If Scott Pilgrim is about really wanting something and giving your all to achieve it, Seconds might be about what comes after that: a reality check. These two stories aren’t connected per se, but coming from the same author, a few years apart, one can see how they track the progress of a young generation. Bryan Lee O’Malley, a Canadian author/artist, released the Scott Pilgrim books starting in 2004. The six book series starred Scott, a young man, who was, to put it frankly, a very sincere loser. He persevered through his loser status by finally learning to think of others and to make the right decisions even if it meant getting hurt. For teenagers, overly concerned with doing that one cool thing, or finding that one right person, it was a fun, emotionally-charged series. The fact that it was laced with video game tropes, pop culture references and sly, honest humor didn’t hurt either.
Seconds, O’Malley’s latest graphic novel, is a more grown-up book. It is slightly more refined stylistically, and in terms of the story the author wants to tell. There is no video game metaphor for life this time, and no kung-fu battles or coin rewards for destroying opponents. Instead, there are bills that need paying, exes that aren’t even close to evil, and no easy way to say that a level or problem is completed. It’s rather like real life—until the mushrooms appear.
Katie, the protagonist of this tale, is very opinionated and perhaps a bit hot-headed. She has already established a name for herself and knows what she wants. Currently the co-owner of the cozy and popular restaurant named Seconds, Katie is also starting a new restaurant that she can truly call her own. The renovation at the new location seems to be taking forever, though, and since she’s no longer really necessary at Seconds she feels like she’s in limbo.
On the evening the story starts, she sees her handsome ex-boyfriend, a guy named Max, and gets flustered. She stomps downstairs to boss people around in the kitchen and gets into a fight-turned-make-out-session with her current head chef, Andrew. While the two are having fun in the closet, however, no one is keeping an eye on the kitchen. In an accident Katie or Andrew could have prevented, Hazel, a young server, gets terrible oil burns on her arms. Katie and Andrew decide to break it off, and Katie trudges up to her apartment on the top floor, filled with regret.
That night, in what seems like a dream, Katie discovers a small mushroom and a red notebook with strange instructions: “1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake anew.” She writes that making out with Andrew was wrong, eats the mushroom, and goes to sleep. The next morning, she realizes, albeit slowly and with much shock, that she never made that mistake and that Hazel is okay. It wouldn’t be a story if it ended there, of course, and Katie is the kind of person who makes quite a few mistakes. The problem is, Katie’s also starting seeing a strange, white-haired girl perching on her bureau, and the girl does not seem to be happy about Katie’s new mushroom habit.
You can probably guess that all of Katie’s efforts at perfecting her life don’t go the way she plans. But O’Malley never claims to be the first one to deal with this theme. In fact, in one of his many humorous, self-deprecating moments, he says as much through one of his character. What struck me the most after reading this was how the choices Katie made were visualized and explained. Without hopefully giving too much away, it became clear that the decisions that Katie decides to change are never actually erased, rather she is shifted from her life as it was. Katie isn’t redoing her life, she’s leaving it.
Instead of rolling out the truism that “One can’t turn back the clock,” this seems a more insightful way to look at it. Decisions are more than deleting bits of one’s life, it’s more personal than that. When done without thinking, it’s abandonment. O’Malley says it better than I ever can, and all wrapped up in a fantastic, colorful story that, like me, you’ll probably devour in one sitting. But put simply, if reaching adulthood, according to Scott Pilgrim, is about taking steps to change yourself for the better, then actual adulthood, as seen in this story, is about sticking with your choices and accepting your imperfections. Seconds is a bit of escapism, if that’s what you call all fantasy, but at its core it’s spot on about the fact that we can’t get out of the lives we have. It also assures us, however, that this is no reason for losing hope.
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