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Bryan Lee O'Malley explores regret in new graphic novel 'Seconds'

The cover of Bryan Lee O'Malley's new graphic novel "Seconds" is shown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO – After “Scott Pilgrim” drew scores of comic book fans with its magic-realist take on young adulthood — complete with evil ex-boyfriends and video game-inspired fight scenes — creator Bryan Lee O’Malley turned his unique gaze to a later chapter in life.

In his new graphic novel “Seconds,” 29-year-old chef Katie discovers magic mushrooms that allow her to change past decisions. At the self-reflective age just before 30, she is older than the 23-year-old hero of “Scott Pilgrim” and more consumed by regret.

“I think it’s natural as you get to the end of your twenties to start thinking about what you could have done differently — whether they went well or whether they went terribly,” said O’Malley in a phone interview.

“For me, obviously, the end of my twenties were actually pretty good. I had a movie made (2010’s “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”) and all that stuff. I didn’t really have anything to complain about, but still, I would wake up some days and say, ‘I wish something was better.'”

The idea for “Seconds” had been kicking around in his head for about a decade, since he was a struggling comic book artist working at Toronto’s Kalendar restaurant. The setting helped him dream up the mysterious restaurant where Katie works, called Seconds and haunted by a house spirit.

But the immensely popular “Scott Pilgrim” series, totalling six volumes plus the Edgar Wright-directed film, consumed the next six years of O’Malley’s life. When he finally returned to “Seconds,” his mind was occupied by thoughts of launching his next phase — which are reflected by Katie’s desires to leave her old self behind, no matter the cost.

“There were times over the years when I wanted to take a break from ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ or even just stop doing ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ when I was feeling down or whatever. This other book ‘Seconds’ was always on the horizon, was always waiting for me,” O’Malley said.

“So when it came time to actually write it, what sort of came out was this longing to do something new. I have to put that much of myself into whatever book I write. Especially at the beginning of the book, I like to put where I’m at into the book.”

When Katie takes the magic mushrooms, she’s able to return to moments in her past and repeat them over and over again. The narrative device recalls the video game-inspired structure of “Scott Pilgrim,” in which the hero had to defeat the seven evil exes of his dream girl Ramona Flowers.

“This book is more of a fairy tale than anything, but I embrace the video gaminess modernity of it… just the standard thing of dying and re-trying and trying things differently,” said O’Malley. “It was really more of an engine to tell the story about these characters and about life.”

O’Malley, now 35, was born in London, Ont., and now lives in Los Angeles. He jokes that he’s actually very reserved, “even for a Canadian,” and that’s the reason he enjoys writing witty, loud-mouthed characters like Katie.

“She’s kind of an extension of Scott Pilgrim in that way, but she also is more of an adult and has more responsibilities. As such, there’s so many more opportunities for her to be selfish and horrible, which also appeals to me as a writer, because I think we all have those tendencies.”

After the success of “Scott Pilgrim,” O’Malley faced some criticism that the majority of his characters were white. O’Malley, who is of Korean and French-Canadian heritage, wrote a passionate blog post in which he said he regretted that “Scott Pilgrim” lacked diversity.

“It wasn’t something that was really on my mind when I started. I was just capturing what I was experiencing at the time, and I guess not looking in the mirror as much as I should have been,” he said.

“I lived in London for a long time, and that’s a pretty white town. In Toronto, I just ended up in this circle of indie rock kids who happened to be white too… Really, it was just when I started getting out there and meeting more people and seeing more fans that I went, ‘Oh, actually I’m not white.’ It was just something that I didn’t even really think about, growing up the way I did.”

“Seconds” was released on July 15 and has already received strong reviews from critics and superfans alike. O’Malley, who felt pressure to match the success of “Scott Pilgrim,” said he’s breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’m pretty surprised because the Internet can go a number of ways, but it usually tends to go negative. It’s been really overwhelmingly positive. I’m really grateful.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of character Ramona Flowers.