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Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan…

Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

by Lance Parkin

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Few comic writers are fascinating enough to merit a biography; often their stories are best understood with relevance to the context of the companies for which they worked and what they did with the shared universe characters they wrote. Alan Moore is undoubtedly one of the few fascinating enough to merit such a biography. It’s the story of how someone who was expelled from school early and has always resided in the Midlands town of Northampton essentially conquered the comics world before deciding he didn’t particularly enjoy ruling the world and retiring to his own private fiefdom to become a magician and pursue the projects he wanted to. It’s got magic, betrayal, bloody-mindedness and a bunch of mythical heroes. Everything you want in a story.

Parkin’s an adept and knowledgeable guide to Moore’s life and work. He successfully manages to track both successfully and there’s some excellent analysis of even Moore’s least known works. He’s careful to let others express their own view of Moore and isn’t overly reverent towards his subject; he’s perfectly willing to call out when Moore’s stories don’t work (and why), is happy to acknowledge the roles of timing and circumstance in his career and is quite happy to acknowledge that Moore can often be difficult to deal with in business. Indeed, he puts this in context of how the citizens of Northampton have been historically viewed and draws out how, despite his love for his hometown, its influence may have been as detrimental as it has been helpful. The comparisons with how Moore and Neil Gaiman dealt with the US comics industry are particularly instructive. Whilst he clearly admires Moore (and you don’t write a biography of this thoroughness without strong feelings one way or the other for a subject) he commendably doesn’t force his own view on the reader but allows them to make up their own mind (explicitly so in the last line).

What it does make clear is why Moore is a cut above other comic writers in technical terms; as a voracious reader in his youth he has a deep understanding of graphical storytelling, an intense attention to detail and, above all, is always seeking to engage the reader’s brain and not merely entertain them for 24 pages at a time. His comics are a conversation with the reader rather than a performance seeking to dazzle an audience. It’s not an earth-shattering conclusion, but a case amply built up over the course of the book and one which explains why others who’ve played with the toys Moore left them haven’t quite grasped why he got them right. And that their being a specific reaction by Moore to time and place often leads to their qualities being bent out of shape in adaptation and misunderstood, imagery over substance. It comes across as a thorough guide to Moore and his works; the first point of reference for anyone wishing to learn more about the man after reading his works.

And this is also one of those books it’s worth tracking down a physical copy of; the hardback version is beautifully designed to the point I’d feel heretical having bought a paperback or eBook. Given the medium Moore works in now makes great play of deluxe editions it’s something that feels entirely appropriate. ( )
  JonArnold | Dec 29, 2015 |
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"In Magic Words Lance Parkin has crafted a biography that is insightful, scrupulously fair-minded and often very funny, a considerable achievement given its unrelentingly grim, unreasonable and annoying subject. Belongs on the bookshelf of any halfway decent criminal profiler." ALAN MOORE For over three decades comics fans and creators have regarded Alan Moore as a titan of the form. With works such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen and From Hell, he has repeatedly staked out new territory, attracting literary plaudits and a mainstream audience far removed from his underground origins. His place in popular culture is now such that major Hollywood players vie to adapt his books for cinema. Yet Moore's journey from the hippie Arts Labs of the 1970s to the bestseller lists was far from preordained. A principled eccentric, who has lived his whole life in one English town, he has been embroiled in fierce feuds with some of the entertainment industry's biggest corporations. And just when he could have made millions ploughing a golden rut he turned instead to performance art, writing erotica, and the occult. Now, as Alan Moore hits sixty, it's time to go in search of this extraordinary gentleman, and follow the peculiar path taken by a writer quite unlike any other.… (more)

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