Success is in the eye of the beholder, but most of those who are in search of fame and fortune usually end up in bigger cities. The opposite is at least semi-true with graphic and recording artist Bryan Lee O’Malley. The 26-year-old grew up in London, Ontario and eventually relocated to Toronto. However, with a red-hot comic series and a Best Emerging Talent win at last month’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, O’Malley has done something entirely unexpected: He, along with his wife, moved to Halifax in April.
“We were just tired of Toronto and wanted to go somewhere, you know, nice,” he says from his new home in the west end. “I like Toronto and I’m doing the books about it, but where I wanted to live was...not there anymore. We only came out here once last summer, but we really liked it immediately. May was not what I really wanted out of Halifax—the hurricane weather and all, but I like the rain. We also drive around the countryside and we’re hoping to move out to the St. Margaret’s Bay area.”
O’Malley’s current six-book comic series revolves around the “precious little life” of title character Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old slacker who ends up double-dating and getting himself into a world of trouble. The books read like a video game—a notion aided by O’Malley’s Japanese-inspired illustrations—with a sitcom humour that both kids and young adults (and even parents) can appreciate.
There’s a strong feeling of familiarity in the Scott Pilgrim books—some of the characters are based on his friends and family members, but readers may find themselves identifying with certain identities, whether it be the innocent and impressionable schoolgirl (Knives), Scott’s jaded ex-girlfriend/drummer of his band Sex Bob-Omb (Kim) or the sarcastic-yet-wise gay roommate (Wallace). The series also takes place in and around real locations in Toronto, from the library to CD megastore Sonic Boom to nightclubs like Club Rockit and Lee’s Palace.
“I think people like seeing someplace they’ve been when they’re reading a book or watching a movie,” says O’Malley. “Those were just the places where me and my friends would hang out, or what I lived near. It’s an interesting challenge for me to draw something that’s real instead of just drawing something that I made up.”
Whereas his relocation may cause problems in his attempts to remember all of the various Toronto locales, O’Malley says that despite the numerous references to the Halifax music scene in his books, the bulk of the action will remain in Toronto.
“I’m going to try to take some photo references in Toronto,” he says. “That was my main worry about moving away—that I’d lose touch with the scene. I’m not super-worried about it because I think the series has enough momentum at this point that it’s not a big deal. I don’t know if would fit in with the series, but Scott is named after a Plumtree song.”
Indeed, Halifax quartet Plumtree released a song called “Scott Pilgrim” on a split EP with The Inbreds in 1997 and later re-recorded the track for their sophomore album Predicts the Future. Plumtree guitarist Carla Gillis, who now lives in Vancouver and plays in Bontempi with her sister, Plumtree drummer Lynette, remembers the song fondly.
“I basically wrote ‘Scott Pilgrim’ about this guy (who shall remain nameless but who played in a popular Halifax band) who I had a crush on all throughout high school—no, it wasn’t Joel Plaskett,” she says via e-mail. “The lyrics consist of the line ‘I’ve liked you for a thousand years, a thousand years’ repeated ad nauseam. Bryan’s comic is about a guy in a band who pines for a girl—he’s got to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends before he can win her love. So yeah, there’s a similar RNR-teen-love-angst thing going on.”
Back in Plumtree’s heyday (the mid-’90s), O’Malley was a teenager living in London. A chance listen to the radio introduced him to the Halifax powerhouse.
“After the first album came out, I heard ‘In the Sink’ on the college radio station,” he says. “It was the greatest song that I’d ever heard when I was 16. I found the CD at the mall for 20 bucks and it was my favourite album in high school. I was going to name one of my other comics Scott Pilgrim for no reason, with no character named Scott Pilgrim, but then I thought maybe it’d be better to name the main character Scott Pilgrim after all. The feeling of the song is what I liked about it. And, the sound of it.”
With Plumtree’s blessing, O’Malley created the series based on the song.
“Bryan was a big Plumtree fan back in the day,” says Gillis. “The whole band was really flattered when we heard about his comic. He sent some copies and it was the coolest thing. The Scott Pilgrim character wears a Plumtree shirt throughout the whole book and one of the guitarists in his band plays a Rickenbacker that looks exactly like the one Amanda used to play. Bryan’s drawings are really excellent, as is the writing. Now we’re all big fans of his.”
The critically acclaimed Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life was released in the summer of 2004. The follow-up, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, hit comic and bookstores across North America this week, with the third of the six-part series expected by December. O’Malley is currently hard at work on the next installment, Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness, but that isn’t the only news.
Universal has picked up the option on Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, and is currently developing the story into a full-length motion picture. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) has been tapped to direct; writer and actor Michael Bacall (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CSI, The Wonder Years) is slated to pen the screenplay.
While there are still many unanswered questions with regard to the movie, O’Malley is excited about the prospect—especially when it comes to the music. A musician himself, having recorded three albums under the name Kupek and performing in Toronto’s Honey Dear, he’s already sent some mix CDs to Wright to further explore the project’s vibe. He says Joel Plaskett’s “When I Have My Vision,” Thrush Hermit’s “What To Do? (Oh Man),” The Super Friendz’s “10 lbs” and, of course, Plumtree’s “Scott Pilgrim” have been among the songs that have made their way into Wright’s stereo.
“Since it’s with Universal, they’re going to want to stick Universal bands on the soundtrack,” says O’Malley. “But wasn’t Sloan on Universal Canada for a while? That would be cool.”
As for Gillis, the prospect of her song evolving into a movie is peculiar, but she’s thrilled things are working out for O’Malley.
“It’s a bit surreal, the idea of a song based on my old high school crush potentially getting made into a full-length motion picture—especially since that song has the dumbest lyrics,” says Gillis. “I’m taking a song lyric class with Meryn Cadell out in Vancouver and I’m pretty sure Meryn would give me a failing grade on those lyrics. But still, I love the song. It was one of the band’s favourites—we always gave it the best spot in the set list.”