Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 143 (6/26) -- Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Being young is all about having things happen for the first time, about finding yourself in places you don't expect, with people you don't know well, having experiences you hope will turn you into the person you want to be or give you something to remember fondly. Similarly, for a creator, a first major work is a chance to try out all of the elements you want to work with, and figure out ways to make them all work together.

Lost at Sea was Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O'Malley's first graphic novel, drawn when he was 24, almost a decade ago. And his main character is Raleigh, an eighteen-year-old Canadian girl driving back from Northern California with three kids from her school that she barely knows, after a visit to her divorced father. She's also deeply upset about something, and intent on telling her story to us -- but even more intent on telling it right, so we'll have to wait to get all of the details as Raleigh wants to tell them to us.

Lost at Sea is more writerly and feels much more controlled than the Scott Pilgrim books; O'Malley had to get through Raleigh's story, and the careful way she tells it, to get to the seemingly more anarchic and random story of a slightly older slacker. Raleigh has a lot of narration, and talks to her traveling companions, but doesn't get to any of the important, central issues for a long time. The back cover copy of this new edition -- republished earlier this year, presumably because the Scott Pilgrim movie is reminding readers (like me) about all things O'Malleyesque -- even gives away something Raleigh doesn't mention until two-thirds of the way through the book.

But Raleigh is an eighteen-year-old girl who likes boys --- one boy in particular, actually -- and whose parents divorced a few years back. And she's riding north, back home, with three people who know each other well and her only slightly. That's enough background for her story: what's important is that it is her story, and that O'Malley was close enough to adolescence himself to get into Raleigh's head and show her in all her complexity -- cool and dorky, quiet and talkative, confused and sure of herself, all at the same time.

Lost at Sea is quieter, and more conventional, in the end, than the Scott Pilgrim books, and it doesn't have their gleeful shredding of consensus reality. But it's a fine first book, and one that shows that O'Malley has plenty of moods that don't fit into even the capacious, colorful world of Mr. Pilgrim.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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