Rummaging Around in Alan Moore’s Shorts by Maggie Gray

03 Sep

The growth of academic work concerned with prolific and iconic British comics writer, Alan Moore, has been indicative of the wider growth and consolidation of comics studies as a field. Scholarship has moved from a near-exclusive focus on deconstructive superhero title Watchmen in the context of the mid-1980s adult revolution (Sabin), to encompass a broader range of Moore’s works. Alongside the ubiquitous Watchmen, comics such as From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V for Vendetta have been the subject of numerous journal articles (in ImageText, the International Journal of Comic Art, Image & Narrative, Studies in Comics and the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics to name only a few), as well as featuring on both undergraduate and postgraduate reading lists. Moore’s importance within UK comics studies was signalled by the one-day conference ‘Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore’ that took place at the University of Northampton in May 2010. [1]

There have equally been a growing number of publications that confront Moore’s career as a whole, ranging from George Khoury’s extended interview collections to the annotated bibliographies of Lance Parkin and Gianluca Aircardi, alongside Gary Spencer Millidge’s richly illustrated survey Alan Moore Storyteller and charity tribute volume (with smokyman) Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman. To date the most significant of these monographs has been Annalisa di Liddo’s Alan Moore: Comics as Performance, Fiction as Scalpel, which critically analysed not only those of Moore’s works that have become canonised, but also more academically disregarded series such as The Ballad of Halo Jones, unfinished works like Big Numbers, and production in other disciplines including multimedia performances and prose novel Voice of the Fire.

Di Liddo acknowledged the impossibility of offering an exhaustive overview of Moore’s extensive output, insisting that ‘selectivity becomes crucial…to avoid shallowness or stereotype’ (14). However, as with other scholarly approaches to comics creators (notably writers), this ostensibly led to a general favouring of works that more closely approximate the highly contested and often vague definition of the ‘graphic novel’. For Di Liddo this meant comics that represent ‘a self-standing narrative entity’, defined by ‘thematic unity…one or more adequately developed motifs… a composite, well organized structure’, correlative to the ‘weight of literary tradition’ (20-22). While this does not necessarily mandate a specific length, these formal qualities are more frequently ascribed in comics scholarship to what Charles Hatfield has denoted ‘comics in the long form’, as opposed to ‘short form’ comics such as newspaper strips, ‘panels and strips in magazines’ and ‘short features within comic books’ (4-5).

Thus academic approaches to Alan Moore’s oeuvre remain exclusive and selective in focus, and particularly overlooked have been the wealth of Moore’s short form works, which range from newspaper strips and underground cartoons, to back-up features in UK titles, single-issue DC stories and image mini-series, as well as fanzine and benefit anthology contributions, one-off alternative and small press collaborations, abandoned projects, and forays into other media and their adaptation (including site-specific performance, illustration, theatre, song writing and journalism).

This oversight can be attributed to several factors, most notably perhaps the question of accessibility. Much of the more obscure material is out of print or limited in print run, some of it published anonymously or pseudonymously, and some mired in copyright controversy. Moore’s short form comics that have received most critical attention have been those that remain widely available in print, such as those collected in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore or featured in George Khoury’s The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore (notably the elegiac ‘In Pictopia!’) Gary Spencer Millidge’s Alan Moore Storyteller includes reproductions of a wealth of less commonly available material, but many of Moore’s short form works only remain accessible thanks to invaluable online resources, such as Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s glycon livejournal archive of out-of-print work and ephemera, and the 4colorheroes ‘Alan Moore for Free’ webpage.

However, as David Simmons asserts, such exclusions may also speak to ideologically-inflected representational hierarchies underlying the processes of canon formation taking place within comics scholarship, with works that correspond more fully to accepted critical hegemonies, and embody more closely forms of academic capital, prioritised over those that don’t. Are comics in the short form, in their episodic, compressed or aphoristic nature, ‘by and large, severely hobbled in terms of graphic and thematic potential’ (Hatfield: 5)? Or is it that they resist assimilation into certain institutionalised critical paradigms (in terms of commodified and partial constructions of formal quality, material format, and modes of production and consumption)?

This series of articles, to be published throughout the month of September, hopes to highlight some of the treasures that can be found with a good rummage around in Alan Moore’s shorts, in order to throw light not only on his more well-known works and familiar thematic concerns and formal approaches, but also to explore neglected aspects of his creative practice and development. The articles included cover both a broad section of his career (from early British back-up strips to his latest comic mini-series) and a range of different materials (from superhero Annual features to unrealised collaborations). In keeping with the subject, contributions are short; suggestive rather than authoritative, laconic rather than expansive, many of them glimpses of larger projects both old and new. You’re certain not to find your favourite covered, but as part of an open-ended, transitory and hopefully generative project, that should only provide the impetus to do it yourself.

Articles to feature:

‘Doctor Who and the Genesis of Alan Moore’ – Lance Parkin

“Will You Listen to That!”: (Dis)Ability in Moore/Willingham’s ‘In Blackest Night’ – José Alaniz

‘Alan Moore’s Lost Treasures: ‘The Bowing Machine’ & ‘The Hasty Smear of My Smile’’ – Marc Sobel

‘The shadow over Northampton: the transmogrification of the Lovecraft mythos by Alan Moore’ – Daniel Leal Werneck

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

Works Cited

4colorheroes, Alan Moore for Free. Accessed 28th August 2012.

Aircardi, Gianluca. M for Moore. Il genio di Alan Moore da V for Vendetta e Watchmen a Promethea. Napoli: Tunué, 2006.

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 of Mississippi Press, 2005.

Khoury, George. The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore. Indispensable Edition. Raleigh NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2008.

Millidge, Gary Spencer. Alan Moore Storyteller. Lewes: ILEX, 2011.

Millidge, Gary Spencer and smokyman (ed.s) Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman. Leigh-on-Sea: Abiogensis Press, 2003.

Moore, Alan & various. DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. New York: DC Comics, 2006.

Ó Méalóid, Pádraig. ‘Why I love the master’. Accessed 28th August 2012

Parkin, Lance. The Pocket Essential Alan Moore. Harpenden Herts.: Pocket Essentials, 2001.

Sabin, Roger. Adult Comics: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Simmons, David. “Nothing too heavy or too light”: Negotiating Moore’s Tom Strong and the academic establishment.’ In Studies in Comics. 2:1 (May 2011) pp. 57-67.

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).

[1] – Several of the conference papers were published in a special issue of Studies in Comics, 2:1 (May 2011).

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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