Comic understanding

Comic understanding
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First Published: Sat, Aug 02 2008. 12 01 AM IST

Tale of two planets: A new edition of Zot! is out.
Tale of two planets: A new edition of Zot! is out.
Updated: Sat, Aug 02 2008. 12 01 AM IST
Comics were (and still are to some extent) literature’s equivalent of the Ford Model T. Frederic Winslow Taylor, the man who came up with the concept of “scientific management” (what we now fashionably call industrial engineering) would have been impressed with the assembly-line approach adopted by large publishing firms that were in the comics business. It was left to the Japanese to reinvent the genre in the 1970s and push the boundaries of what could be done with comics. The ensuing Manga revolution is still on.
Tale of two planets: A new edition of Zot! is out.
In the US, the genre’s reinvention happened in the 1980s, although some people say that the process really started with Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the 1970s. One way in which the first “serious” comics of the 1980s were different from their counterparts of the 1960s and 1970s was in the tone. The over-the-top tone of the earlier books was replaced by a grim, dark, sometimes even postmodern approach. Even comics featuring superheroes began to adopt this tone. Zot!, created in 1984 by Scott McCloud, was a doff of the hat to these books and to Japanese Manga (which was still pretty much unknown in the US, McCloud’s country of birth), albeit in a light-hearted way.
Zot! is a science fiction book featuring a protagonist named Zachary T. Paleozogt, an all-American superhero (down to the blond hair and blue eyes; he is a teenager, so he presumably doesn’t have to worry about the 5pm shadow) from an alternate Earth where nothing bad happens to the good guys and it is forever 1965. Zot’s girlfriend lives on our Earth, though. Each finds the other’s world intriguing. The interplay between the two characters and the two worlds allows McCloud enough leeway to indulge in some meta-fictional calisthenics. McCloud credited the pioneer of Manga, Osama Tezuka, as a significant influence.
Zot!, which has just been issued on a contemporary new single-volume edition, however, isn’t what McCloud is best known for. In 1993 he wrote a non-fiction comic called Understanding Comics which was about the history, motivation and art of comics. In 2000 he released another non-fiction comic, Reinventing Comics, where he presented 12 innovations that he claimed would be the future of the medium. And in 2006 he released Making Comics, a book on how to, well, make comics. In effect, McCloud is the man who proved that comics were actually serious business.
He is also the man who came up with the concept of the 24-hour comic; a 24-page comic completed in 24 hours.
P.S: There will, in all likelihood, be 10 more issues of CF, including this one, before we (this writer and the editors of this magazine, by mutual consent) end this column. Since February 2007, CF has covered a lot of ground and is slowly reaching a stage where the level of new output doesn’t warrant a weekly or even monthly column on comics — not unless one is willing to write about comic books that shouldn’t be published in the first place.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Aug 02 2008. 12 01 AM IST