by Kevin Czap
I was chatting with Liz about it the other day and the subject of Alan Moore came up. She asked me what I responded to so strongly in his work. Here’s an very-much-extended version of what I said to her.
With the recent release of the latest volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comes a fresh wave of Alan Moore press materials. Moore is in the news, he’s back in the forefront of the public consciousness. While I haven’t gotten the new book as of this writing, I’ve been anticipating its release for a long time, and have probably read as much about it as I’ve been able to.
Reading each interview ensures one is bound to encounter the same information, similarly phrased talking points and praise for the work all his collaborators contributed to the new book. This in itself is not a big problem, and it’s characteristic of most, if not all, promotional campaigns. What is less common is the depth to which Moore’s interview’s go. I’m sure most have heard about and even encountered the stereotype that Moore can go on and on and on. He’s a talker. There’s no denying it. What I feel the stereotype obscures, though, is that he’s terribly engaging. He’s not just droning on to hear himself talk (though he’s admitted as much every now again in the efforts of charming self-effacement). If you listen to what’s being said, it’s very intelligent, of course, but also very astute.
Moore is often portrayed as being some out-of-touch crack pot, holed up in a cave somewhere in Northampton, without any clue about the world of comics which he loves to attack, much less the world at large. If you actually listen to the things he says in these interviews, it’s clear that this depiction is as inaccurate as it is lazy. As they say, Alan Moore knows the score. One recent interview reveals that he’s well aware of digital comics and is investigating these new delivery methods to discover the best way to write comics for them. A soundbite surfaced the other day where Moore makes a strong condemnation of the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning. He got a hip hop group to contribute to the included soundtrack album for the first issue of Dodgem Logic. Even his more sensational statements about his belief in the snake god Glycon are much more reasonable and thoughtful than they may appear at first blush (hint, he is aware that the Glycon is a fictional being).
How could someone with so eloquent and charitable a public persona be so easily painted as a lunatic? (If that statement doesn’t seem to answer its own question for you, let’s just keep going) The answer would seem to lie with his long history of antagonism with the corporate powers-that-be of comics and American culture. Since early on, Moore has been a supporter of Siegel, Shuster and Kirby, and a vocal critic of Marvel and DC’s worse tendencies. Someone who boycotted his own works becoming popcorn fodder in Hollywood, which, clearly, is something everyone should want. As an anarchist, Moore stands at odds with the ideologies of most people today. Seen this way, the systematic character assassination of Alan Moore isn’t surprising and it certainly isn’t difficult to carry out.
Interesting, then, that his politics are what have pushed him to champion so many of the causes that are still being fought for in comics today. The demands that DC and Marvel deliver more meaningful representation of characters who happen to not be white, male and heterosexual, that they tell stories that aren’t so violent, hopeless and ugly are all issues that America’s Best Comics was formed to address a decade ago. This is less to Moore’s credit than it is to the Big Two’s discredit – there’s no excuse for this to still be an issue now, or even 10 years ago. I bring this up to illustrate that, hey, maybe Moore has a point about this other stuff as well?
ABC wasn’t the first time the Magus worked his political views into his writing, and it hasn’t been the last. V for Vendetta was his treatise on anarchy, From Hell a condemnation of the cold soullessness that supports contemporary culture. Big Numbers and Voice of the Fire at least partially beginning to address his relation to his hometown of Northampton, which he continued to deal with more directly in Dodgem Logic. As I told Liz, one of the things that I most respond to in Moore’s work is that he is using the art of fiction to actually address our real lives, to send us a message, to help wake us up.
I won’t pretend that I think Moore is a saint, or an infallible genius. I haven’t been overwhelmingly fond of some of his recent work. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an exception, though, and taken as one piece, is the strongest thing he’s done in a while. It’s entertaining, intellectually stimulating and just great storytelling. Kevin O’Neill’s art is magnificent in that way that makes you want to emulate until you realize just how difficult that actually is to do, given its intricacy. It was the release of the first chapter of the current volume, Century, that has made me consider the series in a different light. Throughout the first two volumes, the adventure and fun was dialed up quite high, and as enjoyable a read it was, there wasn’t that hook that really stuck out to say “that was an amazing comic.” Black Dossier was a bit of a mess, not bad, but a step down from the earlier volumes (perhaps it felt too much in the vein of Lost Girls which, though I didn’t read all of it, I wasn’t too fond of). Century: 1910, however, was really good stuff.
What made it stand out so much for me was the shift in mood. We find the League coming to the end of their rope. The team is coming apart and things are becoming much more dire. Times are changing, and the team will need to change with them or perish. By the time the Prisoner of London appears, our first glimpse of the 21st century, it hits home how vast this thing has become. As fun as history plays are, I would argue that they are only really useful for helping us see our own contemporary problems from another perspective. By taking us from the early days of the early 1900s up to the early 2000s, Moore and O’Neill are beginning to use the League stories to make a direct statement about this world that we live in. For me, this is what begins to make The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen work as a larger work – he’s roped us in with the fun and adventure, but now it’s time to get to business.
Anyhow. I have some strong feelings about Alan Moore – I think he’s a a good writer who’s fighting for important things. And he’ll never be a fucking company man, that’s for damn sure.
Thanks for reading.
All images by Alan Moore