“Within a fortnight it can all fall down, the luminous Wurlitzer palace of our youth: no luck, no school, no happy home. The job down at the skinning yards… the tide comes crashing in, and sweeps us all away.” – Alan Moore, The Birth Caul
Although the slow motion disaster of Big Numbers, along with his less ruinous but still time-consuming efforts on From Hell and Lost Girls, occupied much of Moore’s time in the wake of Watchmen, these sorts of projects—self-published or put out in friends’ self-published anthologies—were not what he’d initially imagined his post-DC career to be. As he put it, “my intentions at that time were that I would work for book publishers. I was getting an awful lot of offers from book publishers asking me to do graphic novels for them, which seemed like a good option to me because I’d own my copyright, I’d be dealing on more equitable, grown-up terms.” In practice this never materialized, in part because the graphic novel boom that was leading these book publishers to take interest in the medium was quickly being squandered by the actions of the very publishers Moore was leaving. In practice, Moore would only publish one work with such a publisher, a 96 page graphic novel called A Small Killing that he did for Victor Gollancz’s short-lived VG Graphics imprint.
Victor Gollancz was notable, at least in the late 1980s, as one of the UK’s most prominent family-owned businesses, existing since the 1920s and publishing authors such as George Orwell, Daphne du Maurier, Kingsley Amis, and John le Carré. In the 1960s the publisher became a notable science fiction publisher, developing an eye-catching yellow trade dress that stood out and helped establish the publisher as a brand unto itself. In 1990, however, in the midst of Moore’s work on A Small Killing, Gollancz was sold to the US publishing giant Houghton Mifflin, which in turn sold it on in 1992, with a third and final sale coming in 1998. Combined with the petering out of the graphic novel boom, A Small Killing became a niche title—it got an American edition from Dark Horse in 1993, and then came back into print in 2003 from Avatar as part of their authorized ransacking of Moore’s back catalog. Moore would eventually identify it as “the most underappreciated work that I’ve done.”
Working with Moore was Oscar Zarate, an Argentinian artist who grew up as a devoted fan of Alex Raymond and Hugo Pratt and worked as an assistant in the Argentinian industry before migrating to advertising and, in 1971, Europe, this latter move to escape the right-wing military government of Argentina. There he sought work and ended up working for the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, where he worked with writer Richard Appignanesi on Lenin for Beginners and Freud for Beginners, part of the collective’s iconic For Beginners series, which used comics as a medium to explain the thought of prominent philosophers and scientists. He went on to illustrating comics adaptations of Shakespeare and Marlowe before, in 1987, connecting with comedian Alexei Sayle for a graphic novel called Geoffrey the Tube Train and the Fat Comedian.…