Zot! has a certain reputation amongst comic readers of an age. It came from the same stable as Alan Moore's Miracleman of Eclipse comics in the 1980s and approaches a similar idea, of superheroes intruding on the real world, but from an entirely different direction.
Zot is from a parallel Earth that is much more advanced technologically than our own. He has met a girl from our world called Jenny and visits her often. Jenny hates our world and longs for the day when Zot will take her to live in his world, where everything is brighter and good always conquers evil. Zot, optimistic and enthusiastic, faces some surprises in our world, where things are not so clear cut and people are indifferent, but continues to show Jenny that there is much to love about her world. And them both being teenagers, their feelings for each other grow and blossom.
Scott McCloud, the writer and artist on this book, also produced some important texts on the way comics are written, such as Reinventing comics. Zot! was where he learnt his lessons, experimented with comic narratives and wrote some heartfelt stories that deal with growing up. There is enough super hero stuff to keep the book flowing, but it is the emotional stuff that impresses.
The book is, as per the title, completely in black and white. It misses the first ten issues of the series which were in colour but were also a more straightforward super hero story that would misrepresent what Zot! became.
If you like fantasy and romance mixed in with your superheroes, and are happy to chuck out the ultra-violence and posturing, Zot!'s utterly charming storylines are probably what you're looking for. People who like Ultimate Spider-man and Jeff Smith's Bone will probably love this.
on 29 May 2009
Scott McCloud. Before reading Zot! I was familiar with this name and I associated it with words such as "comics professor" or "comics expert". After reading Zot! I now also think of Scott McCloud as both a fantastic artist and a great storyteller. Through this sci-fi teen drama romp we see a master at work. The craft on the page is there for all to see. The variety of stories told was also a pleasant surprise, as Zot! dealt with several social issues in its own way as all good sci-fi does. Buy this and experience a comics classic.
on 16 May 2009
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.
on 18 November 2009
Zot! was created when McCloud was still young and learning his craft, and it shows; the book is really one of two halves. The first, set mostly on Zot's world, is a mostly light-hearted sci-fi romp, and although McCloud's understanding of the comics form is evident, the art is often sketchy and rushed. To be honest, it's not that interesting.
The second half of the book is set in our earth, and Zot becomes a secondary character for much of it; it's a series of portraits of the supporting cast, and a lot more involving. Although the author himself says he can see his art getting stiffer, his layouts and timing improve immeasurably; even if the stories don't always engage you (and there's no reason they shouldn't), the way they are told is fantastic.
The book has plenty of annotations from the author, and it's easy to see the work improving as he discusses his idea for Understanding Comics take form.
I recommend this book, but you may have to push yourself through the earlier chapters to get to the really good stuff.