Character Reference is a weekly spot where I provide a letter of recommendation for a series you should try, kicking off with a selection of comics. Every Thursday will have an overview of a fantastic comic book series that you might otherwise have missed, covering a range of genres, styles and characters. Enjoy!
With December upon us, it feels like the perfect time to do something a little different, so this week I’m going to be talking about our first graphic novel in this slot. There’s some healthy debate in the nerd fandom about comics versus graphic novels; sometimes you’ll find the terms used interchangeably, sometimes people will berate you for uttering the two in the same breath. Personally, I define a comic as a standalone strip/set of strips or a long running series told in issues, and a graphic novel as a standalone, self-contained story told in a visual format. There are exceptions to the rule, such as The Walking Dead, which sometimes is referred to as a graphic novel despite following the comic release format. I’m aware some of you reading this might be in the process of choosing Christmas presents for loved ones, and giving a complete story is probably more satisfying that just buying a volume of comic issues. This is where the graphic novel comes in. It combines the art and fast paced storytelling of a comic, but it has a satisfying conclusion you can read in one sitting.
Seconds is an award winning graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, best known as the author of the hit Scott Pilgrim series, which we will definitely cover in this column sometime. Seconds brings the same adorable and dynamic art style with a female protagonist and a darkly magical twist. Katie is a talented chef with a big dream; to open a restaurant in the perfect location, which she has picked out. But then in the space of one day her plans begin to crumble; there is a problem with the sale, her relationship gets complicated even before her charismatic ex-boyfriend shows up, and on top of it all there’s a nasty accident at work that Katie feels responsible for. That night however, Katie is given a second chance thanks to a mysterious stranger and some magical mushrooms. When she wakes up, all the bad is wiped out and Katie can try again. But given the chance to do things again, how good would your self-control be? What if you could make your life not only better, but perfect?
Who hasn’t had a bad day where everything seems to go wrong, and wished they could just redo it again, but making better choices? Seconds explores this compelling pipe dream, juxtaposing surreal earthy magic with relatable real world burdens to great effect. Katie is a down to earth protagonist who is refreshingly driven by her career without ever slipping into the over-played stereotype of the single-minded icy businesswoman. Despite seeing that it will be her downfall, readers can see Katie’s desire to improve things is always born out of good intentions, and her selfishness is all too understandable. We root for her, even as we see her obsession with never making a mistake begin to snowball into something terrifying…
The best festive fairy tales have a tinge of darkness, which only adds to their appeal. From the snowy setting to the thin boundary between the mundane and the mystical, Seconds doesn’t have to be set at Christmas to embody the atmosphere traditional to stories of the season. It definitely feels appropriate for the time of year, balancing light and dark, humour and pathos, and some shadowy notions with cutesy anime-inspired art.
If you enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, try out Seconds. It has all the visual appeal and deftness of character distinctive to O’Malley, with a more mature edge and a main character who is the fleshed out, spiritual successor to Ramona Flowers. The colour palate alone in Seconds is a gorgeous feast for the eyes, and despite its happy ending, the story will haunt you past the final page.
Writer: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Artists: Bryan Lee O’Malley (with Jason Fischer, Dustin Harbin, Nathan Fairbairn)
Publisher: Self Made Hero
Status: Self contained volume, sold online and in good bookshops
Best for: Anyone who ever wished they could have a second chance
Words: Heidi Teague
Tweet Heidi @TeagueHeidi