Oni Press’s Scott Pilgrim series is something of an enigma. A slap in the face to almost everything insiders would consider standard comic book publishing. Yet, each issue of the six volume series, with its 200 black and white pages, $11.95 price tag and yearlong wait between issues, manages to defy the odds. Even the story, on its surface, is nothing groundbreaking. It’s the simple love story of a Canadian slacker/musician meeting the girl of his dreams. However, to be with this mysterious Amazon.com delivery girl named Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim must fight and defeat her seven evil exes.
That gem of an idea, combined with the voice and visual imagination of creator/writer/illustrator Bryan Lee O’Malley, has turned Scott Pilgrim into a phenomenon. A major motion picture from Universal Pictures is scheduled for release August 13, the title regularly trends on Twitter and the epic saga wraps up in print form with a highly anticipated sixth and final volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour on July 20.
Scott Pilgrim’s journey began at San Diego Comic Con in 2001 when O’Malley was introduced to a friend of a friend, an editor at Oni Press. O’Malley got a job working there as a grunt, doing odds and ends that only people in the industry know about. Still, the position was a foot in the door and he was constantly pitching ideas to the higher ups. They eventually let him work on a book called Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero and then create his own book called Lost at Sea.
Oddly enough, O’Malley can’t remember exactly where he got the idea for Scott to fight his girlfriend’s seven evil exes, but one of the inspirations was when he found out his own girlfriend had dated three guys all named Matt. “I was like, ‘Wow. That’s crazy,’” he said. “It’s not really thatcrazy but my mind sort of went to work on that as a concept.” Originally, he envisioned the story as a single book with only one ex but Oni pressed him to expand the story. “I realized there was probably some merit to what they were saying [both commercially and professionally] so I started thinking along the lines of shows like Dragonball and video games with levels and bosses and all that stuff. So seven just seemed like a good, round, solid number.”
He also knew he wanted to tell that story in a digest/manga form while incorporating a unique Japanese sensibility. “I’m telling stories in a different sized chunk of material than most people,” he said. “There are not a lot of people doing serialized, full length, 200 page books. Each volume becomes its own unit and has its own kind of world and I get to tell the story in the themes of that one book within the frame work of the larger thing.”
When volume one, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, was released in August 2004, it didn’t sell very well. In fact, it had a lower initial order than Lost At Sea. What it did have going for it was that Oni had recently hired producer Eric Gitter of Closed On Mondays Entertainment to pitch their ideas in Hollywood and Scott Pilgrim was an idea Hollywood immediately went for. So, pretty early on, O’Malley was forced to lay out an outline for his whole story to help give an idea of what producers might be buying.
While that was going on, and word of mouth about volume one was growing among comic book readers, the second volume, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, was released in June 2005. O’Malley knew he was on to something when, at a signing in Toronto, his autograph line of 80 people completely blew him out of the water. Since then, each volume has almost exponentially gotten more popular. Volume one recently went into its 15thprinting and volume six will have an initial print run of 100,000.
Meanwhile, director Edgar Wright—fresh off the hit movie Shaun of the Dead—signed on to co-write and direct the film version of Scott Pilgrim in 2005. However, with the writers strike looming and bad Internet buzz over a leaked, early version of the script festering, the project fell into limbo. Wright went on to write and direct the film, Hot Fuzz, while O’Malley finished volume three, Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness, which was released in May 2006.
“I think after [Edgar directed] Hot Fuzz there had been times when the movie could definitely have died,” O’Malley said. “Volume Four [Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, released November 2007] kicked it back into gear. That was me writing more like a movie because I had been talking to these movie guys. It inspired them back, they wrote a draft, it was great, I got kind of fired up on that and we were synergizing.”
Borrowing the title from the second volume, production on the movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, began in early 2009. Simultaneously, O’Malley was finally finishing volume five, Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe, but he encountered some difficulty jumping back into the story after working for so long, and so close, with Hollywood writers.
“When I first started writing five it was hard for me to go back to writing in my own voice for a little while because I had been reading [screenwriters Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall’s] version of the characters,” he said.
Eventually, Bryan got his groove back and Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe was released in February 2009 with massive anticipation and expectations. Reviews were stellar, sales were great and excitement for both the movie and final volume began to accelerate.
“For the sixth one, I was writing it, basically, the whole time we were shooting the movie,” O’Malley said. “It ended up, in a weird way, incorporating stuff that happened to me during the movie and I think it was really beneficial to the story.” And though the movie and book will have several differences, mostly because the movie was finished shooting before the book itself was finished, Wright went back and did some reshoots to incorporate bits from the final book.
Now that both the film and final volume are ready for release, things are once again ramping up for both Scott Pilgrim and Bryan Lee O’Malley. San Diego Comic Con is sure to be Scott Pilgrim central hyping up the movie and book; there’s a videogame coming out on the PlayStation Network and dolls, t-shirts and more all heading to stores. Plus, O’Malley is hoping to release a collection of the whole series, possibly for the holidays and maybe even a book that would serve as “Special Features” to the series, like you’d find on a DVD. Although Oni Press publisher Joe Nozemack cautioned that those were “just ideas. We’re quoting things and looking at scheduling,” he said.
“The thing is, getting this book done takes up all my time and all mental energy,” O’Malley said. “I’m definitely looking forward to moving on to new stuff although I’ll probably be beholden to Scott Pilgrim. But that’s okay, that’s life.”