#191 SECONDS BY BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY
You ever get that feeling that you’re going to love something before you even pick it up? It probably wasn’t much of a stretch to be honest given that we thought the Scott Pilgrim comics were fab and Lost at Sea is without doubt one of our all time favourite Graphic Novels.
We’re glad to say though that we weren’t disappointed at all with the sophomore effort from the Canadian cartoonist because Seconds is a joyful read, resplendent in all it’s O’Malleyesque goodness. More than that actually, somehow it manages to offer up a couple of new twists & techniques on an old formula with something that comes dangerously close to good old-fashioned aplomb. And let’s face, how can you not love a novel that opens with quotes from such luminaries as Italo Calvino and Fleetwood Mac?!)
What is interesting is how quick a read it is. Sometimes with GN’s you can find yourself going back to the top of the page, re-reading panels just to try and make sure that you haven’t missed any visual details as the narrative ploughs ahead. But you never have to do that with Seconds. Because every panel is clean, free from clutter and gives you all the information you’ll need in one take.
It could be argued there’s a danger with that approach that events could spiral into childishness, that the story might lose its grip on your interest by not delving into more detail or backstory than is absolutely necessary. But luckily for us (it’s not really luck, he’s a talented man-child) O’Malley’s natural wit and ear for snappy dialogue make sure that never happens. Not even once. And boy is this thing funny. Hoo, Man!
It also makes a refreshing change to meet a protagonist in a comic who is neither an ostracised teen nor an aimless college student. To meet one who’s struggling with adult worries like money trouble and the disillusionment of a crumbling dream is kind of invigorating (hormonal crushes on their ex, aside.) Katie, for her part is a wonderful creation- a selfish prick most of the time actually but somehow still likeable and capable of small acts of kindness when no-one’s looking. The fact that the author makes her aware of the story’s narrative voiceover (Stranger Than Fiction stylee) and allows her to actually respond to their comments in her own flippant fashion is a fabulous quirk that can’t be praised enough. We’ve all seen instances of breaking the fourth wall recently (Deadpool, we’re talking to you) but whereas most examples are overdone and beat you over the head in their attempts to show how clever and self aware they are, Seconds prefers to simply bend the rules here and there. The result being an experience that is equal parts hilarious and ridiculous.
It should be mentioned too, that while Katie steals the show personality-wise, the minor characters are never forgotten. Everyone who reads this will undoubtedly find a favourite. Ours was Hazel (which is a little disturbing since for the most part she embodies the awkward outsider vibe that Graphic Novel’s and YA Novels so desperately love to cling to.) But even the rest have their own role to play, their own motivations above and beyond Katie’s arc. Sure they’re trapped in her story (one which has a pleasing circularity to it for those of you with an eye for narrative design J) but they also have their own reasons to be there.
Overall though, do you know what struck us most about Bryan Lee O’Malleys last offering? It’s free-form energy. Yes, there’s a cyclical feel to the plot but if you look at the way it’s laid out on the page-where the panels constantly change size and shape to fit a certain mood or where the details of the character’s designs become more thorough/lose definition as the pace changes, the whole thing feels alive and unrestrained rather than simply being ink on a page. It feels…unpredictable, even when the story’s message is not.
And while we’re sure some people will say that the constant use of sounds scrawled everywhere in large font and the magical overtones in the plot are more the hallmarks of a juvenile mind, we would have to disagree completely.
In fact we’d say that they add to that unguarded child-like energy we mentioned before. Child-like. Never childish. That’s the difference we found as we read it. And since haters gonna hate (and potato’s gonna potate) we want everyone to know that we hugely enjoyed every moment of the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for their next literary fix.
Oh, and if this does get turned into a movie (and if Bree Larson, is reading this- you need to play Katie, lady) we will officially squee loudly in a corner forever.