1) Write Your Mistake
2) Ingest One Mushroom
3) Go To Sleep
4) Wake Anew
Thus begins "Seconds," Bryan Lee O'Malley's first graphic novel work since his seminal "Scott Pilgrim" series. It's a confident, engaging work about some of his favorite topics -- existential angst, hope, fantasy, growing up and learning how to be okay with your own decisions. This is already my favorite graphic novel of the year and I want to use those above instructions to go back and get this book to publish before Eisner 2014 nominations were due.
Katie is formerly the head chef at a restaurant that she has turned into the best in her town. Everything about the restaurant is perfect except that it isn't hers, leaving her feeling unfulfilled. While biding her time as her new restaurant opens up across town she secretly canoodles with the current head chef, lords over her current restaurant and behaves as if she's the current boss even though she currently isn't any longer. When her listless wandering causes an accident in the kitchen and injures a server, she uncovers a secret panel in her bedroom dresser that offers her a chance to correct that mistake. When it works, too easily, Katie starts to take advantage of this cosmic power. Unfortunately the causality effects are noticed by the house spirit Lis, who warns Katie of the damage to her own life this can create. Katie discovers just how bad things can get as she tries to fix everything in her life, only to see it fall apart in front of her.
O'Malley's script is balanced in a way that was only hinted at during his "Scott Pilgrim" opus. It still plays with the tropes of storytelling as you would expect from him -- Katie constantly engages with the omniscient narrative -- but it finds a way to even out the comedy and the drama of the story. This feels like a natural next step for the author, stretching beyond the laughs of "Scott Pilgrim" and exploring the themes only briefly touched upon in that series. The unintended consequences of each revision builds until the fantastical elements overtake the grounded nature of the story. The build to this eventual scenario is patient, and when O'Malley kicks the door open on the worst case scenario, it's earned rather than forced. The characters all feel honest -- everyone has good and bad qualities that help and hinder them at every turn and reveal themselves in new ways each time Katie warps the world around them.
The linework in "Seconds" is bolder and the storytelling clearer and more confident. O'Malley had the time and comfort of work space needed to get this story done, and though it sucks that the story was delayed due to injury, I wonder if that actually helped the end product. There are several pages within the story that I immediately wanted to hang on my wall. The character designs are simple and detailed at the same time, and the fashion and clothing choices for each character are totally on point. When the action kicks, it's clear and well choreographed. O'Malley's use of negative space and blank or disappearing panels on pages add to the flow of the tale and reveal a storyteller that will continue to find new and clever ways to muck with the existing ideas of how a story is told within the comics medium.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. I put it down and immediately wanted to read it again. At 325 pages it's a brick, but one that I devoured in a day. The single issues of your favorite superhero books are going to be on that rack next week, I assure you. Take whatever money you were going to spend and drop it on "Seconds" instead.