Montreal-born author and illustrator Michel Gagné has worked with well know animation studios such as Pixar, Disney, Warner Bros, and Nickelodeon. But don’t let his wholesome resume mislead you into thinking that ZED: A Cosmic Tale is just for children. While some of the drawings are sweet and fun, the storyline broaches dark topics like death, remorse, and some of the most dark emotions we experience as a humanoid species.
ZED is dark, there’s no denying that, but it is also a tale about overcoming obstacles and evolving from being victimized to empowerment and ultimate triumph of will.
-Michel Gagné, author and illustrator of ZED: A Cosmic Tale
The tale begins with the Nob-L Prize ceremony on the planet Xandria, a truly ‘cosmo’politan planet that embraces all pursuits of life: economic, religious, cultural, and so on. The first presenter is Macku and his living spaceship Makka, capable of doing incredible maneuvers never seen before. After a brief intermission from Krah, the loudest band in the galaxy, we meet Zed who is there to present the Energizer, a machine that is able to turn ordinary rock into an energy source. The happy faces and pride his parents show as they watch from the audience is so sweet it is unsettling, and you just know that something is about to go terribly wrong. The Energizer explodes, blowing Zed into Macku’s spaceship as the audience is obliterated and the planet ultimately goes supernova.
I was struck by how effective the art was at conveying nonverbal cues about plot development and emotional scale. I instantly loved the Gallosians and their sea-monkey appearance. In the space scenes you really get a sense of dimension as the contrast and shading turn simple shapes into the halo around a sun, or the speckled star dust of a nebula. Gagné’s use of panels without captions or words was well paced, letting the art speak for itself (this is an improvement from the single issues of ZED, on which Gagné comments in his afterword). When the “true kings of metal”, Krah, come onstage during intermission, suddenly the stick figure-like drawings of the species in preceding panels come to new life, the single strands of hair banging out over the audience with musical notes dancing between, creating bars of sheet music.
There is a strong Christian element to it that I felt took away from the self actualization of Zed. Faith is likely what helped the artist to overcome hardships in his own life (Gagné grew up in an abusive home, was frequently ill as a child, and even lost half his vision to a gunshot to the head when he was 12), and I won’t deny people the strength they may gain from faith and religion, but this element felt misplaced in a sci-fi graphic novel. Rather than Zed himself overcoming the invading Metalians through his own ingenuity and perseverance, it is a Deus Ex Machina that seems to prevail. Gagné takes a risk that I don’t often seen in the genre, which I respect despite my agnostic sensibilities. At the end of the day, god is just another character and I choose to take his presence at face value.
ZED: A Cosmic Tale is a fun science fiction story that combines adorable characters with heavy, depressing subject matter but in a feel good, entertaining way. And lets be honest, he’s just too cute to pass up!