What with the recent focus at Digital Science Fiction on far-future science fiction, and the cutting edge of science, it seemed time for a return to some of science fiction’s less “technical” roots. At least for this writer, science fiction meant space ships, jet packs, and flying cars when I was a kid a just getting into the genre. The key image was the futuristic city, again with flying cars, but also with towering buildings, sharp spires shooting out of sight, long clean, gently curing lines and curves creating a serene image of futuristic pacificity.
Welcome to Zot!
Scott McCloud (famous for his trio of books on the literary theory of comics: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics) began his career as a writer of graphic fiction, rather than graphic non-fiction. The biggest chunk of his fiction work fell into his series Zot! The stories in Zot! follow the super hero teenager Zot as he saves the day in his far flung future, where every day is some time in 1965. However, Zot’s scientist genius Uncle Max creates a portal between universe, and Zot is thrust directly into our universe, full of crime, pollution, unhappiness, and a distinct lack of futurity.
McCloud uses a large swath of this series to explore the differences between the future we imagined one hundred years ago, and the future we wound up with. Zot interacts with our world, from his girlfriend Jenny (who Zot can’t believe grew up in a world she didn’t even like) to what being a super hero in the real world would actually be like. Stories of evil robots who can take over your minds, assassins who travel by electricity, “de-evolutionaries,” steampunk-infused evil contraption builders, and psycopaths who see the world as through the eyes of art deco speak to the bizarre, innocent imaginings of the beginnings of a genre, as well as the first entries of burgeoning fans into the world of science fiction. However, this is all juxtaposed with less “fantastic” villainy, such as bullying, prejudice, and unrequited love.
Not that the entire series is somber and serious. Tales of people turning into monkeys, and parties with the set intention of someone getting a pie to the face are also standard fare for Zot! McCloud brilliantly balances out the stories to keep it all in check, and to remind the reader of another key tenant of this style of science fiction: eternal optimism.
Zot! was originally published 36 issue comic series from Eclipse Comics. The first ten issues were full color extravaganzas that McCloud has referred to as his “trial period” for Zot! Starting with issue eleven, Zot! became a black and white series. Issue eleven was also a sort of new start for the series, allowing new readers to jump on, and old readers to shed some of the early missteps McCloud felt were apparent in the original run. While certain characters and references do carry over from the color run to the black and white one, the later black and white series does stand on its own.
In 2008, after the publication of Making Comics, HarperCollins put out the brick-sized tome Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection. As the subtitle states, the book collects Zot! from 1987 to 1991, from the beginning of the black and white run all the way to the series conclusion. Clocking in at nearly 600 pages, this is a lot of content, and the price is very reasonable.
While many seems to denigrate Zot! as McCloud’s early, non-serious, non-literary work, that misses the entire point of the series. It is embracing the fun side of old-school futuristic stylings, while telling complex stories about ourselves in the process. And if that’s not great science fiction, I don’t know what is.