How I Celebrated Alan Moore’s Birthday: a comic-book seminar

How did you celebrate Alan Moore’s birthday? The actual day was Wednesday 18th, but yesterday I conducted a short university seminar on his book Promethea.

It’s a fun session. Promethea is a great work, and the other set text is a chapter from John Higgs’ book on the KLF. The main argument I make is that Promethea is the masterwork of superhero comics, and that everything since has been a sort of mopping-up operation. I also talk a little about Alan Moore’s ideas around magic and art.

I read part of Promethea in single-issues at the time, stopping some time near the start of the second year. The book is not a standard superhero adventure, with the action overshadowed by a lushly illustrated primer on magic. Alan Moore has been quoted as saying “there are 1000 comic books on the shelves that don’t contain a philosophy lecture and one that does. Isn’t there room for that one?

I’m now much more interested in the philosophical lecture than I was in my early twenties. Its ambitions are far beyond most comic books; yesterday morning, a friend emailed to say they were reading it for the fifth time, to learn about magic. I’ve also heard of it being used as a meditational aid.

Promethea provides a great jumping-off point for talking about female representation and sexuality in comics; superheroes as modern myths; ideaspace; how copyright restricts the power of these characters; and issues around creator rights. The last is particularly frustrating with reuse of Promethea controlled being by a corporation that blocks some re-uses while trying to turn her into a regular superhero.

But most of all, it’s great to talk about magic. To quote Alan Moore, “I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, writing, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness

I’m also careful to talk about the problems with the comics industry. This year, the Warren Ellis scandal has demonstrated that mainstream comics has a problem with gatekeepers and accountability. But there is a huge indie comics scene, and I reference something Scott McCloud said: if you make a comic and anyone gives you money for it, you’re in the industry.

It’s the second year I’ve given this presentation, but I was not able to do it in person yesterday. Conducting a seminar remotely was hard work, and I feel for all the students who are enduring this day after day. Hopefully I can do it in person again next year.

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