|Watchmen N.1: original cover art by Dave Gibbons.|
Posted here with the author's permission.
Paris, late March, 2003
Earlier today I met a fellow artist, Oscar Zarate. As usually happens between authors, we talked about work over a cup of tea. You know, the things we are currently doing, those we are planning to do, our personal opinions of a certain publisher, the comics world in general. Very soon the conversation turned to an old piece of work done by Oscar and Alan Moore. Inevitably, I asked how it had felt to provide the art for A Small Killing, since I know Alan’s scripts are extremely dense and packed with information. In this respect, Moore is not just famous, but legendary. To an artist, manoeuvring through thousands of details is never easy. “Usually with Alan, a panel takes up a whole page of the script with explanations”, Oscar told Sampayo, who was sipping a Russian Earl Grey with us. These descriptions are quite precise and very visually oriented. Oscar said he had had no problems: the two of them had co-written the story and thus, for once, Moore did not need to resort to his minutiae, panel after panel, page after page.
I recall my first impressions after reading Watchmen. It was the late Eighties. I had just founded a magazine called Dolce Vita and wanted to publish quality European comics; not just the same old stuff, but comics which would add something new to the medium. A few years earlier, along with Lorenzo Mattotti, Giorgio Carpinteri and others, I had co-founded what came to be known as the “Italian comics new-wave movement.” It was a group of authors producing their own magazine, Valvoline Motorcomics. We were convinced that making the most of the medium’s enormous potential and working on the language was the natural thing to do. We acted like a Surrealist group, with a mix of irreverence and irony which used to incense a part of Italian comicdom, especially the more conservative among our colleagues. After the Valvoline experience, then, I was finding myself again in the dual role of author and publisher. Watchmen struck me deeply because it was an extremely complex and multi-layered work, which had no use for the narrative shortcuts of American mainstream comics. The characters wore spandex, true, but could anyone call them “heroes?” Moore was ruthless with them. He completely rewrote the American myth from a European point of view. Moreover, Watchmen was a true epic: it took hours to read and on reaching the last page, one felt it was necessary to read it again and again to appreciate all its subtleties.
Another thing I admired in Moore was his mimetic ability to use mainstream tools to produce something different. In this case, the tool was the comic book format, which Moore was using as a feuilleton, as if he were a 19th Century French writer. To him, each issue was a chapter of a story that was much greater than the sum of its parts. The covers themselves were unusual in that they worked by subtraction: action was no longer in the foreground, replaced by a metaphysical look on objects which acted as traces, as memories of actions which had already taken place. Moore would also work with time, taking a step back and letting it do its job on people and things. To me, time was the true main character in the story. Fifteen years later, my opinion is still the same and I think it applies to all of Alan’s works. What I admire in them is the absence of boundaries. Comics are not the only thing Moore reads and this shows in the way he conceives the story. This stems from an extremely broad notion of storytelling. Watchmen is full of stories which contain other stories, just like Russian dolls.
It is a many-voiced narrative, but at the same time also a meta-narrative, a sum of different techniques (documents, letters, newspaper clippings, etc.). From this point of view, it is the closest thing to avant-garde art in the field of comics.
|V for Vendetta #7 Chapter 13, page 1. Art by David Lloyd.|
I would like to stress that to me the importance of Moore’s work lies not only in his use of different storytelling techniques, but also in the fact that this is done subtly and unobtrusively. He is first and foremost a great narrator. The reason why I wanted to write this homage to him is because I consider works such as Watchmen or V for Vendetta (to name just two) still perfectly relevant. They marked a watershed in the history of storytelling in the last twenty years. Unlike other books that came out more or less at the same time and today look mostly to have aged badly, Alan’s works are still un-aged and ageless.
Flashback – Bologna, 1987
Alan’s stories – and this happens very rarely otherwise – can be the subject of a narrative themselves. I recall a conversation with Giorgio Lavagna (a fellow writer and the singer in a band in the glory days of Italian New Wave) in which, lost in reverie, he waxed lyrical about the Miracleman book. He told me how Moore had retrieved a forgotten minor-league hero and rewritten his history. Pages from the original series, which had been cancelled many years before, were even used as part of the new stories and given a new life. The difference in style was justified by the plot which, if I remember rightly, involved moving between dimensions. Ever the great talker, Giorgio told me and Leila [Marzocchi] about the mechanics of the story, down to the personal details, while mimicking the characters’ stances, facial expressions and hesitations.
This had an incredible effect on me and I remember I started looking everywhere for those hard-to-find back issues.
Well, I find Moore’s ability to astonish even other writers, to have this effect which transcends the boundaries of both one’s nation and one’s ego, one of his most amazing traits. In my view, being able to pass on this great passion for narrative – for the act of telling itself – really means a lot.
In retrospect, even the blurbs on the back cover of the original paperback collection of Watchmen seem to have aged faster than the book itself. Time Zone Magazine described it as “the first true postmodernist superhero comic-book,” Time Out as “a true novel.” Today, these definitions sound inadequate. Dealing with an author who defies classification by creating categories of his own, they look like some garment one retrieves from a chest after fifteen years, wondering: “How on Earth was I able to squeeze into this?”