“There are people. There are stories. The people think they shape the stories, but the reverse if often closer to the truth. Stories shape the world. They exist independently of people, and in places quite devoid of man, there may yet be mythologies.”
― Alan Moore, Swamp Thing, Vol. 2: Love and Death
I was interested in comics and writing long before I discovered Alan Moore, though he certainly was one of several writers who had a profound influence on me, in that he showed the absolute power a writer welds to make a story, or character – any character – complex and engaging, or conversely, average and forgettable. Another of these writers was also English – a television writer named Michael J. Bird, whose name I noticed as a child in the credits of several Mediterranean themed BBC dramas. These writers are worth an article each – and this isn’t about them.
It’s about a lingering scent from childhood. The warm, crisp, slightly musky smell of thin newsprint coated in cheap ink.
Only 2000AD remains today. It’s been a long time since I even saw a copy. Last time it was in a comic specialty shop, and the comic was larger format, glossier, full color, printed on expensive paper, cost about $15 and included sexual situations in the Judge Dredd strip.
And there-in lies the problem, and reason comics are all but lost to children.
Pre-Moore, I took note of certain writers names in the credits, and quickly noticed that most of my favorite stories seemed to be written by Pat Mills, John Wagner, or Gerry Finley-Day. It was the very first time I realized there actually were people who wrote these stories – real humans – and some definitely better at it than others – especially to a discerning eight year old. Comics fueled my already established interest in reading. They encouraged me to draw. To draw my own comics, and soon I found I would have to write something – a script – so I could draw it. Comics absolutely led me to discover the love of writing. Without them – it’s unlikely I’d have tried to write anything. After a while I found I enjoyed writing more, and began to experiment with prose rather than comic scripts.
Great writers like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman appeared, followed by less talented journeymen who imitated their style without substance. Comics grew up – which was the slogan in the eighties – Batman became the Dark Knight, gritty and “realistic” – publishers tried to make all comics appeal to late teens/adults. Superman got killed and brought back to life. Characters got re-booted and re-imagined again and again. Comics gained higher production values, garish computer coloring, and slick glossy paper while story and art grew secondary. They became expensive, no longer sold in news-stands (in the US), or in dairies and bookshops in New Zealand. When I was a child, comics were everywhere; as easy to find as sweets. Now they are only sold in specialist stores in big cities, hidden away in dark bunkers.
Somewhere along the line, the comics industry forgot children.
Both Moore and Miller did embark on later work to expand the genres in play with Sin City (Miller), From Hell, and the unfinished Big Numbers (Moore).
As a (slight) grown up, yeah, sure, I’d like to write an adult comic, and pursue themes of love, sex, and death… as you do… but if I were to write a comic, I’d really like to create a one that tells an exciting, original, and straightforward story, one produced and sold cheaply, one that would excite an 8-12 year old, as much as it did the child opening his father’s old briefcase many years ago.
I’d love to revive one of the English stories I grew up with like Johnny Red, Dan Dare, or The 13th Floor, but if not? Ghost Rider? Sure, why not? Wonder Woman? Absolutely. Anything can be good. If the writer makes it so.
This is ultimately what comics and comic book writers taught me.