McCloud, Scott. Zot!

NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

To older readers of graphic novels — people like me — McCloud probably is best known for his three groundbreaking books on the theory, art, and practice of storytelling through the medium (not “genre”) of comic books. But he wrote those books based on his experience in the trenches. Zot! was a four-year series of black-and-white comics that played new riffs on the superhero tradition by postulating a 15-year-old flying hero with lots of tech (as opposed to superpowers) who lives in an alternative New York City, but who can hop back and forth between his world and ours via a portable portal.

Zachary (his real name) lives in world like ours, but with all the bad stuff taken out — the wars, street crime, poverty, starvation, racism, homophobia, all the things that make Jenny, his “our world” girlfriend, loathe the world she (and we) live in. Zot’s world includes retro-futuristic flying cars, Jetson-shaped architecture, zap-guns (but only to stun) and all the rest, as well as his amazing Uncle Max, a combination inventor and artist. Jenny’s world, which Zot doesn’t think is all that bad, has English exams, drug dealers, a brother who drinks too much, and parents who are considering divorce — but also good friends like Woody, Terry, Ronnie, and George. This very fat volume brings together all the comics in the original run, plus an explanatory introduction and discussions after each story arc of what McCloud was attempting to do. Reading those sections prompted me several times to go back and look again at what I had just read. Unfortunately, McCloud is a much better writer than an artist, even of relatively simple drawings. But he knows that. And I suspect most of his Jungian characterization types went over the heads of his original readers. The opening issues, when he was still figuring things out, were kind of lightweight, but the plots and the relationships improve as you get into it. About two-thirds of the way through the series, the author made the decision to strand Zot in our world for awhile, which was the end of the sometimes (and not always deliberately) laughable super-villains of the earlier stories. Each of the subsequent story-lines deals much more with “real” problems and issues, and not always from a teenage perspective, either. And those were and still are the best part of the book. Number 35, “The Conversation,” in fact, is a straightforward boy-girl story with no super-anything, and it’s very, very good. It was nominated for an Eisner Award and it deserved it. Find yourself an empty Sunday afternoon, stock up on chips and Bingo Pop, and settle in with this one. You won’t regret it.

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