Alan Moore is, without a doubt, one of the most important writers of the modern age. The effect he has had on popular culture has been momentous. Moore’s work goes far beyond the efforts of his contemporaries such as Frank Miller and Dave Sim and can be viewed across society in many different aspects. Of course, he’s the man who made the comic book darker and acceptable for adults to read, but he’s so much more than that. An iconoclast, the majority of Moore’s output is just as crucial as any novel or academic work.
First of all, his reinvention of the comic book and the superhero for the modern age has been transformative on both the discipline and on wider culture such as film and TV. Through his work on Miracleman in the 1980s, he single-handedly tore the comic book from the hands of the child and placed it in the libraries of adults worldwide.
He changed the symbolic nature of a superhero. Through his penchant for darkness and socio-political commentary made the graphic novel, as it was now called, a respected medium within the world of literature. The age of the campy and slightly vacuous superhero was over. The superhero was now a tool for commenting on society’s many ills.
Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Jerusalem are arguably the five most important works he has released to date. The human and flawed heroes in Watchmen served as a brilliant means of asking questions about those who hold power in society. It was informed by The Cold War and the oppressive dedication to neoliberalism by ideologues such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Moreover, Moore explained in the ’80s that the overarching theme is the worrying direction society was heading in due to “power politics”.
V for Vendetta is arguably his most famous creation, even if the people it affects aren’t directly aware of it. The Guy Fawkes masked donned by hacker group Anonymous and left-wing protestors, such as the Occupy movement, was plucked from the mysterious protagonist ‘V’, the anarchist revolutionary who dons a Guy Fawkes mask in the comic.
Moore himself is openly an anarchist, and this viewpoint is set in direct opposition to murderous fascism in V for Vendetta. He used the graphic novel as a means of inspiring real thought in people. He said he “didn’t want to tell people what to think”, but wanted them to think independently about the recurrence of extreme events in history and what causes them.
Openly against the mainstream comic industry, namely former publisher DC Comics, who have sold the soul of his work for profit, Moore has welcomed the influence of V for Vendetta for just causes. More recently, the Guy Fawkes mask has been used in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, as has come to symbolise hope and the human struggle, embodying but elevating V’s design in the graphic novel.
V for Vendetta also had an almost sage-like take on the concept of surveillance. Set in what was once to Moore the far-flung year of 1997, when Tony Blair’s government came to power that year and started rolling out mass CCTV and surveillance programmes, he said: “I wondered whether they had, perhaps, been enormous V for Vendetta fans in their youth, and that this was probably my fault in some way”.
In a 2015 interview with Goodreads, Moore commented: “From my position, if I have had one of my ideas stolen from me and turned into yet another cash-generator for some abhuman corporation, then if it has at least escaped into the wild sufficiently to be of some symbolic use to today’s protest movements, that makes me feel a lot better about having written it in the first place”.
However, in a 2016 interview with RT, Moore did explain his regret at the way that Anonymous had a huge hand in kicking off the bloody ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011 by doxxing the governments. Their interference led to violent confrontations where innocent people were killed. He says this led to an “insoluble bloodbath like Syria”.
The serial From Hell is also genius. A speculative take on the classic conspiracy theory surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders as a means of covering up a Royal bastard, Moore used the ominous setting of the late Victorian era as a means of holding the mirror up to present society. In addition to including nods to his belief in magic, the fourth dimension and esotericism, From Hell can be interpreted as an account of how society got to its present juncture and how modernity arrived, and it’s not a pleasant tale.
Inspired in part by the title of Douglas Adams’ iconic novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a central theme of From Hell is that to solve a crime in the holistic sense, one would need to cure the ills of the society in which it was enacted. The implications of this sentiment are massive, and it tells you a lot about the work even before it’s been read. Given that it’s a mystery, we don’t want to spoil it, but the nature and circumstance surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders in From Hell make it a moreish puzzle that, upon completion, your perspective will have altered drastically.
Another vital facet of Moore is his opinion on conspiracy theories, something that is more pertinent today than it has ever been. In a 2003 documentary on his work, he discussed the research he did for an American legal institution known as the Christic Insitute in the ’80s. He was tasked with compiling a comic book on the CIA‘s murky history, and what he found is terrifying to conspiracy theorists. Moore recalled: “The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12-foot reptoids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is far more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless”.
One of the most perceptive writers of the modern era, there’s no surprise that Moore has influenced the likes of Neil Gaiman and Damon Lindelof. Whilst some of his works can be a little too wordy, his best efforts are hugely significant. As a man and author, he is one of the most fascinating figures Britain has to offer. An artist in every sense of the word, he moved into film with the 2020 effort The Show, reflecting that there’s no medium he’s afraid of trying.
A colossal figure with lots to delve into, what we’ve discussed here is not even the tip of the iceberg, so do yourself a favour and delve into the magical world of Alan Moore.