Practitioners 47: Alan Moore (Part 4)

The turn of the Millennium was fast approaching – something that would perk up the most sallow mind – and Alan Moore’s is nothing if not finely attuned to the ebbs and flow of the world around him, though perhaps unconcerned with the date itself. His is a mind that, when presented with a milestone in time and history he looks backward for another, using the existing build to a momentous date to gain insight into a period in history similar to one he found himself in. But who to populate this book? For a literary man there could be a myriad of choices. From those choices was formed the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The story of the League sees H. Rider Haggard’s elderly and Heroin addled Allan Quartermain, H.G. Well’s malevolent and uncontrollable Invisible Man, an aggressive, xenophobic but ultimately honourable Captain Nemo of Jule’s Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the puny and bestial duality of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought together in the name of England by the haunted Wilhemina Murray now some years after her ordeal in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. All this at the behest of the porcine Government liaison ‘M’ (a certain Mycroft Holmes, survivor of his more famous brother). Together, drawn by the incomparable Kevin O’ Neill, the League dealt with threats as easily found in successful literature as themselves, though of course at all times unaware.

A satisfying, bounding, rambunctious rendition of old tales renewed called on almost all of Moore’s previous experience – drawing on his love of classic science fiction, withering horror, humour and unapologetic and resonant sexuality threaded seamlessly through the politics and society of the period. All presented with cartoonish glee reminiscent of Rupert Bear (who makes an appearance as a sexually aggressive experiment of Dr Moreau, who for the benefit of ease is now working out of the English Woodland) or Victorian funnies.

The first volume of the series pitted the League against Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes books; the second, against the Martians from The War of the Worlds. A third volume entitled The Black Dossier was set in the 1950s. The series was well received, and Moore was pleased that an American audience was enjoying something he considered “perversely English”, and that it was inspiring some readers to get interested in Victorian literature. Moore has always undervalued his influence. His writing has represented for a great many years a bridge across which readers of otherwise unassociated literature could cross to others.

Kim Jong Il might have declared himself Priminister of Sweden that year or Arnold Schwarzennegger a governor of California because somehow the most reknowned English comic book writer had just started a company named America’s Best Comics.

His relationship with Jim Lee had seen him agree to create an imprint within Lee’s Wildstorm company shortly before it was sold to DC. Lee and Editor Scott Dunbier flew to England specifically to reassure Moore that the sale to DC Moore had experienced before his pilgrimage into independent comics would not affect him and would not have to deal with DC directly. Moore, had already begun lining up a series of artists and writers to assist him in the venture, decided that there were too many people involved to back out now – and America’s Best Comics were born to two English creatives and a story about uniquely English characters at the height of the British Empire.

Other than League, titles such as Tom Strong, Top 10 and Promethea – all writen by Moore – covered the gamut of Moore’s interests and fascinations, supported by some of the finest artists in the business. Tom Strong, drawn by Chris Sprouse, is a post-modern superhero series, inspired by characters predating DC’s Superman was reminiscent of Moore’s work on Supreme but according to Lance Parkin was ‘more subtle’ and ABC’s most accessible comic,’ while his unnatural, drug induced longevity allowed Moore to enjoy enjoying commentary on the history of comics and pulp fiction.

Top 10, a cop procedural comedy, in a fantasy city named Neopolis in which all have super powers, costumes and secret identities was drawn by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon , spawning four spin-offs (partially written by both Cannon and Ha); including two sequel mini-series, Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct, written by Paul Di Fillipo and drawn by industry legend Jerry Ordway.

Promethea allowed Moore to set the record straight, determined that his tale of a teenage girl, Sophie Bangs, who is possessed by an ancient pagan goddess, the titular Promethea, would not portray it’s central world of occultism ‘as a dark, scary place’ as that was not his experience of it. Drawn by the monumentally talented J.H.Williams, it has been described as ‘a personal statement’ from Moore, being one of his most personal works, and that it encompasses “a belief system, a personal cosmology.”

However, perhaps inevitably, despite the assurances that DC Comics would not interfere with Moore and his work, they subsequently did so, angering him. In League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5, an authentic vintage advertisement for a “Marvel”-brand douche caused DC executive Paul Levitz to order the entire print run destroyed and reprinted with the advertisement amended to “Amaze”, to avoid friction with DC’s competitor Marvel Comics. A Cobweb story Moore wrote for Tomorrow Stories No. 8 (part of an Anthology featuring further characters Cobweb, First American, Grey Shirt,Jack B. Quick and Splash Brannigan) featuring references to L. Ron Hubbard, American occultist Jack Parsons, and the “Babalon Working”, was blocked by DC Comics due to the subject matter. Ironically, it was later revealed that they had already published a version of the same event in their Paradox Press volume The Big Book of Conspiracies.

DC had once again interfered in his work and Moore and with his runs on ABC titles coming to an end, he decided once again to step out of the industry, remarking to Bill Baker in 2005 “I love the comics medium. I pretty much detest the comics industry. Give it another 15 months, I’ll probably be pulling out of mainstream, commercial comics.”

Frank Quitely's portrait of Mr Alan Moore

A powerhouse and a much needed revolutionary and inspirational force was again lost to the mainstream. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen continues still now with Century, a three part saga, of which two are now available (one of which advertised in Fallen Heroes 1 which I was proud enough to be a part of).

In January 2011, the forth and final issue of Neonomicon was released by Avatar Press. Set in the H.P. Lovecraft universe it is, as it’s predecessor and prequel The Courtyard was, drawn by Jacen Burrows.

But in 2010, true to form, and after a lifetime of bucking the system and creating his own, he formed ‘the first 21st Century’s underground magazine’ titled Dodgem Logic, utilising Northampton based artists and authors, as well as original contributions from Moore.

Future projects are The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, written with Steve Moore and earmarked for release with Top Shelf in ‘the future.’ Otherwise, the easily recognisable cultural figure of Alan Moore can be found at numerous musical events, including a forthcoming appearance with guitarist Stephen O’ Malley confirmed for the ATP ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ music festival in London. Alternatively, he can be found bare chested in the Simpsons episode from 2007 ‘Husband’s and Knives’ which was aired on his 59th Birthday.

While you can apply many titles to Moore his reason for everyone being aware of him is because he is a writer. His recognisable appearance would have gained him nothing if not for the attractiveness of his words. Familiar sounds applied to unfamiliar environments, Moore’s is a voice that spits gravel but reaches the reader as blossom. Moore understood the potential of any medium to portray palpable ideas and failed to recognise the limitations artificially applied by so many other writers in the business. Where the most successful commercial writers rise and fall with the last big ‘event’ nowadays, Moore will outlast them. Moore’s writing was never based on sensationalism or the direction of a company – no matter how well intentioned. Moore’s stories are built on ideas and those last forever – no matter how they are received or sent out to the public.

Moore’s increased distancing from film adaptations of his work bely one very clear principle. His were personal projects, created with one or two others at a time. No recreation worth millions of dollars will ever compare to the thrill of reading a Moore penned panel on a Moore planned page. It was in the man, in the moment of creation that what has inspired and intoxicated so many with ideas over the years was formed. With every passing day the sentiment that placed it on the page chills, such is the immediacy and personality of a Moore script. Had it been written a day after you sense it would have been written differently, the idea formed slightly differently by an absorbed piece of prose or a remembered or realised politic. When you read a Moore panel it is the thought of a great man, crystallised and still. All you get from it is a momentary glance at the whirring cogs in the great atomic clockwork mind of Moore and even in that momentary encounter with it – there is enough wonder and intrigue to fuel 100,000 more books.

If you doubt this you only need to look at Moore’s run on the Green Lantern Corps series, short storiesdetailing a corps made up of thousands of disparate and incredible beings from a thousand different worlds. But one Green Lantern, created by Moore, doesn’t socialise. In a short story named ‘Mogo Doesn’t Socialise’, a hardened bounty hunter arrives on a partially forested planet looking for the mighty Green Lantern Mogo. In true Future Shock style, he wanders about the planet for years, determinedly hunting for his quarry, mapping the banded tree line as he goes. It’s not until his search is almost complete that he realises his mistake. The Green Lantern he is looking for is not on this planet. The Green Lantern in question is the planet. Moore is Mogo, a constant presence drifting in the dark, his influence felt among every member of his fraternity.


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Practitioners 22: Dave Gibbons Pt 1

Born 14 April 1949, Dave Gibbons has already made his way into the hallowed halls of historical figures associated with comic books. It is no exaggeration to say that Gibbon’s name could appear alongside great artists and writers like Ditko, Miller, Eisner and Kubert. But while Gibbons is associated with one of the greatest (certainly the most critically and commercially successful) series of all time – his is not a career that is shrouded with his name. Whereas Quitely, Romita Jr and Kubert can occassionally dwarf a project and become the defining feature of it – Dave Gibbons has achieved something much more noteworthy – the project he works on and not his name remains the talking point of projects he is associated with. Dave Gibbons is a prolific Practitioner with a style that puts content and communication of the story first and foremost and has allowed (in a way that no other artist has been able to facilitate) a series to transcend the medium and be considered a work of awarded literature. No other artist in the medium has achieved this and that is why Gibbons is one of the most noteworthy practitioners in the list – effectively for not being as deliberately noteworthy as some of his peers. For those who know, Gibbons is a legend and one of the foremost practitioners working today.

Gibbons broke into British comics by working on horror and action titles for British 2000AD publisher DC Thomson and IPC. With the inception of the quintessential British weekly comic publication, launched in 1977, Gibbons was in a position to contribute artwork from the very start on Prog 01. As a founding member of the title Gibbons went on to draw 24 installments of Harlem Heroes (written by Pat Mills and making up the original 2000AD ‘Thrill 5’ Line-up. It was a cross between kung fu films and the Harlem Globetrotters with the crazily violent Aeroball set in a desensitised 2050). Gibbons almost wasn’t the artist on the project, originally intended to be drawn by Carlos Trigo but for reasons unknown Gibbons appeared in the starting line up. From Prog 25, Massimo Belardinelli drew the remaining episodes of the first run and remained its regular artist for the strip’s reinvention as Inferno.

Mid-way through the comic’s first year Gibbon’s began illustrating Dan Dare, a project close to his heart as he had always been a fan of the original series, his own work inspired by Frank Hampson who had provided the visuals for DD in its earlier years. Gibbons was also inspired by Frank Bellamy, (the noteworthy) Don Lawrence and Ron Turner. whose ‘style evolved out of (his ) love for the MAD Magazine artists like Wally Wood and Will Elder.

Also working on Ro-busters, Gibbons became one of the msot prolific of 2000AD’s earliest creators, featuring in 108 of the magazine’s first 131 Progs (issues). He returned to 2000AD in the early eighties to create Rogue Trooper with writer Gerry Finley-Day, about a cloned battle-hardened soldier and his cybernetically enhanced equipment imbued with the personalities of his fellow soldiers, providing the fans with an acclaimed early run that saw it roll well beyond his tenure under many more artists.

It was around this time he formed a working relationship with Alan Moore, working most regularly with him on his Tharg’s Future Shocks feature.

On the roll into the ’80’s, Gibbons took on the position of lead artist on Doctor Who Magazine, undoubtedly another character that’s stood the test of time more than a little well. The Doctor Who Storybook 2007 features the name ‘Gibbons’ in a list of the greatest artists of all time.

One of the British comic book talents identified by Len Wein in 1982, Gibbons was hired to draw Green Lantern Corps backup stories within the pages of Green Lantern for DC, starting with a Green Lantern story in Green Lantern 162 (March 1983) with writer Todd Klein, as well as the concurrently released ‘Creeper’ two-part back-up story in Flash 318-319. By Green Lantern 172 (January 1984) Gibbons was on the lead feature with Len Wein while still illustrating the back-up features through to issue 181. Finishing his run in issue 186 (March 1985) he briefly returned however to pencil a back up feature ‘Mogo doesn’t socialize’ with Alan Moore in Issue 188. Gibbons would later return as writer on Green Lantern Corps back up stories and his association and partnership with Moore was about to go from strength to strength, leaving him responsible for one of the foremost works of comic book fiction ever created, and by that I don’t mean ‘The Man Who has Everything,’ written in the 1985 Superman Annual by Moore and pencilled by Gibbons and collected in Moore’s greatest works for DC reprint a few years ago.

Gibbon’s clear, unrestricted and unfussy style saw him produce work for both DC’s Who Who in the DC Universe Guidebook and Marvel’s The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition. He contributed to Harrier Comic’s Brickman 1 with Kevin O’Neill, Lew Stringer and others. He provided covers for Peter David’s and Joe Orlando’s four-issue The Phantom mini-series and inked Kevin Macguire’s work on the landmark Action Comics 600 and created the cover for issue 601.

The Comedian, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl : Three characters designed by Dave Gibbons

But in September 1986-October 1987 Gibbon’s joined with Alan Moore and colourist John Higgins and rendered the blood-stained smiley badge firmly in the minds of every comic reader for 25 years. Now one of the best-selling graphic novel’s of all time and the only graphic novel to feature on Time’s ‘Top 100 Novel’s List’ Gibbon’s artwork is notable for its stark utilisation of the formulaic nine-panel grid layout, removing opportunities to embellish or emphasise through scaling or composition – forcing him to rely entirely on his capacity to communicate the effect of each panel within the fixed panel shape and size itself. To have pursued this course and succeeded in the way he did, puts Gibbons in the at the table with some of the top comic book artists of all time as he put away certain stylistic tricks and still rendered a piece of graphic literature that knocked popular novels from a highly sought after list. Its dense symbolism (some suggested by Moore, some by Gibbons) is carried throughout the piece as the conflicting and complex characteristics of the central heroes is cast against a kaleidoscope of recognisable, realistic and perfectly realised environments. Watchmen in the hands of Gibbon’s is a contained beast, twice as savage with its muzzle on. The psychotic Rorschach better realised with Gibbon’s sure, naturalistic style forming a Human around a monster wherein another artist may have depicted a much more emotional and overt depiction of the same character. Gibbons and Moore’s choice to draw Dr Manhattan full frontal nude is never gratuitous and is so innate a part of the character thanks to the clear, anatomically minded style of Gibbons that the feature film 2 years ago featured the same thing – so much an ingrained visualisation of a man’s isolation from his own society that it would have altered the character immeasurably to have simply given him pants.

In the Watchmen, alongside Moore, Gibbons created a timeless piece of literary history. He succeeded in depicting a disparate group of Supermen so flawlessly that Moore’s words can almost be redundant. The characters so well realised that you understand the innate characteristics they represent. Although originally intended to be the characters bought by DC from Charlton comics, the characters that were adapted from them (due to obvious concern that having bought them Moore would kill two and remove one from Human kind completely within 12 months) are familiar archetypes without ever being cliched. From the pug faced Comedian, scarred through years of hard living to Moloch, the curve eared ex-supervillain suffering from cancer, Gibbon’s gave them enough humanity to communicate all the frailties and complexities of Human beings without even once diminishing their inherent heroism.

The unmasked Rorschach – a pathetic, ungainly and slightly ugly figure when revealed from under his cowl is trapped in a cell being threatened by a criminal boss and his goons directly outside. By the end of the sequence all of the characters (save Rorschach) are dead in grotesque and memorable ways. All of this takes place in a space little larger than a toilet cubicle, in panels of 3x3x3 of equal size and largely using the same head on angle. It remains one of the most effecting and brutally challenging moments in modern comic books and its all thanks to Gibbon’s unswerving and meticulously precise style.

A giant space squid (or so it appears) destroys a city centre at the end of the Watchmen. Undoubtedly a moment that could have so easily been – and borders the absurd and tacky (and effectively the only detail of the film altered because of the difficulties in communicating it) and Gibbons communicates visually one of the most harrowing and frightening depictions of mass death to have appeared in any graphic novel with carefully rendered people piled high and strewn about the streets representing mega-death in its coldest aftermath.
Rorschach appears undisguised in early pages in crowd scenes and your eye never falls on him as he’s depicted as clearly and as obscurely as all others. But on a second glance, having been introduced to the character later on – all of what he is as Rorschach is present in the figure but entirely absent without the later revelation. Art on that level is masterful. Characterisation in remission, relying on something you will discover in order to validate it. That is Dave Gibbons the artist. Every panel retains as much information as the story needs you to know at that moment, and a thousand and one things you can acknowledge when your ready. Gibbon’s work doesn’t bait the eye – it waits for when the eye is ready for it. Few artists are more satisfying to revisit.

PART 2 ON THURSDAY. INCLUDING TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER, HIS INFLUENCE ON THE WATCHMEN FILM AND GREEN LANTERN : BLACKEST NIGHT