Zot!: Hearts and Minds
Author: Scott McCloud
Publisher: Published Indepedently, 2000
Review Published: August 2001
Scott McCloud serialized Zot!: Hearts and Minds over the course of five months, in sixteen installments, beginning in July of 2000 and ending in November of that year. The length of the installments varies, impossible to attribute to a number of pages, but each of which includes a various number of panels, ranging from 30-40 (on average) to 80. In discussing narrative innovations, I am assuming some familiarity with the traditional layout of comics -- whether they are the rather plain and serial approaches appropriated by syndicated newspaper strips or the various innovations in comic books, allowing greater space to manipulate through panel layout. The Internet, it is McCloud's supposition in Reinventing Comics (2000), which preceded his experimentation in Hearts and Minds, allows for unlimited space to experiment in regard to panels, layout, and narrative construction.
The plot of Hearts and Minds seems to be rather secondary to McCloud's experimentation. Dekko, the villain, a concept artist (although this seems an unfair label), kidnaps twelve people, as well as Zot, and offers them eternal life in the form of unaging, indestructible synthetic bodies, necessitating the imprisonment of their fleshly bodies in cryogenic stasis. Immortality, Dekko argues, is the only way to stop the chaos at the heart of humanity. Unwilling to accept this gift of immortality, Zot (or the simulation Zot android) frees the prisoners and triumphs over Dekko. This narrative runs parallel to Jenny's story. Jenny visits Zot's world while in her own world -- our Earth -- her parents are moving after a divorce (the precise nature of the two worlds is unexplored in Hearts and Minds, having been explored in the earlier Zot! comic book series, but provides no hurdle for new readers -- it's largely inconsequential to the narrative). Jenny's emotional travails are meant to enhance the struggles with the flesh that Dekko perceives as human weakness, but which we, sympathetically, are meant to prize. Unfortunately, Dekko himself suffers from emotions and the possibility that the transformation into androids that he attempts to grant humanity will retain that most human aspect of emotionality -- there is nothing to lose in the transformation that Dekko offers and Zot's refusal of the "gift" seems more reactionary than anything else. Dekko's immortality cannot be beneficial in Zot's or the other beneficiaries' minds, as Dekko is perceived as a villain rather than an artist or humanitarian.
Chapter 3, by far, is the most visually interesting in the series, largely dominated by one vertical panel showing Zot and Jenny, the primary protagonists, as they fall from a rather dangerous height. The panel comprises the whole of the space that the characters fall through, and while not employing any animation software, the characters fall through space as the reader scrolls downward. Unfortunately, my attempt to explain does the panel no justice whatsoever. As a result of the innovations in the medium, this must be seen to be understood -- as yet we have no theoretical language to explain such a visual trick, our discourse regarding such things limited to more traditional time/space configurations. And while it is true that the Internet allows for greater latitudinal experimentation -- allowing panels to be taller or shorter, due to the way that we use the Internet, used to scrolling up and down or side to side, but rarely both, if the latter at all -- the potential for longitudinal innovation is rather slight. In fact, after reading Hearts and Minds, innovation in the latter would seem to be precluded in experimentation in the former.
Half of chapter 6 acts as a showcase for Dekko's art, allowing McCloud to exhibit his own computer-generated artwork. While rather interesting, because the individual drawings are simply that -- individual drawings with no sequential relevance -- the images are worth seeing but do little more than showcase the potential for computer-generated cartoons. Other than this showcase of artwork, and the exceptional falling scene in chapter 3, Hearts and Minds has surprisingly few visual innovations. Some panels marry photography with McCloud's drawings, but the qualitative difference in the images is rather distracting. Surprisingly, when McCloud draws outside of the panel borders, as he does on a few occasions, generally as a grenade is thrown toward the reader, this slight innovation is rather interesting. With a near limitless canvas to work with, in limiting a panel and then overstepping the boundaries, a visually interesting experience is created. Again, only in seeing it can it be fully realized, but the questions that it raises in regards to space are rather essential to the narrative potentials, and the innovations therein, that the Internet provides, primarily for sequential art.
To construct the narrative, rather than abut the panels as in traditional comics, "trails" are employed to link one panel to the next. At times, two trails exist, side by side, telling Zot and Jenny's tales, apparently to enhance narrative parallels. McCloud coins "trails" on the message board with some discussion from the readers regarding the innovation. Because the trails lead the reader to read the narrative in a very strict fashion, while there is unlimited space to work with narratively, McCloud necessarily limits the reader's experience by providing this explicit narrative line. These trails are as important to the narrative as gutters in traditional comics, providing a conscious attempt on the part of the author to construct the space being used to his or her own ends.
Comic Book Resources, the host of the site, also provides a message board in order to track the responses of the readers to the material as well as allowing McCloud an opportunity to interact with the readers. The majority of the discussions lead nowhere, and McCloud only infrequently does interact, but many of the discussions raise interesting questions about the narrative innovations that McCloud employs as well as following up on some of the topics that he raised in Reinventing Comics (the future of online comics, payments for online comics, the nature of collecting).
As a teaching tool, Hearts and Minds provides an interesting opportunity. The message boards, although rather inactive at this point, allow students to read other reader's opinions of the work, while also allowing them the opportunity to join in on the discussion. As a free text, although rather simplistic in narrative, Hearts and Minds offers material regarding time and space, cinema, and the future of reading mediums, and as such provides a useful tool to ground discussions of such. As a brief Internet adventure and an illustration of the potentials of narrative in the age of the Internet, especially in light of Reinventing Comics, Hearts and Minds is well worth reading and well worth thinking about.
Matthew Wolf-Meyer is an American Culture Studies MA candidate at Bowling Green State University where his primary focus is American science fiction as well as studying superhero comics. He is a graduate of the University of Liverpool's Masters program in Science Fiction Studies. With Jeff Brown, he is the co-editor of the forthcoming The Superhero Reader. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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