Any number of people, places, and things stick in our memory and we wonder sometimes what it all means. In Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel, “Seconds,” we have a character, Katie, who wonders and wishes about her life constantly. She’s 29-years-old and on the brink of something new in her life but she’s very uncertain about the future. And then, one fateful night, a little goblin girl sits atop her dresser offering some relief from all her worries.
For fans of the Scott Pilgrim books that established O’Malley, this new work will feel like the logical step forward. For newcomers, it will prove to be a well-structred immersive experience. O’Malley shows himself here to be a mature storyteller who is very much at home with creating a graphic novel in the independent model of one person writing and drawing a full length work in comics similar to writing a novel. He has also been wise to bring in a team of talent that makes this heroic task more manageable. We can thank Jason Fischer (drawing assistant), Nathan Fairbairn (color), and Dustin Harbin (lettering).
The creation of a graphic novel is certainly nothing to take lightly. We can definitely be guaranteed that O’Malley took the material and went through a rigorous process. It reads quite smoothly and it has a magic to it. We begin on the first page with eyelids barely raised. “She woke up,” the narration tells us, “and there was a glow.” O’Malley comes back to this mysterious scene much later in the book and it has a well-earned dramatic impact. It is gratifying to see O’Malley in top form and stretching what he can do within a graphic novel framework.
Just like any good storyteller, O’Malley is stretching and pulling what is possible with characters and plot. He comes to this new work with the sharpened skills of a novelist. He revels in playing with words, pacing, and themes. Seconds. The title refers to a little restaurant that Katie started up. “Ready for seconds?” is, of course, the implied question. Answers become far less clear when Katie needs to ask herself about her own life’s second act and whether or not she could use a second chance.
Similar to Scott Pilgrim, you have here a story about people and connections. Katie has a lot of friends, even if she doesn’t realize it. She is still relatively young and finds herself mixing with her peers and a fair amount of youngsters. She is in transition, from being a youngster herself to becoming more of a grown-up. No longer the co-owner of her original restaurant, Seconds, she is busy setting up her new business and yet she still lives in the old restaurant’s quite modest upstairs bedroom. And she still acts like she runs the place. Maybe the return of her ex-boyfriend, Max, will cool her jets.
As a fable for our own times, O’Malley asks readers if they would jump at the chance for a do-over even if that do-over might screw up other aspects of their lives. In an age of hyper-instant gratification, there is quite a concern over how, if at all, people process the consequences to their actions. And that is something O’Malley is working with here. When you can’t accept anything about yourself, your body, your status, your circumstances, then what exactly about you are you ready to accept, and believe in? If you had the ability to continuously wipe away imperfections, don’t you end up wiping away yourself?
O’Malley’s energy and drive is in full display here. Katie is a power to be reckoned with right out of the gate. On occasion, she’ll even argue with the narrator. She just wants to get things right. We get that. But Katie has her subtleties too. She has a heart and soul that can be in tune with the world around her. She is capable of making sound judgements. If it weren’t for that little goblin, Lis, the restaurant’s “house spirit,” Katie might have never asked for so many changes to her life. It’s all these changes that will lead Katie to some essential wisdom, just as long as the universe doesn’t explode in the process.
Another aspect to this book that can’t be ignored is the theme of a restaurant. This is Katie’s place to shine. She helps to nourish her regular customers and the restaurant nourishes her. Set aside those lofty ideas for a moment, and you’ll also find quite a bit of fun restaurant action that might bring to mind your favorite food reality show. There are so many that it boggles the mind and the stomach. That said, you’ll easily relate to the foodie stuff right along with all the other great food for thought.
“Seconds” is, no doubt, a high mark in O’Malley’s career. It demonstrates that O’Malley can take what he’s built and not only move forward but create something bigger.
“Seconds” is published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. It is available as of July 15, 2014. You can find it right here, here, and here.
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