A Feast Impending. Our Ruin to Come. It Becomes Symmetry (The Last War in Albion Book Two Part Thirty-Four: In Pictopia!)
|Figure 969: Left: First two panels of “In Pictopia.” Right: Last two panels of “In Pictopia,” showing Moore’s characteristic elipticism. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Don Simpson and Eric Vincent, in Anything Goes #2, 1986)|
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Alan Moore wrote a short story called “In Pictopia” for a Fantagraphics charity anthology. We discussed a lot of implications of those last three words and never managed to get to the story itself.
In many ways, the story of “In Pictopia” is one of the strip constantly overperforming. Moore’s original commitment to Groth was two four-page strips, but he found the idea of “In Pictopia” too big to fit into such a small container, and ended up doing one eight-page script, although given that Simpson then expanded the script to thirteen pages, in terms of Moore’s short work it’s perhaps easiest to frame it as a forty-panel script, compared to his Future Shocks, which tended to have panel counts in the high twenties. And thinking of “In Pictopia” as a super-sized Future Shock is helpful, as Moore is using techniques he honed at IPC. The overall structure is typically elliptical – both the first and last panels feature captions over blackness, while the second and penultimate panels feature POV shots of the main character’s hands. And the overall story structure is what Moore describes as a “list” story, in which the plot mostly consists of taking a big concept and running through its most interesting implications in rapid succession – a style used for such 2000 AD classics as “They Sweep the Spaceways,” “Sunburn,” and “The Big Clock!”
|Figure 970: The comic strip skyline of Pictopia. (In Anything Goes #2, 1986)|
But between Moore’s maturity as a storyteller and the space afforded by the increased panel count, “In Pictopia” goes to stranger and more unsettling places. Its conceit is the city of Pictopia, depicted on the title page as a collection of skyscrapers seemingly made up of comic panels, in which various comic strip characters live. The broad premise has antecedents – most obviously Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? – but as usual Moore’s angle on the material is unique. Wolf’s novel proposes that comic strips are actually photographs of the “toons,” while in Moore’s story, although the comic strips clearly exist (one character is introduced in terms of hers, and tenements are named after comic syndicates), there’s no clear sense of how the strips relate to characters’ day-to-day lives. Instead the sense is more that Pictopia is an early version of Ideaspace – a conceptual realm in which comic strip characters live, but that is ultimately created as a consequence of the real-world comics industry, its geography shaped and reshaped by industry trends – most notably when the Funnytown neighborhood (occupied by funny animals) is bulldozed because “this city’s changing, and some things just don’t fit the continuity no more.”
|Figure 971: Funnytown! (Written by Alan Moore, art by Don SImpson and Mike Kazaleh, from “In Pictopia” in Anything Goes #2, 1986)|
As this suggests, there’s an elegaic tone to “In Pictopia” in which Moore mourns the traditions and styles of comics that have waned and been neglected, and specifically that have been neglected in favor of superheroes, the only sorts of comics characters who can “afford to live in color,” as the narration puts it.…