I feel compelled to write this in part because I sort of took Alan Moore to task a bit over the “Before Watchmen” drama. While my basic feeling remains unchanged, that the main reason that he’s so bothered is about being in control, which isn’t necessarily something people need to get up in arms about, my fear is that my previous post can be construed as a lack of respect for the man and for what he does…and for what he wants. I do respect his desire to not have his worked expanded upon, even as I don’t necessarily believe that he needs to get what he wants. I’m a bit of a control freak sometimes, and I might feel as he does were I in his shoes, to be honest.
The truth about Alan Moore is this: There is no finer writer in the history of comics. There are some on his level, and there are some individual works that outshine some individual works of his. But there isn’t a single writer that I can think of that can be described as BETTER.
It’s impossible for someone to be such a seminal figure in the maturation of the medium and to have not influenced me. When I was struggling to figure out how to write a comic script, I came across a collected edition of Watchmen containing a script sample of his from the first issue. Man, it was detailed. Now, one of the key things about a script is that it’s not intended to be read by the audience, it’s a means of communicating what is going on and how it should be depicted to the artists and editors. I didn’t really understand that at the time, and I started trying to write scripts the same way. I can dig back through some of my oldest work and find scripts with incredibly lengthy panel descriptions. What I didn’t know then is that I’m not Alan Moore.
What I mean by that is this: Alan Moore has an incredible command of his story and meticulously plans what might seem like unimportant details in the now…but will pay off down the line. I’m not really that kind of a writer. I often have some pretty detailed notes about where my story is going, and I often include details that are intended to pay off, but I also write from the hip A LOT. I don’t want to say that that’s a necessity with the online comics, but with the way my career is proceeding it is. The ultimate ending of Hunter Black is out there, in the broadest of strokes, and we’ve barely even breathed on that possibility in terms of hinting at it. But I think Alan Moore knows that stuff from the beginning of his writing, even when he’s doing something long form.
Additional, he might be the best visual writer in the comics biz. HE KNOWS HOW THINGS SHOULD LOOK. I’m not saying that he replaces the eye of the artist, but if he understands how things should look and why, he has an obligation to communicate that. Speaking for myself, and probably for most professional comics writers, I’m better off letting the artist do what he does, nine times out of ten. There’s only been one time in Hunter Black where Will and I disagreed with how a panel should be constructed and I ended up thinking my way was better. (Will probably knows what that is.) Usually, Will knows best, because he spends more time thinking visually than I do. In any event, to my mind, ties should go to the artist in that regard, just as ties about story beats, dialogue, etc. should go to the writer.
Alan Moore is one of two writers, the other being Greg Rucka, who has demonstrated to me the importance of RESEARCH. I mean, I always walk away from his stuff feeling like he knows everything about everything. That can’t possibly be true, but he clearly reads and researches so much that is seems that way. That’s probably why I like fantasy so much, I get to just make shit up as I go. (I’m so lazy.) But I like my writers like I like my politicians: I WANT TO BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE SMARTER THAN ME. I don’t want to read something by someone who knows less about the subject at hand than I do. Alan Moore makes me feel that all the time.
But I guess the debt the I owe Mr. Moore more than any other is that of setting the bar. Watchmen is near-universally considered the high watermark of the medium, certainly of the superhero genre. V For Vendetta. Top 10. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. ALL of these works are incredible. There’s a ton of other stuff I’m not mentioning, mostly because that would be a lot of typing. And while I acknowledge that I’m practically not playing the same sport as Alan Moore, let alone in the same league…that doesn’t mean that I don’t aspire to be. There’s only one acceptable end result of my writing career for me. One day, I want to hear someone ask the question, “Who’s the best writer in comics?” And then I want to hear this response: “It’s a toss-up…either Alan Moore or Justin Peniston.” So I have plenty of work to do, thanks to Alan Moore. (Damn it. I really am lazy.)