First in an occasional series: Slate’s “Scott Pilgrim‘s Progress”

October 11th, 2006 → 10:36 am @ // No Comments

This is the first in an occasional series of pieces in which published articles are examined to see how closely they align with reality. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this occasional series has already been launched, with a recent piece on a New York Times story on whether baseball teams’ success in September leads to success in October.

Today we’ll be looking at a piece in Slate titled “Scott Pilgrim‘s Progress: A Brilliant Indie-Rock Cartoon.” The artfully crafted article/slideshow by Dan Kois unpacks Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “indie-rock romantic comedy.” I appreciated the story; as a one-time aficionado of graphic novels who’s fallen a bit behind the times, I’m was glad to be told about a new(ish) entry into the genre that’s apparently worth checking out.

But Kois’s story, while seemingly on point when it details Scott Pilgrim itself (especially in regards to its relationship with manga, a genre about which my knowledge pretty much begins and ends with 1988’s Akira ), makes a number of blunders in a relatively short article. To wit:

* (Comparing O’Malley’s latest release, Scott Pilgrim and the Infitite Sadness, to the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) “Each is an artful, ambitious third release by an artist who flourished on the fringe and whose work is suddenly being recognized by the mainstream. And like Mellon Collie, the third volume of O’Malley’s series is a disappointing—and uncharacteristic—misfire.”

Mellon Collie came out in 1995, two years after the Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, the band’s four million (plus)-selling, quadruple platinum-breakout hit; it reached #10 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart. To me, that counts as being recognized by the mainstream.

* “The genius of the first two volumes [of the Scott Pilgrim series] was that they rejected the dead-serious tropes found in most American graphic novels.”

I’m not sure what graphic novels Kois has been reading, but many of the country’s best-known graphic novelists rely on humor. There are the old standbys like Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb. There are newer artists, like Jessica Abel (Kois cites her La Perdida but ignores her Artbabe series, which included classics like “Too Punk To Funk”). Joe Sacco achieved renown after publishing Palestine, but he began his career with works like But I Like It, a chronicling of his European tour with the now-defunct punk band the Miracle Workers, . No one will ever accuse Peter Bagge of being overly serious, and even Optic Nerve author Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, best known for Ghost World and David Boring, use humor to address their characters’ alienation and frustration.

* “Another link between Scott Pilgrim and manga lies in O’Malley’s subject matter: romance. With a few exceptions—Alex Robinson and Tom Beland among them—literary graphic novelists have spurned romance as a subject.”

Virtually all of the examples cited above deal with romance. Harvey Pekar famously chronicled his courtship and marriage; R. Crumb’s entire oeuvre focuses on his relationship to women; Tomine and Clowes almost always use romance as a jumping off point.

I enjoyed Kois’s story, and I’ve already ordered the Scott Pilgrim books. I would have enjoyed his story even more (and still would have ordered the Pilgrim books) had Kois not overreached in trying to prove how unique O’Malley is as an artist.

Post Categories: Media reporting & Slate & The Factchecking Series

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