The OF Blog: Bryan Lee O'Malley, Seconds

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bryan Lee O'Malley, Seconds

 Many stories, whatever their medium of expression or genre of storytelling, often begin with real-life encounters with people and a simple "what if?" pondering that leads to a series of other questions that in turn engender a story.  This was the case for Bryan Lee O'Malley (author of Scott Pilgrim) in his latest graphic novel, Seconds.  In this story of a young, independent-minded, and occasionally obstinate woman, Katie, O'Malley explores the concepts of seconds, whether they be key seconds in one's life, the desire for second (or multiple) chances to make amends, or the second "doubles" that represent the roads we should (not) have taken, the paths that we wished we (never) had explored.

Seconds begins with Katie, who had been working at a small sit-down restaurant of that name, planning after four years of work there as the chef in charge, to establish her restaurant.  She is someone is so involved in her projects that she is a bit intimidating to the staff who do not know her well and her aloofness, which covers up some of her insecurities, plays a major role in the events to come.  As she readies for the move, stressing over things like the budget and the name for this upcoming restaurant (initially she chooses Katie's), she comes to know better a timid yet intelligent young woman named Hazel, who informs Katie (who incidentally lives in an upstairs studio apartment on the top floor of the building where Seconds is) that there is a house spirit there who is capable, through the use of magic mushrooms on the premise and the writing down of the mistakes one wishes to correct, of giving that person who has ingested the mushrooms a second chance to atone for a mistake.  After Katie's ex-boyfriend (and former staff member) Max appears at the opening of her new restaurant, causing Katie to babble and to make a fool of herself, she stumbles back to her apartment and discovers the mushroom and on a whim, eats it and writes down her wish that she had never broken up with him.

What follows is a series of follies, as the alt-Katies (Katie keeps a memory of all of pre-mistake events, but does not recall the alt-changes until she wakes up on the day the change has reverted herself to) have made even further messes.  O'Malley does an excellent job in telling this familiar story, as each alt-Katie's decision making, self-centered as many of them are, further fleshes out her character and those of the kitchen staff at Seconds.  The result is an absorbing read where the reader may find herself turning the pages quickly to discover what happens next.

This fast-paced and familiar plot of using up "second chances" to discover just who you really are is augmented by several choices that O'Malley made for his secondary characters.  While it would have been easy for him to populate his characters with strictly Caucasian people, the characters in Seconds resemble the people that you would find in most any restaurant or business today:  people of various ethnic groups, a loving gay couple, overweight and malnourished people,  people who are not move-star attractive.  Furthermore, O'Malley does not place over-emphasis on this diverse cast of characters:  they are people first and foremost and their loves and lusts, faults and virtues, are shown to be as natural as those of Katie herself.  It is their interactions with her and how the alt-Katies respond to them, that make Seconds different from most other based-on-life graphic novels.

Although I am far from an expert on illustration, I did like the illustration style here.  There seems to be a combination of North American and Japanese manga comic styles here, with vivid colors and wide eyes adding greatly to the effect.  The lettering is a bit small, but the clever dialogue (often expressed in bracketed smaller print to underscore sotto voce commentary) fits the style employed here.  The only quibble I had is that there could have been perhaps even more expression on the faces of the characters, but for the most part O'Malley and his team did an excellent job in rendering the characters and their situations.

Seconds is one of the best graphic novels I've read in the past few years.  Its combination of a personal yet universal narrative with a "butterfly effect" alt-timeline story works very well.  Its characters are dynamic and fleshed out superbly.  It is one of those rare graphic novels that will appeal to audiences of various ages, genders, and ethnicities.  It simply is a very good story that is illustrated well.  If you like intelligently-written graphic novels, this is one worth reading.

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