Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley – graphic novel review

"Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley.
“Seconds” by Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Brian O’Malley creates a modern fairytale with a bit of old world blended into the new in his latest graphic novel since his work Scott Pilgrim. Seconds isn’t nearly as epic as O’Malley’s previous work, but it shows the evolving sophistication of his storytelling skills.

Seconds is set in a hip restaurant where co-founder Katie is trying to transition from a nosy hang-about to owner of her own restaurant. It’s her dream, and she hurts people to make it come true. She’s not a very good person. She’s self-centered, self-indulgent, and prone to impulsive decisions in love. Her world seems stuck on hold as she drifts from her old responsibilities to her new ones.

Then one night everything changed. A dalliance in the stock room with the chef she hand-picked to replace her left an unattended kitchen and opportunity for carelessness. Employee Hazel ended up with hot grease all over her arms and a trip to the ER. Katie pulled everything together, but the incident left her shaken. Then she remembered her dream of a glowing girl who hid in her dresser. The dresser—which came with the building—contained a hidden panel in which there was a box. Inside the box was mushroom, a book labeled “My Mistakes”, and a very neatly printed card with instructions:

  1. Write your mistake
  2. Ingest one mushroom
  3. Go to sleep
  4. Wake anew

So Katie does it and is amazed. Then one day she discovers the house spirit’s supply of mushrooms – which Katie grabs by the bucketful and goes hog-wild rewriting her life. She even does terrible things knowing full well that she will just rewrite history when she goes to bed that night. Like I said, not a very nice person.

The complication is that Katie’s new restaurant in an old dilapidated building has a house spirit of her own that she accidentally brings back to her old restaurant. The battle between spirit wills and Katie’s restaurant takes over her life and changes events in ways that Katie was not prepared for. Setting things right becomes both a journey of self-discovery and an imperative to get back to the world Katie knew.

I wish I had enjoyed Seconds more, but I despised Katie from the beginning to the middle. Scott Pilgrim, from O’Malley’s previous work, was a jerk, but a lovable jerk. Katie was just a jerk—spunky, but selfish and self-indulgent. I think the difference is that Scott’s character flaws were mocked, whereas Katie’s were treated more seriously. Unfortunately, O’Malley laid the groundwork for Katie’s undoing a bit too thoroughly. It wasn’t quite clear to me why anybody put up with her, except that she acted like the boss.

Still, it was an interesting story, especially as the truth of what Katie had wrought became clearer. Certainly, the revelation of the complexities of the world which Katie created through wishes was an interesting twist to the story. This was not a typical fairytale. I just wish I had liked Katie more so that I cared about her victories.

The art was confidently rendered. The faces were expressive, the color palette was quite beautiful, and the complicated multiverse was convincingly illustrated. I found it fascinating that Katie was not the most beautiful female character, nor the tallest. This was an interesting design choice, grounding Katie and making her seem more real.

The pacing of Seconds, however, was odd at times. The story would seem like it was wrapping up, then a new twist would occupy another fifty pages. It didn’t feel fluid. Still, fans of Scott Pilgrim will love this book. Without spoiling too much, Katie gets her happy ending as heroines in all good fairytales do. Getting there is the tricky part.

What really impresses me most about Brian O’Malley’s work is how massive it is. Seconds is a big graphic novel—no small project. Pacing issues and Katie’s less-than-charming personality aside, the size of this work in itself is very impressive. I don’t think it’s as groundbreaking as Scott Pilgrim was, but it’s definitely an excellent addition to O’Malley’s oeuvre.

Release Date: July 15, 2014 (USA)
ISBNs: 0345529375 (9780345529374)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Language: English

MySF Rating: Four point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 60%


Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (social drinking, restaurant drinking, and magical mushrooms. Stay away from those, kiddies!)
Language: 3 (One f-bomb, and some s-words sprinkled here and there)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 3 (snoggin’, cartoon sex)
Violence: 1 (kitchen accident, minor tension)

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