|Figure 722: The first page of Alan Moore’s 1984 Batman
This vision is not some mere alternate history of a world where there never was a War, where Moore’s Scottish devil had no great master whose career he could illustrate, where a Hampshire journalist never gets a vital lesson in writing comic scripts, and where a boy from Essex and games journalist from Bath don’t have a comics industry waiting to receive the next British genius with open arms. Rather, it is a career that happened alongside the familiar narrative of Moore’s chain of successes from 1979 to 1986 – a career that consists of nothing more or less than the sum total of works that don’t fit into the tale of Moore’s relentless march to success, and even some, like much of his 2000 AD work, that do. Nor is it as though Moore’s American career brought an end to his time taking minor British gigs. Far from it, almost immediately after taking the Swamp Thing job, Moore found himself writing a humorous two-page text piece for the 1984 Superman Annual – not, to be clear, Superman Annual #10, which featured an Eliot Maggin/Curt Swan tale called “The Day the Cheering Stopped,” but a UK Superman annual in the same basic vein as the Dukes of Hazard annual he’d contributed to the year before. Moore’s piece, entitled “Protected Species,” is written in the form of a resignation letter by Graunch Quiglow, who is quitting his job capturing endangered alien species so that they can be kept safe by the Interstellar League of Gentlefolk Concerned About Endangered Wildlife following a disastrous attempt to “rescue” Superman. The next year he contributed another piece, “I Was Superman’s Double,” an extended narration by an unscrupulous cab driver about the day he was drafted in as a substitute Superman after the real one had a nervous breakdown (his passenger, “that Kent Clark guy” from The Daily Planet, is unimpressed), as well as a more serious piece for the 1985 Batman Annual entitled “The Gun.”
|Figure 723: Moore’s contribution to
Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster featured
innovative use of text as illustration.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Michael
T. Gilbert, from Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster
Not only did Moore’s American work end up creating oddities for him in the British market, it also provided him a number of opportunities for odd and minor works directly. Some of these American oddities are little more than indie equivalents of his odds and ends for DC Comics – for instance, a sixteen page story for Michael Gilbert’s Doc Stearn… Mr. Monster, an underground-influenced superhero comic that was coming out of Eclipse Comics alongside the relaunched Miracleman. The strip pits Mr. Monster against a giant garbage monster, mixing a sense of genuinely unsettling horror (the monster is a homeless woman struck by a limousine and left rotting in an alley for months during a garbage strike) and over the top comedy (Mr. Monster humorously fails several times to stop the garbage monster despite boasting confidently that he has done so, culminating in him meekly admitting that “actually, I was expecting it to stop walking around once it caught fire…”), albeit not entirely coherently.
More interesting, in most regards, are his contributions to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, which consist of six eight-page backup stories followed by a full-issue story concluding the arc. American Flagg was a comic published by First Comics, an alternative press outside of Chicago that was among the first generation of independent publishers to distribute comics via the direct market. Launching their line in 1983, founders Mike Gold and Ken F. Levin sought mainstream talent that might be interested in working on creator-owned projects. Quickly, they settled on Howard Chaykin, by this point a veteran of over a decade in the American industry, but always something of an outsider within it due to his disinterest in the popular genres of superhero and horror comics.
|Figure 724: Rueben Flagg, in front of an
ad for his best known television series.
(By Howard Chaykin, from American Flagg
Instead Chaykin was largely a science fiction artist who, in his own words, was interested in drawing “guys with guns, guys with swords, and women with big tits.” His work appeared in both indie venues like Heavy Metal and a graphic novel adaptation of The Stars My Destination, but also in mainstream titles like Marvel Comics’s Star Wars adaptation and their Micronauts series. Given the opportunity to pitch for First, he proposed a satirical dystopia about a world in which the American government has decamped to Mars and left the country (and ultimately the world) under the control of the massive Plex corporation. The resulting comic is ostentatious in the extreme, with Chaykin reveling in the creative freedom available to him from a publisher with no interest in the Comics Code Authority. American Flagg is long on sex, with a main character being Reuben Flagg, a former television star from a show called Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger, described as “the provocative adventures of a fearless vice cop walking the mean streets of an unarmed, untamed and sexually transmitted disease riddled sector of a great urban metroplex,” who has been assigned to patrol the streets of Chicago.
|Figure 725: The first page of American
Flagg is a dense blend of fictional brand
names and news reports that throws readers
in at the deep end. (By Howard Chaykin, 1983)
The most immediate problem upon his arrival is the periodic warfare between two gogangs (“anarchist terrorist motorcycle clubs”), the Ethical Mutants and the Genetic Warlords, whom every Saturday night after the airing of the popular program Bob Violence commence a wave of destructive violence at the local mall. Flagg uncovers the fact that the violence is due to subliminal messages within Bob Violence, and manages to put an end to it, but this only begins the process of Flagg’s gradual discovery of the sheer corruption and insane plans of Plex. The tone has obvious similarities to Judge Dredd in 2000 AD, although this is less a matter of mutual influence and more simply one of common sources, with both fitting smoothly into a long tradition of brash sci-fi satires. (Indeed, a more obvious antecedent is probably Chaykin’s friendship with Frank Miller, who was working on his own sci-fi dystopia Ronin for DC Comics around the same time.) But what is most interesting about the strip is Chaykin’s technical virtuosity. Chaykin’s world is full of nuance and detail – as Moore puts it in Writing For Comics, Chaykin “worked out the brand names and the TV shows and the attitudes to fashion and the political problems, and then he just went straight into the story and let the readers pick it up as they went along. In the first issue of Flagg we see snatches of TV shows and advertising billboards that give us a much more real impression of the way that these people think and live than any amount of explanatory caption boxes would have.”
|Figure 726: A seven foot tall tumescent Samoan beats Max’s office door
down. (Written by Alan Moore, art by Larry Sloman, from American Flagg
The comic’s glory days are generally agreed to be its first twelve issues, after which Chaykin gradually lost interest in the title, eventually handing it off to other writers completely. Moore’s brief intersection with the comic came during this period of transition in 1985, with his first strip coming in American Flagg #21. His arc opens with a pastiche of his own classic “The Anatomy Lesson” in miniature – an eight page story called “The Hot Slot” that’s bookended by a man barricade in his office as some ghastly monster claws and pounds at the door outside. Over the middle section of the story, the man explains his predicament over the course of a phone conversation. Apparently, the problem is that Max, the man barricaded in his office, has been airing reruns of Mark Thrust, and has found himself with a bit of a problem regarding the advertising. Specifically, it’s working too well, particularly in the second advertising slot, which comes immediately after the point in the program in which Mark Thrust is engaged in sexual congress. The slot initially went to “Fields O’ Foam” bubble bath, and, due to a particularly effective cut between the episode and the ad, led to a massive surge in Fields O’ Foam sales. Eventually the approach is figured out by other advertisers, and the slot becomes hugely expensive. The problem, as Max explains, is that “our company seems to have been responsible for depraving the entire population of this city,” with the entire city becoming, as Max puts it, a bunch of “fornicating maniacs.” In particular, “there’s a seven foot tall tumescent Samoan trying to beat my office door down.”
Whether or not he did this as a deliberate riff on “The Anatomy Lesson,” “The Hot Slot” is in many ways typical of Moore’s writing, in that it’s a piece driven by its structure, in this case an iteration of Moore’s favored elliptical approach whereby the story starts and ends in the same place. But Moore’s ability to plan his American Flagg arc that carefully quickly dissipated as his intended four part story got stretched out to seven, requiring, in Moore’s words, “some very strange things out of desperation to fill the extra pages of story,” and a resultant loss in structural sharpness. “I think it has a moral behind it somewhere,” Moore suggests, “if you can wade through all the naked flesh and decapitations,” which is about fair.
|Figure 727: John Constantine cameos in American Flagg.
(Written by Alan Moore, art by Larry Sloman, from American
Flagg #23, 1985)
But for all of this, the strip is typical of Moore in several regards. That Moore would, when given a platform in a Comics Code-free American indie book with a strong satirical streak, do a story about sex is hardly surprising when one considers that Moore’s arc on American Flagg came just a year after his battle with the Comics Code over the zombie incest in Swamp Thing and his subsequent psychedelic vegetable sex story. Indeed, the story’s mixture of sex and iconography from The Wizard of Oz is a theme that Moore would return to later in his career. And while the subplot featuring Raul, a talking cat, lusting after a robotic mouse as he is in turn chased by a robotic dog clearly owes a considerable debt to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (complete with the mouse throwing bricks), the underlying dynamic is also tangibly that of Maxwell the Magic Cat. There’s even a momentary cameo from John Constantine.
Sex was also the theme of an eight-page story Moore did with Rick Veitch for Epic Illustrated entitled “Love Doesn’t Last Forever,” a story about horrifying alien venereal diseases. The story is another eliptically structured twist ending story of the sort that Moore had by this point written numerous versions of. The first and last pages feature a narrator waiting in their room for the arrival of someone named Bruno. The details of the narrator are vague – notably, the first page avoids showing their face, but it’s clear they’re down on their luck, “living near the upyards,” which, they explain, “is depressing. I’ve always said I’d leave if not for Bruno… Every night, home from work, I change into something drifty and comfortable and wait for him, listening to the spaceships. Sometimes he arrives late, sometimes not at all.” But “after tonight, Bruno” they note, “I’m not waiting anymore,” with the images revealing that the narrator has a one-way ticket to Titan.
|Figure 728: “Love Doesn’t Last Forever” is a tale of
visceral body horror. (Written by Alan Moore, art by
Rick Veitch, from Epic Illustrated #34, 1985)
The narrative then flashes back to “earlier” and follows Bruno for six pages as he goes to visit another lover, only to discover that she’s been murdered. Bruno is then confronted by a man named Milbur, who uses a lie detector on Bruno and asks if he’s “been screwin’ with any other women these past two months.” Bruno affirms that he has not, at which point Milbur explains that he had sex with an alien, and caught a horrifying disease that’s literally eating away at him, and that Bruno is infected. Milbur proceeds to kill Bruno in a murder-suicide, at which point the action cuts back to the narrator waiting for Bruno. At this point it’s revealed that the narrator is male, and that Milbur, in asking exclusively about women, crucially asked the wrong question. As the narrator muses on how “all the time we were together, Bruno, all you ever did was take. You took my love, you took my self-respect, and in all that time, you never gave me anything at all,” the images show that he too has the tell-tale rash indicating that he’s been infected as well. It is, in most regards, a bit of a slender tale, but nevertheless marks an interesting hybrid between two parts of Moore’s career – the Future Shocks structure of 2000 AD merged with the themes of sex and sexuality that clearly fascinate Moore, but that he could never have explored within the confines of IPC.
The bulk of Moore’s oddities during this period, at least within the American market, share a common trait, namely that they were published in indie venues that, like Warrior, put an emphasis on creator rights. (Even Epic Illustrated, although published by Marvel, allowed creators to retain copyright for their work.) This reflects a longstanding ideological preference on Moore’s part – one that would eventually end up having profound implications on the shape of his career. But it was in the British scene that Moore took this ideological preference to its logical extreme, contributing several works to publications that came out of the fan scene as opposed to from professional publishers. Of course, just like the American comics industry, the line between these two categories was in many ways porous, a fact illustrated by Moore’s year spent doing fanzine reviews and write-ups of conventions for Marvel UK, primarily in The Daredevils. And indeed, one of his fanzine contributions, a five page comic for the magazine Mad Dog entitled “Captain Airstrip One,” rather neatly bridges the gap between Moore’s talking about fanzines and participating them.