IF YOU KNOW cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley's name, it's thanks to Scott Pilgrim: O'Malley's six-book series, published by local house Oni Press, follows the exploits of a slacker Canadian named Scott, his love interest Ramona Flowers, and—oh yeah—the seven evil ex-boyfriends he has to defeat in order to win Ramona's heart.
Where Scott Pilgrim is about a guy who refuses to grow up, O'Malley's new graphic novel, Seconds, is about a woman—a restaurateur named Katie—struggling with the decisions and responsibilities of adulthood. If that sounds heavy, don't worry: O'Malley's created another funny, videogame-inflected world where relatable human emotions meet surreal, fantastic elements.
Pushing 30, Katie runs one restaurant and is opening another; she's also sleeping with her head chef and pining over her ex-boyfriend. When she discovers a trove of magic mushrooms that let her go back in time and fix her mistakes, she begins trying to perfect her own life: reuniting with her ex, choosing a different contractor for her restaurant, and making all sorts of tweaks to her personal and professional life. Naturally, unexpected consequences branch out at every turn. (It's similar to the sort of narrative "restart" recently used to good effect in the film Edge of Tomorrow.)
Katie's a blunt, cranky little spitfire with a shock of red hair; the big-eyed character design will be familiar to anyone who's read Scott Pilgrim, but O'Malley really flexes his muscles on some of the book's fantasy elements, in particular an evil spirit that lives in the walk-in freezer and a striking purple and red tree-of-life type deal that I'm sure some 19-year-old has already gotten tattooed on her back. Colorist Nathan Fairbairn, too, earns his keep, as color is used intelligently to distinguish the various levels of reality Katie's wandering through.
O'Malley's clearly grappling with some big issues here, about personal responsibility, decision-making, and regret. It's not as fun, per se, as the Scott Pilgrim series, but it's a step forward both artistically and thematically.