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Category Archives: Rummaging Around in Alan Moore’s Shorts

Comics Forum Online: Year Two Review and Comics Forum 2013 Call for Papers

The Comics Forum website is two years old today! Following on from last year’s round up of articles, in this post I’ll be providing a review of all the pieces we’ve published this year, and launching the Comics Forum 2013 call for papers.

Comics Forum 2013: Call for Papers

After a fantastic event last year, I’m pleased to announce that the theme of our fifth conference is ‘Small Press and Undergrounds’. Leeds Central Library has agreed to host the event for a second time, and the call for papers is out now (see below).

CF2013 - CFP

Click here to download a PDF of the call for papers.

We very much look forward to welcoming a diverse selection of academics, researchers and creators to Leeds for what is sure to be a lively and engaging event covering a wide range of aspects of small press and underground comics. We’re working on lining up a great set of keynotes and will announce them here in due course.

The Comics Forum 2013 page on the website is also online now, and we’ll be updating that with all the details as and when they’re confirmed so keep an eye on that to stay up to date. If you’d like to receive all the latest updates as soon as they’re released you can also sign up to our RSS feed (click the orange button at the top of this box) or put your email address in the box on the right hand side of this page to get every update delivered straight to your inbox.

As in previous years the call for papers was designed by Ben Gaskell of Molakoe Graphic Design. A huge thank you to Ben for his hard work; we think it’s really paid off!

Comics Forum Online: Year Two

The second year of the Comics Forum website kicked off with the launch of a new set of resources in our Affiliated Conferences section as we added information and documentation from 2011’s Comics & Medicine: The Sequential Art of Illness. Later in the year we added many more conferences to the archive, including: the Dundee Comics Day series, Germany’s Gesellschaft für Comicforschung (ComFor) conferences, Graphic Details Symposium: Talking About Jewish Women and Comics, The International Comics Conference and Women in Comics. The Transitions series also joined the archive, and was the subject of an article by Nina Mickwitz. This archive is open for submissions; if you are a conference organiser (or have been in the past) and would like to archive your conference materials with us we’d be happy to host them. Get in touch at comicsforum@hotmail.co.uk to talk about setting up your archive. Don’t forget that Comics Forum also hosts a number of other resources including a Scholar Directory and a Digital Texts archive, both of which are open to submissions. The Digital Texts section saw a significant update this year with the release of Steven E. Mitchell’s ‘Evil Harvest: Investigating the Comic Book, 1948-1955′, which is available for download in full and for free now.

This year saw the launch of a brand new monthly column in the form of the Comics Forum News Review. Edited by Will Grady and featuring a top line up of international contributors, the review (published on the 4th of each month) launched in November and pulls together all the major stories from comics scholarship around the world. New contributors are always welcome, particularly for countries that aren’t already covered by our existing correspondents, so if you’d like to get involved contact Will at: comicsforumnews@hotmail.co.uk. Year two also saw the continuation of our column in association with major online journal Image [&] Narrative. Charlotte Pylyser, Steven Surdiacourt and Greice Schneider contributed a series of fascinating articles on a wide range of topics including blank panels, comics and poetry, social aspects of comics, Chris Ware’s Lint as a comic strip opera, and the depiction of boredom in comics. Head over to the column archive to read all the instalments in this fascinating series, which will be continuing into the next year.

We were also very lucky to be able to feature articles by a wonderful group of guest authors this year. The study of comics was the subject of my interview with Mel Gibson and an article by James Chapman. Padmini Ray Murray considered the importance of book history for the discipline, and Michael D. Picone looked at the problem of definition. Christina Blanch discussed the massive open online course (MOOC) on Gender Through Comics that she started running in April 2013, while John Swogger considered the possibility of using comics for archaeology, a topic he also spoke on at the 2012 conference. Sara Duke took us on a tour of the comics collection of the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating the importance of looking at original art in an article illustrated with a range of beautiful examples. The intersections of politics and comics came under scrutiny in articles by Cord Scott and Jason Dittmer. Laurence Grove looked at the early history of comics in his guest article, while Martha Kuhlman considered the possibility of avant-garde comics in hers. Elisabeth El Refaie wrote on visual authentication strategies in autobiographic comics, and Louise Crosby and Helen Iball talked about the launch of Laydeez do Comics Leeds.

We also featured a range of case studies, with Malin Bergström discussing Darren Aronofsky and Kent Williams’ The Fountain, Nicolas Labarre taking a detailed look at David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik’s adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass and Aletta Verwoerd addressing Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers. Eric Berlatsky looked at homosociality, misogyny and triangular desire in early Superman comics. Other writers who considered specific works included Barbara Uhlig, who looked at Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner’s Caboto, and Gwen Athene Tarbox, who talked about the graphic novels of Bastien Vivès. Hannah Miodrag discussed The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers by Shane Simmon, and Fabrice Leroy talked about Joann Sfar’s Pascin. Most recently, Philip Smith has looked at the use of hybrid languages in Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese.

September 2012 saw the start of a month long series dedicated to the short works of Alan Moore. Edited by Maggie Gray, who also introduced and concluded the collection, Rummaging Around in Alan Moore’s Shorts included articles by Lance Parkin, Daniel L. Werneck, K. A. Laity, and two articles by Marc Sobel. José Alaniz also wrote an article for the series, and later in the year presented a fantastic talk on Death and the Superhero at the Henry Moore Institute in the second of our ‘Comics Forum presents…’ talks.

A number of our guest-authored articles were nominated for 2012’s Hooded Utilitarian Award for Best Online Comics Criticism; a thank you to HU for the nod. The final list of articles can be found here.

Coming Soon

Over the next year we’ll be looking to continue expanding our offerings on the website and presenting articles by top writers on the medium. We’ll soon be making available MP3s of the two events in the ‘Comics Forum presents…’ series so far and launching permanent pages for each of these events. Later in the year we have the 2013 conference to look forward to, and members of the Comics Forum team will also be hosting a table at the Thought Bubble sequential art festival as we did in 2012. This was great fun last year; thanks to everyone who came over to see us for a chat! I will also be speaking on comics scholarship and Comics Forum at Laydeez do Comics Leeds on the 20th of May (next Monday). The event takes place at Wharf Chambers in Leeds from 1830-2130; do come along if you can.

A massive vote of thanks to all our readers, authors and guests. We really appreciate your support for Comics Forum and it’s only thanks to you that the conference and the website are able to continue and develop. Suggestions and comments are always welcome either through the comments section on website posts or by email to comicsforum@hotmail.co.uk. I would also like to extend my personal thanks to the whole Comics Forum team, who have been generous enough to give a lot of time and effort over the years to make sure the conference and website run smoothly.

Here’s to another wonderful year.

Ian Hague

Director, Comics Forum

 

Airing Alan Moore’s Shorts by Maggie Gray

I would like to thank all the contributors to this series considering Alan Moore’s short form works, and thank Ian Hague and Comics Forum for having us. I hope readers have found the articles interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking. To me, they have certainly demonstrated that many of the acclaimed qualities of Moore’s larger projects are equally present in these more academically disregarded works.

Recurrent themes identified across the contributions include an exploration of the potency of language, as Jose Alaniz puts it, ‘the perception-shaping power of words’. Alan Moore draws attention to the ideological operations of language, the way it serves to demarcate borders of inclusion and exclusion. However, he also insists on the utopian potential of words, and their ability to remake the world. As Daniel Werneck points out in relation to Moore’s treatment of Aklo as a ‘language virus’, this focus on the ‘role of words in modifying a human’s perception of reality’, is closely connected to his interest in the occult, and conception of magic as convergent with the liberatory capacity of creative practice.

This is itself deeply linked to Moore’s anarchist politics, also apparent across the examples discussed, which articulate anti-ableist, anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, and anti-nuclear stances. The political character of Moore’s work has often served to expose the representational hierarchies and marginalising occlusions of both mainstream comics and other cultural forms (as K. A. Laity demonstrates with her discussion of ‘Beyond the Angels and the Apes’, he often attempts to bring obscured female voices and strong women characters into more usually ‘male-centred’ stories.) However, as Alaniz asserts in relation to Moore’s representation of (dis)ability, this is not unproblematic. Not only do ‘Moore and Willingham reproduce some ablist presumptions’, but the explicit unveiling of the racist and misogynist undercurrents of Lovecraft’s work in Neonomicon also opens itself up to allegations of reproducing the very attitudes it purportedly critiques, particularly in the presentation of sexual violence against women.[1]

In terms of form, these shorts demonstrate an experimentation with narrative and playful subversion of the established conventions of their medium, underlining what Werneck calls Moore’s persistent ‘commitment to innovate’, as much as their lengthier counterparts. As Laity contends, they reveal his careful and tight approach to structure, whereby each unit – no matter how small – fits into a fully-conceived whole. This often results in non-linear or elliptical narratives, using flashbacks and framing sequences, as in ‘In Blackest Night’. Such a comprehensive approach is likewise apparent in his script-writing; as Laity suggests, approaching comics in the same manner as his multi-media performances, forming organic wholes out of a mix of words and images. Signature formal devices include a healthy dose of metafictional reflexivity, with Dr Dee’s breaking of the fourth wall or the self-awareness of the Kool-Aid man, who Marc Sobel suggests almost stands in for the writer himself. Intertextuality also abounds, from Ginsberg pastiche to a round of the Lovecraftian intertextual game, alongside play, not only on words, but with visual metaphors like the wave of ‘The Bowing Machine’.

However, alongside these more familiar aspects of Moore’s creative approach, this series of articles has also cast light on some of the more neglected aspects of his work. In particular, attention has been drawn to the use of comedic modes such as parody, farce, and satire that Moore is not widely acknowledged for. Alaniz has pointed out the way in which ‘In Blackest Night’ parodies ‘conventional ‘commiserating’ discourse often aimed at the disabled’ and Sobel has explored both the absurd tragicomedy of ‘The Hasty Smear of My Smile’ and the biting political satire of ‘The Bowing Machine’. As Laity suggests with her reference to BBC period sitcom Blackadder, Moore’s sense of humour not only owes a lot to his underground origins but to traditions of British comedy. It has been proposed that this has potentially contributed to the critical neglect of works such as D.R. & Quinch, Captain Britain, and notably The Bojeffries Saga which owes as much to the anarchic and surreal humour of British comics like The Beano and Wham! as it does The Munsters.[2]

Hopefully, these articles have inaugurated a wider process of fleshing out such overlooked aspects of Moore’s career, which, stemming from both his creative restlessness and fractious relationships with publishers, has been incredibly multifarious.

Parkin’s article focused on an often ignored part of Moore’s career, his earliest work as a comic book writer contributing back-up strips to British anthologies, mapping his creative development and the emergence of ideas in Dr Who Weekly that would come to fruition in Marvelman, Captain Britain and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Sobel’s articles have revealed the plenitude of Moore’s ‘Wilderness Years’, as in his post-DC/pre-ABC phase he combined epic projects like From Hell and Lost Girls with one-off collaborations with a stellar cast of alternative creators like Peter Bagge and Marc Beyer (not to mention Harvey Pekar, Hunt Emerson, Michael Zulli, Jamie Hewlett, Savage Pencil…). Werneck has considered one of his most recent comics contributions, despite semi-retirement from the field, and Laity one of a number of regrettably unfinished projects, notably in the field of music and performance, a continuous aspect of his career that has doubtless shaped his practice as a ‘performing writer’ (Di Liddo, 2009: 22).

Yet particular sections of Moore’s career remain stubbornly untouched in academic discourse. This notably includes almost the entirety of his work for Image and the studios that operated under its banner (like Jim Lee’s Wildstorm and Rob Liefeld’s Extreme), as well as parts of his ABC output, with Promethea and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen generally favoured over Tom Strong, Top Ten and Tomorrow’s Stories. However, as noted, particularly absent is discussion of his early work in British comics, including his work as a strip cartoonist in underground, music and local papers, as well as contributions to UK anthologies like 2000AD, Dr Who Weekly, and Marvel UK publications like The Daredevils (as well as annuals, and fanzines). Importantly this work included prose stories, photo fumetti, illustrations, articles and reviews as well as comic strips.

As stated in the introduction, there are many contributing factors as to why short form works by comics writers like Moore have been critically neglected. However, the profound historical importance of the anthology format to British comics, a key point of difference from US comics publishing traditions, may be of significance.

In general, British mainstream comics periodicals have been anthologies, evolving from illustrated magazines, penny dreadfuls and story papers and initially aimed at a wider working class readership before becoming solely targeted at the juvenile market. (For Moore himself comics were ‘a staple part of working class existence…something like rickets’, Vylenz, 2003). Like many Golden Age US comic books they conventionally comprise short episodes of character-led series in various pulpy genres, alongside activities pages, prose material and pin-ups. However, they tend to have a greater degree of text features and articles and a greater number of shorter strips – originally of one to two pages, but expanding to five to six pages (and greater continuity between episodes) with ground-breaking titles of the 1970s like IPC’s Action and 2000AD.[3] Traditionally, British comics are published on a weekly basis, magazine or tabloid size, and monochrome or duochrome. For many years printed on newsprint, they were cheap, disposable ephemera sold in newsagents, often with the incentive to be taken apart (e.g. to enter competitions or detach pin-ups). Their production was based on a highly rationalised division of labour, for a long time predicated on conservative house styles, restrictive editorial policies, and a dearth of creator rights – it wasn’t until Kevin O’Neill snuck credit cards into 2000AD that artists were openly acknowledged for their work.[4] Although very much a dying breed, reflecting the general decline in the British market since the 1960s, British comics magazines are therefore very different formal, material and social objects from the (Silver Age +) American comic book and the literary ‘graphic novel’.[5]

As Parkin points out, Moore claims he developed his skills as a comics writer working on back up strips for such British anthologies, with the limited page length schooling him in pacing, structure, rhythm and concision of storytelling and world-building. Moore has said of the period spent contributing two- to six page stories to the ‘Future Shocks’ and ‘Time Twister’ segments of 2000AD:

I continue to regard the two years or so that I spent working on stunted little five-page stories destined to be printed in black and white upon Izal two-ply lavatory paper as one of the most educational and creatively rewarding times of my career. (1986: 2)

These strips not only display a sharp learning curve, but also represented a space in which he could play around with different genres, concepts and techniques, mixing parody of overblown science-fiction clichés in the vein of Douglas Adams with experimental formal devices and psychological and metaphysical themes inspired by writers like Philip K. Dick, while also confronting painfully relevant political issues like unemployment.

In the same vein as the articles in this series, it is arguable that strips like ‘The Reversible Man’ (a life told in reverse revealing the pathos of the ordinary) or ‘Chronocops’ (featuring hardboiled paradox police and numerous overlapping timelines) are as formally complex, thematically unified and developed, and structurally integrated and well-crafted, as his critically acclaimed longer works, economical in their storytelling yet profound in their effect. Being less significant to the publication as a whole and its commercial imperatives, and less tied to the formulaic demands of ongoing series, these shorts potentially offered more freedom to experiment without great editorial interference, financial risk or career impact. It is also perhaps arguable that this schooling in the structural and narrative demands of creating effective short form works, gave the writers of the 1980s British invasion as a whole an advantage in exploiting the potential of mainstream serialisation, to create self-contained episodes that formed part of overarching, fully-conceived and cohesive narratives.

The wider question, however, is whether sections of comics studies and criticism continue to evade (and even disdain) the medium’s mass cultural ‘populist, industrial and frankly mercenary’ origins (Hatfield, 2005: ix) and heteronomous contexts of production as epitomised in British mainstream anthologies. Is there a process of gentrification occurring in concurrence with the legitimising efforts of some comics theorists and practitioners, despite the supposed post-modern erasure of high/low-brow distinctions? (Hatfield 2005: xi-xiii and 2012: 34) Are certain works that appear in more durable formats, appeal to a middle class audience, and align with bourgeois romantic models of authorship being canonised, elevated to the status of timeless auratic masterpieces, in contradistinction a mainstream Other elided as tawdry commercial kitsch?[6]

Answers on a postcard.

Works Cited

Barker, Martin. Comics: Ideology, Power and the Critics. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1989.

Beaty, Bart. Unpopular Culture, Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

comicbookgrrrl. ‘Comic Review: Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’, 13/12/2011. http://www.comicbookgrrrl.com/2011/12/13/comic-review-neonomicon-by-alan-moore-and-jacen-burrows/ [Accessed 24/09/2012].

Di Liddo, Annalisa. Alan Moore: Comics as Performance, Fiction as Scalpel. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.

Hatfield, Charles. Alternative Comics, An Emerging Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.

- Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

Heer, Jeet. ‘Comics and Class: Labor Day Notes’ Comics Comics, 01/09/2010. http://comicscomicsmag.com/2010/09/class-and-comics-labour-day-notes.html [Accessed 24/09/2012]

Moore, Alan. ‘Introduction’. Alan Moore’s Shocking Futures. London: Titan Books, 1986.

Venezia, Tony. “Soap Opera of the Paranormal”: Surreal Englishness and Postimperial Gothic in The Bojeffries Saga’. Alan Moore and the Gothic Tradition. Ed. Matthew J. A. Green. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012. In Print.

DeZ Vylenz. The Mindscape of Alan Moore. London: Shadowsnake Films, 2003.

Maggie Gray completed a PhD in the History of Art at University College London in 2010, with a thesis entitled ‘Love Your Rage, Not Your Cage’ Comics as Cultural Resistance: Alan Moore 1971-1989. Her work has been published in the journals Studies in Comics, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, and Kunst und Politik, as well as Alan Moore and the Gothic Tradition, edited by Matt Green (Manchester University Press, 2012. In Print). She has also contributed to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (Cassell, 2011) and Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman (forthcoming, Greenwood, 2013).

Notes

[1] – There has been ongoing criticism of the representation of rape and violence against women in Moore’s oeuvre in both academic and fan contexts. For a thoughtful consideration of the portrayal of rape in Neonomicon see comicbookgrrrl, 2011.

[2] – Identification and analysis of Moore’s use of comedy, and its oversight in existing scholarship, is one of the key insights of Lance Parkin’s forthcoming literary biography. See also Venezia, 2012.

[3] – Action was the subject of a censorship campaign led by the tabloid press, the National Association of Newsagents, and Christian moral pressure groups such as Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners Association with a class dimension similar to the anti-comics crusade of the 1950s as discussed by Jeet Heer (2010). See Martin Barker, 1989.

[4] – Eagle was actually the first British comic to run credits, but these were removed when Odhams took over publishing the title in 1959. DC Thomson was particularly stringent about retaining creator anonymity, and also forbade trade union membership.

[5] – This is at least true of the commercial mainstream – The Dandy for instance has announced its final print edition in December of this year. However, the anthology remains an important format for small press publishing, as it was for both UK and US underground and alternative comics scenes.

[6] – While this gentrification appears to be most prevalent in correlation of comics to literary models, it is equally apparent via association with certain practices in the visual arts. I draw here strongly from Bart Beaty’s identification of an autonomising trend of ‘postmodern modernism’ prevalent in the European comics avant-garde of the 1990s (2007).

This article is part of a series on Alan Moore’s short comics, guest edited by Maggie Gray. To read the other articles in this series click here.

 

Moore vs. Albarn: ‘Between the Angels and the Apes’ by K. A. Laity

For fans of the esoteric the news was wonderful: Alan Moore writing an opera on mystical adviser to Queen Elizabeth, John Dee, with Gorillaz. It sounded like a match made somewhere in an alchemical lab with every potential of turning into gold. There was just one problem: Gorillaz couldn’t be bothered to come up with some artwork for Moore’s magazine Dodgem Logic, despite having the issue held for them several times. As Moore told it:

And then we just got through to the point where I just met them, I said, yeah, I can get the other two-thirds of the opera written by the end of February, middle of March at the latest. It will mean working flat out, but I can do it. You still alright for that deadline for issue three? And they said yep, and it turned out they wouldn’t be able to make that issue three deadline even though we extended it for them for a little bit because they had too many commitments, so at that point I decided I had too many commitments as well.

(Johnston, 2011)

While Moore’s relationships with other former collaborators have also been fractious at times, there seems little reason to doubt this. Further interviews with Albarn have tended to use neutral language along the lines of ‘Moore moved on from the project’ despite the latter’s clear enthusiasm and expertise on the topic. (Fitzpatrick, 2012)

In keeping with his usual habits, Moore simply got on with the various other projects he had going and published the incomplete libretto for the opera in Strange Attractor (2011). Damon Albarn made his own opera anyway, Dr Dee (2012). It received mixed notices; Pritchard in The Guardian called it more of a masque than an opera, while Christiansen in The Telegraph praised its dazzling staging and design. Albarn’s CD, however, comes across as less successful, offering rather tepid meanderings into psychedelia – what The Quietus called, ‘less philosopher’s stone, and more curate’s egg: a handful of fine songs where Albarn plays to his existing strengths, but mired in a sea of over-reaching folly’ (Graham, 2012). As Kitty Empire writes in The Observer, ‘this record isn’t anywhere near as dense with magick as you might have expected. Rather, Albarn remains nostalgic for a strange, lost England, one not a million miles from PJ Harvey’s on elegant, moving songs such as “Cathedrals”‘. (Empire, 2012)

Moore’s notes offer a much richer—if nonetheless tantalisingly incomplete—glimpse of what might have been. The lovely thing about ‘Between the Angels and the Apes’ is how the notes reveal (once again) Moore’s structural approach to composition; as Richardson observes, ‘Rarely does a comic by Moore seem like it just “goes”; every page, every issue, every arc seems to be following an almost mathematical formula’ (2012). Consider the opening section of the outline:

If we’re to create an approximately ninety-minute piece on the subject of Greatest Dead Englishman John Dee, then a solid and conventional place to start structurally would be a classic three-act construction with sections of a half-hour each. This also seems to fit nicely with the triangular Greek delta symbol (which is how Dee identifies himself in the facsimile notes presented in A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Yeers between Dr John Dee and Some Spirits [Meric Casaubon, 1659] and is also the elemental symbol for fire, which is in turn the element that represents the highest spiritual component of the magician or, indeed, the ordinary human being).

(Moore, 2011:242)

Moore further breaks down each section into subsections with flashbacks, framed by opening and closing scenes of the dying Dee in Mortlake with his daughter. Doing so brings a female voice and perspective to what tends to be a male-centered story in most retellings which center on Dee and his later partner in endeavours, Edward Kelly.

The elements of Dee’s life and world that catch Moore’s interest show his magpie attraction to the wondrous and grotesque. He wants the first section to focus on Dee’s imprisonment ‘for treason after casting an inauspicious horoscope for Queen Mary’, when his cellmate happened to be the leper Bartlett Green (Moore, 243). Moore suggests doubling the role with that of Kelly ‘to make a subtle connection between these two mysterious figures (both of whom had bits of their bodies missing)’ (245).

It almost seems as if Moore comes up with the idea of breaking the fourth wall in the opera while he writes his outline, suggesting that the magician can sense the audience as ‘spirits of futurity’ watching him from the time to come. Like the final chapter of Voice of the Fire, breaking that wall breaks down the sense of certainty about the barrier between reality and fiction. His approach to Queen Elizabeth is that she’s a kind of Faerie Queen, and he suspects ‘that Dee’s devotion to Elizabeth was at least partly erotically inspired’ so imagines her as more ‘otherworldly and erotic’ than traditionally envisioned. This recasting of the much-reproduced image of the queen has the practical aspect of making her ‘distinctive and unusual enough to make the character seem fresh again’ (244).

To capitalise on the fluid aspects of live performance, Moore suggests, ‘we will need at least two or ideally three performers to take the part of Dee himself. The main one will be the elderly and dying Dee who both opens and closes the opera, but we might need two other performers to depict Dee at the three stages of his life’ in the flashbacks (245). Moore begins to sketch out not just the narrative of the opera but many of the staging and costuming plans. A fully realised conception begins to emerge from what had been planned only as a libretto, leaping into life like his own magical performances, bringing an organic whole out of a mix of words, image and sound.

For example, his conception of Queen Elizabeth, in which he name-checks Miranda Richardson’s wonderfully demented embodiment of the monarch in Blackadder, suggests she must be ‘strange and fey’ and should ‘accentuate the fact that English royalty of this period (and, arguably, any other period) were incredibly strange and exotic creatures who were literally as different from the human beings around them as if they had actually been the faerie race of Spenser’s poem’ (248). She has to be a highly sexualised figure to demonstrate her powerful appeal (and for Moore, a powerful woman is always appealing), but also to give an opportunity to employ ‘fantastical and psychedelic’ interpretations of period costumes, a theme he carries over into musical suggestions as well. Readers of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would find this Elizabeth right at home in the 1969 iteration of the League. Moore muses on ‘intensely mathematical and Hendrix-fast harpsichord pieces’ that might be inspired by letting the mind race over the re-imagined Elizabeth.

‘Between the Angels and the Apes’ is a fascinating look at a show that will doubtless never be, that includes some of the text as well as the notes for the piece. Taken in that same spirit of imaginative psychedelia, it can create an amazing opera in your own head.

Works Cited

Albarn, D. 2012, Dr Dee, Virgin Records [Music CD]

Christiansen, R. 2012, ‘Damon Albarn’s Dr Dee, ENO, London Coliseum, review’, The Telegraph, 27 July 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/9359720/Damon-Albarns-Dr-Dee-ENO-London-Coliseum-review.html [Accessed 7 September 2012]

Empire, K. 2012, ‘Damon Albarn: Dr Dee – Review’, The Observer, 5 May 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/may/06/damon-albarn-dr-dee-review [Accessed 7 September 2012]

Graham, B. 2012, ‘Damon Albarn: Dr Dee’, The Quietus, 5 May 2012. http://thequietus.com/articles/08720-damon-albarn-dr-dee-review [Accessed 3 July 2012]

Johnston, R. 2011, ‘Damon Albarn, Alan Moore, Jamie Hewlett And The Two Doctor Dee Operas’, Bleeding Cool, 5 July 2011. http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/07/05/damon-albarn-alan-moore-jamie-hewlett-and-the-two-john-dee-operas/ [Accessed 3 July 2012]

Moore, A. 2011, ‘Between the Angels and the Apes’, Strange Attractor Journal, no. 4, pp. 241-265.

Richardson, W. 2012, ‘Friday Recommendation: Promethea‘, Multiversity Comics, 1 June 2012. http://multiversitycomics.com/columns/friday-recommendation-promethea/ [Accessed 7 September 2012]

K. A. Laity has written several essays on Moore’s work as well as on various aspects of magic and comics. Her works include Owl Stretching, Chastity Flame, Unquiet Dreams, Rook Chant, PelzmantelUnikirja and many stories, plays and essays. Laity has been described variously as an all-purpose writer, Fulbrighter, uberskiver, medievalist, humourist, flâneuse, techno-shamanka, Jane Quiet scripter, Broad Universe social media wrangler, and Pirate Pub Captain, currently anchored in Dundee, Scotland. Website http://www.kalaity.com

This article is part of a series on Alan Moore’s short comics, guest edited by Maggie Gray. To read the other articles in this series click here.

 

The Shadow Over Northampton: The Transmogrification Of The Lovecraft Mythos By Alan Moore by Daniel L. Werneck

‘The Courtyard’ is a short story, written by Alan Moore and first published in 1994, as part of an anthology named The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute To H. P. Lovecraft. The prose was later adapted into comics form by Anthony Johnston, with artwork by Jacen Burrows, and published by Avatar Press in early 2003. The same publisher re-released this title in four different editions between 2003 and 2009. This success led Avatar to offer Moore the opportunity to continue the story, and Neonomicon was published in four issues from July 2010 to February 2011. It is a direct continuation of ‘The Courtyard’, to the extent of making the two stories indissociable.

One of the most typical aspects of the “Lovecraft mythos” is how the author designed his fictional world to be an open literary game that could be played by other writers. Lovecraft was joined in this game by some of his contemporaries, and even replied to them by reusing their characters or fake myths in his own stories, thus creating a rhizome of citations that grew without control, like memes, incorporating elements conceived by various authors into a masterful puzzle of fake occultism and make-believe mythology.

This continued even after Lovecraft died, in a peculiar phenomenon. Dozens of writers and artists kept his legacy alive, through various levels of reference, from adding the Necronomicon as a usable item in a video-game, to writing entire role-playing game systems or whole novels set in his fictional universe. This doesn’t happen very often, and some of the few authors who went through the same process were actually correspondents of Lovecraft himself, such as Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

When a writer of the stature of Alan Moore joins such a game, he can’t afford to lose. Even though neither Neonomicon or ‘The Courtyard’ are considered among his most important works, Moore faces Lovecraftian horror with both respect for the original author, and commitment to innovate, mixing his expertise as a fiction writer with a vast knowledge of the history of occultism.

In addition to exploring Lovecraft’s occult lore, Moore also brings his open inter-textual game to a new level by successfully updating the setting of his story to our own time, not only chronologically, but also in terms of the sensibilities of contemporary audiences, probably more accustomed to graphic depictions of sexual intercourse and gruesome scenes than most Lovecraft readers back in the 1930s.

Lovecraft (…) would only talk of “certain nameless rituals.” Or he’d use some euphemism: “blasphemous rites.” It was pretty obvious, given that a lot of his stories detailed the inhuman offspring of these “blasphemous rituals” that sex was probably involved somewhere along the line. But that never used to feature in Lovecraft’s stories (…) So I thought: let’s put all of the unpleasant racial stuff back in, let’s put sex back in. Let’s come up with some genuinely ‘nameless rituals’- let’s give them a name. So those were the precepts that it started out from, and I decided to follow wherever the story lead.

(Moore, in Gieben, 2010)

Surprisingly, this chronological update is made possible by drawing on elements already present in Lovecraft’s stories. Racism and anti-Semitism, for instance, have not ceased to exist, and therefore it sounds perfectly plausible when a deranged FBI agent refers to African-Americans as ‘spear-chuckers’ and describes his boss as ‘a know-nothing kike’. It also sounds current and naturalistic when fanatical Dagon cultists call Agent Lamper a ‘nigger’ and accuse a SWAT team of being Zionists. Instead of sanitizing the fictional universe and the writing style of Lovecraft stories, Moore kept these controversial subjects and perverted their use, not creating racist stories, but making some of the characters as racist as Lovecraft’s narrators, maybe more. He even goes so far as to take the mysterious rituals Lovecraft always mentioned but never described, giving them a very graphic portrayal thanks to the advantage of using images in comics, thus showing the actual fornication that takes place among cultists themselves, and between them and the object of their cult, a supernatural fish-like creature similar to those described in the short story ‘Dagon’. He goes even further to show Special Agent Brears of the FBI being raped by the cultists and the creature, and later reveals this rape to be the most important event in the entire storyline, turning the victim into a demigoddess of the new emerging Cthulhu cult, a Holy Mary of the Lovecraft mythos.

Moore also furthers the Lovecraftian practice of disseminating story elements created by other writers, making them all seem to be part of a believable larger scheme. The more obvious form of this practice is explained by one of the characters in Neonomicon: the name of the singer, Randolph Carter, is the same name of a character of many Lovecraft stories; Johnny Carcosa is named after a fictional city in Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Inhabitant of Carcosa’ (the name was later reused by Robert W. Chambers in his ‘The King in Yellow’); the church in Red Hook, being the same of the original story, is renamed Club Zothique, after the futuristic setting imagined by Clark Ashton Smith, a close friend of Lovecraft. Moore is also smart enough to allow newcomers to understand the story: besides keeping all of these cryptic details around for Lovecraft buffs to find, he also makes his protagonist in Neonomicon conveniently schooled in Lovecraft’s fiction, allowing her to explain everything to her co-workers, as an excuse to allow the average reader to understand the general rules of this meta-fictional game.

The most intricate re-purposing of a literary element in these stories is Moore’s use of Aklo, a fictional secret language first mentioned by Arthur Machen in 1899, in a story named ‘The White People’, and later re-used by Lovecraft in some of his stories. Moore takes it one step further: instead of merely describing it as an ancient language used by cultists of obscure religions, he shows Aklo as a virtual drug that modifies the very thinking patterns of its speaker. Moore’s Aklo is a ‘language virus’, similar to the concept described famously by William S. Burroughs, but also tightly connected to Moore’s general view on actual magic and the role of words in modifying a human’s perception of reality. His Aklo connects the ancient sacred words of shamans and priests to more current trends of neuro-linguistic programming.

Finally, the main aspect of Lovecraftian horror summoned by the wizard from Northampton is the idea of ‘cosmic horror’, a feeling of dread as large as the universe itself that brought existentialism to popular culture. Lovecraft’s mythos had an underlying pessimism, and more often than not the reader is led to a feeling that when the Great Old Ones finally rise from the depths of the ocean, the demise of human race will actually be a good thing for the rest of nature and the cosmos. In consonance with that general feeling, Moore ends this dark tale by showing Agent Brears’ personal views on the inexorable end of the human race:

I mean, look at this species. We’re pretty much vermin. Never mind. He’ll sort all that out, once he arrives. (…) The strange aeons start from between my thighs. And for everything else, all this other bullshit… it’s the end.

(Neonomicon #4: 24)

With this pessimistic and exploitative ending, Moore’s closes (at least for now) his exploration of the Lovecraftian writing game, keeping alive not only the fictional characters and places invented by that writer, but also his meta-fictional literary game. Reality and fiction merge into a network of places, names, book titles and legends in an intellectual kind of entertainment that seduces the mind with mysteries both real and unreal, confusing the memory and stimulating the reader to research more, read more, and further their own investigations.

Moore is a great player of this inter-textual literary game, and examples can be seen in heavily researched works such as From Hell, and obviously in his most elaborate reference piece so far, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Thanks to this, he has managed to make a Cthulhu myth that successfully maintains the spirit of the previous original stories, but at the same offers a contemporary view on the themes so dear to Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Works Cited

Interviews

Gieben, Gram. “Choose Your Reality: Alan Moore Unearthed.” The Skinny. Radge Media Limited, 01 sep 2010. Web. 7 Sep 2012. http://www.theskinny.co.uk/books/features/100258-choose_your_reality_alan_moore_unearthed

Comics

Moore, Alan and Jacen Burrows. Neonomicon. Issue #1. Rantoul, IL: Avatar Press, 2010. Print.

Moore, Alan and Jacen Burrows. Neonomicon. Issue #2. Rantoul, Il: Avatar Press, 2010. Print.

Moore, Alan and Jacen Burrows. Neonomicon. Issue #3. Rantoul, Il: Avatar Press, 2010. Print.

Moore, Alan and Jacen Burrows. Neonomicon. Issue #4. Rantoul, Il: Avatar Press, 2011. Print.

Moore, Alan, Anthony Johnson, and Jacen Burrows. The Courtyard. Issue #1. Rantoul, Il: Avatar Press, 2003. Print.

Moore, Alan, Anthony Johnson, and Jacen Burrows. The Courtyard. Issue #2. Rantoul, IL: Avatar Press, 2003. Print.

Prose

Moore, Alan. ‘The Courtyard’. The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to H. P. Lovecraft. London, UK: Creation Books, 1996. 147-154. Print.

Daniel L. Werneck is a Doctor of Arts and professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, where he currently coordinates the recently-founded Graphic Narratives Research Group. He also makes his own comics, trying to complicate the scholarship of comics studies by mixing the analysis of comics with the actual production of them. He always dreamed of using the word “transmogrification” in a real-life situation.

This article is part of a series on Alan Moore’s short comics, guest edited by Maggie Gray. To read the other articles in this series click here.

 

Alan Moore’s Lost Treasures: ‘The Hasty Smear of My Smile…’ by Marc Sobel

‘The Hasty Smear of My Smile,’ a four-page story which ran as a backup feature in the final issue of Peter Bagge’s Hate (#30), is a miniature masterpiece. It’s a capsule version of Moore’s considerable skill and the epitome of everything that makes him fascinating as a writer. The story essentially brings personality, perspective, voice and history to the Kool-Aid man character, a ubiquitous corporate mascot used to sell swill to unsuspecting children.

The Kool-Aid Man, originally named the ‘Pitcher Man,’ was created in 1954 by Marvin Plotts, an otherwise anonymous art director for a New York City advertising agency hired by General Foods, the powdered drink’s corporate manufacturer. Plotts, who claimed that the inspiration for the character – a glass pitcher full of cherry red Kool-Aid with arms, legs, and his signature broad smile – came from watching his son draw smiley faces on a frosted window. Fairly simple in concept, Plotts could not have imagined how successful his character design would become. Within just a few years, his beaming ‘Pitcher Man’ was at the heart of a massive advertising campaign aimed at America’s schoolchildren.

The Kool-Aid Man’s ascension into American popular culture began in the mid-1970s when the character was re-imagined and began appearing in live-action television commercials aired during children’s cartoons. In a typical advertisement, the ‘Kool-Aid Man was introduced as a walking/talking 6-foot-tall pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid. Children, parched from playing and/or other various activities, would typically exchange a few words referring to their thirst, then put a hand to the side of their mouths and call forth their ‘friend’ by shouting ‘Hey, Kool-Aid!’, whereupon, the Kool-Aid Man would make his grand entrance, breaking through walls, fences, ceilings and/or other furnishings, uttering the infamous words ‘Oh yeah!’ then pour the dehydrated youngsters a thirst-quenching glass of Kool-Aid’ (Wikipedia, ‘Kool-Aid Man’).

Despite being referred to as one of the “Top 10 Creepiest Product Mascots” by Time magazine (‘Our biggest gripe with Kool-Aid Man: Why did he have to cause such a mess every time he entered the scene?’), by the mid-‘80s, the Kool-Aid Man was one of the most widely-recognized corporate-owned advertising characters in the United States. Marketing executives, recognizing the signs of a cresting fad, understood that Americans were both enamored with and amused by the absurd character. As a result, in addition to the ongoing General Foods advertising campaign, the Kool-Aid man enjoyed a brief moment of pop culture notoriety, in which his familiar rotund likeness was featured on everything from toys and television shows to clothing and video games (one noteworthy success was a game developed for the Atari 2600 and Intellivision platforms).

At its height of popularity, the Kool-Aid Man even earned his own comic book title, perhaps the greatest sign of the wider culture’s obsession with the glass-pitcher turned human. From 1983 through 1989, seven issues of the The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man were published by Marvel Comics (#1-3) and Archie Comics (#4-7). Clearly aimed at children, this ridiculous series saw the ‘beloved giant wall-bashing red pitcher… battl(ing) the evil thirsties who are the enemies of children everywhere…’ (Comicvine) The final four Archie-published issues were even illustrated by legendary Betty and Veronica artist Dan DeCarlo and featured the Kool-Aid Man interacting with (and quenching the thirst of) the familiar cast of Riverdale characters.

However, while children clearly responded to the farcical character on a certain level, the absurdity of the Kool-Aid Man’s cultural ascension was also the subject of many adult-focused satires. Even today, the character remains the subject of an ongoing series of gags on the animated sitcom, Family Guy. However, perhaps the most famous satire of the Kool-Aid Man was perpetrated by the artist, David Hammons, during an exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2003. Hammons’ controversial ‘Kool-Aid’ painting, which, although hung in the museum, was covered by a white silk cloth and could only be viewed by making a private appointment with the artist, was ‘an absolute stunner’ (Russeth). The painting, which featured a small abstract representation of the Kool-Aid Man in a corner of the canvass, was created using Kool-Aid in lieu of paint. However, by restricting access to the painting by appointment only, Hammons was making a social comment about consumer culture’s addiction to instant gratification (represented in this case by the Kool-Aid Man perpetually bursting onto the scene to immediately satiate the merest thirst).

It is this category of conscientious cultural satire in which Alan Moore’s short collaboration with Peter Bagge undeniably belongs. In ‘The Hasty Smear of My Smile…’ the Kool-Aid man is not only a real person living in the real world, he is acutely aware of the absurdity of his existence. He knows he’s just a pitcher of Kool-Aid with a face ‘hastily smeared’ on it, yet he has the same human desires to be loved and accepted as anyone else.

As usual, Moore’s prose is more than just functional, it’s poetic. The Kool-Aid man’s distinctive voice as narrator is a note-perfect evocation of the somberness of his paradoxical nature, a recalcitrant reflection on a life comprised mostly of torment and ridicule, only occasionally rising from the depths to experience a few brief moments of fleeting joy. Even the title is strangely beautiful, foreshadowing the melancholy meditation that follows and implying hidden depths of depression behind that gleaming, yet unsustainable smile.

On the opening page, Moore immediately sets the scene, establishing the Kool-Aid man as a highly sensitive writer and poet, uniquely talented at translating the horror and ridicule he’s endured into haunting and painful lyrics. ‘Sometimes I am purple in angry negro thunder over night tenements,’ he writes, ‘sometimes I am rock-a-dile red, queer commie blood leaked from America’s television asshole.’ In just these few panels, Moore has revealed the soul of a tormented genius.

Or has he?

Former Comics Journal editor, Robert Boyd, has argued that Moore’s unusual protagonist was rather intended as a satire of the ‘50s Beat poets. Boyd described the Kool-Aid man as ‘a lame fellow traveller who had a little cache because of his fame,’ which was a result of his bizarre appearance rather than his literary talents. Boyd further noted that ‘his hilarious poem is an obvious rip-off of Allen Ginsberg…’ which Moore all but acknowledged in the text when the Kool-Aid man himself recalls how critics compared his work to ‘a young Allen Ginsberg.’ Indeed Moore’s carefully chosen use of the phrase ‘negro thunder’ in the Kool-Aid man’s absurd poem echoes Ginsberg’s similar line, ‘the negro streets at dawn’ from his most famous work, ‘Howl’ (9).

‘Hasty Smear’ also demonstrates that not only is Moore an immensely talented storyteller, but his sense of humor, an underrated quality in his work in general, is also razor-sharp. In the story, Moore takes a swipe at several of Ginsberg’s counter-culture contemporaries, including, most appropriately, Tom Wolfe, whose classic novel, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was an obvious yet perfect target for satire. But rather than play it straight, Moore twists the book’s concept to imply that the Kool-Aid man himself was addicted to psychedelic drugs. After a hilarious fight in which he called Wolfe ‘a hack journalist,’ the Kool-Aid Man painfully recounts how ‘Hunter S. Thompson held me down while Wolfe pissed into my head.’

Of course, Peter Bagge (with inks by Eric Reynolds) deserves much of the credit for his skillful handling of the physical comedy in this story. His looping, rubbery drawings, which hyper-exaggerate emotions to their cartoon extremes, are perfectly suited for the psycho-mascot lead character. And the red monotone coloring added a tenor of sadness to the proceedings, while also staining the panels the all-too-familiar color of its subject. As Boyd notes, in reality, the Kool-Aid man’s brief moment of notoriety was derived not from his talents as a poet, as he desperately tried to convince himself, but rather from his hideously grotesque appearance and the overall absurdity of his life, a fact which, deep down, he understands though tries to deny. According to Boyd, ‘He (tries) to define himself by the famous people he knew. But unlike most of the people mentioned in the (story), his fame is built purely on his physical appearance, not on any talent he may have, and that is what torments him.’

Perhaps this short piece, written in 1998, a period in which the author had just completed From Hell and was preparing to launch his ambitious quartet of superhero series for America’s Best Comics (including Top 10, Promethea, Tom Strong and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), was also a bit self-reflexive. By this point a veteran writer, Moore may have paused momentarily to scrutinize some of his more frivolous tendencies in earlier works, such as Swamp Thing and Miracleman, poking fun at his own similar use of overblown flowery language.

In the hands of a gifted writer, anything can become a character, and Alan Moore, possesses the perfect combination of imagination, talent, skill, and vision to not only bring this bizarre figure to life, but to use his story to mock and ridicule the society which created and worships such an absurd character. In addition to a clever cultural satire, ‘Hasty Smear’ is, in the end, a tragedy, an elegiac memoir of a difficult life, and while it can hardly be expected to garner the same degree of praise or critical attention as Moore’s longer works, it’s every bit as satisfying.

Works Cited

Bagge, Peter and Moore, Alan. ‘The Hasty Smear of My Smile…’ Hate #30. Fantagraphics Books, Inc. June 1998.

Boyd, Robert. ‘Alan Moore’s Lost Treasures.’ In Comic Book Galaxy. Published November 3rd, 2009. http://www.comicbookgalaxy.com/troublewithcomics/2009/11/alan-moores-lost-treasures-1-in-6-part.html

Carbone, Nick. ‘Top 10 Creepiest Product Mascots.’ In Time Magazine. Published August 24th, 2011. http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2090074_2090076_2090101,00.html

Comicvine. ‘Adventures of Kool-Aid Man’ http://www.comicvine.com/adventures-of-kool-aid-man/49-18580/

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1956.

Russeth, Andrew. ‘The Man Behind the Curtain: At MoMA, a David Hammons Hidden Behind Silk.’ Gallerist NY. February 28th, 2012. http://galleristny.com/2012/02/the-man-behind-the-curtain/

Wikipedia, s.v. ‘Kool-Aid Man,’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, last modified July 25th, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kool-Aid_Man.

Marc Sobel is the author of the forthcoming books The Love & Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar and The Love & Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting) from Fantagraphics Books. His article, “The Decade in Comics” was recently featured in The Comics Journal #301. In addition, Sobel’s reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including The Comics Journal, Sequart Research and Literacy Organization, Hooded Utilitarian, Comic Book Galaxy, and elsewhere. He lives in Queens, NY with his wife and two sons.

This article is part of a series on Alan Moore’s short comics, guest edited by Maggie Gray. To read the other articles in this series click here.

 
 
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