There he is.
When it comes to literary comic icons, no man comes before Alan. So much has been written about the unofficial leader of the 80s British Invasion, who heralded the coming of Vertigo and then disavowed DC and all mainstream publishing. The mortal enemy to Hollywood who has had at least half-a-dozen films adapted against his wishes, unlike Neil Gaiman who always seems to rather enjoy his celebrity. Mr. Moore, the proverbial purist artist always refusing to compromise. The mad occultist who refuses to shave. The genius we all aspire to be and will always fail to live up to.
Documentary: The Mindscape of Alan Moore
I shall start with Watchmen, as most people have started with that famed tome. Though, please note I think Moore’s legacy is far bigger than that one superhero deconstruction — perfect work of controlled storytelling it may be — and I think he has since surpassed his early work time and time agian. More on that below.
I was about 14 when I read the full Watchmen in graphic novel form, having missed the original issues in 1986 as a small child. A reputation had long preceded it at this point and I was getting into comics on a deeper level at the time, so I was looking forward to reading and seeing what all the fuss was about. I had a whole Saturday afternoon to kill at detention, they made you sit around for 4 hours; I was not a good student at the time. I read the entire work in one sitting. I was, of course, blown away. And I did a book report.
Watchmen came about when DC Comics purchased the Charlton library characters, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom and The Question, and Moore put together a proposal called Who Killed the Peacemaker? DC realized the status quo would be torn asunder, and they were going to incorporate them post-Crisis on Infinite Earths anyhow, so he was told to keep the plot but make up new characters.
Illustrated with precision by Dave Gibbons, it grew bigger than the usual story. Blue Beetle became the cheesy Batman-esque Nite Owl, Captain Atom as the one Superman of this world became the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan. They were archetypes as well as individuals.
Not only did Watchmen win the coveted science fiction Hugo Award, after that they changed the rules so comics could no longer win.
What struck me most of all were the extras between each chapter. Newspaper clippings, magazine interviews, notes, all the the world-building to show the authenticity of a hyper-realistic setting.
Also, the usual Alan Moore themes of rape and the illusion of time.
Watchmen has since become passé. Gritty realistic superheroes have been done to death, and Moore has specifically said in interviews he regrets causing that trend.
Personally I never watched the movie all the way through, and I don’t intend to. Mr. Moore is famously against all Hollywood adaptations, and some people find him a cranky old man. I moreover stand with him on that.
With that, let’s go some earlier Moore.
His mainstream days were relatively sparse, but every single one had an impact. There was Captain Britain, with Alan Davis. There was a bit of Superman, such as the classic birthday tale For the Man Who Has Everything, also illustrated by Dave Gibbons. And that final imaginary tale (aren’t they all?) previously mentioned, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Speaking of Superman: Supreme. In the 90s, Moore was invited to work for Liefeld’s creator-owned imprint over at Image. Supreme was a very obvious riff on you-know-who. It quickly became a brilliant satire/homage/deconstruction on Silver Age superheroics. The ‘Man of Majesty’ was both corny and endearing, engaging within a complex plot involving multiple realities and retroactive timelines.
I should say that Moore’s American work really started with Swamp Thing, of which I’ve only read the first two volume. I know, I know, very late in the game on this. If I’m supposed to be completist the I better get to it. The Green, The Green…
Going back a bit further, there’s Miracleman. Now, the backstory of that character is Baroquean inof itself. The British knockoff of Captain Marvel was originally Marvelman, given a reboot in the 80s and published on the American side by Eclipse comics. However, in fear of being sued by Marvel Comics they changeed the name to Miracleman. And then it was abruptly canceled, with the legal ownership thereof in legal limbo for decades.
This made the series very hard to read before the digital age. I did order the first arc on ebay and it was a great read. Finally, I read the entire series online. Don’t ask questions about the legality of that, please.
Neil Gaiman’s brief run was interesting as well. A funny thing, now Miracleman of all things is owned by Marvel and they say they’re finally going to reprint the classic issues as well as let Gaiman complete his unfinished story! Guess I’ll believe that when I see it.
Meanwhile, Alan Moore in the 80s. There was the dystopian V for Vendetta, currently in print under the Vertigo banner, one of the first of his major comics that defied classification.
On the subject of V for Vendetta, this is very much the reason that I agree with Alan Moore on all things Hollywood. The film was an atrocity. It completely misses the point of the original, pretending to be a deep critique of American post-9/11 politics — taking place in the U.K. for no reason and badly done at that. It was supposed to be about Thatcherism. Moore was absolutely treated wrongly by the pretentiously stupid Wachowski Brothers. He was 100% right to disavow the film and have his name taken off.
In the end, the legacy lives on with those Guy Fawkes masks.
Another mediocre movie based off brilliant source material, From Hell is a literary masterpiece like no other. This riff on Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories doesn’t really aim to solve it, there are deeper takes on the nature of reality at play.
I remember when I read much of these graphic novels, I was living in L.A. during my starving artist period. How did I afford to read, you ask? I went to the library in hipster Silverlake and they had an extensive archive.
Back in the 2000s, Moore had started his own America’s Best Comics (ABC) with a host of deconstructionist characters. Tom Strong, among many others.
I enjoyed Top 10, art by Gene Ha containing a thousand references of fictional universes across the panels.
Most important of all, Promethea. I read them all with great wonderment, studying intently, during my L.A. days. Promethea began as an interesting hero with various mythic feminism themes, Moore’s take on Wonder Woman perhaps. It soon turned into an epic occultic meditation on the Tarot and the Kabbalah.
ABC Comics was actually an imprint of Wildstorm, Jim Lee’s company that was one of the original founders of Image Comics. Wildstorm did good work, but then they were eventually bought by DC and he had to quit. The Absolute Edition of Promethea even says Vertigo. Poor Alan Moore.
What else? Let me mention Lost Girls. I was lucky enough to read this forbidden comic in hidden corners of my local bookstore. The hardcore pornographic tale of Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy as they tell sex stories and enjoy orgies, choosing pleasure over violence on the eve of World War I.
Recognize the names? Yes, those literary references.
Finally, the most important essay of literary references of all time: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
This would have to be the biggest alltime gap in terms of “the book was better” in human history, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Starting off with a premise of a Victorian Justice League, Gentleman Alan Moore took the public domain rights of Mina Harker (Dracula), the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, and Allan Quatermain and claimed they all live in the same universe. This concept soon expanded to something quite beyond a slew of mere Victorian literary references peppered in by Kevin O’Neill’s detailed art — brilliant though that was in the first two volumes. Villains being Professor Moriarty and H.G. Wells Martians.
League has since evolved to be an ambitious force that seeks to unify ALL FICTION EVER.
The amazing part is that when you read a League book, the fun doesn’t stop when you finish. You really need to go look up Wikipedia or Jess Nevins site to understand all that’s going on. Then you may feel the need to watch a German Expressionist film, read some Virginia Woolf, catch up on H.P. Lovecraft mythos, and study British spy shows. Seriously, it takes a lot to keep up.
LoEG was originally published by ABC, but Moore and O’Neil own the copyright and so they have taken their franchise to Top Shelf and can do with it what they will. And I am glad they do.
Once a year I insist on going down to Hong Kong and purchasing the latest League, one of the few comics still worth reading that way. Here’s my collection.
Currently, there are the Nemo graphic novels. Century was especially important. While the Black Dossier took place in the 50s, referencing 1984 and James Bond (although with copyright material they can’t say those references directly) and much more, Century went beyond even that. The first chapter was 1910, a more familiar time period, while the psychedelic 1969 was a whole other take incorporating movies and music. 2009 blew my mind, though I may not totally agree with Moore’s pessimistic disapproval of contemporary fiction.
I’m using a lot of self-control right now to not spoil the shocker of which modern popular character turned out to be the Antichrist, but let’s just say he did have a mark of the Beast and he is a wizard kid…
Alan Moore is disgruntled and hates society, but he to. He’s a genius. He’s a magician and he knows what he’s talking about. To be fair, not everyone has the chance to be as independent-minded as he is, and that is partly built on his previous success in the mainstream. Yet that is what he earned. I stand with Moore. Fuck Hollywood, fuck the mainstream… but then again don’t fuck the mainstay comics companies altogether. I do still get some enjoyment out of them.
Next: another mad genius occultic scribe of comics, who is not above working with the corporate publishers, and he definitely has somewhat more fun with it.