Monday, 17 September 2012

Comic Books, Glove Puppets and Metaphors

I've always been a fan of comic books. From the Beano when I was under 10, to 2000AD, Spiderman, X-Men and Batman in my teenage years (and beyond!). I was 15 years old when I encountered a house brick of a graphic novel (as 'grown up' comic books are pretentiously referred to by the broadsheets) called 'From Hell' by a writer called Alan Moore. I didn't make it past the first chapter, returning to the relative safety of Gotham and Mega City One.

I attempted From Hell again around five years later and, despite an initial struggle, managed to wade my way through it, holding on to the convoluted narrative for dear life. It took three readings to begin to grasp this astoundingly complex and intricately researched work.
I'm not particularly interested in this becoming anything as bland as a book review, but this work led on to my discovering Moore's other work such as 'Watchmen,' 'V for Vendetta,' and 'Promethea,' and it turns out I probably started with his least accessible text.

Each work is breathtaking in its complexity; complexity which could only be achieved in the comic book medium. Each frame is loaded with information and symbolism easily overlooked yet subtly affecting your reading experience.

This passing interest led to a viewing of the documentary 'The Mindscape of Alan Moore' which I found to be a revelation. Not only is Moore an unparalleled story writer he is a political theoretician, subversive social philosopher and occult icon.
Describing himself as a magician, he explains that magic is the manipulation of symbols to affect people's minds and our barrier to it lies on the mystification of certain semantics (casting a spell is literally spelling, a grimoire is the Latin for grammar, etc). All art, he claims, is magic and has the ability to subvert and change the world for the better, yet this 'magic' is only utilised these days by big business and advertisers.

Moore subscribes to the notion discussed in my previous post of the manifestation of the 'real' world through metaphor and symbolism alone. He discusses the alchemical notion of 'solve e coagulum,' or 'dissolve and coagulate.' This is much the same as Ian McGilchrist's concept of abstraction and metaphor; understanding the world by isolating objects for ease of digestion then reintegrating them into context in order to create a view of the world (I discussed this subject in my undergrad thesis under the banner of 'abstraction and empathy,' put forward by early 20th century art historian Wilhelm Worringer. See appendix 1 of my postgrad thesis). This view of the world becomes a religion, be it spiritual (Christianity, Islam, etc), or political (conservatism, Marxism, etc), anything capable of developing dogmas. All claims to knowledge such as this, according to Moore, are ridiculous; this explains his decision to worship the snake god Glycon, a deity exposed as a glove puppet in the 2nd century.

Now I understand a bit about Moore's approach to the nature of reality I can see this reflected in his work. The depth of symbolism which underlies a story like Watchmen, a story which could be read on the surface as a superhero exploitation comic, lends it a profundity which can be translated and retranslated; challenging the reader in countless ways.

I didn't expect to draw such inspiration from my love of comics. Perhaps I'm becoming so intellectually warped I'm finding these patterns everywhere. 

This, however, feels fairly apt. Perhaps, like agent Aldo Sax, I'm developing 'high abstract patterning skills.' I fucking hope so!

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