LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Scott Pilgrim isn't what you'd call a super hero or even a leading man. He's a young man in Toronto dating a high school girl, playing in a garage band and drifting through the days with his slacker friends. Then a stranger named Ramona Flowers rollerblades through his dreams and crashes into his life. Before Scott and Ramona can skate off into the sunset, Scott faces an unlikely challenge.
(Soundbite of movie, "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World")
Ms. MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD (Actress): (as Ramona) If we're gonna date, you may have to defeat my seven evil exes.
Mr. MICHAEL CERA (Actor): (as Scott) You have seven evil ex-boyfriends?
Ms. WINSTEAD: Seven evil exes, yes.
Mr. CERA: And I have to fight...
Ms. WINSTEAD: Defeat.
Mr. CERA: ...defeat your seven evil exes if we're going to continue to date?
Ms. WINSTEAD: Pretty much.
HANSEN: The story of Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, and the rest of their Toronto friends is told in a series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley. They inspired the movie "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," which opened this weekend. Bryan Lee O'Malley joins us from NPR West. Welcome to the program.
Mr. BRYAN LEE O'MALLEY (Creator, Scott Pilgrim Graphic Novel): Thank you, thank you for having me.
HANSEN: It's a pleasure to have you. First off all, you're a Toronto guy, like your character Scott Pilgrim. Tell us a little bit about what was it like growing up there. Is there any resemblance at all to your character?
Mr. O'MALLEY: I am. I grew up outside of the city. I grew up in London, Ontario, which is, like, a two-hour drive. I guess Toronto is kind of like New York. It's like this sort of black hole that sucks everyone in, in the, you know, surrounding several hundred miles. I always kind of felt like I would end up there, at least for a while, and I did.
HANSEN: Yeah, but Scott is not you, this is not an autobiography in graphic novel form and movie form, is it?
Mr. O'MALLEY: You know, it has elements like that. I did have sort of a similar life situation in my early 20s, which I just kind of plundered for the story. But, I mean, I feel like that's what any writer does.
HANSEN: Yeah, sure. You write what you know. How long have you been telling stories in graphic novel form?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Professionally, for about 10 years - nine or 10 years. I have comics that I did dating back to when I was two or three years old, I think, that my mom lettered for me.
Mr. O'MALLEY: Yes.
HANSEN: Do you remember the kinds of stories you were doing then?
Mr. O'MALLEY: No, I think it was mostly just homages to things around me, like the Mister Men books were my favorite when I was a kid. I would do comic strips about those characters.
HANSEN: Sure. I remember...
Mr. O'MALLEY: Little Miss.
HANSEN: ...Little Miss Bossy, people like that. So, the premise of the books and the movie is that Scott must fight Ramona's seven evil exes to the death. Where on earth did that inspiration come to you?
Mr. O'MALLEY: I'm of the generation that played a lot of video games in the '80s and early '90s. And I just had this feeling that if I were to get into a fight, somehow I would have the ability to fight back just based on playing Street Fighter and these games for so many years of my life. It's almost like I actually learned some martial arts, but I didn't. So, in this story, you know, I kind of put a twist on that and make it real.
HANSEN: Right. 'Cause Scott is actually pretty good at fighting.
Mr. O'MALLEY: Scott will actually launch into these martial arts battles.
HANSEN: Right, all the time. Have you ever had to fight for love?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Not physically, no.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. O'MALLEY: Emotionally, yeah. I mean, that's the other part of the story is that these physical fights are just sort of, you know, literalization of these metaphorical emotional things that we all go through in a relationship.
HANSEN: Sure. We're all fighting off the exes, aren't we?
Mr. O'MALLEY: That's right.
HANSEN: I'm speaking with Bryan O'Malley, the creator of the Scott Pilgrim comic books. They've been adapted for the new film, "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World."
The book and the movie feature Canadian bands, Toronto hangouts. How important was it that your story be set in Canada? I mean, it's almost as if Toronto is a character. And if so, what kind of story were you trying to tell?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Toronto was my entire world at the time, and it was just very natural for me to put it in the comic. And in comics, you know, I have to draw everything. So, I kind of realized that I could look at what was around me or take photo reference and kind of improve my drawing that way. It just kind of creates this sense of reality for this story that was going to off the rails at any second.
HANSEN: What do you mean going to go off the rails at any second?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Well, you know, it turns into this insane Wonderland of, you know, fighting and some crazy magic and things like that.
HANSEN: Yeah. You optioned the book series to Universal Pictures.
Mr. O'MALLEY: Yes.
HANSEN: But it was after, what, the first book or the second book?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Yeah, only the first book had been published and I was working on the second book.
HANSEN: But were you working on the other novels, I mean, the other volumes while the movie was being made?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's been a six-year process. You know, these comics are very work intensive.
HANSEN: Did it affect the way that you were writing, I mean, knowing that this would somehow be translated onto the big screen?
Mr. O'MALLEY: I didn't feel that much pressure from it. I mean, for one thing, I didn't really think it would ever get made into a movie. So, I was just sort of toiling away on the comics.
HANSEN: Yeah. But how much then did you contribute to the movie, as well as the director's vision?
Mr. O'MALLEY: I feel like I had a lot of say in everything in this process. But the vision was definitely Edgar Wright's vision. He had the whole movie in his head, like, years before he actually filmed it. Edgar and I kind of - we must share a brain or something.
I mean, when I draw these kind of crude black and white renditions, that is what I'm seeing in my head. So, it never I dont know, people ask me if it's really surreal but it never really got that surreal. It's just like, oh, that's great. That's exactly what I thought it would be.
HANSEN: Yeah, it's exactly what you had in your had when you did the panel and then you can have all that CGI and wonderful stuff to make your vision even...
Mr. O'MALLEY: Yeah, it takes a lot of people to turn that into reality.
Mr. O'MALLEY: A lot of work.
HANSEN: Sure. There's a lot of pop culture references in here. Is that your target audience, someone who will get the inside jokes? Do you...
Mr. O'MALLEY: I don't know. It's something that I've grappled with over the years, I mean, as the audience has grown. You know, at first, I was just kind of just throwing stuff out there, just whatever was in my head, whatever I thought would make my friends laugh.
In the books, like, I found myself sort of undercutting the main premise almost immediately. As soon as the second book I'm kind of done with the evil exes and I'm just kind of moving on to whatever else interests me. And, you know, the movie kind of follows that through-line a little more. And I think it's a little more satisfying in that regard.
(Soundbite of movie, "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World")
Unidentified Man: We have unfinished business, I and he.
Mr. CERA: You and me.
Unidentified Man: Don't you talk to me about grammar.
Mr. CERA: I dislike like you, capiche?
Unidentified Man: Tell it to the cleaning lady on Monday.
Mr. CERA: What?
Unidentified Man: Because you'll be dust by Monday.
Mr. CERA: Um.
Unidentified Man: Because you'll be pulverized in two seconds, and the cleaning lady, she cleans up dust.
HANSEN: What would you say to somebody, though, who's not into comic books, maybe who's a little skeptical of the movie, to convince them its worth their time and their money?
Mr. O'MALLEY: I think it's a film like nothing I've ever seen and, as such, it's a hard sell. I really want people to go see it but I have no idea how to convince them to go see it. I don't know, it's so funny, it's so fresh and it's so exciting the whole way through. There's whole stretches where you're not laughing but you have this kind of stupid grin on your face because it's so different and so exciting.
HANSEN: Yeah. I mean, it becomes a video game at some point. It has all these lovely effects, you know, when Scott Pilgrim's high school girlfriend that he's trying to dump - she says she loves Scott and it comes out in this kind of pink cotton candy-ish...
Mr. O'MALLEY: Like mustard gas.
HANSEN: Yeah, well, to Scott Pilgrim, yeah, it is like mustard gas.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: So, he's like running away from it. Man, I mean, starting small in 2004, now there's a movie, a video game, you have toys, you know, that are based on the books, big midnight release party for the sixth book. You've left Canada. Youre now in Los Angeles. How's life?
Mr. O'MALLEY: It's good. The weather's much better. You know, I'm pretty content. You know, I wonder how the movie will do, but I feel pretty satisfied with the books and with the way things have gone. It's been six years of my life and here I am at the other end and I'm ready for whatever is next, I guess.
HANSEN: You don't know what that is?
Mr. O'MALLEY: I'm not sure yet.
HANSEN: Yeah. Do you feel like you've achieved rock star status?
Mr. O'MALLEY: Well, with comics, it's one of those things where I - if I go to Comic Con in San Diego I'll get mobbed, but on a regular street I will never get mobbed. So, it's kind of reassuring in a way.
HANSEN: Bryan Lee O'Malley is the creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. They're the basis for the new film "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." It's in theaters now. Thank you so much.
Mr. O'MALLEY: Thank you for having me.
HANSEN: You can see Scott Pilgrim battle Ramona's exes on film and in comics at our website, NPR.org.
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