Last Friday marked an end of an era in the comic book world. Legendary graphic novel writer Alan Moore announced his retirement. The 62-year-old award-winning British author has been writing comics for almost 40 years and his absence will surely create a vacuum.
The first graphic novel I ever read was Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” while I was in either fifth or sixth grade. The first Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, it depicted Spiegelman’s father during World War II with Jews characterized as mice and Nazis as cats. It was the first time I realized that there were comics about things besides Superman and Spider-Man.
A few years later I would pick up Moore’s “Watchmen” in a bookstore. Set in an alternate 1980s where the U.S. won the Vietnam War and Nixon is still president, the groundbreaking tale deconstructed the classic superhero.
I don’t remember how long exactly it took me to blaze through it, but I do remember only putting it down to eat and sleep. As soon as I finished I started reading it all over again. The black-and-white Rorschach, the emotionally distant Dr. Manhattan and the pragmatic Nite Owl were characters unlike any other I encountered in all mediums at the time.
The nonlinear narrative, story within a story, gritty postmodern themes and unique nine-panel structure made “Watchmen,” affect not only me but the entire comic book industry. In college I would see it assigned to freshmen English majors for a contemporary fiction class.
I read “V for Vendetta” before I saw it in theaters. By then I was familiar with Moore’s master over the craft and didn’t want the film to spoil my enjoyment of the comic. The titular anarchist V, wearing the Guy Fawkes mask that has since been co-opted by people in real life, attempts to overthrow the fascist government in a dystopian version of the 1990s. Tackling Margaret Thatcher’s conservative politics and the concept of identity, “V for Vendetta” is Moore’s own ideological manifesto.
If you decide to pick this up because of the film don’t let the 2006 Wachowski blockbuster fool you; there are about two panels of action and many more pages of heady philosophical dialogue.
With Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy revitalizing the caped crusader, I went on a spending spree to acquire Wayne’s more iconic and influential appearances. In my shopping cart among Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” and “The Dark Knight Returns” was “The Killing Joke” by Moore.
The comic is known for popularizing one of the many origins of the Joker along with showing how Barbara Gordon, also known as Batgirl, became Oracle. Brian Bolland’s art style and Moore’s writing clearly affected Heath Ledger’s performance of the Joker. But while the characterization of the Joker is the highlight, I find the ambiguous ending to be more revolutionary. I won’t spoil it here so you’ll just have to grab the comic for yourself.
Though I haven’t read them, Moore’s other exemplary comics include a historic reboot of Swamp Thing, the creation of occult detective John Constantine and the introduction of Mogo, The Living Planet into the Green Lantern universe. He also wrote “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” a Victorian mash-up of characters like Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray and others.
His extensive body of work led me to Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman,” one of the few graphic novels that I recommend to everyone. Gaiman directly cites Moore as inspiration for his series that blends DC superheroes, mythology and Shakespeare. As an homage, John Constantine makes a cameo in a few issues.
The retirement is sad news but Moore isn’t quitting the storytelling business entirely. First, he’ll finish up a few series that are still running such as the final volume of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Then he’ll move to writing novels instead of comics to give himself a new challenge. His most recent novel, “Jerusalem,” is a 12,000-page epic that spans all of humanity. I can’t exactly say I’m thrilled to read that or any other novel he writes without an editor or collaborative restraints.
Moore’s medium is comics, as all movie adaptations of his stories are mediocre at best. Due to his displeasure with the films, he has asked to be uncredited in all adaptations. However messy it may be, I still believe that Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” was the greatest possible take on such a mammoth and complex work.
As great as Moore is, he unfortunately isn’t without his faults. His 80s ideology hasn’t aged well and a modern lens can easily spot sexism and racism in his unfit-for-elementary-school-library works. He is also known for being abrasive and having falling outs with collaborators and colleagues such as DC.
That being said, I can’t imagine there will be another person like him to have such a lasting impact on the industry. I wish we could have more of Moore.
This column was originally published in the September 14, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.