Lately, I’ve been devouring fiction. Where for a long time in these parts, I moaned about my woeful sublight pace of reading (in fact, very, very slow) this year I kicked off a new reading paradigm informed by author, Joe Hill. Pick 10 books. Read them in that order. Marry yourself to the list. Every time you clear one, add a new one behind it to the bottom of the list. Since January 1, my reading habits have turned around to such a point that really all I want to do these days is a crack a book and put my feet up. Add to that that I’m slated to be on Casey Criswell’s podcast, ‘Dad and His Weird Friends‘ to talk about Warren Ellis’ crazy-ass novella, ‘Crooked Little Vein’, I’ve finally put my own inferiority complex aside and began writing the novel I’ve had kicking around in my head since The Sword released ‘Age of Winters’ and I’ve been driving the folks at Book Riot fucking insane with pleas to be a contributor to their upcoming project, Start Here, a manual for folks interested in reading an author that they’ve always wanted to get into but having no idea where to start. I sent them a long-winded credit dump illustrating why they want me in their book but when it came to offering expertise in a particular author, all I could do was say that I was sweet on Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Now they have a contest to grab contributors and raise the profile of their Kickstarter campaign and once again, I am making it known that I really want to be a part of this with this: my official entry on the work of my favorite comic writer of all time, Alan Moore. So here it is folks. Brace yourselves. I’m entering Book Riot’s START HERE Write-In Giveaway!
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Until the 1980’s, the comic book was a medium that couldn’t grow up. It began as something that kids read much to the dismay of their parents and then, through the years, remained much as it had since its inception: Goofy dudes running around in tights, fighting colorful villains in equally garish tights. Just add sidekick. Many factors in The United States came along to chain comics down as a juvenile medium, namely The Comic’s Code Authority, but Europe didn’t have this problem. As American comic book publishers gently pushed boundaries, European publishers had a regular schedule of gritty adult books and this liberal creative license in the UK allowed a man like Alan Moore to come up in the framework of the American superhero comic, while injecting it with his own form of mature and sophisticated storytelling that The US had never seen before. Moore’s entry into the pantheon of DC Comics brought with it a sea change in the way comics were both written and read. Moore has an entire galaxy of challenging and exciting work out there but if you really want to dive in, you’re probably going to want to put books like Promethea and The Lost Girls aside until you’ve found your true Alan Moore gateway drug.
Saga of the Swamp Thing
With his introduction to Swamp Thing, Moore was given free editorial rein to do whatever it is he wanted to do with the character. He grabbed this opportunity by the throat and ran wild with it, retconning the entire Swamp Thing canon. He took a corny horror comic and turned it into one of the most sophisticated literary horror comics to hit the presses. Its ripples can still be felt today and Moore’s work on the book from start to finish set the tone for further writers to take up the comic. Moore’s work, collected in trade paperbacks and a series of beautiful hardcovers, turns the book into a series of ironic horror shorts in the style of EC and Warren horror comics and bakes them into an ongoing narrative of spirituality, environmentalism and romance (no, really). The series peaks with the introduction of John Constantine, The Hellblazer, as he guides Swamp Thing through a series of paranormal encounters with ghosts, vampires and werewolves, culminating in an epic confrontation in Hell, the resolution being one of the most moving and amazing moments in the entire body of Alan Moore’s work.
V For Vendetta
Started in the British anthology comic, Warrior, V For Vendetta remained unfinished until the late 80’s when Moore had proven himself many times over as one of the most innovative writers in comics at the time. DC, his then-regular publisher colored the book and re-published the entire run, allowing Moore, after many years, to finally finish the story. V For Vendetta is set in a post-nuclear Great Britain where the vacuum of power allowed a fascist regime to take hold in England, placing the entire surviving population under its thumb and creating a corrupt ruling class. However, a nigh-unstoppable force rises to fight the fascists in the form of the ghost of their medical-experimentation past as a concentration camp escapee in a cape and Guy Fawkes mask assassinates key government officials and bombs government buildings with reckless abandon. Moore’s writing in this book is some his strongest and the setting is a reflection of his feelings about Margaret Thatcher’s England in the 80’s. It is impossible to read this and not find yourself in the shoes of V’s protege, Evey.
If you’re going to introduce someone to Alan Moore, Watchmen is a foregone conclusion. If the man were to be known for one book and one book only, it would be this one. In Watchmen, Moore pitches a story that deconstructs the entire notion of the superhero comic book and turns the medium on its ear as the line between hero and villain is blurred so significantly that you couldn’t even see it anymore. The result is a disturbing exploration of a real world where costumed crime fighters exist and how their status as vigilantes isolate them from the rest of us. It takes the typical model of the super hero as Greek god and brings them back down to Earth to become something more horribly recognizable and deeply flawed. In Watchmen, the world is approaching the brink of nuclear annihilation. Costumed heroes put the capes back on after a long absence to find the killer of one of their own and wind up uncovering a terrifying conspiracy with dire consequences. So impressive in scope is Watchmen that it would go on to become recognized as one of the most important comics of all time.
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