The Ballad Of ZOT! #18 (And Other Ways Scott McCloud Made Me Crazy)

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There is nothing worse than having the whole run of a particular comic except for one issue. Unless it’s having the whole run of a particular comic except for one issue that is the second part of a two part story! Actually, even worse than that is having the whole run of a particular comic except for one issue that is the second part of a two part story and you can’t find the back issue you need anywhere.

Well, harken ye to the Ballad of ZOT! #18.

It’s an unassuming little comic really. It was published by Eclipse back in 1988, right at the start of the comics boom that held so much promise and broke so many hearts. Between it’s full colour cubist cover design it tells (in truly dazzling black and white) the second part of the two part story The Eyes of Dekko.

At the time, non of this meant very much to me. Back in 1988 I had only just discovered comics, and I certainly wasn’t picking up black and white books from publishers I’d never heard of when I could be spending my limited funds on Batman and Spider-Man titles. About two hundred miles south of my South Yorkshire home however, the girl who would one day become my best friend (indeed, she’ll be Best Man at my wedding next year) was embarking on what would turn out to be an eleven year quest.

By all accounts Andrea was a huge fan of Scott McCloud’s Zachary T. Paleozogt (Zot, to his friends) from the very beginning, so I’m not sure how she managed to miss issue #18, but she did. She searched back issue bins in comics shops all over her native London, but to no avail. When we met at University three years later, she was still looking.

Helpful little munchkin that I am, I let my fingers do the walking and called (just about) every comics shop in the UK. Nothing. Zip. Nix. Nada. So far as I could tell, there wasn’t a spare copy of ZOT! to be had anywhere in the whole of Britain.

So, I forgot all about it. By the time Andrea and I met, Scott McCloud had finished ZOT! and moved on to other projects. I had never read the comic, so I didn’t need to know how The Eyes of Dekko ended - I didn’t even know how it started! Time passed. It does that.

A couple of years went by, and Scott McCloud spent them working on one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Understanding Comics just blew me away. A comic that’s about comics. I devoured it from cover to cover, and then read it again. It’s that good. If you haven’t read it, where have you been? What have you been doing? Go and read it at once!

Anyway. Later that year Scott McCloud was a guest at the UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC to it’s mates). Andrea and I went along and spent a very entertaining afternoon watching Mr McCloud and his old High School buddy Kurt Busiek narrate The Battle of Lexington, a comic starring most of the Marvel Universe they had created together as teenagers.

After the show (which was really very very funny) we managed to squeeze to the front of the massed ranks of fandom and grab a couple of words - two of which were “ZOT! #18”. McCloud smiled politely, apologised, and said he couldn’t help. (Mind you, what was he going to do? Donate his copy?)

But I was interested now, so Andrea let me borrow her (very nearly) complete run of ZOT!. When I got back home, I found a comfortable chair, opened a bottle of wine and read the whole lot in one go. It was just fantastic!

Zot himself is just a clean cut superhero in the same sort of vein as the pre Crisis! Superboy. But McCloud uses his creation both to gently parody and subtley subvert that image. Zot’s world is very different to ours, looking and working very much like the imagined futures seen in science fiction “b” movies from the fifties and sixties. His world is full of brightly coloured wonders and daring adventures. But Zot also crosses over into our greyer, more mundane world, and meets a lonely young girl called Jenny. What happens next is basically the story of their relationship, their friends and how Zot rescues his damsel in distress in the most unexpected way.

But I couldn’t read issue #18. It was infuriating. Issue #17 introduced the character of Dekko, a malevolent (if tragic) cyborg artist whose head looked uncannily like the top of the Chrysler building. At the end of #17 he turns up at the home of Zot’s Uncle Max and...

And what?

I had to know! By the start of #19, everything was clearly sorted out. But how? I remained in the dark until April 1999 when I found myself in London again, sleeping on Andrea’s living room floor (well, her Parent’s living room floor anyway...) so that I could take part in the London Marathon. Finding that we had a little time to kill we visited one of our favourite comics shops, the excellent (if tiny) GOSH Comics. (Opposite the British Museum - you can’t miss it)

There, on a low shelf, almost hidden from view was...

Not ZOT! #18, but the complete run of ZOT! from beginning to end. Neither of us could afford it. You have no idea how bummed out we were. I mean, it was there - somewhere in the middle of the plastic wrapped bundle we were holding in our hands was the fabled ZOT! #18! But we couldn’t have it. We asked, but unsurprisingly they wouldn’t break up the set.

So we left, and I ran my Marathon (four and a half hours, thanks for asking) then I got on the train and went home. But I couldn’t get those comics out of my head. Eventually, I could take it no longer. I called GOSH! (what is it with these capital letters and exclamation marks?) gave them my credit card number and asked them to mail me the set. They did.

So of course I opened another bottle of wine, settled back into that comfy chair and read the whole thing again. Then, because I’m a very nice guy (and because I owe her more favours than I can count) I posted issue #18 to Andrea. (Obviously I made a copy first, c’mon, I mean there’s no way I was going through all that again.)

And so ends the Ballad of ZOT! #18. (And yes, I really did start out trying to write this up as song lyrics, but I very quickly ran out of rhymes for “Zot” so I gave up.)

Well almost. The final sting in the tail is that a few months later, Andrea found another copy of issue #18 which she proudly presented to me at the Comics 2000 festival. I dunno, you wait seven years for a comic and then two come along at once. Sheesh...

But there remained one final little niggle. When Scott McCloud ended the thirty six issue run of ZOT! back in 1991, it was with the promise that the character would return, “although it may be two years or more.” Nearly a decade later, we were still wondering “What happened next?” I mean, alright, so McCloud had written Understanding Comics, The Adventures of Abraham Lincoln and Reinventing Comics in the meantime, but still a promise is a promise, y’know?

Finally though, the waiting is over. Sort of. McCloud has taken ZOT! online for a three month run. It’s great to see Zot and Jenny again, but...

Well it’s just not the same. It’s in colour, which is nice, but I can’t hold it in my hand. I can’t sit in that comfy chair and read it with a glass of wine anymore, I have to sit at my desk to read it. And I can’t file the new story neatly on my shelf with the original run. Don’t get me wrong, I like online comics. I have several e-mailed to me every day. But I want my Zot on paper, dammit!

McCloud’s view that the future of comics is likely to be online rather than on paper is well known, (if a little over simplified by me there - I’ll be getting to the whole online comics thing in a couple of weeks) so it is perhaps not surprising that he has chosen to resurrect the character in this way. In the official press announcement for the new Zot, McCloud stated “I plan to spend a lot of my energy on such Web-only stories for the next few years (if not the rest of my career!)”

I hope he reconsiders, otherwise I’m going to have to buy a laptop...

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