The library is a great place for readers to discover comics, and it’s a great place for comics readers to check out things that they want to try without spending their hard-earned cash. I’m looking at comics that I find in the New York Public Library system.
The prerequisite to any current discussion of this book seems to be to mention that Scott McCloud is famous these days for his academic theorization about the comics form, most popularly in his trio of books Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics. Those are fine books. I own ‘em and love ‘em, but they’re for comics aficionados, for those of us who’ve devoted far, far too much brainpower to unlocking the secrets of the form and why it presses the buttons it does. Far and away, however, Zot! is McCloud’s most accessible and purely fun work.
On a world similar to our own, except with all the bad parts cut out, Zach Paleozogt, known as Zot, is a superhero. Well, more a retro-futuristic sci-fi adventurer with superheroic overtones, because Zot doesn’t really have any powers – except his relentlessly cheery attitude and an impossible derring-do will to overcome all odds. On our world, there’s Jenny, a teenage girl who has divorcing parents, a problematic older brother, homework and plenty of questions about what she’s doing in her life.
Half of the book alternates between Zot’s world and Jenny’s world, blending retro sci-fi adventure drama with slightly off-beat comedy episodes, copiously complemented by engaging characterization as Jenny tries to reconcile her dream world against the reality she experiences most days. It’s engaging, fun if light and forgettable comic book entertainment. Around halfway through Zot! The Complete Black & White’s 570-odd pages, McCloud’s interest clearly shifts to the human element.
From that point forward, Zot is stranded on our Earth, and Jenny is unable to escape the pressures of her conflicted teen anxieties. McCloud’s strong grasp of his supporting cast allows him to use them as narrators of their own lives while still driving forward Jenny’s story. His formalist tendencies, evidenced through his follow-up projects, even get a few chances to shine, as in the surprising finale of Terry’s chapter – with its secret last page. Carefully constructed and emotionally true, despite the presence of a heroic figure who seems to always inspire positive thoughts, these chapters are where Zot! truly shines. There are a few hiccups, such as the tediously one-note school bully who attacks Woody, but the simple humanity evidenced throughout the stories – from Brandy’s effusive positivity in the face of the worst traumas of any of Jenny’s friends, to Zot and Jenny’s frank and hesitant conversation about their physical relationship – lifts the series to truly memorable heights.
Simply, Zot! is effusive, fun comics, with an uplifting yet believable emotional core. Many young and old readers will find themselves pleasantly surprised if they check McCloud’s earliest comics work out of their local library.