Depictions: Sam Kieth's Zero Girl
of weeks ago, reader Robert Sparling wrote to us pointing
out a gap in our coverage: graphic novels and trade collections
that the average joe stumbling into a comics shop might miss.
Damn. He was right. But did we have time to add that to the
Robert stepped up to fill that very void. And this is his
first piece. Let us know how you like it.
picked up the graphic novel Zero Girl, written and
penciled by Sam Kieth, I had no idea what I was buying.
unaware, Sam Kieth wrote the critically acclaimed series The
Maxx, a book that gained mainstream success despite being
labeled as anything but. I'll admit, I never read it and I
saw only a few episodes of the short-lived MTV animated series
based on it, but I'd gleaned from interviews and articles
concerning Sam Kieth that he is no writer (or artist for that
matter) to be overlooked.
picking up Zero Girl, in short order, I had my mind blown.
the story of a loner/outsider named Amy Smootster, and her
unique propensity for soaking her feet whenever she is embarrassed
(her feet are literally soaked with water through an unexplained
quirk of Amy's body). Amy is sixteen and understandably, not
enjoying high school, suffering as a target of ridicule for
her peers. Shocking as it is, Kieth actually chooses to make
Amy's tormentors female bullies, physically violent toward
her, where most writers would make them catty girls who set
out to ruin Amy's self-esteem or cause some other psychological
damage. In hopes of turning guidance counselor Tim's attention
away from the "weird girl," the bullies assure him that Amy
is a "goth" and a "slut."
out to help Amy, whom he considers to be "troubled" after
he discovers that she lives alone and spends a lot of time
hiding and sleeping around campus. When he finally gets to
speak with her, she dismisses him as attempting to "save (her)."
discovers that Amy sees the world in shapes; circles are safe
and friendly and squares are dangerous. Amy seems to have
some strange power over circles. They can protect her from
harm (in one instance, saving Tim and herself from a cascade
of falling bricks by shielding them with a circular cut-out
piece of newspaper). As we get farther into the comic, we
discover that the "squares" may be trying to kill Tim and
Amy, and only the "circles" can save them.
this is background for the real story, the most unsettling
and painfully well-written aspect of the comic: the budding
romance between Amy and Tim. Kieth takes an incredibly taboo
subject (one which he is personally familiar with, as he admits
in his afterword) and treats it with the weight and respect
actually far more mature then her sixteen years, perhaps even
more so than the elder Tim, and actively questions him on
why the idea is so impossible for them to be together. Reading
these exchanges between Amy and Tim, which border on flagrant
flirting sometimes and outright fights in others, the reader
is made to feel the discomfort of the situation. How can Tim
deny that he is feeling a connection to Amy? How can Amy convince
him that it's okay for them to be together? Would it be right
if they were together?
has to ask these questions and it's almost impossible to answer
them. The issue is too fractured, too conditional, to be fleshed
out in any certain way, and Kieth drags the reader through
the muck of his moral questioning. You may feel dirty reading
this comic, but it's a good, intelligent kind of dirty.
plot progresses, Amy and Tim's relationship (if one exists
at all) is discovered and brought into question. At the same
time, the "squares" begin manifesting in one of Amy's bullies,
turning her into quite the little psychotic with an extreme
dislike for circles and Amy. In the end, it comes down to
Amy and whether she can survive a "square" assault alone,
and finally discover whether she and Tim can be together.
on this comic is expert, perhaps the most dynamic art recently
done in comic books or graphic novels. Kieth's artwork, it
would seem, never repeats a pencil line. Every time we see
Amy or Tim, they are rendered slightly different. Sometimes
the art is very humanistic and gritty. People are drawn proportionately
and with great detail. At other times, Kieth opts for a different
approach, making them seem cartoonish and exaggerated.
Girl also requires a graphic format. The artwork flows
so well with the words, you could not separate the two and
get the same story. When Tim is being questioned about his
involvement with Amy, the reader can clearly see that Tim
has started to see the world the way Amy does: in shapes.
The policemen questioning him begin to change shape, one's
head stretching to triangular proportions while the other's
head elongates into a cylinder. It's downplayed and not mentioned
in text, but it's a fantastic visual device.
also has no qualms about suddenly switching mediums. Several
panels appear to be pencil and ink, and suddenly the book
breaks into a pastel-colored pencil motif to depict one scene
or another. Even watercolor gets some space.
Read it. It's a very affordable $14.95 at your local comic
shop or bookseller and well worth the moral debate that will
inevitably ensue inside your head. I recommend Zero Girl to
comic book aficionados, English professors, art students,
and anyone who just plain likes a good read with an added
bonus of visual storytelling.
30% off at Amazon -- Zero