Bryan Lee O’Malley Returns With His First New Comic Since Scott Pilgrim

Reading between the lines.
July 11 2014 3:33 PM

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Imperfect Little Life

A Q&A with the Scott Pilgrim author about his new comic Seconds, fashion, and regret.

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How did you develop this narrative structure, sorting out the growing chaos of Katie’s latest revisions to reality? Italo Calvino belonged to the Oulipo, whose members sometimes determine such things via mathematical patterns, but that doesn’t seem like quite your style ...

Seconds.

I don’t really have a metaphor for how I write, but it kinda feels like chipping away at a big dark object that I can’t really see. I have this idea in my mind of what it looks like, and what it means, but that idea is vague and theoretical, and the thing in my hands is big and heavy and alive. There’s no meaning or math encoded in what I do. There’s just things stuck in my head that I try to get onto paper, generally with brute force. 

I knew before writing or drawing it that Chapter 5, about Max, would be 100 pages long. That’s right where it ended up—after editing I think it’s like 91 pages. I don’t know what that means. I guess I tried to make each chapter cover one aspect of Katie’s life as thoroughly as possible, and I knew Max was a big one.

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“Can’t Go Back,” the last chapter heading, is another Fleetwood Mac reference, to bring us full circle.

Unlike some cartoonists, you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about fashion—what was the process of determining everyone’s looks in Seconds? I love that the house sprite Lis could be slouching against the wall of a Montreal loft party.

I like fashion so I jammed it into Seconds, obviously, with thin justifications—my editor actually made me take out a gratuitous shopping scene. Katie wears basic stuff but always looks put-together. Hazel is basically a fashion blogger, and she dresses Lis, so they both look unnecessarily cool. I spent a lot of time browsing Lookbook and Tumblr and figuring out everyone’s fashion parameters. I just think paying more attention to clothes makes characters feel more dimensional. It makes the world feel lived-in.

Seconds66.

Courtesy of Ballantine Books

Can you tell me about the research you did on the restaurant industry? You worked in one years and years ago, so a lot of basic details were probably intuitive, but Seconds captures the more immaterial realities of that world tooKate’s menus could be taken from any mobbed “rustic” restaurant in Toronto, at least until things start getting weird.

My friend Joel MacMillan worked at Kalendar in Toronto a decade ago and got me a job there. Now he has his own restaurant, Me & Mine, so he was a great sounding board for restaurant and food stuff. Another dabbling chef friend helped create a specific recipe for the one scene where she cooks rabbit. Aside from practical experience I did plenty of reading and also binge-watched the original U.K. version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.

Seconds is about learning to bear regret. Having scrutinized all six volumes of Scott Pilgrim again recently for the reissued color editions, not to mention reaching 35 yourself, did you find your attitudes toward the past changing as you drew it?

I always say “I regret everything,” but I feel like as I get older, regret just becomes part of the fabric of life. Regret is air. You don’t even notice it anymore, you’re consumed in it. I routinely get paralyzed by the idea that everything I’ve ever done is idiotic. As a creator of content for young people, I get horrified by the shit we’re feeding them every day, including my own stuff. I want to keep trying to do better, though, which is pretty much the message all my books end with.

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Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Ballantine Books.

Chris Randle is a writer from Toronto and a contributing editor at Hazlitt. He is making the comic Charivari with Mia Schwartz for Adult magazine.