Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Alan Moore Effect

Last week, Alan Moore released a comic. This is A Big Deal in comicdom, at least to a certain section of people. Alan Moore is the man who wrote Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and did a lot of pretty revolutionary stuff in the world of sequential man-punching-man art. It's like ... a new Prince release in pop-world, let's say.*

And so its fitting that the particulars of this latest work are a little strange. Moore eschewed the traditional Big Two publishers long ago so it perhaps shouldn't be so big a surprise that this is coming out through Avatar Comics, a pretty small creator-orientated publisher. But, as traditional Big Important Comics release methods go, it's about as conventional as Prince giving away his new album with The Daily Mirror.** It's not getting reviewed in a lot of the mainstream places, there's no real marketing push. It is an event only to people who decide to let it be an event. Which is unusual enough in the world of comics.

But what's more unusual, what really seems to have taken people by surprise, is the actual content of this, Alan Moore's (apparently) Final Comic. Which, oh yeah, we should probably start referring to by name as the comic itself actually matters, a bit: Neonomicon.
NeonomiconLogo

What is actually unusual about Neonomicon is quite how usual it all is.

Neonomicon*** is a supernatural-horror police-procedural. CSI crossed with Lovecraft; the fantastic grounded in the earthy. Which is a nice premise. But, given this is a man who is deified for his unthreading of comic conventions and masterful interweaving of new narrative techniques, it's hardly innovative. It's told very straight. There's no particular cleverness, no obvious Mooreisms to speak of. Unless, of course, you're hip to the theory of 'Diegetic Panelisation'.****

The relevant video is here, which I found through Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool. Its presentation is ridiculous: all sweeping Inception score and "I don't know about you, but that scares me", post-Matrix ponderousness and naughty, naughty swears.

Not to give much away, I don't put much stock in the Diegetic Panelisation theory. Okay, let's break this down. Like in panels.

-The idea is that Moore is drawing our attention, very subtly, to the artificial nature of his story. This comic is a comic. He does this, mostly, through his uses of panels and gutters. As the video wisely does, I shall steal from Scott McCloud at this point:
Panels
Moore's repeated use of a four-panel layout is suggested as a kind of primer to the game we're meant to be playing. The thing is, this isn't stuck to that slavishly, or even broken at key moments to emphasise the point. Definitely not enough that it stands out, the four-panel 'widescreen' approach being a fairly common part of modern comics.

-The game that this sets up, the theory goes, is to establish that long screen-shaped rectangle as our viewing window. This is echoed within the art itself.
NPanels1
This is interesting.
However, spotting panels within panels eventually becomes just that: a game of spot-the-rectangle. A single screen within a panel is interesting. Pointing out how often the art uses (real world examples of) rectangles ignores a dozen obvious criticisms.
NPanels2
This is going too far.
-Even if this is what Moore has chosen to explore, it would actually be a little disappointing. I mean, haven't we all read Grant Morrison by now? Comic characters becoming self-aware, panel borders as physical boundaries, the escape off the page are hardly new ideas. Not to spoil them for anyone, but go and read Flex Mentallo, Animal Man, The Filth... Comparing this to Magritte's fist assertion that this is not a pipe is reaching, to say the least.

And reaching is the recurring theme of this theory. What it all reeks of is desperation. The Great Bearded One is Serious Grown-Up Comic's greatest totem and today, as he semi-rejects the medium, new work by Moore gets sparser and sparser. And then one comes along and it is just so  ... plain. And so the defence mechanisms kick in, antibodies are released, and geekzyme breaks down the work until it fits into the hole deemed fitting.

The thing is, being fair, parts of the theory actually make sense. The 'literary in-joke' comment stuck out even on first reading, some of the panel-within-a-panel stuff actually makes sense (especially in the otherwise arbitrary use of a geodome surrounding the city setting). The graffitied painting that plays a key part in the plot has edges designed to look like a gateway, like those illusions where the graffiti makes it look like the pavement is falling away to reveal what lies beneath, all of which lends credence to the ideas of depth and flatness. Most of all, it makes for an interesting reading of the comic's final, sharpest moment. Which is, as I read it, simply a use of comics' uniquely graphic-but-not-reality images to produce a simple trick, a trompe l'oeil.
amazing-3d-pavement-art-1

I think there's even something to the idea itself: the story does to be headed somewhere. But even if this reading is spot-on, it's hardly 'woah' stuff. A lot of what is pointed to is essentially that Alan Moore knows the form: which should be a surprise to about no-one who has ever studied/analysed comic.

(And I'm a bit of a hypocrite for knocking over-analysis, as this blog is testament to. And faith in a bigger meaning is what kept me clinging to Lost for ever and ever. Meanwhile, I consume everything I can find on Inception - which I didn't even love, that much - and Grant Morrison's Batman stuff.)

Our analyst is clearly talented. There's a lot of good observation in here, from the hand-drawn wobbly borders to the very particular structure of the art. And, hey, it's made me look again at this comic and I've ended up spending most of this post analysing his analysis, rather than breaking down the actual comic. I just think that shows how there's not much to be picked at in the meat of the issue itself.

The other thing is, it's actually possibly more interesting that Moore chose to do this as his last work, a simple story-for-story's sake genre piece, to wash his hands of the reputation he's developed in the world of comics, something he has denounced repeatedly and you can tell he's uncomfortable with. The mind of the logical reader might see a good comic, slightly creepy, an interesting idea or two.

Meanwhile, the mind twisted by a lifetime of entitled comics fanboyism tells us: Daddy's left us, with a great big single-fingered salute to all our hopes and dreams (he told us we could go with him and play major-league baseball forever!) And we're left at home, scrabbling around in what's left and trying to find some meaning. Please, let there be meaning.
neonomicon
*The analogy fits quite well, actually: artist does big work in 80s, becomes Godhead, goes a bit mental, partially disappears only to come back and start renouncing the internet or the films of their work.
**No offence to Avatar Comics meant, here. They deal in doing stuff the other publishers wouldn't dare and for that reason a couple of beloved creators, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, seem to have found something of a home there, nestled in Avatar's rafters. They're also publishing Kieron Gillen's new thing, The Heat, so they're generally pretty kewl.
***I am sick of typing this word already. This is Reason #2 I avoided calling it by name till now.
****Oh, no. I hate typing that far more.

3 comments:

Rich Johnston said...

I thibnk the gutters thing is the clincher which anchors all the other theories.

Alex said...

I think, in the other direction, it was just the presentation of the video that turned me off.

It's not even if it's 'right', as a theory, there's just something about the whole thing...

I have to admit, though, after mulling on it some, that doing the whole meta-comics as a horror story is actually a really good idea.

DS said...

Hey,
Just saw this after fondly remembering coining a ridiculous phrase; googling.
I remember being disappointed that the rest of the issues didn't pan out the way I anticipated, and I think you've isolated what was correct in them. At any rate, a great pleasure to read this!
- David

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.