The Magic Words of Alan Moore

The Magic Words of Alan Moore

1. He's acclaimed

When aficionados list what they consider to be the most important, the best, or simply their favourite comics, whether their taste runs to crowd-pleasing adventure stories or more cerebral and personal work, there will almost inevitably be something by Alan Moore on that list.    

2. The iconic art

Alan Moore writes comics, he doesn’t draw them. He has collaborated with many of the best artists in the business, and reading his work makes for a tour of different art styles – the clean lines of Dave Gibbons on Watchmen or J.H. Williams on Promethea; the chiaroscuro of David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta; the scratchier work of Eddie Campbell on From Hell; art verging on Hogarthian caricature from Kevin O’Neill in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. David Lloyd's Guy Fawkes mask, from V from Vendetta, has become an enduring symbol of anti-establishment protest around the world.

3. The realistic take on superheroes

In 1982, Moore revolutionised the superhero genre with Marvelman, a ‘realistic’ take on the subject. He built on that with Watchmen and the Batman comic The Killing Joke. If you’ve seen any of the recent superhero TV series or movies, from Tim Burton’s Batman to The Incredibles, The Avengers or Man of Steel, you’ve seen echoes of his work. If you want superheroes, there’s no better writer to track down …

4. He spans genres

. … but if superheroes aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other things on the menu. Alan Moore has written horror (Swamp Thing, From Hell, Neonomicon), he’s written science fiction (Halo Jones, Skizz), he’s written a book about CIA conspiracies (Brought to Light) and books that defy genre altogether, such as Big Numbers and Unearthing.

5. His books are accessible

While Moore’s worked on running series such as Swamp Thing and Wildcats, most of his stories are self-contained ‘graphic novels’, and they are accessible to people without vast knowledge of the trivia of comic book history. Anyone can just pick up and read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which the heroes of Victorian fiction team up, or A Small Killing, where an advertising executive with a guilty secret returns to the terraced streets of his childhood.

6. His imaginative imagery

That’s not to say Moore can’t be challenging. A typical Moore story uses recurring images, symmetries, imaginative page layouts, elaborate wordplay. From Hell, a story about Jack the Ripper, is as labyrinthine as any prose novel. And Moore’s not afraid to court controversy – Lost Girls was an attempt to tell a pornographic story using characters from children’s literature: Alice, Peter Pan’s Wendy and Dorothy from the Oz books.  

7. Strong female protagonists

Moore's work often puts strong female characters to the forefront, especially in Lost Girls and The Ballad of Halo Jones, about a young woman escaping her mundane life to explore a vast universe.

8. He's funny

One thing that’s often overlooked: Moore’s work can be very funny. It’s often a very dark humour, but not always. He’s written out and out slapstick from time to time. Even his darkest stories are full of puns and ironies. For a look at the lighter side of Alan Moore, try DR & Quinch and his collected Future Shocks.

9. He's a rebel

Moore is no longer interested in writing for big publishing corporations. He's famously annoyed Hollywood wants to adapt his work. Nowadays he’s working on quirky personal projects – he’s on the verge of completing an immense prose novel, Jerusalem, that deals with local history and mysticism, and he’s written Unearthing, a poem about his best friend.

10. He's part of a great British tradition

Alan Moore is a prolific writer, and he’s a surprising one. As he’s got older, it’s become clearer and clearer that he’s not simply someone who writes ‘grim and gritty’ superhero stories – although the pace and visceral thrills of those remain the best showcase for the genre – he’s one of a lineage of British fantastists, eccentrics and activists. Alan Moore is in a unique position, and is using it to create unique work.

Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin is published by Aurum Press.

Photo: Courtesy of Alan Moore