How ‘Scott Pilgrim’ went from comic book to movie

Hollywood’s obsession with comic books led to media giant Walt Disney Co.'s $4.3-billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment and Warner Bros.’ decision to revamp its DC Entertainment unit.

But it’s also transforming even the smallest comic book players.

Oni Press of Portland, Ore., which has nine employees and publishes three to five comics or trade paperbacks each month, is behind a big movie being released Aug. 13 by Universal Pictures: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”


The special effects-heavy comedy starring Michael Cera as a slacker who must battle his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes is extremely loyal to writer-artist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comics, including borrowing their hyper-stylized, video game-inspired visuals.

It’s the first film produced by Closed on Mondays Entertainment, the production company that Oni Press publisher Joe Nozemack founded with producer Eric Gitter in 2003 to help shepherd Oni’s projects onto the big screen. Closed on Mondays has 12 projects in various stages of development at studios and recently signed a deal with CBS to create television shows.

The fact that such a small publisher has its own production company shows just how important Hollywood has become to the comic business, which has seen sales shrink recently at the same time that movies based on its material have exploded.

Company Town spoke to Nozemack about what it takes to survive and compete as an undersized comic book publisher in the current market and how “Scott Pilgrim,” on which he served as co-producer, made it to the silver screen.

Independent comic book publishers seem to be almost as common these days as independent film studios once were. How do you think Oni stands out?

Oni is really the sensibility of the people who work here, which is not as genre-based as a lot of other comic book publishers. It’s harder to get superhero stuff through here because there’s already so much of that in the industry.

The majority of what we do is creator owned, because the top talent are just not willing to sign the deals anymore where they give over everything to a corporation.

What led you to start your own production company back in 2003? Why not just have an agency represent you and set up some deals for your comics?

We used to be at a boutique agency, but then we partnered with Eric Gitter and started Closed on Mondays because we felt we needed someone with a vested interest in our stuff instead of just making a connection for each project.

Why bother getting involved in movies? What benefit do they have for a company like yours, besides the opportunity to schmooze at a premiere?

When the first couple of films based on independent comics, like “Ghost World” and “Hellboy,” came out, they created a big spike in sales, and so I decided we needed to be involved and help to shepherd our projects through.

Big superhero movies like “X-Men” don’t create a big sales spike because there’s so much product out there and it’s hard to tell which issues the films are even based on. With indies there’s a lot less material, so it’s obvious what they’re based on and the movie can have a big effect on the sales of the books.

“Scott Pilgrim” has been your bestselling book, but it’s still relatively unknown to most people. What was the process like getting it made?

It was the first thing that Closed on Mondays set up back in 2004. [Director] Edgar Wright was attached from the beginning but he had to do “Hot Fuzz” first.

We had sold “Scott Pilgrim” after only the first book was done, so the fact that Edgar was committed to another movie allowed Bryan [Lee O’Malley] to get further ahead on the books and then work with Edgar to incorporate that material into the movie.

Sometimes we feel like it’s our job to protect the core of the book, but Edgar had Bryan involved during the whole process.

You just released the sixth and final “Scott Pilgrim” book, which is obviously fortuitous timing. But isn’t it unusual to set up a movie when you’ve only released a single book?

It depends. “Scott Pilgrim” would have been hard to explain without the first book. But some stuff you can sell based just on a pitch or a one-page description.

We might show people at a studio pages or sketches or treatments or outlines — whatever we need to communicate the world and the story.

Being a comic book publisher now seems to require being very savvy about the movie business. Did you ever expect that would become a key part of your job?

It certainly wasn’t a goal. I love movies, but I don’t think I could have gotten into the movie industry if I had just decided I wanted to develop scripts and get into the industry like I did with publishing graphic novels and comics. It ended up that I was in the right place at the right time.

The good news is that all of entertainment is really changing. People are able to pick things that speak to them much more individually, which means you have to be focused on a smaller audience. That’s what we have been doing for decades.