Comics: Bryan Lee O’Malley at Forbidden Planet Edinburgh & the Book Festival
Forbidden Planet Edinburgh hosted Bryan Lee O’Malley yesterday to celebrate the launch of his excellent new graphic novel Seconds from SelfMadeHero (reviewed here recently by Colm). We only had an hour as Bryan is in town for the Edinburgh International Book Festival but he had very kindly made some time to sign in the store and, oh boy, what a turn out! The line of happy fans snaked around the store, out the door and halfway down Southbridge. Normally in Edinburgh in August the locals have to fight through crowds because of Festival and Fringe visitors, for a change it was us causing the crowd!
(above, Bryan Lee O’Malley with the FP Edinburgh crew, below Bryan signing away – all pics from my Flickr, click to see the larger ones on Flickr)
(soooo many books to sign! And then do it all again a few hours later at the Edinburgh Book Festival after his talk!)
(this couple had a vinyl album of the Scott Pilgrim movie soundtrack to get signed, very cool!)
(and another shot of Bryan with some of the FP crew)
A few hours after this event I had the pleasure of chatting to Bryan on stage in front of a large crowd of readers at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as part of their Stripped segment of comics events. Over the course of the hour Bryan talked about how it felt to move from a long-running series which had become so successful – so different from when he started drawing it, largely for a group of friends, as he put it, not expecting a wider audience, still working part time (in a kitchen, an experience which was handy for Seconds, obviously!), but which by the time he was completing it had brought him a huge following, success and even a movie adaptation. A double-edged sword, of course, the series brought success but also the worry, will readers accept him doing something totally different? With the copies of Seconds flying off the shelves (we practically sold out at the FP Edinburgh signing! and SelfMadeHero tell me another print run may be in the works pretty soon, so high is demand) we know now that the answer to that is a resounding yes, but naturally he didn’t know that when he started planning the book (and indeed, as he noted, the first ideas for it he had way back in the early years of Scott Pilgrim, over a decade or so).
I did ask him if he would contemplate returning to Scott Pilgrim in future years if he had an idea about how those characters were doing at later stages of their lives, and he said he couldn’t really imagine totally walking away from Scott Pilgrim, so at some future point, you never know. Regarding his next work he did confirm he is at the earliest stages of a new book and had actually written a handful of paragraphs that very day, but he doesn’t like to talk about the idea until they are more polished and solidified, and even then it would be bouncing it off trusted friends to see if it works. He did, however, confirm after a multi-volume series and now a (fairly hefty) stand-alone work that the next project was likely to be part of a series again. Also on future projects he mentioned he is working with some friends on a video game concept, this time not related to any of his characters, but a completely original game, which I am sure we will hear more about further down the line.
(Bryan Lee O’Malley on stage with me during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, image borrowed from and (c) EIBF)
Elsewhere we talked about race and gender in his work, especially seconds (mostly female leading characters and a good mix of ethnicity in the characters too). Answering one reader in the audience regarding gender he said he wasn’t trying to write an essay on gender disparity in the medium but thought if he could do a little bit by himself to help nudge the balance, and others did it, then we change things for the better, while also admitting that with his good, strong female characters some of it was simply he was attracted to trying to understand woman’s character more and adding with a smile that he enjoyed drawing them more. The ethnic mix in Seconds was more deliberate though, he added, as he knew from his own experience how diverse the people working in restaurants can be, plus he wanted to make sure he showed more of a mix, something Nathan Fairbairn’s colouring process had helped him to show more clearly. He also added how much fun and how productive he had found it having collaborators this time instead of working alone.
We touched on the fantasy elements of Seconds and the fairy tale aspects of it, stories which had inspired these parts of his book (including an old video game which touched on folklore that had given him ideas) and the influence of Japanese manga masters as well as the wonderful Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, discussing the fine line artists have to walk between creating a working homage to those influences and the dangers of carrying it too far so it becomes too similar, a hard balance to achieve, but one I thought he managed well.
As well as the manga influence on characters and the way that approach works so well for doing character’s expressions (and sound effects!) we also talked about the more Western style of art used elsewhere, such as in his cityscapes in Seconds, which could easily have fitted into a European bande dessinee I felt, especially some lovely scenes such as the decrepit old Lucknow building by the bridge that Katie wants for her new restaurant. It wasn’t a real cityscape though, he explained, he took buildings and locations he liked from different places (the Lucknow was an old London building with a bit of a creepy vibe, he told us) and he made a composite, imaginary city this time, but still grounded enough in reality to be recognisable and so give a realistic foundation before the more fantastical elements took flight.
All in all it was a good talk and the audience seemed to relish getting a chance to ask their own questions directly to Bryan in the latter half of the event, and he seemed to be enjoying that part himself. The line for the book signing after the talk was again huge, at least as long as the massive line at the Edinburgh FP earlier in the day, but despite having been on a huge North American tour then straight over to the UK to do London, then up for Edinburgh Bryan seemed happy to throw himself right into the fray again, Sharpies out, signing, sketching and posing for photos with the long line of readers. Content author and happy readers, that’s how we like our events… Many thanks to all who came to the FP signing and to the Book Festival talk, hope you all enjoyed it and got your books signed!