To say I’ve been eagerly waiting for this book is an understatement. I have been waiting for it as long as it has been announced and I doubt that I’m in any minority when I say that. With that said it seemed almost like a race to see who could read and review the book first and frankly I didn’t have the time to read yet alone write a review for Seconds the week it released because it was just too close to Comic-Con. It made me wonder how anyone was finding the time to give this book a fair shake, but then reading reviews I found them all to be bizarrely positive. Now I’m not for one second saying that Seconds is bad or unworthy of praise, but I did remove my Scott Pilgrim blinders before diving into Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest graphic novel. To sum up Seconds is to basically read you the first chapter because O’Malley tells you what Seconds is about within the pages of the book itself. Where O’Malley shines as a storyteller is in his ability to take a concept and explain it in the simplest of terms. Seconds is about a chef that changes her timeline after being given a magical mushroom from a house spirit.
Now it’s easy to say that because that is what the book is about, but while O’Malley is able to boil down his story in simple terms that are easy to understand and even easier to become interested in; he also makes a story that is far more complex. This story is not just about a chef that receives a magical mushroom that changes her past, but rather a very complex story about the decisions we make in life and more importantly the relationships we make and affect with those decisions.
To actually tell you what Seconds is about I would say that it’s about a chef struggling to find the right path in life and the bonds she makes along the way. Not as catchy as a house spirit giving magical mushrooms is it? Again, that’s why O’Malley is a talented storyteller because his reader can find the words for themselves to describe the book.
Our main character is Katie and we first meet her as she wakes up in her room above Seconds (the restaurant) and sees a stark white woman standing on the top of her dresser crouching like a bird. They have a strange conversation in which the bird woman tells Katie that if things go wrong… remember. At this point she jumps into the dresser drawer. Katie thoroughly inspects the draw, but finds nothing. She chalks it up as a dream and goes back to bed.
The next day we go through Katie’s life and learn that she’s opening a new restaurant and leaving her first restaurant Seconds. She lives above Seconds in a rented room to save money as she waits for her new restaurant to open. The new restaurant isn’t going well though which is stressing Katie out. Because Katie lives above Seconds, she’s always there and still viewed as the boss even though she’s trained her replacement Andrew. We quickly learn that they’re having a fling, but during the course of their making out one of the waitresses are hurt in the kitchen. Katie feels awful as the girl, Hazel, has both of her hands badly burnt. Katie realizes that if she hadn’t distracted Andrew none of it would have happened.
After dropping Hazel off and wallowing in guilt, Katie remembers the mushroom. She checks the dresser draw and finds a pad of paper and the mushroom. She reads the instructions and then writes down what she wants changed. The next morning she wakes up and she’s the only one that remembers Hazel’s burns. From there Katie begins looking into who this bird lady is and wouldn’t you know it… Hazel has some answers.
It’s important to point out that O’Malley doesn’t try to capture the same tone or visual design of Scott Pilgrim. He doesn’t venture away 100%, but he does make damn sure that Seconds is its own beast and can stand on its own. He succeeds.
Now at first I was actually bothered by how un-SP the story was, but then the story finds its groove and I never looked back. Then, when you’re finally used to what he’s doing and you’ve stopped trying to put your expectations on the story or what he should do with it… then he gives you your Scotty P goodness. There was one major visual reference that he drops and one line of dialogue as well. There could be more, but Seconds is a book that you read twice (damn I could have gone for a pun there).
As an artist O’Malley has grown; so much so that he needed an artist assistant on this story. You know you’ve made it when you get a person to help you on art duties. Unlike O’Malley’s previous work Seconds is fully colored from the get-go. This affects O’Malley’s style a lot as he was more conscious of the coloring and frankly we as the reader get the good end of that stick. The coloring forced his style to grow and while it’s still his trademark look you can see how much he’s matured as an artist and visual storyteller.
Nathan Fairbairn should probably just color all of O’Malley’s work from here on out. His work on Scott Pilgrim has been amazing, but his work here on Seconds is honestly better. He’s able to bring the art and world to life and he more than anyone else keeps this book from being SP Lite. Red is a dangerous theme for any comic and it’s definitely the theme for Seconds, but Fairbairn keeps it under control and kind of magical like the story itself. It’s never overpowering or blown out which is difficult to control.
I have one minor gripe and it’s with the slipcover… it’s not full size and so it makes reading or even having it on the book just really annoying. Part of me wants to throw it away, but then the hardcover itself has its own design and doesn’t repeat the image. It’s just the most annoying thing because it moves around in your hand getting fucked up.
After a huge success like O’Malley had with that series I’ve already named too many times to say again, it’s hard to meet the audience’s expectations. As I said before the book finds its groove, but you need to stop fighting it or asking it to be what you want to be. It’s easy to just say it’s great because it is, but that doesn’t mean that a diehard O’Malley fan is going to jump in and instantly be impressed unless they have blinders up.
It’s even harder for anyone not to compare it to his previous work because it just seeps in. Very few creators can follow-up a success like that with something that’s received as being good. Not just good, but received as good. There have been plenty of follow ups that people didn’t appreciate at the time of the release because their own expectations sunk them. Don’t let that happen here because you’ll cheat yourself out of an incredible graphic novel. Whatever O’Malley works on next I hope he knows he’s raised the bar for himself yet again.
Writer/Artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley Artist Assistant: Jason Fischer Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn Letterer: Dustin Harbin Publisher: Ballantine Books Price: $25.00 Release Date: 7/15/14 Format: ONG Hardcover; Print/Digital