A Disease of Language (Knockabout – Palmano Bennett, 2005) reads like Alan Moore’s application for the position of Official Ambassador to the Far Flung Realms of The Conscious Psychedelic Multiverse of Probability. And at the end of it, one is left with the distinct feeling that Moore is a very strong candidate for the position.
The book is comprised of two comix adaptations of Alan Moore’s magic based performances created by Moore’s longtime friend, From Hell collaborator and seasoned indie comics veteran, Eddie Campbell. The two works, The Birth Caul and Snakes and Ladders, are followed by the transcript of a lengthy conversation in which Mr. Campbell draws out the history and trajectory of Mr. Moore’s explorations into magic that began officially in 1993.
Fans of Moore’s mainstream comics success stories (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) who have been baffled by his now exclusive preoccupation with magic and the occult would find A Disease of Language a welcome entry point into these frontiers of consciousness.
Magic is one of those ideas that exist as a unique permutation in each individual brain and so providing a definition becomes exceedingly problematic. Fortunately Moore provides the reader with his own:
“As my life as writer continued, I started to notice odd little coincidental connections between my art and my life, but tended to file these away in a mental drawer a bit like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium full of imponderable oddities, small synchronicities, half memories from childhood and the like. Approaching forty [Moore was born in 1953], this particular drawer was starting to get pretty full, to the point of overflowing, and I was also starting to become more and more fascinated by the big taboo question of creativity, which also leads on to the big taboo question of consciousness, namely ‘What is it and how does it work?’ …Both of these issues seemed to me to be pointing to resolutions that were beyond the boundaries of linear and rational thinking, a territory that I came to label, at least for my own purposes, as Magic.”
Moore then identifies the particular flavor of Magic to which he was drawn.
“I eventually learned that magic was what Aleister Crowley referred to as ‘a disease of language’, and came to understand that magic is indeed mostly a linguistic phenomenon and was therefore what had been lying at the end of the path beyond mere craft all along…”
The “mere craft” to which Moore refers to in this quote from the interview is the craft of storytelling, of creating worlds with language.
Moore’s magic oeuvre has come to include two novels, one comics series, and several multimedia performances. Alan Moore’s first public foray into magic was the 1994 multimedia performance entitled The Moon and the Serpent. “It seemed to me that the best possible means of expressing magical ideas would be in some form of performance that included elements to engage all of the senses, a kind of riotous psychedelic mixed media performance with the sole aim of altering the consciousness and mindset of the audience.” To achieve this kaleidoscopic rendering of ideas he enlisted the help of several artist/musician friends of his who operated under the title of The Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels.
If the idea of occult-inspired performance art makes you want to turn around and walk quickly in the opposite direction, then it must be stated that both of Moore’s monologues based are structured around a visceral layering of history and geography, placing both of these works within the fascinating realm of psychogeography. The Birth Caul concerns the discovery of Moore’s own birth caul (an embryonic veil that sometimes covers the head of a child) among his recently departed mother’s effects. It goes backwards through his twenties and teens, childhood and finally to the moment of his own conception – a rare piece of autobiography from Alan Moore.
<img alt="Snakes and Ladders” src=”http://theculturalgutter.com/snakesladders-web.jpg” width=”250″ height=”407″ hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right>Snakes and Ladders begins by finding geographical associations with Francis Crick, Walter Cromwell, Arthur Machen and the Pre-Raphealites, centered around Red Lion Square in London. Moore transforms these associations into a meditation on snake god archetypes to the role of DNA in evolution to the function of art and the path of physical transcendence (which ends for Machen in Red Lion Square).
Campbell’s graphic adaptation of Moore’s dense monologues presents a curious application of the comix medium. Each short piece is the transcript, interpretation and representation of a chaotically layered multimedia presentation designed to “overwhelm the normal critical apparatus of the audience, providing them with far too much information to absorb by normal linear methods.” A daunting task to which Mr. Campbell has applied his own considerable multimedia arsenal of graphic techniques: inkwash, photography, collage, digital manipulation, etc. This application of collage is particularly effective when it is used to give image to the many historical/geographical references made in Snakes and Ladders. It is in these situations that the images consistently work with the text, enriching the flow of information.
Maintaining this flow is a difficult task for Campbell. Moore’s writing spills out so quickly, carrying symbols and imagery so dense, that even an artist of Campbell’s caliber is at times caught flat-footed and unprepared to handle the density of information suggested by the text. This tends to creates a discordant experience such that the images at times seem to work against the textual barrage. The flow is broken as the mind seeks to make the connections that hold the two languages (word and image) together. These interruptions break the spell created by the semi-hypnotic ingestion of Moore’s cavalcade of ideas.
“Art”, part IV of Snakes and Ladders, is one of the more successful sequences. In these pages Moore’s text is given prominence laid out in narrow columns ascending across generously blank pages punctuated by well-timed and placed images that serve to highlight the rising nature of the text — to the point of vertigo in this reviewer! — without inhibiting its forward momentum.
Eddie Campbell set himself the unenviable task of making a comic out of a densely layered text written to produce trancelike effects in combination with rigourously composed music and dancers and fire breathers. His rendition is a hybrid, a magic trance-inducing spell-casting kind of comic, which helps to illuminate some of the more arcane reaches of Moore’s formidable imagination.
This month’s Guest Star is Marc Ngui, a cartoonist living in Toronto. He recommends further reading on Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Psychogeography, & Arthur Machen. Interested in writing for the Gutter? Email us an idea on a maligned genre!
Categories: Guest Star