It’s pretty much impossible to love comic books and not love Alan Moore — at least for any comics fan younger than, say, 45 years old.
I still vividly remember the first time I encountered Moore in an American comic. It was soon after “The Anatomy Lesson” in Swamp Thing #21, one of the most galvanizing comic stories of the ’80s. My friends in the late, lamented APA Galactus were all over Moore from the moment he appeared, shouting from rooftops and screaming on the printed page that Alan Moore was doing amazing work for DC Comics, that these were the sorts of comics that you would be talking about for the rest of your life.
Well, to make a long story short, here we are 30 years later, and wow, it’s absolutely, completely true. Moore actually did create comics that we’re talking about 30 years later.
And while the greatness of some of the top comics of that era has faded — the old New Teen Titans is just not as good as many of us remember it, and Chris Claremont was already well onto embracing his special clichés in X-Men — Moore’s early work still stands up extremely well today.
It’s still compelling, exciting stuff to read “The Anatomy Lesson or the early Marvelman stories or the first few V for Vendetta stories, all of which were created at around the same time, and all of which still read stupendously well as stories even in our more jaded times. Nevermind that “The Anatomy Lesson” has been ripped off hundreds of times by less competent or innovative writers. The original still shines.
It’s pretty breathtaking to pick up this gorgeous, oversized biography of the great Mr. Moore and realize just how much great comics work he has done in his career. Gary Spencer Millidge is a friend to the great writer and is able to sit with Alan to discuss work that spans his whole life, from his very earliest works done in grammar school all the way to his recent, more obscure work.
All aspects of Moore’s life are interesting, but what I found most fascinating in this book are the explorations of his childhood. Moore’s family lived a real hardscrabble life. His parents sound like wonderful people, but they essentially lived hand to mouth in an area of Northampton, England, known as The Boroughs, which was then in the top two percent of most deprived areas of England.
It was a very old area of an ancient town, a place where real English working-class families made their daily bread though endless hard work. But Moore doesn’t remember his life growing up as being especially deprived — even though they literally did not have a bathroom in their house and no indoor plumbing. Moore had the benefit, in those days long before the internet and even before television became ubiquitous, of not having a perspective about how other people lived. As Moore is quoted in this book, “I didn’t understand that there was a class of people called middle-class people and that they were better off and generally better placed socially than my family or our neighbors. I just assumed that everybody lived like us, apart from the Queen.“
You just can’t get insights or quotes from Moore like that anywhere other than this book, and they provide tremendous insight into the inner fires and passions that drove the man to be such a unique creator. The numerous family photos, fanzine pieces, cartoons and early sketches only help flesh out the portrait of a working-class boy just trying to find his way in a world that’s much more complex and fascinating than the one he expected to grow up in.
One of the real strengths of this book is that it explores Moore’s life and career in a systematic way, taking its time to give full depth and exploration to, say, Moore’s early work for the Sounds music magazine. We expect something like Watchmen to get the deluxe treatment — and it does — but to see a great spread on Maxwell the Magic Cat or his short twist-in-the-tail science fiction stories makes this book a real treat for us Moore aficionados.
Writer Millidge does a wonderful job of exploring all these topics in depth, choosing the right stories to highlight and the right pieces of original art to include. The sections on the unjustly-forgotten strips Halo Jones and The Bojeffries Saga are especially wonderful and make me desperately want to reread those strips in nice collections.
And then — almost before we readers realize it — Moore becomes a sensation. Swamp Thing hits, Moore’s writing takes a quantum leap forward, and suddenly he’s gone from being a bloke you can meet at the local pub for a drink into a bonafide star, overwhelmed by teeming crowds at conventions and fighting to keep his soul against the rapacious forces of Hollywood.
Maybe in the end the thing I enjoyed the most about this book is that it has a real character arc to it, a real feeling of Moore’s life going almost in a complete circle. As we move into the latter parts of Moore’s career we find him back in his beloved Northampton, where the working-class people treat Moore as their eccentric neighbor who does some writing and occasionally does weird talking-word pieces. It’s clear that Moore has deep roots in the place in which he grew up, ironically roots as deep as those of my beloved Swamp Thing.
I don’t want to give short shrift to this book, but I don’t want to bore you with this review. There are literally dozens of pieces of material in this book that any true Moore fan will completely treasure. We get everything from a full script from V for Vendetta to a CD of spoken-word pieces; a look at the legendary map of the story of Big Numbers and Moore’s thumbnails from From Hell. This book is a really overwhelming experience for any Moore fan. It’s like Christmas in a book.
This $45 oversized, 300-page, beautiful book is the perfect gift for any Alan Moore fan on your birthday or early Christmas list.
Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he’d like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publ
ications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.