This past August marked 15 years since the release of “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life,” the first entry in the trailblazing six-volume graphic novel series written and illustrated by Canadian cartoonist and writer Bryan Lee O’Malley. The gap in time’s done little to hurt its recognition. Most people have crossed paths with the series in some form or another. That’s partially thanks to director Edgar Wright’s work adapting the superpowered antics of the part-time performer and full-time slacker in 2010’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” where actor Michael Cera portrayed a lovestruck loser. In the nine years since the movie, the iconography of the franchise has outgrown both the books and the film, and for obvious reasons. It’s hard not to fall for the endless video game references and bursts of punk-rock flair all sandwiched between the anime-inspired battles our titular hero Scott has with Ramona’s seven evil exes. As a result, its impact can be found in the most unexpected places. Back in April of 2016, rapper Lil Uzi Vert released his third mixtape “Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World” with cover art — designed by St. Louis artist Fvrris — that featured the Philly rapper stylized to look like Scott Pilgrim along with a host of other supporting characters in the background.
“I always thought it was cool,” O’Malley said of the homage“My books were influenced by the music that I loved when I was a kid, so it’s like his music is influenced by the books he read.” Uzi even went so far as to include a song called “Scott and Ramona” and continued the motif in the cover art for his subsequent mixtape, “The Perfect Luv Tape,” which dropped a few months later . After the series’ end in 2010, O’Malley kept his creative momentum going by releasing another solo graphic novel, “Seconds,” in 2014. In 2016, he decided to take a stab at writing serialized comics with “Snotgirl,” his ongoing Image Comics collaboration with artist Leslie Hung. Despite remaining his most popular and expansive work to date, he’s only gone back to the “Scott Pilgrim” well a couple of times; helping out with the full-color hardcover editions of the series that came out back in 2012. To this day, the “Scott Pilgrim” series has become a staple in the larger canon of independent comics and a pop culture powerhouse.
We recently got to speak with O’Malley about why the love for “Scott Pilgrim” is still going strong, where he gets his inspiration from and what he’s got in store for the future.
When I look at your self-contained work like “Scott Pilgrim,”“Lost at Sea” or “Seconds,” they all line up perfectly with different stages of growing up. Was that intentional? How much do you tend to pull from your own life?
O’Malley: I feel like everything I do is kind of tracking my own life. Yeah, “Lost at Sea” was coming out of high school, being in your early 20s, looking back. It felt like the last five years ended up percolating into this project. And “Scott Pilgrim” obviously took six or seven years to complete so it spanned, like, my whole 20s. I think I was 31 when the movie came out and now I’m 40. I’m just trying to keep up with myself in my work.
“Snotgirl” backs away from that a bit, though. Besides being serialized as a monthly comic, you’re writing about these two worlds — fashion and social media — that you aren’t super familiar with.
O’Malley: Yeah, it’s true. It’s probably because it is a collaboration with my artist and co-creator Leslie Hung who’s 10 years younger than me. The characters are around 10 years younger than me. It’s like I kind of have to delve into this new generation that I didn’t necessarily grow up in exactly, although there’s a lot of crossover. The interests and points of reference are a little different than my own, but I kind of have to find my way in a way that’s less obvious than it was with “Scott Pilgrim,” which is completely one hundred percent myself.
Was it difficult adapting to those slight generational differences?
O’Malley: It’s definitely not quite as natural, but also my girlfriend and her friends are around that age too, so it’s just sort of a world that I’ve been immersed in the past couple of years. It’s not a huge stretch. It does take more of a conscious effort than my personal stuff.
Besides the anime and videogame influences, how much did your musical taste inspire the story? Some moments remind me of dropping by to see a friend’s band play at some DIY venue or basement.
O’Malley: Yeah, in my late teens [and] early 20s, I definitely grew up in that world — the indie rock scene. I was in a couple of bands and I was just kind of messing around with music before my comics started taking off. When I go to shows now it’s like everyone’s way younger than me. All of “Scott Pilgrim” is this chronicle of someone’s early 20s and the music is a big part of that for me.
What specific types of music were you into around that time?
O’Malley: A bunch of it went into the movie because once I met Edgar Wright we were kind of trading mixtapes back and forth. A lot of Canadian indie rock. I was really into old country rock at that time. Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash were playing in my “studio” so to speak — like my studio was the corner of my kitchen at that time. Yeah, I was really into that kind of scene at the time, like in the early to mid-2000s. I feel like the character of Stephen Stills expresses a lot of that stuff. You know, he dresses kind of country. That was just something I was discovering at the time.
The whole art style and iconography of “Scott Pilgrim” ended up becoming its own thing. Do you notice other comics or media that take inspiration from it?
O’Malley: Yeah, I think it’s weird because it doesn’t really happen the way you might expect. I thought, “Oh, maybe someone will do a comic that kind of looks like ‘Scott Pilgrim,’” but I haven’t seen much of that. I feel like the style of it is so specific it’s kind of like a meme in itself to people. But then you see it in Lil Uzi Vert and you see all these Soundcloud rappers using “Scott Pilgrim” -style art. In mainstream culture, you see something like “Steven Universe” or “Star vs. The Forces of Evil.” I feel like those are directly influenced by “Scott Pilgrim” at least in some small way and they become huge hits in their own right.
What were some influences you drew from in your other work?
O’Malley: I’ve been churning through influences so fast my entire life. “Lost at Sea” was really influenced by Lynda Barry, who’s an alternative cartoonist and just an incredible person. “Scott Pilgrim” was influenced by “Ranma ½” but it was also influenced by some comics like “Nana” by Ai Yazawa. That was huge for me around that time. It’s also a comic about a struggling band and young 20-somethings living an artist’s life in Tokyo. That was inspirational to me because I was the same age. It was coming out in the early 2000s. Then I got really super into Osamu Tezuka during “Scott Pilgrim.” He’s the guy who created “Astro Boy” and so many other characters. He was like a huge, huge anchor point for me as far as comics go.
I’ve been all around the world now and people have this idea about comics being separate — like there are American comics, there are superhero comics, there are manga and anime, Euro comics, indie comics and art comics. To me, it’s all the same thing. You can draw influences from all of those things.
The internet has made it easier for creators to find each other’s work and riff off of each other. Do those distinct styles even matter anymore?
O’Malley: Yeah, there’s a ton of surface differences or even deeper kinds of differences in the way people think, but it’s still the same medium and you’re trying to do the same thing. It is totally different with the internet. Obviously, I’ve had the internet for most of my life at this point, but it was very different in the early days. There was no Instagram. Now you can just go online and see a million examples of anything at a moment’s notice. It’s very different. It’s a lot easier to see stuff but maybe it’s a lot harder for us to sort through all the stuff that we’re seeing because I just kind of tend to feel overwhelmed by it.
Does the ability to get instant feedback on social media ever get to you?
O’Malley: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I feel like when I started out you had to really seek out the internet discussion, but now you don’t have to look for it. It kind of comes in your face. It’s not necessarily the best thing when you’re trying to go through a creative process because you basically get people judging every step of the process. You feel like there are eyes on you all the time. That’s obviously partly because I’m known now, but also it’s just kind of how the internet works now. You have to be seen, you have to keep contributing and you have to kind of constantly be a part of the whole machine, otherwise you get lost in the shuffle.
Has the internal pressure grown?
O’Malley: Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah, especially in the past few years. It’s just that constant discussion and feedback and what’s next and also the sheer level of craft and stuff that I’m seeing everywhere. I just saw the new Tarantino movie. Every time I see something that’s really good I’m like, “Damn, I don’t know if I could do that,” or “I’m not sure if I could do that again because people really liked my last shit.” It’s like you kind of got to step it up every time.
Do you judge your past work even after it’s been out for years?
O’Malley: You always do that a little bit. I feel like I do it less. I think once the book is a book and it’s out and people see it, I kind of stop worrying about it. I go crazy on the attention to detail when I’m trying to finish a project. It’s just like way too much. It’s all I can think about for days or weeks depending on the size of the project. Once it’s wrapped I kind of forget about it for the most part, but at the same time we just put out this new edition of “Scott Pilgrim” and I spent a really long time looking over it with a fine-toothed comb looking for problems and whatever things I could tighten up — like making sure the packaging’s right. It kind of never ends, so you have to force yourself to look at the next thing.
What do you do to decompress when you’re in the middle of a stressful project?
O’Malley: I don’t know. It’s really hard for me. It’s good to get out of the house, get out of the room, and just do something totally different. You know, do normal life stuff — wash dishes, go to the grocery store or, like, walk the dogs. That kind of stuff. That’s kind of like my go-to because when I’m deep in something I forget to do normal life stuff and doing that normal stuff is kind of what keeps you grounded. It’s important to shake up the work routine and just be a human being for a while.
What’s your workflow like? In the past, you used to work both digitally and on paper, right?
O’Malley: On “Scott Pilgrim”, I didn’t draw anything digitally. I just did final scanning and cleanup digitally. For “Seconds” I had a Cintiq for the first time and I did all the roughs on the computer because it’s so much easier to move stuff around and edit compositions and stuff on a computer. I don’t like doing finished art on the computer because I just feel like I’m not very good at that medium. I like to print it out and transfer it to paper somehow. I have a lightbox. I’ll do various ways of getting it out on paper: figure out the composition on the computer screen and then put it on paper, finish drawing on the paper and scan it back in. It’s not super intuitive but it works for me.
Do you think the reception to “Scott Pilgrim” would’ve been different if it were released now as opposed to back in 2004?
O’Malley: Well yeah, times have changed. I feel like a lot of that response of people seeing the characters more critically is because they read it when they were too young at first. Now they go back and read it and they’re like, “Oh my god, this guy was trying to trick me into liking this character,” but no. I think all the characters are flawed and that’s what makes them interesting.
I was very lucky to kind of be ahead of my time as far as this shit. You couldn’t go to the store and buy a Nintendo shirt in 2004. It wasn’t like that. The whole kind of geek culture has exploded around me in the past fifteen years and I was lucky enough to kind of be a part of that wave. It was something I totally didn’t anticipate. I started doing these books and, you know, I didn’t know where it would go and this is where it went. It’s not the world I thought I would live in but it’s worked out for me.
What kind of comics or other media are you into now?
O’Malley: The Marvel movies have been a constant surprise in the last few years. I can complain all I want but we live in the Marvel movie world now. Those movies just keep getting better and better, which is good and bad. It’s good and annoying. How does an artist like me compete with something like that, which has all the money in the world? They can hire all the talent in the world and everyone fucking loves those movies. Everyone loves to watch them. If they start making more of those, what else are we going to be able to watch or read or whatever? I complain about them but at the same time, I love them.
There’s a ton of stuff now. There’s so much stuff that’s so good. The new “Twin Peaks” was one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen. “Atlanta” is like so good. Oh, and “Barry” on HBO. It’s been all TV lately for me.
What is it about the “Scott Pilgrim” series that’s made it resonate with people for so long?
O’Malley: I don’t know. It’s so hard for me to answer that. It’s popular in countries where I’ve never been. It’s popular everywhere I go. It’s so weird. There must be some like essential thing in “Scott Pilgrim” that’s just easy to get for people, or for a certain type of person anyway. I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it, whatever it is.
Your fanbase is global now. What’s that like?
O’Malley: I was in France last month for a book tour and I was given a book by a cartoonist from Spain or Portugal or something, and he wasn’t even there but he really wanted me to have it because I was a huge influence on him. That kind of stuff is cool. But like the fan stuff, you know — I have cosplayers in Russia. I have people from Brazil talking to me every day on Instagram. It’s just everywhere. I love that but it feels like a big responsibility. It feels like they’re all my children.
Any new updates on your next graphic novel “Worst World”?
O’Malley: Yeah, I kind of went quiet on it because I don’t want people to see it. I want some surprise when it’s done. For the first little while, I was kind of throwing a lot of stuff online, just sharing the process with people. Ultimately, I want it to feel fresh. I want it to not feel like you’ve watched the whole thing. It’s a really long process making a book and this is going to be a long series so I’m setting up a lot of stuff. When it’s close to completion I’ll start showing stuff again. For now, I kind of went dark on it.
Is it going to have genre elements like your other work or is it more grounded?
O’Malley: It’s definitely in the genre world. My take on it is kind of like anime, superhero-ey kind of thing. It’s a more grounded take on genre.
Does seeing how something is made ruin the final product for you?
O’Malley: I mean, on some level I feel like it diminishes the finished project a little bit. Obviously, some people really eat that stuff up. Some people are wannabe cartoonists or filmmakers and they love seeing behind-the-scenes information. I feel like for most people they want to see the movie or they want to read the book and these little trickles of information are just kind of like feeding that want. For me, when I was younger, whenever I went into something knowing everything about it — you know, being obsessed with it for six months or whatever beforehand and researching it — I would always feel like I’d have less fun on the day. Nowadays I kind of try to avoid spoilers in general and not even watch trailers for some stuff. That’s just personal preference. Ultimately, in this world, we’re just going to have access to all this information and we’re going to have to deal with it in some way.
Do you see yourself working in another medium besides comics?
O’Malley: Not really, not that much. I went out for a few meetings when I first moved here (Los Angeles) for the first couple years. I went to Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon and stuff but when I kind of learned how cartoons worked, like, I don’t want to spend 10 years working on this cartoon, having meetings and stuff. It just didn’t seem like the lifestyle that I would want. And also it’s so hard to have a hit cartoon, you know, but if you do have [one] then it’s going to be a whole shitload of work for like the next 10 years, or forever if it’s a huge hit. I already have enough on my plate with “Scott Pilgrim.” It’s kind of like a full-time job being the “Scott Pilgrim” guy.