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Scott Pilgrim vs. The Annex

August 12th, 2010 · 3 Comments

The popular graphic novels make use of many Annex locations. Image courtesy Oni Press.

By Tim Legault

As Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, sat signing a stack of his sixth and final volume in the series (Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour) in preparation for the book’s launch party, he recalled Publishers Weekly’s review of his first volume six years ago.

“Scott Pilgrim is 23 years old, lives in a cold, unnamed Canadian town …” began the review.

“I’m like, ‘No, it’s named. It’s not a town. It’s Toronto!’” reflected O’Malley, whose graphic novels prominently feature the Annex. “So I think I might have taken a bit of offence by that and tried a little harder to make it more Toronto-ish.”

Scott and his friends lounge around Lee’s Palace. Image courtesy Oni Press.

Toronto has since become almost a secondary character in the series. The titular hero spends his time hanging out with friends at Sneaky Dee’s , fighting his girlfriend’s evil ex-boyfriends at Casa Loma or Lee’s Palace, shopping for CDs at Sonic Boom, or dodging late fee’s at No Account Video (a stand-in for Suspect Video).

“I think in the beginning, it was more like I just used [those locations] because they were all around me,” said the 31 year-old artist. “It’s the locations that I was kind of wandering around through when I was depressed. They have a personal significance to me.”

Since then, his books have been optioned and turned into a high-budget, summer blockbuster, starring Brampton-born Michael Cera and directed by Edgar Wright, the British director behind cult favourites Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The movie, released Aug.13  to coincide with the Scott Pilgrim video game, was filmed mostly in Toronto.

Scott Pilgrim visits Casa Loma. Image courtesy Oni Press.

The book’s midnight launch party, which took place at The Beguiling (where O’Malley once worked), The Central, Rocco’s Plum Tomato, and other surrounding stores, brought in a large enough crowd to fill up Mirvish Village. Some fans even dressed in costume and lined up to meet O’Malley, who was there signing books.

The series centres on Scott Pilgrim (named after a song by indie-band Plumtree), an unemployed twenty-something who falls for a girl, Ramona Flowers, who he can only continue to date on the condition that he defeats her seven evil ex-boyfriends. The series is defined by its esoteric video game and indie rock references, as well as it’s oscillation between moments of mundane naturalism and surreal, manga-influenced battle sequences. For example, a visit to the Toronto Reference Library quickly turns into an epic battle between Flowers and Scott’s ex-girlfriend. A party might be interrupted with a battle between Scott and an evil robot.

O’Malley was born in London; Ont. but grew up in northern Ontario. He later returned to London, where he went to a Catholic high school. After what he describes as “an unsuccessful stint” at The University of Western Ontario, he moved to Toronto in his early twenties.

“I was only here from 2001 to the middle of 2005,” said O’Malley, who now lives in Los Angeles with his wife Hope Larson, also an acclaimed cartoonist. “It was the first time I was out on my own. I was just very sheltered.”

O’Malley first started Scott Pilgrim after a long-distance relationship with a girl fell apart two months after his move to the city. He lived at Davenport and Ossington, and then later moved to Bathurst and St. Clair.

Scott and his friends regularly meet for drinks at Sneaky Dee’s. Image courtesy Oni Press.

“I was really moping around the whole summer and started writing these ideas for Scott Pilgrim,” he reflected. “Fortunately, I met another girl, became happier, and the story kind of took off on its own.”

Readers familiar with The Annex will certainly appreciate a pivotal scene in the third volume in the series, Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness. In it, Scott and an evil ex-boyfriend must test their strength by running through Honest Ed’s. When Scott is asked is he has been to the department store before, he replies, “No. Well Once, but I almost died.”

Smiling, O’Malley says that Honest Ed’s is “a bit of scary place.”

“I think people from other places, they don’t necessarily understand what [Honest Ed’s] is, but they get the feeling of it. People have come to Toronto from out of town after reading the book and go to Honest Ed’s and they’re just like ‘Ahh! He’s right!’”

It took O’Malley just six months to complete the first volume. As he has progressed as a storyteller and a cartoonist, each book has taken him longer and longer. “It took less time at the beginning because I was naïve and young and could stay up all night and just draw and draw and draw,” said O’Malley,  “The better I get at drawing, the longer I take. I feel like I’ve got to work harder and try harder. So I feel like I could write something on the side, like a screenplay or whatever.”

Running through Honest Ed’s proves to be a tough challenge for Scott. Image courtesy Oni Press.

When the Scott Pilgrim movie began to take shape, O’Malley says there was never any talk, at least to him, of changing the setting of the story. In what would have been a suitably ironic twist, there was one moment where there was talk of shooting in New York and having it double as Toronto (“Which I can’t even imagine”).

“I feel like in those days, when we were first starting to talk about it, I was just a starving artist and I would have just taken anything. I would have been like, ‘Sure, set it in, you know, rural Nebraska—I don’t care.’ However, they didn’t.”

Scott shops for CDs at Sonic Boom, the local music store by Bathurst and Bloor. Image courtesy Oni Press
Scott visits Sonic Boom, the local music store by Bathurst and Bloor. Image courtesy Oni Press.

After O’Malley finishes his grueling promotional work (a recent tweet of his read: “If you’ll excuse me, I have 50,0000,000000,000,00 more interviews to do”), he plans to relax for a little bit and do some writing.

“I’ve got these ideas in my head. I’m trying to write a script with a friend. I think I’ll probably just take it easy for a bit.”

Tags: Arts · General

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lali // Aug 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Interesting interview
    Nothing more I’d expect from Timothy
    Keep doing what you do best.

    James Woods: Okay you’re you, I’m me.
    Jimbo: I’m me!?
    James Woods: Hey don’t…. jerk me around, fella.

  • 2 Lali // Aug 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Oups!, meant ‘nothing less’ but you can see I haven’t changed from high school


  • 3 The latest premiere: Bloor Cinema opens new era with documentary theme // Sep 19, 2011 at 11:53 am

    […] through a variety of events. One of these events was ‘The Wright Stuff’ with Edgar Wright, director of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Wright showcased his movies Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. Director Kevin Smith also attended the […]