Monday, February 9, 2009

Bryan Lee O'Malley vs. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Part 2

Oh, good! Somebody else did it. I took lots of notes on the NYCC Scott Pilgrim panel, and I was planning a thorough write-up at some point, but as usual, what I really want to do is just to harp on a few minor elements, miss the point of everything entirely, and go about my merry way. Didn't you wonder why academics never seem to run out of stuff to write about?

Anyway, the second aspect of the Scott Pilgrim books that I've found so great, and this absolutely goes with the one I mentioned yesterday (um, late last night), is the books' tendency to break from the comics medium every once in a while and emulate some other medium. I would say genre, because usually the items Scott Pilgrim's pretending to be are other kinds of books. So, for example, there's a section in one of the books where Scott and his friends give the reader detailed instructions on preparing vegetarian shepherd's pie. Sometimes, however, this isn't entirely so: the first book has a brief section that includes guitar tabs and lyrics to a song Scott's band is playing.

This is my favorite of these, though: a section in the really excellent vol. 3, which also happens to be wonderfully and evocatively titled (Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness), where Envy Adams flashes back to her childhood to recount the history of her relationship with another character.
Notice the crayon strokes, the simpler style of the smiling children, the soft, Yoshi's Island background, the seriffed type—we've moved from a Scott Pilgrim book here to a children's book. The sudden twist in the tone of this flashback, and the way it leads cleanly into the next development in the plot, makes its inclusion in the book even more interesting.

Of course, the most prevalent kind of medium-switching is one that's not really possible with comics, but it's not like O'Malley doesn't put it in, and in fact, he uses it to great effect, actually. Often, an event in the books will be treated like an event in a video game: Scott will get experience points for doing something good (at one point, he even levels up), or he'll receive cash from a vanquished foe, or he'll find an extra life. One of my favorite occurrences in one of the books comes straight out of Sonic The Hedgehog, though I can't bear to give the surprise away. I would argue that these are more than just references, and in fact, the way that narrative and reward become intertwined in the books matches the way they do for a person playing a video game: this is the same sort of imitation or medium-switching, only this time we're pulling the logic of video games into comics.

This sounds ridiculous, but again, it really does work. For less Nintendo-aware readers, I'd guess that the way Scott sort of drifts half-consciously through the books, at least until the fourth or fifth volume, makes it less surprising that, for instance, he could mistake a transdimensional gateway for one of the red doors to Sub-Space in Super Mario Bros. 2. Opening a Scott Pilgrim book is like crawling into an alternate world that works nothing like ours, but then, it's not a bit unfamiliar to people like me, who grew up in the 80s and 90s and remember (remember? still play!) Ninja Gaiden and Final Fantasy. We know how this stuff works. It's permanently burned into our brains! So, impossible as it may seem, Scott Pilgrim makes perfect sense to us.

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