~by Scott McCloud
Nowadays, Steve McCloud is probably best known for his non-fiction books about comics, beginning with Understanding Comics. However, one of his first major works was Zot!, a more or less superhero themed print comic series that ran from 1984 to 1991. Following the initial ten-issue color run published between 1984 and 1985, Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection, 1987-1991 collects all of the issues written and drawn by McCloud and his graphic outlines for the two issues drawn by Chuck Austen while McCloud was away on his honeymoon. In addition to reprinting the majority of the series, each story-arc or related set of issues is followed by commentary. Small black and white cover images are provided as well as other information about the individual comics, such as award nominations (a total of four Eisners and two Harveys). The overall impression I get is that the series was quite different than most other comics at the time and that it was well loved by its readers.
The book is separated into two parts. Part one, "Heroes and Villains," consists of the first seventeen issues (numbers 11-27). While our Earth is featured, the focus is mainly on Zot's alternate Earth--a utopian world in the far-flung future of 1965. The story follows Zot on his adventures and battles against an array of adversaries in addition to exploring the interactions between him, Jenny, and her high school friends. "The Earth Stories" take up the second part of the book, consisting of the last nine issues of the series (numbers 28-36). Here the focus shifts entirely to our world and Zot becomes more of a supporting, albeit still very important, character. Most of the superhero elements are downplayed even more than they had been previously. The influence of manga on both the artwork and story-telling is readily apparent, but McCloud definitely has his own style.
I was pleasantly surprised by Zot!--not blown away by any means, but I found it to be quite enjoyable and I'm now rather fond of the series. Occasionally it feels a bit dated, but all in all I think it has aged very well. Zot! manages to be a superhero story without really being a superhero story. Sure, there's a guy with powers running around in tights, but it's more about relationships and friendships. Despite Zot being, as another character describes him, "so goddamn happy all the time," he is charismatic and ultimately endearing. Personally, I tended to enjoy the mores serious story-arcs over the goofier ones (and there are plenty of both), but I think the inclusion of McCloud's commentary is really what makes me appreciate the book and the series as much as I do.
I had never read any of Zot! before I picked up the black and white collection. For a newcomer, it's a fantastic place to start with the series. I did find it annoying that the two issues drawn by Austen weren't included, and I wasn't entirely convinced by the reasons why given by McCloud (basically amounting to "The book is too long already!") Although McCloud is adamant that the book stands on its own, I did feel that I was missing out on the first ten color issues. While it probably didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book, some things didn't quite make as much sense as they could have even considering McCloud's notes. He actually seems rather embarrassed by the color run, so I doubt he'll push for a reprint. A trade collection does exist but it's currently way out of print and hard to find, but I'm still going to try to track down a copy. I'm also going to be on the lookout for McCloud's other projects. I definitely enjoyed Zot! and am glad it's been released in such a nice and (mostly) comprehensive volume.
Stories include: "Planet Earth"; "The Season of Dreams"; "Call of the Wild"; "The Eyes of Dekko"; "Getting to 99"; "Can't Buy Me Love"; "The Ghost in the Machine"; "Ring in the New"; "Jenny's Day"; "Looking for Crime"; "Autumn"; "Clash of Titans"; "Invincible"; "Sometimes, a Direction..."; "The Conversation"; "The Great Escape"