My favourite comic book in the world is Zot! (the exclamation is part of the title). I came across this image in an article and decided to write about it…
Zot and Jenny - everything summed up in one panel
It was originally printed in the late 80s, but I discovered it in the 90s, after I had become obsessed by comic books. I started as most young boys did on super-hero stuff, and slowly graduated to the indie world, black and whites and more mature stuff.
At he heart of Zot! is our man Zot, the mash-up of so many 40s and 50s sci-fi, square-jawed future heroes, and Jenny, our everyday high school girl. Zot is a superhero, and comes from a world of flying cars, robots, talking monkeys and everything that was exciting and optimistic about early sci-fi. Jenny’s life is coloured by real world issues of sex, homosexuality, violence and teenage malaise.
(If it sounds a bit like Doctor Who, well, that’s what drew me to Doctor Who in the first place)
The 80s was a time when comics were growing up. More people are discovering the era that spawned Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, and Zot! is also a key text. Whereas the former two upped the violence and grittiness (sometimes ironically described as ‘realness’), Zot! presented the optimistic take on life’s hard issues.
Zot has a crazy uncle (a bit like Back to the Future‘s Professor) who creates a portal to ‘our’ world. Here he meets Jenny, and throw her eyes we see Zot’s world – this awesome, lost future we once dreamed of – and we see our world through Zot’s eyes.
What happened to us? Why did we lose that dream?
It’s central to the story. Jenny’s world seems unexciting, and full of problems. Broken families, hateful people – who doesn’t want to escape as a teenager? Zot’s world is a potent metaphor for escapist fiction itself. I think creator Scott McCloud had this in mind. We can live our dreams in these stories. And kids being allowed to read about superheroes is important.
The comics were released in two acts, and it’s the second, 16 issue run that is the groundbreaking stuff – and fully collected in a beautiful paperback edition. At one point, Zot is stuck in ‘our’ world, and what you basically have is a high school teen drama where one guy is a 50s superhero guy with jetboots.
There wasn’t many issues, and every one of them is great. But there are a few that really broke the mold.
One issue deals with homosexuality and a character’s (Terry’s) coming out. We are in her mind for an issue, and at one point, reduced to tears, another character asks the question we all want to ask – “What have they done to you?”. It won many awards.
Another deals with teen sex, and it’s pretty much Zot and Jenny talking about sex for one whole issue. In a super-hero comic! No super villians. No plot twists. Just two worlds colliding in words, on paper. It also won many awards.
The panel above, the inspiration for this rant, ended up on the cover of the collected edition. Rightly so, because it’s come to sum up the whole series. These two worlds, and these two people, meeting in a kiss.
It’s not the panel above, but my favourite moment in the whole series comes in the very last issue. Jenny’s had enough and has packed all her bags to run away into Zot’s world forever. And Zot refuses to leave her world. The stand off, what they say, and what eventually happens – it’s a perfect ending.
When I wonder if liking sci fi and fiction in general is a waste of time, I think of this scene.
When I wonder if anything about life is exciting at all, I think of this scene.
But of course, what really inspires me about Zot!, to this day, is the optimism. We are going to be alright, right? People are inherently good. Inventions are awesome. Life is hard but we survive. It was something great to learn as a kid, and something I still revisit.
Scott McCloud went on to write Understanding Comics, another revered text in some circles, and it’s his last work of fiction of note. He is currently working on another, and I can’t wait. I’ve loved all his work, but that’s a story for another time.
Scott McCloud’s website – http://scottmccloud.com