Zot! by Scott McCloud. As best as we can ascertain, most of the images
illustrating this interview have never been published. ©2000 Scott McCloud.
Scott McCloud on his '80s comic series
Conducted by Chris Knowles
Transcribed by Jon B. Knutson
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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