Thursday, October 30, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Why Scott Pilgrim is Awesome
By Andrea Warner
It might just be that this first decade of the 21st century will go down as the Dawn of the Geeks. Iron Man, Batman, and X-Men have all achieved massive box-office success and spawned (or re-started) successful franchises.
And now, an entirely new brand of comic book hero will ascend the throne, rising up from the pages of his six-book series and brought to life by Canada’s own favourite man-child, Michael Cera, in the upcoming film adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Suck on that, Spidey.
Bryan Lee O'Malley, a 29 year-old Toronto writer and illustrator, published his first Scott Pilgrim book in 2004. The manga-influenced art and wickedly funny story quickly acquired legions of rabid fans. And who wouldn't want to be Scott Pilgrim?
At the start of the series (we’re now four volumes in, two to go) Scott Pilgrim is 23, dating a high-school girl named Knives Chau, and kicking ass in a rock band. Then he meets Ramona Flowers, the dangerously intriguing, inter-dimensional roller-blading delivery-girl—but before they can be together, he must fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends.
Here are the top five reasons why Scott Pilgrim is awesome, and what this means for you, Canada, and the world.
1. Scott Pilgrim, Every Man
That roommate you have? That guy you used to date? That face you see when you look in the mirror? Chances are, if you’re between the ages of 20 and 40, you are Scott Pilgrim and he is you.
Part of Pilgrim’s appeal as a protagonist is that he feels real, minus the super fighting skills. Sometimes he hurts girls’ feelings, he’s often lazy, and he frequently says the wrong thing. His best friends freely warn the women in his life that he’s not good enough for them. He’s flawed and he feels human, and this is partly because he’s loosely based on O’Malley’s 23-year-old self.
“I was living in Toronto, and I just had come out of a breakup and I started writing down ideas for a story that was like exactly what I was doing and then it kind of just grew out of that,” he says, over the phone. “Then I started dating a girl from the US (graphic novelist Hope Larson, now his wife) and I had a gay roommate and I joined a band and so it kind of developed over a couple years.”
Talking to O’Malley is a bit like reading a SP book. The cadences, rhythm, and word choices are eerily familiar—Pilgrim and O’Malley both sound like any average person raised on a steady diet of pop culture.
And this isn’t surprising.
In creating Scott Pilgrim, O’Malley has captured the defining interests of a lot of 25 to 40-year olds, a cross-generational group whose desire to find love while playing video games and getting their geek on has given rise to this new brand of hero.
James Lucas Jones, the Editor-in-Chief of Oni Press in Portland, Oregon, publishers of Scott Pilgrim, remembers being impressed by O’Malley’s ability to make Pilgrim so relatable.
“I think it's fun without being dumb or empty,” Jones says. “Almost everyone knows somebody that's like Scott or had a similar approach to life as he does.”
Christopher Butcher, manager of The Beguiling in Toronto, is also a big fan of the series, and attributes its universal resonance to O’Malley’s ability to infuse the story with grander themes.
“I think the unexpected dark bits in the books really work,” Butcher says. “There’s a depth to the characters and story that you wouldn’t expect if someone just described the premise to you.”
SP has also proved that independent publishers can become major players in the comic book industry, and has helped solidify Portland’s reputation as a haven of originality and creativity.
Brett Warnock co-owns Top Shelf, a fellow comics publishing house in Portland, Oregon, and he remembers reading SP for the first time.
“It blew my mind. In fact, I wrote at the time that it was my favorite graphic novel of the year,” Warnock says. In addition to loving Scott’s constant girl drama, Warnock appreciates O’Malley’s ability to mix genres and influences into witty and realistic teen drama, and is excited about what SP’s success means to his business.
“It shows that smaller publishers are just as, if not more capable than the big New York publishers, in finding talent and crafting little gems like this,” Warnock says. “It’s a new style for an evolving audience.”
2. Scott Pilgrim, a Lover and a Fighter
All’s fair in love and war in the SP universe. Pilgrim, as it turns out, is one of the best fighters, like, ever. And, almost every major character has been involved in some kind of battle by the end of the fourth book. The fights are equal opportunity (boy vs. girl, girl vs. girl, etc), and typically involve some element of the inventive or surreal. One of the evil ex-boyfriends uses a signature cheesy move whereby he woos girls by punching a hole in the moon.
And no landscape is off limits: Knives Chau and Ramona end up in an epic brawl at the Toronto Reference Library when Knives goes a little crazy after finding out Scott cheated on her.
Part of the appeal of Pilgrim as a fighter, is that the sequences often mimic that of the videogames Pilgrim and O’Malley love so much, incorporating the fantastical and the surreal with equal aplomb. When Pilgrim wins a fight against a bad guy, he might randomly collect coins ($2 for one, $14 for another), or earn an extra life, or pick up a sword or a mushroom. It’s part fun throwback, part witty commentary on becoming the hero of your own fantasy, which leads to...
His constant parade of hot ex-girlfriends almost rivals that of Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends. His callous break-up with Knives Chau breaks our hearts, but his utterly sweet devotion to winning Ramona means all is forgiven. And O’Malley gets the details just right: Scott and Ramona’s courtship may be fraught with supernatural predicaments, but it’s juxtaposed with earthly delights, such as their first sleepover, or holding hands under the moon.
The real reason for Scott’s vast assortment of beautiful women is rooted in the same influences that O’Malley used to create the series’ distinctive look.
“It comes out of Japanese comics, which I was really into in high school and stuff,” O’Malley says. ”There's just a whole genre of stories about one guy who's pursued by all the girls who are all way hotter than him and that's kind of ridiculous and unrealistic so I wanted to take the germ of that but make something a little more emotionally true out of it.”
O’Malley also attributes Scott’s attractiveness to the opposite sex as “selective world-view. I think he's mostly awesome in his own mind.”
3. Scott Pilgrim, Rock star
Who doesn’t have dreams of playing in a band with their best friends, rocking out in a battle of the bands, and having adoring fans?
Sex Bob-omb, Pilgrim’s band with Stephen Sills and Kim Pine, borrows its name from a character in Super Mario Bros. Every other band mentioned in the book also borrows its name from a video game. Among them, Scott’s high school band with Kim Pine recalls the Sega Genesis game Sonic & Knuckles, and Scott’s ex, Envy, plays in The Clash At Demonhead, which references both an NES game and the punk band, The Clash.
O’Malley’s own one-man band Kupek is actually pretty good. The sound is slightly countrified with great beats, think Wilco with a smattering of older Counting Crows (that’s a good thing!), and boasts song titles that could be lines from any of the SP books, such as “You Practically Rock” and “Poster Child for Happiness.”
4. Scott Pilgrim, Canadian
O’Malley was raised in London, Timmins, and North Bay, Ontario, and then lived in Toronto for just three years in his early 20s, but it was long enough to make an impression. Serving as the backdrop for the SP universe, quirky reference points from the cityscape punctuate the art, bringing a coolness to TO O’Malley never intended.
“I've kind of unintentionally become this Toronto ambassador,” O’Malley says. “I don't really have that much great love for the city, it just happens to be my setting. Like, Sneaky Dee’s. I always kind of hated Sneaky Dee’s, but everyone would go there, and they still do, so I just wanted to keep that in. One of the ideas was to have a record of what we did in Toronto in 2003-04.”
Butcher, for one, jokes that the books border on being too Canadian.
“He might even confuse our American neighbours, with his Toronto landmarks and his superfluous U’s,” Butcher says. “All we need in the fifth volume is for him to be crying while watching one of those Canadian Heritage Moments on TV.”
O’Malley also writes a blog where he posts an annotated Scott Pilgrim with photos and landmarks that inspired scenes in the book, including the Wychwood Library, Casa Loma, the Dufferin Mall, and the CN Tower, all of which could serve as potential locations when the Scott Pilgrim movie finally commences shooting in the fall…
5. Scott Pilgrim, Movie star
Edgar Wright, the director of the SP movie, had just come off of filming Shaun of the Dead when Universal sent him a random assortment of stuff to consider making his next film. He clicked with SP, and sparked a long-distance friendship with O’Malley that’s spanned the last several years.
The majority of information about the movie is pretty speculative, but a few concrete details as of this writing:
• The film, tentatively scheduled for 2009, will span the entirety of the series, even those books that haven’t come out yet.
• Michael Bacall, who has acted in Free Willy and Grindhouse, is set to write the screenplay. He’s also adapting a film based on the documentary King of Kong.
• Michael Cera (Arrested Development, Juno, Superbad) will play Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard, Grindhouse’s Deathproof) is attached to play Ramona Flowers.
O’Malley’s involvement in the film’s slow evolution is music to SP fans’ ears, and heralds a promise that the film won’t stray too far from the books’ trademark wit and heart.
“It’s been three and a half years-ish we’ve been talking about it,” O’Malley says. “So, they (the movie) definitely had an influence on the books as well. But, I’ve gone over the books with them and what the references are and what I made up and kind of stole or whatever. I’ve read the screenplay drafts and stuff like that. I’m like a sounding board for them, I guess.”
His official role is consultant, which suits him just fine.
“I didn’t really want to write it,” O’Malley admits. “I’ve never written a screenplay. And when they started writing it, I was still finding my feet in this world and I didn’t have any interest in trying to take a stab at it. I think what the’ve done is pretty cool.”
He’ll also likely play a big part in co-creating the soundtrack, if he and Wright have any say in it. For the last few years, the pair has been trading music they feel fits with the SP universe. And, it promises lots of Canadian content on O’Malley’s side.
“Sloan and Plumtree,” he says, naming a few of his favourite bands that inspired some of his SP work. “And then we (Wright and I) just kind amalgamated the best of our tracks into a couple discs of music and sent that to Universal, so I think it will be a pretty interesting and eclectic mix.”
Ultimately, if the movie does well, it could potentially spawn into an SP franchise, taking on the big guys like Batman or the Hulk. Marvel Comics is unleashing a torrent of Avengers-based hero movies over the next several years, and with comic-book sales reaching record numbers in print and on film, the genre shows no signs of slowing down.
But, as much as the world loves the quirky Canadian comic book hero who has helped change the face of independent publishing, O’Malley is ready to look beyond Scott Pilgrim.
When asked if he’s thought about crafting any spin-offs or plans to carry on the series, he laughs and quickly says, “I hope not! I'm really ready to move on to something else once it's done.”
Good luck, O’Malley. We think the Scott Pilgrim craze is just getting started.
By Andrea Warner
You Say Party! We Say Die! are a Vancouver-based band known for their kick-ass live shows and dance party extravaganzas. The ingredients? Pop-punk-dance rhapsodies and devilishly cute lead singer, Becky Ninkovic, who’s fearless thrashing in super glam outfits belie her innocent “Who Me?” coo.
Their hit single “Monster” propelled YSP!WSD! out of obscurity, so it seemed a fitting assignment to ask Ninkovic to name her five favourite monsters for Naked Eye’s horror issue. But it’s the real things that go bump in the night for Ninkovic that sound truly terrifying.
The singer suffers from sleep paralysis, but even after describing one vision of a floating child in her Beijing hotel room, she’s still pretty relaxed about the whole thing. “In Beijing they used to do a lot of beheadings, so there are a lot of headless ghosts floating around. People were telling me about them, and I was like, “Yeah! I think I’ve seen one’ but I’m not sure.”
1. Kaonashi from the anime Spirited Away. In English it means "no face." In his natural state he's kind of empty, and kind of simple, but very emotional. Like he feeds off other people's emotions, and gets more and more hungry, and just keeps eating, and starts eating people and eating everything around him, cause he just wants to fill up his emptiness, and he gets super, super huge and gross and then he pukes it all up. And after he pukes he calms down and feels better.
2. Ursula from The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid was my all time favourite movie growing up as a little girl. She just had so much pizzazz and spunk, and she was so like, tough and always showing her bust out and using awesome sea creature makeup. She had Flotsam and Jetsam, her eels that did whatever she ordered them to do. She lived in the remains of a dragon, like a leviathan skull. I don't know, she was banished from Atlantica. She had a lot of intrigue and character to her, she's rad.
3. Teen Wolf. I was going to go with, like, the original werewolf, and I do love the werewolf, too, but I especially enjoyed Teen Wolf. It was like 1985. I probably got into it more around 1990, ‘cause I was born in 1981. But Michael J. Fox was super big. All our family watched Family Ties. When I found out that he was Teen Wolf, it was like, “Oh my god.” He was just awesome, ‘cause he went from being the nice, kind of geeky kid in the neighbourhood, to Mr. Popular, who plays basketball and bangs the prom queen and plays air guitar while standing on the roof of a car, and is like, a super awesome dancer at the prom. He turns into the werewolf and all his dreams come true, basically.
4. Where the Wild Things Are. I love the wild things. That was like my book from my childhood that I still own, that I still read to my nieces and nephews. I just love how they look, the illustrations are amazing and I love the monsters. I love that they live out of his imagination. Like he gets in trouble and gets sent to his room and all of a sudden he has this whole wild land growing, and he gets to be king of them all. I just love the wild things.
5. And, the shuggees. I don't know if you've seen Wonder Showzen. It's like a really insane kids show that's not for kids. And the episode with the shuggees is just like amazing. It's like these little monster characters, and they like, the way they talk is all in code, and it's pretty racist. They have their own language. And not that I like racists, but it's so absolutely—just such bad, naughty humour that it's funny, I guess. I just appreciate anything that will make me laugh so much. I know a monster’s main objective usually is to scare you, but I don't too well with fear. I'd rather laugh. I want things that will make me laugh, more than make me cry and have nightmares for months on end.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Name: Susan Juby
Your job: “Writer.” Juby’s fiction titles include Alice, I Think and the just-published Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance and Cookery.
From where did you get your post-secondary education? “B.A. in English Literature from University of Toronto and UBC, and a Master of Publishing degree from Simon Fraser University.”
How did your education prepare you for the job you now have? “My degrees taught me to appreciate independent thinking, good writing, and smart people. My undergraduate degree prepared me to deal with a life of economic uncertainty.”
The best career advice I received in school was... “I came away with a strong sense that it would be a bad idea to model my career after Faulkner’s early, poverty-stricken years — genius or not. This is probably why I haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize. Yet, I also remember a certain emphasis on doing what you love, regardless of the pay. I got over that notion after several months as an unpaid intern in a publishing company.”
The best career advice I didn’t receive in school was... “Don’t get a large tattoo on your ankle right before you go to interview for a job that requires that you not have any tattoos. (Waitering, not dancing, in case anyone is wondering.)”
Name: Justina Kervel
Your job: “Owner of and tattoo artist at Liquid Amber Tattoo.”
From where did you get your post-secondary education? “ I did three years of Sciences and Arts at the University College of the Fraser Valley, and I did a year at West Coast College of Health Care. ”
How did your education prepare you for the job you now have? “Most of the art classes I took helped me be a well-rounded artist. The science courses helped me get into a medical college, which in turn taught me the medical side needed to run a tattoo shop. Not only is it very important these days to learn everything about the art involved, but you should also know about the human body in order to be successful.”
The best career advice I received in school was... “Never give up if it’s something you want.”
The best career advice I didn’t receive in school was... “The harder it is to get what you want, the more you appreciate it when you get it.”
Thursday, October 23, 2008
‘Video Games Live’ brings the VSO into the 21st century
By Andrea Warner
To some people, society’s obsession with video games signals the end of civilization. Where’s the art in Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft? But Tommy Tallarico, CEO and founder of Video Games Live, has an answer: Just listen.
The most prolific video-game composer in history according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Tallarico has worked on 275 projects and counting. Three years ago, he was looking to showcase the increasing artistic merit of modern games, and Video Games Live was born.
A kinetic combination of video-game scores played by symphonies and then synchronized to massive video screens, with state-of-the-art lighting and special effects, Video Games Live has proved hugely popular. Its modest debut in 2005 included three performances (one of which was in Vancouver), and that number has since grown to 52 shows in 2008.
“I like to describe it as all the power and emotion of a symphony performance with the excitement of a rock concert,” says Tallarico (who, incidentally, is the cousin of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler). “Every couple months, we add new segments or special effects, so 70 per cent of the show we’re playing this time around is new from what we played three years ago.”
Even though video games have usurped almost every other form of entertainment in popularity, most games, and their enthusiasts, don’t get much respect.
“Some people might think that video games are just for nerds and kids, or video-game music is just a bunch of beeps or bloops,” Tallarico says, “but video games have become the radio of the 21st century — more people get their new music, or discover old music, through games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Over 23 per cent of all the money the music industry made this past year came from the video-game industry.”
And that’s just pop music. Think the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and video games seem like strange bedfellows? Not so, says VSO’s VP of Marketing & Sales, Alan Gove.
“A lot of really great music, really great orchestral, is being composed for video games, so [Video Games Live] will sound terrific,” Gove says. “[And] it’s cool, frankly. It fits right in, I think, to a big part of our mandate, which is to expand beyond your typical Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, or Shostakovich.”
For its part, partnering with individual orchestras in each city it visits is an important part of Video Games Live.
“Our main goal was to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games and their music had become,” says Tallarico. “[But also], we’re ushering in a whole new generation of people to come and see a symphony. There’s this magic that happens where people are reliving their childhood and hearing it all around them in a room with 3,000 other people, and it brings a level of prestige for people to see their local musicians playing with us.”
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
'Briefs' the soul of Pinter's wit
By Andrea Warner
English humour is the foundation of truly groundbreaking comedy and social satire. With their dry juxtaposition of the awkward and uncomfortable, the English have perfected the melding of observation and etiquette. And more than a few modern heroes (Ricky Gervais, John Cleese) owe part of their success to Harold Pinter.
Pinter, the quick-witted 2005 Nobel laureate, is a master manipulator of language. Deliberate pauses, and subtext with more depth than a seven-layer dip, have come to define his plays, providing perfect fodder for stage veterans Simon Webb and Anthony F. Ingram in Pinter’s Briefs.
An interesting exercise for any theatre group, Blackbird Theatre chooses to run this revue of Pinter’s works in two acts: the first devoted to a smattering of single-scene plays; the second to his 1957 one-act, The Dumb Waiter.
The first act flies by flawlessly, largely due to the continuous revolving door of total character immersion and costume quick-changes. In particular, Ingram is a marvel as the rage-filled Controller in Victoria Station, but gets stuck playing this type of character a bit too frequently throughout Briefs. The phenomenal Webb has more opportunity to show his diverse range of talents, but he shines best in The Black and White as a haunting, haughty, elderly homeless woman.
The Dumb Waiter suffers moments of weakness — the story drags, particularly compared to the first act — but is still a great example of two masters building tension so stifling, it chokes the air from the room.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Black Kids burst out of Jacksonville, Florida, and onto the international indie-rock scene last year, earning scores of accolades following a buzz-making appearance at the annual Athens Popfest. The band then took a decidedly modern approach to hawking its ’80s-inspired sound, offering up its debut EP for free, making viral marketing its bitch and acquiring the attention of Arcade Fire’s management in the process. Those hungry to hear the imaginary byproduct of the Cure and Pet Shop Boys bumping uglies fell hard and fast for Black Kids’ new wave/dance-pop stylings. Just a few months after the release of debut album Partie Traumatic, and in the early days of a three-month, globe-spanning tour, WE had a chance to talk church, MTV and controversy with drummer Kevin Snow.
WE: On the band’s MySpace page, the genre descriptions provided are “indie, crunk, and religious.”
Snow: Um, yeah. (Laughs.) That’s sort of in jest. We’re not really religious, as you can tell from our lyrics. But I will say, we all sort of had our religious backgrounds from growing up in church, but it’s pretty firmly in our past. It sort of informed who we are now, because it’s what we grew up in, but that [description] is sort of a jab.
WE: Obviously, there’s a pretty big ’80s influence on Partie Traumatic. Did you have an affinity for it growing up?
Snow: We all watched quite a bit of MTV growing up in the ’80s. I know Reggie [Youngblood, Black Kids’ singer-songwriter] was pretty into hair bands and R&B;at the time. Reggie and I used to share an apartment, and there was an indie dance club around the corner, and we started going out to that when we were, like, 20, 21. That’s when we were first exposed to other, not-so-mainstream bands: New Order, Pulp, the Smiths. Bands like that played a much bigger role in Black Kids.
WE: Did you all grow up together?
Snow: Reggie, Owen [Holmes, bassist] and I actually did meet at church, at Sunday school, when we were teenagers.
WE: Aw, that’s a nice story.
Snow: Yeah. The three of us have played in different bands for more than 10 years, but Black Kids is the first time we’ve been in the same band at once, and the first time we invited the girls [Dawn Watley and Ali Youngblood, both keyboardists and backing vocalists] to play along. That seemed to be the combination that works the best.
WE: Everyone who writes about the band starts with how subversive the name is. Has it always been like that?
Snow: We actually expected to get a lot of shit about it. We were trying to come up with a band name and that’s what we chose, and we kind of knew what we were signing up for, but no one’s really been too offended by it, as far as we know. I mean, if someone is offended, they’re probably not the people we want to be hanging out with anyway. We weren’t really trying to make a statement; we just thought it sounded pretty bitchin’.
WE: You played on the Vice tour. Did you pick up any tips on bad-boy behaviour?
Snow: (Laughs.) Not really. I think we’re the least of the bad boys. If anyone brings the camera around and is like, “Alright, Black Kids, do something interesting,” we’re just like, “Yeah, you chose the wrong band. We’re just going to sit here and be boring.”
WE: It’s probably good for the longevity of your career. Do you have next-record plans in the works?
Snow: We try to do as much writing as possible on the road. We’re making plans to do an EP, [which] we’re hoping to record in January. We’re really anxious to get some new music out there. We can’t wait.