Adam, one of my co-writers over at Thor’s Comic Column, wrote a review last year of this collection, and while his review piqued my interest, my past experiences with 500+ page tomes of black and white comics have been less than satisfying (primarily because they’ve poorly written, 60’s/70’s oriented reprints of DC/Marvel Comics) so I didn’t make much of an effort to buy the book. However, whilst whittling a half hour away in the basement of the Jane/Dundas Library (it’s where the kids/young adult sections live), I spied a copy on the shelves and checked it out.
Zot! is the creation of Scott McCloud - best known for his brilliant educational text Understanding Comics - and this collection compiles issues 11 through 37 of the series (minus the back-up features and with only the thumbnail outline for issues 20 and 21, which were drawn by another artist whilst McCloud was on his Honeymoon… also the first ten issues were in color and may be reproduced at a later date). The titular character is a superhero in his own world, a parallel earth where time moves slower and things are generally pleasant (which, one should add, isn’t the same as naive). Zot’s home town is like a futuristic Salt Lake City where everyone’s happy except the odd curmudgeon who declares himself a villain. Zot and his uncle (prior to when this book picks up) had discovered a dimensional gateway to something more resembling our Earth, where he met Jenny. Two thirds of this volume encompass traditional elements of superhero fiction (good vs. evil stuff), merging sci-fi tropes (exploring differences between worlds, alternate histories), and teenage melodrama, all with an avant garde twist, McCloud taking an early interest in not-so-much deconstructionism as realism. There’s a sense of logic to Zot’s world that the real Earth doesn’t have, order versus chaos, but what’s interesting is how alien Zot’s world seems and how familiar ours is.
The latter third of the book finds Zot stranded on our Earth, but McCloud’s storytelling focuses on telling individual tales of the support cast instead of focusing on Zot’s adjustment to his predicament (which he takes with his usual optimism). McCloud’s overall tone for the series is experimentalist, not to any great extreme, mind you, but he was a forerunner to much of the storytelling styles we see in comics today, where the superpowers and superheroics are less central than characters and character interaction. A leader in the naturalist movement of storytelling, McCloud was also working through some ideas for Understanding Comics in Zot!, in terms of story structure, pacing, illustration, and themes.
McCloud provides an introduction and post script to this collection, as well as interspersed recollections on creating individual issues or story arcs. These commentary “special features” (to use a DVD term) add a lot to the enjoyment of the series. Something that would have seen, frankly, a little plain is suddenly filled with gravitas when you understand the context in which it was made. McCloud undercuts his own artistic skill but his clean line and exquisitely detailed illustrations are actually quite superb, his characters pointedly simplified, perhaps not to a Charles Schulz extreme but along the same line of “less evokes more”.
(Torontonians, I notice a stack of copies on sale at BMV books on Bloor for $9.99… Bargoon!)