Comic Book Artist Edited by Jon B. Cooke Comic Book Artist, Eisner Award winner for "Best Comics-Related Magazine", celebrates the lives and works of great cartoonists, writers and editors from all eras through in-depth interviews, feature articles, and unpublished art.

Zot! by Scott McCloud. As best as we can ascertain, most of the images illustrating this interview have never been published. ©2000 Scott McCloud.

Zot! Inspection

Scott McCloud on his '80s comic series

Conducted by Chris Knowles
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson

From Comic Book Artist #8

Does Scott McCloud, author of the seminal textbook (this side of Will Eisner) on the art of sequential storytelling, Understanding Comics, really need an introduction? Well, maybe if you didn't know his credentials stretched back to the early 1980s, when Scott produced one of the truly delightful independent titles of that era, Zot! Part science-fiction strip, part romance comic, Scott's title is one of the most fondly-recalled books, and we're grateful he took time from his extremely hectic schedule (preparing the final proof for his forthcoming Reinventing Comics) to grant us an interview. Conducted by phone in January 2000, the transcript was copyedited by Scott. Much thanks to Kurt Busiek for supplying us with the artwork accompanying this piece.

COMIC BOOK ARTIST: When did you first become aware of the fact that you were hopelessly addicted to comics? [laughter]
SCOTT MCCLOUD: Pretty late, actually. I was about 13, 14 years old, and a friend of mine in junior high school named Kurt Busiek was very heavily into comics, and he got me hooked. I was actually addicted to chess at the time, and we had a deal that Kurt would come over to my house to avoid being given chores by his dad, [laughs] and I would play him a game of pool—because he didn't care much about chess—and in exchange, he would play me a game of chess. During this time, he got me into comics after a lot of trying. I really didn't want to have anything to do with them.

CBA: What kind of stuff was he trying to get you into? Just the standard-issue Marvel stuff?
SCOTT: Yeah, he was into Daredevil, X-Men, Avengers... not much DC stuff, he felt the Marvel stuff was better, which in those days, it really was a little more adventurous. Eventually, he broke through my prejudices, because I really thought I was too old for comics at the time.

CBA: What were you into besides chess?
SCOTT: My childhood was a series of obsessions, I'd move from one obsession to another. I began with astronomy, mineralogy—this was in elementary school, around fourth grade! [laughs]—microbiology was a huge one.

Zot's Uncle Max, the inventor, by Scott McCloud. ©2000 Scott McCloud.

CBA: You went from all of these lofty, scientific ventures into something as lowbrow as comics. What was the appeal?
SCOTT: Well, the appeal wasn't lowbrow at all, in fact, it was the lowbrow image of comics that kept me away from them. If you asked me when I was twelve years old about comics, I would just tell you that I would have nothing to do with them, because they were lousy science-fiction, they were lousy writing, the art was crude, and I read real s-f, and I was interested in the surrealists and some fantasy art and whatnot... that was the good stuff, comics were the crappy stuff. It took an intelligent friend like Kurt, and a lot of determination and stubbornness, to break through that prejudice and convince me that, in fact, comics had the potential for loftier things, and it's always been that for me. I was never drawn to comics for their lowbrow appeal, but for their potential of comics to overcome that. Some of the first work that did it for me was some of the wilder stuff by Jim Steranko and Neal Adams.

CBA: Yeah, they would be the fan favorites at that point in time.
SCOTT: Right, and that appealed to me because I saw in it that there was potential to do something unusual and different in comics.

CBA: In all your catalog of obsessions that you gave me, I didn't hear anything about drawing.
SCOTT: I was always drawing. That was the funny part, is that drawing was always in the background, but I never considered drawing as a career, and by the time comics came in, drawing just sneaked up behind me, and I realized, "Oh, I've been doing this all my life, haven't I?" [laughs] I was drawing pictures of chess boards when I was into chess! I was drawing pictures of microbes when I was into microbiology.

CBA: So it's always looming.
SCOTT: Yeah, it was always there. But I never took it seriously because I wanted to build spaceships and change the world and invent things... art, to me, didn't seem to have that power to change the world.

CBA: When did you start to say, "All right, this is what I'm going to do." Did you say that at any point? Did you make plans to go to art school?
SCOTT: I can tell you exactly when: It was the Summer between my sophomore and junior years at high school, and I was sitting at my desk and drawing and Kurt was sitting on the bed or something reading some comics, and I just turned to him and I said, "I've made a decision, I'm going to be a comic book artist." Kurt's attitude was, "Yeah, well, whatever." [laughs] It was a very conscious decision, and I just simply didn't turn back. For the rest of high school, I was going to be a comic book artist, I went to college and became an illustration major with the intent of being a comic book artist.

CBA: Were you and Kurt sort of a fandom universe unto yourselves, or did you guys have other friends involved?
SCOTT: That's not a bad description, a fandom universe unto ourselves. We did form a comics club in Syracuse, and got to know some other like-minded people, but we were a writer/artist team all through the rest of high school and college. He would write the stories, I would draw them. We did a 60-page comic called "The Battle of Lexington," which we actually took on tour, just for fun, at conventions back in '94, because we thought some people would like to see this bizarre comic we did where we destroy our high school and a bunch of Marvel and DC super-heroes all fight each other. [laughter] Actually, they were all Marvel heroes, come to think of it.

CBA: So, when you got out of college, all of a sudden there was this incredible boom going on in the direct market. All of a sudden, after years of the New York companies monopolizing the comics industry, we started to have a number of publishers like Pacific, Eclipse, First, and Capital, all of a sudden. How did you feel about this? Did you feel like since you knew you wanted to be a comic book artist, you would try to seek work with the big two, or did you feel this whole new world was really the place for you to be?
SCOTT: You know, it's funny... one of the great gaps in my memory is I've never been able to figure out how my consciousness was raised regarding creators' rights. It just happened. My first task upon getting out of school was to find an actual job, [laughs] and that, fortunately, took care of itself, because three weeks before I left school, I sent a letter to DC's production department, asking if there was any work—and there was! Bob Rozakis called me up—he was the head of the production department at the time—called me up at about nine in the morning, woke me up from a nice, sound sleep, here in my dorm room, right? [laughs] And he said, "Hi, may I speak to Scott McCloud?" I said, "This is Scott." "This is Bob Rozakis at DC Comics." "Oh! Oh! Uh..." [laughter] I sent out this letter, and it was the only letter I'd sent out so far, and I'd sent my resume along, and he said, "Would you like to come in for an interview?" I was like, "Uh, sure!" I took a train down to New York, and I did an interview at DC, and I got the job! So I came back to college, and three weeks before I finished college, I had a job waiting for me in New York City.

During that time, I always intended to make my own comics, but I had sort of given up on the "doing it quickly" stuff. The corporate mind-set was beginning to settle in as I was there in the office day after day, and seeing how slowly things worked. For instance, Bob Rozakis' own 'Mazing Man had been pitched years and years before it actually went to the contract stage and he got to do it. So, I realized, "Oh, this may be just the way it's going to work," and just shortly after getting settled into New York City itself, my father died, and I sort of had a change of heart about that, and I decided to go for it, to do my own comic, and see if I could sell it, rather than waiting to get approval to do my own comic.

The evil Bellows by Scott McCloud. ©2000 Scott McCloud.

CBA: So, at this time, the juices started flowing for Zot!
SCOTT: You know what? When my dad died, Zot! was just the thing on top of my sketchbook at the time. It's the weirdest thing, it could've been anything... I had so many different ideas, Zot! just looked right, it seemed to be about right... he didn't even have that name yet, but I just liked it. I'd been looking at some old Dick Caulkins Buck Rogers at the time, and I'd worked out this sketch of an idea, just the germ of an idea, and I just decided, "Well, why don't I try this one?"

CBA: Now, it obviously has the Buck Rogers influence, but one thing that always struck me about Zot! is it reminded me a lot of something like the Wizard of Oz material and some early newspaper strip material, things like Little Nemo... there was a lot of other influences there besides the straight-on adventure tale.
SCOTT: Oh, sure.

CBA: Were these things that were left over from your younger days? Were you into this kind of material, some of the fantasy newspaper strips and children's books from the early part of the century?
SCOTT: You know what? Everything came late with me. That is, I was always discovering things after the time that I was supposed to have discovered them. I was always getting into childrens' work, after I was no longer a child! [laughs] Things like that. Kurt would make recommendations, I'd check them out. For instance, L. Frank Baum was not an influence, but the movie The Wizard of Oz was an influence. Even in issue #1, I was already thinking in terms of archetypes. In fact, the supporting cast was designed to mimic Jung's four sub-divisions of human thought, with Peabody being the intellectual side of things, Butch being sensation, Jenny being feeling, and then Zot being intuition. So, even at the very beginning, I was trying to think under the surface like that. The strip had a very kind of breezy sort of innocent feel to it; it wasn't nostalgia that was really pulling me forward, it was actually sort of post-modern emotional distance that lent itself to it. Though the book had a lot of emotion to it, I was very much behind-the-scenes manipulating things, trying to arrange everything. I was always a formalist, I was always trying to figure out the structure of the comic, and what the various symbols meant. I was playing it like a chess board. It doesn't mean the emotional content wasn't real—it was very real for me, I've always had a sentimental streak, and there was a lot of heartfelt stuff in it—but at the same time, there was also this inventor and scientist and tinkerer going about, arranging the pieces and seeing what happened.

CBA: Well, Zot! definitely looked very different texturally than anything that was happening at the time. Those kind of almost art nouveau influences struck me, that very heavily European sense of design, it was one of the things that struck me in the book.
SCOTT: Well, the storytelling, we should say, was very Japanese. The designs, the iconic design, simple faces and the more complicated backgrounds... I was already trying to deconstruct what Japanese comics were all about at the time.

CBA: Let's get back to your relationship to the world outside. You were working at DC, and like I said before, "DC is on the move again" was the slogan, I believe. Dick Giordano was in as executive editor. All sorts of new things were being tried. You were doing all these new things, and Bob Rozakis was very busy, because also Ronin was happening at the time. Were you there when Ronin was being worked on?
SCOTT: Sure, I remember Frank coming in with pages for Ronin, and carefully looking over the film as it came back, and making comments. This was very... that was a wonderful thing to see, for a young aspiring artist to have that as an example, to see the artist coming in and really being the boss on his own work. It was no secret that Frank had cut a deal that provided him a great deal of ownership and control over the work. Now, of course, in retrospect, that deal wasn't nearly as good as it sounded, but it didn't matter, it made an impression, you know?

CBA: So at this point you're in New York City, at DC Comics, in the production department when the focus is on production, that DC is spending an enormous amount of money and time improving the look and feel of the books from the old World Color Press hand-separated letterpress, printed on toilet paper books that characterized the late '70s to Baxter and Mando.
SCOTT: As a matter of fact, the very first Baxter books that came through the house was while I was there, things like Camelot 3000 and Thriller. I remember how Tatjana Wood had been asked to do the colorings, I think if I remember correctly, for Camelot 3000, and I don't even know if they bothered telling her what kind of paper it would be on, so that it was the traditional CMYK palette with all the bright primaries.
And when it came out on the white stock, it was just...

CBA: Blinding! [laughs]
SCOTT: It was gouge-your-eyeballs-out bright. Tatjana was a very talented colorist, and I don't know that she had any control over that. Like I said, I don't know if she even knew what kind of paper it would be on—but very quickly, we had to make adjustments. Not we, I wasn't really involved in the decision-making, but at DC Production in general, had to begin to use more muted tones to really take advantage of that. So, I got one of my first exposures to McLuhan's much-quoted idea of the new medium appropriating the language of the old; we were using the techniques of the old technology and it was no longer appropriate with the new technology.

CBA: Let me ask you a question: All of a sudden, and I would say it happened almost overnight somewhere in the middle of 1981, all of a sudden there was a sense of mission, that kind of swept through all the smart people that were involved in fandom or in actually producing the work. Now, you being in the catbird seat with Bob Rozakis, I mean, did you feel that sense of mission, that, "We're on the cusp of a breakthrough," it seemed to be the dawn of a new age in the industry? Were you swept up with that fervor?
SCOTT: Well, being in that particular spot didn't exactly give you the sense that the the whole organization was headed in that direction. What it really was that there were a few of us who were kind of running under the radar, and had ideas of revolution and excitement, and had that fanaticism in our eyes that something great could be done, and then there was this sort of laid-back organization, just sort of getting along. On my end of it, DC was a company filled with people who, by and large, I liked very much, just doing their jobs, and a few of them, with these crazy ideas, making things happen—but it was still very much a corporation. But you know, it was just this quiet sense among some of the people up there that something much more exciting could be done, and let's see how long we can get away with it! [laughs] I was the kid who would corral these people and would talk to them, very presumptuously, as if I had anything to say, being a mere production guy, and some of the cool ones, like Ernie Colon, were only too happy to just talk about that stuff over coffee or the water cooler.

CBA: Were you still conspiring with fandom? Kurt Busiek, from what I can gather, was still trying to find a niche somewhere.
SCOTT: Well, Kurt actually started getting work as a writer before I did. I got the job in comics, at DC Production, before he did, and then he was the first one to get an actual creative assignment, writing some Green Lantern Corps or Power Man and Iron Fist, I forget which one came first. By now, of course, Carol Kalish, our friend and Kurt's mentor to a large extent—my own to a somewhat lesser extent—had herself gotten a pretty prominent gig at Marvel, and so we were all kind of moving into the organization, infiltrating [laughs] the beast at that time.

CBA: Let's take it up to about 1983. You've probably got a fairly healthy pitch together for Zot!
SCOTT: This would be late '83, yeah, I had about 100 pages of material already. I created this monster proposal, and I had four packages which went out to the four independent publishers I was interested in, which were Eclipse Comics, Pacific, First, and WaRP. Then I had a larger proposal that colorist Tom Ziuko helped me put together. He was definitely one of the proletariat, revolutionary types running around. [laughs] He had done the colors for this wonderful, large-size presentation. The packages went out, it took a little while, but I got to show the presentation to Dick Giordano, and there was actually some discussion about the possibility of DC doing it. They were thinking in terms of starting a children's line at the time—that was sort of their idea for it—but Dick had asked me what I'd like in return, if they did decide to do it. Nothing was certain at the time: I don't want to make it sound as if it was right up at bat or anything; but I told him that ownership and control were really important to me, and he told me that DC couldn't really do it at the time, you know, "Sorry, we can't really offer that." I said I understood, it was all very cordial and all, but basically, what it came down to was that DC couldn't give me what I needed, or what I felt I needed at the time, so I decided to go with a smaller company.

9-Jack-9, probably the coolest (and most deadly) villain in the Zot! series. ©2000 Scott McCloud.

CBA: So Cat Yronwode at Eclipse became enamored of it?
SCOTT: In fact, all four of the companies I approached were interested, and I had nice talks with people at all four of those companies.

CBA: What distinguished Eclipse from the others?
SCOTT: Speed, and promises of real creative control and freedom. I had this bizarre obsession that there was going to be a nuclear war, and I just wanted to get a comic published before it happened.

CBA: Well, that was part of the times. I don't think it's that unusual; I mean, I think that the nuclear anxiety was quite common. So, did you go out to California to deal with Eclipse, or did you do it all over the phone?
SCOTT: All over the phone. I left DC shortly after to pursue drawing comics full-time.

CBA: Was Eclipse paying you enough to supplant the income loss from quitting DC?
SCOTT: I was losing money slowly. I had some money from when my dad died, my mom had given all four children some of the money that had come in, and that helped to offset this continual leakage of money from my bank account. I've always had financial problems, from then to this day.

CBA: So, you find yourself, a young man of 23 years old, all of a sudden living a dream of a lot of guys in your shoes. A deluxe comic coming out, at a very exciting time, perhaps the most exciting time in the history of comics.
SCOTT: Well, I don't necessarily agree with that, but we can get to that later.

CBA: It was a time when most of the major titles at Marvel were running well over 100,000 copies in sales, and there was kind of what Alan Watts would refer to as a "turning of the Tao," where you have an old world and a new world colliding, and all of a sudden, you have the circulation to finance some of the exciting things that were being done, but you also had the steady sellers still doing relatively respectively, and the direct market was helping to cushion the blow of some of the falling circulations with greater profitability.
SCOTT: There was also a sense of collegiality. In general, though there was plenty of fractious in-fighting and whatnot, the general sense was we had a common purpose, to move comics forward.

CBA: So, at this time in comics history you were working in your apartment on East 82nd Street doing Zot!
SCOTT: Shortly thereafter I moved to Tarrytown, a suburb, since I didn't need to come into the city as regularly.

CBA: Were you doing the convention circuit to promote the title?
SCOTT: Yes, I started doing conventions almost immediately, and I would go to maybe there or four conventions a year. Began San Diego in '86 and have gone to every one except one.

CBA: So, Zot! comes out, and it gets noticed. You're not only doing a color book, but you're doing a color book that's noticed because it's just so different from everything else on the stands. Now, did you feel like a rock star?
SCOTT: No, I always knew I was a medium-sized fish in a small pond, but I had the level of notoriety I felt comfortable with. I had at least some of the respect of my peers, and I was making sort of a living [laughs], and I was able to look to the future with some hope. So, that was good, and the reviews were consistently good when there were reviews. I was somewhat ignored by the Journal. By then, of course, I was beginning to occupy that "no man's land" between the mainstream and the alternatives. I was coming about the same time as Love and Rockets and other books like it at Fantagraphics, and I really admired those books. They were some of the best stuff out there, and I knew I was doing a book that was neither fish nor fowl. People who were hard-core mainstream fans didn't really quite get the alternative aspects of the book, and people who were into the alternative black-&-white stuff looked at it as just, kind of "near beer." [laughs] I think there were people who would've enjoyed the book who never really quite knew what to make of it, and I thought it was kind of amusing that neither did the alternative artists I admired so much ever know quite what to do with me! [laughter] I would be the kind of wacky, smiling fanboy who kept telling them how great they were, but, you know, they had to politely excuse themselves if they wanted to go get dinner or something.

CBA: At the time Zot! came out, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon, because Marvel was reacting to the success of some of the larger independents by flooding the market with reprint titles. There was a panic—"the panic of late '83"—and it carried to late '84, where some of the more left-field... or I guess you'd be center field [laughs]...
SCOTT: Yeah, right, definitely.

CBA: ...some of that material was starting to not do so well, and Pacific was beginning to show signs of imminent collapse. Were you aware of this? Were you starting to feel anxiety for the future of Zot!, at least with the way it started, with the full production color book?
SCOTT: I was always worried. I worry by nature.

CBA: It's a Massachusetts thing. [laughs]
SCOTT: Yeah, right. But my worrying is always countered by my optimism, they're sort of the warring halves of my nature. I had plenty to worry about, of course; Zot!'s sales rarely, if ever, went up, they were always sort of eroding. It was always difficult to build an audience, it was always just sliding down. I didn't really understand at the time it was just part of the greater picture, what was happening in the market at the time due to things like the glut of reprints and various other factors—but I think I was able to scale down my expectations to a degree, and to just rejoice in the fact that in my own little corner of the world, I was still able to do what I did, and to reach X number of people. Even if it wasn't a big number, I knew that I was getting something done, and I....

CBA: You were grateful to Eclipse for allowing you to finish the story.
SCOTT: Yes. Getting to issue #10 was a real psychological barrier. I wanted to get to issue #10 and finish the story in the spirit I'd begun it in, and that was just so important to me, and I was just so grateful that they were able to keep it going through that adversity. Even losing money, I think, at the end in order to finish those first ten issues, and have a complete set.

CBA: Were you aware of what the circulation levels were?
SCOTT: Sure, I know the first issue sold around 28,000.

CBA: Oh! [laughs] That's like what Captain America sells now!
SCOTT: Right. It just slowly slid down, and I don't really know what it was at issue #10, but it was obviously much lower.

CBA: It was probably respectable by today's standards.
SCOTT: Yeah, I seem to know my first issues, how much things sell at the beginning, more than anything else. I know when it came back as a black-&-white the initial sales for issue #11, the "new #1," so to speak, was at about 13,000, 14,000.

CBA: Sometime, and I assume it's after the end of Zot!, I'm never sure when exactly you did it, Destroy! shows up.
SCOTT: That's right, after issue #10, and before I came back with issue #11, about a year-and-a-half later. So there's about a year-and-a-half where Destroy! was the only thing that I came out with, apart from some mini-comics.

CBA: What were you doing to sustain yourself after the end of Zot!?
SCOTT: I don't really remember. I know I worked moving office furniture for a fairly short period of time, maybe less than a month, so that's the only real, genuine job I had. Obviously, I exhausted what funds I had in the bank. Destroy! made a little money. There was some licensing from Zot!, a couple of foreign reprints at that time, I was doing a column on mini-comics... I became obsessed with mini-comics. As I said, everything is an obsession with me! [laughs] It's always one obsession or another. The small press became an obsession, I felt there was an enormous energy and promise in these self-published comics. Self-publishing was very exciting to me, even though I wasn't interested in doing it on the sort of scale like Dave Sim's. I really loved the minis and the creative freedom.

Jenny, the real star of Zot! Even though the book is named after the blond-haired kid, it's largely about the trials and tribulations of an adolescent girl finding her way in the world. ©2000 Scott McCloud.

CBA: I agree with you.
SCOTT: I had enormous faith in the power of pure, creative freedom, and in a purely creative endeavor, which the minis frequently were. People like Chester Brown were starting back in the mid- to late-'80s, back when I was getting into it, starting out doing self-publishing stuff. There were lots and lots of just really exciting things that I was reviewing for Amazing Heroes, of all places; I'd do a one-page review strip of my own creation just for the purpose of spreading the word about these guys.

CBA: So, the influence of some of this material was shown when Zot! came back. It came back with issue #11, as a black-&-white title, and the focus... not so much towards the beginning, but towards the end, the focus is much, much different.
SCOTT: Shifts to everyday life, certainly.

CBA: Yeah, and this is actually my favorite material.
SCOTT: I think a lot of people feel that way.

CBA: There was a depth there, that wasn't in the original color title. There was a sense of reality, and I would say that the mood of the book became much more melancholy. Eclipse was doing a number of b-&-w titles at the time, and I assume this is maybe a diminished expectations response.
SCOTT: Well, maybe, as far as the black-&-white titles go, but remember, there was the b-&-w boom and bust, and Eclipse did their best to take advantage of that period to shore up their always troublesome bank accounts.

CBA: That's right. I remember the boom was somewhere in '86, right?
SCOTT: No, actually I think it was a little earlier. The funny part is that the boom and bust, the whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff, the obsession with #1 issues, the various knock-offs of the Turtles, from Eclipse's Adolescent Radioactive Black-Belt Hamsters [laughter]... that whole period, I believe, primarily took place between Zot!, so I came out with Zot! #10, I disappear for a year-and-a-half, we have the boom, and then we have the bust, and then I come back. So I missed the entire thing.

CBA: I think that a lot is said about all the Turtles knock-offs, but there really was a lot of exciting, vital material that kind of got lost in the tide.
SCOTT: Oh, sure, that's what I always gravitated towards, and during that period, I was saying that I would rather have two great books and 1000 bad ones than one great book and ten bad ones, you know? I believe we could find the good stuff. Of course, that doesn't necessarily work out in the marketplace, because how do you make a living? It was during that period I remember vividly a panel I was on—I showed up late, because it was San Diego, and my plane was late, and I showed up at the panel as it's already begun—and it's a panel about the b-&-w glut. On there are a whole lot of people—Gary Groth, Deni Loubert, a few other people, were all bemoaning the presence of all these crude "barbarians at the gate" publishing just anything. There were too many publishers. They were actually talking about how there had to be some way of cutting back on the catalog, or getting distributors not to carry some of these crude, amateurish b-&-w books, and Will Eisner was on the panel, and I was just so impressed, because Will gave a little speech about how you never know which of these kids is going to change the world, and you really can't talk about restricting the flow of this stuff, and you just have to let it all come out, and sort it out later, and I was totally on his side. I thought it was totally interesting that he was taking a point of view that—to my mind—seemed a lot younger [laughs] and a lot more enlightened, and a lot less crusty and closed-minded than a lot of the other comments I was hearing on that panel.

CBA: So, you did quite a healthy run on the b-&-w version of Zot!
SCOTT: Yeah, there were 36 issues altogether, the color for ten issues, and then 26 b-&-ws.

CBA: So, was this your bread-and-butter? Were you able to support yourself with the proceeds from the work of Zot!, or were you supplementing it somehow?
SCOTT: It was primarily that. Occasionally, some money from my mom [laughs] you know... bailing out her poor, starving artist, but for the most part, yeah, I was making a modest living from comics, and I was living modestly.

CBA: One of the points I would like to make here—and I'm sure you'll have probably a differing viewpoint on it—my viewpoint on the time Zot! ended, say in '89, is the original impetus that was the spirit of '82, let's say, really had dissipated; the sense that the mainstream and the left field, the right field, and the center field could all sort of co-exist relatively comfortably was really starting to dissipate.
SCOTT: There was more acrimony. The sense of collegiality eroded severely.

CBA: The mainstream was becoming more extreme in its approach. Any of the kind of ideas that Frank Miller or Alan Moore or whomever that was doing mainstream work in a more intellectual capacity, these ideas were being flushed.
SCOTT: I don't know that they were being flushed so much, I think they were being mindlessly imitated, actually. They were picking up on the surface elements of Moore and Miller, without understanding the core.

CBA: That's what I'm talking about, the core. The core was being neglected. The center field material was really starting to surrender, and the left field was burgeoning at this time and the mainstream was going off in a totally different direction. What I'd liken it to is, say, the tension between Secular Humanism and the Religious Right, and the mainstream Protestant Church caught between a rock and a hard place.
SCOTT: That's not a bad comparison, I know what you're talking about. Yeah, that middle ground certainly became less and less populous.

CBA: How did you respond to this? It would seem that the ground you had occupied was really washing away in this schism.
SCOTT: Yeah, but in a way, I was never renting with an option to buy that particular territory. [laughter] To me, I had no emotional stake in it, it's where I had chosen to be as just a creative decision, but there was always a part of me that would've been just as interested—if I thought it was viable—in doing some weird, surrealistic collage comic, or something more like Spiegelman was doing in his early work, like "Breakdowns," or some of the things in Raw. Or going off and doing mini-comics! In fact, I probably would've taken those different paths if my economic alternative had been less limiting. I had to find something that I thought would make me a living, but I always had these sidelines, these side projects that I hoped to do, these strange little things. I had whole file folders filled with other ideas that were not sought, and one of them, of course, was the book about comics done in comic book form. I never identified myself with the middle ground; in fact, in many ways, I felt sad that I wasn't part of that wild left field alternative stuff. Maybe I'm not really, by nature, not all that radical a personality, but those were the things I admired the most. My favorite books at that time were Beanworld and Love and Rockets, not Nexus, not Camelot 3000 or Watchmen. So, the other thing you should know is personal life intruded, and I got married in '87, and as my world became that, it became our life together and moving from Zot! into Understanding Comics. It was during that period, too, I became obsessed with chess again for three years.

CBA: So how were you supporting yourself after Zot! ended?
SCOTT: After Zot!, we had just a little money in the bank, and I guess I managed to sell the idea of Understanding Comics to Kevin Eastman, just in the nick of time.

CBA: Okay, so he gave you an advance?
SCOTT: Actually, no. I had already done some work on the layouts, so I'd gotten paid for the work I'd done so far. I got a per-page... you could call it an advance, of course, it is technically an advance against royalties, but essentially what I wanted was to be paid as I turned in the work on a per-page basis, so my royalties were getting paid incrementally. I had an objection to getting paid for work I hadn't done, and even though, of course, the book—and this is how I've always worked, really, this is how I worked at Eclipse, this is how I'd worked on everything so far—where I'm getting a page rate, but really all the page rate amounts to at the end of the day is part of that lump sum advance against whatever the book actually earns. So, that way, I never felt like an indentured servant.

(These are just excerpts from Scott McCloud's interview. For the full interview, be sure to pick up COMIC BOOK ARTIST #8!)

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