Zot! Black and White and Rad All Over

These days Scott McCloud is probably best known as the creator of 1993’s Understanding Comics, the definitive guide to the science of sequential art. While comic legends like Will Eisner and Stan Lee offered instructional books years in advance of McCloud’s, none were so comprehensive as Understanding Comics or the followup titles Reinventing Comics (2000) and Making Comics (2006). By crafting his tutorials as actual comics rather than stuffy, prosaic textbooks, McCloud established the simplest and most effective educational format for exploring the theory and practice of comic creation. 
While it’s not unusual for artists to warrant renown for their contributions as theorists and not practitioners, it stands to reason that a talent like McCloud, a creator with such a profound understanding of the medium, ought to have a rich cache of creative work. Throughout his tutorials, McCloud alludes to Zot!, a creator owned property he scripted and illustrated in the late 80s and early 90s, concluding just a few years before the publication of Understanding Comics. Last year, HarperCollins produced a single volume collecting the entire five year run of the black and white Zot! series for the first time. Coupled with annotations from the creator, this collection of manga inspired indie comics, actually serves as the fourth installment of McCloud’s instructional series for aspiring writers and artists.

While tutorial and direct instruction are obviously key to learning new skills, any artist worth their salt will tell you that practice and observation are just as crucial. If you want to write, write and read what others have written. If you want to act, act and watch others act. Babies learn fundamental language skills from listening to their caretakers before they even plop down in a classroom.  So for those compelled to create comics, this gorgeous collection of Zot! comics offers a rare opportunity to witness a young creator evolve and grow into the kind of sage he’s famously become. We’re talking about five years and over 500 pages of artistic development in art and storytelling from a single creator all in one book. That’s a profound hunk of aesthetic archaeology. 

McCloud sets the stage in his introduction, describing his own history with comics (he wasn’t a fan until his pal Kurt Busiek forced him to take notice) as well as the events leading to the initial full-color Zot! run and this particular series. It was apparently a trial by fire and the 26-year-old McCloud, a lifelong artist, had to learn how to write on his own.  As I type this, I’m a few short months away from my 25th birthday. I can’t imagine helming a comic as both writer and artist. Hell, I can’t imagine the responsibilities inherent in doing just one of the two on a monthly schedule.  And though McCloud is extremely modest about his early work, even the first issue showcases the kind of talent and insight into the medium that suggests real confidenceThere are writers who tell stories that happen to be comics and there are writers who tell comic stories. McCloud does the latter, with a sophisticated understanding and application of the medium’s toolkit. Negative space, pacing, complex layouts for parallel action. All the tricks you read about in his later tutorials, you can now see, with fuller context, in his comics.  

So, enough about the significance of Zot! as an educational device. What the hell is it? Well, it’s a charming blend of the best in Japanese and American comic books. It’s a superhero story told from two perspectives. Initially, we see two worlds through the eyes of Jenny, an ordinary teenage girl cursed to live in an ordinary world. Her humdrum existence is made all the worse with the knowledge that there is a much more spectacular world just a dimension hop away. And with this spectacular world comes a spectacular boy called Zot (think Dennis the Menace with slingshot upgraded to ray gun). It’s a star-crossed love affair flecked with culture shock. Jenny is enamored with Zots utopian reality, but as the series progresses, the focus shifts more towards Zot’s own fascination with our own mundane society.  In five years of Zot! you’re privy to science fiction, romance, comedy, and the type of slice of life commentary most associated with indie comics. To put it simply, this is the finely rendered stream of MCloud’s consciousness left to run its course.  In an increasingly collaborative industry (not at all a bad thing in itself) it’s rare to see this kind of exploration. That’s really what makes books like Zot! and Jeff Smith’s Bone so special. Singular vision, uninterrupted. 

We’ve really been pushing for more creative projects within the community lately, and I think this book might be an ideal place to find inspiration. For anyone working on the Sequentially Ever After contest, other comic creation experiments, or for anyone who simply wants to learn more about the mechanics of comics while enjoying an epic story, I can’t recommend this collection enough. Thoughtful, beautiful, light-hearted, and genuinely fun to read. There’s an exclamation point in the title for a reason. 


Paul Montgomery is a hero.  He just hasn’t saved anybody yet.  Contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. You can also find him on Twitter.

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for the heads-up. Sounds interesting.

  2. Stephen King said something similar about being an author in his book On Writing. He says for a writer to truely become great, he/she would have to read and write something everyday. This makes perfect sense, since this is the primary way to practice, so why not practice dilengently?

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @comicBOOKchris – Hopefully I didn’t make it sound like new advice. Any book on writing or any writer in a lecture will tell you, if you want to write, you have to read a lot. And not just your own medium. Read everything. But since we’re on the subject of writing comics, Zot! is an ideal place to learn while you get your fix for great comics. And, yes, run headlong into the fray and write as much and as often as you can. Don’t just learn from the triumphs and blunders of others, learn from your own.  Because in the process, you’ll have created something. And there’s nothing better than that.  

  4. Thanks for this. I’ve always been curious about that book.

  5. The guys at my LCS talked me into this book, and I’m so glad they did.  This is simply a great collection of comics, and McCloud’s commentary on each section is really great to read.  These comics are fun and whimsical and a lot of fun.  The experimentation on each issue is also pretty amazing.  This is a great collection and a must own, IMO.

  6. I should be worth mentioning that this is priced really well.  I think it’s something like $24.99 for 500 pages of awesome comics. 

  7. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Yeah, you can find it for less than 20 clams in paperback (there’s a hardcover as well). And those 500 pages are printed on great paperstock, not the bargain bin quality you might expect in a world of Showcases and Essentials.  

  8.  I read the first issue of this on break one time but havne’t gone back to read the rest yet. That needs to change. The first isseue was thoroughly entertaining. The art is great in this series. Really crisp black and white. Great price on the full volume too, as noted above. 

     

  9. I also saw this on the shelf at my former work and salivated whenever I flipped through it, but never picked it up.

     I will try and pick this up Wednesday at my comic shop. THANKS DAWG. 

  10. I’d pick it up but being the completist I am I’d probably have to find the color series first.

  11. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    If you want to read the first ten issue run (the original color series) you want Book One from Eclipse, now out of print. You don’t need it to understand or enjoy this series.  

  12. Now all we need is a comicbook that teaches about writing dialog and coloring…

  13. Zot has been sitting on my shelf since x-mas and for one reason or another I just haven’t gotten around to reading it. Thanks for the article Paul. You have given me the motivation to get started on it.

  14. I love Zot.

  15. It’s a testament to Mccloud’s love of the medium and his commitment to ambassadorship tha he allows his first published work, with all the rough edges and mistakes to be collected. This is a fine work and there is plenty to be proud of here, but it would give me pause to allow the early work to be collected.

  16. A very young Luthor is still angry about not being able to find Zot after the skate shop closed down.

  17. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I totally neglected to mention that I remember seeing Zot! comics or posters for Zot! comics in shops when I was a kid (I was 7 at the end of this run). And it probably inspired me to write my own comic called Zap! a few years later. It was about a guy who got struck by lightning while walking his dog. Based on my sophisticated knowledge of both meteorology and mutation, I hypothesized that this event would fuse man and dog together as a super-powered being. So…full circle.  

  18. i love this book but i hate that he doesn’t include the first 6 issues in it.

  19. Post Zap, Monty! Pleaaaaaaaaaase??????????

  20. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Oh, it’s probably in a landfill somewhere. It was maybe a page and a few pinups of the character. What I really wish I could find is the series of superhero trading cards I made from index cards. Even after I stopped actively pursuing comic books as a kid, I was a nut for Marvel trading cards. And I would make my own, drawing a character on the blank side of an index card and writing a bio on the back. I made dozens of them. again, probably thrown away.  

  21. I love this book.

  22. Query: Was this new being a WHOLLY NEW BEING or was it either the mind of the man or dog in a new super-powered body? Or the minds of both?

  23. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    "Yes."  

  24. http://www.scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/zot/index.html  –  Behold! The Infinite Canvas!

    Zot! Online introduced me to Zot. I loved it so much, I bought this collection without blinking the week it came out. Fantastic recommendation! Can’t say enough about the world of Zot, classic comic book fun, the villains are fantastic, and amongst all these wild things going on, the emotion is never missed in the art. I’ll always be amazed by the clarity, and the amount of warmth displayed in so many of Scott McCloud’s pages time and again.  

  25. I read about half of it today.  It’s great and my favorite part of all is the little one page debrief we get at the end of each story arc.  It’s so interesting to read what McCloud has to say about his work 20 years later.

  26. this look amazing!! i want it!!

  27. "This comic endorsed by Eddie Vedder." -Eddie Vedder

  28. Readers should also be aware that the final issues take on what for some will be considered provocative issues … homophobia, racism, teen sex …

    I happen to be gay, so the content didn’t offend me and I appreciated McCloud’s willingness to incorporate these subjects head-on… BUT … readers should be made aware of this somehow.

    My family is very accepting, but some of them adhere to a more traditional worldview (yes that is possible) … I purchased the collected edition for one of my nephews this Christmas, but would have found something more appropriate had I been aware of the content.

    I am very direct with people about issues like racism and homophobia, etc. etc. But I also think it is a parent’s prerogative to raise and educate their children in their own way.