“This is not a dream.” - Alan Moore, “Shadowplay,” in Brought to Light, 1988.
The Last War in Albion
|Figure 1: The Great Bearded Wizard of Northampton|
is a history of British comics. More specifically, it is a history of the magical war between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, a war that is on the one hand entirely of its own invention and on the other a war fought in the realm of the fictional, rendering its actual existence almost but not entirely irrelevant. The war in question is not the scant material residue of their verbal feud in various interviews over the years. This exists and will be picked over, but it is not the meat of the discussion.
Rather it is a more fundamental issue: how is it that two comics writers of nearly the same generation, with such a clear overlap in interests, who grew up a mere three-hundred-and-forty miles apart - no greater than the distance from New York to DC - a mere seven years in age difference (no larger than the age difference between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) are not friends and have not a hint of warmth in their relationship? This is almost as improbable as Morrissey and Robert Smith hating each other’s guts.
And yet it is the case. Underneath this fact is a story: one of how the British comics industry unexpectedly produced a small generation of some of the most important writers of the 1980s and 90s, and in turn had a huge cultural legacy in both the US and UK. So much so that the number three grossing movie of all time, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is massively and documentably indebted to what was, prior to the arrival of people like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, and a constellation of significant (and at times better) but less influential writers, the minor backwater of the lowest order of the British comics industry.
|Figure 2: The Thrice-Named Warrior Monk of Glasgow|
Within that story there are two figures that appear almost identical to an even casual observer. One, Alan Moore, is a heavily bearded self-proclaimed magician who made his name with DC Comics in 1984 writing Swamp Thing
, an envrionmental-themed superhero-horror comic. The other, Grant Morrison, is a bald self-proclaimed magician who made his name with DC Comics in 1988 writing Animal Man
, an environmental-themed superhero-horror comic. These two men are not friends. There are sensible reasons for this. Despite their intense similarities, there are fundamental aesthetic differences between Grant Morrison and Alan Moore that place them at diametric opposites of a host of issues with profound social, political, historical, and magical implications.
This latter adjective is worth remarking upon, as it is central to their differences. Both men believe in a system by which the manipulation of symbols creates material change in the real world. Both explicitly use their creative work in multiple media as an attempt to cause such change. Their comics are magic spells hurled into the culture wars, trying in their own way to reshape reality. And they are opposed.
This is the story of what happens as a result of this. This is the story of the Last War in Albion.
|Figure 3: Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, 1984|
Understanding this event as a war has several consequences. It does not entirely mean that it is a story of two generals marshalling their forces and battling on the astral plane. It is not Harry Potter versus Voldemort (it is much more Hagrid versus Snape). Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are combatants, and major battles revolve around their actions, but their role is that of Austria and Serbia in World War I. The actual war is much larger and diffuse, more akin to those wars described by Lawrence Miles and other writers of the Faction Paradox
franchise, a cracked mirror spinoff of Doctor Who
Nevertheless, The Last War in Albion
will approach this war through the lens of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. The mildly hostile interplay of their entwined careers will be understood as the beginning of its story. There is, of course, backstory and foreshadowing to be had, but its chronological playing out from 1978 to the present day forms the primary plot, if you will, of the project. It is in this regard comparable to Neal Stephenson’s treatment of the Newton-Leibnitz feud in The Baroque Cycle
, his three-thousand page magnum opus, except probably longer.
Its structure is self-consciously different from TARDIS Eruditorum
, the project to which it is most obviously compared. That project is structured as an episode guide - a series of short essays on successive episodes of Doctor Who
. The Last War in Albion
is, at least initially, structured as a single essay. Paragraph transitions will be maintained across entries. Figures are numbered consecutively across posts. The language of blogs is in this case deliberate. The Last War in Albion
is a book in its structure, albeit ones ill-suited to the mechanics of print publishing, but it is not published like that and at present there are no plans to do so. It is a blog. Its structure is serialized and temporal. Past entries may be amended, but will only be substantially rewritten under rare circumstances.
|Figure 4: Animal Man #1, 1988|
It is not going to linearly cover every Grant Morrison and Alan Moore comic in publication order with distinct entries for each, although as near to every comic by both writers as it is logistically feasible to discuss will be discussed. Rather, it will take longer and more oblique paths. It will inevitably return to the basic narrative of 1978 to the present day, but it will not do so on an entry-by-entry basis. An entry that talks about a seven-page comic in an anthology may be followed by one talking about 1960s new wave science fiction, followed by one about 1973 trash cinema, followed by one about a different comic published off and on from the year of the seven-pager to 1989, followed by one about William Blake, before finally moving on to the original writer’s other major comics work of that year, a thirty-four page small-format space adventure comic. All of these entries may contain any number of other topics, including topics from other entries.
That was not an arbitrary example. This format owes considerable debt to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or, less boastfully, Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. All of which said, the blog is not necessarily the only format The Last War in Albion will exist in. The story it tells is not one that takes place in linear time, and its telling alters with the format it is told in. As the project develops other formats of The Last War in Albion may appear, pending appropriate financial conditions. For the time being it will be an occasional feature - it will make sporadic chains of appearances in amidst other blogposts, then disappear for a time, then reappear with another set of six or seven entries. This structure is recognizably that by which classics like Zenith and The Ballad of Halo Jones were published in 2000 A.D.
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The remaining nature of the war will be revealed in the telling. All that remains is the task of selecting a beginning point and commencing the narrative proper. [continued]