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The Amazing Alan Moore: A Portrait

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Alan Moore stands with Frank Miller as one of the pioneers of the modern graphic novel. Before their respective seminal 1986 works “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns,” comic books were regarded as trifling children’s fare.

Moore’s sophisticated and literate approach, however, elevated them into the status of genuine art and brought critical acclaim and commercial success to comic books. He remains one of the medium’s most respected writers and continues to produce work to this day.

Moore started as a writer for DC Comics by lifting one of the company’s most obscure heroes, Swamp Thing, out of the muck and grime of obscurity. His work on the series elevated its status and brought the maverick writer critical acclaim, which allowed him to branch out into new ideas. 1981’s “V for Vendetta” was among his first major works, bringing to life a dystopian vision of the future that Moore would explore in depth throughout the 10-part series. Like “Swamp Thing,” “V for Vendetta” was essentially a serial, though it was one of the writer’s first forays into a more defined narrative.

Moore’s most famous and well-renowned work is undoubtedly 1986’s “Watchmen,” which was originally released as a monthly 12-part series. Often cited as the “Citizen Kane” of comic books, Moore’s complex work set a new standard in depth, sophistication and social awareness, altering the public perception of what a comic book could be.

At the same time that Miller was returning atmospheric brooding to the character of Batman (in “The Dark Knight Returns”), Moore was creating a startling well-conceived and executed work – “Watchmen” combines cross-media style (like fake newspaper clippings) and filmic tendencies in its complex, arching narrative. Each chapter is bookended by passages from everyone from Nietzsche to Bob Dylan to Einstein, demonstrating the breadth of Moore’s cultural (and pop cultural) knowledge. “Watchmen” remains the gold standard of graphic novels, and remains a powerful and pertinent work two decades later.

Since then, Moore has worked on various projects. He has written stories featuring mainstream characters like Batman (“The Killing Joke,” a disturbing but insightful reinterpretation of the Joker’s origin) and Superman (“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”). He has also released original pieces like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which casts various famous characters from literature as a superhero group.

His most substantial work since “Watchmen” is probably “From Hell,” a heavily researched examination of Jack the Ripper. A massive work that runs well over 500 pages, “From Hell” is annotated throughout, demonstrating the depth of Moore’s study.

Unfortunately, none of Moore’s graphic novels have been satisfactorily been translated into a film version. Up until “V for Vendetta,” the Hughes brothers’ take on “From Hell,” the 2001 film starring Johnny Depp, was probably the best of them. But even that film lacks the consistent narrative focus and depth of research evident throughout Moore’s work.

Most egregious, however, was 2003’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” directed by Steve Norrington and starring Sean Connery. Though the literary conceit and basic concept of the original graphic novel is present, much of the creativity and irony that Moore infused was stripped away in favor of standard summer blockbuster trappings.

Moore has since washed his hands of all film translations of his works, including “V for Vendetta.” Since much of his early work is the property of DC Comics, he has little control over whether or not his work gets turned into films.

Unlike Miller – who was credited as a co-director on Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City” due to his hands-on involvement in the project – Moore dislikes and distrusts Hollywood, refusing to attend even the premieres of movies based on his work.

Regardless of his disinterest in Hollywood adaptations of his books, Moore remains one of the torchbearers of the modern graphic novel and one of the medium’s most respected scribes.