(You stop blogging for five days and you forget how to write a draft. This was near enough to what I intended its finished form to be that I'll let it stay up. One last bit: I meant to segue that last bit into a comparison between experimental comics in the '80s and early '90s and modernist literature in the '10s and '20s. There's something in the compulsion to manifesto on the one hand and proto-structuralism on the other that warrants fleshing out.)
The last time I read Scott McCloud's Zot! must have been a few months after the final issue came out in 1991. (I made the mistake of all lame Lotharios: I lended them to a woman hoping she would be impressed by my ability to appreciate the wit of some third party and never saw my beloved books again.) Because I'm leaning on Understanding Comics and Making Comics like a vaudeville drunk on hat rack, giving McCloud's creative output a chance to work its charm on me again seemed like a good idea. So I picked up the collected Zot! in Baton Rouge and now I'm not so sure re-reading it was a good idea, because now I want to write a non-composition oriented article on the tangled relationship between aesthetic theory and creative works when they're both produced by the same person
Re-reading Zot! after having read Understanding Comics and Making Comics makes it painfully obvious that McCloud spent its run becoming the critic he now is. The early issues are clumsy combinations of manga conventions (his admission) and Hernandez brothers stylings (the unacknowledged but obvious influence). He quickly outgrew his concept but refused to abandon it, leading to a comic whose bittersweet (and before their time) coming of age stories never can quite get grounded. He stumbled onto the animating metaphor of Buffy—high school as Hellmouth—but for whatever reason couldn't bring himself to embrace it. Why not? That's unclear.
But even if we can't know the "why" readers of the originals can certainly date the "when," but because of a silly convention, those who read the collected Zot! cannot understand what the original audience knew: McCloud was the last person to realize what it was he'd become. If only graphic novels contained the letter pages that accompanied the original issues, McCloud could've spared himself the pains of sitting in judgment over his own work:
Letters like this were my introduction to theories of genre, mode and medium. I suppose they don't need to be reprinted, what with Understanding Comics and Making Comics being explicit statements about the issues raised in letters like this, but learning while being taught feels educational no matter who's doing the teaching. In the back pages of Zot! I learned without realizing I was learning, and I think stuff sticks better that way.
(Or maybe I'm just justifying using hamburgers and teaching The Dark Knight and my every last pedagogical strategy again.)