Excommunicating myself from the Church of Alan Moore

I’m coming out of the closet: I actively dislike Alan Moore’s “masterpieces”.

As a kid I drank up works like Watchmen (fresh! Post-modern capes!), but even then I secretly struggled to enjoy V for Vendetta – simply getting through it without losing any grip on a sense of a cohesive story was a challenge, and I worried there was something wrong with me.

As I returned to comics as an adult, I quickly revisited Moore (elder respected statesmen are supposed to be admired, revered and read, so I did my duty to god and the queen) and slogged through Watchmen (again), then Promethea (directionless softcore), Top Ten (interesting and enjoyable but probably due more to Gene Ha’s art) and then League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (curious, teasing with its layers of detail, but ultimately thinly veneered story – more like a series of staged scenes in which to scatter all his historical research).

I told myself I was enjoying it (I really needed to believe I saw what everyone else was talking about), but eventually I got to a point where I saw how many times I would put V on the pile of books but dig underneath it to something I was enjoying – and berating myself for not doing my “required reading”.  Then I realized that if I didn’t enjoy something *that* much, there’s actually no good reason why I *should* force myself to finish it.  So I didn’t.  And felt liberated for the epiphany.

My review on Goodreads of V for Vendetta is simply this: “Awful, stilted writing. Reads like an assigned book from a first-year Literature class – not something to be enjoyed but to be excruciatingly endured. Should be required reading for the Guantanamo set.”

My opinions on Alan Moore’s masterpieces started to turn when I started to read some dissent from fellow readers/reviewers on Goodreads and really crystallized when I started commenting in the recent “book club discussion” on Goodreads.

The more I think about Watchmen the book vs. Watchmen the movie, the more I realise that Moore’s greatest achievements are writing the wordy equivalent of a Where’s Waldo puzzle. His dialogue’s not bad and at least the plots aren’t telegraphed from page 1, but his characterisations are absurdly inhuman and the work is needlessly overwritten with irrelevant trivia.  It’s like an artist who has a bad case of OCD – he can’t put the damned brush down, even after he’s layered on so much paint that the original picture is completely inscrutable underneath the layers of random strokes and irrelevant tangents, that all look pretty but have destroyed anything worth rendering to the world.

Hiding your pretty storyline behind (or burying it under) details that don’t advance the story is a way of teasing the smarties in the audience and making making them feel smarter than “other readers”, but the conceit falls down once you realise that “other readers” don’t care to crack an encyclopaedia every page or two – we lose the rhythm of the plot (if there is one) in trying to figure out what that next metal trap is all about.

As a kid I loved how I could feel smarter than my peers while reading this kind of stuff (even though truthfully I only understood about 1/4 of the references and just imagined that there was weighty importance to the rest). Now, I find things like Watchmen, LoXG or that turgid thesis V just tiresome and laborious to slog through, especially when trying to ignore Moore’s desperate pleas to “look at how smart I am” and find the underlying story that’s still worth enjoying. Somehow the movies were able to emulate Moore’s staging and still find a way to *connect* with the moviegoer – but just barely, considering how slavish they were to nearly every page of layout and dialogue.

I feel at once brave and stupid for putting this out to the world – like I’m going to lose a number of people who would’ve otherwise tried to like me, but are put off because I just called their favourite baby ugly.  I can only offer that my standards have changed since I first started reading comics, and this no longer holds the line for most exciting works in comics for me. “At the time his work was amazing” is an historical conceit, but if that’s the best reason I can come up with to convince myself to like it, I’ll move onto something I just *naturally* enjoy today. There’s a wide world of books and tastes out there these days, and for me I’m glad to have more than Moore to choose from.

I still like Moore’s cleverness (despite my self-consciousness at why I like it), and what I don’t like about his work, many others do. We don’t have to agree on what’s best, nor would I enjoy the medium as much if there was no variety to choose from or be surprised by. I appreciate that others don’t agree with me, and in many cases I’m ready to understand something I’ve missed that others see. I’ve thought a lot about Moore’s work over the years and my opinions have evolved – but hasn’t entirely stagnated. Who knows? Maybe in another ten years I’ll see something there that isn’t apparent to me now, and I might be horribly embarrassed by these current opinions.

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