• ©
  • Mitch Jenkins

Alan Moore

Born:
  • Northampton UK

Biography

Born on November 18, 1953 in a working class area of Northampton, England, the son of a brewery worker and a printer.
Moore began publishing his poetry and essays in various fanzines during the late 1960s and eventually set up his own fanzine named Embryo. During the 1970s, Moore became a cartoonist, and his work began appearing in Sounds and NME under the pseudonym Curt Vile, Jill De Ray, and Translucia Baboon. He moved on to contribute to Doctor Who Weekly and 2000 AD and begun creating several popular series such as The Ballad of Halo Jones and D.R. & Quinch.

Gaining wider recognition as contributor to the British anthology magazine, Warrior, Moore began his most important early series, Miracleman and V for Vendetta, and was awarded the British Eagle for Best Comics Writer awards for both these works in 1982 and 1983.

His first American series was Saga of the Swamp Thing. His 1986 work, Watchmen is his masterpiece, and helped redefine the comic book medium, changing the tone of comics to date. Many readers and critics consider Watchmen to be the best comic ever produced.

By the end of the 1980s, Moore was publishing his own graphic novels while also contributing to Batman and Superman stories. Also towards the late 1980s, Moore set up his own publishing imprint called Mad Love Publishing.

During the 1990s, Moore produced another imprint called America’s Best Comics and series including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, Tomorrow Stories and Top Ten.

Often against his wishes and without his blessing, his books have provided the basis for a number of Hollywood films, including From Hell (2001), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), V for Vendetta (2005), and Watchmen (2009).

In honour of his 60th birthday in 2013, the comic app Sequential released a free Alan Moore updated comic biography.

 

Critical perspective

One of the transformative figures in the history of graphic novel art, Alan Moore has somehow achieved global acclaim whilst remaining an underappreciated enigma, his works aptly described as “a peculiarly unsung triumph of British culture” (Telegraph, 2007)

Through seminal series such as the V for Vendetta (1982-1989) and Watchmen (1986-87), Moore has radically extended the boundaries of comics during a three-decade career. His works helped make a previously underappreciated form acceptable, catalyzed contemporary recognition of its literary potential, and assembled a diverse audience that unites mainstream and countercultural readerships. He did so through books and artworks that are instantly recognizable for their allusive, multilayered sophistication, their anarchist politics, and for the wit and humanity with which they overturn conventional genres. The New York Times in 2006 hailed him as “a darkly philosophical voice in the medium of comic books”. As the Chicago Tribune put it in 2009, his body of work “almost single-handedly reinvented the comic book, transforming its language, broadening its scope and deepening its intellect.”

Famously eccentric, prolific and willfully unpredictable, his career is also riven with fascinating contradictions. As a result, the comparison that Slate made in 2003 has seemed to many a natural one: “Moore is comics' Orson Welles: a genius formalist with a natural collaborative impulse and a habit of taking on overambitious projects. His work is alternately groundbreaking and painfully lazy; he often coasts on his cleverness for a quick paycheck.” (Slate, 2003)

A fundamental first step in appreciating Moore is to dispense with the term ‘graphic novel’. Since the beginning of his career, he has distanced himself from a label that he dismisses as a “pompous phrase thought up by some idiot in the marketing department of DC [Comics]. I prefer to call them Big Expensive Comics.” (Telegraph 2007). This gets to the heart of the iconoclastic middle path Moore aims to chart in his works. As Bernice Murphy of Trinity College Dublin puts it, Moore is “basically a mainstream reformer: He's made an explicit decision to work in genre comics but to try to do something broadly entertaining with a lot of craft.” (www.litencyc.com)

Second, it is important to recognize that, though his career has rested on a series of collaborations with a disparate group of artists, Moore is best seen as an auteur. His forensically- detailed scripts play to the strengths of his various collaborators but are always essentially the product of Moore’s literary and visual imagination. Certain of the characteristic methods, such as the customary flourish whereby the action will pause and readers are subjected to jumpcuts into a character’s backstory, or into the text that the characters are reading, are conceptual and visual motifs with precise origins in Moore’s scripts.

Moore’s career can often seem sprawling and diffuse. What follows here focuses on the critical reputation of just three of his paradigmatic achievements – V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and From Hell - and the intriguing late work Lost Girls, a quartet of works that demonstrate the range of his achievement.

V for Vendetta

 

After an apprenticeship as contributor to the British sci-fi comic 2000AD, Moore teamed up with artist David Lloyd to produce his first masterpiece, the post-apocalyptic V for Vendetta in 1982. It began as a serialisation in the UK magazine Warrior, between 1982-85, but despite its immediate popularity, Moore and Lloyd were forced to take a hiatus on the story when the Warrior closed. It was later revived under the auspice of DC Comics in 1988 and then published in its entirety in 1988-89, with new colours by Siobhan Dodds.

The work offered an imaginative twist on well-word dystopian tropes.  Following a devastating global nuclear conflict that has caused widespread ecological havoc and social unrest, the United Kingdom of the 1990s is run by a fascist party called Norsefire as a police state, exterminating its opponents in concentration camps. An enigmatic masked revolutionary "V" and his young female protégé Evey are working to destroy this totalitarian regime by attacking the symbols of the state (such as Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament) in flamboyant acts of terror and by encouraging its citizens through the regime’s own mass media to seize their own freedom.

Moore and Lloyd created a powerful morality tale about personal and political freedom, asking what role might be left for the hero and for ideals of personal responsibility in desperate times. It casts a bleak perspective on Thatcherite Britain, as it projects the course of British history a decade ahead from the 1980s and posits a totalitarian regime. To some, this millenarian political agenda has helped date the series in unfortunate ways. The 2006 film adaptation caused the New Yorker to rolls its eyes at the period piece represented by “the British left’s disgust with Thatcher’s policies” and various barely recallable “imaginary menaces culled from antic British tabloids.” (New Yorker, 2006)

In other ways, however, its iconography has proved particularly remarkably influential, not least in the form of the Guy Fawkes mask of the protagonist ‘V’. When anti-capitalist protestors around the world in the early 2010s, such as the Occupy Movement, adopted a strikingly similar costume, Moore saw it as entirely fitting: "I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction." (Guardian, 2011)

From another perspectives, some commentators argue that the series suffered from flawed execution. Bernice Murphy argues that, as a result of the interrupted composition of the entire narrative,  “the completed book feels unbalanced. It's two-thirds a gripping yarn, followed by a rushed, shrill third act.” Nonetheless, she maintains, “those first two-thirds were enough to prove that Moore had the vision to spin a complex, involving narrative.”

Watchmen

If Vendetta had announced the arrival of an accomplished and complicated talent, the major phase of Moore’s career began with the publication of the first of the Watchmen series in 1986. Illustrated by Dave Gibbons and coloured by John Higgins, Watchmen depicts an alternate history of the mid twentieth century, where superheroes emerged to help the United States to win the Vietnam War. With the nation teetering on the brink of apocalyptic confrontation with the UUSR, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most former superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the struggles of these superhero protagonists as their investigation into the murder of one of their own lures them out of retirement, and leads them to confront a plot that would stave off nuclear war by sacrificing the lives of millions.

Watchmen was Moore’s attempt to reinvent the superhero comic for a new and literate audience. The premise, Moore told an interviewer in 2005, was “kind of clever - I was going through one of my clever periods - probably emotional insecurity. I thought: people will laugh at me 'cos I'm doing superhero comics. I'd better make 'em really clever, then no one will laugh." (enginecomics.co.uk) Its solution was certainly self-consciously cerebral. Watchmen takes readers on a critical journey through the preceding decades of the superhero tradition, and by doing so rewrites superhero history completely, imagining costumed crusaders as pathetic and pathological fantasists. It also added new notes of authenticity and literary sophistication to graphic narrative, through supplemental fictional documents that added to the series' backstory, and the intertwined meta-textual sub-narrative relating to a fictional pirate read by one of the characters, titled Tales of the Black Freighter.

Many consider the work to be most important comic ever produced. The series ultimately redefined the terms on which the comic industry was understood, and established the new wave of darkly authentic adventure comics of the 1980s and 1990s featuring morally ambiguous characters in a realistic situations.

Moore’s masterwork is also a nuanced and thoughtful commentary on geopolitical anxieties. As the Chicago Tribune argue, this sometimes works against its longevity, since “the series remains very much of its time -- a Cold War superhero tale that resonates most strongly in its original medium, reminding us always of the history of the comic book and unmasking the form while simultaneously expanding it.” (2009). However, others saw Moore’s prophetic powers as ever increasing in wake of the new age of mediated terror and war, As the New York Times noted in 2005, “nearly 20 years after the original publication, Watchmen shows an eerie prescience: the symmetry between current events and the conclusion of its story, concerning a villain who believes he can stave off real war by distracting the populace with a trumped-up one, and an act of mass murder perpetrated in the heart of New York City, is almost too fearful to bear.”

From Hell

The third of his most famous creations, the Jack the Ripper epic From Hell serialized between 1986-1996. The work was densely researched and immersed in both the rich tradition of psychogeographic writings about the Victorian London, and steeped in theories about the Ripper case. Moore’s approach to the events it depicts is contentious. From Hell adapts the elaborate and imaginative theory popularised by Stephen Knight, that the murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. Moore wrote in the appendix to the series of his scepticism about such theories, and admits to some imaginative play with sources.

By doing so, Moore framed the comic less as a conventional whodunit than as a fictional attempt to capture the social and cultural ferment of fin de siècle London. In attempting to capture this world, he collaborated with the Australia-based artist Eddie Campbell, who rendered the Victorian metropolis of steeples and back-alleys in vivid black and white detail. This visual distinctiveness was to provide Moore with one of his most straightforward transitions to the cinema screen, in the highly stylized 2001 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham.

In some ways, it was a more muted and less extravagant topic for comics than the well-trodden paths of his previous masterpieces. But some saw this as a natural thematic step for writer who had already expressed his admiration for Blake. Moore’s work is now grouped alongside the similarly dense and self-mythologising works of contemporary writers Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, whose  psychogeographic and historically literate milieu From Hell brings to life in remarkably vivid and complementary ways.

However, some have also seen the series as Moore’s most potent political allegory. Slate saw it as a searing and “brutal autopsy of Victorian England and the nature of misogyny.” (2003). Fellow British comic supremo Neil Gaiman has argued that Moore's "dissection of Victorian culture from highest to lowest through the medium of Jack the Ripper", was much more political than even the more straightforwardly outspoken Vendetta, since Moore was " taking apart how things worked, what was wrong, and what needed to change." (Guardian, 2013)

Lost Girls

One final work crucial to an understanding of Moore’s career is Lost Girls (2008), on which he collaborated with his second wife, San Francisco artist Melinda Gebbie. Sixteen years in the making, this three-volume work imagines the sexually explicit adventures of three archetypal characters of late 19th and early 20th century fiction: Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz and Wendy Darling from Peter Pan. In 1913, the characters meet as adults, and compare their stories of erotic adventure. The result was a work that reflected in provocative ways upon the nature of sexual desire, pornography and the limits of feminist expression in Victorian  fiction.

Perhaps inevitably, it was to prove his most controversial work to date, tackling a delicate new range of themes and concerns. The playfully pornographic nature of its contents saw Moore stretch out to new tonal registers while retaining his conceptual, allusive sophistication. As Neil Gaiman wrote of the book, “As an exercise in the formal bounds of pure comics, Lost Girls is remarkable, as good as anything Moore has done in his career … In addition to being a master-class in comics technique, Lost Girls is also an education in Edwardian Smut – Gebbie and Moore pastiche the pornography of the period, taking in everything from The Oyster to the Venus and Tannhauser period work of Aubrey Beardsley.” (neilgaiman.com, 2006)

Some reviewers saw beyond this seemingly provocative subject matter to the real intent of the work. “Ironically, like so many works of literature that provoke indignation,” the Guardian observed, “Lost Girls is a deeply moral work, both serious and sincere. Moore and Gebbie, appalled by the forensic soullessness of modern porn, are on a mission to reconcile fine art, philosophical depth, strong characterisation and hardcore thrills.” Despite the book’s “sometimes over-explicit philosophising, is ultimately a humane and seductive defence of the inviolable right to dream.” (Guardian, 2006)

Moore now sits comfortably as the grand elder statesmen of the genre that he has helped to revolutionise. In 2013, his fame rests in part on his status as sage for of the revival of global anarchist movements. Of the anarchist themes in his works, and his own anarchist views, he stated in a 2009 interview that:

I believe that all other political states are in fact variations or outgrowths of a basic state of anarchy; after all, when you mention the idea of anarchy to most people they will tell you what a bad idea it is because the biggest gang would just take over. Which is pretty much how I see contemporary society. We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation – that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice.

But it is impossible to reduce his works to one political theme, or one stylistic or thematic impulse. As Moore himself has said, reality itself is best seen as sui generis: “a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography, if you're lucky.” It is this willingness to mix modes, to take risks and to swerve from one thematic and stylistic register to another, that has marked Moore out as one of the indispensible pioneers of the modern comic and graphic.  As his career continues, and his reputation as a fearless eccentric on the margins of the cultural mainstream is clearly a public image that Moore likes to cultivate.

As Slate observed in 2003, “the question of whether he's a fountain of imagination or just bats has never arisen: He's both, and his ability to see familiar ideas from an alien perspective is one of his best tricks.” (Slate, 2003). From this cauldron of imagination and alien perspective have continued to flow some of the most striking creations in the modern British literary tradition.

Bibliography

Fashion Beast
Neonomicon
The Courtyard
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Top 10
Tom Strong
Promethea
Lost Girls
A Small Killing
From Hell
Batman: The Killing Joke
Watchmen
Swamp Thing
Marvelman / Miracleman
V for Vendetta

Awards

2008
Max & Moritz Prize
2006
Eisner Award
2005
Time Magazine 'All Time 100 Novels' List
2004
Eisner Award
2003
Harvey Award
2002
British National Comics Award
2001
British National Comics Award
2001
Eisner Award
2001
Harvey Award
2001
Prix de la critique
2000
Bram Stoker
2000
Eisner Award
2000
Harvey Award
1999
Harvey Award
1997
Eisner Award
1996
Eisner Award
1996
Harvey Award
1995
Eisner Award
1995
Harvey Award
1995
International Horror Guilds Award
1992
Urhunden Prize
1989
Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize
1989
Eisner Award
1988
Eisner Award
1988
Harvey Award
1988
Haxtur Awards
1988
Hugo Prize
1988
World Fantasy Award
1987
Jack Kirby Award
1986
Jack Kirby Award
1985
Jack Kirby Award
1983
British Eagle for Best Comics Writer
1982
British Eagle for Best Comics Writer