Thursday 6 January 2011

Alan Moore is Smarter Than You Are

Another batch of useless whining has erupted over something Alan Moore said over here.  In the likely unintentionally funny title Jason Aaron states that 2010 was "THE YEAR I STOPPED CARING ABOUT ALAN MOORE" and demonstrated just how much he still cares about what Alan Moore thinks and says.

He still cares enough to the degree of dedicating a whole opinion piece about it three months after the interview with Moore that ended his caring was first published.  That's a serious demonstration of his lack of care.

To be fair, Aaron's piece is more likely wishful thinking.  He feels disparaged and dismissed by Moore by a few things he said here.  While Aaron's feelings are his own and he's free to express them in his forum, it's quite shocking that a professional writer would so poorly understand what Moore actually was saying on top of a self-described Alan Moore fan to wholly miss the inherent humour.  It's been said before that the internet is tone deaf, so perhaps that latter part isn't so shocking.

It's clear Aaron is essentially having "daddy-issues" and is upset over his primary influence not noticing or offering approval of his efforts in comics to date (for those not in the know I'm referring to the excellent THE OTHER SIDE and  SCALPED at Vertigo as well as some uneven comics at Marvel).  Aaron's comics haven't (apparently) risen to the level of being noticeable by the circle of friends Moore gets his current comics recommendations from. Nor has the current output of Marvel and DC.  I'm not sure there's a argument to made where a 58-year old Brit should be expected to find the current slate of books Marvel and DC super-hero writers interesting let alone spend his time pouring over the huge pile of self-involved nonsense for hidden gems.

On top of that, the vast majority of the comics DC and Marvel publish are utter garbage. How can you say a comic is a good read if you have to aware of what happened in the last few line-wide crossovers to follow the story?

On top of that, Alan Moore is widely regarded as one of most influential writers today and likely the best writer the comics industry has yet seen.  Do we really think he'd spend his time reading  THE RISE OF ARSENAL in pursuit of a good story?  He's clearly operating on a different critical level and probably looks for things quite different than the typical fan, or even writer of comics when he sits down to read.

And he does read comics still. Despite other writers claiming he's out of touch, Moore has recommended other recent works as well as written forwards to various collections and graphic novels.  Dismissing what Alan says because you want to believe he doesn't read modern comics is just admitting that you haven't written anything that could interest him.  Most writers could say that, especially if you're typing for Marvel or DC, so there's no inherent shame there.  You're a part of the herd and some people like being in the herd.  Sadly, herd animals don't have a reputation for being particularly bright.

However, Alan Moore does a number of things we don't read in comics very often and I'm increasingly certain it's because most writers aren't smart enough to see the value of it or perhaps even see it at all.

Most comics writers understand the idea of words and picture combining on a most base level and take what can be described as a TV writing approach to comics.  they generally know enough to show and not tell and generally get plot, character and pacing.  That's usually it.  The vast majority of comics are sequential action leading to events and (maybe) character moments and little more.  The writing generally ends where the artwork takes over and not just in the visual narrative or storytelling, but the writing usually serves as set-up for the artwork.  The better writers bring other stuff you were taught in high school English (but have since forgotten), but they're usually for the UK and we expect that of them.

One of the things that made it clear Moore wasn't a part of the herd was his ability to spin the wondrous or terrifying interpretations out of some of the most banal properties.  A number of writers and fans complain that many of Moore's biggest successes were derivative of what came before when they feel the need to bring themselves up by trying to drag him down, but fail to see the heightened creativity in transforming a Captain Marvel knock-off into a multi-dimensional demi-god or a lifeless Randian vigilante into a real sociopath with enough depth that we could understand him if not care.  These weren't obvious steps waiting to be taken -- unlike the path many current writers are wearing in Moore's footsteps.  Alan Moore writes an eight-page story and, decades later,  another writer spends years pilfering bits of it is as much an example of how little there was to work with before Moore as how little innovation and real creation went of after he left.

Beyond that, Moore does something more and it's something I haven't seen anyone pull off as consistently as he does;  he writes with the whole page.  That may not sound like much to some of you, but trust me, it's huge.  From understanding that storytelling can be equated with musical notes while using the structure of the 9-panel grid with THE WATCHMEN to using the actual nature of how a comic is read to deepen the horror in NEONOMICON.  His grammar includes the panel border, the gutter, the placement of the word balloons and captions.  Moore continues to craft the story well beyond the point most writers can conceive.

Alan Moore is smarter than you and he's not impressed with what you've done so far.  You can choose to whine or ignore him or you can do better.

I'm hoping for better.


(This went on far longer than I intended and is likely rife with errors, I apologize for both, but wanted to type while the thoughts were there instead of waiting three months.)

Saturday 1 January 2011