Jan 10, 2014

The Tipping Point by James A. Owen

Promethea illustration by James A. Owen.
From Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman (starting at page 193) - the sold-out tribute-book published by Abiogenesis Press in 2003) -  in the following you can read the contribution written for the occasion by comic book illustrator, publisher and writer James A. Owen
Special thanks to James A. Owen for the permission to post both the article and the Promethea illustration on this blog. 

You can visit James A. Owen official website here.

The Tipping Point
Or
Notes from the Periphery of the Magus
As far as professional affiliations go, I think my tenure as an Alan Moore collaborator was of shorter duration than that of anyone else in this book (with the possible exception of Brad Meltzer, whom, as far as I know, has not actually collaborated with Alan, but which, I hasten to point out for fear of jeopardizing my future collaborations - The Incunabula Promethea and The Legion of Super Heroes Graphic Novel, respectively - is no reflection on the talent of either of these gentlemen). Still, given the influence Alan had on the beginnings of my career (and has on it still), I was very pleased for the opportunity to express my admiration for the creator of a body of work without which my own career and work on Starchild would have been greatly diminished, if indeed, they would have happened at all. I say this, because outside of a general influence, outside of a brief acquaintenceship and collaboration, outside of his influence on the many mutual friends working in the medium, I can specifically thank Alan for the Tipping Point which was the catalyst for Starchild and all of my career which has followed.

*****
Let me start at the beginning. In decades past, DC Comics had a remarkable program of publishing material in digest form, material both reprinted and new. It was sort of a pilot run for what is now known as the trade paperback industry, except the books were released at a quarter of the size and a tenth of the price. At some point in the early 1990's, they decided to discontinue this program (thereby relinquishing the small-format racks of grocery stores everywhere to Archie) but during the 1980's, one tradition which was trailblazing (for the time) was a yearly Blue-Ribbon Digest called The Year's Best. Granted, it meant the year's best DC comics, but considering (at the time) there was little else to choose from except for the ubiquious Marvel line, and the trailblazers Cerebus and Elfquest, it was a pretty high-quality package.
     
The 1985 edition is the issue that changed a few things, for me. It had the usual suspects (Wolfman, Levitz, Perez, Garcia Lopez) and a short Green Lantern story which, along with an earlier Detective Comics two-pager, convinced me that Len Wein is one of the great short-story writers of the last few generations. It also reprinted Alan Moore's first Swamp Thing story, "The Anatomy Lesson", from the 21st issue of the series. It was my first exposure to Alan Moore, as well as his talented collaborators Stephen Bissette (who has since become a friend and fellow traveller) and John Totleben (more about whom later).

Not quite the tipping point, but the beginning of a significant shifting nonetheless.

*****
Then came Watchmen. Not much to say here. When I bought issue one on the first day of a family vacation, it had the same effect as if my mother had casually revealed that the family Ford Pinto could drive up the sides of buildings. Sort of a 'What the hell is going on here?' kind of response. When I bought issue twelve, on my way to the San Diego Comicon (where I met Alan's collaborator Dave Gibbons), the ending shook me enough I made my friend's dad stop the car in the middle of the desert so I could run around whooping and hollering at the top of my lungs.

Still not the tipping point, but I was beginning to pick up momentum.

*****
There are books which have inspired me in my work, and I've written of them often: The original run of Elfquest; Nexus; Frank Miller's Ronin; Paul Chadwick's Concrete. All have been an influence, and all inspired my earlier attempts at creating comics material. But the one singular influence-my personal Tipping Point-the book which forced me to push my own boundaries past emulation and into the desire to create something on as pure a level, was Book Three of Miracleman, "Olympus", by Alan Moore and John Totleben.
Anyone familiar with my inking style will see Totleben's obvious influence (amidst the Windsor-Smith grass and leaves), but until Miracleman, I'd never gone at it in earnest to see if I had boundaries. I found them more quickly than I expected to. Ever since, I have been trying to break them, and a number of new influences have taken hold. But, if nothing else inspires, a glance at any of the "Olympus" issues clears the road ahead and lets me get back to work.

A few years later, having established my chops as a professional in the comics' field, I decided that I never wanted to meet Alan Moore or John Totleben. I'd become prominent enough that many of the people I'd admired were now my personal friends, and the batting average was about a third of what I'd hoped for. For all of the Rick Veitchs and Wendy Pinis and Bernie Wrightsons (who are all decent human beings) there were a score more who either hated their work or hated others' hero worship of said work or both, but were loathe to give up either, and in the process had skipped over mere feet of clay-ness straight into an existence that was hell to witness and even worse to interact with.
On the opposite end were people with whom I'd grown closest, and who broght with them all of the challenges of a personal relationship. The difference was, when I had a let's-change-the-world discussion with an old pal from high school, a transcript of said discussion wasn't likely to appear in the next issue of Cerebus, wrapped in a cover spoofing one of my own characters from Starchild (among issues, I should point out, which also contained long transcriptions of a discussion with Alan Moore, whom I intended to never meet or speak with).

I'd decided it might be better not to know who your heroes were.

*****
It's the latter end of 1994 and I'm talking on the phone with Alan Moore.
Joe Pruett, the editor of the anthology Negative Burn, had asked if I'd be interested in participating in a project called The Alan Moore Songbook. Since it gave me a legitimate reason to call Alan (Rick Veitch had given me his number-and Totleben's-a couple of years earlier) I trashed my earlier convictions and accepted. I scrolled through the twenty or so songs, skipping the ones obviously better suited to another artist (Art Adams for "Trampling Tokyo") and ended up with one that I thought had some nice, romantic overtures to it. There were a few cloudy parts (bad fax), but I glossed over them, giddy with the idea that I was going to be working with Alan Moore. Made some notes. Called him up. Did the usual chitchat, then went white when his first reaction to my choosing "Rose Madder" was to say that he was glad that one would be done by an artist able to do detail work, what with all of the sexual imagery and whatnot.

(The irony is only apparent when you know that I was raised in a community where, despite the evidence to the contrary at the high school, asexual reproduction was preached as the reality and nudity only existed in Italian painting and MTV).

I've never been so grateful for the concept of Metaphor in my life. We talked a few times, Alan liked my ideas, I illustrated the song, and, as I heard sometime later, Alan and Melinda liked it very much.

*****
In Oakland at Wondercon several years ago, just after Alan's decision to enter seriously into the study of Magic (or Magick, as it were), Rick Veitch and I happened to have adjacent hotel rooms. We tended to be dinner companions when in the same city, and so we ended up turning in at about the same time each night. The first night, I awoke in the middle of a very lucid dream-thinking this would be good fodder for Rick's dream comic, Rare Bit Fiends-to see a veiled Alan sitting in the corner chair, talking. It became apparent after a moment or two that he wasn't talking to me, but to Rick. I spoke, and pointed this out to him. He replied that it didn't matter which room he was in-Rick would be able to hear him anyway-and continued his discourse. I went back to sleep.

The next morning, I asked Rick if he'd had any interesting dreams. He replied that he'd had all the usual menagerie-but also that he dreamed of the disembodied voice of Alan Moore, dropping some words of counsel or whatnot from afar.

"Not so far," I said. "He was in my room."

Rick then told me about Alan's new interest in Ideaspace, and Magick, and we talked about dreams and dreams of dreams, and I've never asked Alan exactly what he may have been doing that night, because I'm not sure I wanted to know. It was brief, and was directed at Rick, and I was more than happy to be on the periphery.

*****
We're now at nearly the twenty year mark since I first heard of Alan Moore. I continue to hover at the periphery. Alan has been a part of my own stories, based on experiences both real and imagined; his collaborations seem to occur with artists who are my friends (my long friendship with Mick Gray being the inspiration for my Promethea illustration printed herein, the original of which will have been delivered by now, as a birthday gift for Alan); and his work continues to be an influence. At some point, I now expect we will become better acquainted personally-but considering he was comfortable dropping in on my hotel room and I was comfortable with him being there, I don't think it's going to be a problem.

I still haven't called John Totleben yet, though.


Taylor, Arizona
March, 2003

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