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Why the hell do I adore Scott Pilgrim, anyway? (Part 1)

I ask because Tim O’Neill emphatically doesn’t, and when the guy I consider the smartest blogger I bother to read* dislikes something I love that much, it makes me rethink my position a little.Not that I expect Tim and I have to have the same tastes, or agree on anything at all. He drops Keirkegard references in his posts, I drop WWE references in mine. I think we probably come at everything from a different perspective. Like our views on video games as a legitimate medium, which is apparently part of why he disdains SP to begin with, for instance.

But still, it’s hard to write off even his allusions to the shitkicking he gave Brian Lee O’Malley’s mega popular series of graphic novels in the Comics Journal (or, as Paul O’Brien calls it, Basoon Improvisations Monthly). I won’t get in to that sturm und drang, because, well, I liked it better when it was called Fanboy Rampage, and Dick Hyacinth covers it better here anyway, because it went pretty far afield from Tim’s much alluded to review that I was theoretically reacting to. Really, I just wanted to write the words Basoon Improvisations Monthly.

Anyway, Tim doesn’t like SP because he doesn’t view the premise of a comic sturctured like a video game to be a valid concept, and that’s where he and Christopher (or, as I like to think of him, not-ADD from the old Comic Book Galaxy) Allen got in to a pissing match. That’s fair enough, I guess, at least from the perspective of “this is why I don’t like this”. Which seems more like something you’d do in a review than as a piece of serious criticism, but I don’t want to impugn a review I haven’t read, and besides, if I knew my ass from a hole in the ground when it came to serious criticism, I might actually be an honest to goodness published writer now instead of a really lazy blogger Cronin tolerates.

I think the fixation on the video game aspect of the book is a little short sighted, though. The quest structure, as someone in the comments section pointed out, isn’t mutually exclusive to video games. There are a lot of references to games in there (from Scott calling Wallace to ask what the code to Sonic the Hedehog 3 was to him gaining items and experience points after beating one of Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriends), but if the book’s appeal were just in the video game stuff, it would be extremely superficial. That stuff’s just frosting for people like me and the rest of the Nintendo Generation which have embraced this book and, I hate to tell video game hating old people like Tim and Burgas, will soon replace you. I would take my shoe off, hit the table with it, and yell “We will bury you”, but somehow, that seems like a bad omen. What I’m trying to say is, yes, this does appeal (I won’t neccessarily say pander) to the video game fanatics in the audience, but I don’t think the video game connection is the only appeal of the book. I do fervently wish that the book was sold in video game stores, but that’s true of Bendis’s Halo comic, too.
That leaves me wondering what the appeal of the book is, though? Why does it resonate with me so much? Why is it the only comic without men in tights punching each other that I genuinely get excited about upon its release? I’ll have to get back to you on that one, because I have to go look for a job now. And probably play some video games.

*Jog might deserve this title more**, but I consider him merely the wordiest; he may be a genius or not, but there such a volume of verbiage in his longer reviews that I sort of drift in and out after awhile, and he may very well just be speaking gibberish. If he was doing that, I might like him more.

**Jeff Lester may deserve the title, too, I just kind of forgot about him and don’t feel like amending my post.***

***I say smartest blogger I bother to read because I only read about five comics blogs regularly, and so there are probably smarter comics bloggers out there, like a Gary Groth, or a Heidi Macdonald, or a Stephen Hawking, or maybe Scipo; I just don’t care.****

****Also, I disqualify Paul O’Brien because, as much as I like his work, he did buy every issue of Mutant X and Chuck Austen’s X-Men. While I consider that more a sacrifice for the greater good, so that lapsed X-Men fans like I can keep from even thinking of buying that shit, than a sign of stupidity, it still is a pretty heavy strike against him.

34 Comments

I think one of the biggest draws for me on Scott Pilgrim is the fact that, despite all of its manga-flavored-video-game-inspiried-out-of-control-and-over-the-top wackiness, it’s all based upon incredibly believable and easily relatable characters. A lot of the books center around Scott and his friends hanging out and doing nothing, like real people. They interact similiarly to the way that my friends and I interact. I’ve been in relationships like Scott and Knives’ where things felt out of place, but there was that air of innocent sweetness; I’ve also been in relationships like Scott and Ramona’s, where I’ve found myself battling her baggage and my own feelings of inadequacy. Granted, it didn’t result in a frantic battle in a flea market and I didn’t get power-ups, but I stilll feel that I can relate to the characters on many levels.

I agree though, I think that the video game connection is hyped too much. Yes, it is a major part of the structure, but not to the point that I would discredit the clever writing or the consistently fun artwork. That’s like saying you hate the TV show “Grounded for Life” because you have a particular disdain for flashbacks (which is inherent to the story structure of most episodes, but ultimately takes a backseat to the writing and performances).

I love Scott Pilgrim because it captures the feel of what it’s really like to be a twenty-something at the moment, in the same way ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ captured what it was like to be a thirty-something in the mid-late nineties.
The references to video games, OLD video games, are important, because they’re things people my age grew up with. The reviewer calls it infantile, but he misses the fact that that’s kind of the point. Scott personifies our generation’s inability to grow up and take responsibility. He can’t understand anything without equating it to something from a game. Video game logic bleeds even into his serious romantic issues. He can’t even move on and play new games, he’s stuck regressing into his childhood playing on his snes while trying to grow up, get a job, get a suitable girlfriend. He is shown playing games, or referencing games when he feels insecure about the situations he’s in. It’s hard to get a job these days, ridiculously hard to get on the property ladder, and we get told all the time that the streets are unsafe and everybody and everything’s out to get us. Is it any wonder we take solace in video games, comics, childrens’ literature like ‘Harry Potter’ and cartoons? Scott reflects that. He’s every twenty-something geek.
Notice how frightened he is when first Envy, then Knives suddenly grow up, stop acting geekish and childish and show adult ambition and wearing more mature clothing. Envy calls the game ‘dumb’ and leaves the room, after having sold her anime and toys to buy expensive clothes.
Scott has to complete the ‘game’ by defeating the evil exes, so he can finally grow up and move on. I think that’s what O’Malley is trying to put across, that in the end, it’s fun to look back nostalgically on your old games, but you can’t let them continue to dominate your life, you have to grow up sometime. At the same time, however, it warns against just throwing your personality away and being somebody else for the sake of growing up, like Envy. The moral of Pilgrim, as I see it, is to be yourself and allow yourself to mature without losing sight of who you are.

I’m not at all fond of Scott Pilgrim, and entirely because it brings an entirely outdated mode of video game storytelling into comics and somehow is supposed to be praiseworthy for doing this. In a modern game, generally speaking, the princesses rescue themselves, or will at least join your party. I would rather read about that, given that it’s the sort of thing I play, than the longings for simpler 8-bit days of both relationships and games that appear in Scott Pilgrim. Too much of the book is nostalgic for a “simpler time” I find repulsive.

(This said, while I dislike the story, the art and layouts are quite excellent. I do not find it inconceivable one could enjoy it in the frothy, kinetic, faintly mindless way of Nextwave. I find it unfathomable that the book’s fans think its appeal can or should be universal. This is, simply put, a comic for single men or those who were once single men, and it’s not much interested in talking to anyone else. Kind of my problem with the unadulterated praise the industry heaps on Garth Ennis’ utterly impenetrable and frankly repetitive tales of ludicrous machismo, really.)

“I might actually be an honest to goodness published writer now instead of a really lazy blogger Cronin tolerates.”

Hey! The two aren’t necasarilly mutually excusive!

I’m nowhere near the video game generation, or any other of the presumed demographics (although I did play my share in the late 80’s and early 90’s), but I find Pilgrim amusing and clever, and O’Malley does a wonderful job of visualizing his world he’s created.

Maybe I’m just easily entertained, who knows.

Nice Post Brad.

I think your right to say that the video game generation will eventually inherent comicdom outright, but the important thing to understand about the world of Scott Pilgrim is that the kind of games it eludes to are not the kind of games which exist anymore, nor will ever exist again. SP is grounded in the world of sidescrolling beat ‘em ums and platformers which – the world of video games being even more ephemeral than the world of music – will be more-or-less a mystery to anybody who was born after 1990.

Scott Pilgrim is not, in reality, a zeitgeisty book as some older comic fans might perceive (where are the references to social networking sites?). The key to Scott Pilgrim’s popularity (other than being funny and well drawn) is, in fact, its sense of nostagia for the recent past.

For anyone who grew up in the 80s, played video games in the early 90s and went to punk/metal/ska gigs in the late 90s and early 00s (ie, a sizable chunk of the comics buying public including myself) Scott Pilgrim is a comic that describes the world of their youth. For anyone who grew up before or after this period, it probably doesn’t mean much.

Fingers crossed for Nov 14th

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Scott-Pilgrim-Gets-Together-Pilgrims/dp/1932664491/ref=wl_it_dp/202-7174093-2999064?ie=UTF8&coliid=I14QMZRJ0MLRKA&colid=5J4Z54HN5J1E

Where the hell did my post go?

In a modern game, generally speaking, the princesses rescue themselves, or will at least join your party.

Yes, but how often does the princess get to pull a really big hammer out of her purse and hit people with it?

It’s unfair to say that Scott Pilgrim is based on videogames. It does borrow certain structurs and concepts, but that alone just gets you Sharknife or Peng, which are awesome fun books but still a notch below Pilgrim.

The success of Scott Pilgrim is the mixing of genres and mediums: Video games, manga, character work, romance, and simple, all-out silliness.

I just lost quite a long post and I can’t be arsed to rewrite it, but the jist of it was this:

Scott Pilgrim is not a Zeitgeisty book as some older reviews might believe. The key to its popularity is, in fact, nostalgia for the recent past. Anyone born significantly before or after the 80s is unlikely to understand the emotional appeal of a book that makes reference to cartoons of the early 90s and sidescrolling beat ‘em ups.

I love Scott Pilgrim!

I think anyone who decries Scott Pilgrim as an immature work is sort of missing the point. Scott is himself pretty wildly immature and though it’s endearing, I don’t think it makes the reader want to emulate him. I give points to it for the video game style largely because I don’t think anyone has done anything like it before, and really, it just adds to the humor of the book. I’ve heard people come down on the series for Scott’s faults, but really, this is a comedy. Comedies about nothing but reasonable, intelligent, well-adjusted people don’t strike me as very funny. The book is creative precisely because it throws genres like indie romance and fighting video game at one another, and while in any sane world these would have nothing to do with one another, in Scott Pilgrim’s world, they make perfect sense.

Who’s Scott Pilgrim?

Tom – I’m not sure if you are being serious or not, but here we go:

Scott Pilgrim is the title character of a manga-inspired series of b&w graphic novels put out by Oni Press that have been quite popular. Three of the books are currently out, with (I think) four more slated for release. Scott is a early 20s slacker musician who must fight the 7 even exboyfriends of the enigmatic but endearing deliver girl, Ramona. Meanwhile, he has to deal with his former flame Knives Chau, rival muscians, slacker friends, etc. The books are based upon a quest model, often break the fourth wall, and owe much to the fighting video games and music of the 90s. Edgar Wright (writer/director of Spaced, Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of the Dead)is set to make a film version.

It’s definitely worth checking out, as it is very cleverly written and features some really great artwork and layouts.

Scott Pilgrim leaves me pretty cold. It’s not bad, but I can get the same thing from pretty much any webcomic. *Yawn*

Mongoose….

You totally got across why Scott pilgrim is so awesome, way better than I ever could.

Great post.

Can’t wait for book 4.

I’ve tried to read Scott Pilgrim numerous times, and I’ve never been able to make it through the first volume. As Michael mentioned, the entire thing feels like a webcomic, and a somewhat half-assed one to me. Then again, I’ve never been all that susceptible to nostalgia in any form, especially not for the stuff from my own childhood that the series references.

I think it just boils down to the fact that I can’t stand the writing in the book. I think the guy reviewing the movie script for IESB put it best when he remarked that “the characters have an emotional complexity rarely seen outside of Taco Bell commercials,” because every single character managed to make me want to punch them in the face within 5 pages of their introduction.

Yes, I think it’s pretty obvious that the whole series is structured as Scott’s journey into maturity, and I’m honestly surprised that O’Neill doesn’t get that. I mean, there are people who dismiss comics in precisely the same hand-waving mode that Tim uses to dismiss video games.

I’m not even a particularly big video game player, but I can see the obvious potential in employing video game ideas and narrative structures into storytelling. The movie “Run Lola Run” did much the same thing–did O’Neill think that movie was inherently worthless, too? It’s not even related to whether you think video games are an “artform”, or worthwhile, or whatever–it’s simply a case of an artist ranging afield for influences and ideas. The fact that the artform that O’Malley is relying on is new and, of neccessity, rather juvenile, shouldn’t disqualify it from serious consideration; all great art forms and modes, from Impressionism to Rock ‘n’ Roll, were once held up as ridiculus by “serious” critics of the time, fit only for an audience of young turks who clearly had no taste for the finer things…

But then, if it was published in the Comics Journal, I guess I shouldn’t find it surprising. This is a publication that’s founded on the idea of stirring the pot, often through wild exaggeration, rather than legitimate discussion.

I’m 36, female, and have never played a console video game, and I think Scott Pilgrim is a hoot. And I agree with Mongoose’s analysis. Although if I was still early 20s, it would probably hit too close to home.

One thing that is particularly realistic and entertaining is the complicated web of relationships among the characters. The way a group can end up with so many tangled histories and not everyone gets along with everyone else and some members have successively dated way too many other members of the group for comfort and so forth.

For the record, when I say Scott Pilgrim is like a webcomic, that’s not a slam against it or webcomics. I’m just explaining why I don’t get the orgasming over what’s a fairly average book when seen in that light.

To criticize this book for its video game references is absurd. The main characters of this book like video games and music and pop culture. So the form of the book mirrors what the characters’ interests are. I read this book as how the character Scott Pilgrim views his own life. It’s not supposed to be realistic (obviously?) It’s Scott’s mind’s cheerfully delusional fantasy of events, filtered through his brain which developed alongside video games and consumerist pop culture. The form makes perfect sense with the content. In fact, it’s very clever.

And I was never part of the gaming generation, but I enjoy the book immensely. And the guy above who said this book only appeals to single or once single men is nuts. This book is the definition of cute and many women dig that. And it’s got fun characters and stories so who wouldn’t enjoy that? My girlfriend loves it. Vegan power!

I just want to say that I always get a chuckle out of your footnotes, Brad.

Wow, it’s like Lynxara and I are reading completely different versions of Scott Pilgrim. I think Scott’s okay in a dorky sort of way, but I actually read SP for characters like Knives, Ramona, and whatsherface from Scott’s old school. I mean, c’mon. Knives and Ramona are at least as kickass as Scott – but really, way more.

Personally, while I find the videogame references charming in their own way, they’re really kind of one-offs for me. It’s the story and the characters that keep me coming back. Oh, and Mal’s art – which is just fun (even if I liked it in Lost at Sea better).

As far as O’Neill’s outright dismissal of SP because of his weird anti-videogame dogma, I confess I don’t get it. Where do these blind spots come from? I accept that someone could not be the biggest fan of the book, but I’d at least hope that a thinking person would have a reasonable criticism. My wife doesn’t like the series half as much as me because she has a hard time identifying with the characters’ interactions. Fine. Reasonable. Lynxara’s criticism is valid (though I think she’s mistaken). Not liking the book because of a prejudice against a book that isn’t based on videogames but merely utilizes some of the medium’s past themes? That’s kind of juniour high of him.

I have the first volume. It was amusing, certainly, but in no way the best book of the last few years. I haven’t bought any other volumes, because “amusing” isn’t enough to get my money anymore. If I see the books on sale, maybe I’ll try another.

Wallace Wells getting drunk and shouting at people is definetely my favourite part of SP.

Also fond of the strong characters and the humour, with special mention going to Scott’s thought balloon regarding the things he knew about Italy (The Pope? The Pope of Rome?)

It’s perfect book for the lapsed or current indie kid, and there’s a great sense of optimism to it. It’s not only fun to read, you can also lend it to everyone because it’s quite accessible for a comic book.

For the record, Mike, the books get funnier and funnier as they go. Volume 3 is definitely the best so far.

Just to add my .02: I am not a gamer or a manga fan, but I enjoy the true story of Scott and his variaous problems with girls, the band, ex-boyfriends, etc.

Proving that for at least one reader, it is the story and not the trappings that appeal.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

September 18, 2007 at 7:03 pm

I’m not even a particularly big video game player, but I can see the obvious potential in employing video game ideas and narrative structures into storytelling. The movie “Run Lola Run” did much the same thing–did O’Neill think that movie was inherently worthless, too?

Alex Garlands book The Beach (never seen the film) had whole chapters devoted about playing Gameboy, and references to Asterix and Obelix, and yet it still managed to sell huge, get great reviews, and be a damn good read as well.
Best ‘airport’ novel I’ve ever read (and I don’t think the term actually applies as it’s only structured like a thriller due to the main characters wish to be caught up in one – most of the book is people sitting on a beach).

Criticizing Scott Pilgrim for being “nostalgic” or “immature” strikes me as the equivalent of criticizing Lolita because Humbert’s a pedophile, A Portrait of the Artist… because Stephen’s a pompous ass – or, for that matter, criticizing Catcher in the Rye because Holden’s immature.

If a critic doesn’t think O’Malley’s managed the necessary ironic distance to achieve the same effect as those works (which themselves have been accused of not achieving enough ironic distance), I guess that’s an arguable criticism. But for a critic to not even acknowledge that, quite simply, O’Malley’s perspective isn’t the same as Scott Pilgrim’s perspective – that just seems sorta stupid.

That’s a false equivalence, Dave. There’s a crucial distinction between “The SCOTT PILGRIM story is immature” and “SCOTT PILGRIM features characters who are immature.”

(Although admittedly, I don’t see what’s so bad about being nostalgic.)

Here’s the distinction I’m making, which maybe wasn’t clear enough: in the cases mentioned above, the narrative, in varying ways, reflects the mindset/views of the protagonist. Certainly, this is perhaps more common in prose than comics, but it’s possible in both forms. As a result, the distinction between character, narrator, and author may be blurred at points throughout the work. But the distinction remains (at least, I think it does).

So I guess I don’t see why you phrased that as an argument against my point; it seems to be almost exactly what I’m saying – that these particular criticisms of Scott Pilgrim come from critics who aren’t fully making that “crucial distinction” – critics who are saying “elements of the narrative are immature, therefore the narrative as a whole is immature.”

No, no – if that’s what you meant then I agree that’s a perfectly valid approach.

It’s fair to say “Well, of course the story seems immature, it’s about an immature person grappling with maturity.” I think an equally valid rejoinder is “You know, I don’t really care about this character’s journey into maturity, his antics along the way are not at all amusing.”

It is clearly not impossible to care about what is going on with the characters in the story, but I suspect that doing so rests on being able to color the book’s loose, simple framework with personal life experiences. Mine color the framework with the feeling that Scott’s world is a shallow, artificial one, populated with persons of shallow taste and motivation, and I don’t really care to read about it when putting up with it sickens me enough already.

(And yes, this isn’t the first time someone’s commented that I appear to be reading Scott Pilgrim in a parallel universe. I really have no idea why I find it very negative and off-putting, when most people seem to find it good fun at worst. But frankly, why should my reaction be somehow illegitimate or incorrect simply because it’s not what most people are having? Someone else’s opinion hardly proves mine wrong, merely “different”; and the gap between them, I find, does more to illuminate what’s interesting bout a story than mere unadulterated praise.)

Also, just for the sake of posterity: actually, the “little princess with great big honkin’ violence hammer” is not just a video game stereotype, but one that is utter, hoary cliche. Perhaps the most perfectly trite example of it is Amy Rose, who showed up in the 90’s to help ruin the Sonic the Hedgehog games. There’s other specimens of her, though: dig through any Japanese shovelware from around the mid-90’s to about a few years ago, and she’s always waiting for you there, blandly sweet and just a little bit violent to keep her from being wholly offensive. Instead, she’s just mostly offensive… especially to someone like me, who sees her trotted out ad nauseam as a lazy writer’s shorthand for a woman who is assertive, but not in a threatening or, frankly, remotely interesting way.

And that is an opinion that I can’t call stupid, certainly – though I don’t agree with it. It’s the lack of acknowledgment of the difference between character and author that bothers me in other arguments against Scott Pilgrim (or any other work, for that matter). But if you’re aware of that distinction, and just don’t enjoy the book, then fine – different strokes, and all that.

For the record, though, Ramona (the character with the hammer) is definitely not what I’d call “sweet.” I think the initial comment was a bit vague, to be fair, and there’s a lot about the character we don’t know yet, but as of book 3, I’m not even sure how much she’s likeable.

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