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.
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?
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.