On his way home from a long day of teaching high-school English in North Hollywood, he decided to stop at the comic-book store. He picked up a comic called Snakes & Ladders, Eddie Campbell’s illustrated adaptation of a spoken-word performance by Alan Moore. (Later, he discovered there was a Snakes & Ladders CD.) Moore had presented his intricate and delirious historical-cosmological monologue in London’s Red Lion Square on April 10. April 10 was his birthday. He took it as an omen and purchased the comic book. Snakes & Ladders may have been obscure, but the name Alan Moore certainly wasn’t. Along with Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, he was one of the triumvirate of comic-book visionaries whose writing had been vital to his late teens and twenties.
An occultist and anarchist with an abiding distrust of the heroic and a grim predilection for the dystopian, Moore had penned a number of illustrious comic books. In Saga of the Swamp Thing, he endowed the eponymous palustrine creature with an all-too-human soul. Watchmen demolished the mythology of the superhero and introduced one of his most unforgettable characters with one of the most sublime of all comic-book monikers, Rorschach, named after that blurry psychoanalytic blot out of which you dredge images residing within your unconscious. With V For Vendetta, Moore resurrected the spirit of Guy Fawkes, the man who attempted to blow up Parliament (“Remember, remember the fifth of November”) and later provided a “face” for “Anonymous” hackers and the protesters of Occupy. Moore’s portrait of The Joker as a dark trickster in The Killing Joke preceded Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan’s by two decades. From Hell surveyed the psychogeographic terrain haunted by Jack the Ripper. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen recruited its adventurers from Moore’s voracious excavation of the vast trophy room of Victorian literature. A whole host of hermetic sources were brought to bear in the 32-issue Tarot inspired-feminist-Kabbalistic-apocalyptic-who-knows-what-else odyssey Promethea. Then there was Lost Girls, concerning the erotic escapades of Wendy from Peter Pan, Alice from Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz when they meet up in an Austrian hotel on the eve of the First World War. Moore had thought deeply and profoundly about heroes, stories, cities, politics, history, theology, pornography, and, beneath it all, humanity. Nothing human was alien to him.
This comic-book magus was ungovernably ambitious, beguilingly learned, relentlessly immersive, extravagantly, even exasperatingly referential and, impossible to ignore, fantastically, formidably unshorn. With his wizardly beard, Moore had the look of a man who couldn’t wait to be an eccentric old geezer or nutter. But wasn’t the entire history of England bestrewn with brilliant nutters? Who was the one who proclaimed: “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s/I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create”? It was that 18th-century graphic novelist William Blake.
He found that he shared with Moore admiration for and fascinations with many of the same authors and nutters—David Lindsay, H.P. Lovecraft, Mervyn Peake, Thomas Pynchon, Iain Sinclair. He was impressed by how Moore explored the idea that superheroes and villains were forged out of trauma even as he acknowledged that the resulting transformations from these wounds were ludicrously unlikely. “People I’m sure have had their parents killed in front of their eyes,” Moore said in an interview. “I think that would probably lead to a life in analysis and probably all sorts of personal problems. It probably won’t lead to you becoming a bat-themed vigilante.” Moore underwent his own esoteric transformation, became a different sort of conjurer with words when, on his fortieth birthday, Moore declared himself a magician. He claimed to be worshipping a forgotten Roman snake god answering to the name Glycon. Among his many projects he was said to be at work on a grimoire, his own manual of magic.
The day after poring over Snakes & Ladders and casting his mind back through all the worlds Moore had introduced to him over the years, the class he taught—on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” as it happened—would take a number of peculiar turns. He opened his class with what he thought would be received as a liberatory proclamation (or was it actually an incantation?):
“TODAY, YOU ARE NO LONGER HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENTS. YOU ARE ROMANTIC POETS, FEARLESS EXPLORERS AND CARTOGRAPHERS OF THE IMAGINATION.”
A few students seemed to smile or nod their heads in approval. Many tittered, rolled their eyes, or gaped openly, embarrassed for the nutter who had now materialized before them at the front of their classroom. How swiftly do some opposing systems of the world collide!
So remember, remember the 18th of November. Happy 59th birthday, Alan Moore.
Read at 826LA, November 18, 2012
By Anthony Miller
an Editor-at-Large of Black Clock