Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happy 61st Birthday Alan Moore!

Alan Moore is special in the world of comics. Not only is he an amazing writer, but it can be said that he has influenced virtually every writer in mainstream comics since he started writing in the early 80’s. He's actually changed the medium he works in. What makes his work so special? In what ways has the medium changed as a result of his influence? These things I'd like to discuss in celebration of this incredible mage's 61st birthday. 

Alan Moore (center) and his creations by Alex Ross.

Happy Birthday Magus!

Alan Moore,

Born 18 November 1953

Alan Moore stared writing at a time in comics history when mature comics were still struggling to find a voice. It was the early 80’s and there was lots of talk in the comic press about comics being a real, legitimate art form but no one seemed to be able to fulfill the promise. The masters of the past showed glimmers of possible mature comics but most creators were still working within the narrow confines of the mainstream system that depended on action/adventure books for their bread and butter. Alan came along and seemingly smashed through the wall.

With A Contract With God (1978), Will Eisner set out to create the first mature comic book marketed specifically for alduts. He used the term "graphic novel" to separate it from the cheaply made, mass produced "comic books". Though the book was highly praised by the fledgling critics community, it's initial sales were lackluster.  
At the same time comic readers who grew up reading 60's and 70's comics were aging and looking for a more sophisticated comic that aged with them. In the late 70's and early 80's DC Comics was struggling with finding that new voice for their major characters that would appeal to this more sophisticated contemporary audience. While their audience was growing up, their heroes seemed to be stuck in the campy Silver Age of comics and were terribly outdated. They tried various things like revamping major villains like Lex Luthor and Brainiac but would eventually revamp their whole universe with Wolfman/Perez' Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the same time Moore was creating a new genre of comics that would dominate the market even to this day, one that would appeal to a more intelligent and mature reader, and one not afraid to show the darker side of life.

DC Comics redesigned both Lex Luthor and Brainiac in Action Comics #544, June 1983 in an attempt to make their characters more appealing to thid older, more sophisticated audience.

Alan Moore started writing short stories for Doctor Who and 2000 AD in the early 80's, but in March of 1982 Warrior Magazine #1 came out and blew everyone away. Warrior Magazine contained a relaunch of Marvelman, illustrated by the stunning Gary Leach and an original character called V for Vendetta illustrated by the moody David Lloyd.

Alan Moore shows the real world consequences of Marvelman's actions when he changes in front of the terrorists. Rather than the standard cheering at the sudden appearance of the big hero, we wince at the pain and devistation of seeing the terrorist go blind and deaf from the explosion.

Moore brings an incredibly dry and direct edge to his work. He grounds his work in little details that betray their action/adventure tropes. for example, in the first chapter of Marvelman, our protagonist, Mickey Moran, is a reporter who is taken hostage by terrorists in a nuclear power plant. There is the very real threat of nuclear weapons and terrorism that could have been taken right out of the news of the time. This juxtaposition of elements pulled from real life and superhero tropes is peppered throughout the whole of Marvelman. 
On the other hand, V for Vendetta foregoes the whole "hero" labeling. He is the terrorist, strait up, who declares war on a corrupt, fascist England. V is grounded by the fact that he has no real powers but instead is just a man in a mask. It is also grounded in the fact that the characters are very real and flawed people that could be people that we actually know. V is the only larger-than-life character in the strip, though, often the stories don't even include him. Rather than being about V, the comic often takes the roll of the onlooker as circumstances unfold. The comic is often as much about Evey, a girl saved by V from prostitution and a much more horrible fate, or Mr. Finch, the investigator who tries to find and stop V, or even Adam Susan, the leader of the fascist English ruling party.
While Batman took the high moral ground, V for Vendetta didn't have any qualms about killing anyone if the need arose. Though the non-superpowered Batman had superficial similarities with V, V is a whole different animal.  
While V and Batman share superficial similarities of being masked vigilantes with no superpowers, their modus operandi are very much at odds. While both characters live in a corrupt city, Batman has found allies within the system to help him fight corruption and uphold the system. V, on the other hand, is working for the dissolution of that very system and has no qualms of doing whatever it takes to achieve this end. Batman, on the other hand, has taken the high moral ground of not ever taking a life. 
When discussing the differences between V and Batman, one might at first think that they are not that different but then you would have to remember that you are talking about a modern Batman, the one that has been very heavily influenced by V for Vendetta and other Moore works. The Batman of 1980 has evolved tremendously as a direct or indirect result of Alan Moore's work.

Batman has evolved tremendously in the last 30 years largely thanks to Alan Moore. while the Batman of 80's playfully trips the Joker over Robin (the Untold legend of Batman, 1980) the modern Batman and Robin look all menacing and badass as if they would just as soon kill you as look at you (All Star Batman and Robin, 2008).
Though to say that all Alan Moore brought to comics was a sense of dark realism would be vastly understating his accomplishments. Alan treated his audience as adults with intelligence and attention spans capable of comprehend big ideas and complex narratives.

The whole concept of taking a campy Golden Age comic like Marvelman and updating it to the present sophisticated age while finding a way to retain all of the weird campy back story was a huge Moore innovation at the time and one that has been and is still copied by people in the business.

Moore totally recreates the Swamp Thing by changing him from a man trapped in a plants body to a plant that thinks he is a man in his classic Swamp Thing #21.

In 1984 Moore would take an old horror comic that was floundering and turn it into the most sophisticated comic on the market. The Swamp Thing was totally revamped and written in a smart way that would not just cater to a more intelligent audience, it would actually challenge peoples intelligence. Moore's work on these titles was so good that it inspired a whole new line of comics at DC; the Vertigo comics line for mature, collage age readers. There literally would be no Sandman by Gaiman, Starman by Robinson or Animal Man by Morrison without Moore’s Marvelman and the Swamp Thing.
 A seemingly endless parade of revamped old characters came through the late 80's and early 90's  as a result of Alan Moore's Marvelman and Swamp Thing work including Neil Gaiman's Sandman (1989), Grant Morrison's Animal Man (1988), and James Robinson's Starman (1994).
As well as being a great innovator, Moore is a master of the art form of comics. He would do things with the form that couldn't be recreated in other art forms like literature or film. In his career he would experiment with framing comics with a first and last page, do stunning prose captions, work poetry and even song into his comics. He would even play with the page in ways that had never been thought of before.
The captions from Miracleman #3, page 17 wonderfully initiate the chapter as it sets the stage for what is to come and pushes the reader through the chapter to it's final dramatic conclusion.
The chapter ends repeating what was said at the beginning of the chapter adding important information learned this chapter. On the first page we learn that Marvelman (Miracleman) smashes equipment at 3:56 and on the last page of the chapter we learn exactly why he is smashing the equipment. It is tricks like this that make Moore's work so compelling an vital.

Moore's use of the framing sequence was heavily used in works like the Watchmen and reach a peak in his Batman, the Killing Joke as seen in this page with it's raindrops starting the story off and ending it, framing the story in a dark, moody rain. Moore eventually felt that he was becoming a cliché of himself and would abandon this technique after Batman, the Killing Joke came out.

Moore's prose is some of the most beautiful and dramatic in all of comics as seen in this page of Marvelman originally presented in Warrior Magazine #13, Sep. 1983.

Moore can write poetry as well as his prose as shown by Etrigan's wonderful speech in this page from Swamp Thing #27, Aug 1984.
Moore would even write songs for some of his comics as seen here in V For Vendetta from Warrior Magazine #12, Aug 1983.
Alan went a little crazy with his Promethea series where he tried as many different ways to approach the medium as possible. Here, from Promethea #15, Aug 2001, he makes an infinite page that you can continue reading ad infinity.
Though he was the most active writing comics in the 80’s I think it took a generation of comic fans grow up reading his work in order to get some writers to adequately assimilate his work into the mainstream of comics. I think only in the last decade did we really see the true heirs of Moore’s legacy, People like Bendis on Daredevil, Brubaker and Rucka on Gotham Central and Azzarello on 100 Bullets, the strongest writers of the last decade, truly assimilated Moore’s work into the mainstream of comics. They exhibit a sense of realism, drama, and style to their work that did not previously exist in mainstream comics except in the work of Moore, of course.

Plain and simple Moore is THE master of the medium and though there are many great writers in the comics medium, he is head over heels above the rest.
Happy birthday great magus and many more to come!

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Alan Moore is the most brilliant writer ever!
    I've been a huge fan of his work since I got into comics, almost 2 decades ago.