Title: Scooter Girl
Written & Illustrated by: Chynna Clugston-Major
Publisher: Oni Press
I know I’ve ragged on other stories for being formulaic, and while this one kind of is, Ms Clugston also makes clear diversions from the formula to keep it interesting in this story, which certainly makes up for the fact that you can see the ending coming just from reading the back of the book. The basic story follows this familiar formula:
- Meet Boy, he’s a charismatic womaniser who gets away with it cos he’s something of a latter-day Alfie.
- Meet Girl, she’s somehow the only one in all of San Francisco who’s wise to his hijinks and starts to point it out to others.
- Boy is obviously crushing on Girl in some meaningful way, but is prematurely too set-in-his-ways to see it, and acts like a jerk.
- Boy blames Girl for his sudden onset of personal problems, even though she’s barely said two words to him.
- Girl and Boy can’t avoid each-other and somehow end up together in spite of long-held animosity toward each other.
I’m sure this has been explained on TV Tropes, but if I tried to look it up without knowing what they call it there, I’d never get this post finished. Now tropes are not bad things, or at least not universally; basically, they’re potentially entertaining little formulas for writing stories, including for television, film, or songs, that skilled writers use to make quality entertainment. Chynna Clugston is one of those skilled writers.
The story is focused on, and narrated by, Ashton Archer, who builds himself up in the first few pages as some paragon of male perfection, even though he’s only eighteen, and his ideas about dating, sex, and relationships seem plucked from the original version of Alfie. I really hated the title character in that film, by the way. As his life spirals out of control over this girl, Margaret Sheldon, I can’t help but get really into it, because I really hate those smarmy bastards. A lot of the humour also revolves around Ash getting his come-uppance and doing some much-needed introspection and self-analysis, and from the fact that many characters point out to him, on occasion repeatedly, that he’s not as gifted as he fancies himself.
I mean, to be frank, this really isn’t that different a story from Long Hot Summer, but the engaging style of Ms Clugston’s writing makes it, in my opinion, a far more enjoyable read, and one worth reading repeatedly. Her illustration style is also considerably more expressive and involved, whereas Long Hot Summer kind of looks as flat and reduced-emotion as the first couple seasons of Mad Men. While I started the story only caring very slightly more about Ash than about, say, Alfie, overall, I ended up understanding him and especially his character growth a little better, and in the end, I’m convinced that he’s a better person now. While Margaret isn’t given as much development by Clugston as the title might suggest, she’s also clearly more than a cypher existing for no other reason than as some personified McGuffin; unlike Long Hot Summer‘s Ashley, she clearly has a personality that’s developed enough to make sense out of her and the things she does and says, even if we’re mainly seeing this from Ashton’s point-of-view, and it’s very easy to like her. Even her twin brother, initially introduced for apparently little more reason than aiding Margaret’s own character development, is himself a fleshed-out character given a real and distinct personality.
Also keep in mind that the story diverts a bit from “the real world”, and it can make California’s Mod scene in approximately 2004 seem as big as London 1963 —which is a laugh and a half, in all honesty, but it’s nice that the story doesn’t have to deal with addressing the fact that it’s actually a pretty small subculture, Stateside, which kind of gives it a potential for wider appeal than California. Ashton’s self-introduction as some scholastic prodigy and a gridiron star for his school’s team, and suave enough to get into the knickers of every girl in his high school is just kind of ridiculous and makes it easy to really hate this character at first —if only cos, as per my experience and that of most of my friends in the scene, we didn’t become vinyl-hoarders obsessed with clothes well-removed from mainstream culture because we were athletic and possessing of amazing sexual prowess, and being vinyl-hoarders obsessed with clothes certainly didn’t help us toward becoming athletic and gaining sexual prowess. That said, I tend to forgive the clear fantasy elements noted simply because it kind of makes it clear that Ash is a bit of a narcissist, so naturally, he’s going to build himself up as being the best at everything, whether he might actually be so or not, and if I wanted to fan-wank it, as the kids say, I could say his idea that the Mod scene in California is bigger than it ever was is simply another symptom of his self-obsessions that borderline narcissistic delusions; to Ash, nothing else exists but his scene, so naturally any story told from his perspective is going to seem like the entire world is that way.
Clugston, clearly, is an awesomely talented story-teller, and her characters truly seem to pop to life in the pages, no matter how minor. My advice is to put this on your permanent summer reading list, and you’ll not regret it. I also really like her idea of putting in a “soundtrack” for the story, with songs and their bylines sporadically listed throughout the pages; I didn’t do that exact thing with New Dance, but before I’d even read Scooter Girl, I’d had a similar idea to give out a sort of self-selected “soundtrack” on CD-Rs at events where I bring copies of the novel, and will probably continue this. So naturally, I can appreciate people with similar ideas.