me about the way that some people get about high school, or college, where they create this set point in their life that they keep trying to get back to it instead of moving forward in their lives. I thought it was really significant that what he has to embrace at the end is that change is the norm.
BLOM: Yeah. Because that time in your life, your early 20s, it lasts a couple of years at the most. And those friends can last less than that. The group of friends [in “Scott Pilgrim”] is already disintegrating by Volume 4, even though Scott doesn’t quite understand.
CA: All of a sudden Young Neil is sitting alone in his room and smoking, complaining about how no one ever hangs out with him anymore.
BLOM: That’s the thing I hate about a lot of comics and manga, that they just kinda stick to the status quo. I like evolution. And I guess I like dissolution. I just feel like that’s life. And that’s just me. I’ve never been the greatest friend, and I’ve moved around a lot in my life. Part of it is just my hangups and part of it is how I see the world.
CA: The book is called “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour,” and I was trying to figure out which moment, exactly, that was. Was it when he came back to life? Or when he stood up to Ramona, which I thought was huge? When he finally took on Gideon? Ultimately, though, the moment when he absorbed Nega-Scott stood out to me as the most pivotal. What was it for you?
BLOM: The whole book takes about an hour to read, so that could be his finest hour. [laughs] I don’t know. I think that point with the stuff in woods, when he makes the decision to face Ramona instead of hiding in his apartment, and everything that comes after that.
CA: One of the biggest mysteries of the series was the glow, which showed up in the very first volume. Did you know what it was going to mean when you first introduced it?
BLOM: I kinda waffled back and forth on understanding for myself what it meant. I’m trying to remember what it means in the book. It’s like when you’re self-obsessed — it’s this weird anger/depression thing. I don’t really know. It’s kind of a metaphor. It’s kind of when a relationship is on this fragile ledge and someone’s upset at someone. It’s this back and forth thing. And it’s hard to shake once it comes on.
CA: It seemed like when the glow showed up it usually wasn’t about the people in the relationship as much as it was about all their other sh*t.
BLOM: Yeah, and that ties in with the bag thing, which was my big revelation when I was writing the script. I was like, she needs a symbol that we can destroy that means something, that’s always been there. And I was like, oh, her bag! It’s her baggage. [laughs] So that ties in nicely, I think.
CA: Now that “Scott Pilgrim” is over – well, aside from Comic-Con and the movie – what do you want to move on to? What do you want next?
BLOM: I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of completely vague ideas that I’ve scribbled down over the years. But nothing that really makes any sense yet… I want to keep doing comics, and I definitely have ideas for another series that will be fun and exciting. But also other stuff. Maybe some movies and screenplays. Maybe I’ll write something for someone else to draw. I like comics; that’s my main thing.
CA: Are you interested in digital comics at all, either in terms of the iPad or webcomics?
BLOM: We’re doing Scott Pilgrim on the iPad. But I don’t know how it’ll work. I don’t have an iPad. I have a PSP and I downloaded Matt Fraction’s first issue of “[Invincible] Iron Man” on it, and I don’t really like reading a comic on that tiny screen… The apps for that, they read it for you, and that takes away an element of comics to have it scrolling around. And then I don’t think it’s the same medium anymore.
CA: Well, one of the things that makes comics special as opposed to movies or TV, is that you’re in control as the story unfolds.
BLOM: Yeah, you make the rules. I made a joke about that in the back of “Scott Pilgrim” about how you could read it freestyle, read the panels in any order you want. And sure, you could do that! [laughs] You’re allowed. But you’re not allowed on the iPhone or whatever. Also I think the last time we talked I was more interested in webcomics, but they’re still not really taken seriously. Like, if I did a webcomic, maybe a million people would read it, but the New York Times would never review it. So I don’t know. They still don’t have that legitimacy. I’m drawn to the format, I’m just not sure how to make it work. Maybe just by virtue of having someone who did “Scott Pilgrim” doing a webcomic, by brute force that would legitimize it slightly. I don’t know.
CA: What are your plans now for your newly acquired fame? What do you do with that?
BLOM: I don’t know. I’ve heard some people say “Scott Pilgrim” is the only comic they’ve ever read, so hopefully we can find more comics that appeal to them. Have you every seen “Shaolin Soccer”? At the end, he turns the whole world into Shaolins. I would like to use this little bit of leverage to get more people interested in the comics. I want everyone to be reading comics or making comics.