Sometimes it transpires that the creators behind the characters on the page are of even greater interest. Quentin Tarintino is as popular a character as any of his on screen creations. The late Tom Clancy was easily as well known as Jack Ryan or any of his other characters. In the field of comics there seems to be a surplus of these larger than life characters: Stan ‘ The Man’ Lee, ‘ Wisecracking’ Warren Ellis, Grant ‘Good Times’ Morrison and to my mind the most enigmatic of them all, the creative (and literal) wizard behind some of the most important books of the last 30 years, Alan Moore.
The early career of the Northampton-born Moore is fairly straightforward stuff: he had made a name for himself on the British comics’ circuit writing for titles such as Doctor Who, Captain Britain and 2000AD. His work on the latter garnered him several UK based comics awards (voted for by, in Moore’s words, “50 people in anoraks with awful social lives”), which caught the eye of US comics giant DC, who offered him the opportunity to write their Swamp Thing title. Rising to the challenge, Moore somehow managed to take a failing book in which the protagonist was a walking snot pile from selling a meager 15,000 copies to selling more than 100,000 copies.
DC “rewarded” this success by giving Moore a line of super hero characters from the recently acquired Charlton Comics that he could revamp as he saw fit. Moore felt that if he started the series off with the death of a major character that was well known to the reader it would let them know they were reading something outside of the established norm in which characters were largely indestructible and status quo was king. Eventually the permission to use the Charlton characters was lost as DC wanted to integrate them into the DC Universe proper, but Moore carried on with characters that he created himself, reasoning that “If I wrote the substitute characters well enough, so that they seemed familiar in certain ways, certain aspects of them brought back a kind of generic super-hero resonance or familiarity to the reader, then it might work”.
By this stage of the game, there cant be too many comics fans who have yet to read Watchmen, and there is little that can be said about its content that has not already been said (save to say that it is deserving of every single platitude heaped upon it, and more besides). The reaction to Watchmen is of far greater interest. To comics fans and creators Watchmen (along with Frank Millar’s The Dark Knight Returns) served as a clarion call, ushering in the era of grim and gritty comics that led to the creation of Tim Burton’s Batman franchise, changing the way comics were written forever thus leading to the comics boom (and eventual bust) of the 1990’s. Moore, however, was displeased by DC’s treatment of him in the wake of Watchmen’s success and saw their refusal to pay any royalties on merchandise (according to them they were promotional items) as the final straw in their strained relationship. In 1990 he refused to work with them any longer.
After completing contractually-stipulated work for DC most notably The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta, Moore blazed a trail through the indie and small press scene, forging a reputation as a maverick superstar creator taking on the industry on his own terms. His work ranged from paying loving homage to the comics of his childhood (Supreme and 1963 for Image); linking hundreds of literary characters into a single universe (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen); and playing with the comics medium itself – get your hands on a copy (actually better make it two) of the last issue of Promethea and you will see a perfect example of this. It was also during the post-DC period that a bizarre cult of personality began to develop around Moore. The idea that one of comics’ most revered creators was raging against the corporate machine in a stubborn fashion that would ultimately cost him literally millions of dollars in films rights – all the while looking like Catweazel (look it up)-probably would have been sufficient (his standard line? “ Take my name off it, give the money to the artists”). But that was coupled with the fact that he declared himself a wizard and started to worship Glycon, a snake god who was outed as a glove puppet in the early third century. At this time he also fell into personal conflict with some of his past collaborators, becoming a particularly harsh critic of the scene, creators and the fans alike.
For some reason people seem to need the people who create great art to also to be great people, although history has shown that his does not always work out: Richard Wagner- Nazi; William Shatner-asshole. Moore seems to be walking a fine line with regard to his public perception -which in all fairness he really couldn’t give a toss about. To my mind he is both genuine and uncompromising about his beliefs or his work, and despite everything, is self-effacing and good humored about what he considers his failings. As he moves towards his dotage his work becomes more and more left field and divisive, and it seems the chances that he might ever once again work for a big publisher again are slim. As these chances diminish, so the cult of personality grows.