Zot!

25 07 2008

I’ve always been impressed by Scott McCloud (who hasn’t)! Even though I’m not really involved in comics right now, Understanding Comics was really influential through high school and college. I read everything he had on his website as well, including the beginning of Zot! I finally got to read the rest of it, because sitting on the kitchen table this morning was Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection (with a significant amount of McCloud’s commentary).

In Zot!, a young teenager named Jenny, from our world meets Zachary, or Zot, a teenage superhero from an alternate, more perfect earth. I first encountered the comic on McCloud’s website, his web-exclusive mini-series. It struck me as fun, but not very deep. Without the print comics, you definitely miss a lot of Zot!‘s substance.

And Zot! has substance galore. It is an incredibly touching comic involving a lot of different themes. It explores utopianism versus challenging imperfections, love and sex, and some social issues including divorce homophobia, racism and poverty. The main characters are very human, and McCloud focuses heavily on the experiences of the supporting cast, especially toward the end of the series. Many of the issues explore difficult emotions and human conflicts. The last few are incredibly moving indeed, and address in insightful ways some themes I never expected to see when I first picked up the collection. I think it’s stood up well over the twenty years since it was first published.

One of the coolest things about this collection is McCloud’s commentary. After each issue, he writes a short piece about that particular comic, how it fit into his development as a writer and artist, and how relevant it was to the world around at the time. I skipped the commentary the first time through so I could read the story uninterrupted. Reading his thoughts adds a whole new layer of insight into the process. The comic alone, despite its age, and the commentary are very inspiring—I think that’s what good writing should be.

Sure, it’s not a perfect story. There are confusing moments. Sometimes you have to ask how some characters got from point A to point B, or why some emotions seem a little over-the-top. You have to remember that the characters are teenagers, and it is a dramatization. Probably the most annoying part is that the collection starts at issue #11. While it’s supposed to be a new beginning, I think the first ten are important, though less moving.

I highly recommend Zot!, so go buy it. Also, go buy issues #1-10. I think they’re collected, too.

I’m excited to see what McCloud will do next. I know he’s working on some new graphic novel and also a ‘secret project.’ I wonder what forms they’ll take after all of the theory and exploration that went into the Understanding Comics series.

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