- Craig Graziano
What if you could go back and fix one mistake in your life? That's the premise of Seconds. Bryan Lee O'Malley's follow-up to his graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim seamlessly blends fantastical themes with realistic internal conflict.
Katie, a chef, is struggling professionally and emotionally. Her new restaurant is slowly coming together, but expenses are adding up. She still lives upstairs from her first restaurant, called Seconds, despite not technically working there anymore. Katie is also in a romantic limbo between an old boyfriend and the chef who has just replaced her.
After a particularly hard night, Katie discovers a set of instructions and a single mushroom. If she writes down a past mistake and eats the mushroom, she will awaken anew, as if nothing had happened.
Katie received the gift from a house spirit named Lis. Only Katie can see Lis, and the mushroom's power only works for mistakes made inside Seconds. When Katie discovers a whole batch of the magical fungi, she thinks back to all the mistakes she has made working and living at Seconds. Against Lis' warnings, Katie starts correcting her life's mistakes in the hopes that she can have her man and her restaurant. It is there that Katie's problems really start.
O'Malley's greatest strength lies in his ability to combine the fantastic with the mundane. Katie may have gained an incredible ability, but O'Malley grounds her with the same issues of self-doubt and uncertainty that any regular person might have. While her corrections give her what she thought she wanted, each one comes with a dozen new complications. Such conflicts arise in stories involving time travel and alternate worlds, and yet Katie's problems remain authentic and relatable.
Also, where O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim focuses on struggles of one's early twenties, Seconds centers itself around establishing an adult identity for one's self. It is nice to see a natural progression of maturity and artistry within O'Malley's work.
There are a few graphic novels that Seconds reminds me of. The food and cooking throughout the book recalls Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley. That graphic novel is a culinary biography with recipes that are drawn looking good enough to eat.
If you walk away from Seconds looking for another science fiction comic, particularly one involving time travel or alternate worlds, I have two recommendations.
Meanwhile is Jason Shiga's choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel in which the main character stumbles upon a scientist's lab. Inside is a time machine, a mind-reading device...and the aptly named Killitron 3000. You are given free rein to use any of the inventions with the chance to explore over 3000 storylines. Just be VERY careful with the Killitron.
RASL is an epic detective story involving alternate worlds and one man's struggle to stay alive as he is pursued by a lizard-faced villain. It deals with similar issues of past mistakes and regret that Seconds does, but is less focused on trying to correct them.
Ultimately, Seconds is gorgeously illustrated, thought-provoking, immensely entertaining, and should be read immediately. Make no mistake!