Believe it or not, there was a time when legendary writer Alan Moore‘s star had faded a bit. He had left DC Comics in protest in 1989 and, in doing so, turned his back on superhero comics. And when you stop writing mainstream comics, a lot of readers think that you fell off the face of the Earth!
As a fan of Moore, I was actually excited that he had moved on to more complex and mature stories like “From Hell” and “Lost Girls” so I wanted to use this “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #14 to remind the magazine’s audience that he was still around and was producing work that was even better than his more well-known comics. When this issue saw print in August 1992, Moore’s work at Image Comics—viewed by many as his return to mainstream comics—was still on the horizon. The Moore-written Spawn #9 was published in spring of ’93 and was soon followed by stints on Violator, WildC.A.T.s, and Supreme that eventually led to the creation of the America’s Best Comics imprint that was acquired by DC as part of their purchase of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm studio.
When I originally wrote this, I was still pining away for Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz‘s Big Numbers, even though it had been about two years since the last issue was published. Sadly, the series would never be completed and it looks like there’s no chance of it ever being done since Moore has soured on it and rightfully moved on to other things. (If you’re curious, a copy of the completed third issue of Big Numbers made it’s way online. The fourth issue was completed by Sienkiewicz’s replacement Al Columbia but was destroyed by the artist before it could see print.)
But on the bright side, Moore was able to finish two of his other projects from this time period, and they have both gone on to become key works in his oeuvre. From Hell started in the pages of Taboo in 1989 and was completed in ’98 with the publication of the epilogue Dance of the Gull Catchers and a collected graphic novel published the following year. The first chapter of Lost Girls was published in 1991 and it would take almost fifteen years for the story to be completed and published as a three-volume graphic novel in 2006.
If you’re reading along with the scans of the original magazine, you’ll notice a really strange sentence in the fifth paragraph:
Each of the 40 characters in Big Numbers has been plagued by a series of lengthy delays.
It turns out a big chunk of text was inexplicably cut from my original document. Here’s how it should read:
As each of the forty characters in Big Numbers interact with each other, it becomes more and more apparent that their arbitrary lives actually fit into the laws of fractal science.
Unfortunately, Big Numbers has been plagued by a series of lengthy delays.
Finally after 26 years I can finally set the record straight and show the world that I’m not a complete moron!
At the end of the original column, I wrote a desperate plea for help from the readers of Wizard to give me some feedback. Not my finest moment, to be honest, but I did actually get quite a few letters. One of the most memorable described “Palmer’s Picks” as a “breath of fresh air in a room full of farts.” ‘Nuff said!
By Tom Palmer Jr.
In the mid 1980s, several revisionist superhero stories appeared from a variety of creators. These ranged from new interpretations of old characters, like Swamp Thing in Saga of the Swamp Thing, and Batman in the Dark Knight Returns, or new characters like The One, Marshal Law, and Watchmen. The author of the best of these new twists on the traditional superheroes was a British writer named Alan Moore, then unknown in America, who wrote Watchmen, Swamp Thing, and Marmelman (later changed to Miracleman).
Moore first gained attention by taking over DC’s Swamp Thing and turning the main character from a man mutated into a shambling muck monster to a plant elemental with control over all flora. But, before revitalizing Swamp Thing, Moore changed Marvelman, England’s version of the original Captain Marvel, into a middle-aged man who had forgotten the magic word that transformed him into a superhero. Moore took his revisionist ideas even further when he collaborated with Dave Gibbons on Watchmen. Moore created his own group of characters (based in part on the old Charlton heroes) and placed them in a world on the verge of nuclear war that was drastically changed by the emergence of the first superheroes in the 1930s. Moore and Gibbons loaded each panel with symbolic background details based on happy faces, clocks set on the predicted time of Armageddon, radiation signs, and Rorschach ink blots.
Moore left DC a short while after completing Watchmen due to a dispute over a proposed ratings system and the future of the Watchmen characters. Before leaving, Moore finished a series he began (along with Marvelman) in the English anthology Warrior called “V For Vendetta.” The story features V, an anarchistic terrorist who fights the fascist government of a post-apocalyptic England. Although V for Vendetta was not a typical “comic book” story, it marked Moore’s departure from mainstream comics.
Moore pursued his independence further by founding his own publishing imprint (along with Deborah Delano and Phyllis Moore), called Mad Love (Publishing), Ltd. His first venture with his new company was a benefit book to protest the passing of Clause 28, a British law that drastically discriminated against homosexuals. Moore assembled the work of fellow creators such as Dave Sim, Frank Miller, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and others in a book called Aargh!. Due to the success of Aargh!, Moore decided to continue Mad Love with other projects.
The first of these projects was the long-awaited, ambitious series Big Numbers, with Bill Sienkiewicz. Moore had been mentioning the 12-issue series about shopping malls and fractal mathematics for a long time under its original name, “The Mandelbrot Set.” The story was to start in black-and-white and gradually switch to full color by the final issue. Moore based his story on chaos theory, a new science that attempts to find order in what are usually perceived as chaotic or random occurrences. The visual representation of the underlying patterns of random numbers and disorderly events are called fractals. These complex diagrams can be traced back to other seemingly random shapes in nature such as snowflakes, coastlines, and clouds. Moore has used this new science as an underlying theme in what is essentially a story of a small English community that is changed by the construction of an American shopping mall nearby. As each of the forty characters in Big Numbers interact with each other, it becomes more and more apparent that their arbitrary lives actually fit into the laws of fractal science.
Unfortunately, Big Numbers has been plagued by a series of lengthy delays. Among them are the departure of Sienkiewicz, scheduling problems, and the scaling-back of Mad Love. Moore has apparently solved all of these problems by replacing Sienkiewicz with his former assistant Al Columbia, and publishing with the help of Tundra. Once a number of issues have been completed, Mad Love and Tundra will finish the series on a regular basis.
Moore also has two other series, both of which are being serialized in Taboo. The first of these is “From Hell,” an investigation of the Whitechapel murders on which Moore is collaborating with Eddie Campbell. In more familiar terms, the story concerns Jack the Ripper and a guess at his true identity. Moore has based his story on a disputed theory by Steven Knight that names three different people who conspired to murder five London prostitutes who threatened to blackmail the royal family with knowledge of the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate daughter. Moore and Campbell have been producing each part of the sixteen chapter story with an eye for the particulars of Victorian England, such as the dialects and architecture of the time.
Moore’s other current series is “Lost Girls,” an erotic story with full color artwork from Melinda Gebbie. Moore and Gebbie have crafted a unique take on the traditional erotic comic by using three familiar literary protagonists as the main characters. Alice from Through the Looking Glass, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Wendy from Peter Pan all meet in a hotel in Europe before World War I to illustrate Moore and Gebbie’s story. The series is presented in eight-page chapters in Taboo that will eventually be collected.
Aside from these continuing projects, Moore has also completed some other self-contained comics such as a story in Raw with Mark Beyer and A Small Killing with Oscar Zarate. With Big Numbers, “From Hell,” and “Lost Girls” underway, Alan Moore has many opportunities to show how he has progressed from writing mainstream superhero stories to crafting complex and intriguing comic book novels.
Please help me! I need to know if any of you out there actually read this column. Every time I get my copy of Wizard, I scour the letters page to see if anybody has anything to say about “Palmer’s Picks.” So far, I’ve been horribly disappointed. If you are reading this and aren’t embarrassed about it, send your comments/suggestions (and death threats) to Wizard and somehow your letter will get forwarded to me. I also need to know if you would like to see a favorite alternative comic or creator featured (I’m afraid that I might run out of ideas pretty soon.) If so, just include it in your letter. Thanks!
DC– Moore worked on Swamp Thing from issue 20 through issue 64. Two books collecting his work have been published by DC. Saga of the Swamp Thing contains issues 21 through 27. Love and Death contains issues 28 through 34 as well as the second annual. Both Watchmen and V For Vendetta have been collected and are kept in print by DC.
Pictopia – This collaboration with Donald Simpson and others was originally published in Anything Goes #2 and was reprinted in the first volume of The Best Comics of the Decade from Fantagraphics. The two-volume set is packed with work from just about every major alternative cartoonist and is still available by writing to Fantagraphics at 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.
Marvelman – Originally serialized in England in Warrior magazine, this series was collected, colored and continued by Eclipse as Miracleman (to avoid a lawsuit). Moore wrote the first sixteen issues, which have been collected into three books, A Dream of Flying, The Red King Syndrome, and Olympus.
From Hell – In collaboration with Eddie Campbell, this novel is currently serialized in quarterly editions of Taboo from SpiderBaby and Tundra. Along with the original story, the collected edition of From Hell contains Moore’s notes and comments. It (as well as copies of Taboo) can be obtained from Tundra at
320 Riverside Dr., Northampton, MA 01060.
Lost Girls – The eight page chapters are being serialized in color in Taboo, with collected editions to be issued from Tundra when enough material has been published.
Aargh! – This gay rights benefit book was the first publication from Moore’s Mad Love (Publishing) Ltd. It sold out rather quickly and is a little hard to find nowadays.
Big Numbers – The first issue was published by Mad Love in August of 1990. Bill Sienkiewicz has completed the third and his former assistant Al Columbia is scheduled to finish the twelve-issue series. When enough issues are done, Mad Love plans to resume publication in association with Tundra.
Raw – Alan Moore collaborated with Mark Beyer on a short color story in the third and latest volume of Raw. Copies may be obtained from Catalan Communications at
49 East 19th Street, New York NY 10003.