Katie is a young, talented chef about to open her first restaurant, but not everything in her life is perfect. When Lis – a house spirit – provides Katie with a do-over she can’t stop until perfection reigns.
O’MALLEY RETURNS WITH A FAIRYTALE
The Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series brought a lot of attention to Bryan Lee O’Malley and immediately endeared him to my then 19-year-old Canadian heart. I’ve been looking forward to Seconds since it was announced two years ago and I still thought livejournal was a thing. However, with the crazy amount of success Scott Pilgrim surely dropped on O’Malley he must have been under immense pressure to make this next offering a roaring success and Seconds delivers in a big way.
Protagonist Katie is having something of an emotional crisis over being 29-years-old and on the brink of opening her own restaurant. In the meantime she is stuck in the purgatory of Seconds – a restaurant she helped open with a group of friends, but was never the owner of. Seconds represents everything Katie is running from: her own bad decisions, the relationship with Max she screwed up and the sacrifices she has had to make in order to fund her new dreams.
One night after having been rude to most of the people around her and accidentally contributed to the injury of Hazel (a shy, quiet waitress), a tiny, blonde, waif-y girl appears on top of Katie’s dresser, in true Peter Pan-style, and speaking almost exclusively in monosyllables. Through a series of events we learn the name of the blonde girl – it’s Lis (arguably the French word) – and she offers Katie a notebook, a single toadstool mushroom and a card with instructions:
“1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew”
In classic Monkey’s Paw progression, Katie gets greedy and takes her ability to alter the world around her too many times. Although O’Malley focuses on a classic storytelling archetype, Seconds is stuffed with references and dialogue (much like Scott Pilgrim – many characters from which appears in Katie’s Toronto-based story), but also delicate emotional growth that makes Katie a truly likeable protagonist even as she makes some blatantly bad decisions. O’Malley has her directly address the narrator – to the point of sometimes correcting the version of events the reader is presented with. The old-world wives tales sprinkled throughout Seconds justify Katie’s silly reactions, while somehow managing to help ground it in a believable place.
Everything about Seconds is splendid. It’s charming, it has surprising depth and touches the reader in a truly magical way that only a well-crafted, much-loved stand alone original graphic novel can. If the Scott Pilgrim series heralded Bryan Lee O’Malley’s place as a master of the comic book form, Seconds has cemented it and is a graphic novel I would proudly put into the hands of any reader.
As with his previous work from Lost at Sea onward, O’Malley tackles the art duties in Seconds with the aid of assistant Jason Fischer (whose exact duties I cannot quantify). His highly manga-inspired art serves the urban fantasy of Seconds and helps make Katie’s emotional reactions seem in every way justified.
The graphic novel is absolutely beautiful and also speaks to a growth in O’Malley’s talent. Seconds focuses on three female characters (Katie, Lis and Hazel), all different shapes, sizes and colours and presents them each as stunning within the parameters of their character designs. They appear more genuinely feminine than the ladies of Scott Pilgrim (not that I have any problem with those ladies), and despite being in an almost constant state of crisis-mode aptly handle the sometimes GIGANTIC fantastical elements they are faced with.
A final note on the art of Seconds: for all the magic previously mentioned, a lot of it is small – a whisp here or a disappearance there, yet even this street level (for lack of a better phrase), magic comes across as important – often aided by a great sound effect such as: RECOIL!
Seconds is a great looking graphic novel.
SPEND YOUR TIME WITH SECONDS
I’ve gushed in this review, yes. Seconds is nothing short of delightful. It’s a beautiful, well-crafted fairytale set against the backdrop of contemporary Toronto that speaks to a stage of emotional-development most readers have (or will have), gone through. Bryan Lee O’Malley absolutely knows what he doing and it would behoove you, regardless of your normal comic reading tastes, to spend some time with Katie and her escapades throughout Seconds.