Bryan Lee O’Malley is without a doubt my all-time favourite comic book writer. His ability to write intensely human stories is something that seems to be overlooked by those who have familiarized themselves with his work. After having a good deal of success with Scott Pilgrim, it is easy for people who may have either read those books once or only saw the movie to see it as a story about this punk kid who has to defeat his love interests seven evil ex’s to win her heart. At face value, this story holds the card of “what would you do for love”, but decides to play the card of self-actualization and discovery right when it matters most. Regardless of how much I love Scott Pilgrim, today I am, instead here to talk to you about not only my favourite O’Malley story, but what is easily one of my favourite books of all time, entitled, Lost At Sea. And if you’ve read this far, you might as well stick around and find out why I think you should read this!
The focus of this story centers on Raleigh, an introspective 18-year old girl who believes her soul is trapped inside of a cat after it was sold to the devil by her mother. Like all good journeys, the story begins in a car where Raleigh is travelling from California to Vancouver with a group of kids that she barely knows from her high school. Along the way, Raleigh starts to lower her guard just in time for the car to break down and for her new found friends to help her find the cat that houses her soul! Sounds like some kind of artsy, emo, melodramatic coming of age story, right? WRONG! Well, you aren’t completely wrong; I just get defensive in these situations. While this may sound like a story that you’ve probably seen play out time and time again, Lost At Sea is anything but. What makes this story so compelling, is in the way that O’Malley chooses to create a dynamic with Raleigh. To better get a sense of who Raleigh is, O’Malley breaks the story into a series of flashbacks, asides in Raleigh’s head and interactions with characters in her immediate world.
To me, the best way to build a character in any story is to lay out what the characters situation currently is, provide a little bit of back story and then naturally allow their personality to come out as we move along and meet new people. O’Malley does a little more telling than showing, but, the caveat here is that this form of storytelling becomes more introspective and personal to the reader. It is almost as though Raleigh is getting to know you and she is letting you in on a little bit more of life all the time. It’s in this deeply introspective and free manner of story-telling that really connects and resonates in me. Ostensibly, when I think about this book, I consider it to be reference point of sorts. While I’ve never found it too hard to talk people, per se, I have a sort of anxiety for social situations that has led me, over the years, to fall out of friendships. At a certain point in my life, it became kind of unbearable to connect with people the way I used to and when I get into these moods where I want to shut everyone out, I read this book. I don’t think this means that I have the psyche of an 18-year old girl, but it made my connection with the character that much more meaningful. At a certain point, you have to realize that you need others to help you in life and relying solely on yourself is an absolutely terrible thing to do.
From reading O’Malley stories over the years, it feels as though he may also be a pretty solitary dude and he needs to write to work out how he feels about life. Some people tell stories because they are intensely creative, some people do it because they need money and some people do it because they have to. I think O’Malley is a guy whose heart and mind is filled all of these existentialist thoughts that just can’t stay inside of his brain. He is on a path to determine whether or not all of this is worth it or not and by using Raleigh as a direct conduit to help process all of these things, the reader is given this amazing experience that feels like a fully realized free-writing project. By being both the writer and artist for a single story, it takes away the edge of needing to be brave enough to have entire pages dedicated to just text with an image that only aids in servicing his words. This is not to say that his art does not shine, because there is a ton of style to be found here, but I constantly return to this story because it is so beautifully written.
One of the most pervasive theme’s in O’Malley’s writing is friendship. He makes a huge effort to point out that we can’t just block out people because they may have wronged us or don’t quite fit into our self-concept. As the book progresses and we reach the group’s search for Raleigh’s soul; Raleigh begins to open up and reach out more to other people and experiences, where she understands that putting one foot forward is okay even when you have to take two steps back. Life happens for a very long time and you can’t shut out something potentially good just because it may end terribly. Raleigh slowly comes to this realization and even though she may wake up the next day feeling completely lost, it won’t matter because the day after will come and there will be a chance to try again. It’s these little things that other people have tried for years, I feel, to get right, but never have I found a story that has done it as well as O’Malley has here.
When something elicits such a huge emotional response in me like this clearly still does even years after I initially read the book; it’s probably clear that this is something pretty special to me. It’s very rare anymore that I can still find things that excite me and make me want to go and write my own stories quite like Lost At Sea does. I have to admit though, at certain times, I can definitely see people being turned off from this story and it definitely is one that needs to be read when you are in a certain mood, but this is definitely one that I recommend.
Status: Lucky for you the book is still very much in print. It can be found on Amazon.com (or amazon.ca if you’re a cool Canadian like me) or tell your LCS to order you in a copy. For about 10 bucks, how could you possibly go wrong!