Funny Books: Zot! The Tragic Beauty of Escapism [Series Spotlight]

Following our successful recap of Days of Future Past, Funny Books is kicking off a series of comic spotlights, highlighting a few of our favorites (or at least someone's favorites). So a few weeks ago, Funny Books released the 8CN’s Unofficial Best Comics List. Unfortunately, a lot of great comics didn’t make the cut. In light of this fact, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a great comic that recently made my personal top five, Zot!

Zot! by Scott McCloud, the guy that makes all those Understanding Comics guides, is about a person looking for a way out. Jenny Weaver hates the world she lives in. After all, she’s the thirteen year old new kid with absentee parents and a loudmouthed big brother. How is the world not horrible? Then one day she runs into the high flying teenage superhero named Zot, who literally shows her a new world of possibilities.

Zot! can essentially be divided into three parts. Part 1 is a classic golden-age superhero adventure about Jenny and Zot searching for the cosmic key to the door at the end of the universe. Part 2 deals with Zot’s rouge gallery, where we see that Zot’s world may not be as perfect as we think. Part 3 is filled with Earth based stories dealing with Jenny and her friend’s feelings of alienation and sexual identity.

What Zot! is really about is escapism and its role in growing up. The titular character Zot! comes from the retro-futuristic world of 1965, which never changes. Though it has a handful of villains, society at large is want of nothing and essentially enjoys eternal peace. Jenny falls in love with that Zot’s world almost instantly because unlike her world, it’s safe and easy to understand.

You’d think that once the third part of Zot! trapped Zot and Jenny in the real world, we’d get more stories showing that our world isn’t so bad. But that’s not what McCloud goes for. A lot of the Earth stories are bitter sweet at best, never letting us forget that things aren’t as simple as they were in 1965.

The two issues that really stand out in the last arc are issue #33 and #35. Zot! #33, or “Normal,” is about Jenny’s best friend Terry’s anxieties and fear over being discovered as homosexual. Zot! #35, or “The Conversation,” deals with Jenny and Zot discussing whether or not to have sex. Both stories deal with the issues of sexuality and societal pressure in a surprisingly frank and honest way, especially for a book where one of the characters is a talking monkey.

 

I’ll be honest, I was hesitant about reading Zot! and put it off for a long time. I thought it was going to be one of those comics, you know, the one’s that read more like an afterschool special than interesting story. There are elements of that, especially at the end, but what really elevates this title isn’t the message, it’s the emotion behind it.

Using manga-inspired storytelling, McCloud is able to tell a story full of happiness and sadness, of tragedy and joy. You perfectly understand Jenny’s cynicism and why she’s looking for an escape. We all have our own portals to other worlds, be it comics, video games, TV, or incredibly interesting news/pop culture web sites run by good looking people who smell nice. But we also can’t help but admire Zot’s optimism, and his argument that the world isn’t as hopeless as it seems.

Ultimately, what Zot! show us is that worlds full of jetboots and flying cars are fun to visit, but you can’t live there forever. Part of growing up is learning to accepting this, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go back every once and a while. 

 

Alan Carrillo's picture
Channel Surfer, Funny Book lover, America's Sweetheart
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