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Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

Alan Moore is probably best known to comic book fans for the series Watchmen, and possibly also for his acclaimed run on Swamp Thing. As Lance Parkin points out in Magic Words, however, those two comics--and the dystopian V for Vendetta--were produced almost three decades ago, and are far from fully representative of Moore's work.

Parkin, a British writer specializing in science fiction and pop culture, goes back to Moore's childhood in the Midlands town of Northampton (where he still lives), teasing out some unexpected influences. There's a strong focus on Moore's early work in British comics, where his technique of juxtaposing the images in comic book panels in "ironic counterpoint" to their captions was honed to the fine point of Watchmen. Even as that book was transforming the comics market, though, Moore's relationship with its publisher was falling apart; Parkin addresses this and many other acrimonious disputes with clear sympathy for Moore, but also an evenhanded recognition that the other parties are rarely acting in bad faith. That combination of respect and skepticism also characterizes the discussion of Moore's self-transformation into a ceremonial magician whose occult philosophies have informed several comic books (as well as performance art pieces and a long-anticipated novel). Some fans might want to see more discussion of the content of the comics, but Magic Words is a biography, not a literary study. As such, it helps us recognize why Alan Moore matters while leaving plenty of room to discover his work for ourselves. --Ron Hogan, founder of