Who is Alan Moore?
Goodness, what a question! If you read comics, then you probably already know. If you don’t read comics… well, after you’ve finished Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, go pick up Moore. Anything by Moore. Alan Moore is the man (or one of them, anyway) who made it possible for Gaiman to write The Sandman. He reinvented the the entire genre of superhero comics with The Watchmen (the book that caused many superheroes to be recreated as dark, brooding, and mildly sociopathic), the genre of noir comics with V for Vendetta, and the character Swamp Thing. Two of his very excellent comic books have spawned movies which entirely failed to live up the books (although From Hell became a reasonably good movie in its own right, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen became an entirely dreadful movie). He’s currently exploring the possibilities of comics-style crossovers as applied to Victorian-era literature and the archetypes of masculinity and femininity (League, Promethea, and Tom Strong respectively).
He is, undoubtedly, one Hell of a writer.
And he’s about to turn fifty.
The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore is a birthday toast. It’s an exploration of his life and works. It’s a collection of interviews, old Moore fiction and art, tributes from friends and family, and startling photographic portraits of the man himself.
The bulk of the book is transcripts of an interview (or possibly more than one, it’s hard to tell) conducted by George Khoury with Alan Moore. The topics range over personal history, politics, socioeconomics, the history of the comics industry, ceremonial magick, pornography, higher mathematics, drugs, and whatever else Moore’s flexible mind happens to light upon. If that sounds like it could get a bit confusing, well, it can. Although the material is very interesting, it’s not very well edited. Comments refer back to parts of the interview which come later in the book, some material is covered twice, and no explanations are given for many of the references. Khoury seems to have transcribed several hours worth of interview, then chopped it into chunks and sorted those into chapters without much regard for when they talked about what. He seems to have lost control of the interview at a number of points, and just let Moore talk about whatever was on his mind. And he assumes that the reader is familiar with all of Moore’s work, even what was only published in British weeklies or monthlies twenty years ago. I’m an American reader who has read everything by Moore that I could get my hands on, and I felt like I was missing half of their references.
Some of the examples of older Moore work were charming, some were tedious (I hate reading the juvenilia of writers I like, although some people enjoy it), and some made me wild to find the rest of this stuff. Some of it was teen fan fiction, some of it was elegant metaphor, some of it was dark satire of trends in comics that were caused by his work. There were sample pages from works finished and unfinished. There was a comics script for a never-drawn issue of Judge Dredd. It was a bit like panning for gold and finding also opals, emeralds, silver, amethysts, and muck.
The tribute pieces are sweet, charming birthday cards, posted publicly.
The introduction and afterword are written by his daughters Leah and Amber. Leah loves and respects her father, and is very pleased with his life’s work. She’s even following him into comics writing. She is, in short, very happy to be Alan Moore’s daughter. Amber, on the other hand, seems to have (how shall I put it) issues with her father. When he heard that she would be writing the afterword, Moore was heard to mutter, “Well at least we’ll be ending the book on a bitter note.” It’s not, really. It is, instead, bittersweet. For Amber, growing up as Alan Moore’s daughter wasn’t all fun and games. She loves her father anyway, and she gives us a last snapshot of Alan Moore as a very human, and fallible, man.
Also included in this volume are a thirteen-page color reproduction of “In Pictopia!” and an exhaustive bibliography, discography, and videography of everything Alan Moore.
Extraordinary Works is a labor of love. It’s a biography, a panegyric, a birthday card, and a retrospective. This is the end of Moore’s career (he’s retiring on his fiftieth birthday, though we haven’t seen the last of him yet), and the beginning of a new period in his life. He’s been writing for comics for twenty-five years. It’s a pretty good way to mark the occasion.
Although this book is occasionally confusing and may leave the casual reader of Moore feeling a bit left out, for the true fan of Moore’s work it is an excellent companion. Anyone who owns a reproduction of V’s mask or has made a Rorschach costume will definitely want to know why Amber Moore will emigrate if an interview with her father ever appears in the magazine Metal Hammer — and when Alan wrote under a pseudonym that sounded like a 15th Century French serial killer. The middling fan will enjoy lots of it, but be left wondering who Curt Vile and Abelard Snazz were and why they were so popular, and what actually happened with Marvelman that caused it to become Miracleman. For someone who’s never read Moore, or who’s only read one or two books, Extraordinary Works would make a very poor introduction.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off with my copy to the local comics shop, where the owner and I will dig through that bibliography and try to figure out how to get hold of Lost Girls and Halo Jones.