Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Alan Moore makes the familiar strange

Remember that line about making the familiar strange? There's a witty example in Watchmen in which Jon Osterman has returned from the accident that dematerialized him and become Dr. Manhattan, able to dematerialize himself and others.

The trope of a man gaining super powers from an accident and becoming a costumed crime fighter will be familiar to anyone who has read a Marvel comic. In author Alan Moore's world, however, the transition is not direct. It takes image consultants, government handlers, cooperative media and a willing public to create Dr. Manhattan, a notion that amuses Osterman/Manhattan's wife to no end.

"I mean," she says, smiling widely, "you wear an old double-breasted suit for that photo session, and next thing, everybody's talking about its fashion significance! Can you imagine?"
Can you imagine? Next thing, people will be taking seriously what U.S. presidents, presidents-elect and their wives wear.
======================
P.S. Alan Moore is British, so I'm not becoming cool or changing my focus or succumbing to hype for the upcoming Watchmen movie. Moore fits right in here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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36 Comments:

Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I think I'm going to have to read Watchmen. Neil Gaiman is always raving about Alan Moore, and seeing as I enjoy the former I ought to check out the latter.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

Hmmm....can't say that I think people carefully observing what Obama does and doesn't wear is a good thing. It'd be great, however, to see him use that to his advantage politically.

In response to the comment above, I love Alan Moore's work to death, but I hate Neil Gaiman's. I shouldn't say I hate Gaiman's work, but I attempted to read "Neverwhere" and thought that was one of the worst novels in the world. His graphic novels probably have much more merit. I'll have to finish "V for Vendetta" (loved that movie), and then hurry up and read "Watchmen".

Although the "Watchmen" film is being done by Zack Snyder, who made "300", and I thought that movie sucked. But we'll see.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Alan Moore is a mad crazy genius. Watchmen should be required reading as far as I'm concerned.

You should also check out his books FROM HELL, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and he has a wonderful series called Tom Strong.

November 18, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

We discussed the merits of Watchmen Sandman and V for Vendetta three posts back (comics,comics,comics)

Personally I love both Moore and Gaiman - didn't like Neverwhere much (it was the first novel of his I read after Sandman) and thought Stardust was average- I liked A Study in Emerald,Coraline,American Gods and Anansi boys
but Sandman -the ten graphic novel taken together are really one big story with endless streams and diversions,though you realize it only in the end-
is several skyscrapers above everything else he's written.

Ciao,
Marco

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Gaiman's subject matter is so wide-ranging that any single piece can feel remarkably different from the rest of his work. However, Marco mentioned "A Study in Emerald," which many readers of this blog will probably enjoy, since it melds the Sherlock Holmes' mysteries with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. You can read the entire thing here.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I think I'm going to have to read Watchmen. Neil Gaiman is always raving about Alan Moore, and seeing as I enjoy the former I ought to check out the latter."

Loren, I know Neil Gaiman's name, of course, though I haven't read him. I'm still not sure I'll plunge headfirst into the world of comics, because I'm unsure that what I like so much about Alan Moore will necessarily transfer over to other comics. So for now, I'll say I'm an Alan Moore fan but not yet a comics fan.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

CS, I'm also unsure scrutiny of presidential clothing choices is a good thing, but it happens nonetheless. Some of the Osterman/Dr. Manhattan scenes in Watchmen are set in John F. Kennedy's time, and the character even meets and works with (or for) JFK. Kennedy famously said to have destroyed the fashion for men's hats, so Moore's joke is grounded in history.

As it happens, Michelle Obama's wardrobe had come up in conversation when I was visiting with the friends who got me reading comics, so I know people are still talking about that sort of thing.

I know reaction has been mixed to movies made from Alan Moore's comics, but I'll probably see Watchmen, wondering how much of the feeling of the book it will capture.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jon, I'll probably look for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I'll be eager to see that happens when Moore brings together a gang of Victorian adventurers the way he brought together the masked heroes in Watchmen. I like what he says in Watchmen about the transition from adventurers to superheroes, so I'll be on the lookout for differences of attitude and action between the two books.

Based on interviews I've watched and listened to, Moore is thoughtful about what he does, and he has a wonderful sense of humor, too. That's really why I think you may be right about him.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, I presume the complete Sandman is available in a single volume? I visited a bookstore yesterday that stocked a small Sandman book. I assume it contained one or two or three of the stories.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Loren. "A Study in Emerald" looks interesting graphically even though it's virtually all text.

November 18, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

No Peter -There are 10 graphic novels which collect a series originally consisting of 75 comic books.
The GN contain either story arcs or single stories linked in subtle ways.
There's an 11th volume,Endless Nights,but it is a follow-up published 10 years after the end of the story and doesn't add much.
To add to the confusion there are a few lateral stories which involve minor characters and may have "Sandman" written up front (the two with Death are very good,but contain spoilers) and a series not written by Gaiman called Sandman Mystery Theater only tangentially related.
Suggesting an entry point is difficult-it's better to follow the chronological order of the volumes,but there's also a general consensus according to which the first one doesn't really capture yet the scope and feel of later volumes-it reads very much like a classic horror comic,even if it plants seeds whose true significance will reveal itself only much later.
You could try either v2, The Doll's House,v6 Fables and Reflection or maybe v5 A Game of You.
Fables and Reflection is a collection of one-issue stories- it is maybe the most accessible and apparently the least essential in terms of the general plot,but in a oblique way it comments on themes and explains motivations than run through the entire work.
A Game of You is a closed storyline which follows some characters briefly introducted in previous volumes (in particular in A Doll's House)-again very peripheral with regards to the overarching plot,but exemplifies one of its major themes-how dreams and stories shape identity.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco: Thanks for anticipating my question and suggesting starting points for reading Sandman. I have noticed in my recent browsing that the big names and titles in comics are heavily marketed, with books about, for example, the art of Sandman or Watchmen, if I remember correctly, and maybe even expanded "special" editions and the like. This can make things difficult for neophyte readers such as me.

Meanwhile, I bought volume one of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman today plus some inexpensive volumes of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson. This, no doubt, would make Alan Moore happy. I think the man respects his literary sources.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

League and its sequel are pretty good. Everything Alan Moore touches is pretty good, even his pornographic comic Lost Girls.

Watchmen though is in a class by itself. Its worth pointing out that Moore is a Brit but his Americanisms are almost flawless (almost - the NYC cops 'forget it' instead of 'fuggedabout' among a few other things).

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, what's the title of the sequel to League?

I'd agree that Moore's Americanisms and his sense of place are pretty damn good. I have found one minor slip, perhaps in one of the newspaper headlines, though I can't remember what it is now. But that only points up how good the rest is.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The reviews werent so hot but I liked it. Its just called Volume II. John Carter's in it and there's some pretty steamy x-generational sex.

Whats great about Alan Moore is that he's proudly from Northampton one of the few places in England without any kind of regional identity whatsoever.

November 18, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I'm not sure Good Omens is an entry point for Gaiman or for Terry Pratchett (they co-wrote it), but it's hilarious either way.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter,

I probably should have mentioned previously that "A Study in Emerald" us a short story, not graphic novel. Apologies. I'm a bad person and will wallow in my own spittle as punishment.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren: No need to wallow in your spittle or anyone else's. Those old advertisements were a clever and effective use of illustration, text, and text as illustration.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, this is enlarging my to-read list beyond reasonable dimentions. Not only have I been acquiring comics, but I bought "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" last night, thanks in part to Alan Moore. I also haven't read Terry Pratchett, so "Good Omens" could be an entry point to two authors for me. And "hilarious" is not a word that comes up in discussions of grpahic novels or adventure or fantasy stories. I'm interested.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I've just started reading Volume I of League. I also watched the movie last night. It's not terrible, though I can see why Alan Moore fans hate it. It leaves out the dark nuances and turns the story into a routine adventure yarn. And the movie's Nautilus suffers a Titanic complex. It's too damned large, and it's far less interesting to look at than Kevin O'Neill's crustacean creation in the comic.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger seanag said...

Watchmen seems to be creating a sort of viral interest in graphic novels among our staff too. The Watchmen-Sandman progression seems to be a common one.

I'd recommend Good Omens as well, though it isn't a graphic novel.

As far as the presidential fashion sense goes, yes, people are discussing it almost as much as they're discussing the next White House dog. I was lucky not to get kicked out of my book group last night for voicing my dismay at the way everyone felt obliged to dis Michelle Obama's dress. And these are not trivially minded people as a rule. I sure hope Michelle knew what she was getting into, climbing into the national spotlight. I mean, I hope she didn't think people were going to be interested in her for her brains.

v word=irkshox. And yes, I've had a few of late.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Oh, heavens. "Hilarious" is exactly the word to use for all of Pratchett's satirical Discworld books (he's also written about 20 books for juveniles, which I haven't read). The only question when finding one you haven't read is whether it's outrageously funny or merely full of good laughs.

They don't need to be read in any order, which is an added benefit. As a newspaperman, you might want to start with The Truth.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Evidence that this v-word thing has gone too far: I logged out of Blogger before replying to Seanag's comment just so I would have to log in again before replying. My v-word was ingsti -- fair at best, nowhere near as good as those annoying irkshox.

Dogs ... fashion. They're easier to get a grip on than geopolitics and economics, I suppose.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Just what I need: another reminder of where I work. Thanks, pal.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Oh, don't mention it. It's even worse; that book aims at journalistic ethics.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Such a charming affectation for a dying profession to maintain!

November 19, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linky with respect I'd like to dissent a little on Pratchett. I feel like a freak for not liking Pratchett or Harry Potter but both really get on my nerves. I have a high tolerance for tweeness, silliness and puns, having grown up with Douglas Adams and PG Wodehouse, but Pratchett's treacle is (for me) hard to swallow page after page. He's a clever man and very inventive and on the blurbs he's called "the Dickens of our time" by AS Byatt or someone like that but I think that's very wide of the mark. Terry Pratchett is a true gent, he came to speak at our dinky little sci/fi society and I dont want to knock a nice guy in a terrible situation, but those books including Good Omens are definitely an acquired taste.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger seanag said...

I haven't been particularly drawn to the Disk World books myself. I don't know whose humor predominates in Good Omens, but I do think the pairing of Gaiman and Pratchett was felicitous. I have a feeling, which may be wrong, that Gaiman leavens the high spirits of Pratchett a good deal. Of course, 'what's funny' is something impossible to persuade anyone else of. You laugh or you don't. I suppose dark humor about Armageddon is something of an acquired taste, but if you have acquired it, do check it out. I would say it either grabs you immediately or if it doesn't. If it doesn't then don't waste any more time on it.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I don't know about Terry Pratchett, but on principle, someone in this world ought not to like Harry Potter. I don't care how many people say J.K. Rowling deserves sainthood because she got kids reading. I still think it's a bloody shame that some people think she invented reading that kids can enjoy. And that's not even to mention that paranoid secrecy that accompanied the release of each book.

Besides, I started to read one of the books, and I gave up very quickly. I just didn't see what the point was.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seanag, I suppose your final sentence would apply to my reading of Harry Potter.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger seanag said...

I think the Harry Potter phenomenon is its own unique thing. With the exception of going to the first movie, and I don't remember now why I decided to approach the story that way, I am pretty much Harry Potter illiterate. This despite multiple extravaganzas in the bookstore I work in, and a sense that many people have had much joy out of all this. I've found that in my line of work, it can be smart to not have read the things that people are ga-ga about, so at least you can honestly say that you haven't formed an opinion yet.

I did find the whole hype around not revealing anything before the midnight release to be taken to extreme levels. Someone was actually fired at the Borders in our town for letting someone from the newspaper see the cover of one the last books in the series before the magical hour. I think they may have taken money for it, but even so, firing someone over something like this is absurd.

Still, the fact that any books can still inspire mass mania is at least a little hopeful.

November 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, hype over Harry Potter may be better than hype over Cabbage Patch dolls and iPhones; at least it shows people are reading. This may mean something, but I have read plenty about the Harry Potter phenomenon, but almost nothing about the books themselves. They seem to be beyond discussion.

That story about the firing is unpleasant. I must have missed J.K. Rowling's brave pronouncements against that and other corporate excesses being perpetrated in the name of her books.

November 20, 2008  
Blogger seanag said...

You know, she may well have spoken out against all this, but if so her voice was drowned out. These books became a kind of money machine for a whole lot of people who were not J.K.Rowling, and may have even meant the survival for a couple more years for some independents. I think the mysterious midnight unveiling was great fun, but adding all the legal restrictions killed this on some level. Everyone took themselves just a tad too seriously.

November 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I seem to recall one story about librarians being forced to sign pledges that they would not let anyone see one of the books before a given embargo date and time. All the hype makes it easy to question Rowling's motives for just about anything. She probably deserved some of the heat she got for revealing the the Dumbledore character was gay. It seemed like too convenient a way to renew or maintain attention to the Harry Potter books after she's revealed that she planned to write no more of them (not to mention the dubious implication that a character has life beyond what is set down on paper).

November 20, 2008  
Anonymous marco said...

I like Pratchett's humour,but I've found that for me after a few books the effect wears thin -the same basic formula all over,the satire may be directed against the world of newspapers instead of cinema or the music industry,the puns will be different,but I don't feel the need to buy a new one unless the monthly used books market brings it my way.

She probably deserved some of the heat she got for revealing the the Dumbledore character was gay.

If she had revealed that Dumbledore was celibate because of his unrequited love for Princess Plurabella or something like that noone would have cared.
Even if she wanted to somehow bank on a controversy,it's much more annoying that there's one in the first place.

(not to mention the dubious implication that a character has life beyond what is set down on paper).

If a novel doesn't make us feel that its characters have a life outside the (at times narrow) cross-section that appears on the pages then it has failed to make them interesting.
And if a writer hasn't,at least broadly,figured out what kind of experiences,influences or character traits inform the behaviour of his characters,regardless of the fact that these are made explicit or not,the characters risk being merely tools to move the plot along.

At least,if after her death the family (like Douglas Adams's) authorizes someone to write a prequel against her wishes,we shouldn't see Dumbledore smooching with a girl.

November 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco: It sounds as if Pratchett might be worth a look. I'm not sure I'd want to read satire of my own industry these days. It is unlikely said satire could be grim enough to elicit bitter and cathartic laughter from me.

I probably should not have mentioned Rowling's revelation about Dumbledore. For one thing, I've read none of the books. For another, I never read the article or interview in which she made the comment. Media reports and blog discussions might well have singled out this one revelation and thereby deprived it of its context. Maybe the news was a sensible, logical answer to some question about the character.

Once the question takes on a life of its own, it has gone beyond the sort of backstory you refer to and taken on a weird, independent kind of virtual Second Life. I would think that whatever background an author has imagined for a character, this background is, until made part of a story, a kind of shadow or potential existence that becomes real only if put into a story. Of course, I've never written fiction, so what the hell do I know?

V-word: mugarrif, which sounds like something out of a Harry Potter novel.

November 20, 2008  

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