Few superheroes have been so intimately tied to their hometown as Toronto’s own Scott Pilgrim, a fictional character who regularly haunts such real-life hangouts as Sneaky Dee’s, Yonge and Dundas Square, and the St Clair Goodwill store. That geographical connection has been tracked by fans before, but now Ben Spigel, a PhD student in the U of T’s geography department and one of the dedicated fanboys behind the manga site Sleep Is for the Weak, has created what may well be the ultimate Scott Pilgrim map. Spigel’s map not only details the multiple characters’ movements across the Toronto cityscape with painstaking thoroughness and accuracy, it provides a scene- and panel-count for each location. Ever wondered how many times Pilgrim goes to the Dufferin Mall? The answer is one. How many panels are dedicated to the visit? Forty-seven. If that weren’t enough, the interactive Google Map allows fans to view street-level photos of all the locations alongside Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley’s corresponding exterior drawings.
Books@Torontoist editor James Grainger spoke about the map with Ben Spigel, who also provided us with a mind-blowing visual that you’ll have to scroll down to view.
Torontoist: How did you come up with the idea of putting together the ultimate Toronto-centric Scott Pilgrim map? How long did it take?
Ben Spigel: I’m actually a geographer by training: I’m a PhD Candidate in the department of geography at U of T and I also did my undergrad here as well. So map-making comes naturally to me. I love Scott Pilgrim for any number of reasons, but what really sets it apart from most other comics is that it takes place *somewhere*. Other comics like Batman and Superman take place in a made-up city. Even comics that supposedly take place in a real place—Spiderman in New York City—just use the urban geography as window dressing. When’s the last time Peter Parker had an argument with Aunt May about where to find the best bagels?
I think I came up with the idea for a map a few years ago, but it was only now, with the excitement of the sixth volume and the movie, that I got around to doing it. My girlfriend Ana helped out immensely, both helping me track down some of the most obscure and hard-to-find places and also with the actual programming of the map. I think all in all, it took around 20-30 hours of going through the books page by page, using the annotated notes that the author Bryan Lee O’Malley wrote a few years ago, and abusing Google Street View to track everything down.
Torontoist: Are you anticipating a number of new Toronto locations with the final book?
Spigel: I’m not expecting too many new locations in the sixth volume. There seem to be fewer and fewer with each volume, since the story is heading toward a climax.
Torontoist: Why is your map the best one?
Spigel: There are a lot of great maps out there! I think my is the most obsessive and complete, but that’s because I wanted to combine my twin loves of geography and Scott Pilgrim. The National Post was the first to make a map, but there’s was mostly just the public places, like Dundas Square and Honest Ed’s. Same thing with the Toronto Star, which published a short walking tour of the public locations. The Scott Pilgrim-age, where someone went around and took photos of all the locations is also really great. There are so many amazing interior shots that Google Street View can’t get. What I like about my map is that since I got some other data on the locations, like how many scenes and panels take place at each location, I can make some cool map porn of where Scott Pilgrim does his hangouts (See image below)
Torontoist: How do you think the specific geography and culture of Toronto impacts Scott Pilgrim’s world? Could the series have taken place in any city?
Spigel: That’s a hard one. It has to be Toronto because so many of the characters are based off people in Toronto. Its very strange to know people who are both represented in a comic book, and then also in a movie! What surprised me after making the map is that the locations actually make sense. Wallace and Scott’s apartment is close to Steven Stills’ house. One of my assumptions for making the map was that Scott was lazy, so once I found his house, everything else would be in walking distance. I think the comic could have only taken place here in Toronto since that’s what O’Malley knew best at the time. It really is tied in to our urban fabric.
Torontoist: In general, do you think comics artists more willing to use Toronto (or Montreal or any Canadian locale) as an “overt” setting for their work than, say, novelists and filmmakers? If so, why do you think that is?
Spigel: There are a surprising number of Canadian cartoonists, and I think they’re all very proud of showing off Canada. A city like Toronto is good for cartoonists, because it has a a few really famous buildings (the CN Tower, for instance) that are easy to draw and quickly place their comic. As for movies and novels, more of them should take place here, but I think the key is to really engage with the city instead of just using a few sites as window dressing for a story that could take place anywhere.
Torontoist: How long have you been following the Pilgrim books? Were you in on the series from the start?
Spigel: I’ve been reading it from the get go. If I recall, I accidentally bought the first volume thinking it was by someone else I was following. Since then, my life has been fairly intertwined with the comic. I used to work part time at The Beguiling, where O’Malley used to work and where several of the characters in the book come from. Once you’re part of a community like that, you’re a Scott-o-Hollic for life.
Torontoist: The movie: looking forward to it or dreading it?
Spigel: When I first heard of the movie, I was kind of dreading it. I mean, it’s always hard when something that you love gets picked up by someone else and changed. But after seeing the trailers and some other previews, I am 100% excited. It’s going to be different from the comic, but that’s okay. It’s got a great director and cast, and it really looks like it captured the sprit of the comic, which is the most important thing. The video game also looks simply amazing.