Sunday, 31 July 2011

Alan Moore

Used to be, I was in awe of Alan Moore's work. Seminal pieces of literature like V For Vendetta and Watchmen were required reading-- and still are-- for any discerning comic book aficionado. For all his ups and downs as a writer and as a character caught up in his own fiction, Moore was a magnet for good story-telling, and his work has influenced that of dozens since.

Personally, I own a score of his work. You have to, like I said. There are rules. My copy of Watchmen is well thumbed and worn. The sign of a truly enjoyable read (or one that aggravates and angers, but I digress). I'm not going to lay into the storytelling of Moore, I couldn't possibly, he's a great storyteller when he's On, and even when he's Off, he's still majestic with his words. But something has really come to my attention in the past year, and it's caused me to be disgusted by his work.

Alan Moore is past his prime. His diatribes against the "corrupt" comic book industry he continues to work within ring more and more hollow as each day passes, and I'm stuck looking at his recent work and wondering why.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was introduced to me by my dad. It was a thinking man's comic book, and it appealed to his literary sensibilities, and it would serve to act as a bridge between his childhood and my own. My dad, he read comics when he was young, Hotspur, Eagle, the big British war comics of their day. He was the one who introduced me to comic book and so I owe him a lot. LoEG bought us together with our joint anticipation and expectation for the next issue/collection. Volume One was amazing, an action packed tour de force with winks and nods for those who could recognise them. Volume Two was darker, dangerous, but still an amazing read. Then came The Black Dossier and then... and then...

Alan Moore vanished up his own arse.

LoEG became a superbly/poorly tacked together narrative with constant asides to things that didn't really add anything to the overall arc of the story. Maybe it's my naivety, maybe it's my lack of knowledge, but there's references, callbacks, there are winks and nods like I said, but then there's plumbing the depth of the literary world until you're in the darkest, deepest recesses... and then keeping the casual reader completely in the dark as you tell your story.

Don't get me wrong, my problem isn't with LoEG being too smart. I loved the references, but Alan Moore's dance around copyright and his knowing looks to the reader have become a pantomime that I don't really want to take part in, but am forced to due to a-- perhaps ill-placed-- nostalgia for the project.

I love the overall arc. It's great. It's British. It resonates with me and the collective consciousness that I am part of. It typifies the source of inspiration for scores of my inspirations. But there are certain storytelling tics I've begun to notice in Moore's work that scupper my enjoyment.

Mainly, Alan Moore's use of rape as a story telling tool has disgusted me and I won't have it anymore.

Specifically, Moore's apparent hatred of women has ruined my enjoyment of his work to such a degree that I, the consummate collector, have holes in my collection because of it. Moore's work offends me.

It should have dawned on me first when I read Volume Two of LoEG. The Invisible Man's brutal attack on Mina Murray was horrible. Disgusting. I shrugged it off, because I hadn't begun to see the pattern but then in The Black Dossier, Jimmy [Bond] is casually going to sodomise and rape Murray. Then Jimmy goes on to effectively promise Bulldog Drummond that he's going to do the same thing to Emma [Peel]. The latter is a stretch of what I started to notice but bear with me.

This is where it became apparent to me. In Century 1910 Captain Nemo's daughter Janni is gang-raped casually. In Century 1969, Mina is molested while unconscious, and then carted away to a mental asylum. These are massive set pieces for Moore! Whole stretches of narrative are transposed onto these events, depicting starkly by Kevin O'Neil's art.

In October of 2010, I had the opportunity to go to New York Comic Con, and it was brilliant. I spoke to Mike Wolfer at the Avatar Booth, and he was just so kind and great that it really made the day for me. At the Avatar Booth, I purchased Neonomicon #2, Alan Moore's latest comic book project (yet another after he declared his leaving the medium...). I owned #1, and it was okay, it was interesting. Vicious and nasty but with an interesting story behind it, that I can deal with. But in #2, the main character is taken captive, raped, and then is left to a Cthulhulian nightmare for more sexual depravity. I didn't pick up the next issue. Enough was enough for me.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive. Maybe I've developed some double standard. I can deal with violence generally but the fact that Moore's projects are riddled with these horrible events of violence against women... it's become too much for me. How am I supposed to enjoy a body of work that I share with my father when I have to skip over pages and pages of story. I want to enjoy his work, truly, but I don't think I have it in me to forgive him for these objectionable choices now. Before, I could forgive him because he was the best, but I don't have to forgive him anymore. I've surpassed that "expectation". Ask me a good gateway comic and I don't have to name Moore's work anymore. I don't have to go to that obvious well of choices. I can show you Starman or Secret Six or Love and Rockets or countless others.

I wish that Alan Moore would stop inflicting his brand of weird hate on me, and, if he truly hates comics, stop developing them. You might disagree. You might think I'm being too drastic. But there comes a time when we have to say no to the way certain things are depicted in a medium. DC have got in trouble recently because of their complete lack of female characters and female creators involved in their new relaunch. We have a phenom known as "Women In Refrigerators" that tracks all the female characters in comics murdered (named for the way in which the 90s Green Lantern's girlfriend was killed and stuffed... in a refrigerator) and we accept it, because it's become part of the comic Zeitgeist like thought balloons have been removed from it.

Is it wrong that I want optimism? No. And luckily, I have a score of titles to choose from now that give me an option out of the situation I've become trapped in. I want "the greatest comic book writer ever" to not be a complete and utter woman-hater.

Like I said, I might be exaggerating. And I don't truly think Alan Moore hates women. I just wish that his work didn't make that frame of mind so hard to keep. I'll always have Tom Strong or Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? to remind me of the days when I wasn't ashamed to read Alan Moore's work. That's something, at least.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

"Have you thought what it means to be a god?" asked the man. He had a beard and a baseball cap. "It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people's minds, like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to recreate you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you're a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable."

Sunday, 10 July 2011

So my 200th post was a review of Warren Ellis and D'Israeli's SVK. That's alright. Milestones are something to someone and something else to anyone. Easily passed over.

I want to start writing again, but I don't know if I should start while my novel is being worked over by a friend. I have an idea for a story, straight forward detective story, no occult trappings, and I'm not sure if I should start it or not. Hmm. I'll make some notes, and see if the bug catches, but until I finish this draft of my actual novel, I'll hold.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


SVK is a Warren Ellis comic book. The art from Matt "D'Israeli" Brooker is crisp and clean, and the concept behind the project is smarter than anything else available right now.

The titular "SVK", aka Special Viewing Kit, aka Strategic Vigilance Key, allows the wearer to see the thoughts of anyone around him. This is presented as thought boxes trailing from the brain and not the mouth, an extension of the classic comic book tool that has become outdated and outmoded. But instead of anyone being able to see these inner most thoughts, the reader must use their own SVK-- a ultra-violet light that when shined on the pages reveals the thought boxes that have been printed in ultra-violet ink.


Before I continue talking about SVK, a brief moment off topic. I remember a year or so back when Scott Snyder's Vertigo book American Vampire was announced, and Stephen King was involved with a back-up feature that would run through the first arc. I read an interview on The Daily Beast with King, discussing the process of writing a comic book script. King is an old school comic book fan, and his scripts were filled with thought balloons. The following is an excerpt from that interview:
“I got this kind of embarrassed call from the editors saying, ‘Ah, Steve, we don't do that anymore.’ ‘You don't do that anymore?’ I said. ‘No, when the characters speak, they speak. If they're thinking, you try to put that across in the narration, in the little narration boxes.’ ... I think it's a shame to lose that arrow out of your quiver. One of the nice things about the written word as opposed to the spoken word in a movie is that you can go into a character's thoughts. You do it in books all the time, right?”

Apparently, thought balloons are out of vogue with the modern comic book culture. A weird little anecdote, for sure. So SVK embraces this narrative tool wholeheartedly, giving it a modern twist that could have been kitsch and corny, but worked. Reading the thoughts of all these otherwise 2-dimensional characters moved them past what they could have simply been-- boring, staid, undeveloped personalities-- and into the realm of people with dark thoughts and hidden agendas.

Matt "D'Israeli" Brooker is a giant, his work beautiful and well thought out. He carries the weight of the story on his shoulders-- there's only so much invisible ink can do, you know?-- and it's brilliant. Chase scenes flow amazingly, you're there in the flow of it all; fight scenes are kinetic and abrupt-- as they should be. Ellis + D'Israeli (former collaborators on Ellis' 'big break', Lazarus Churchyard) need to do more together. Completely.

SVK itself is set in a Britain post-"incident". Whatever this incident is, we're not given the whole picture. Something big and loud and dangerous happened to the United Kingdom, and everyone's on edge. The main character, Woodwind, is a freelance operative, hired by people who want things doing on the hush-hush. He predicted the incident but his warnings were ignored by the higher-ups in the company he used to work for, and when finger pointing started, he was the first one thrown to the wolves. This act, obviously, made him even more of a cynical, suspicious old bastard that he originally was.

Ellis' main characters exemplify the working class hero, through his work on John Constantine when he helmed Hellblazer, to his earlier work with the creation of Peter Wisdom in Excalibur or William Gravel in the creator-owned Strange Killings series of minis and eventual Gravel ongoing. It enables him to bring his own voice to his work, and for the most part, it works.

The crux of the story is this. The SVK has been stolen, and Woodwind been hired to bring it back. So he goes about it in his own imitable way, but finds that there's more to the SVK than he was first told. It's an intriguing premise, and delivered with the usual aplomb that Ellis usually delivers. To be fair, Ellis has a penchant for going completely off the rails with his projects, his characters becoming grotesque parodies of who they could be. They usually share the same voice, the same sense of humour, and the same personality. It could be construed as a fault with Ellis' work, or identified as his voice, projected loud and clear through whatever the subject matter, but whatever it is, it's tropes like those mentioned that sometimes ruin my enjoyment of his work.

SVK is a done-in-one comic published by design company BERG, and it's a pretty package, beautifully printed and coming with an ultra-violet light. It's compact and sleek and it's everything I expected it to be.

And that's kind of the problem.

Warren Ellis follows a series of tropes in his work. The cynical, hardened "bastard" protagonist. Hard science fiction technology mixing with the real world. The cheeky sidekick. The government being absolutely corrupt. Ellis' work is a product of the era when he started writing comics, back when Thatcher was crazy and genocidal, addled in the brain but hiding it better than Regan. SVK uses every single Ellis trope around. He lifts characters from across his canon and inserts them into a new narrative. Woodwind is Gravel, the same look, the same attitude. Swap "combat magician" with "freelance science-fiction operative" and the deed is done.

The government is corrupt and overbearing, shades of Transmetropolitan bleeding through. They're removing the basic human right of not having someone read your private most thoughts and they'll do anything to get away with it, including murdering the operative hired to retrieve the item that allows you that breach of privacy! The villain of the piece, running a corporation and being devious behind everyone's back... he's The Smiler but sane. Kind of.

I wanted to love this project. I liked it. There was the classic Ellis of sheer beautiful humanity midway between Woodwind's smart arse assistant Bulmer and his mother, and the usual burst of violence that pervades his work. The end was an ambiguous one. Could I read more stories set in this universe? Yes. Was the book worth £10 (+£3 p+p)? I believe so. BERG, with SVK, have revitalised what was considered a tired old narrative tool. The thought balloon has power, when used well. With books from the Big Two (DC and Marvel) the thought balloon is used as a nostalgia tool. I remember Brian Michael Bendis' original Mighty Avengers launch, and the "uproar" when characters had minor asides inside their heads. These are the tools built by the comic book greats of the 30s, 40s, and beyond! Why should comic book writers and editors (and readers!) be ashamed of what came before?

I had an image from a Cho Mighty Avengers issue, but it went away. Bagley fill-in!

SVK was an experiment, and a successful one at that. If I hadn't read any of Warren Ellis' work before it would have blown my mind, but I've read versions of this narrative time and time again. Would a non-fan of Ellis' work pick up this book? Probably not! If a no-name creator had written this it wouldn't have sold out in the three or four days it did. It might not have sold anything; the result could have simply been deigned an oddity of the form. But sold it did, and I'm sure it's being well received everywhere. Deservedly so? At times.

I sometimes wish I wasn't as big a fan of Ellis as I am.

You can purchase SVK here, exclusively through BERG.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

meme meme meme

I might try this some time. But my 200th post (coming next!) isn't going to be dedicated to a meme. Uh oh.

Day 01 – A picture of yourself with ten facts
Day 02 – A picture of you and the person you have been closest with the longest
Day 03 – A picture of the cast from your favorite show
Day 04 – A picture of your night
Day 05 – A picture of your favorite memory
Day 06 – A picture of a person you’d love to trade places with for a day
Day 07 – A picture of your most treasured item
Day 08 – A picture that makes you laugh
Day 09 – A picture of the person who has gotten you through the most
Day 10 – A picture of the person you do the most ****** up things with
Day 11 – A picture of something you hate
Day 12 – A picture of something you love
Day 13 – A picture of your favorite band or artist
Day 14 – A picture of someone you could never imagine your life without
Day 15 – A picture of something you want to do before you die
Day 16 – A picture of someone who inspires you
Day 17 – A picture of something that has made a huge impact on your life recently
Day 18 – A picture of your biggest insecurity
Day 19 – A picture and a letter
Day 20 – A picture of somewhere you’d love to travel
Day 21 – A picture of something you wish you could forget
Day 22 – A picture of something you wish you were better at
Day 23 – A picture of your favorite book
Day 24 – A picture of something you wish you could change
Day 25 – A picture of your day
Day 26 – A picture of something that means a lot to you
Day 27 – A picture of yourself and a family member
Day 28 – A picture of something you’re afraid of
Day 29 – A picture that can always make you smile
Day 30 – A picture of someone you miss
Day 31 – A picture of yourself

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Who knew that writing the summary of something you've spent two plus years working on could be so damn hard? I realised last night, as I scribbled away into the early hours, that I've completely disconnected myself from my novel, so it's out there now, it's separate from me, and going back was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'm kind of glad I struggled to write another word after I finished last year. That distance has allowed me to slip back in ever so slightly, and get back on top of what I wanted to do in the first place.

Anyway, I've written 40 out of the 70 chapter synopses I need to do. After that I have to distil 90k words into a page summary.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Of course there are It's A Wonder Life references in my occult detective story.

Go. Fucking. Figure.
I'm working on the chapter-by-chapter breakdowns of my novel so I can send the whole package to the publisher. You can tell this novel was written at the dead of night, with the author super charged on insomnia, religion, and popular culture as a whole:

"He’s not wrong; [name removed], aka Abaddon, wants to become a god. He’s born torn from Hell (as has Lucifer, but we’ll get to that soon…) and thrown into the body of [name removed]. Without his hell-born abilities, he’s just a man, and he’s not happy with that. But he knows of a way to become more than human, a sadistic ritual known as the Danse Macabre. The process involves murder, sex and sadism in his name, without he himself getting his hands dirty. We’re told that there’s power in sex, in sacrifice, and that if those acts are dedicated to him, he’ll be super charged and ready for the next step—suicide, and a meeting with Death himself. Charged with all this belief energy, he’ll be able to say ‘No’ to Death, and shorn of physical form and stripped of weakness and human essence by his meeting with the personification of oblivion, he can return more powerful than anyone could imagine."