Alan Moore is retiring from comics. Well, not quite, he’s said he’s got ‘’about 250 pages of comics left in me’’ but also ‘’After that, although I may do the odd little comics piece at some point in the future, I am pretty much done with comics’’. Of course it’s easier to say he’s ‘retired’ in a headline, and of course, he’s ‘quit’ comics before, but this time it does look as if he’s concentrating more on the writing, performing and film work that’s been taking up more and more of his creative time over the last decade. This is as good a point to pay a tribute to him this side of the grave, which I hope is some time off still.
First of all it’s worth stating how important Moore is as a creator for the medium of comics as a whole. Moore broke the mould for what a comic book writer should be, though it is worth mentioning his early superhero work in Captain Britain, and even early episodes of Marvelman owe a debt to American writers like Don McGregor and Steve Gerber, though it was also clear way back in the early 1980’s that he was a special talent though nobody had a clue just how talented Moore actually was and how far he’d actually go.
Born, raised and still living in Northampton, Moore’s career took off when Alan Grant spotted his talent when Moore submitted a script to 2000AD in the late 70’s. Though Moore had been working for local papers as well as Sounds, one of the UK’s music weekly papers, it was through his work on 2000AD and at Marvel UK that sparked off his career for real as Moore turned his hand to a variety of short stories (Future Shocks) for 2000AD and most notably, Captain Britain for Marvel UK. Moore showed not just his ability to be prolific but to turn out diverse material of high quality as he flipped from the superhero genre to 2000AD’s classic strips like the comedic D. R and Quinch and the Ballad of Halo Jones.
It was though with Dez Skinn’s (who Moore had worked for at Marvel UK) Warrior that Moore erupted creatively. Bringing back 1950’s British superhero Marvelman in what was the first major post-modernist reconstruction of the superhero, something that would in future decades become tiresomely clichéd, but in 1982 was new and fresh. Moore’s other strip in Warrior was V for Vendetta with artist David Lloyd. It’s this strip where Moore shakes off the influences of American superhero comics and begins to absorb a more European style thanks partly to the influence of Lloyd. These two strips caught the eye of DC Comics editor Len Wein who lured Moore over the Atlantic to work on Swamp Thing, a character who enjoyed a classic run (by Wein and artist Berni Wrightson) in the 1970’s but whose current title was struggling to the point of near cancellation.
Talent had crossed the Atlantic before, Barry Smith famously did so in the 1970’s to work on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian title, while Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons were working for DC before Moore arrived, but Moore was the first writer from the UK to break, or to be more exact, he opened the floodgates for UK creators to invade DC for the rest of the 1980’s and well into the new millennium as his run on Swamp Thing proved a critical and commercial hit.
In the meantime Moore had quit 2000AD due to issues with creative ownership, an issue Moore would reluctantly champion in subsequent decades, while his relationship with Dez Skinn at Warrior had broken down as had his relationship with Marvelman artist Alan Davis over planned American reprints of their Captain Britain work as well as credits for Marvelman. Warrior ended up dying a horrible death in 1985 with strips left unfinished however Skinn had already attempted to have work reprinted in the US with Pacific Comics, but that deal fell through and Marvelman’s new home was at Eclipse Comics where he was renamed Miracleman to avoid Marvel Comics suing everyone.
Back at DC Moore was producing astonishing work on Swamp Thing, as well as DC icons like Superman and Batman, not to mention something called Watchmen with artist Dave Gibbons which upon it’s release in 1986 ended up changing not just the American superhero comic, but the industry as a whole. Up til then trade paperback collections were a rarity, and when they were released were often not kept in print. Watchmen changed that as when the collected edition was released in 1987 the concept of it still being in print in 2016 never crossed anyone’s mind, let alone it still being one of the best selling comics every year. It was the contract of Watchmen that damaged Moore’s relationship with DC, with DC’s proposed ratings system providing the proverbial straw which broke the back of their relationship. Moore stayed to complete V for Vendetta which had found a home at DC, and left them with a body of work they exploit today with diminishing returns. See the animated version of Moore and Bolland’s Batman story, The Killing Joke, or Before Watchmen, a creative midden which left pus-filled scars on those that worked on it.
By the early 1990’s Moore had moved away from the mainstream industry. An abortive attempt at self-publishing with 1990’s ambitious Big Numbers saw only two issues published, while he also had work published in Steve Bissette’s horror anthology title Taboo. That work was Lost Girls with future wife Melinda Gebbie, and From Hell with artist Eddie Campbell. Both would take years to complete after Taboo ended and both were controversial for the former’s sex scenes and latter’s sex, as well as it’s extreme violence as the story centred round the Jack the Ripper murders. From Hell though is as far as I’m concerned Moore’s finest work.
The mainstream American comics industry pulled Moore back in for mainly financial reasons as Image Comics hired him to create 1963, a pastiche of 1960’s Marvel Comics as well as working upon characters like the hugely popular Spawn. Much of this work is solid but looking at things like say, the Violator series spun off from Spawn one can’t help but think Moore’s heart isn’t exactly in it though by the end of the 1990’s Moore had set up shop at Jim Lee’s company Wildstorm where Moore set up his America’s Best Comics line. This was an attempt to diverge away from the ‘grim and gritty’ superhero comics which had infected the industry in the wake of Watchmen. Titles like the pulpy Tom Strong or the cop drama Top 10, added new spins on familiar concepts and situations though it was his and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which proved ABC’s big hit though I find his most interesting work at this time to be Prometha, a series dripping with the magical concepts and ideas of which Moore had made part of his life since proclaiming himself a magician in the early 90’s.
Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, which caused Moore some consternation as this effectively put Moore under DC’s umbrella again without him wanting to be there. This ended up with Moore making it very clear that he was done with American mainstream comics due to DC’s meddling and censorship so Moore embarked on a new phase of his career, one many fans ignore or are unaware of as it on the whole doesn’t involve comics. Working with Mitch Jenkins, Moore started making short films such as His Heavy Heart, as well as developing as a live performer and local activist protesting the UK governments austerity policy. He’s also worked with comedians such as Stewart Lee and Josie Long, and this autumn is due to appear with Barney Farmer, writer of Viz Comic’s The Drunken Bakers, a strip Moore has called his favourite comic.
Moore today is still producing comics. He’s been producing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics with Kev O’Neill for Knockabout, while for Avatar he’s produced a series of variable horror comics such as Crossed +100 and Providence, a work based on the life and work of H.P Lovecraft which once complete (as I write this there’s still two issues to go) could well be one of his best, not to mention, important works. It is however his second novel Jerusalem which promises much having spent much of the last decade or so working on it. A vast work set in his native Northampton spanning millennia shows that as Moore moves further into his seventh decade that his ambition and creative drive isn’t stopping. It’s just that creative drive isn’t being focused upon comics.
Comics as an industry and medium owe Alan Moore much. He transformed a genre (the superhero) which was moribund, he kickstarted the modern horror comic, he showed a more literary style with his inspirations coming not just from comics giants like Jack Kirby, but from the world of books. He injected an intellectual weight into comics rarely seen previously, and most importantly his works brought new readers, as well as new creators into the medium to enjoy his, and others, work as contrary to some fans belief, he’s not a ‘grumpy old man’. He’s spoken warmly of comics being produced today like The Wicked and the Divine and of individual creators but it suits some to dismiss Moore. It’s hard to dismiss someone who has now become part of our culture.
So if Moore is to eventually stop doing comics he leaves a legacy like few others as he stands with people like Jack Kirby or Will Eisner in terms of how he’s changed, shaped and influenced a medium. There’s nobody like Moore working at Marvel or DC at the moment, though looking at what Image Comics are doing now in terms of creative new comics and creative ownership it isn’t hard to see Moore’s effect upon the industry. Good luck to Moore in his future work, but as much as I enjoy his other work I hope sometime in the future he has that idea to do more comics.