Roy Sevilla Ho
Manila – As he had promised, British writer Alan Moore will close out his 40-year career as a comic book writer with the impending release of the fourth volume of his series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Unironically, the volume is subtitled The Tempest, named after the final recognized work of another British writer you might have heard of, William Shakespeare.
With that marks a remarkable era for the always controversial Moore, the greatest rock star in a medium the artistic merits of which was his unending cause. If there was one man responsible to elevating comic books as a legitimate literary artform, it was Moore, whose stories brought an previously unseen level of characterization and artistic innovation to his books and changed the landscape forever.
Moore made his American comics debut by taking over The Saga of the Swamp Thing, a horror comic published by DC Comics about a man who got turned into a plant monster, basically. Moore immediately came in and firebombed the story, pushing the boundaries of the medium and explored ecological, political, social and even spiritual themes within the horror framework. It was no longer the story of a man turned into a plant monster, but of an elemental entity created upon the death of a man and absorbs his memories and personality. A plant monster that wishes to be human, something he never was and never will be.
Among Moore’s other works are arguably the best Superman story ever written (Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?), arguably the best Batman story ever written (The Killing Joke) and arguably the best Green Lantern story ever written (In Blackest Night).
In 1986, DC published his magnum opus, the seminal Watchmen. A deconstruction of superhero mythology set in the backdrop of cold war paranoia, Watchmen was the first comic book to be marketed as a “graphic novel” and received critical acclaim outside of the field. A one-time special award was created by the science fiction and fantasy “Oscar”, the Hugo Awards. It is the only comic book to be named in Time Magazine’s “100 Greatest Novels of All Time.”
Moore was the first major British writer in comic books and his success led to the so-called British Invasion of comics, which included such names as Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan and Warren Ellis, future superstars that would set a new standard for the industry. Gaiman, regarded in the comic book world as Moore’s “protege”, himself has gone on to great acclaim as the author of the magnificent The Sandman and a number of novels such as Coraline, American Gods and Stardust.
I met Neil in Manila many years ago and as I was set to leave, I said “Hey, Neil, maybe next time, you should bring Alan with you.” And he laughed out loud at that and replied, “He doesn’t even want to leave his room.”
A Life of Controversy
Moore’s life has been filled with such anecdotes of his eccentricity. A lifelong resident of Northamptonshire, England, Moore looks like a heavy metal version of Hagrid from the Harry Potter movies. A few years ago, he had also announced to the world that he was devoting his energy to unlocking the secrets of being a practicing magician. Not the David Blaine card trick type of magician but an honest to goodness sorcerer like Merlin.
Moore has also always been famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the hill you graze) for being a man of unyielding conviction. His work in mainstream American comics had come to a vitriolic end with disputes on creative rights and the censorship of his work. On more than one occasion Moore had vowed to end a professional association if there were any such breach of his rights, and to his credit, he was a man of his word. He ended associations with the biggest publishers, most notably, DC Comics, which was responsible for launching him into the comic stratosphere. Sadly for his fans, it meant many of his work remaining unfinished, some being passed on for others to continue. The last few years, Moore has either self-published or worked with smaller independent companies only too happy to have a living legend on the marquee.
He has also vehemently spoken up against adaptations of his work, as dramatically illustrated by his combative stance against Hollywood’s attempts to bring his work to the mainstream. Eventually he had insisted that his name be removed from all adaptations and has gone so far as to refuse millions of dollars in royalty fees. The adaptations of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, Batman: The Killing Joke and Constantine (John Constantine being a character he first created as a supporting character in Swamp Thing) has had varying levels of success and would have made him a small fortune, yet he never wavered, a testament to his character and convictions. And he was right, every single one of them were pale shadows of his work.
To the End of the Universe
One of my favorite Moore books was an early work, The Ballad of Halo Jones, the story of an ordinary woman in the far future who ventures further and further out into the universe, consequently living a remarkable life of personal adventure. The book was supposed to be in nine parts but only three were ever published. The last image we have of Halo Jones in her last published page is her getting on a ship after fighting an extended war, out into the unknown, alone with a spirit of defiance and hope.
That image works just as well for Moore, having discovered and explored worlds and leaving them for its inhabitants to foster. The defiance remains his but his hopes and best wishes are shared by the countless he has touched and inspired over a staggering 40-year career.
Godspeed, Alan. And thank you.
(Photo from Google.com)
About the writer: Roy Sevilla Ho is a Manila-based movie writer and director. His blog, ZAPRUDER, is the same name for his entertainment and culture column of The Freeman Newspaper in Cebu in the late 1990s. ZAPRUDER is named after Abraham Zapruder, the most famous accidental film maker who shot a home video and inadvertently captured the assassination of Pres. Kennedy. Roy, by organic constitution, is not an accidental filmmaker. Begin to enjoy his blog and catch him on Twitter @roysevillaho.