Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Alan Moore v Grant Morrison
Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are for me, and many others, the two best comic book writers ever. They also have a long-running feud. Indeed, the distaste they seem to have for each other, particularly Moore of Morrison, is almost to the point where readers may feel they have to choose one writer’s work over the other.
I think it’s not unfair to say that for many years Moore was considered the better writer, and clearly so. His work in the mid-1980s, before Morrison gained much notice at all, seemed to establish him as the best comic book writer there had ever been, and would be for some time. At his peak from 1982 to 1987 Moore dropped on the world some of the greatest comic books there have even been, including Marvelman/Miracleman, Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke, Superman: Whatever Happened To The World of Tomorrow?, and the greatest comic series of them all, Watchmen. Morrison, meanwhile, was just getting significant notice by the late ‘80s, first with Zenith in the UK, and then at DC Comics with Doom Patrol and Animal Man. Actually, if anyone was considered a writer to rival Moore during that era it was not Morrison but Batman, Daredevil and Sin City writer Frank Miller.
Morrison though may be said to have slowly clawed back the gap over the years. His Justice League of America books sold very well in the mid-‘90s, while Moore was ‘stuck’ trying to bring at least a slither of substance to Image Comics properties such as Supreme and WILDC.A.T.S (though he also produced the excellent From Hell during this period). Then at the turn of the century Moore was given free rein with the America’s Best Comics line, and came storming back with classic series such as Top 10, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Promethea, seemingly cementing his spot as the number one comics writer for good. Since then though he has been largely absent from comics, while Morrison has produced a steady stream of well-received work. With top artist Frank Quitely, Morrison had a fantastic run on X-Men, as well as creating We3, and possibly the greatest Superman story ever in All-Star Superman. He also released a bunch of good comic books with other artists, including an epic Batman run, The Filth, Seven Soldiers of Victory, and most recently The Multiversity.
Still even accounting for Morrison’s strong recent work, I think Moore outpoints Morrison as a writer, for what that is worth – his very best works are greater than Morrison’s best works. Not that it should really be a competition; to me both are great writers, and their works collectively form a large chunk of my graphic novel bookshelf.
However, as a person, I think I would enjoy Grant Morrison’s company more. Alan Moore seems to be bitter about almost every comic book relationship he has had, from his time at Marvel UK to his time at DC Comics. Granted, he probably had some good reasons, but other creators have run into problems at the two major companies as well and they haven’t vowed to damn the whole company regardless of who’s in them, nor the comics industry in general. I respect Moore for his principles, but he strikes me as if he would be a curmudgeonly person to spend time with.
When Moore decided to go postal on Grant Morrison a year back I thought Morrison handled it pretty well. His central point was a good one: why couldn’t Moore find something good to say about comics, and if he couldn’t find something good to say, why couldn’t he just shut up? With that reply, Morrison portrayed himself as someone who cared about, and thought positively about, both the comics industry and the creators in it, while Moore seemed to treat them like a turd he couldn’t wipe off completely from the bottom of his shoe.
Morrison has also taken the effort to engage with Moore’s work, while Moore has entirely dismissed Morrison’s. Moore of course is under no obligation to read or like Morrison’s work if he does not think it to be of merit or to his taste. But Moore’s criticisms of Morrison are more equivalent to what you would expect from an internet troll – albeit a highly witty one – than from one of comics’ most thoughtful and incisive creators. Morrison meanwhile has taken the effort to set out what he does and does not like in Moore’s work and the reasons why, even revising his opinion of some works such as Watchmen as he has considered them further. Again, Moore is under no obligation to engage with Morrison’s work, but that Morrison can at least talk about Moore’s without resorting to name-calling counts for him in my estimation.
Not that Morrison has always taken the high ground in this feud. In his book ‘Supergods’ Morrison admits that he played the part of the enfant terrible early in his career, and that reading interviews from that period – a period during which he dismissed works like Watchmen – now makes his ‘blood run cold’, though he seemed to me to still be somewhat proud of that early persona. But Morrison soon showed he was more than a ‘punk’ – his messages about animal rights on Animal Man for instance were, to me at least, more than just the work of a self-absorbed hipster.
So in summary, for me Alan Moore is the better writer, but Grant Morrison – of course keeping in mind that I have never met either man personally – comes across as the ‘better professional’. Not that Moore would give a toss. But against Moore’s wishes I’m going to continue to read and enjoy the work of both writers.