The gap between art and music has been lessening in recent years. John Lennon used Walls and Bridges to showcase his skills as a painter, King Crimson used In The Court of the Crimson King as a vessel to travel between impasto and intuition, and then there’s Gorillaz, the video project pencilled by Damon Albarn as a form of protest against the growing presence of MTV on British shores.
More interestingly, graphic novelist Alan Moore worked with Mike Patton on a project that combined both their talents into one interesting whole. Moore’s background was in comic books, having previously written about Batman and Superman, while Patton was a rockstar who toured as part of Faith No More. Together, they pooled their ideas to create a “photographic novel” that was punctuated by music.
It happened at a time of great reinvention for the two artists, and they are artists, who were determined to change expectations of them. What they brought wasn’t just clarity, but context, shaping their work to demonstrate where the two men lay in 2009. Moore was growing more disenfranchised with the industry that he had unintentionally spearheaded, so working with Patton gave him another outlet to pursue.
“I haven’t read any superhero comics since I finished with Watchmen,” Moore recalled.”I hate superheroes. I think they’re abominations. They don’t mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine to 13-year-old audience”.
Adding: “That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13; it’s nothing to do with them. It’s an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal”.
What he got with Patton was a collaborator eager to explore new forms and new avenues. What he needed to do was to give his creative spirit a boost up, after losing interest in a series of projects that didn’t help nurture his creative spirit. Lit by the excitement of an entirely new form of expression, the writer turned to Patton to create an entirely new universe built around texture and tone.
Moore acted as the story’s narrator, his mellifluous tones washing over the audio, bringing listeners more profoundly into the heartland of the tale. It was a stint of acting, regaling listeners in a tale that was much opera as it was opulence, and when they combined their talents together into one densely sealed pot. Moore later admitted that he felt the story was written from his idiosyncratic view of the world, meaning that the music acted as a backdrop to engineer another layer of emotion from the scribe.
He was throwing himself out into the world, never knowing which way he was expected to turn, much like Patton had thrown himself precariously across the stage in Faith No More. Faith No More was a band of hybrid instrumentation, never settling for one genre when there were several others to conquer and bend to their will.
Pigeonholing scarcely makes for great art, as most artists feel best capable of creating their best work when they are free from the pressures of the outside world. Together, Patton and Moore knew only too well what it was like for an artist to be stuck in one cage, so they made sure to create a new form of entertainment that allowed both men to breathe freely, and without fear of compromise.
Moore worked on Unearthing, before returning to Jerusalem, his greatest expression of free-thinking and philosophical endeavours. His work chimed with a new form of literature; the novel. And it was as a novelist that he could take his work more seriously than he could as a graphic writer striving to push the boundaries of what his readers expected from the mould.
In other words, Patton helped Moore locate a creative valve that he may not have known existed before the collaboration, and if it wasn’t for the realm of rock, Moore might not have come up with a book that was as emotionally coiled as it was dexterous and ambitious. But between these two came another art form, and it was their art form.
No matter what the critics said or where they went with the work, Unearthing was the baby the writer of Watchmen and singer-songwriter from Faith No More produced together. It had their DNA, their genealogy and their imprint. And we were the lucky recipients of such an esoteric endeavour.
Stream an interview with Alan Moore, discussing the propensities of writing, below.