Worth it for the Earth Stories alone...,
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This review is from: Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991: The Complete Black-and-white Stories: 1987-1991 (Paperback)
I don't have much to add to what the first two reviewers have written here. Except to say that as someone who splashed out on the now-deleted Kitchen Sink collections only to see the final collection (Book 4) fail to appear due to the publisher running out of money, it is a joy to see these comics in print again at long last.
That goes double for the "Earth Stories", which featured in issues 28 to 36 of the original series (issue 36 being the last issue to date). Not only because it was ridiculous that such finely wrought tales should have been so long out of circulation when McCloud was enjoying mainstream success as the author of Understanding Comics and its various sequels (though it was). But because those eight issues represented something rarer than diamonds, not only in comics but in literature and the arts as a whole - in that they came from somewhere unmistakably real in the author's life, were autobiographical in the best sense of the word without surrendering any of their fictional magic, and as such had a power to speak into people's lives, including my own, that I have yet to see matched by any other comic in 20-plus years of collecting.
It was as if, having relaunched the title in black and white with issue 11, McCloud again stepped up a gear with issue 28, taking Zot! and its readers into entirely new emotional territory. As a reader of the original comics, I was relatively late to the party. The first issue I picked up while it was still on the stands rather than in the back issue racks was issue 35. That was on the back of a series of feverish recommendations in the letters pages of other titles. Fortunately, with a bit of persistence and doing the rounds of comics fairs, I was able to dig back and buy up most of the issues I had missed.
And I'm glad I did. No graphic novel collection to my knowledge has ever included readers' letters as part of the package. Understandably so in many cases. Yet to read the letters in titles like Zot!, Sandman and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing is to see at first hand (near as dammit) the impact that comics can have on people's lives.
Looking back, it's almost impossible to overstate how much the Earth Stories meant to myself and other readers. As a relatively callow youth at the time, reading stories such as "Normal" opened my eyes to - among other things - issues such as gay rights and homophobia. It made them real, and in doing so transformed a key aspect of my view of the world (portentous and pretentious as I know that must sound).
Reading this collection now, it is fascinating to have McCloud's retrospective take on his work. Of course, the creator can by definition never really share the reader's perspective; he is always going to see the flaws and/or where he fell short of his original vision. For me, there are places where McCloud's achievements go beyond words. Transcendent moments that occur both in the artwork (certain panels of the story "Autumn"), and the dialogue ("Normal"), and in the ineffable combination of the two (the opening of "Autumn" and the ending of "Invincible", but take your pick).
After writing some of the most penetrating and pioneering analysis of the comics medium in print, McCloud now looks set to return to actually creating comics once again. I for one cannot wait.