Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alan Moore, Comics Grognard

I'm not a big reader of comics generally, though I have read and enjoyed certain specific titles over the years. Among them is Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I like rather a lot. Moore is a very fascinating guy and, while he and I don't share much in terms of our overall worldview, I can't help but find him a kindred spirit on some level, because of statements like this:
If you approach comics as a poor relation to film, you are left with a movie that does not move, has no soundtrack and lacks the benefit of having a recognizable movie star in the lead role.
That's from a recent interview with Moore, where he talks about his distaste for the upcoming film version of his Watchmen comic. Reading it, I heard echoes of things I myself have said about the RPG hobby and the way it's been deformed by the demands of trying to turn it into a mass market product with mass market profits. I (obviously) don't agree with everything he says, nor do I think his perspective has universal applicability to this hobby, but some of it does and it's worth reading, if only to realize there are some people out there even more strident than I am when it comes to protecting something they love.

21 comments:

  1. Moore's always been that way about works of his that have been translated to the screen. Can't blame him -- he's been dicked around both by DC and Time-Warner that it's not surprising that he's a bitter old cuss about Hollywood adaptaions of his work.

    Hell, in some situations, like the whole catastrophe that was LXG, I don't blame him.

    I guess how I differ from him (and, I guess, from you) is that yeah, I loved the original V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellblazer and Watchmen (I've never experienced From Hell in either comic or movie form).

    But then I also enjoyed, apart from one exception (the risible LXG, again) the movies based on the comics. Even Constantine, which was so completely unfaithful to the source material in tone and detail, but made it up by being a more than adequate movie that had its own personality that was separate from the source material.

    But then again I've been conditioned to believe that adaptations of any must never be faithful to their source; they must be good works first, and then faithful adaptions second.

    Anyone who believes otherwise will spend a lot of time weeping.

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  2. For what it worth Alan Moore hates all adaptations of his works and routinely remove his name from association with it.

    From reading his writings and interviews over the years my opinion is that he far too rigid about it.

    Not to say some adaptations weren't crap. But that it is a separate issue.

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  3. Agree with Rob.

    Also -- Alan Moore is insane.

    -Matthew

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  4. I think Moore had his start writing for the British comic 2000 AD, which was an absolute classic of pulp sci-fi. Each issue featured three or four installments of overlapping serial pieces. You could pick up a random issue and you might find, say, a swordsman fighting a space necromancer on a god-forsaken asteroid, an android questing for revenge through nuclear swamps of some war torn hell, and of course everyone's favorite fascist Judge trying to bring to heel some dangerous fad of pop culture in the distopian future. It was good stuff.

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  5. Alan Moore is insane.

    I do not dispute that, but then I'm clearly a bit insane myself.

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  6. The minute you take up studying magic, is the minute I will have your head examined. ;P

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  7. I dunno... I kind of prefer his kind of insanity over the other kinds you could conceivably get when delving into a particular belief system.

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  8. I wish that you wouldn't have associated grognards, old school gaming or anything else I like or find credible with this person.

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  9. Alan is no stranger to D&D and other RPGs.

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  10. Moore is a genius, but... he aint right in the head either. At all.

    But I am not against RPGs being made semi mass market either so that may mean I am a little tweaked.

    I'm not talking Hasbro level of mass market, because gaming isn't ever gonna be that level. People are too lazy, and reading is looked DOWN on by most.

    (Yet wasting away at a casino or in front of pro football even if the 1 hour of awesome is cut with 2-3 hours of commercials, people walking about, or reseeing what you JUST SAW. Is it any wonder I have no time for watching sports?)

    But is making D&D accessible for more people particularly BAD?

    I know you aren't particularly fond of it oh host blogger guy, but Red Box Mentzer D&D was almost THE BEST RPG product to ever be made. It was easy to understand, gorgeous to look at (I love Elmore's black and white art of that time.), and probably brought more people into the hobby than any other RPG product ever did.

    It, D6 Star Wars 1st edition, and a perfect storm of Tolkien cartoon adaptations, the D&D cartoon and toys, 8 Bit Computer RPGs (mainly Ultima), and Endless Quest books pretty much turned me into a 20 years long hobby gaming dork.

    What's bad about that?

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  11. Alan is no stranger to D&D and other RPGs.

    Indeed not. I'd actually be very curious to hear what he had to say about the development of this particular industry over the last, say, 20 years.

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  12. But is making D&D accessible for more people particularly BAD?

    The answer to that depends on what you mean by "accessible." If you simply mean "easier to play," then I'd agree that that's not (necessarily) a bad principle. But if by "accessible," you mean "more in tune with contemporary notions of fantasy and heroism," then I think it's horribly, horribly bad.

    You have to remember that I don't believe D&D is a generic fantasy game at all, but in fact a very specific and idiosyncratic one whose take on fantasy was already "quaint" in 1980; it's a product from an earlier generation. Likewise, I am increasingly convinced that the heart and soul of roleplaying is hobbyist in nature and thus defies mass marketing. To attempt to mass market a hobby is to kill that hobby, or at least deform it in various ways. That's what happened to roleplaying in my opinion.

    I'll add that I don't in fact hate the Mentzer boxed sets at all. I think, as written, they're no less old school than the Moldvay/Cook sets and have the benefit of being better instructional rules than even Moldvay/Cook. My beef with them is that, in their efforts to be instructional, they often strayed away from the hobbyist mentality I prefer. They're certainly much better than 3e or 4e in preserving the spirit of OD&D, but they do make quite a few concessions to the new school and will thus always be "flawed" in my eyes.

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  13. I would have to disagree with the notion that Moore is a traditionalist when it comes to comics. Some of his best-known works basically attack their subjects: Watchmen deconstructs the notion of superheroes and the comic medium; League of Extraordinary Gentlemen does the same for the heroes of British popular culture. He may be conservative about the form in storytelling terms--not treating comics as a poor relation to film--but not in terms of respecting its history.

    Granted, his work is immensely interesting and well-crafted. But much of the time he seems (at best) conflicted about his subject matter and medium. To put it another way: Moore has probably read as much Moorcock, Vance and Howard as Gary Gygax did. But do you really get the sense from Moore's work that he loves those guys? Or simply that he sees them as potential cultural references to toss around?

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  14. To put it another way: Moore has probably read as much Moorcock, Vance and Howard as Gary Gygax did. But do you really get the sense from Moore's work that he loves those guys? Or simply that he sees them as potential cultural references to toss around?

    I think you're right that, ultimately, Moore has little respect for his sources and that his stance with regards to adaptation of his own work is more than a little self-serving (and perhaps hypocritical). It's an intriguing question.

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  15. Indeed not. I'd actually be very curious to hear what he had to say about the development of this particular industry over the last, say, 20 years.

    I'd be surprised if he's followed it. He wasn't actively gaming when I first encountered him over 20 years ago now. (Shudder!)

    He and I spoke of a major subplot revolving around RPGs he planned to incorporate into his aborted BIG NUMBERS project. It's a shame we'll never get to see that.

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  16. He and I spoke of a major subplot revolving around RPGs he planned to incorporate into his aborted BIG NUMBERS project. It's a shame we'll never get to see that.

    I'll grant I don't follow this sort of thing very closely, but I don't ever recall hearing of this project.

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  17. You have to remember that I don't believe D&D is a generic fantasy game at all, but in fact a very specific and idiosyncratic one whose take on fantasy was already "quaint" in 1980; it's a product from an earlier generation. Likewise, I am increasingly convinced that the heart and soul of roleplaying is hobbyist in nature and thus defies mass marketing. To attempt to mass market a hobby is to kill that hobby, or at least deform it in various ways. That's what happened to roleplaying in my opinion.

    That's an interesting viewpoint on fantasy. I think the very DIY aspect you mention means D&D can run various types of Fantasy, and not just pulp or 60-70s style.

    If you like it mucky and grim run OD-Basic as written pretty much 1 starting HP, 3d6 in order and all. If you want high fantasy, give em max hps, more starting gold, and so on.

    Most versions of D&D really do support a wide style of game. There is some blogger whose comments on D&D campaigns and "heroic play" is causing a stir because he INSISTS D&D is about being self centered mercenaries who only do things for themselves since the NPCs aren't real anyhow so no PC would ever sacrifice themselves for them.

    While its a GOD AWFUL style of play, (To quote an RPGnetism, I would consider it BADWRONGFUN.) D&D can support it as much as a heroic style where PCs defend the little guy just because they want to. Heck, Dragon Magazine and KODT have plenty of stories of all sorts of styles of play.

    Its all up to the GM and the players. Its really not till 3rd edition where DIY seems to be massively discouraged. (And given how tightly wound the rules are, its insanely hard to do without the entire game breaking apart unless you rebuild the game from the bottom up ala Castles & Crusades, which has very little in common with 3.x as a whole anyhow.)

    Although I personally have found my DIY game of choice. Tunnels & Trolls 7.5. Literally the entire thing is DIY. In fact, if you play RAW (Rules as Written) with just the mechanics, its a kind of poor game system (just like D&D really!), but its design and intent is RULINGS NOT RULES and creative PC and GM interpretation to the nth power.

    And you gotta love a prepackaged adventure in the box whose solution for players not wanting to go save the townspeople is "If they won't go to hell with them".

    (Yeah its not sandboxy and pretty railroady, but if players aren't willing to go on an adventure at all, why are they playing? But that's getting into that social contract kind of stuff Fear the Boot Podcast gets into and is probably too deep for a blog comment. Or I should post such things to my own dang blog as meaningful content.)

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  18. To put it another way: Moore has probably read as much Moorcock, Vance and Howard as Gary Gygax did. But do you really get the sense from Moore's work that he loves those guys? Or simply that he sees them as potential cultural references to toss around?

    (Moore loves Moorcock's work; they're friends.)

    Moore is positively *reverential* when it comes to his influences and passions. Yes, he deconstructed the super-hero genre in WATCHMEN and MIRACLEMAN but he's written long, loving tributes to Mort Weisinger-era SUPERMAN, Kirby's FF, early Batman, etc. It was Moore who wrote the incredibly moving eulogy for Julius Schwartz, one of the architects of "Silver Age" comics. More importantly, his deep affection for this material positively drips from his work--the loving tributes to Walt Kelly and Jack Kirby (among others) that found their way into SWAMP THING; the pastiche of EC Comics interwoven into the WATCHMEN narrative; the long love letter to Superman that comprised the bulk of his run on SUPREME; the love letter to early Marvel comics that was his 1963 series, etc. LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN betrays a positively *fanboyish* regard for Victoriana--in fact, that's just the right word; Moore is unquestionably a fanboy at heart.

    Those who believe that Moore detests superheroes and is therefore biting the hand that fed him don't really understand his views. He's obviously enamoured with superheroes and he's written eloquently about how they inspire him. What he's no longer interested in is the sort of hyper-realistic/hyper-violent heroes that have been in vogue since the late 80s (and yes, he acknowledges his role in kicking off that trend). In short, he's not fond of superheroes in their current form.

    Just like some of us aren't fond of D&D in it's current form. :)

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  19. Ray,

    Wow! That's really interesting.

    As I said, I know very little of Moore beyond what work of his I've read and what I've picked up here and there. Obviously, it's not a very nuanced portrayal of the guy and his views.

    I'm actually pleased to hear this, because, despite the vast differences between Moore's worldview and my own, I like a lot of what he's produced.

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  20. I'm actually pleased to hear this, because, despite the vast differences between Moore's worldview and my own, I like a lot of what he's produced.

    Lovecraft is one major influence Moore has in common with Gary Gygax. If you read League of Extraordinary Gentleman you may have noticed all the Lovecraftian allusions. (In Moore's cosmology HPL's Randolph Carter is the brother of ERB's John Carter of Mars!)

    Alan was preparing a major Lovecraft project--THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH, based on HPL's book of poems. Alan's project was a series of short stories, one based on each of HPL's poems, with themes interlocking them. Alan also wrote one of my favorite non_HPL Cthulhu Mythos stories, published in a tribute volume called THE STARRY WISDOM.

    (http://www.amazon.com/Starry-Wisdom-Tribute-H-Lovecraft/dp/1840680873/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1222455124&sr=8-1)

    Old school D&Ders will also want to check out his series SMAX.

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  21. (In Moore's cosmology HPL's Randolph Carter is the brother of ERB's John Carter of Mars!)

    I did know that and I think it's fantastically appropriate.

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