~ The following is going to be the start of a new blog thingy I’ll be trying to do at least once a month. The format is, “a review”, but mostly we’ll be talking about works that have had a huge influence on me, and likely Nomad Tofu. We’ve got a timely one to start off with, but we’ll also be covering older works, and perhaps sometimes other stuff besides comics, like movies or music, or whatever. It’s an openly-evolving thing, if it sticks.
… These will be spoiler-free reviews. ~
Before diving into what I thought about Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s latest work, SECONDS, it might be prudent to give a bit of background on what Bryan’s work has meant to me, and how biased I am regarding it.
Let’s jump back to Harry in Kindergarten(!). Because Harry, in kindergarten, wanted to be a chef(!). That was his thing(?!). He loved food and loved cheffing it up with his mom(okay, stop). Until, that is, he discovered the job title, “cartoonist”. Then he wanted to be, from that point on, THAT. Despite this, Harry never got into comic books, proper. He owned maybe 2 floppies in his entire life until college – and even now has only ever owned a handful of them.
So when his friend threw the first three SCOTT PILGRIM books at him in late 2006, early 2007ish and said READ THESE, he wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t sure what to expect, because he had never been exposed to something like them before. They were, like, books? And the art style felt familiar, but new? He started reading, and kept reading, and was found the next morning staring blankly at a wall. With fireworks going off in his head.
SCOTT PILGRIM cracked the code. Pilgrim showed me that you could tell STORIES with comics – to differentiate from comic strips like PEANUTS, which is another conversation – that didn’t have to conform to a genre, or an art style, or ANYTHING. From there I discovered webcomics, the riveting world of graphic novels, self-publishing, and am even now, just in the past year or so, beginning to dip some serious toes into Manga(n?) Waters. (Okay, maybe “a” toe.)
In any event, O’Malley’s work will always have its own little room carved out in my heart. That’s just the way it is.
But let’s talk about his latest effort, SECONDS. It follows an almost-thirty chef named Katie, who co-owns and operates a little restaurant called SECONDS. It’s a wildly popular place, with great food and great atmosphere. Great everything. But most of the people who helped Katie in the early days have moved on, and Katie is ready to vamoose. Unfortunately, her second restaurant is stuck in development hell, and Seconds is beginning to feel like an endless purgatory. Then something terrible happens, and Katie is forced to face the decisions she’s made. And then she discovers a fantastical way to un-decide them. And then gets carried away…
That’s the gist. When describing it to people I have likened it to a modern Ukrainian folktale – even though I have zero knowledge or experience with Ukrainian folktales. But man, its got, “house spirits”. There’s a character who sounds exactly like Helena from Orphan Black (… in my head). There’s a picture-book sequence that is totally Grimm, and other sequences that feel, like, Ukrainian? I am probably wrong about all of this…
But I am not wrong in saying it is haunting. And thoughtful. And, nearing 30 myself, a story that is cripplingly relate-able in ways. Gleaning a bit about O’Malley through interviews and his ridiculous twitter, you can tell he’s working through some stuff with Seconds. Katie is basically a mirror of his own success, and her insecurities, foibles, (relationship issues) are his. I love when cartoonists bleed on their pages… metaphorically speaking.
Literally speaking, the book is BEAUTIFUL. This is 300+ pages of wonderful sequential art I will be pouring over for years to come. With help from Jason Fischer (drawing assistant), Nathan Fairbairn (colors) and Dustin Harbin (lettering), Seconds brings O’Malley’s signature style to new heights. It, man, it is so pretty…
Despite being completely biased and starry eyed, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few small gripes. I’ll be blunt: The ending was a little ho-hum. I’ll blot out this next bit because it’s spoilery, so highlight to read, but I wasn’t totally convinced Katie learned her lesson. It’s presented, but it’s handled in that awkward, Pilgrim-styled bluntness that kinda takes the punch out of it. She just sorta comes out on top and gets everything she wants without any real consequence. It’s a little too storybook given the Ukrainian folktaley-ness(?!) of the rest of it. I am really only talking about the last few pages, though. Not the last act, which was wonderfully bizarre.
And if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure I dug Katie as a character, like, in general. I don’t think it’s written anywhere that you have to love the lead. And she was a good lead, but she lacked Scott’s strangely endearing, lovable-idiot tendencies, so when she does something crappy it’s sorta like, “Wow, that’s a crappy thing to do. I do not embrace these decisions you’re making. Not cool, you.”
But on the flip-side, Katie is very much a flawed character. She’s selfish and kind of a jerk, and in those flaws speaks a truer and more tangible person than Scott Pilgrim ever was; even though Scott was pretty selfish and jerky himself. As a positive, it shows growth in O’Malley’s character building.
Okay, Katie is kind of a huge plus to me now…
… I’d also kick myself if I didn’t mention HAZEL! Hazel is maybe O’Malley’s most adorkable character to date.
You can pick up Seconds RIGHT NOW on Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold.
(There’s a totally fancy-pants edition at Barnes & Noble.)
4.5 out of 5 PUBS
+ Seconds is BEAUTIFUL!
+ Haunting, confident story-telling.
– – – –
– … with a bit of a ho-hum ending.
Posted on – 07/24/14