Tuesday, September 22, 2009

IT'S NOT THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

...but Alan Moore wants more, more, more credit for destroying comic books than any single human being should ever be forced (or allowed) to assume.

In this interview at mania.com, interviewer Kurt Amacker sets the agenda right off:

"...it seems like almost all heroes follow the model you created with MARVELMAN and WATCHMEN."

And Alan Moore is pleased to agree in all particulars:

"And can I just say I'm sorry? That was never my intention for every book to be like that."

Yes, Mister Moore, I think you should say twelve Hail Marys (whether you're Catholic or not) and beat yourself with a scourge until your back bleeds for the horrible, horrible things you've done to the superhero comics industry. You did it all; before you, no one had ever had the notion of making mainstream superheroes and their kindred engage in dark or disturbing storylines.

Except, oh, maybe-- let's see, which ones did I cite here? Neal Adams, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Barry Smith, Michael Fleischer, Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont, Ross Andru, and Frank Miller were in there, and I may have missed some. I even noted that Miller began to influence the dominant trends in comics some time before Americans knew Alan Moore from a hole in Blackburn, Lancaster. (I still like that line, but no one appreciated it. Sigh.)

Most of the creators I cited in the above essay did their takes on the dark and disturbing (aka the "grim and the gritty") during the early part of the Bronze Age. Alan Moore is at least *aware* of this time-period. For him it is the "mud age," in which mainstream comics "seemed to have lost their way." He claims that MARVELMAN was "rebelling against" this "tepid" period.

I have a different interpretation. Though 1970s mainstream comics can be fairly criticized on a lot of levels, many of them aren't substantially different from Moore's early work stuff except in terms of how far they were willing to go in quest of "grim and gritty" thrills. Indeed, given that most of the attempts at "dark and disturbing superheroes" even predate the appearance of Frank Miller, I imagine that even if neither gentleman ever worked in comics, comics would probably have pursued the same journey into the Superheroic Heart of Darkness, if only in quest of new and older readers.

Alan Moore's endless hand-wringing is beginning to sound like the egoistic moan of the reformed sinner who wants to buttonhole you, Ancient-Mariner style, and tell you over and over about his monumental sin.

Note to Mr. Moore: When even your interviewers begin to echo your estimations of your vast and terrible crime, it might be time to start talking about something-- anything!-- else.

It shouldn't be difficult, Mr. Moore being so bountifully full of ideas and all.

8 comments:

Charles R. said...

The reason superhero comics didn't really get darker, despite the intrusion of seriosity after all the other artists you mention is that they all were producing kitsch. I do agree that Miller's work had an influence on the G&G turn, but DKR was essentially a work of camp. WATCHMEN was more successful in its darkly serious tone (albeit, DKR wasn't intended to be serious), and was the main inspiration behind the kitschy imitations. Let's face it, none of the imitators (nor his predecessors) had his skill. If your point is that WATCHMEN wasn't sui generis, then yeah, that's true, but there was a far greater structural shift in style after it than after any of those 70s "very special message" comics and whatnot. Far fewer have tried to emulate Miller's dark camp (however brilliant it was in its own right). Maybe Millar is a good example.

If you want to know how I'm using 'camp' and 'kitsch,' the Wikipedia entries are a good start.

Charles R. said...

I didn't mean Millar, but Ennis. But, on second though, maybe Millar, too.

Gene Phillips said...

I find "camp" and "kitsch" to be useless terms insofar as they were circulated by affected highbrows unable to analyze the appeal of junk literature on its own terms.

A non-affected highbrow like Schiller probably came closer to the truth with his categories of the "naive" and the "sentimental." It wouldn't be hard to see the Ross Andru FLASH as a "naive" form of poplit (probably what you would call "kitsch") while DKR was a "sentimental" form insofar as the author showed conscious awareness of the tropes he used. But since he still used them to create a pulp adventure, Miller's work still falls under that category, "self-aware" or not. Miller's work is "serious," but only in comparison to other works of that nature.

Moore too is self-aware, but he's not interested in adventure for its own sake, which is why I file WATCHMEN under the irony/satire heading. Unlike a lot of his other work during that period, WATCHMEN does have some claim on the title of "real literature" but it's as much a matter of mastering the form of literature in the comics-medium as it is skill. Many of his imitators are skillful enough in duplicating Moore's approach to poplit, but AUTHORITY is not in the same literary league as WATCHMEN.

I think Moore has encouraged a lot of authors to mine his techniques while not following his form: early AUTHORITY has a lot of the same stylistic affectations as WATCHMEN but at base it's a kickass adventure closer in form to HARDBOILED than anything of Moore's notable works.

Gene Phillips said...

First paragraph of response should have probably said "junk art" rather than "junk literature," given how some of the terminology stems from gallery art-critics.

Gene Phillips said...

BTW, doing "kitsch" doesn't mean the work has to be in some way "held back." By the terms of the definition of said useless term, the EC horror-comics would be kitsch, but they were mainstream comics that were as "dark and disturbing" as anything produced by Miller or Moore.

Todd C. Murry said...

He's been disingenuously taking credit for all the bad stuff for a while, of course. Here's a referenced debunking I did of his "apology" for creating "grim and gritty" a while ago.

http://comicstvblahblah.blogspot.com/2008/03/whatever-alan-moore-tells-you-he-really.html#comments

My focus was more specifically on the roots of the G'n'G explosion, though, so I don't go into the "relevancy" era that much.

Charles R. said...

Whatever words you use, Gene, I don't see that your response was in disagreement, so I guess I'll leave what I said as is.

Todd, I have the same reaction to your blog entry as I had here, but I agree Miller's Daredevil has had an influence along the lines of Watchmen. Unlike DKR, it took on a serious tone.

Gene Phillips said...

Charles,

No, we still don't agree, since I still find Frank Miller's work more significant than Moore's in terms of shifting the focus of American comics toward a more adult framework, one including but not limited to what I've termed "adult pulp."

I thought that would've been clear since at the end of my response I said that a work like AUTHORITY might privilege the style/technique of Alan Moore (or whatever common influences Moore and whatsisname might share), but that the content was far closer to something you'd see from Miller.

I think Miller's had a huge effect in terms of people emulating his art. I concur that most of those doing Miller-like riffs either (1) don't even try to imitate his genius for transgressive pulp-elements (DEATHBLOW, the Ninja Turtles) or (2) try and mostly fail (Fleischer's HAYWIRE, Millar's WANTED). But a lot of the creators who don't explicitly follow in Miller's footsteps are still more attuned to Miller's pulpy extravagance than to Moore's sometimes-effete intellectualism.

I think you underestimate some of DKR's serious inflections. At the time of its publication Miller called it a "romance," which connotes something more sincere than "camp." However he may have changed in recent years, I think that the quote speaks to his original intent.