Magic Words, Lance Parkin

The ephemeral nature of comics (and frankly, it’s not just comics—all art has started as ephemeral, and it’s only after it becomes established that certain items and creators become acknowledged as influential and the form emerges into something that is worthy of being talked about, be it painting, novels, popular music, blogging…but I digress), printed on the worst quality paper featuring stock characters with repetitive plots, meant that most readers could care less who made up the creative team. As a reader for most of my childhood, I never paid attention to the writer and my opinion of the artist was just to note whom I thought could actually draw people (to the extent that I had a hard time getting used to the style of two acclaimed artists, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby). I knew who Stan Lee was, but that was more for Stan’s Soapbox than for a writing credit.

The first writer who made an impression on me, such that I started looking for comics based on the writer rather than the characters, was Steve Gerber. I adored Howard the Duck and The Defenders in the mid-1970s, and I quickly realized who Gerber was. Part of that may have been due to how he injected himself into the comic—but that was the point, right? Up until then, the author to me had been someone behind the scenes and when Gerber broke the fourth wall (the tenth panel?), you had to finally acknowledge the manipulator behind it all. While I still collected some comics based on characters after Gerber (and by saying characters, what I really mean is “runs,” as the collector in me wanted to get complete sets, etc.), my focus began to change to focus on writers (and, again, this likely corresponded with my non-graphic reading change from books that had magic/fantasy in them to books by the same author).

Alan Moore emerged to my reading consciousness through a chance purchase of Swamp Thing. I’m not sure what prompted the initial buy, because it wasn’t a character that I collected, it came from DC and I was pretty much a Marvel fan, and the art (from Rick Veitch) was more grotesque than I usually cared for. Perhaps it was a recommendation by a store owner. But as soon as I read Moore, I knew that I wanted to read more. And for over three decades, I’ve done so, being more than willing to read whatever he wanted to write, enjoying the diversity that is Batman: The Killing Joke, Watchmen, Maxwell the Magic Cat, From Hell, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Top Ten. And, while I knew some of the stories behind these stories, it was mostly hearsay, as by the 1990s, my focus on comics had waned as I concentrated on prose.

This biography of Moore fills in the in-between information, explaining how and why that incredible diversity happened, including Moore’s shift from Marvel and DC characters to the creation of America’s Best Comics and Lost Girls. What really comes through is Moore’s strong ethical and moral sense, to the detriment of his business savvy, such that once he feels he’s been wronged, he decides to cut all relationships from that point forward. It’s not that Neil Gaiman, to use a contemporary example, has less morals, but Gaiman has proven to be as successful a businessman as he is a creator, or at least smarter and less trusting of others to honor agreements unless they are written in contracts.

I don’t fully understand Moore; his background and beliefs do not coincide with my upbringing or experience. But I do find him, and his work, endlessly interesting and fascinating. I sometimes wonder if his “worship” of this pagan god of his own creation is tongue-in-cheek, perhaps like Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminati, wherein the reality of it is entirely subjective.

I’m not sure how much someone who hasn’t read a majority of Moore’s work will get from this biography, as it constantly references that work, especially The Killing Joke, Watchmen, From Hell, and Lost Girls. But if you’re a fan, this is a fascinating expose and exploration of a modern creator who has made an indelible mark on the field and did it in his way.

[Finished 10 January 2019]

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First Impressions by Glen Engel-Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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