Writer, artist, historian, critic, anarchist, autodidact, singer-songwriter, screenwriter, performance artist, magician, snake-god worshipper, Northampton celebrity, global cult figure, Alan Moore might seem too multi-faceted to be reduced to such a single signifier as Storyteller, but as becomes clear, weaving words into stories to work their spells on his reader’s consciousness is central to his practice. For Moore’s 50th birthday in 2003, Gary Spencer Millidge published and co-edited a tribute anthology in which he collaged a 12-page biography of Moore in strip form. Millidge has over 300 pages here to examine Moore’s unlikely emergence from underprivileged childhood, expulsion from school for drug-dealing and dead-end prospects to his remarkable blossoming as the most relentlessly inventive writer in contemporary comics and beyond.
The most intriguing chapters open and close this deluxe monograph. Embryonic Genius reveals Moore’s early years through family anecdotes and photographs and his seldom seen earliest efforts. Aptly, his first published work was an advertisement in 1969 for the London science fiction bookshop Dark They Were And Golden-Eyed, followed by poetry magazines, performances at the local Arts Lab and early strips for music weekly Sounds filled with insanely intense dotted ‘stippling’. Too slow an artist, he found his calling as a comics writer.
Alan Moore’s first strip for Sounds (31 March 1979).
Read all the Sounds strips here.
His trajectory from 2000AD, Warrior and other British titles to Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vastly superior as graphic novels to their Hollywood travesties, is methodically covered, greater works getting greater space. Millidge’s accessible if sometimes unincisive commentary and generous observations from Moore interviews, old and new, accompany mostly reproductions from each comic, familiar to most fans but helpful samples for the less initiated. Millidge inserts a few rarities, notably a V script ‘rejected’ by artist/co-creator David Lloyd, and the huge handwritten chart mapping Moore’s entire cast across twelve issues of Big Numbers, although the photocopied source lacks some of its outer edges and is swallowed into the central gutter. It’s also a missed opportunity to show one or two pages from Bill Sienkiewicz‘s completed but unpublished third issue.
Big Numbers #3
Read the complete unpublished issue here.
In the revelatory penultimate chapter, we finally glimpse inside Moore’s creative process. As a comic artist himself, he ‘thumbnails’ compact, crude page layouts and scrawls script notes, comprehensible only to him, into notebooks. So his notoriously meticulous scripts, of which several extracts are reproduced, do not spring fully formed as words but derive from these vital preparatory visualisations, unseen by most of his artistic collaborators.
Alan Moore’s roughs for From Hell (chapter 9, pages 19 to 24)
Uncompromising and principled, Moore eschews America’s comic and film industries to pursue personal projects from underground magazine Dodgem Logic to multimedia events. Of the many stories he has told, his ongoing odyssey of self-creation is almost certainly the most fantastical.
Alan Moore: Storyteller comes with a CD of nineteen audio tracks including excerpts from Gate of Tears with Tim Perkins from Snakes And Ladders and The Birth Caul, as well as March of the Sinister Ducks in cahoots with David J and Moore’s tribute to Steve Ditko‘s Randian objectivist crusader Mr. A. Performance and ritual go hand-in-hand in Moore’s shamanic public spectacles and his most recent performance last Thursday, 28 July 2011, at the Barbican Centre in London was Fourth Dimensional Minds Eye Summoning. The starting point for this was one of the extraordinary surrealist collage animations made by Harry Everett Smith (1923-1991), American mystic, filmmaker, ethnomusicologist and visionary. Rather than a new text sprung from nothing, this work responds and reacts to a pre-existing source. Taking his cues from the recurring motifs and strange sequences, cycles and patterns of this movie, Moore related them brilliantly to Smith’s life and to the turbulent parallel history of America and popular culture. Moore’s basso profundo rumblings create a mind-expanding mood, sweeping you up like an incantation. Manipulating consciousnesses is the Bard of Northampton’s forté. Accompanying the film and Moore’s words throughout was the inspired soundtrack/noise-scape crafted by Savage Pencil, which mixed and remixed aural elements alchemically. As ever with Moore’s live acts, this was intense, charged, challenging and ultimately transcendent.
As a last footnote, another publication devoted to Alan Moore has just been published by Intellect, Studies in Comics, Volume 2, Number 1. Behind a cover image taken from the back cover of Big Numbers 2 by Bill Sienkiewicz, this is the latest edition of the twice-yearly peer-reviewed academic journal, one of three such titles in the UK alongside Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (Routledge) and European Comic Art (formerly Liverpool University Press, next from Berghahn). I’ll declare up front my involvement as Reviews and Exhibitions Editor, which allowed me to commission Maggie Gray to critique Alan Moore: Storyteller in depth here. Guest editors for this special themed issue are Mike Starr and Nathan Wiseman-Trowse, who co-ordinated the Magus conference in May 2009 at the University of Northampton, where I gave an introductory Keynote and interviewed both Moore and Melinda Gebbie, which you can watch in full on YouTube.
The bulk of the issue’s 236 pages draws on papers presented at this conference or drawn from elsewhere, fourteen in all, sorted into three broad themes of Ideology, Language & Temporality, and Intertextuality & Adaptation. Topping it off is a lively new interview with Moore by co-editor Chris Murray. Among the papers, Maggie Gray, again, kicks off proceedings with a exploration of Moore’s earliest foundational involvement with zines, underground papers and the Northampton Arts Lab as part of the hippie counter-culture of the era from 1971 to 1980. Many of Moore’s canonical opuses are examined from fascinating perspectives by these writers, but it’s also refreshing to find essays about such under-analysed works as Tom Strong or the linguistic ideas raised by the Swamp Thing episode ‘Pog’ (based on Walt Kelly’s Pogo). Don’t be put off by some of the jargon - you can impress your friends by learning new buzzwords like ‘uchronia’, to describe the plausible alternative history underlying Watchmen, for example. To get a flavour, you can read summary abstracts of all these papers online. Predominantly textual, though with some cited panel visuals shown, this thought-provoking bumper Moore extravaganza can be seen as complementary in many ways to Gary Spencer Millidge’s more illustrated and deluxe overview. Personal subscriptions cost £33 per two-issue, one-year volume.Posted: July 31, 2011
The book review in this Article originally appeared in The Independent on August 2nd 2011.