smoky man & Gary Spencer Millidge, editors, Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman (abiogenesis press, 2003)
I have a confession to make up front, one that's not likely to endear me to this book's intended audience: I'm not a huge Alan Moore fan. Sure, I adored the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series and early Swamp Thing (birthplace of my favourite comic book character ever, John Constantine). But after years of being told I'd love From Hell, I found it utterly impenetrable, and of the second League, the less said the better. Sadly, I have never managed to read Watchmen or V for Vendetta or any of the other works for which Moore is known. All of which is to say that when I was offered this tribute in honour of Moore's 50th birthday, I wasn't at all sure I was precisely the reader the authors had in mind.
Turns out I need not have fretted; Portrait is immediately accessible to anyone with even just a passing familiarity with Moore's work. And more importantly, it's an absolutely fascinating read. Portrait is not so much a retrospective (though Millidge's 12 page biographical comic at the front does that neatly) of Moore's illustrious career as it is equal parts birthday present, professional tribute and celebrity roast. The book first saw life as a series of interviews between smoky man (real name unknown) and Millidge, published in the Italian e-zine "Ultrazine", and morphed into its current form when smoky man asked Millidge to oversee an English translation, at which point many of the participants were invited on board.
Portrait opens with an introduction from Terry Gilliam, a sardonic treatise about the now non-existent Watchman movie project he was once tied to (and hopes is never revived). Gillidge's bio comic follows immediately after, and then the real fun begins! The remainder of the book is filled to the brim with short essays, scribblings or musings by well-known comics talents (American and European), liberally peppered with artwork by other well-known talents. With the exception of a couple of scholarly-inclined works, each piece is a very personal glimpse into how Alan Moore has affected not only the comics industry worldwide, but his fellow artists and writers. We get to meet Moore at his Northampton home, running from rabid fans at comic conventions, performing on stage (I knew nothing of Moore's musical adventures before this). And we get to meet Moore the novelist, practicing magician, father of two and . . . eclectic dresser. Contributors include Steve Bissette (Taboo, Swamp Thing), Neil Gaiman, Cerebus's Dave Sim, musical partner Tim Perkins and Moore's daughters Amber and Leah. Art is supplied by such widely diverse talents as League collaborator Kevin O'Neill; Ken Meyer, Jr.; Bryan Talbot and Swamp Thing collaborator Rick Veitch.
There's a certain fascinating joy at discovering Moore's work through the lens of others' talent, vicariously soaking in what it is about him that inspires them. Their own delight and awe is infectious and I find myself wanting to give From Hell another try (as well as hunt down copies of his other work). While this is not the sort of book you would read straight through from cover to cover, it lends itself to opening to a random page and reading an essay here, admiring a two page inked comic there and otherwise enjoying the contents at your own pace and direction. Brief, clearly self-written bios are provided for every contributor, which are very helpful, particularly for the lesser known (to myself at least) foreign writers and artists. Proceeds from Portrait benefit Alzheimer's charities and it has raised almost $37,000 as of the date of this review, according to Millidge's Web site. The first printing has sold out and limited quantities are available from the second printing in November, 2003. Whatever hoops you need to jump through to get a copy, though, it's well worth it for even the casual Moore fan.