There are a few comics that I love to read and reread over and over again, taking comfort in their well-worn pages. Zot!, written and drawn by Scott McCloud, is one of them. Starting in 1985, Zot! was a pulp science fiction throwback influenced by Astro Boy. It starred Jenny Weaver, a young teenage girl who finds herself meeting a boy (Zachary T. “Zot” Paleozogt) from a parallel world, a retropunk world perpetually set in the “far flung future of 1965.”
The first dozen or so issues of Zot! are your normal pulp superhero adventures, although McCloud introduces a lot of interesting villains to spice up the adventures, including Dekko, whose head looks like the Chrysler Building, and 9-Jack-9, an electronic assassin who killed Zot’s parents. The most interesting stories, however, were the ones that intersect with Jenny’s world, our world. And the book really hit it out of the park with its last nine issues, where Zot became trapped in our Earth and there were very little to no superheroics, mostly slice-of-life stories. These were known as the “Earth Stories.”
There are many great issues among the Earth Stories, but my favorite, the one I like to reread is issue #33, “Normal.” Like the other Earth Stories, this issue is from the perspective of one of Jenny’s friends, Terry. Prior to this issue, Terry wasn’t given much backstory or personality — she was simply “Jenny’s friend.” But this issue changed that.
Please note also that this issue was published in 1991. This was before even the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” If you don’t remember the early ‘90s, it was not a good era for gay rights or gay characters in fiction. (Heck, Northstar didn’t even come out as gay until 1992.)
Terry begins having trouble in school. Her cool friends (those that aren’t Jenny) make fun of Pamela, while Terry herself tries to just fit in. The petty politics of high school pave way for Terry to have a breakdown, finally admitting to Zot that she has feelings for Pamela.
And then she asks Zot, “In your world, would they think I was normal?”
So Terry tries to resolve herself to tell Pamela her feelings. (Please excuse the bad image — there are no online copies of it and I don’t own a scanner.)
The scenes where Terry is dreaming or contemplating what to do instead of sleeping recur throughout the issue, showing her thought process as she denies, accepts, and tries to figure out the next step in telling Pamela.
Unfortunately, she can’t.
It’s a sad ending to a sad issue, Terry having been unable to overcome her own fear and shame, not even able to so much as talk to Pamela. It’s what prevents this issue from being a “Very Special Episode” type of issue — this isn’t about learning a lesson, this isn’t about being yourself. This is just about a young girl trying to talk to someone she likes and being too afraid of others, of the world to do it.
So why is this issue such a comfort to me? Because after this page is the letters page (in the collected version, it’s the author’s note). And after the letters page, there is an extra page, the comic book equivalent of an after credits stinger.
And yes, every time I read this page, I get a big old smile on my face. It’s just the perfect ending. Because between cynicism and idealism, Zot! will always choose idealism. It will go with the happy ending, because that’s what the book is about: choosing our happy endings, even among the harsh aspects of the world.
In the last issue of Zot!, Jenny and all her friends and even her mother go with Zot to his world, the retrofuturistic Earth of imagination and wonder. And even though it’s only temporary, one of Jenny’s friends wonders, “Is it wrong for us to want this? I keep thinking, if there are so many worlds, who decided which one to put us on? No one asked what we wanted. Don’t we have the right to look for something more?”
And the book’s answer is always “There is nothing wrong with you. Keep looking.”