November 7th, 2007

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

It's maybe not something you confess to in these parts but I'd never read a comic book before. At least not since I was nine. The comic book I tried to read then was a Western adventure. I loved westerns but this one floored me. It was partly because I didn't know how to read a book where the illustrations weren't illustrations but carried the text and partly because the story was more warped and adult than anything they showed on TV-  and ended on an image of a Boot Hill grave marker that was so creepy I couldn't bear to look at it.

45 years later I'm trying again.  I'm reading Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and thinking it's fab. It helps that, like Moore, I'm just crazy for all those late 19th century adventurer types. Allen Quartemain was my hero when I was about twelve and it's great to meet him again. I like it how his opium habit serves as a passpoirt from his morally-uncomplicated world to ours.

The story is fluff, but that's not the point, is it? The point is atmosphere. The point is dreamscape. Moore and O'Neill's mythic, steam-punk London is a place you could lose yourself in. And the dream goes deep. It's a collaborative work. The dreamers who have helped in the dreaming include Haggard, Doyle, Verne, Wells, Stoker, Dickens, Poe, Hogarth, Dore, Cruikshank, Phiz, Beardsley, Hokusai, Utamaro, Lang, Hitchcock  and- no doubt- all sorts of people I've never even heard of.

I've been wondering why it is that great comic books make lousy movies- and I think I've just hit on it. It's about speed. In a movie you have to go at the director's speed- which these days is insanely fast- while if you're reading a comic book you're going at your own speed and can pore over the pictures and pick up the cool details in the corners and let the ghosts in the text talk to the ghosts in your brain. To do justice to Moore and O'Neill's vision you'd want a director prepared to go at Bresson's pace or Ozu's and- well- that's just not going to happen, is it?