Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley

2002, ONI Press

Filed Under: Graphic Novel.

You might have heard of Scott Pilgrim, the series of shōnen-like graphic novels brimming with nerdy allusions that was made into a movie with Michael Cera and Jason Scwartzman. I read and enjoyed those books, and so decided to pick up Lost at Sea, which O’Malley wrote prior the now famous Pilgrim series. Fast forward a couple years and I finally got around to reading it.

The style is very similar to Pilgrim. Not just the art is similar, but they both excel in characterization and derive from those strong characters a lot of heart. One of the things I really liked about Pilgrim was its use of geeky and often obscure pop-cultural references to deepen his characters in a unique way (a technique Ernest Cline used in Ready Player One with seemingly less success). The plot of the Pilgrim series was fairly bare-bones, but still they shined. While Lost at Sea goes about it differently, mostly eschewing Nintendo game references for more archetypal teenager experiences, it too proves to be deeper than it may appear on first glance.

Raleigh is a teenager going through teenager stuff. Her parents are divorced, more focused on their own individual lives than her. She’s returning home to Vancouver from a visit to her father in California, though she’s missed her bus home since she took a detour to visit a boy she met on the internet and whom she thinks she’s in love with. As luck would have it, three kids from her highschool (Ian, Dave, and Stephanie) are returning home from a California road trip, so she hitches a ride back.

The entire book (it’s not long, about half the length of one Pilgrim installment) takes place on this ride home.  In that short period of time, O’Malley manages to put his characters through some pretty astounding transformations. The book offers a lot more emotional maturity than I expected and left me quite impressed. At first Raleigh is quiet and brooding. She constantly fades out of the car conversation and into her own head. We learn she thinks she’s lost her soul, that perhaps it was sold to Satan (in the guise of a cat) by her mother.

She thinks of herself as crazy, worthless, alone, empty; that is to say, she thinks like a lot of teenagers do. As the trip extends northwards (at least when Dave’s  shortcuts don’t get them lost), the teens, especially Stephanie, slowly open up to Raleigh, and she to them. Eventually they all embark on a literal soul-search to help Raleigh out.

This book is in fact much more serious and emotional than Scott Pilgrim ever got, but still manages to be funny and at times whimsical. The boys provide plenty of humorous banter, and the friendship that grows between Raleigh and Stephanie flirts with poignancy.  Lost at Sea is a bit like if someone put Persepolis in a blender with a Little Miss Sunshine. O’Malley strikes a charming balance between humor and sentiment, and that makes for a pretty great little book.

Similar Reads: Any Empire (Powell), Persepolis (Satrapi), the Scott Pilgrim series (O’Malley)