MOORE AT FIFTY
You don't need me to extol the virtues of Alan Moore. I've done it countless times in far too many reviews in the past. Besides, there are better people than I who are qualified to do it. I can think of none fitting that description better than George Khoury, whose Moore fandom has led to a series of writings that define the man better than anyone else has.
The most important is the TwoMorrow's book THE EXTRAORDINARY WORKS OF ALAN MOORE. Khoury conducted the book-length interview with Moore a couple years ago at Moore's home in England. It covers Moore's entire fifty years of life, from his childhood right up to the America's Best Comics line, and what might come next. It's the perfect blend of Moore The Writer and Moore The Man, as Khoury gets into detailed conversations with Moore on his family life, his conversion to magic, and every comic series he's written for in the past two decades. The book goes into detail on a number of topics that previous interviews carelessly dismissed. In fact, SWAMP THING doesn't become a topic until page 82 of the 200 page interview. That leaves plenty of room for books like HALO JONES and V FOR VENDETTA, though. Moore was cranking out classics before the chlorophyll-filled creature.
Once they get there, though, Moore and Khoury work in detail on the topic of SWAMP THING for good reason: It was Moore's big break in American comics. From there, things roll quickly. Almost too quickly. The WATCHMEN chapter felt short to me. There's so much to cover about that book that a whole second book could be written about it. The topic feels restrained in light of that. MARVELMAN is covered, but likewise in not as much detail as you might think. Part of this, no doubt, is because it would just be repeating material already brought up in Khoury's KIMOTA! book, which is the bible for that series. America's Best Comics is thoughtfully considered with lavish illustrations in 14 pages, followed up with a two-page article by Todd Klein on his work with the line. I think that someday, Khoury should have enough material to go back and write an entire separate volume on ABC. Jess Nevins has the jump-start with his annotations for THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, but there's a lot more to cover, particularly when it comes to PROMETHEA and TOP TEN.
That's the theme for all my complaints about the book, actually. It's never enough. Since I happen to be a more "recent" convert to Moore's writing, I'm much more interested in all the events and books he wrote after he shunned DC officially. That doesn't take away from this book in any way, except for explaining my personal preferences.
I think it is a major loss, though, that only two pages focus on FROM HELL, which many (including myself) consider Moore's greatest work. He says a lot in those two pages, but that's one book that's due an awful lot more credit.
I get the funny feeling, though, that so long as you ask good (or at least leading) questions, it would be tough to get a bad interview from Moore. In the first chapter, one question from Khoury about Moore's hometown elicits an answer that rambles on for more than four columns of text, covering the town's entire history, going back hundreds of years. Material that should by all rights be dry and didactic is delivered by Moore in a way that's engrossing and appealing. Obviously, this is a subject Moore has dealt with in great detail relatively recently with his novel, but his mastery of that research is impressive.
Moore's memory for microscopic detail isn't as fresh when it comes to certain parts of comics he wrote twenty years ago, but that's to be expected. Khoury is there to prod him along and remind him of that. I rather enjoyed reading those bits, where other writers might clean up the text to make the subject look superhuman in his recollection. Any time someone tries to cover up something like that to look better, it raises alarms and eventually creates an even worse crime. Ask Ashlee Simpson. Or Richard Nixon.
There's more than just a long interview in this book, though. It also contains a small number of tribute comics from a Who's Who of Moore's working partners. This includes a short introduction by Khoury (as drawn by Hilary Barta), a two page by admiration from Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckinghman, a new SWAMP THING montage from John Totlebon, memories by Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons, a ainted tribute from J.H. Williams III, and more.
Some of Moore's earlier shorter works (both scripts and completed comics stories) are also collected. The highlight of the book for me is "Lust," a remarkable short story in which Moore plies his trade on two levels. It's a black and white war story, depicting the war at the end of the world. Here's the catch: The story is told in first-person captions that tell the story of one man's sexual encounter. It's porn layered on top of war. I'm not sure I could quote any of it here, although it's not profane. It's just filled with witty double entendres. Some are obvious; some are creative. But the end result does produce a few good chuckles.
Others may prefer the recently recolored "In Pictopia!," originally seen in 1986. Drawn by Donald Simpson, the story is a commentary on the dominance of darker superhero comics over the original lighter characters people grew up on.
The book ends with an exhaustive bibliography of all of Moore's works, including text articles, drawn comic strips, and interviews. That alone make this a book for die-hard fans.
Moore's daughters contribute introductions and afterwords.
You don't have to be a die-hard to enjoy it, although I think it will help greatly if you're familiar with a variety of Moore's works, even if it's just the mainstream stuff like WATCHMEN and SWAMP THING and the ABC line.
The oversized tome is available now in softcover format from TwoMorrows Publishing for $24.95.
TRUE BRIT is a more recent release from the same people. This one interviews multiple generations of British comic book artists, some of whom would be familiar to modern comics readers. Others won't be, although odds are you've heard their names at one point or another. While George Khoury is the editor on this book and handles most of the interviews in the book, he's joined by Jon B Cooke, Peter Hansen, David Roach, Eric Nolen-Weathington, Paul Holder, Norman Boy, and Brian Boyanski.
Material is offered in strict alphabetical order by artist, rather than chronologically. I'd have rather seen the interviews arranged in such a way that you can see the history of British comics unfolding before you along the way. Let's talk to an original Fleetway or 2000 AD artist before talking to someone who was influenced by them.
It does do well, though, in leading with a history of British comics. The book starts with a 25-page history of BritComics going back to newspaper strips at the turn of the century. This one's in tiny type in comparison to the rest of the book, so you know there's a lot to cover there. It's still lavishly illustrated. Many of those comics are of the kind I can appreciate looking at, but know would bore me to tears if I tried reading it for more than a page or two. Even so, there's a certain artistry and talent in comics from an earlier period -- say, the 1940s-1960s -- that's missing in comics today. I wonder if it's because those artists weren't influenced solely by other comic book and comic strip artists.
If you like the American adventure strips of that time, you'll probably like a lot of what you see here.
Modern artists interviewed include the likes of Bryan Hitch, Frank Quitely, Alan Davis, and Brian Bolland. With Hitch, in particular, you'll get to read more about his falling out with Alan Davis. Davis' interview doesn't touch on it at all. That might be a problem with having different interviewers covering artists. That's an unfortunate lack of consistency. In the end, though, both interviews are must-reads for their fans.
You'll also get interviews with Barry Windsor-Smith, Brian Bolland, Dave McKean, Kevin O'Neill, and (a very short one with) Mark Buckingham. It's an excellent cross-section of modern artists.
I learned a bunch, but after a while you have to get tired of hearing about 2000 A.D., Fleetway, and Comic Marts. Remarkably, there are a number of variations to the stories of how these artists broke into the field. Many of them made it almost by accident.
The book has a good mix of art with interviews, with almost all of the artists profiled in question and answer type interviews. The design is more free form than the straight two-column approach of the ALAN MOORE book, often with text wrapping around images. At the end of the Quitely interview, the text accidentally drops into white space of the art on the page, although I think it was half out of necessity to fill the page before the next interview began. It's a minor gaffe.
TRUE BRIT is a great sampler of British comics history, and an informative document for those of us in America not familiar with all the ins and outs. The interviews will make the most sense to readers who know about the artists involved and their histories, but even a newbie will find plenty of interest and new information to be absorbed.
The oversized TRUE BRIT is out on stands now, with a cover price of $21.95. It's a softcover black and white book with one small color gallery.
AROUND THE WEB
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with Pipeline Previews. I'm folding that into the main column for the week in lieu of the special Friday column. I'm sure that will return in December, though.
Over at Various and Sundry this week: The glorious Ashlee Simpson debacle. Commuter hell now has a web site. A link to the first looks at the Looney Tunes 2 DVD set. A review of The Drew Carey Green Screen Show. Baseball gets tiring. Apple announces a new computer. And more more more.
For those interested in politics from a different side of the aisle, I also opened up VandS Politics a couple weeks ago. It's shameless conservatism, updated daily.
More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.