Alan Moore has helped to shape and refine the art of comic book storytelling in a way that no other creators can claim, and may arguably be comics' only true genius. Now, as he reaches his half-century, Ninth Art revisits his extraordinary career.
17 November 2003


Alan Moore was born on November 18, 1953, in Northampton, England. He grew up poor and rather bored and was expelled from secondary school at age 16. After being refused enrolment by every decent school in the area, Moore dove headfirst into writing, contributing unpaid pieces to local 'zines and eventually landing gigs with British publications DOCTOR WHO WEEKLY and 2000 AD, where he made a name for himself with increasingly complex and socially aware stories. One of the most famous, the mind-bending time travel caper CHRONOCOPS, was drawn by Dave Gibbons and foreshadowed a visual precision Moore would later utilise to great effect in WATCHMEN.

Moore burst onto the mainstream American comics scene in the early 1980s and things haven't been the same since. It's hard to overstate Alan Moore's contribution to modern comic books. Suffice it to say that over the last two decades Moore has produced some of the most consistently brilliant work in the medium, and in doing so shaken up the art form and changed the face of the industry.


1982 - Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd begin work on V FOR VENDETTA, a black and white serial in the pages of Britain's WARRIOR magazine. A dystopian fantasy set in a fascist future England, V reads like an anarchist manifesto. The work of a younger and angrier Moore, what it lacks in storytelling invention it makes up for in raw fire and passion. WARRIOR folds in 1983, leaving the story unfinished until DC resurrects it in 1988.

In the same year, Moore revives the old British superhero Marvelman for WARRIOR, beginning a story that would become as famous for events off the page as on it. MARVELMAN is the first, and, some say, the best of Moore's superhero deconstructions, a genre that he would later be credited with pioneering. Moore casts a harsh but sympathetic light on the absurdity of traditional superhero conventions, extrapolating the impact a real superhero might have on the world, and how that superhero might view mankind's petty follies. This is, for the time, almost revolutionary thought, and the series notably reaches a similar conclusion to V FOR VENDETTA, albeit in a more idealistic fashion. MARVELMAN brought Moore to the attention of watchful editors in America. Due to disagreements over rights ownership, Moore's run on the character remains uncollected.

1983 - Struggling horror series SWAMP THING gets a shot in the leafy arm when DC editor Karen Berger hires Moore to revive the title. Moore is given carte blanche over the book, although editorial guidelines mandate that he throw in a DC superhero or two every once in a while. Moore manages just fine. Within two years, SWAMP THING becomes one of the most critically acclaimed comics around and begins to outsell many of DC's classic superhero titles. SWAMP THING also becomes the first mainstream series to run without the Comics Code Seal of Approval in nearly thirty years, paving the way for DC's Vertigo line, which editors have since nicknamed "The House That Alan Built".

1984 - THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES launches in 2000AD, and immediately stands out from the rest of the magazine. The story of an ordinary girl living in a humdrum, overpopulated 50th century society, obsessed with fads and a lack of identity, is a stark contrast to the testosterone-fuelled action strips that dominate the comic. Just ten weeks later, with the conclusion of Book One, Halo Jones has become one of the comic's most popular characters, largely due to Moore's emphasis on universal teenage concerns regarding escaping from home to forge one's own identity. Halo would return for two more books in 2000AD to increasing acclaim. Moore's original plans for nine HALO JONES books, however, were abandoned when he turned his back on 2000AD due to contractual issues.

1986 - The twelve-issue series WATCHMEN begins publication. DC Comics had acquired the rights to The Question, Captain Atom and a handful of other properties originally published by Charlton Comics a few years earlier. Moore pitched an idea for a miniseries based on these characters, but DC rejected the proposal, noting that they would have interfered with their long-term hopes for the characters. Moore reworks the story using original characters instead. The result is arguably the most acclaimed and influential superhero comic ever written - though calling WATCHMEN a superhero comic is like calling MOBY DICK a book about fishing. The book effortlessly transcends its genre, refusing to be pigeonholed, and raises the creative bar for the entire medium.

1988 - Moore leaves DC on bad terms. Disputes heat up over the reprint rights to WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA, as well as DC's insistence on placing a "mature readers" label on SWAMP THING. Moore famously comments that, "You might as well label them 'Full of tits and innards'." Moore breaks his ties with the publisher, vowing never to work for DC again. Over the next decade, Moore's name appears on fewer and fewer comic books, prompting speculation that he has turned his back on the medium. At the same time, he becomes increasingly interested in magic, and legends begin to circulate about "weird, reclusive Alan Moore".

1989 - Tundra publishes the first volume of Moore's Jack the Ripper epic FROM HELL with artist and collaborator Eddie Campbell. The series will take ten years to finish, and segments will be published by no less than four companies - three of which will go out of business. The book is eventually finished in 2001 and Campbell publishes the collected edition himself, through his own Eddie Campbell Comics. The graphic imagery and hyper-realistic violence of FROM HELL will result in import bans by some countries, including Campbell's own home of Australia. FROM HELL is painstakingly researched, heartfelt and profound. Eddie Campbell's rough linework sets the perfect tone, and Moore's conclusion as to the Ripper's identity and motive, while somewhat dubious, is utterly compelling.

1990 - Moore forms his own publishing company, Mad Love, and begins publication of BIG NUMBERS. Drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, BIG NUMBERS - an ostensibly simple story about an American company's plans to build a modern shopping centre in the middle of a declining English industrial town, with parallels based in fractal mathematics - is the most complex work Moore has attempted to date. Rumour has it that notes for the 12-issue series include a wall-sized chart outlining the arc and connections of all forty characters, and the excruciatingly detailed scripts run to absurd lengths.

BIG NUMBERS #1 sells 65,000 copies, but soon after #2 is released - and for reasons that no-one has ever been able to agree on - Bill Sienkiewicz quits. His replacement, Al Columbia, produces nothing publishable. Mad Love effectively bankrupts Moore. Despite persistent rumours of a television version or replacement artist, BIG NUMBERS is never completed. Though people are still hoping for its completion more than ten years later, Moore is said to be surprised that anyone still cares.

1999 - Moore launches five new series at once under his own imprint: America's Best Comics. Moore handpicks his artists and announces that, while they will do their best to get the books out on time, there is no set schedule and there never will be. Initially regarded as minor works, the line does produce some significant additions to the creator's canon, in particular, PROMETHEA, which reflects on Moore's fascination with magic. Dismissed by early critics as "Alan Moore's answer to Wonder Woman", PROMETHEA soon reveals its real purpose: to explain metaphysical and magical concepts via comic book form. The result is one of the most singularly beautiful and thought-provoking comics ever created. JH Williams III could arguably be called Moore's most perfect collaborator to date.

2000 - DC buys out WildStorm Entertainment, the parent company of America's Best Comics. According to popular myth, WildStorm CEO Jim Lee immediately jumped on a plane to England in order to personally assure Moore that DC editorial would never, ever touch any of his books. Legend also has it that Moore's ABC cheques are either issued personally by Lee, or actually paid to Dave Gibbons, as a way to avoid Moore breaking his promise never to work for DC again.

2001 - FROM HELL is adapted into a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp and Ian Holm, directed by the Hughes Brothers (MENACE II SOCIETY). The film receives a lukewarm reception from critics, but is commercially successful. Fans of the book loudly denounce the movie for taking liberties with the characters and story. Moore's only comment: "It's my book, but it's their film. The book is unaffected by it, so I really don't care." Moore takes a similar attitude in 2003 to the critically slated big screen adaptation of his ABC book LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and refuses to see either film.

2002 - DC editorial breaks its hands-off policy by blocking publication of an eight-page 'Cobweb' short in TOMORROW STORIES, and demanding that a sexually explicit scene in PROMETHEA be either edited or removed. Both decisions are due to content: the Cobweb story portrays Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard in an unfavourable light; PROMETHEA #21 features a graphic depiction of 'the Rape of Celine', an ancient Greek myth.

Moore retaliates by withdrawing his approval for a 15th anniversary edition of WATCHMEN and a line of WATCHMEN action figures. Fearing a public backlash, DC kills both WATCHMEN projects and turns over the rights to the censored Cobweb story to Moore himself. It later sees print in Top Shelf's anthology book, TOP SHELF ASKS THE BIG QUESTIONS, as 'La Toile'.


In a recent interview for Ninth Art, Moore announced that he would be "closing down" his mainstream comic career by the end of the year so that he could pursue other creative interests. At this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, ABC editor Scott Dunbier claimed that Moore isn't done with the line just yet - a third LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is promised, and there may yet be a second season of TOP TEN - but as other creators begin taking over his titles and PROMETHEA comes to a promised end, the retirement looks more or less settled, bar the presentation of a carriage clock.

With the ABC line, Moore has effectively put a cap on his mainstream career. He has hinted about "other creative avenues", but no specific projects have been announced. Many speculate - and hope - that his "mainstream retirement" will still leave the door open for plenty of non-mainstream projects in the future.


For a look at some of the best works of Moore's career, read Ninth Art's The List: Alan Moore, plus this coming Friday's review of his seminal work, WATCHMEN.


"Rather than seizing upon the superficial similarities between comics and films or comics and books in the hope that some of the respectability of those media will rub off upon us, wouldn't it be more constructive to focus our attention upon those ideas where comics are special and unique? Rather that dwelling upon film techniques that comics can duplicate, shouldn't we perhaps consider comic techniques that films can't duplicate?" - ALAN MOORE'S WRITING FOR COMICS, Avatar Press, 2003.

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