Nov 17, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Writers #8: Alan Moore

Welcome to the another installment of our countdown of the top 10 most influential writers of all time! Click here for the archive!

Today's influential writer is Alan Moore!





Why Is He #8?

I'm sure you've all heard of, read, or watched WATCHMEN. To a reader new to comics, you may think, "Okay, so? What's the big deal? It's just like a lot of the comics written today, in terms of tone and ideas." Yes, of course it is. Because comics written today are so influenced by WATCHMEN, not in terms of its crystalline structure or complex storytelling methods (unfortunately), but in the fact that it shows neurotic superheroes who have deep psychological problems.

The evolution of the superhero has been a logical one. From the escapist kids' medium it was in the 1940s, with one-dimensional characters (such as: "This is Superman. He is good and he does good.") to the Marvel explosion of the 1960s, with two-dimensional characters (such as: "This is Spider-Man. He does good because he feels the guilt of not being able to save his uncle."), superheroes continued to evolve at this logical pace, and finally, in the 80s, we had works writers like Frank Miller, exploring the psychological and religious side of Daredevil and Batman:


Mark Gruenwald, who used the SQUADRON SUPREME to take the superhero archetype to the logical extreme - by having them take over the world to ensure a totalitarian and peaceful society:


And leading the pack, Alan Moore, who employed much of the same ideas in his MARVELMAN/MIRACLEMAN, for the UK:


And injected genuine horror and inventive storytelling in SWAMP THING, his run on which is what Neil Gaiman has continually credited for getting him back into reading - and subsequently writing - comics. Take a look at this description of the Justice League he provides:



And capped it all off with WATCHMEN, a story where all the superheroes were psychologically damaged. The most well-balanced among them, Nite Owl, is revealed to be impotent unless he puts on a superhero costume.

Moore is a genuinely excellent storyteller who used these ideas that were completely new and unheard of back then that it became cliche. I can't believe the number of messages I see these days that say they don't see the big deal about WATCHMEN, as if they really can't imagine a time when comics were not populated by such characters.

His grim and gritty work influenced so many writers at the time, and for a time, it seemed that every time they wanted to "revitalize" a superhero, they'd just take him all the way to the edge. (There was even a pitch back then which involved the rape of Wonder Woman. Thankfully, it didn't push through.) In fact, the market of the 1990s was mostly based on this kind of deconstructive thinking.

When even he'd had enough of the grim and gritty stuff that he spearheaded, Moore came back and tried to "reconstruct" the superhero genre with fun titles such as TOM STRONG:



And the very playful LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN:


Seemingly though, people are still hung up on grim and gritty, and you can feel that influence especially in superhero movies today. The reason WATCHMEN the movie didn't change superhero movies the way WATCHMEN the comic changed superhero comics is because the superhero movies were already "realistic" enough to begin with that the WATCHMEN movie wasn't so much a deconstruction of the genre as the comic was.

Moore also earns points for writing scripts that are so dense (for example, he takes 40 single-spaced pages to write the first 12 pages of THE KILLING JOKE), and it's a method that many writers such as Neil Gaiman have adopted.

The reason Alan Moore is not higher on this list is because I think, had it not been him, it would have been someone else. I think grim and gritty was coming, no matter who was writing or drawing. It was the natural evolution of the genre. Maybe it wouldn't have lasted as long. Maybe it would have lasted longer. Who knows? But it was coming anyway, Moore or no Moore.

For being the big name when it came to the grim and gritty movement and for starting the template that the Vertigo imprint was based on, Alan Moore is number 8. It's too bad that his influential aspects aren't his, you know, ability to tell a story well and use techniques.That's a shame.

Where Can I See His Influence?

Where can't you? The first book of Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN is heavily influenced by Alan Moore (read it and compare it with Book One of Swamp Thing):


SANDMAN of course became the flag-bearer for DC's Vertigo line, which itself was based on the template that Moore started in SWAMP THING. Moore's success also brought about the British Invasion, and so it is because of him that we have writers like Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman and Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis working in comics today.

Just about the entire Image line focused on characters that were so grim and gritty, that they were almost unlikable:


Thankfully, though, some writers and artists knew when to take the Moore influence and balance it out, and realized that Moore was more than just surface grim and gritty. When writing WONDER WOMAN (and saving her from the fate of getting raped), George Perez has admitted to using Moore's trademarked transition technique of having one element in the last panel of the previous scene echo one element of the first panel in the next. And Kurt Busiek in ASTRO CITY took the same technique (deconstruction), looking at the genre in a realistic way, but gave it hope and changed the tone.



What Works of His Should I Read?

In terms of sheer influence, there is nothing like WATCHMEN. Now, chances are you've already read it. So I'm also going to recommend SWAMP THING, so you can see just how Moore became a big name. SWAMP THING is the story of a sentient plant. It's really trippy, and you might enjoy it.


The one thing I can't recommend anywhere near enough is TOP TEN, the story of a police precinct in a city called Neopolis, which is full of superheroes. Like a cop drama, the action is nonstop. When one cop goes off the screen, another enters. I have lent this to a sizable number of friends, and I can honestly say that it automatically becomes their favorite comic book. Having said that, do not give it to anyone under 14.



Who's next on the list? Come back tomorrow for the seventh most influential comics writer of all time, same Cube time, same Cube channel!

3 comments:

Paul C said...

At first I wondered why Moore wasn't higher on your list but I take your point, the grim 'n' gritty stuff was on its way, we're just lucky that it was Moore who did it, and did it so well.

It's a tragedy though that Moore's legacy is "grim 'n' gritty when he offered so much more than that and continues to do so.

I'd never heard about the Wonder Woman rape pitch before. Who pitched it? Was it John Byrne? I think it says a lot about the attitude to women in superhero comics that Wonder Woman has never (to my knowledge) been depicted as being part of a realistic, adult and sexual relationship and yet they actually considered doing a rape storyline! Unbelievable.

Duy said...

Hey Paul! Yeah, a lot of the people I've talked to about this list thought Moore was going in the top 3, some even in the top spot, but I ranked it over and over in my head, and I couldn't put him higher than this.

I wish the ABC books had sold better than they did; then we'd get people eventually who were raised on them and want to create comics like them, as opposed to WATCHMEN.

The Wonder Woman rape pitch was by Greg Potter. Actually, it wasn't rape, so much as "she almost gets raped." She also gets a male mentor and was generally a bitch. The female staffers at DC were NOT crazy about this idea, and were happy when George decided to take over.

And yeah, I don't think Diana's ever been depicted as being in a stable relationship. I think it's partly because she's a woman. Our culture thinks that if she dates, it makes her less independent.

Greg said...

You'll get so much more out reading Moore's Swamp Thing by reading along with www.tinyurl.com/readswampthing

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