Exclamation Points Make Everything Better!

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 na├»ve, 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.

22 thoughts on “Exclamation Points Make Everything Better!

  1. I’ve been debating whether or not I should snatch the trade up on my next trip to the book store, having read all of ten pages of Understanding Comics and finding them exceptionally fascinating. I supose I’ll grab a copy so I have something to get through once I finish Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

  2. If you haven’t yet had a chance, you should make sure to read the Zot Online comic “Hearts and Minds” (available from Scott’s website http://www.scottmccloud.com/comics/zot/index.html), though it doesn’t finish the story, it provides a nice endcap revisiting the characters and themes of the series. And though Scott himself is very self-effacing about it, the first ten color issues of Zot are an excellent, self-contained story that really shows a lot of potential from the creator while still letting you see his early work, warts and all (he did a kind of “special edition” treatment on the black-and-white collection, digitally fixing some art mistakes and dialogue…) The color collections are out of print and a bit pricey, but I picked up the first ten issues in decent condition on ebay a few weeks back for ten bucks plus shipping.

  3. Um. Yeah, what you said.

    I’ve fondled the collection about a dozen times in the last two weeks, and have yet to pull the trigger. As of this time tomorrow, consider that trigger pulled.

  4. Wow, that was about 7 levels of dirty more than I intended.

    RESTATED: We have similar thoughts on Zot. I, too, will be purchasing and reading Zot very soon.

    God/Allah/Krishna/Kirby bless you.

  5. I ended up just doing bullet points when I tried to review this book. I wrote and re-wrote it five times then decided to just put up bullets. It’s a pretty amazing work. I almost threw the book at the end of ‘normal’. I’m glad I didn’t though.

    Excellent review, and those pages are awesome. They are also fantastic examples of some of the main overall themes of the series in two pages.

    Everything you said here is right.

  6. I had exactly the same reaction as you to Zot. I hadn’t read it, but read UC first, so the natural question to me was: “Could he do it?”

    He could. He did.

  7. I’ll second the recommendation for Zot Online — for my money, it’s still unsurpassed as the best use yet of the Web’s potential to expand comics storytelling, right down to the simultaneously heartwarming and chilling parallel endings.

  8. I remember reading these when they first came out monthly (yes, I am that old) and being enthralled. When I got to the (almost) end of “normal” I about ripped the comic to shreds in disbelief and anger. Glad I didn’t.

    Putting these stories all together in one read just emphasizes how completely awesome they really were.

  9. I got intrigued with the Eclipse house ads and picked it up from the first issue, but somehow missed #3. McCloud was at a small convention in Houston about that time (Summer of 1984, I think) and just gave me a copy when I tried to buy it from a stack he had on his table. He was still carrying around the pitch book for Zot, which was a real treat to look at.

    I had to cancel an order when he started selling the original art and McCloud was really cool and gracious about it. But years later, I was fortunate enough to be able to snag two pages from the first series, the Death of Drufus and the “They’re all yours, boy,” “Lead us” page. They work incredibly well out of context as stand-alone pieces.

    That’s all I had to say.

  10. A long-running joke among my friends was from the Real Earth series in Zot!

    “There’s this guy and he falls into a vat of chemicals. But instead of getting chemical powers like you’d expect, he just dies. So now he’s undead – and he’s got chemical powers.”

  11. Thanks for this review, Chris. I’ve always been curious about Scott McCloud’s other work. Given that we seem to have sympatico tastes on most things, I’ll make sure to pick Zot! up if I see it at my LCS.

    And speaking of Cobra Commander, I thought this shot from DragonCon might be relevant to your interests.

  12. How can you mention McCloud and exclamation points and not mention his loudest comic DESTROY!!

    Look, I don’t come down to your job, do I? Check the alt text.

  13. I started reading Zot around 1990, I think. Don Thompson used to flog it as one of the best comics of all time, so I finally picked it up. In a moment of fanboy nirvana, I introduced Scott to Wendy & Richard Pini at some NYC con I went to in ’91.

    Before Kitchen Sink went belly-up around 10 years ago, they released the first 3/4 of Zot in hardback and paperback. McCloud always promised that vol 4 would come out…someday.

    I was in my early 20s when I started reading Zot, so I could still relate to the teen angst pretty well.

    Chris, Scott’s always said that he cringes at some of the stuff in the comic. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few things that were just…weird, and not in good ways (no spoilers, but I’ll be happy to blab ’em if someone wants).

    One of my favorite bits is still when Zot opens the Doorway at the End of the Universe (or whatever it’s called)

    Oh, and I just remembered a piece of lame retrofuture-tech. Instead of CDs, they have music cubes, which are about 5″ on a side, and hold about 6x what a CD does. We have DVDs that hold more than that, and are more compact. ;-)

    Now if only we had a ray that turned people into monkeys…

  14. No, no. I love you doesn’t mean ‘I own you’. It means “I want to own you”. It’s the little things that show Zot’s not from our world.
    Hrm, well, I’ll put this on the list after the umpteen billion other things this blog has convinced me I need to buy.
    Chris Sims–the worst thing for my pocketbook since that infestation of radioactive moths.