Who is Bryan Lee O’Malley? With the strength of character displayed by Scott Pilgrim, the protagonist of O’Malley’s breakthrough comics series, it’s easy to imagine that he is Scott Pilgrim – the unskilled bass player for a go nowhere band in Toronto, dating an American girl, sleeping in the same bed as a gay dude and getting into all kinds of crazy adventures. The kind of guy you could imagine punching a guy “so hard he went round the entire world”.
Which makes it a bit of a surprise when you meet him and he’s a lovely, soft spoken fellow. Now based in Nova Scotia, he lives happily and quietly with his wife, Hope Larson (herself a cartoonist) and some cats, creating comics with the Scott Pilgrim series and music with his alter-ego, Kupek. Torontoist had a chance to sit down with him on the steps outside the Beguiling on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago to bash Honest Ed’s and learn there’s more of Scott Pilgrim in him than you’d think at first glance.
I read the first Scott Pilgrim shortly before moving out here, and one of the first things I did after getting here was go straight to the Beguiling and pick up a copy of Vol. 2, before checking out Honest Eds. After browsing in Honest Ed’s for a while we went for a drink in the nearby English-style pub, and the first thing that happened after I took a drink was I had a massive seizure. So I spent the night in hospital reading Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2. The weird thing is I’ve never had a seizure before or since. The character’s reaction to the interior of Honest Ed’s in Vol. 3 made a lot of sense to me.
My cat had a seizure once… I guess it’s just like a fluke thing. Honest Ed’s, though… Burn it to the ground!
Are people appreciative of the Toronto references?
Yeah, people are. People come up and say, you know, “Honest Ed’s! I wonder if anyone else is going to get that!” But I think that people do get it, even if they don’t recognise it.
There’s pretty much no where on earth like Honest Ed’s, though.
That is true, but if people think it’s fiction, that’s fine.
It’s funny though because there are all of these Toronto references, and yet you’ve chosen to live in Halifax.
That’s true, but I guess I’m looking backwards with Scott Pilgrim, some kind of nostalgia. I don’t know, I started the thing so I’ve got to end it, and it’s something I’m comfortable writing about.
Is it autobiographical at all?
Yeah, I mean a lot of characters, and parts of my life.
Grounded in your life in Toronto?
Yeah, it’s based on the first two or three years that I lived here, consolidated into the Scott Pilgrim storyline. I had a gay roommate, I was dating an American girl, and I was in a band. I wasn’t in the band until a year later but I just compressed it.
Someone I know, actually, swears he seen the really intense bearded gay guy from vols 2/3, Joseph, around.
Naah, I just made him up.
Because of the wide appeal of Scott Pilgrim it got optioned and I read somewhere that there’s a screenplay now. Have you seen it? What do you think of it?
It’s really close to the books. They really liked the books, I guess, but there were only two books at the time, so after that it goes its own way.
And it’s going to be set and filmed in Toronto?
It’s kind of amusing because Toronto is used for movies all the time but it never plays itself. Is the Scott Pilgrim movie going to change that?
Yeah, that’s what Edgar Wright [the attached director] was saying. He thought it would be funny to shoot a film in Toronto that’s set in Toronto, because no one ever does it.
How do you think cinema audiences are going to take to a reference like Honest Ed’s?
I don’t know if it’s in the movie, actually. Edgar and the screenwriter came to visit Toronto last year and I took them to Honest Ed’s. We all got headaches.
Yeah, a while back I was in this area with a headache but the only pharmacy I could find was in Honest Ed’s. I decided to stick with the headache I already had. But I guess with the movie then you’re sticking to a hands-off approach?
Yeah, pretty much. They ask me questions and we have a rapport, but I don’t want that much responsibility. I don’t want too much responsibility, so if it sucks it’s not my fault.
Do you find that being half-Asian in Canada has influenced or affected your work?
I don’t know, probably in some way I don’t understand.
I noticed that your work, unlike a lot of work by Asian-Americans isn’t quite as obsessed with a kind of cross-cultural agony. I was wondering if Canada was the difference.
I guess it might be, I spent some time in California and I spent more time with Asians there than I did here. In University I spent time hung out with Asians quite a bit, some of my friends were really into that… Were white guys who wanted to go with Asian girls. But I don’t know, I’ve always felt kind of excluded from that whole Asian thing, other than eating the food, which I like.
But then, my mom never put it into me. She’s like, fully assimilated, she’s like a suburban housewife. She hasn’t been back to Korea since she was 19 years old.
Are there any places in Toronto you miss?
I really like Toronto this time of year, sort of spring, before it gets really hot. I miss my old neighbourhood, I wanted to get up there this time but I haven’t had a chance to get up, take some reference photos. I don’t know. No places in particular, but aesthetically Toronto is a really nice city.
So you don’t expect you’ll ever move back?
Can you tell us any Toronto landmarks Scott is going to find himself at in the next volume?
Well, in Vol. 4, I kind of want to make it more concrete in terms of the neighbourhoods their in. I want the reader to get a better feel of the streets they’re walking down, as I don’t know if I’ve really done that yet. Some people have said they want to do a Scott Pilgrim walking tour, but I don’t know, so I really want to work on that.
Oh, I was going to do the Beaches, because it’ll be summertime in the book.
Oh! It’s called “the Beach” now.
Yeah, well, the official name was always “The Beach” apparently, but I guess people just started calling it “The Beaches”
I think they’ve kept “The Beach” just because outsiders call it “The Beaches”.
Yeah, I’m going to call it “The Beaches” but I’m going to make sure that everyone knows that it’s really called “The Beach”.
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3, Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness, can be purchased at any of Toronto’s fine comic book emporiums, for example The Beguiling.