Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley (2004)

My favorite panel in the book
So I asked a new, younger friend (twenty year difference in our ages) some suggestions for graphic novels.  As a librarian (and a former teen librarian), I'm certainly familiar with graphic novels; I'm not a novice.  But I'm certainly not a connoisseur of the literary art form.  I have similar trouble talking about picture books - I don't feel like my knowledge of art (style, terms, history) qualifies me to say anything pertinent or interesting about picture books, and I feel the same way about graphic novels. I  know what I like, and what I don't like, and sometimes that's very vague.  It's not exactly like Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock saying "We know what art is - it's paintings of horses" or Harry S. Truman's ham and eggs art: "He liked the old masters.  His taste in American art, not surprisingly, ran to the paintings of Missouri riverboatmen and Missouri politics by George Caleb Bingham, or the western scenes of Frederic Remington."  (I'm quoting this from one of my favorite biographies and one of the best biographies ever written, Truman by David McCullough).  It's more like I can appreciate art, but I can't talk about it intelligently.

Literature I can talk about intelligently (well, at least I think I can; I'm certainly not a college professor, but I have a semblance of education, and I'm good at reading and reasonably good at interpretation).  So as literature, Scott Pilgrim: Precious Little Life is really quite good.  It was engaging, the story kept me going, the dialogue seemed sharp and smart.  I had to discuss the ending with my friend (I won't give it away) and that led to further discussion about the book have similar plot points to a video game (the samurai-esque battle of the ex-boyfriends and their magical powers, for example), which his generation kens and accepts far more easily maybe than my generation (or at least me).  Once we discussed that, I was like "Ohhhh, I get it" which made the book all the more enjoyable - I adore clever and witty, even when I don't always instantly (or ever) understand it (read:  Terry Pratchett).

But graphic novels are more than just literary in form, they combine literature and art, and that's where I get stuck.  Graphic novels aren't always very easy to read (I was lost for most of Watchmen, for example, although at least I tried).  I tend to swing back and forth on manga, and Scott Pilgrim certainly shares characteristics of manga (another discussion we had) even if it's not strictly manga (or is it?).  Things I liked were perspective (see illustration above); the use of black, white and gray (particularly the snow storm in the middle of the book, which was quite lovely and moving).  Things I didn't like are the same things I generally don't like about graphic novels:  the characters aren't always very distinguishable from one another (is that on purpose?  Or is that my fault?).  I'm never sure where I need to be looking at any given moment (read or look at the pictures, read or look at the pictures).  I have the same trouble with pictures books sometimes; I also have the same problem at the opera (watch what's going or read the translations).

This is only volume one of six volumes, which I plan to read - so I have a way to go.  My initial reaction has been "I like this.  It's quite good."  If the next five are equally humorous, witty, and well told, then I'm going to be a happy reader by the end of book six.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Scott Pilgrim, #1)Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My taste in graphic novels tends to run more towards Uncle Scrooge, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this first of six volumes.  Literature-wise, Precious Little Life was engaging, with sharp, funny dialogue.  I had to discuss some of the finer (and frankly, weirder) points with a younger graphic novel connoisseur (who suggested this to me in the first place), who explained that the book has as much in common with a video game as it does a novel or comic book - that was a eureka moment for me.  I adore witty and clever books and authors (Terry Pratchett), even when I don't always fully understand the joke.  I think this is also artistically very successful as well.  There is a great use of blacks, whites and grays; the snow storm in the middle of the book is really lovely.  Some of the perspectives are incredible (I thought the "swing" scene was quite beautifully done).  If the next five books are as good as this one, I'm going to be one pleasantly contented and happy reader at the end of book six.

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