Review by Ian Keogh
The cover of Seconds is deliberately designed to reveal as little as possible about the content, which is a brave move on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s part.
Pictured on the cover is Katie, 29, and a successful chef on the verge of opening a second restaurant. The first lends its name to the title, but despite her deep association, she’s a salaried employee, not a partner. That’ll change with the new venue. The title, however, has further meanings, one of which comes into play relatively early as Katie is given the opportunity to rectify a mistake. Soon afterwards she learns that houses have spirits. Keep a house happy and everything will go smoothly, but annoy the house spirit and your life will become a living hell.
O’Malley works wonders with that. Rules accompany mystical favours, and as Seconds progresses we learn them in a weird echo of the sinister Death Note. Every time Katie has a problem in her life there’s an instant solution, but each solution unravels further problems. Where will it all end? Well, actually in sinister territory.
Seconds is very clever. Because the ground keeps shifting nothing can be taken for granted, and with each new revision the suspense increases. That’s not the only aspect O’Malley handles adroitly in this warm and welcoming graphic novel. Katie sustains pretty well the entire plot as an extremely sympathetic personality, one you keep rooting for as she makes mistake after mistake, resulting in an increasing sadness about her. Although the story differs, O’Malley’s still making ingenious narrative use of video game possibilities the way he did in Scott Pilgrim. There’s also a moral to Seconds, revealed toward the end, and one a significant percentage of readers will be familiar with. Perhaps an inspiration, it’s well placed.
O’Malley varies his art, both from Scott Pilgrim and within Seconds, which makes several nods to other artists. The overly wide-eyed look given to some characters is a stylistic device that will either appeal or not, echoing both manga and Archie comics, and there’s great use of successive small panels separated by captions. This isn’t the only visual reference to the work of Chris Ware, as the successful flat colouring also brings Ware to mind, although the responsibility lies with Nathan Fairburn, who opts for a brighter palette than Ware.
Another meaning for the title is that it’s O’Malley’s second major work, which invites comparisons with Scott Pilgrim. Seconds lacks that sheer ambition, but has a greater focus. It’s immensely readable and utterly charming, and so entirely dispels any thought of the follow-up to an acclaimed breakthrough work being of concern.