Review: Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

After a phenomenon like Scott Pilgrim, anything Bryan Lee O’Malley did next would naturally invite comparison. Seconds certainly has some things in common with Pilgrim, particularly by way of personalities, and even in terms of conventions which replace conventional exposition with a pithy caption. Our protagonist, Katie, is seemingly the polar opposite of young Mr Pilgrim, though: a skilled overachiever, career-focused to the point of self denial, and about to open the restaurant of her dreams after years of work running Seconds, her first popular and well-regarded eatery. What she does have in common with the previous spawn of O’Malley’s pen is an unusual living arrangement — she lives in an apartment upstairs at Seconds — and an uncanny ability to adapt in all the worst ways to bizarre situations.

O’Malley’s characters are highly stylized, in a much-hipper-than-reality sort of way, but still able to convey emotion well. The story mechanic breaks the narrative at critical junctures, leaving a great deal of whitespace on the page as the grid of panels also breaks as each new reality replaces the old. Combined with a change in palette in which everything reddens, the reader is primed to see what comes next, especially as the complications mount and the story’s position on the recursively iterating tree of possibility drifts further and further from any familiar reality.

When traditional superstition steps into the everyday, Neil Gaiman’s oeuvre stands as a high-water mark. O’Malley invokes shades of Gaiman as Katie is sternly warned and yet sallies on into the dangerous unknown, but for better or worse, he does not  drop upon his protagonist the full weight of her transgressions, allowing for a happy ending for just about everyone. Seconds is a tightly-woven story, compact in concept, straying only rarely, which makes for a highly satisfying tale.