Sunday, October 23, 2022

Sundar Long Read: Less Is Moore

Our Sunday Long Read this week is M.H. Miller's GQ interview with absolute comic industry legend Alan Moore, the genius behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and more, whose works elevated comics from mere four-color adventures to critical works on life and culture itself, his ur-heroes asking the questions about what humanity would do if given powers and abilities far beyond mortal men, and how superheroes are the most flawed of us all. 
Alan Moore, who is perhaps the greatest comic book writer to ever live, does not give many interviews. “No offense, but I am unused to publicizing my own work,” he told me from his home in Northampton, in England’s East Midlands, during one of two Zoom interviews in September, around the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s death. He was dressed, both times, in a red sweater, and occasionally dragged on an enormous rolled cigarette that smoked up the screen. Behind the couch he was sitting on were reproductions of the Enochian Tables, texts from a 16th century form of magic founded by the occultist John Dee. “Whereby,” Moore said, “he was convinced that he was capable of speaking to a range of entities that he had to describe as angels, because describing them as anything else would have probably got him burned.”

When Moore made his debut in the American comics industry in the early ’80s, taking over the little-read Swamp Thing for DC Comics, he instantly made the medium more literary and expressive, injecting it with postmodern techniques that offered a self-awareness and seriousness that previously didn’t exist in the realm of superheroes. Over the following years, he created some of the most enduring works to ever grace the comics form: Miracleman, which took an obscure British knock-off of DC’s Captain Marvel from the 1950s, and transposed him, convincingly, onto Thatcher’s England; Watchmen, a nightmarish parable that imagines how a group of masked vigilantes would actually function in the real world (not very well, it turns out); V for Vendetta, about London after a nuclear war has plunged the government into outright fascism, and the anarchist revolution that emerges as a result (a series that, among other things, popularized the Guy Fawkes mask as a contemporary symbol of dissent); From Hell, a meticulously researched account of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders; and the late-period masterpieces Neonomicon and Providence, which posit that the Cthulhu Mythos, the universe in which H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction was set, was not altogether fictional.

Moore will likely always be best remembered for these works, but he has since abandoned comics. Long before superhero stories became the bread and butter of Hollywood, studio executives were exploiting Moore’s writing. The 2001 film of From Hell, starring Johnny Depp, was especially derided, but Moore purists would argue all adaptations of his work—including the critically acclaimed, Emmy-winning Watchmen limited series from HBO, which diverges rather boldly from its source material—are at best reductive misinterpretations and at worst offensively awful. Not only has Moore had nothing to do with these adaptations—he famously hasn’t watched any of them. It’s no wonder, then, that Moore has been a tireless advocate for creators’ rights. After failing to maintain ownership of the characters and stories he created for mainstream comics publishers (predominantly DC) he’s disowned much of his most beloved material.

But he remains a prolific author. His 2016 novel Jerusalem, largely set in Northampton’s Boroughs neighborhood, where Moore was born and raised and where he’s spent the majority of his life, is over 1,200 pages of shifting perspectives, styles, and timeframes. It is both a kind of cosmic autobiography and, taking inspiration from William Burroughs, an attempt by Moore to write his way around death. A collection of stories, Illuminations, was released this month, and includes the novel-length “What We Can Know About Thunderman,” a vicious satire of the comics industry, dedicated to Kevin O’Neill, Moore’s collaborator on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, another classic comic with a disastrous adaptation (Sean Connery, its star, never acted in a feature film again).

The times Moore has talked to the press, he has been outspoken, railing against the absurdities of superhero fandom and the rapaciousness of the comics industry. “When I first protested having my intellectual properties stolen,” Moore says, “the reaction from a lot of the fans was, ‘He’s a crazy, angry guy.’ He’s just inexplicably angry about absolutely everything. He wakes up in the morning, angry with his pillow. He eats his breakfast cereal while being angry with it. He’s angry about everything, so, therefore, nothing that he seems to be upset about is of any consequence. This is just an angry person. Alan Moore says, ‘Get off my lawn.’”
And that's really the point. More than anyone else on Earth, Alan Moore hates superheroes and breaks them down into their component foibles, follies and all too human failures. Heroes have been a cautionary tale to him, tales worth reading if only to armor ourselves against the world we live in now.
I enjoyed this one immensely.


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