Born November 18, 1953 (Northampton, England)
British author, illustrator
"Alan Moore is the best writer of comic books there has ever been," writes Lance Parkin in the first sentence of his The Pocket Essential Alan Moore, an opinion that is echoed widely in the comics community. Moore's 1987 work The Watchmen is often named as the best graphic novel ever written, and in 2005 it was named to the list of the Top 100 novels of all time by Time magazine. In The Watchmen, Moore uses a dazzling variety of storytelling techniques to demonstrate that graphic novels could be every bit as complex and multi-layered as the best serious fiction. Many comics enthusiasts hope that the success of Moore and his peers in the late 1980s, including graphic novelists Frank Miller (1957–; see entry) and Art Spiegelman (1948–; see entry), heralded a rise to respectability for an art form that had long been held in low repute. The hoped-for renaissance did not occur, yet Moore's production of complex and highly respected graphic novels and comic books over the years—including Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and many others—makes a strong case for the narrative power of graphic novels.
"The comic strip is one of the few art forms that engages both halves of the brain and sets them to the same task."
Moore was born on November 18, 1953, in Northampton, England, a mid-size industrial town in central England. He came from a working-class family: his father, Ernest, worked in a local brewery, and his mother, Sylvia, worked for a printer. The surroundings in which he was raised were hardly up-to-date: the house in which he lived with his parents and grandmother had no indoor toilet, and another grandmother had no electricity in her home. "Looking back on it," he told Sridhar Pappu in an interview for the Salon Web site, "it sounds like I'm describing something out of [a nineteenth-century novel by English author Charles] Dickens. I mean, I'm talking 1955, but 1955 in England. I've seen 'Happy Days' on television. Maybe the American '50s were like that, but that wasn't what the British '50s were like. It was all sort of monochrome, and it was all indoors."
Alan Moore's Shocking Futures (1986).
The Ballad of Halo Jones 3 vols. (1986; collected as The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones (2001).
Alan Moore's Twisted Times (1987).
Swamp Thing 6 vols. (1987–2003).
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988).
Brought to Light (1989).
V for Vendetta (1990).
Marvelman 3 vols. (1990–92); published in the United States as Miracleman (1990–92).
From Hell (1991–96; collected, 1999).
Violator 2 vols. (1994–95).
WildC.A.T.S. 2 vols. (1996–97).
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 3 vols. (2000–05).
Tom Strong 4 vols. (2001–04).
Top Ten 2 vols. (2000–02).
Promethea 5 vols. (2001–05).
Supreme 2 vols. (2002–03).
Tomorrow Stories 2 vols. (2002–04).
America's Best Comics (2004).
Tom Strong's Terrific Tales 2 vols. (2004–05).
Voice of the Fire (novel). (1996; 2003).
The Alan Moore Songbook (comic adaptations of song lyrics). (1998).
(With Eddie Campbell) The Birth Caul (spoken-word CD). (1999).
(With Tim Perkins) Snakes and Ladders (music CD). (1999).
Moore is also the author of countless comic books, comic strips, songs, essays, and short stories.
Though his surroundings were dull and uninspiring, his reading interests were diverse and exciting. From early on, he read everything he could get his hands on and developed a love for mythology and legends. Moore first experienced comic books in black and white, the norm in England, but at some point in his youth the local stores began to carry scattered issues of the full-color American comics. Moore snatched up horror stories by EC Comics and superhero tales published by Charlton, but he was particularly attracted to the issues featuring Superman and Flash. Moore told Pappu that he got his moral sense from Superman stories, though his actions didn't show it: he was kicked out of high school when he was seventeen after he was caught selling illegal drugs.
The opportunities were few for an uneducated young man and, after a stretch in which he cleaned toilets at a local hotel and worked briefly at a sheep-skinning plant, Moore decided that he had to follow his passion. He began to submit articles and comic strips to local papers and magazines. In 1974, he married a local woman named Phyllis, took an office job at a pipe fitting company, and had his first child. Fearing that he might be stuck forever in his office job, Moore "went on the dole" (a British term for relying on public assistance or unemployment pay) and devoted himself to developing his talents as a writer and illustrator. Finally, in 1979, he was offered his first paying job to produce a comic strip called Roscoe Moscow for a music weekly titled Sounds. Soon after, he teamed with friend Steve Moore on another comic, The Sound of Degradation, for the same magazine. Within a few years he was earning enough to go off the dole and call himself a working author/illustrator.
A big fish in a small pond
In 1977, a new British comic magazine called 2000AD began to rise in popularity. Though shabby compared to its full-color American counterparts, the weekly magazine provided an opening for a number of British comics creators. It collected a variety of stories each issue, most ranging in length from four to eight pages. In 1980, Moore was hired to submit stories for the magazine. He dropped the role of illustrator—others were more skilled anyway—and contributed such stories as "Tharg's Future Shocks" and "Ro-Jaws Robo Tales." In 1982, Moore was hired to write several ongoing series for a new British comic anthology, Warrior. Moore found that he could write all kinds of stories—comedies, science fiction, horror—but he returned again and again to the superhero … and it was with that kind of story that he made his real breakthrough.
In two series that he wrote for Warrior, "V for Vendetta" and "Marvelman," Moore truly began to explore the superhero stories that would make him famous. "V for Vendetta" (with illustrations by David Lloyd) tells the story of a future Britain that, in the wake of a nuclear war, is ruled by a fascist dictatorship similar to that of Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) rule in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. The government has killed off or imprisoned all of its enemies and ruthlessly crushes any public protests. Into this world steps V, a masked hero who promotes anarchy (complete freedom from governmental control) and uses terrorist acts to bring down the government. In "Marvelman" (later called "Miracleman" to avoid conflict with the powerful American publisher Marvel Comics), first published from 1954 to 1963, Moore revived a story about a British superhero—the counterpart to America's Captain Marvel. Moore turned the simple heroic adventures on their head, showing Marvelman unravel the conspiracy that created his superpowers and eventually use his power to take control of the world. Both stories saw Moore challenge the simple morality of superheroes, asking whether it was appropriate for a hero to fight the
The British Invasion
During the years that Alan Moore was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, British comic books had come to lag far behind their American counterparts. In the United States, American publishers Marvel and DC Comics ruled the comic book industry. They created full-color issues of multiple stories, paying the comics creators a decent wage and occasionally even luring adults into reading splashy stories about superheroes in tights. In Britain, however, small publishers put out cheaply produced black-and-white weeklies and monthlies. Believing that their audience consisted of younger children, they kept stories simple and refused to allow comics creators to explore complicated stories. Though the creation of 2000AD in 1977 allowed for more sophisticated narratives, pay for comics creators in Britain was notoriously low, and opportunities to gain creative control over a story were slim. Many British comics writers longed for the opportunity to write for the higher-paying American market.
In the early 1980s, American comic book publishers experienced a steady increase in sales. To keep up with demand, these publishers began looking around for new talent—and found it in Britain. The first British comics writer to have a big success in the United States was Alan Moore, first with Swamp Thing but more importantly with Watchmen. Soon, other Brits arrived: two of Moore's fans, Neil Gaiman (1960–) and Dave McKean (1963–), had a huge hit with The Sandman series; Grant Morrison (1960–) took a new approach to superheroes with Animal Man; later, in the 1990s, writers such as Garth Ennis (1970–) and Warren Ellis (1968–), also had major hits. Comic book critics have likened this influx of British talent to the so-called "British Invasion" of the 1960s, in which the huge success enjoyed by the musical group The Beatles opened the door for the success of a string of British rock groups, including The Who, The Rolling Stones, Cream (with Eric Clapton), and others.
government, as in "V for Vendetta," or for a hero to become the government, as in "Marvelman." Both works won Moore awards in Britain and attention in America. Both were later redone in full color, collected, and published as graphic novels.
Moore's other big British success in the mid-1980s was "The Ballad of Halo Jones," told in thirty-seven episodes in 2000AD and illustrated by Ian Gibson. Moore described his motivations for creating the character in his introduction to The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones: "What I wanted was simply an ordinary woman such as you might find standing in front of you while queuing at the check-out at Tesco's, but transposed to … a boy's science fiction comic." Eighteen-year-old Halo Jones became the first female comics heroine in Britain, and she became immensely popular. Moore's success with these three series made him the best-known comics writer in Britain, but Britain still played a small role in the world of comics publishing. If Moore was to make it big, he would have to write for the large American publishers, Marvel or DC Comics. In 1983, he was invited to do just that.
Hits it big in the United States
DC Comics liked what they saw in the work of Alan Moore—the intelligence of his storytelling and his willingness to explore complicated political themes—but they were not quite ready to offer this untested Brit one of their biggest heroes, like Superman or Batman (though he did write a Batman story, The Killing Joke , which became a fan favorite). Instead, they asked Moore to write Swamp Thing, a story created in 1971 about a scientist who is thrown into a swamp by a bomb blast and emerges later as the muscular, vegetative being the Swamp Thing; the series was published intermittently through the 1970s and early 1980s, but never achieved much success. In an article from Comic Book Artist reproduced on the TwoMorrows Web site, Moore joked to interviewer Jon B. Cooke that "I think the reason they [DC] gave me Swamp Thing was probably because they might have been a little reticent to actually turn me loose upon one of their traditional characters."
His first issue was safe enough: Moore completed a story begun by an earlier author. But with the second issue, "The Anatomy Lesson," Moore completely reinvented the character's origins. Instead of a man who takes on the qualities of plants, Moore presented the Swamp Thing as the primary force of the swamp infused with the spirit of the dying Alec Holland. In his foreword to the first Swamp Thing graphic novel, Ramsey Campbell wrote "There surely can't be many writers who, having taken over an established character, would begin by demonstrating (in the autopsy scene) that the character has never made sense as he was presented as is in fact something far less human than even he himself believed." Under Moore's control, with illustrations by various artists, Swamp Thing became a vehicle for exploring serious social and environmental issues. The popularity of the series soared: When Moore began in 1984, each issue sold about 17,000 copies; but by the end of his run in 1987, DC was selling more than 100,000 copies each month. The success of Swamp Thing opened the door for Moore to produce his best work yet: Watchmen.
Watchmen was the culmination of all the work Moore had done up to that point. Moore re-imagined the history of the United States in the years after World War II (1939–45), proposing that the world's great power had been aided in its quest for world dominance by Dr. Manhattan, a visionary superhero. In this alternative history, a band of "costumed heroes" who had once kept order in the United States had been forced into retirement in 1977 by order of the permanent president, Richard Nixon, after they had run amok, becoming lawbreakers themselves. At the time of the story, 1985, these aging former superheroes found themselves being killed off one by one by a mysterious enemy as the world appears ready to plunge into World War III. In solving the mystery of the murders, they come face to face with serious questions about the nature of the service superheroes offer to society and the psychological difficulties of being a masked hero.
Almost from the moment it was released, Watchmen received the kind of praise that is rarely bestowed upon mere comic books. Critics hailed the work's immense complexity, pointing to the multiple storylines that weave throughout the book; the comic stories interwoven with the straight text of one superhero's memoirs; the many references to songs, literary works, and art; and the way that individual frames sometimes offer several storylines at once. There is a density of information and allusion (indirect references to matters inside and outside of the story itself) that most people associate with more exalted forms of literature. Characters are distinct, fully developed, and, most notably, troubled by the moral complexities of their action. Many believe that the art and story are perfectly connected. Reviewers in Time, The Nation, and Rolling Stone all called attention to the work, and it won the
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Hugo Award for science fiction (a first for a graphic novel) as well as numerous awards in the comics industry.
Like so many graphic novels, Watchmen began as a twelve-issue monthly, published from September 1986 to October 1987. Unlike most, Watchmen was almost immediately collected and released as a graphic novel not only because it truly made sense collected in a novel-length format but also to take advantage of its huge popularity. Published within a short time of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Art Spiegelman's Maus, Watchmen seemed to herald a new maturity and popularity for comic books. Yet, in interesting ways, the legacy of Watchmen has turned out very differently than was first predicted. Lesser talents mimicked the works of Moore and Miller, especially, giving rise to a series of stories that explored the "dark side" of fans' favorite superheroes. In an interview with Tasha Robinson of the Onion Web site, Moore revealed that he regrets parts of the huge influence of Watchmen: "In the 15 years since Watchmen, an awful lot of the comics field [has been] devoted to these very grim, pessimistic, nasty, violent stories which kind of use Watchmen to validate what are, in effect, often just some very nasty stories that don't have a lot to recommend them. And some of them are very pretentious, where they'll try and grab some sort of intellectual gloss for what they're doing by referring to a few song titles, or the odd book."
Produces independent works
Watchmen made Moore a rich man—but not nearly as rich as it made DC Comics, who got all the proceeds from the T-shirts, posters, badges, and movie rights that came along with the Watchmen craze. But more than the inability to reap more profits from his work, Moore felt that his creativity was being restricted by DC, according to Lance Parkin. Moore had penned the Batman graphic novel and several Superman stories, and he had chafed at the restrictions placed on his stories. Now DC threatened to slap a "For Mature Readers" label on works that he produced. Sick of this "censorship" and eager to take complete control over the works he produced—and their profits—Moore broke with DC, spurned the offers of other publishers, and went out on his own. It was a decision that led to artistic freedom, though a smaller audience for his works.
In his biography of Moore, Parkin calls the years after leaving DC Comics the "Wilderness Years," and claims that "anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Alan Moore had vanished off the face of the earth." Moore established his own comic book publisher, called Mad Love, and ventured off into a number of ambitious works far from the realm of superheroes. He began—but did not complete—work on Brought to Light, an account of covert operations by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and also on Big Numbers, a story set in modern-day Britain that attempts to incorporate the ideas of chaos theory, a scientific theory that tries to understand why orderly system sometimes appear chaotic or random. He completed work on From Hell, an ambitious historical narrative centering around the Jack the Ripper murders in nineteenth-century London. The story required extensive research; Moore continually made reference to places, people, and events from the period, all the while creating a complicated conspiracy theory around the identity of the murderer.
In the course of working on these full-length works, and on numerous single issue comics and comic strips, Moore managed to squander virtually all of the money he had earned on Watchmen. And in the early 1990s his wife, Phyllis, divorced him. Despite these difficulties, Moore continued his intellectual explorations: he wrote a novel, Voice of the Fire, which was published in 1996; he issued some spoken-word recordings; and he dabbled in the occult and in magic. With his long, curly dark hair and beard, and his fingers covered in rings, Moore had become a symbol of the eccentric British outcast, and he might well have faded into obscurity.
Reemerges with America's Best Comics
After a long period of mistakes and misfires, Moore reemerged in the mid-1990s. He signed on with Image Comics, a newly formed publisher that aimed to give comics creators full rights to and control over their work. Moore wrote issues of Spawn (1993–96) and WildC.A.T.S. (1995), and to those who charged him with selling out, he replied that the real purpose of superheroes was easy entertainment, not deep moralizing.
Moore left Image to join Awesome Entertainment, another new comics publisher, where he took over the writing of a superhero comic called Supreme. Supreme allowed Moore to take an existing character, reinvent his origin story (as in Swamp Thing), and tell a straight-up superhero tale; Moore has commented that making a positive superhero story was his way of apologizing for the damage he did to the genre with Watchmen, which some critics complained dishonored the image of the superhero. The Supreme series, published through 1998, returned Moore to popular and critical success and helped revive his finances, but it did not save the failing publisher. Moore was enticed to return to Image Comics, where he was offered his own imprint (an independent branch of a publisher), to be called America's Best Comics. Though America's Best Comics was sold to DC Comics in 1999, Moore worked out a deal with the industry giant to retain full control.
At America's Best, Moore was extremely productive. The bestknown work to emerge from this stage of Moore's career is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In this series of tales, Moore returns to England in the late nineteenth century and brings together a group of adventurers from the best fiction of the period, including Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Alan Quatermain, and Mina Harker (from Dracula), to fight for England. Moore told a straightforward tale—without the flashbacks and dense multiple narratives of Watchmen—that imagined these characters performing heroic feats within the context of nineteenth-century technology. At once old-fashioned and modern, the series was a huge success and was made into a popular Hollywood movie in 2003 (though Moore's involvement with that movie, as well as with a filmed version of V for Vendetta in 2006, prompted the comics creator to swear off any future involvement with film).
Moore had remarkable freedom and control at America's Best Comics, and he used it to mastermind several distinct ongoing series of comics in the 2000s. Tom Strong is a straightforward superhero story, with a hero similar to Superman; Promethea is a female superhero, and the mythic stories about her exploits are best suited to mature readers; Top Ten imagines a world in which everyone has superpowers; and Tomorrow Stories is an anthology, with ongoing stories of varying length. Given full control over who he worked with, Moore spread the art work around, both to industry pros and to newcomers. Each in their own way, the stories had a kind of exuberance and youthful enthusiasm that was rare in the comic book industry and that drew many comparisons to the early days of comics. Moore told Comic Book Artist interviewer Jon B. Cooke: "With ABC, I want to do stories with a sense of exhilaration about them, a kind of freshness and effervescence, a feeling that the people doing them are loving it."
As of 2005, Moore seemed to be changing directions yet again. Disgusted with DC over their negotiations of the film rights for V for Vendetta and the release of a twentieth-anniversary edition of Watchmen, he broke with the company, taking League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with him (a new volume was planned with a different publisher). He was reported to be working on a novel set in his home town of Northampton, a longer graphic novel for Avatar, music CDs, and a variety of other works. Also in 2005, he was engaged to be married to a longtime girlfriend, Melinda Gebbie. What the future will bring for one of the industry's most respected and most prolific comics creators is difficult to tell.
For More Information
Khoury, George. The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore. Raleigh, NC: TwoMorrows, 2003.
Moore, Alan, and Ian Gibson. The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones. London: Titan Books, 2003.
Parkin, Lance. The Pocket Essential Alan Moore. Herts, UK: Pocket Essentials, 2001.
Smoky Man and Gary Spencer Millidge, ed. Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2003.
Jensen, Jeff. "Watchmen, an Oral History." Entertainment Weekly (October 28, 2005): p. 44.
Locus Magazine (July 2003). Available online at Locus Online.http://www.locusmag.com/2003/Issue07/Moore.html (accessed on November 16, 2005).
"Moore Leaves DC for Top Shelf." Publishers Weekly (May 30, 2005): p. 14.
"Alan Moore." Read Yourself Raw.http://www.readyourselfraw.com/profiles/moore/profile_moore.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"All-Time 100 Novels." Time.http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Cooke, Jon B. "Toasting Absent Heroes." Comic Book Artist #9, posted at TwoMorrows.http://www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/09moore.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Johnston, Rick. "Lying in the Gutters." Comic Book Resources. http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?column=litg&article=2153 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Kavanagh, Barry. "The Alan Moore Interview." http://www.blather.net/articles/amoore/alanmoore.txt (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Pappu, Sridhar. "We Need Another Hero." Salon.http://www.salon.com/people/feature/2000/10/18/moore/ (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Robinson, Tasha. "Interview: Alan Moore." Onion AV Club.http://avclub.com/content/node/24222 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Thill, Scott. "The Man Who Invented the Future." Salon.http://www.salon.com/books/int/2004/07/22/moore/index.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).