Monday, 6 January 2014

Magic Words - The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

For some time there's been a certain rivalry between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, roughly speaking the two most celebrated comic book writers of the British Isles; or at least there's been a certain  rivalry in terms of Morrison sniping at Moore every two or three months, occasionally having Batman say something like you know, Robin, I've always regarded bearded men from the English town of Northampton as little girls - which is of course very clever - whilst Moore generally appears to take no notice barring an infrequent rolling of eyes. Comic book enthusiasts being comic book enthusiasts have come to regard this rivalry with relish in some instances, somehow imagining it to be on par with the beef between Pac and Biggie, or at least the beef between Master P and Pastor Troy - which was something that happened out there in the real world in case you were wondering; and so we have examples like that of the individual presently writing his print-on-demand book about the mystic war between Moore and Morrison representing the two major currents of English culture, for what that may be worth. Whilst I'm reluctant to further expand this particular notional bullshitplex, it's out there now, and it isn't going back in the box any time soon, so what the fuck...

Lance Parkin Magic Words - The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore (2013)
I met Alan Moore at a comic convention in Coventry in 1989. This is not to directly contradict Lance Parkin's assertion that Moore had ceased attendance of comic conventions a few years earlier, having tired of two hundred drooling fanboys following him into the toilet every time he tried to do a poo. The convention held on the campus of Lanchester Polytechnic just opposite the steps of Coventry Cathedral was barely advertised and very poorly attended with guests almost outnumbering punters. At the time, Charlie Adlard and myself were attempting to break into comics with material which I'd written and Charlie had drawn, and so we were working the convention circuit in our own small way. Alan Moore had, I would guess, just turned up for a grin given his native Northampton being only thirty miles away, and so his name had not appeared on any publicity material. Scarcely able to believe our luck, Charlie and I approached him, our hands quivering as we held out photocopied samples of our work for his mighty approval. My own hands were particularly aquiver as they conveyed unto Him a copy of a strip I'd drawn taking the piss out of obsessive comic fandom which featured Moore as a character, and which would never have happened had I not spent a couple of years chuckling over the material he'd drawn for Sounds music paper:

Larger version here.

Alan Moore accepted our offerings, flicking through as we made the usual apologies submitted when in the presence of greatness, and began with 'well, Charlie and Lawrence, here's what I have to say to you,' in thoroughly genial tones before delivering an encouraging fifteen minute speech on the topic of sticking to your artistic guns and not letting the bastards grind you down. With hindsight I realise this encounter seems particularly astonishing given its dating to a period during which Moore had supposedly turned his back on snotty little turds such as ourselves asking him when we can expect Watchmen vs. X-Men; and contrary to received wisdom, he was lovely.

We also spoke to Garth Ennis - who was similarly a nice guy, although I dislike everything he's done since Crisis - and Neil Gaiman - who was just a bit rude - and then suddenly a couple of years later, Charlie became sickeningly rich and famous as artist for The Walking Dead and others.

Anyway, moving on from issues of fame by spurious association with international megastars, there's this biography which paints a seemingly faithful picture of Alan Moore, from what I can tell, and it appears that the man himself is happy with Lance Parkin's account, which has to be a recommendation.

The great strength of Magic Words is in the fine balance which is struck, acknowledging Moore's triumphs whilst keeping its feet firmly on the ground. I'm a fan of much of his work, but he's done a few things I really haven't enjoyed, even that I would regard as a waste of time; and so it's appreciated that no attempt is made to sell every last eccentricity as symptomatic of genius, or to suggest that Alan Moore is incapable of making huge mistakes. Lance Parkin allows the reader to judge each aspect of Moore's work on its own terms which does much to distance the man from his possibly overinflated reputation, and the resulting portrait is fascinating - someone prepared to take risks rather than who necessarily always knows what he's doing; and after several hundred pages, it's hard not to admire the guy, and perhaps to admire him even more than his comics. Even the deal of Moore declaring himself a magician is handled with grace, clarity, and absolute honesty considering how ridiculous it may seem in most contexts, which is hugely refreshing given the sort of po-faced nebulous bollocks that's usually spouted in the name of the subject, as I'll come to later.

There may have been previous books, or at least essays, on the life and work of Alan Moore, although I've not read any. I've seen one online person whining about how Magic Words doesn't really cover any new ground or go into enough detail, although I'd say there's most likely plenty of new material here for anyone who doesn't weigh seven-hundred pounds or spend eighteen hours a day having online arguments about Power Girl's costume - sorry if that comment seemed judgey or made anyone feel a little bit inadequate; and I can't really see how more detail could be achieved without giving Alan Moore a colonoscopy. In any case, I don't know why you would need more detail than is given here.

As biographies go, this is pretty much perfect. I found it fascinating. I also found it significant that Magic Words, which for the sake of argument could probably be considered the definitive work on Alan Moore, is written by someone other than Alan Moore, which contrasts with Grant Morrison's Supergods - the work of an author who seems almost pathologically obsessed with how the rest of us see him, who often becomes the subject of his own stories, and whose equivalent tome is thus, quite naturally, a semi-autobiographical history of the superhero genre; and to be clear I find this significant because Alan Moore's comics tend to have a subject besides their author's navel.

Further whining here.

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