It all started with a vaguely remembered rant from Warren Ellis shortly after I started managing the Fantasy Shop in Fairview Heights in Illinois. The year was 2007 and I had been managing the store for a while and wanted to start getting books in that I had always heard good things about but had never seen in the store that I had worked at previously. I was looking through the Diamond Star System Catalog and trying to remember books that I had heard good buzz about when I remembered an issuance of Warren Ellis' Bad Signal that had mentioned a book called Scott Pilgrim and how if I hadn't been reading it that I was somehow doing myself a disservice as both a comics fan and a human being. And so I ordered the book. And that's when everything changed.
Bryan Lee O'Malley's epic tribute to video games, relationships, music, heartbreak, falling in love, and being in your 20's blew the doors wide open on what could be done with narratives and comics on the whole as far as I was concerned. I quickly devoured the currently available 3 volumes and started recommending it to everyone with a pulse. I even went so far as to extend an offer to buy-1-get-1-free on volumes 1 & 2 to get people to check out what I thought might be the kind of comic that would make even the most staunch super-hero fan understand the charm and wonder of independent comics. And in many ways I was more than successful. Readers and customers who took a chance on the books returned desperate for more and I couldn't have been more pleased.
And then volume 4 was solicited and my heart started racing. I had to have more. I've never been a "Wait for the trade" kind of guy. I love the anticipation and the time to evaluate what has happened in each issue of a story to develop my own theories and think about the narrative arc. But for the first time I'd ever experienced I needed, NEEDED, the next part of a story. I had to have Volume 4 and was willing to do bodily harm if necessary. Instead I focused that energy into getting more people excited about the book and started pointing more and more readers toward the book. Giving a satisfaction guarantee on the books was becoming more and more regular and nary a one took me up on the chance to return the book. They brought the first volume home and returned anytime between a day to a week later needing to read the rest of the series. And eventually we were all waiting for volume 4.
I remember distinctly the day it came out, I had gone to take the deposit to the bank and to get Thai food from Tong Phoon (if you live in the Fairview Heights, IL area and have never eaten at Tong Phoon do yourself a favor and go order the Pad See Eew, you'll wonder why you've been avoiding delicious food for so long) and was coming back to the store and sat down to eat my lunch. I looked at my clerk Brian and said: "The store is yours while I eat my lunch and read Scott Pilgrim, don't bother me for a little while."
I sat and shoveled delicious noodles into my gaping maw and plowed through the pages of a comic that made me laugh out loud, think about life, and even perhaps tear up a little at times. And then it was over. And I needed Volume 5.
Volume 5 wouldn't come until 15 months later. But it was ever so worth the wait. To say that it lived up to my expectation would be a misnomer, it exceeded it by leaps and bounds. Another thing that a lot of readers complain about (and at times rightfully so) is late books. Having to wait longer than a month for the next issue of a comic can be frustrating. But when the book is as good as Scott Pilgrim (which few books are) you're happy to wait.
Once again I took the opportunity between volumes to get more people to check out the book and they were just as taken with the series as I was. By the time that the fourth volume had hit the shelves the book had started to become known as "The Harry Potter Books of the Comics World", fans would show up at midnight to get the book from their favorite comic stores in order to read it as fast as was humanly possible. Then rumors of a possible movie started to make the rounds.
Having Edgar Wright, the mind behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (not to mention the utterly brilliant Spaced), behind the feature was an instant point of interest and the buzz behind the film began to grow exponentially. Wright featured frequent clips from on set on his website as well as a production journal that kept fans interest piqued. The casting seemed, to me at least, spot on at every choice and the wait to see a trailer of some sorts became almost interminable. By the time that the first clips of the film began trickling out as teasers, trailers, and finally the nearly flawless international trailer the excitement had reached a frenzy that could barely be contained. The release date for the final volume was announced and it left plenty of time to acquire the volume (though most would be waiting at the door the day of release) and read the conclusion to the series as well as give the whole series a re-reading or two before the film was upon us all. Michael Cera's Pilgrim looked spot on, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Flowers a thing of alt-indie dreams, the Seven Evil Exes note perfect, and perhaps the most overlooked yet important Kieran Culkin's portrayal of Wallace Wells looked ready to steal scenes and become a kind of a step beyond mere token gay character. The world was ready for the brilliance of Mr. O'Malley.
And I have a secret ...
... I got to read the book early.
Scott Pilgrim Volume 6 Finest Hour is a tour de force. It's full of just as many brilliant, laugh out loud panels as any of the previous volumes and it shows the growth of the characters in such a deft and powerful way that I couldn't detach the ear to ear smile that grew on my face from the time I opened the first page. Opening a Scott Pilgrim book for me has become like watching the scroll before the Star Wars movies. There is a goose bumpy kind of quality to it. The final volume sated everything that I could have possibly hungered for when it comes to a comic of the sort quality (by which I mean totally awesome). From watching the effect that coffee has on Scott (eyes wide with the thrill of stimulants, hair jutting up like a Super Sayan), to the brilliantly contextual way that Scott remembers the way he's treated all of his previous girlfriends (Scott vs. NegaScott will go down as one of my favorite moments of the series), to Scott being forced to fight Gideon while wearing a promotional shirt for Gideon's new club ... to perhaps one of the best moments of the volume, the return of Gideon the Cat and the look on it's face when Scott holds it as he sleeps (could not stop laughing). The conclusion of volume 5 had left a lot of readers more than a little antsy about how the series would conclude and without spoiling it I will say that I was more than satisfied with the conclusion to this window into Scott's life that we were granted. I loved watching the questions get answered, I loved watching Scott do the things that heartbroken 20-somethings do. I loved the book. I loved that it concluded and that there won't be "The Continuing Adventures of Scott Pilgrim".
The last decade or so have included some incredibly satisfying conclusions to stories that I have loved, books like Y: The Last Man, Planetary, Bone, Strangers in Paradise, The Essex County Trilogy, Ennis' Punisher, Bendis' Daredevil, Brubaker's Daredevil, Alias, Rising Stars, Transmetropolitan, Losers, Preacher, Sleeper ... books like these are the kinds of books that come to mind when I think of Scott Pilgrim. I hope that Mr. O'Malley would find these kinds of comparisons favorable if not complimentary.
Scott Pilgrim is the kind of story that, if you have a beating heart inside your chest, will make you love comics, or even make you love comics again. I'll be the first to admit that over the last few months that it has taken me longer and longer to get through my weekly stacks of comics. I've felt a little over-saturated. But in the last few weeks there have been books that have rekindled my love for comics from it's waning bonfire to it's former towering inferno. And Scott Pilgrim's graceful yet frenetic and gloriously appropriate ending is certainly one of them.
And I love him even more because his name is Scott.