‘A blast from start to finish’ – Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

sblomWe’ve not previously entirely got along with the work of Bryan Lee O’Malley. You may have read, for instance, what we had to say about Scott Pilgrim sblom1(essentially, liked the film, weren’t so keen on the books in their entirety). With the release of Seconds, his latest graphic novel, however, we have shifted over firmly into the camp of gushing fanboys. This book has everything a budding hipster could possibly want from a graphic novel. It looks beautiful, it’s sort of charming, it’s funny, it’s offbeat, it’s actually quite the page turner and it has monsters and Mignola-ish folklore in there too. Reading Seconds feels cool (like if you were reading Seconds at a café in New York this afternoon, you might earn a raised chin from someone cooler than you walking by), and it’s nice feeling cool but, crucially, it doesn’t have that ‘oh I read this yesterday and liked it but now realise, a day later, that it’s actually vapid and shallow’ comedown that you sometimes get. At times Seconds is a bit Murakami-ish (a good thing in our house); at times, Katie, the main character in the book (the flame haired girl you see on the cover) reminded this reader of the Kim Dickens character from Treme (also good). There were a significant number of points where the art (particularly the intricate work detailing  buildings) stopped me in my tracks (one of the problems I had with Scott Pilgrim was the enduring sameness of the strip after a bit of time). Plus there were times where I chuckled, times where I turned the page because things were getting urgent and times where I mentally high fived O’Malley and his gang of colorists etc for doing a sterlingsbloma job on the old entertainment front. Seconds is a blast from start to finish.

That’s all well and good, you might be saying (we all gush over some thing from time to time, right?), but what’s it about? Well, there is this character called Katie and she used to be the chef in a restaurant called Seconds – only she is in the process of moving on to a new restaurant, her own restaurant, only it’s taking time and she has misgivings. Seconds was kickstarted by Katie and a bunch of her friends but all of her friends are gone now and all of the newer people who work there think Katie is sort of in the way. Plus she doesn’t really get along with the guy she hired to replace her, even though they keep making out in the store room. Plus her ex-boyfriend is back on the scene and she keeps biting his head off even though she still, you know, has a thing for him. What else, what else, what else? Oh yes, Katie has a room above the restaurant and there appears to be a sort of house spirit living in her chest of drawers, a house spirit who dresses like a character from Girls and just so happens to have a secret stash of red mushrooms that allow you to replay certain pivotal moments from your recent history in a different way. The mushroom thing blows Katie’s mind (as you’d expect) and she gets busy doing things over. The house spirit, Lis, is none too happy about this, saying you only get one do over etc, but Katie steals the stash and runs amok, changing the site of the restaurant she wanted, getting back together with her ex, saving a pretty colleague from being burned; but there are downsides too. What Katie gains on the roundabouts, she loses on the swings. Lis shows her a strange red tree that has versions of Seconds sitting on different branches but it takes time for thesblom2 lesson to sink in. Alongside all of this, Katie is busy second guessing herself, behaving abominably, rethinking herself, going ahead with selfish and stupid things even though she knows she is wrong – behaving like a person in other words.

Eventually (as in Stephen King’s 11.22.23) all of the playing around with time causes some serious damage and the fabric of reality gets a bit battered (at which point Seconds the book starts to trip into Jason territory, which again is no bad thing). There is a resolution that feels earned, and a conclusion that feels like a good end to the journey we’ve all been on. At times the narrative is Chris Ware-y, and at times the narratives is a bit Craig Thompson – and, again, these are all good things – but more than anything the book feels like a great Bryan Lee O’Malley book. We’ll be looking forward to many more!

Any Cop?: We spent an entire Saturday afternoon reading Seconds and a very pleasant time was had. If you want distracting from your woes, we can’t think of a better distraction.



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