The collected edition of ZED – A Cosmic Tale will be coming out next week. It may be under your radar, and that’s understandable. It certainly looks like something other than what it actually is. It’s probably easiest to describe this graphic novel in terms of the cartoonist’s film work and who wrote the introduction. Yes, you _do_ care about somebody coming over from the movie biz in this instance.
The introduction is by Brad Bird, who you might remember from directing The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Bird worked with Michel Gagne, the cartoonist behind Zed, on a number of animated features. Yes, including The Incredibles and The Iron Giant. Gagne has made the animation rounds in a number of roles with the usual suspects like Pixar, Warner and Don Bluth Productions. Keep those animation houses in mind.
ZED looks like something out of those animation schools… and it should, since Gagne has worked for all of them. The biggest visual difference would be that the comic is 2D and in black & white/greyscale. It looks cute and sweet. Indeed, it is cute and sweet for about 15 pages before the swearing, decapitations and mutilations start.
Oh, yes. This is a gory comic, rendered in cute/sweet animation style. That juxtaposition of content and storytelling style is what makes this such a fascinating book. Much like the art style, the narrative style is that of children’s tale. It’s wide-eyed at the world, free of cynicism and filled with a sense of wonder. The actual subject matter involved mass murder, the politics of the energy business, the lengths people will go to ensure profit and conversations with God. There’s also a really loud heavy metal band with an army of groupies that would really like to kick somebody’s ass.
That metal band, Krah, is one of the nice touches to the book. Look, here’s a band. They’ll sing songs and want to be in on the adventure. Except this is a foul-mouthed metal band with a history of violence. In space. Take the convention, turn it on it’s ear, present it in the kids style and play it straight.
The hero of the book, the Zed of the title, is a kid who’s invented a new energy source and finds himself in the middle of conspiracy to take over the known universe. We see the world through Zed’s innocent and pure eyes, even though he’s in over his head and nothing is as pure as his eyes see it.
Amazingly, this all works. It’s a real balancing act to keep slipping the very adult themes in and letting the world view stay consistent, but Gagne is true to his vision. This is may be the most gentle comic about wiping out civilizations you ever read and the cognitive dissonance that sets in as your brain lines up the subject matter and the representation is half the fun of it.
Zed was originally serialized in single issues. Those flew completely under my radar. Then again, I don’t think Zed would read very well as a serial. Certainly not as a serial that spun 11 years. The adult themes are just starting to hit the fan at the end of the first chapter/issue and it’s a good 3 chapters of things hitting the fan as you start to get your bearings for what the comic is actually about.
If you don’t know what this is, it’s likely you’d see it on the rack and think “children’s comic.” Zed plays with the conventions of children’s comics, but it really isn’t for children. It should find a readership in the collected edition that it didn’t as a… well, it really didn’t come out monthly… as a magazine format, then.
The astonishing thing is how such an ironic juxtaposition of theme and art can be not come off as ironic. This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if this sounds remotely appealing, give it a look. It’s very well crafted.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.