Jeremy and Mom: A “Zits” Retrospective You Should Definitely Buy for Your Mom. By Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.
Here, just in time for Mothers’ Day – okay, too early, but who’s counting? – is an oversized “Treasury” collection that is really worth treasuring. Most of these thick books of comic-strip reprints simply reproduce the contents of previously issued, smaller collections, adding a little value by showing Sunday strips in color rather than black-and-white. But not this time: the value added here comes both through the selection of the strips themselves – all of them featuring the trials and tribulations of 15-year-old Jeremy Duncan and his long-suffering mother, Connie – and through commentary by the strip’s creators, writer Jerry Scott and artist Jim Borgman.
The comments provide real insights into Zits, which is one of the consistently funniest and consistently most heartwarming strips around. No, that isn’t a contradiction, and the remarks by Scott and Borgman show why. Borgman explains, for instance, that “I try to draw Jeremy almost the same height as his parents to suggest a figurative competition for dominance. Walt [Jeremy’s father] generally wins by a hair, literally.” Read this, then pick a strip showing all three characters – there are plenty to choose from – and lo and behold, the characters’ proportions make perfect sense.
Or find out just why the writing in the strip seems so right all the time. Scott explains that he based one Sunday strip “on the famous Serenity Prayer used in many twelve-step programs. …Ever notice the disturbing similarities between parenting and recovery?”
Or discover which strips the creators themselves think were especially successful. In one, there are 15 panels, only six of them containing words – the rest of the sequence is extended, awkward silence depicting, says Scott, “one of those one-way conversations every mom has had with a teenager.” Borgman calls this strip “one of my all-time favorites.” Or check out the not-especially-funny-but-especially-touching kitchen scene in which Jeremy and Connie tease each other. Borgman notes, “It’s easy to do the sarcastic stuff. Capturing the warmer, playful moments is tougher.” And Scott says, “I love this strip. It’s not the funniest one I’ve ever written, but I think it’s the first time that we showed Jeremy and Mom being playful.”
Let it be noted that the creators’ comments do not appear on every page and do not take up most of the space when they do appear. A number of pages contain no comments at all – just the strips themselves. And with or without commentary, those are wonderful: Jeremy’s touching birthday-cake tribute to his mom, which he promptly spoils by mentioning that she is 45 years old and plopping a handful of candles in the middle of the cake; Jeremy trying to use “smoke and mirrors” (which Borgman literally shows) to avoid discussing the rating of a film he wants to see; Scott making (and Borgman depicting) the connection between herding livestock and trying to get a teenager going; and much, much more. In fact, Borgman says – in what could stand, if it were a bit shorter, as a motto for the entire strip, “We receive an uncanny number of e-mails and letters from readers telling us that what we drew in Zits just happened in their house. It leaves us all a bit baffled – we sure don’t know how we’re doing it, either. Maybe this stuff is so universal that we can’t help but hit you where you live.”
And that means that any mom of a teenager – or a soon-to-be teenager, or a former teenager – will find Jeremy and Mom a far more enjoyable Mothers’ Day present than the typical extremely predictable, boring and tasteless brunch (which, not surprisingly, gets its comeuppance in the book).
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