COMIC REVIEW: Seconds

Seconds is the new book from Bryan Lee O’Malley whose distinctive art and writing were most recently seen in the storming success of his Scott Pilgrim series. Seconds is his next major work and is due for a UK release on 14th August through SelfMadeHero.

Seconds 1

Seconds is a book about choice and consequence. Katie is a chef, balanced on the precipice of thirty. She has accumulated a life; some good; some bad. She has hopes and dreams, plans and schemes. Turning thirty gives her the perfect opportunity for some serious introspection – is this the best is could have been? Turning thirty is like that, I speak from gin-teared experience. The flowchart of life which has led you to your current point needs to be examined in pornographic detail. What if? Could I have? Maybe I should? Katie however is given a chance to loop the flowchart back around. To take a different path.

She discovers a notebook and a stash of mushrooms. She just needs to write down the choice to be changed, chomp down a mushroom, and *pow* wake up on a whole different life-path. The book is about the power of our decisions and whether we really know what’s best for ourselves.

Bryan Lee O’Malley has created another beautiful manga influenced comic full of longing, regret, hope, nice dinners, exes, friends, and intrusions of the fantastic. As with his previous works people are at the heart of the book. O’Malley’s gorgeous smooth lines render a staggering array of shapes and sizes of people – creators of identikit burly man-dudes and lady-dudes take note. This is how you bring a cast of individuals to life. They don’t dress alike, they don’t stand alike, they don’t act alike. They feel like beautiful, unique, messed-up, real people – even the ones who are almost certainly make-believe.

Colourist Nathan Fairbairn is the book’s secret weapon, giving O’Malley’s art greater depths and vibrancy. The colours allow O’Malley’s soft, fluid line work to shine even brighter, the changes in pallet help drive the books changing moods. Throughout the book O’Malley lets his inner Chirs Ware hang out. Expansive single and double page spreads make buildings, scenery and places as integral to the book’s stunning look as it’s cast. I particularly loved a two page comparison of Katie’s dream for a restaurant and the current harsh reality of the building site, and the double page cutaway of the titular restaurant’s basement innards.

As ever dialogue zings off the page, crammed with quotables, non-sequiturs and misunderstandings. O’Malley’s words are unmistakeable. No-one writes dialogue like he does, capturing the cadence and dialect of genuine human interactions. Allowing his characters to make terrible jokes, brain-fart, and witter away gives ever more power to their moments of clarity and realisation.

Beyond just the words and the art in this book is the dazzling power of the two skipping hand in hand into your brain. Music is a recurring theme in the O’Malley-verse, not just in terms of content but in the very structure of stories. Rapid-fire, loud choruses of emotion and turmoil and speed – elastic figures caught in their panels, fighting against the constraint. These moments are followed by wide, quiet, verses, unbound by panels with characters observing, thinking and being. Bryan Lee O’Malley creates worlds with music as the fundamental building block. Less a god-particle and more a god-chord.

Seconds could so easily have been the difficult post-breakthrough album. Instead it is a testament to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s continuing drive to create better, harder and stronger. It’s a book unafraid to dance between the profound and the flippant. It’s a charming, funny, odd ball of greatness.

It’s hard to score this book, after all what is a review? A cold dissection of a work, calmly balancing its pros and cons to reach a clean, rational score? A vitriolic scouring of a piece’s rough edges desperately trying to smooth out the medium’s imperfections one bad example at a time? A personal tale of the reviewer’s own narrative filtered through their response to the art? [Too reflexive, too high level –Mushroom]…

I read Scott Pilgrim as an angsty twenty something coming to terms with what I was and what I could be. I read Seconds as an angsty thirty year old coming to terms with what I am and what I could be. Moreso than any other comic creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley cuts together humanity and the fantastic. For me his works are part of me becoming an adult. They are growth rings, old scars, saved texts from a lover. [Too personal, not sure if ‘moreso’ is a word – Mushroom]…

Seconds is a good book. [Too short, not sure that stealing the book’s premise to end review is too gimmicky – Mushroom]…

I’ve been chewing Seconds over in my mind since I finished it. For me, right now, I think I like it more than Scott Pilgrim. I don’t know if the me who read Scott Pilgrim would have liked it as much, but then he’s the one whose poor life choices have led to me insulting him in the next sentence. The better hair-line having idiot. Anyhow, Seconds is another extraordinary work from Bryan Lee O’Malley. He continues to outdo himself in both style and substance. Buy this book, it’s easily the most un-mushroomable Graphic Novel choice of the year.

Rating: 5/5

GS Blogger: Tom T – @Silent_Tom_T

 

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