Mon
Oct 31 2011 3:00pm
The Great Alan Moore Reread: It Begins

The first Alan Moore comic I bought was most likely Watchmen #2. I had only been reading comics for two or three years when that series debuted, and DC’s in-house ads, trumpeting the Eagle Award Nominations (whatever that meant!) for Swamp Thing, didn’t entice me to seek out any issues featuring the leafy muck monster and see what those critically-acclaimed stories were all about.

So it must have been Watchmen #2. Followed by Watchmen #4. The first and third issues I missed completely, until I was able to order them by mail from some newsprint catalog, after the final issue hit my local shop.

In those days, Watchmen was pretty great, but it wasn’t yet WATCHMEN, as in…it wasn’t yet the universally-hailed masterpiece that was like the comic book equivalent of Citizen Kane intertwined with Anna Karenina. It was just a really good superhero comic, one that clearly tried to be something significantly more profound than its four-color peers.

Honestly, I didn’t become an Alan Moore devotee until a year or so later, probably in the summer of 1988, but possibly a few months after. That was when I bumped into Moore’s Swamp Thing collaborator Steve Bissette while on brief day trip with my family. It was one of those trips where my mom and dad would hit various furniture stores or larger-department-stores-than-we-had-in-our-small-town, and my brother and I, as adolescent boys, would be as bored as possible until we got a chance to swing by a toy store, or stop at whatever musty comic book shop was in the area.

Bissette was just hanging out at J. R.’s Comics when we happened to walk in, and though I didn’t know him – and had never seen his work – the owner of the shop enthusiastically introduced him to everyone who walked up to the counter. Bissette was working on his self-published Taboo horror anthology around that time, and he had walked away from DC the same time Alan Moore did. I didn’t know any of that at the time. I just knew, because I was told, that he was the artist of Swamp Thing, and I should have him sign something for me because that was a pretty big deal.

So I bought the cheapest Swamp Thing issue I could find in the store (which happened to be Moore’s final issue, which Bissette only contributed a couple of pages of art to), and had Bissette sign it. I was more excited about getting to meet a real-life comic book artist than I was to read the contents of the issue. The issue wasn’t so great anyway, I decided at the time. It was like an epilogue to a story I never read. (Which is, of course, exactly what it was.) But I liked that Bissette not only signed his name, but facetiously wrote, “Remember to eat your veggies!”

That encounter with Bissette sparked something, though, and when I stumbled across The Saga of the Swamp Thing trade paperback soon after, and got to read the first half-year of Alan Moore and Steve Bissette (and let’s not forget John Totleben) and their work with the Swamp Thing character and the radical recontextualizing of the entire DC Universe, I was hooked for life. That’s when Alan Moore became more than just a name in the credits for me.

It wasn’t Watchmen that did it. It was a family trip, and a random meeting with an artist.

But there’s more.

Because just as I was falling deeply in love with Moore’s approach to comics thanks to his horror tales in the bayou, I found, in my tiny local comic shop (that was also mostly a used book store) a stack of older issues of a black-and-white magazine from Britain. It was called Warrior, six or seven issues from the first year or the series. Inside its pages I found two serials that I liked as much, if not more, than Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, more than Watchmen. They were the chapters of Marvelman and V for Vendetta, drawn by Garry Leach and David Lloyd, respectively. They were the greatest comics in the world. Even though they were in black-and-white. Even though they were from England. Even though these chapters were seven or eight years old by the time I found them, and the serials remained unfinished.

Moore’s work on Marvelman (aka Miracleman), V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen are still held up as some of the best comic book writing ever. And I was exposed to all that stuff within a pretty spectacular eighteen-month period of my life. It left a mark.

The Great Alan Moore Reread on Tor.com

I’ve read almost everything Alan Moore has written since, and though I’ve revisited his work at times, I haven’t ever taken the time to do a sustained reread of his work. He is widely considered (even now, years after he has written any original work for the medium) the greatest writer to ever work in the comic book industry, both in terms of the influence of his work and its overall quality. He has certainly written dozens of amazing, transcendent comic books. But he’s also written some terrible ones, too. At least, that’s my memory of his work.

But that’s what this reread is all about — I will spend the next twelve months confronting all of Moore’s major works, starting with Marvelman and V for Vendetta, flashing back to some of his early minor works for a breather, then cruising through his industry-changing comics from DC, his long-form 2000 AD narratives, his dabbling with Image and Wildstorm, the still under-appreciated Alan Moore renaissance of America’s Best Comics, and wrapping it all up with a look at his final Lovecraftian stories from Avatar, and putting it all into perspective.

I’ll be writing about my reread every week here at Tor.com. I’m sure my natural tendency to contextualize everything will pop up regularly — I am incapable of reading or viewing anything and not seeing or commenting upon the way that single piece of entertainment fits into some larger tradition or alludes to this or acts as a precursor to that — but I intend to approach this Alan Moore reread by confronting each text directly, to see what it has to say, to see how it says it, and to respond with my own reaction as honestly as possible.

Yeah, my punditry and analysis will surely seep in, but over the next year, as I reread all the big-name Alan Moore comics (and plenty of the lesser-known ones, too), I will narrow my focus, hone in on a handful of issues or a single series at a time, and ask myself these questions, again and again: What is going on in this comic and does it still have something to say to us? Is it still worth reading?

Join me!

First up: Marvelman/Miracleman, Part 1


Tim Callahan wrote the Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe for Tor.com, contributes a weekly column to Comic Book Resources, and has work featured in Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen by Sequart Books.

The Great Alan Moore Reread: index | next ›
11 comments
Sol Foster
1. colomon
"even now, years after he has written any original work for the medium" -- wasn't there a new League of Extraordinary Gentleman installment just this year?

Unless you're trying to argue that his recent work has been unoriginal -- an argument I won't touch, as I gave up reading his new stuff around the time of the second League miniseries. Mind you, I'd still consider him one of the top five comics writers ever... maybe even number one if you left out the writer / artists as a different sort of beast altogether.
superwolf
2. superwolf
I love the new league stuff, and alan moore reminds me of if babe ruth was still alive and was still on pennant winning team.
superwolf
3. Pendard
Fantastic idea for a series of re-read columns! I'm looking forward to hearing your take on this old grouch and his amazing body of work. :-)

"even now, years after he has written any original work for the medium" -- I was also going to comment on that! When you say "the medium," do you mean the mainstream comic book industry? If so, then yes, that's true. But if you mean that the work he's done in the past few years is unoriginal, I must humbly beg to differ. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century has been an enormous departure from the previous installments -- seriously, what made him decide to have everyone singing the Threepenny Opera!

And Lost Girls, which just came out three or four years ago, is my favorite thing Alan Moore ever wrote. It's too bad its content limits its exposure, because it's a fantastic story, it makes you feel uncomfortable and complicit in things you think you oppose (which is one of Moore's skills), and it has some fantastic illustrations. It's an all around fabulous graphic novel.
David Lomax
4. dlomax
I'd really like to see this re-read include Skizz. It's an early work, but a great one.
superwolf
5. Tyler Gross
I am pumped to read this. I do not like Watchmen, but I love Marvelman (I read it in its Miracleman form) and I eagerly await the day its collected in one volume by Marvel. I am also a big fan of V for Vendetta. Asbolute V for Vendetta is on my Christmas list.
John Ginsberg-Stevens
6. eruditeogre
I eagerly await a re-reading of the D.R. & Quinch masterworks! SF anarchy in the UK!
superwolf
7. Joe H.
What is going on in this comic and does it still have something to say to us? Is it still worth reading?
I've only gotten into comics (comparitively) recently, but everything I've read of his has been well worth reading. Granted, I don't think I've read half of his work. None of his 2000AD stuff, only Watchmen and Swamp Thing among his DC work, none of his Image/Extreme/Wildstorm stuff, and most of his ABC work. But I'd recommend any of what I've read of his to anyone wanting to read a good comic.
superwolf
8. 'Captain Pouch'
Could you also discuss VOICE OF THE FIRE?

I've recently found and read a copy of it... and would appreciate any discussion about the work.

Seemed to me a repurposing/restructuring of the similarly-Northampton-focused aborted BIG NUMBERS project--- but with a more darker, damning take on his hometown and its people?

(Certainly, the novel's portraits of Northampton's citizens--- real and imagined--- and their actions over the span of 6000 years aren't exactly
fluffy 'Chamber of Commerce' boostering tales ...)
Tim Callahan
9. TimCallahan
I DO have plans to write about Skizz.

I do not have any plans to write about Moore's prose, like Voice of the Fire. I could be convinced, though. Maybe.
superwolf
10. Kip W
As a technical note, back on the overview page for this series, why shouldn't the icons for each article also be clickable, like the titles? I tend to reach for the icons first, see.
superwolf
11. kvlt
I've been enjoying this project a lot and I'm very sad to think it might be over soon. It would be fantastic to read enteries on the following:

The Complete Bojeffries Saga
Real War Stories
Brought to Light

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