Posted by Don MacPherson on July 23rd, 2008
Zot! 1987-1991: The Complete Black and White Collection trade paperback
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Scott McCloud
Letters: Bob Lappan
Editor: cat yronwode
Price: $24.95 US/$26.95 CAN
I missed out on the original run of Scott McCloud’s Zot! comics, but I’m not a stranger to the concept. I picked up a cheap trade-paperback edition of his early Zot! color issues a while back, but this new HarperCollins edition of the subsequent black-and-white run of the landmark series is new territory for me. To suggest I was enthralled by McCloud’s pop commentary about hope and beauty in the world would be to embrace understatement. Zot’s adventures and the relationships among him, Jenny and a circle of friends from two sides of the same mirror are vastly different in tone but equally well crafted, entertaining and even challenging. Clearly inspired a great deal by Osamu Tezuka’s work, Zot!, at first glance, seems like Astro Boy with a human in the main role of the boy hero. But there’s a lot more to Zot!, and it’s apparent early on in the book. Ultimately, it’s a parable about the importance of hope, innocence, kindness and joy. The energy that jumps up from the page is infectious, and that’s really what the book is all about: encouraging others to see the beauty and goodness all around them.
Jenny Weaver has a rather unusual boyfriend. He seems to her to be the perfect boy… handsome, dashing, strong and brave. In fact, he is the perfect boy. He’s Zot, the teenage hero of an alternate-dimension version of our own world. As Jenny makes her way through her awkward, uncomfortable high-school years, she escapes to the carefree, bright and wondrous world in which Zot lives (sometimes with her brother Butch in tow, albeit transformed into a monkey in the other dimension). Zot and Jenny face off against weird and dangerous villains, but their greatest challenge will prove to be moving forward in their relationship.
There’s no denying the strong manga influence at play in McCloud’s artwork, but then, the core premise is inspired by Japanese pop culture as well. Osamu Tezuka is clearly a major inspiration; some of the added material and commentary make that perfectly clear. His two-page spreads are stunning. McCloud’s style is simpler in tone, but that doesn’t hold him back from conveying the huge scope of Zot’s wondrous home and the dark, dingy corners of our own. It’s interesting to see the evolution of McCloud’s art over the course of four years, as contained in this volume. By the end of the book, his characters take on an elongated look (something McCloud laments in his commentary), but it certainly brings an added maturity into these characters. And that fits, as they’ve definitely grow over the course of the series. I was actually reminded of Terry Moore’s soft style in the latter section; I wonder if this served as inspiration to Moore when he crafted Strangers in Paradise later in the 1990s and into the 21st century.
The tone of the writing also grows and changes over the course of the book/original series. Initially, the plotting revolves around Zot’s encounters with colorful and weird villains. By the end of the book, there’s a more reflective, personal tone. Instead of adventures, the book’s about people. Jenny struggles with her feelings for two boys. Terry struggles with her own emerging sexual identity. It makes for some quieter and touching episodes.
Whenever one gets into a discussion about the super-hero genre, especially its simpler beginnings or the Silver Age, one hears about the key element of a sense of wonder. While Zot! has some super-hero genre elements in it, it isn’t necessarily a super-hero comic, per se, but wonder undoubtedly plays an important role. The bright, exuberant qualities of Zot’s Earth are designed to please, to dazzle, to tap into our sense of wonder. But there’s more to it than that. It’s a world in which good always prevails, in which people are almost universally happy and kind. It’s a world in which artists such as John Lennon never die, in which art is a way of life for so many. It’s a world of happiness and hope. Zot finds wonder in the real world, and in the latter part of the book, the story revolves around finding wonder in one another.
McCloud’s message in this book isn’t just about the brightness of Zot’s world. It’s about the potential for the same existing in our own mundane world. Zot is frustrated to find a world reluctant to embrace goodness, but he never gives up. McCloud tells us to be eternally optimistic, that no matter how dark, ugly or complicated things seem to get, there is a happy ending that’s possible for each and every one of us. 9/10