Other than my sketchbook, which I’ve lugged around to conventions to get shots of guys like Cobra Commander and Donald Duck, I’ve never been much of a collector of original art. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of pages that I wouldn’t mind owning the originals of–one in particular springs to mind–but the good ones tend to be pretty expensive, and it’s just an aspect of comics that I’ve never gotten into.
Until now, I mean.
Yes, thanks to a late birthday present from super-nice ISB reader Jeff Meyer, I am now the proud owner of two pages of original art from Scott McCloud’s Zot! Specifically, they’re the originals of these:
#12, Page 21
#22, Page 22
All things considered, I’m a pretty recent fan of Zot!. It was always one of those runs that I could never put together, and when the trade came out, I couldn’t wait to read it. Not because my friends had always told me how good it was or because it looked like a lot of fun–although both of those are true–but because I was really curious about Scott McCloud’s street cred.
I imagine it’s been like this for a lot of folks, given how long Zot!‘s been out of print and how many places have adopted his later work as the standard textbook, but the first thing I’d ever read by McCloud was Understanding Comics, and while I found it to be a pretty fascinating look at the medium, I always wondered what made this guy the authority. After all, when you’re going through the books by guys like Will Eisner or Denny O’Neil, there’s a pretty handy body of work to look at and go “Oh, right, this guy clearly knows what he’s talking about,” and for McCloud–at least in my experience–there wasn’t.
That probably sounds a little more disparaging than I mean it to be, so let me clarify: I do think Understanding Comics is a heck of a solid, thought-provoking read, and it’s obvious just from that that McCloud’s a talented guy who did the research and thinks an awful lot about comics, but I’ll admit that there’s always been that nagging part of my brain that thinks “Well if you’re so smart, where’s your masterpiece?”
As it turns out, McCloud’s masterpiece is right here in the the new trade of the book’s black-and-white run, and I’ve gotta say: Even with all the buildup that you get with ten years of wondering how it’s going to work out, even with the fact that McCloud is literally the guy who wrote the book on comics, it’s still better than I expected it to be.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, here’s the Cliff Notes: Zot is Zachary Paleozogt, the teenage Flash Gordon meets Billy Batson hero of a parallel Earth in the far off retro-future year of 1965, who travels back and forth between his world and “ours”–the more “realistic” Earth of the late ’80s–with his (girl)friend Jenny, who finds Zot’s sparkling clean utopia infinitely preferable to her own suburban life. On his world, Zot faces off against various extremely entertaining villains, from the laughable De-Evolutionaries to the sinister technological madmen like 9-Jack-9, but–and I know this is going to sound pretty out of character for me–it’s once Zot gets stranded on our Earth and the stories shift to the day-to-day lives of Jenny and her friends that it truly becomes amazing.
And it is amazing: Even without McCloud’s commentary explaining exactly what he was doing and what themes he was working with for each story arc, it’s obvious that this is something made by a guy who was figuring out how and why things work on the comics page and then building stories about them that are just a joy to read in every way.
Which isn’t to say that they’re perfect. The absence of Batman chucking a car battery at someone aside, there are a lot of places that come off as very heavy-handed–like, say, whenever Jenny starts talking–but for the most part, they hold up better than almost anything else from the era in their treatment of capital-S Serious Issues, and manage to be entertaining at every turn. The story in #33, for instance–“Normal”–deals with homosexuality against the backdrop of a suburban high school, and while it would’ve been very easy to go off the rails in a number of directions–with McCloud or his characters coming off as preachy, or over the top to a “What have you done for the black skins, Green Lantern?” extreme–but it doesn’t miss a beat. It’s thoroughly engrossing, and if you’re familiar with the story, you’ll know what I mean when I say that the ending had hook, line and sinker.
There are bits in the commentary where McCloud expresses a concern about bits of his stories coming off as too naïve, but in reality, he manages to strike the balance between the “realism” of Jenny’s earth and the optimism of Zot’s in a way that very, very few creators have ever been able to hit before. It’s great stuff, and thanks to the pages, I’m excited about owning a couple of small pieces of it.