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Book Review: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life

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I once said that I would be the last comics-type blogger in the world to read Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. Well, last week I read it. Do I win?

I didn’t think I’d like it, which I why I waited so long to check it out. I’d paged through it briefly at the store and thought: hmm, not for me. But then the second volume, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, came out, and I paged through the first few pages of it, and found that I really liked what I saw. It was clever and funny and different, and I liked the rough and cartoony, but still very well drawn and effective, artwork, and I was intrigued by the characters, and I thought: hmm, maybe this is for me, after all. So I picked up Vol. 1, and I was completely captivated by it. I’ve reread it twice already, and all I can say is: you were right, comic weblogosphereiverse, and I was wrong. Scott Pilgrim is great, great fun.

The story is targeted at an age group about a dozen years younger than me (or more — I did turn 35 last week, damn you all), which is probably also why I resisted it in the first place. But it’s not aggressively, exclusionarily (if that’s a word) youth-oriented, with a bunch of lingo and references that an old feller like me can’t get hep to. Its characters and experiences are immediately familiar and relatable, and for all I’ve heard of its video game influences, they don’t get any more difficult to decipher than a visual homage to Street Fighter, and name-checks of Drum Mania and Super Mario 2.

Yes, everything’s familiar and relatable — until it isn’t. After a first chapter of straightforward, winning character humor, I was surprised by the sudden turn into the fantastic, meaning the way Ramona Flowers is able to enter Scott’s dreams (a shortcut runs right through them). It’s silly and odd, but it doesn’t derail the story; the step beyond reality actually helps raise the stakes Scott’s playing for. Now to win Ramona’s heart, he doesn’t have to merely divest himself of his current girlfriend, Knives Chau; he also has to defeat all of Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends in battle — grand, explosive, ridiculously over-the-top, wire fu-and-magic style battle. It gets crazy, but it manages always to be grounded by the cast and their relationships. It’s an absurd cartoon, but it’s got a sweet, quiet romance at its heart.

I really enjoyed watching the story unfold. The details and the dialogue are solid. When 17-year-old Knives first tells 23-year-old Scott about her daily school life and its little soap operas, Scott’s interest and enthusiasm for the tales are genuine and infectious. After meeting Ramona, whose age and experiences are more on a level with Scott’s, Scott sees Knives’ stories as the banal, petty things they are. His change in attitude is subtle, well portrayed, and rings very true.

And the little jokes and interplay between the characters are very funny. Most characters take a light, teasing tone with their friends, which feels real. When Scott introduces Knives to his band, he insists that she be good, though clearly she’s never been anything but. “No, really. Please be good.” “I’ll be good!” “You promise to be good?” Cowed: “Yes. I’ll be so good.” Until bandmate Stephen Stills interrupts them. “He made me promise to be good!” she says. “He may have been kidding,” Stephen advises her. “Are you normally bad?” Later, Knives asks Scott if he always calls Stephen by his full name. “Who, Stephen Stills? Yes.” When Knives likes Wallace, Scott’s roommate, a little too much, taking attention away from him, Scott immediately dismisses him: “Wallace, you go now. You leave. Begone.” When Stephen gets the band a gig, he tells them how it came about: “This guy at work was like, ‘Steve, do you know anyone in a band?’ And I was like –” “Great story, man,” Scott finishes for him. And who is the gig with? “Crash and the Boys.” Scott: “Awww, man? That one band with Crash? And those Boys? I hate them!” Most of the humor is on that same low-key level, but it’s ever-present, and it builds into a constant, almost giddy pleasure.

Sometimes the story is a little too sitcom-y; Scott’s inability to break things off with Knives once he starts dating Ramona is like something straight out of Three’s Company. And sometimes Scott’s dialogue is a little too stylized for supposed comedic effect. “I… but… it’s… not… it’s totally… it’s… y… you’re not the boss of… me?” It’s funny that Scott’s flustered at this moment, but the dialogue as written undermines the comedy.

But the missteps are few and far between. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I regret not having given it a chance when it first came out. But one good thing has resulted: I don’t have to wait for the next book to be published — I can buy it this weekend.

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  • Marcia L. Neil

    The title is transmogrified from the phrase ‘Scott’s pilgrim’s [or pilgrims’]
    precious little life’. Pilgrimages occur regularly into some areas, and apparently are no joking matter. In terms of Transactional Analysis, where does an individual’s ‘pilgrim’ motiva-tion take him/her?