You know, I’m not evangelical about my hobbies. Really I’m not. I used to think everybody should like the things I like, but now I accept there are a lot of people who just don’t get whatever it is that floats my boat. I am honest about my interests because I’m too old to worry about being thought uncool and because being open about your hobbies can lead to meeting other people who are into the same thing. But being upfront about liking comics, Dr Who or Gough Whitlam, to name but three interests I have, is different to trying to shove them down the throats of the unfortunates I encounter. This came to me the other day as I listened to a grossly obese nerd try to explain some god-awful space opera to a receptionist who obviously wished he was in a galaxy far away rather than infesting her waiting room. Unlike him I can detect the glazing over of eyes, anxious glances for rescue that signal that my listener doesn’t really want to know the difference between Judge Dredd and Durham Red. So I stop and let the conversation move on to something they want to discuss.
The exception to this rule of civilized discourse is Alan Moore. Well, I tell a lie; Garth Ennis is an exception too, on the grounds that Preacher is too much fun to be monopolized by us comics nerds. But this column is about Alan Moore. Moore is so good that it seems a shame that intelligent and interesting people should miss out on him just because they’re not into comics. Moore, when he’s in form, is something absolutely nobody should have to do without. Ennis, I only introduce to people who are as frivolous as I am.
So, how do I explain Alan Moore to a non comics person?
To begin with, I have to separate the components of Moore’s genius. A lot of his brilliance is in terms of other comics and so of no interest to people who don’t know the first thing about it, just as there’s no point raving about how my Ford station wagon is better than other kinds of station wagon to someone who lives only for bicycles. It’s true, Moore’s characters are more three dimensional than most other comic characters, but this is not an impressive achievement if you’ve never read the one-dimensional old DC stories or the two dimensional Marvel stories (super but – gasp – has gammy leg). Belgian ballet may well be more expressive than Canadian ballet, but since all forms of ballet just look silly to me, I’m not very interested in the comparisons.
Moore’s characters are real in a way which makes comparisons with comics unnecessary. When his creations are well done, they’re more three-d than the characters in most novels and movies, let alone comics. His characters act like real people and react in ordinary ways, rather than just acting out stereotypes. They are fallible without being maudlin (so he’s got it all over P.D James and Graham Greene most of the time). They develop over time. They do wrong without being just plain evil. Of course this isn’t true of all his characters, just the best ones. A lot of the time his characters are just comic characters. Moore can be as clichÃƒÂ© mongering as anyone in the business, in the recent ‘Promethea’, underneath all the caballistic cleverness and Jungian deep thoughts (maan) the various Prometheas are as corny as any of the tough guys Superman duffed up in the good old days. The Prometheas are various 1-d embodiments of Moore doing “tough, streetwise, sassy woman”. Of course I could be wrong about this example. DR and Quinch, some early characters of his are just pastiches of two thugs from a National Lampoon story and wouldn’t be reprinted if they weren’t by the great one.
The other thing he does brilliantly is tell stories like a really really well done movie. As I’ve said before, Moore tells his stories so well, I keep going back to the beginning to marvel at how he did it. His use of unrelated links is very cinematic; somebody says sadly “I’m all alone” and the next scene opens on somebody else saying “all alone” in a menacing way. A knife that is a background detail in a shop full of the trappings of suburban boredom is used as a weapon by someone trying to escape from that boredom in the last scene. Sometimes this is genius; in the knife example (from one of his ‘Swamp Thing’ stories), the knives are used to destroy someone who is transformed by their frustration with housewife life. I say ‘cinematic’ but I can’t remember any movies which are that clever. The films that come close have to go back and explain their tricks. In other times this trick is merely clever; I’m thinking of the blotch on the smiley badge in Watchmen, which could be blood or sauce. If you read a lot of Moore’s stuff in a short time, you start to sigh when you see this trick used almost mechanically. Moore himself warned against using a particular trick until it becomes routine.
For non-comics people, I’d recommend ‘From Hell’ and Halo Jones. For non-comics types who don’t take their reading matter too seriously, I recommend ‘Tom Strong’ too. I don’t recommend Watchmen because it’s very much for people who know about comics. Maybe if they liked Tom Strong…… To my shame I haven’t read ‘V for Vendetta’, which would disqualify me from any claims to being able to write columns about Moore in the first place.
The last time I foisted some Moore on a non-comicsy mate, I just told him that Moore could be read as fun, but was also interesting and thoughtful. I also told him a bit about Moore’s various interviews and his habit of being the origin of bad movies. I should just like Moore because of his work, but I’m only human, his interviews make him seem immensely likable. Of course, Dave Sim’s writings make him seem like a misogynist loon but I still like Cerebus.
My mate is not a comics person, but is one of the most interesting people I know – lived on social security benefits for almost eight years, writes music, has painting exhibitions, performs music and taught himself mathematics after the age of thirty-five because he was interested in it. He now designs websites for a university as well as doing all the other things. He loved Halo Jones.