As legendary comics writer Alan Moore slips into retirement, some of his Irish contemporaries tellabout the genius who had such a huge influence on popular culture
On the first page of Alan Moore’s final comic, an elderly Sherlock Holmes tells the series’ hero, Bram Stoker’s Mina Murray, that fantastical characters like themselves exist to the detriment of humanity. Moore’s meaning could hardly be plainer.
Moore was born in Northampton in 1953, and he has been a comic writer since the underground fanzines of the 1970s, coming to prominence in the early 1980s in 2000AD, Daredevils and Warrior, before DC Comics’ Swamp Thing launched him to superstar status.
“It’s impossible to be a creator in comics and not be in some way affected by the creations and stories of Alan Moore,” says Irish comic artist Will Sliney.
He raised the game for all writers and brought a new layer of depth to the medium of comics.
Moore mightn’t agree, but it could be argued he bears some responsibility for superheroes becoming popular culture’s apex predators, with movies like Avengers: Endgame turning over billions of dollars.
Without Watchmen (1986) it’s hard to imagine the graphic novel genre, a term Moore claims was invented so adults could “validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal”.
Moore’s Marvelman/Miracleman, a 1980s deconstruction of superheroes, spawned so many imitations that he has spent decades apologising for helping to turn childhood favourites into dark antiheroes.
“I think he’s being a bit hard on himself,” says Irish artist Declan Shalvey. “He wasn’t the only proponent of grim’n’gritty stories at that time. I think we need to see those works in context. What Moore did was push the medium to places it hadn’t been before.”
There’s an old joke that when Alan Moore dies, he’ll come back to demand his name be taken off his tombstone. His career has been defined by brilliant work and spectacular fallings-out, parting ways with Marvel and Warrior early on, and Watchmen foreshadowed his final departure from comics.
Moore and artist Dave Gibbons believed the series’ rights would revert to them once the book went out of print, but its success meant that never happened. Moore vowed never to work for DC Comics again.
It could be argued it all came down to money, but that would be to miss completely Moore’s single-minded integrity. He has signed over to his various collaborators millions in movie royalties rather than compromise in his feuds with publishers.
Galway-based writer Maura McHugh notes Moore’s great fortune with artistic partners. “When we think of Moore’s most iconic work, we also immediately imagine the visuals, such as David Lloyd’s work on V for Vendetta, Eddie Campbell on From Hell, or the entire teamwork of J.H. Williams III (penciller), Mick Gray (inker), and Todd Klein (letterer) on Promethea.
None of this diminishes Moore’s scope and sheer creative range. Comics is a medium that requires a team if you are a writer, so part of your job as a writer to write stories that artists are excited to draw, because that manifests in the art.
Derek Landy, author of the Skullduggery Pleasant series, says Moore “has not only changed the medium of comics, but I daresay he’s changed genre fiction as a whole.
“He’s shown us that so long as you approach whatever you dream up with respect and love — no matter how pulpy or fantastical the idea — then you stand a chance of elevating it into something different. Something new.”
The last issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has landed. The culmination of a sprawling, 20-year masterpiece, it marks the end of Moore’s and artist Kevin O’Neill’s comic careers. The cover is mocked-up to resemble 2000AD, and bears the legend “Great news for readers inside!” which, of course, was always British comics short-hand for “This is our final issue”.
Inside, Moore restates his themes that superheroes are a terrible idea, at best adolescent empowerment fantasies, at worst blueprints for fascism, and that corporate capitalism sucks all the joy and innovation from pop culture. Plus, it has Planet of the Apes versus Terminators.
He has inspired friends like Neil Gaiman, foes like Grant Morrison, and mediocre imitators who copied his worst excesses without ever learning the lessons of his brilliant rebelliousness, his socialist optimism, and his passionate feminism. Even in Moore’s bleakest works, his love of humanity has never dimmed.
The final book of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is called ‘Tempest’. Like Shakespeare’s, it ends with a wedding. And with that, Alan Moore departs an industry he revolutionised, for better and for worse.
League of extraordinary comic books: Alan Moore's top five
In 1898, Mina Murray, divorced Dracula survivor, is recruited by spymaster Campion Bond (from an unreliable family) to assemble Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, and Mr Hyde. Moore and O’Neill’s Victorian Avengers begin a six- volume love-letter to comics, unifying every imaginable fiction into one universe. The horrible movie adaptation finished Sean Connery’s career.
Moore and Gibbons’ 12-issue limited series made perfect use of the comic medium, telling a contained, finite story. Prequels and sequels have been cursed by Moore.Trailers for Damon Lindelof’s HBO series look as unpromising as Zack Snyder’s god-awful 2009 film, which only departed from treating the comic as a storyboard to add bone- shattering levels of graphic violence.
Moore and Campbell’s black-and-white Jack the Ripper whydunnit doorstop is a stunning portrait of Victorian society, drawing in everyone from the Famine Queen to the Elephant Man to Queen Boudica. Moore suggests the Ripper murders were a brutal masculine ritual to subjugate women and to birth the 20th century. There are worse theories. The Johnny Depp film was rubbish.
A racist, misogynistic, homophobic, fascist cabal runs post-Brexit (ish) Britain. Moore and Lloyd’s dystopian near-future looks as depressingly real now as it did in Thatcher’s time. Following the pattern of Moore books ill-served by film adaptation, Natalie Portman rarely mentions this one.
You can’t limit Alan Moore to a Top Five. Or a Top Ten, although that’s the name of his wonderful Hill-Street-Blues-with-superheroes. The Bojeffries Saga is hilarious, and Moore’s early Future Shocks remain fantastic. Swamp Thing 54’s (1986) portrayal of coercive control is still one of the most insightful things he’s ever written. Try Moore’s pitch-perfect Superman pastiche Supreme, or Tom Strong. Don’t miss Promethea, his Wonder Woman-like exploration of magic. Moore’s prose novels Voice of the Fire and Jerusalem are superb.