Whenever someone brings up the name Alan Moore, people automatically assume that they’re going to talk about one of three things:
- His “craziness”
- How we, collectively, are just sort of fine backing him on being angry at Geoff Johns, or — more likely —
- His favored bodies of work: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, and/or Batman: The Killing Joke.
I’d say that only one of these conversations is, if not justified, then at least to be expected; the idea of Moore being “crazy” should immediately be acknowledged as rude, judgmental rubbish that deserves to be promptly thrown out the window (but we’ll touch on this later), while the whole Geoff Johns thing should receive a solemn nod and humble “I should’ve listened to you, man. Sorry.”
When it comes to the big stuff that he’s worked on, however… Well, almost every single title on the above listed has had a spot in the “Most Influential Comics” permanent-zeitgeist since their debut, and deservedly so. Beyond beautifully harrowing stories about Jack the Ripper, the destruction of the British government vis a vis the Guy Fawkes myth, or even the Joker’s not-so-fun funhouse, however, Moore’s body of work lends itself to so much more than the monochromatic dark, haunted themes that it’s so often heralded for. After all, Moore himself has gone on record himself as saying “Everything's better with a bit of humor”. So why, with a fandom as long as the Nile and twice as wide, has everyone forgotten that Alan Moore is incredibly funny?
Moore’s popularity as a writer came to its peak in the late 1980’s when he led Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, and a handful of others on the voyage into American comic fans’ hearts through what is now called “The British Invasion.” Through this cultural gift/phenomenon courtesy of DC Comics -- mostly; dearly departed indie publisher Eclipse can claim some credit as well — U.S. readers watched as some of the most innovative minds in comics at the time breathed new life into the American comics scene in a manner not seen since since Kirby and Lee decided to give that whole Fantastic Four thing a spin.
In quick succession, audiences were given revamps of The Sandman and Shade the Changing Man, as well as original concepts like Enigma and The Invisibles, but the arguably greatest gift of all was the man who would (somewhat unintentionally) deliver an entire generation unto a spiral of comics zeitgeists that were painfully serious and filled with burdensome titles speaking to us in a language that we as readers -- in a perpetual state of ennui and disquiet -- very deeply needed and understood.
Where everything went wrong, you see, was comic culture en masse glossing over the fact that, before his work made its trip over the giant pond, Moore had plenty of previous experience in comics, not all of which was of the existential dread and conspiratorial questioning flavor that American readers had become accustomed to. In fact, some of it was just dumb fun and weird laughs done intelligently. Sure, the laughs may have been darker and drier than most people are accustomed to, but the fact remains that Moore’s “earlier, funnier stuff” -- titles that have sadly been passed by in the annals of comics history -- are certainly ready to be given their due.
One of these titles, without a doubt, is Moore and Steve Parkhouse’s Bojeffries Saga. A serialized strip that made its debut in 1983 in the British comics anthology Warrior, The Bojeffries Saga has long since made the rounds in terms of companies vying to publish the bizarre collection. (There’s currently a version in print from IDW Publishing.) The stories feature the trials and tribulations of Jobremus Bojeffries and his family — daughter Ginda, son Reth, and “the Baby,” who appears as a nuclear blob.
The extended family is ripe for storytelling as well, including Uncles Raoul and Festus — a werewolf and a. Vampire, respectively — and an amorphous blob as Grandpa Podlasp. While the stories seem otherworld and bizarre by that description alone, the stories were often distinctly British, with the intention of drawing out the more humorous parts of an otherwise harsh life of working class Britain in the early 1980s with jokes about rent collection and living on an estate being the initial setup of jokes.
With titles like “The Rentman Cometh”, “Sex with Ginda Bojeffries”, and “Song of the Terraces”, it’s no wonder that the British paper The Independent once described the series as “The Munsters as written by Alan Bennett high on episodes of Coronation Street[…]”
This same brand of self-aware silliness can be found in later works, such as his America’s Best Comics anthology Tomorrow Stories, published by Wildstorm in the early 21st century, which were inspired by pulp comics and comic book stereotypes. According to Moore in a later interview with Mustard Comedy Magazine, these stories were some of the funniest he’d been able to write since Bojeffries:
“There's a story called I, Robert where he comes up with an artificial intelligence which is just a scarecrow, a tape recorder and some junk in a wheelbarrow. But it passes the Turing test authentically, so these things are mass-produced all over the world and eventually they take over. Even though they're just a scarecrow. So eventually Jack comes up with the solution as to how to overthrow the robots – the ‘Roberts' – which is: if we just stop pushing the wheelbarrows... they'll be helpless (laughs).”
Even before Bojeffries -- and far before Tomorrow Stories -- Moore had found a way to let his sardonic, biting humor into the world through strips like Maxwell and the Magic Cat. While it’s said that Moore had initially intended to pitch a much more adult-themed strip to the local weekly newspaper The Northants Post, the publisher instead pushed Moore in the direction of a children’s comic strip. Moore obviously took the hint, but not without including his own subtleties like surrealist themes, political commentary, and some rather adult references along the way — going so far as the make his publishing pseudonym a dark joke, calling himself Jill de Rey as an homage to Gilles de Rain, the 15th century child serial killer.
For me personally, however, there are few comics in this world as funny and entertaining as the work that Moore did with British publisher 2000 AD. Famous for being the home of Judge Dredd, 2000 AD also served as one of the larger platforms that Moore was able to get his start. Through the initial guidance of Tharg — the publisher’s fictional alien editor for the weekly anthology — and after many rejections, Moore was given the go-ahead to create his Future Shocks and Time Twisters, 2000 AD’s famous short-story series, with each installment usually never extending past four to five pages. Stories like “Chrono-cops” (illustrated by Dave Gibbons of later Watchmen fame, no less), “Dr. Dibworthy’s Disappointing Day”, and “The English/Phlodrutian Phrasebook'' all set the tone and are still, to this day, heralded as the tried and true method for creating engaging, funny, and fully formed Future Shock stories. In the same way, Moore used these same themes and tactics to bring home the humor in later strips like Halo Jones, which for all accounts shouldn’t be funny, but provides just the right kind of laugh if you’re clever enough to look for it.
But really, I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t mention one of my favorite Alan Moore titles in the 2000 AD catalog that still remains painfully unrecognized: D.R. and Quinch.
Created by Moore and future Excalibur artist Alan Davis —whom Moore would collaborate with on both Captain Britain and Miracleman at other points in his career— D.R. and Quinch basically boils down to Moore’s desire to turn space into a serialized story about National Lampoon’s Animal House. The short stories follow teen alien delinquents Waldo “D.R.” (Diminished Responsibility) Dobbs and Ernest Errol Quinch, whose adventures find them in situations that range from college shenanigans like dumping beer cans on soon-to-be-exploded planets, accidentally getting drafted, or trying to pick up women that are way out of their league. In true Moore fashion, the humor sways into the ridiculous and anarchic but is so hilariously playful that it’ll make you check that it’s the same guy who wrote The Lost Girls.
To most fans, Moore is a monolith; a groundbreaking, thoughtful, and subversive voice that came from one of the more pivotal ages of comics... but not for being funny. And between the swaths of lesser-known humor comics and the even lesser known essay work such as the hysterical editorial introductions in Dodgem Logic, I think that is a damn shame. For all that people like to focus and joke on his worship of socks, the idea of his “cursed record”, and his eclectic commentary on the misuse of his ideas, as readers and fans, maybe it’s time for us to look past the end of our noses and look into his history with being an intensely funny and well-rounded creator. If anything, we might find out that we’re not as funny as we thought we were, and may have been getting joked on all along.
And that somehow just makes it even funnier.