Tag Archives: Scott McCloud

Graphic Content – Understanding Comics

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
80/501Title: Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud
Year: 1993
Country: USA

Understanding Comics is the only entry in the 1001 comics list under the Reference genre. It’s a bit of a weird genre to have in a list like this, but it’s a comic about comics which makes this a super meta part of the list and I’m really into that. In the end, it’s the equivalent of having a film about making films on the film list – which I don’t think is on the 1001 list as they didn’t include the very much acclaimed Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Anyway I digress. Being 80 comics in actually feels like an opportune time to be reading this. I’ve seen enough to get a boatload of the references that he makes – the fact that he regularly mentions my favourite painter (Kandinsky) doesn’t hurt either. It’s also really cool because there are comics he mentions, like Maus, where I am looking forward to reading them soon.

The best thing though is that McCloud has made the ultimate guide to how we read comics and how comics are able to convey different things like time, motion and the non-visual senses. How, so many things that we implicitly understand as comic language (such as motion lines) and just how those have developed. What I found especially interesting was when he went into how Japanese comics developed in isolation and actually how far back the history of comics extend.

In the end, if you are someone who enjoys comics and graphic novels, this is an essential read. Hell, it’s essential to have a physical copy in your bookshelf to use as a reference. Knowing what I know now, thanks to his easy to digest musings and explanations, I know that I am doing to appreciate my next pick from the comics list all the more. Even down to the use of guttering between the panels.

Graphic Content – Zot!

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
49/501Title: Zot!
Creator: Scott McCloud
Years: 1984-90
Country: USA

Picture this, it’s the early 1980s and superhero comics are going through a bit of a grungy phase. In zooms Zot! with bright colours, 1960s-style futurism and a happy attitude. It’s little wonder that this would become a multi-award nominated comic seeing how much it stood out from the crowd. Especially as it was a very early example of a Western comic that took inspiration from manga.

At the centre is Zot and Jenny – two teenagers who live on Earth, but in different dimensions. Jenny, a typical schoolgirl, comes from our dimension; Zot is a hero from an Earth that feels like if Futurama had been created in the 1950s. There is a host of supporting characters including Jenny’s sister Butch (who gets turned into a monkey by devolution fanatics), a robot butler and a host of really cool villains.

Now, to talk about Zot! really feels like talking about three comics within the same universe. For the first third there’s a serialized ‘save the universe’ storyline that reminded me a bit of The Incal– this is also the only section of the comic that is in colour. You’d think that the switch to black-and-white would hurt a comic that relies on retro-futuristic visuals, but this also occurred with a real ramping up in the writing. It is in this section that we meet all the main characters from the other dimension (including 9-Jack-9, an expert assassin who travels around using electrical currents and machines).

The second section starts to introduce more of Jenny’s regular life including her school friends, but we still visit Zot’s dimension – such as a cool arc where he has to race to the bottom of a 99-floor building. Then there’s the final third, which takes place entirely in our world as Zot finds himself unable to return to his own.

It’s interesting to read through Zot! in quick succession as you can really watch how the creator is completely deconstructing the idea of a boy wonder superhero. In the beginning he is this immature and seemingly invincible guy who saves the universe and gets the girl. By the end, he is living a normal life on his own heroic terms and, through this group, we see different types of heroics (including blowing the whistle on homophobic bullies) play out within his peer group.

For me, I enjoyed the final third the most. The idea of bringing a character like Astro Boy and having him become a normal teenager (whilst keeping the powers and personality that makes him special) is an interesting one. This is especially so as, in the beginning Zot looks invincible, but by the end he is incredibly vulnerable. Bit of an interesting metaphor going on there.

There really is a lot more to this comic that meets the eye and it makes me interested to see some of his other works – especially Understanding Comics (which is non-fiction and very meta) and The Sculptor (whose key concept feels rather unique).