Wizard #20: Scott McCloud

April 1993 (on sale date: February 1993)

Sam Kieth’s The Maxx clawed his way to his second cover spot for Wizard #20.

Sometimes these old installments of “Palmer’s Picks” can be an interesting snapshot of a creator right before a career-defining moment. Take this profile of Scott McCloud from Wizard #20. McCloud’s claim-to-fame at this point was for his superhero comic Zot!, but his work was absent from store shelves after the series ended in 1991 and he began work on Understanding Comics, a book that would have a huge impact on the artform and change the trajectory of McCloud’s career.

Even though my column for Wizard had only been around for a little over a year, I was able to enjoy a few nice perks. After this issue saw print, I was given a preview copy of Understanding Comics by the publicity department at Tundra, the book’s original publisher. The one thing missing from the black-and-white xeroxes was the book’s chapter on color. In it’s place was a short apology printed on rainbow-hued paper.

All you young whippersnappers with your full color PDFs take note! This is how we did things in the old days: black-and-white xeroxed review copies with full color pages replaced by a note printed on rainbow paper.

As I mentioned briefly in the original “Recommended Reading” section, there was a short preview of Understanding Comics in Amazing Heroes #200 from 1992. That was the special “All Comics” issue of Amazing Heroes, and also features strips by Ty Templeton, Fred Hembeck, and Larry Marder. Definitely something worth tracking down!

This “Palmer’s Picks” was when some lazy writing started to creep in. Just take a look at the opening paragraph belowI repeat the word “creator” twice in the same sentence! I probably could have gotten away with just calling McCloud’s work “innovative” instead of “fresh and innovative.” And I clearly dug out my thesaurus to come up with “originated” instead of “created.” Sadly, this clunky writing is something that continued for a few months after this. Maybe I was too busy with my workload at college to take a few extra minutes to give “Palmer’s Picks” a little more attention.

The fold-out on the cover of Wizard #20 featured The Maxx‘s Julie/Jungle Queen, who got a special call out in the table of contents as “Cover Babe.” It’s a wonder why Wizard‘s readership was mostly male… 

I was also struggling to make this column into something timely, hence my padding things out with some random recommendations. Kitchen Sink had some pretty good comics in their roster, so I’m not sure why I felt it necessary to shine some light on their trading card sets instead. On the other hand, I do remember that the plugs for Tragedy Strikes Press and Cult Press were a direct result of my begging for mail back in issue #14. In retrospect, I probably should have passed on the books from Cult Press. The comics they sent to me really weren’t that memorable. But I can wholeheartedly stand behind my praise for Tragedy Strikes Press. They had a great lineup of up-and-coming talent, and all of their books looked great. I even gave the company a full-length “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #25, shortly before they folded and reappeared as Black Eye Productions.

Cartoonist Kayfabe segment on “Palmer’s Picks” from Wizard #20.

Palmer’s Picks

by Tom Palmer Jr.

Scott McCloud is considered by other creators to be an important creator and inventor in the comics medium. His work, including Zot! and Destroy!!, is fresh and innovative, and he has originated several significant concepts that have proved useful to some cartoonists, from the Creator’s Bill of Rights to 24-hour comics.

Zot! began as a sketchbook drawing, and gradually grew into a full proposal for a comic-book series. McCloud was working in the production department at DC at the time, and decided to shop his character around to several companies. He eventually settled at Eclipse, where Zot! premiered as a full-color comic in the spring of 1984. While the initial issues were somewhat unpolished, the story and art had a certain innocence and charm about them.

McCloud’s concept for the comic was simple. Zot is a superhero from another dimension who stumbles into our dimension and runs into a girl named Jenny. She is sick of the boredom and imperfections of life, and Zot comes from a utopian society where everything is perfect. Most of the stories revolve around Zot’s efforts to protect his world, and Jenny’s yearnings to leave this earth.

After producing ten color issues of Zot!, McCloud took a break from the series, eventually returning to continue the comic in black and white. He added a back-up feature, illustrated by mini-comic artist Matt Feazell, entitled “The Adventures of Zot in Dimension 10 1/2.” Feazell drew the regular cast of Zot! as stick figures and added his own Cynicalman and Antisocialman to produce some entertaining stories.

With the new black-and-white format, McCloud was able to show off his expertise in shading and black spotting. His writing continued to improve, showing maturity and sophistication in “The Earth Stories,” a series of down-to-earth stories that began in issue #28. Each of the comics in “The Earth Stories” showcased a supporting character and their day-to-day struggles and triumphs. McCloud dealt with such subjects as sex, comic-book fandom, and sexual identity with honesty and sometimes shocking frankness. “The Earth Stories” ran until McCloud took another break from Zot! with issue #36 in the summer of 1991.

In his first break from Zot!, McCloud was able to complete a satire of comic-book fight scenes in the hilarious Destroy!!. Currently, McCloud is in the middle of his second break from Zot! and in the process of completing Understanding Comics, an “essay in comics form” that promises to explore the medium of comics. McCloud plans to deal with such aspects of comics as how they are perceived by the mind, and how color changes the way comics are read.

Aside from his regular cartooning, McCloud has come up with two important inventions. The first of these is the Creator’s Bill of Rights, a 12-point statement of the inherent rights a creator has to his creations and the way they are printed and distributed. The other is the idea of 24-hour comics, in which a cartoonist has one day to complete a twenty-four page comic from the initial story to final inking and lettering. McCloud was the first to try out this idea, and others soon followed, like Steve Bissette and Dave Sim.

With his constant efforts to stretch the boundaries of the artform, Scott McCloud is able to keep his work and the medium of comics fresh and exciting by relying on old-fashioned inventiveness and not repetitive gimmicks. His stories are easily accessible and his artwork is a pleasure to look at.

To wrap things up, I’d like to mention some other items that should be out in stores now or in the coming month. Kitchen Sink has published an interesting assortment of boxed card sets in the past few months. Highlights include the satirical Republicans Attack!, featuring computer-altered photos of George Bush and Dan Quayle and others, and Goon Squad, showcasing the artwork of Charles Burns. Bug your local comic store for these items or contact Kitchen Sink at 2 Swamp Rd., Princeton, WI 54968.

Tragedy Strikes Press and Cult Press have recently published some interesting comics. Tragedy Strikes publishes a variety of alternative comics, like Reactor Girl, Way Out Strips by Carol Swain, and The Cheese Heads by Nick Craine. A full-color Tragedy Strikes! sampler, packaged in a CD jewel box with art by Nick Craine, Dylan Horrocks, Jason Stephens and Carol Swain is also available. If you can’t find these in your local store, contact Tragedy Strikes at 30 Wyndham Street North, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1H 4E5. Cult Press is a relatively small new publisher, with two titles: Raggedyman and Wiindows. Both are in black and white, with Wiindows being an anthology title. The premiere of Raggedyman features a cover by Bryan Talbot, and the first issue of Wiindows has some beautiful black-and-white art by Tommy Berg. Write to Cult Press at 1047, W. Carson St. #3, Torrance, CA 90502 if you can’t find copies locally.

Next month: I’ll feature Michael Allred, a new talent whose work can currently be seen in full color in Madman Adventures from Tundra. I’m still promising to try and answer all of the mail I receive, so keep sending your comments and suggestions. The address is: Palmer’s Picks, do Wizard Press, 100 Red Schoolhouse Rd. Bldg. B-1, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977.

Recommended Reading

Zot! –Thirty-six issues of Zot! were published by Eclipse between 1984 and 1991. The first ten were in color and were published through 1985. McCloud took a break for other projects and resumed Zot! in black and white in 1987. A two-volume set of trade paperback reprintings of the color issues entitled The Original Zot! was announced by Eclipse, but only one has appeared so far. The original coloring was lost in a flood that hit the Eclipse offices, so the entire set of issues had to be recolored for the reprinting. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Eclipse at PO Box 1099, Forestville, CA 95436 for a catalog and price list.

Destroy!! This comic was originally published by Eclipse as an oversized black-and-white comic in1986. It was reprinted as part of Eclipse’s 3-D line of comics, complete with 3-D glasses. Both of these editions are fairly scarce, but you could try contacting Eclipse at the above address for copies.

A Day’s Work – Scott McCloud’s 24-hour comic was published in Taboo Especial, from Spiderbaby Graphix and Tundra Publishing. Copies can be ordered from Tundra at 320 Riverside Dr., Northhampton, MA 01060. Twenty-four-hour comics from other artists have been published in Cerebus (#142 featuring Dave Sim‘s “Bigger Blacker Kiss” and #147 with Neil Gaiman‘s “Life and Death of Emperor Heliogabolus”), Taboo (pre-ordered copies of volume 7 with Steve Bissette‘s “A Life in Black and White”) and The Maximortal (all issues with “Rare Bit Fiends” back-up feature by Rick Veitch).

Understanding Comics – This has not yet been published, but it should appear soon from Tundra. A sneak preview of the first chapter was published in the 200th issue of Amazing Heroes.

Not Available Comics – Matt Feazell’s mini-comic work is available from his own Not Available Comics at 3867 Bristow, Detroit, MI 48212. Various titles are available, featuring Antisocialman, Cynicalman, and others. Send a dollar or two, and Matt will send you his latest comic and a list of other things for you to order. He has also had comics published in Giant Size Mini Comics and The Amazing Cynicalman from Eclipse and Ant Boy from SteelDragon Press.


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