Art & Story: Scott McCloud
What’s it about?
Originally published through Eclipse Comics, Zot! was the comic debut of cartoonist Scott McCloud which started in 1984 and then ran for 36 issues.
After getting a job at DC Comics, and following the advice of comic book master Will Eisner to follow his own path rather than imitating the DC/Marvel school of superheroes, Scott McCloud was able to launch a fun, original, and lighthearted tale in a gritty comic book scene in the middle of the 1980s.
Somewhat inspired by some of his old childhood favorite, such as classics like the Golden Age Superman and the manga Astro Boy, Zot! follows the adventures of Zachary T. Paleozogt aka the self-proclaimed Zot! But in an usual twist for the superhero genre, the stories are told from the perspective of Jenny Weaver, a young "normal" girl from our world who ends up in the retro-futuristic science-fiction paradise that is the world of Zot!
What is good about it?
Zot! starts like your usual fantasy/science-fiction adventure story.
A young girl, Jenny, is transported to another world, Zot's, by accident. Together they live several fantastic adventures. The original first issues #1-10 were actually in color and followed Jenny and Zot as they tried to recover a key to allow her to get back to her own world. It was more or less your standard superhero story. Along the way McCloud introduced the characters of Jenny's brother, Butch, who gets turned into a chimpanzee by accident, the great scientist and Zot's Uncle Max, their robotic buttler Peabody...
Those first color issues aren't included in this collection.
And then the comic Zot! was slightly retooled and relaunched in a different format, with some clear new ideas and direction in sight (mind you, it was Scott McCloud's debut and he was young at the time).
Zot! was reimagined as a gateway to explore several more mature and coming-of-age stories. Using the contrast between Jenny's grey, realistic and detailed urban world against Zot's perfect utopic surreal comic book-ysh world. Back and forth.
It's new readers friendly, since McCloud tried to make this new start both a continuation yet a new beginning for the book. Referencing past events, clearly presented in the new comics.
Issues #11 - 27 tell each a self-contained story, each revolving on a "villain-of-the-week" formula with a new villain. McCloud used these villains to present some flaws of possible technological futures. (A villain focused on pure technology for mankind's future, another who embraced machines, one solely focused on greed, etc.)
Finally Zot gets stucked on Jenny's flawed reality. And that's where all that has been built up really shines.
The final issues #28 - 36 feature Zot trapped on Jenny's world forever where he serves as a shiny beacon of impossible standards the rest of humanity doesn't follow. A new cast of characters gets introduced, like the love sick Woody, who fears he will never be good enough for Jenny. Yet Jenny isn't left insensible to his "plain normal" charm. These issues are simply brilliant because Scott McCloud was able to discuss and explore themes regular superheroes comics rarely did (especially back then). A friend at school is victim of bigotry when someone finally comes out of the closet. Zot wants to save people, but real villains don't sport flashy costumes in our real world. Zot and Jenny think they're finally ready for sex.
Then, the time finally comes for Zot to go back to his world.
When it's all said and done, Zot! is a series about escapism. The hero that is in all of us, only we don't need super-powers or the ability to fly to do so. Zot is only here to represent an ideal, not an impossible reality.
What is bad about it?
It's really difficult to for me to call any of this really "bad" per se, so I'll just indirectly quote McCloud when he said he was "young, just a novice at the time. Some stories weren't that well executed and if [he] could have a do over [he] would certainly do several of these issues differently".
The writing has aged a bit, particularly in some early stories that go out of their way to give a Golden Age influence. Or the first time Zot comes to our world, gets beaten by some stereotypical criminals and nobody moves a finger to help him out.
What is actually bad about this recent re-release of the entire collection is that they went for the ultimate black & white collection and didn't reprint the first 10 issues. It would have been nice to have this being the definitive collection.
Also missing are the 10½ and 14½ filler issues by Matt Feazell, drawn in stick figure style. And the "Getting to 99" special issue. But since those weren't drawn by Scott McCloud, I can understand why they didn't include those.
What’s the art like?
Simply put, grandiose!
Scott McCloud was still a novice and only getting started, exploring the medium and the format.
While the first issues are very simple from an action-comic point of view, they're still rich and Zot's world is truly an architectural beauty. But he really went out of his way to make the real world in the final arc of Zot feel "real". Very detailed.
There's also some distinct manga influences in the speedlines used in some panels, but more than "manga", I'd say McCloud simply put all the things he loved and knew into Zot! Mangas, animes, cartoons, movies, serials. It's all part of his aesthetic and influences.
More informationZot!: The Complete Black-and-white Stories: 1987-1991
Over 500 pages worth of material, including a preface and annotations by McCloud for each issue.
Priced at approximately USD$24.95
If you like this book, I suggest having a look at Scott McCloud's other books.
Albeit non-fictions, McCloud continues to explore the comic book medium in the following well written and funny illustrated books:
Understanding Comics an illustrated exploration of comics, the various genres and codes
Reinventing Comics comics are more than simply newsstand funnies, McCloud discusses the possible revolutions for comics (this one is a bit dated, internet and webcomics not as present back then, though he considers them)
Making Comics how to tell a proper illustrated narrative
All these three books are better read in the above chronological order, since they reference each other. But you can read only the one you prefer without a problem.