Q&A: Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley

We talk Manga and movies with the comic author

 

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World starring Michael Cera and directed by Edgar Wright will be unleashed on the world this August. And we’ve been lucky enough to chat with creator Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Currently going under the moniker Busiest Man In The Universe™, O’Malley is not only finishing off the sixth and final volume in the phenomenally successful (and awesome) Pilgrim novels, he’s also been rigorously involved in the film adaptation... and is moving house. Yes, all at the same time.

So yeah, he’s mega busy, but the lovely chap agreed to a grilling about his knock-out creation. What does he think of adap helmer Edgar Wright? What are his inspirations? And is the movie version going to live up to the comics?

Read on to find out…

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Bryan Lee O'Malley

How did you create Scott Pilgrim the character?
The initial inspiration was a song called ‘Scott Pilgrim’ sung by a band from outback Nova Scotia that I used to really like called Plumtree.

So I got to thinking about the song, and the band had broken up and I wanted to do a little tribute to them. I thought, ‘Who is this character? Who would this character be?’ And at the same time I’ve always played video games and read a lot of Japanese comics, things like that, so I wanted to kind of bring those things into my world.

Were there any other influences in there?
Yeah I was influenced by a couple of Japanese comics. The two biggest ones were Beck. Beck was about a struggling rock band, and then also Nana which is like a girl’s comic, it was kind of more real-life.

It was about twentysomethings kind of just living their lives, trying to hold down jobs. I was going through that period in my own life, so it was kind of eye-opening to see comics with that subject matter.

Scott Pilgrim grounds itself in reality…
Right, yeah that was definitely the goal. There are so many stories and comics that are pure fantasy, and I like that, and I want to do stuff like that, but I also want to ground it in my own reality.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Bryan Lee O'Malley

The first book spends time building the characters and creating their lives then it flips out at the end…
I mean it’s a luxury of working in that format, the sort of longer graphic novel format, rather than doing it serialised. So I could really pull out this mundane world, and then turn it around at the end.

Who is Scott Pilgrim aimed at?
As it’s gone on, obviously I’m getting older and the fan base is still there. It’s definitely the teens and people in their early twenties, people who are experiencing that or who are looking forward - or not really looking forward - to that age.

You’ve ended up sharing someone’s bed/flat then?
I have, yeah, that was taken from my own experience. [laughs] I had a gay roommate who was very belligerent and often had his pants off… sorry, pants is different in the UK! Trousers. And I also, on a separate occasion I shared a futon with another man for six months.

Scott’s love interest Ramona Flowers is very much the manic pixie girl…
Yeah definitely a little bit. Maybe in the beginning she was more that, but I’ve definitely tried to give her more depth as I went along. Yeah, you know, she’s definitely like the ultimate girl, the unattainable girl.

Next: Style It Up[page-break]

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Bryan Lee O'Malley

How did you first get the volume printed?
Well I’d been doing some work for the publisher beforehand, and I actually published another graphic novel first called Lost At Sea. I just went on to do this [with Oni Press], it was a relationship that had been going on for several years.

Do you now relate events in your life to how far through Scott Pilgrim you were?
Yeah I would say so. And also I’ve moved around several times, now I live in the US [O'Malley is a native of Canada] and I’m about to move again, so it’s definitely been two books per house, then I move on. It’s definitely a way of measuring time.

What’s your working life like? What’s a typical day?
Well it depends on what stage of the process I’m in. Right now I’m drawing, so it’s very, it’s all day long, doing non-stop work. My wife, fortunately, she’s in the same deal. We’re both working all day. When I’m writing it’s a little more variable.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Bryan Lee O'Malley

We love the black and white etchings. Are they particularly time consuming?
It gets a little longer each time, I think I’m getting a little… I’m not sure how to explain it. I’m definitely beginning to take more time. And this time around, the sixth book, I hired an assistant so that’s helping out a lot.

Is the style visually your own thing, or was there a thought process, is it quicker to draw in black and white?
For the most part it’s based on the Japanese comics a little bit. I always liked black and white comics, most of its just evolved naturally, I think.

You’ve got a large presence on the net as well, how important is that? Is that a big part of the Pilgrim phenomenon?
I think so. You know, it’s hard for me to imagine a world without the internet. It’s been intertwined, it’s been a huge part, but I can’t even imagine how it would’ve worked without it. I’m all over the internet!

Next: Hollywood Calling[page-break]

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Michael Cera

How were you first approached with the movie adaptation?
Well I guess my publisher has a sort of a Hollywood arm and they passed it on to [producer] Marc Platt, maybe when the first book was out, so this was late 2004.

And he’d just been talking to Edgar Wright, who’d just finished… I think Shaun Of The Dead had just been released in the US. So they talked to him and everybody was interested immediately.

Why has it taken so long to go from book to screen?
Well, Edgar did Hot Fuzz in the meantime, so it’s really just the natural cycle of his work and whatnot.

Did you have any reservations about a movie? Did you feel protective towards your story?
I didn’t, really. They’ve been very… it looks exactly like the comics, which is nothing I would have expected in the beginning.

Did you think that Edgar Wright was the right man for the job?
I did, yeah. As soon as I saw Shaun Of The Dead I instantly clicked with it. I’ve always felt like it’s in safe hands.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Edgar Wright

What was he like?
He’s always been the same way, he’s very energetic.

His vision kind of chimed with yours?
Yeah, it did.

How much were you involved?
I’ve been very involved, I’ve been much more involved than I ever imagined I would be. From scripts, to art direction, I’ve been there all along.

Were you involved in writing the script?
Bits and pieces. Mostly it was, they would sort of send me drafts as they were working on it.

So if you wanted to change something you could and then send it back?
[nervous laugh] Sometimes.

Did you visit the set at all?
Yeah I spent, it seems like a lot of time in retrospect, I was there just sort of on and off. A few days at a time. It was a looong shoot, six or seven months.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time there because I was ostensibly working on the sixth book. But I definitely wanted to spend some time – when do you get to visit a Hollywood movie? Once in a lifetime.

Next: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World[page-break]

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Bryan Lee O'Malley

Why was it such a long shoot?
It was very elaborate, Edgar always knows exactly what he wants. It was planned that way from the beginning. He had all the shots, he had all the stunts. It was very complex.

Did you get much of a say in the cast?
Edgar ran everything by me as they were doing it, and I got to see all the audition tapes. The major players, they didn’t audition. I think the whole cast is quite amazing. I think that’s one of Edgar’s gifts that maybe is undersold. Like with Hot Fuzz, he assembled such a cast.

Have you seen the final cut?
I haven’t yet, but I saw the initial director’s cut.

Is it comparable to anything else you’ve seen?
I don’t know, it’s really, from the very beginning, it’s different in this way that I don’t think I have ever seen.

The only thing I could compare it to is Edgar’s previous work, like Hot Fuzz. I saw Hot Fuzz at a premiere in Toronto with an audience and it was gripping and great and thrilling.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World Bryan Lee O'Malley

Were you writing volume six alongside the movie?
Yeah I was. They had finished the final shooting draft of the movie before I had started the sixth book. They sort of knew what they were doing, I mean they had my notes for the sixth book, and I kind of incorporated experiences I had during the shoot of the film into the sixth book.

Will there be any sequels at all? Books or movies?
Either? I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll do another book, I have other things I’d like to do. The film, I don’t know. I’m sure if it’s successful someone will start asking for a sequel.

I wonder if you’ll find yourself sketching out Scott Pilgrim, doodling him by accident…
[laughs] Maybe so.

What are you doing next? Straight into something new?
I think so, I’m hoping to feel refreshed. I have plenty of other comic ideas and things that I’d like to get to.

Would Lost At Sea be made into a movie?
It’s a different sort of book. We’ve talked about it with some people.

Can you tell us what you’ll be doing next?
Not yet, it’s kind of very vague, I’m much too busy with all the Scott Pilgrim stuff.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is out on 13 August.

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