Aug 18 2008 11:15am

Eighties Rewind II

These days, when people think of Scott McCloud, they think of his books explaining comics, or his web-comics evangelism. Back when Talking Heads were touring, Scott McCloud was the guy who wrote and drew Zot! Zot the superhero was a teenage adventurer from the fantastic future of 1965—as envisioned by the 1939 World’s Fair. (Hear Aimee Mann sing about it at You need that whole record, Whatever, by the way.) Zot! the comic book is about a twelve-year-old girl named Jenny.

When Zot (aka Zach) comes to our Earth, he befriends Jenny. Their relationship is sweet and hesitant and infra-romantic. The splash page to issue 12 is a brilliant and entirely tasteful evocation of Jenny's awakening sexuality and Zot’s role in it. (The picture doesn’t appear to be online, so you’re going to have to find a copy of the book.) Zot! started as a color book, but with issue 11, the first in the current collection, went black and white. There were financial reasons to go black and white—production costs went down, and in the mid-1980s black and white comics enjoyed a short-lived, speculative bubble. Artistically, McCloud took advantage of the format in his drawing technique: color would ruin the black-and-white issues of Zot! as surely as it ruined It's a Wonderful Life and Casablanca.

Sometimes Jenny goes to Zot’s world and sometimes Zot comes to Jenny’s. McCloud renders Zot’s world and its inhabitants in bold, mangaesque outline, while illustrating Jenny’s world and its inhabitants with the detail and solidity of woodcuts. A worthwhile appreciation of the comic by McCloud’s friend Ampersand offers a nice example of the latter style. Twomorrows offers a couple examples of the former.

Your one-word description of the book would have to be “sweet,” but not so you have to race for your insulin kit. See Ampersand for some of the philosophical issues at play in the series. The villains are wonderfully quirky, even presaging some of the outre antagonists of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol. I’m excited at the prospect of reading the series anew.

Once you’re done with the collection, there’s Zot! Online. (Not an MMORPG but a webcomic!)

1. thunderclap8
This has been in my reading queue for a while now. I was given a free copy at a convention, but had never heard of Zot before. Based on your recommendation it's now at the top of my pile!
Eric Tolle
2. ErictheTolle
Zot! was one of those comics that really got me into alternative comics in a big way, because unlike most comics at the time it wasn't hopelessly depressing.

That isn't to say that Zot! didn't deal with big issues, but it did it in a very positive way, free of the cynicism and bitterness that infests most comics even today. We quite frankly could use more comics like Zot! now.
Greg Morrow
3. gpmorrow
12 seems a bit young for Jenny. I would have guessed 15 in the color series, and she aged throughout. I seem to recall at least one birthday celebrated for her in the comic, as well.

Zot!'s color issues are terrific fun; the B&W issues are all that plus an amazingly deft story about adolescence.

Steampunk fans note the appearance of Dr. Ignatius Rumboldt Bellows in one or two places in the series.
David Goldfarb
4. David_Goldfarb
At the start of the collection, it's September of Jenny's 9th grade year. (p.175 for the year reference.) So that makes her 13 in the color series, and 14 as of the middle of the book. On p. 398 at the start of the Earth Stories, Zot and Jenny are celebrating her birthday, and Zot says "Happy 15th."

Continuity nitpicking aside, I want to enthusiastically second this recommendation: Zot! was and is one of my favorite series.
Ray Radlein
5. RayRadlein
Favorite Zot! cameo appearance: the (at the time) climactic chapter of T. Campbell's Faans!, during which Dekko attacks Scott McCloud at a con panel while Scott's Reinventing Comics avatar tries to help (bonus: Harlan Ellison stabbing an I, Robot robot in the eye with a chair leg in the background).
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
6. pnh
I am an idiot--there's more of this post by Jim "below the fold," but I managed to accidentally delete the link to it from the front page. Sheesh. Restored.
Jim Henley
7. Supplanter
Au contraire, Mon Editeur-Guy: It was always there. You just had to click the unobtrusive "Read More" link in the place no one looks. I do like the more visible cut-indicator, though.

OTOH, my comment copping to getting Jenny's age wrong didn't come through because I forgot how Preview works here.
Melissa Ann Singer
8. masinger
Ah, Jim, you beat me to it! I was going to blog about this myself, having just finished re-reading it. It's as good as I remember, but it's really interesting reading it in my late 40s as opposed to reading it in my mid-20s.

My 12-yo is reading it now.

I may still write that more reflective post, and if so, I'll park it in this comments thread.
9. colomon
Wait, they've actually got around to reprinting what would have been volume four of the old trade paperback versions?! (Along with all the other B&W issues?) That's terrific news, there's a few issues in there I don't think I was ever able to track down...
Moshe Feder
10. Moshe
I love Zot! and have every issue. It's definitely one of the best independent comics ever done. I must echo ErictheTolle in saying that it cemented my revived interest in comics at the time, along with American Flagg and Concrete among others.
Andrew Willett
11. AndrewWillett
Oh, Zot! Am so excited that this collection has been released; between this and next year's return of Tales of the Beanworld, there's a whole lot of b/w indy genius coming back into print soon.

The only thing that has kept me from buying myself a copy of this collection right now -- it's very hard to find in NYC at present, but I know where there are a couple of copies left -- is the thought that maybe I could wait for the hardcover edition in November. But I did spend a little time skimming it in the aisles yesterday.

The final 10 issues were called the Earth Stories: they were all set here, on "our" world, and followed Jenny and her circle of friends through their day-to-day lives. "Normal," which is the story of Jenny's best friend Terry, who is closeted and miserable, struck just as deep when I read it as an out-and-proud 37-year-old in 2008 as it did when I read it as a closeted-and-miserable college student in 1990. I got all teary all over again. Lovely, lovely stuff.

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