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Absolutely Extraordinary

You know, there’s a lot going on in comics right now. Lots of folks getting all worked up about changing creative teams and “who’s gonna save comics?” kinda talk. Not that this sort of thing isn’t entertaining. Of course it is. Beats the hell out of working. Makes you feel pretty smart and important quarterbacking from the safety of the barcalounger (hell, I know it makes *me* feel pretty smart.)
Oh yeah. All the folks coming by looking for the Ed Brubaker interview will want to look at the column dated 6/18. This week is something else, frankly, not quite as interesting, but we can’t all be at our best at all times. Okay, so you all can. I’m mortal.
So, we’re all done with that, right? Good. We’re gonna talk about something fun instead. Something big. Something slipcased.
Yep. I went ahead and did it. I reasserted my Alan Moore fanboy status and picked up a copy of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Absolute Edition. DC, by way of Wildstorm, by way of ABC just separated me and seventy-five perfectly good dollars from me. Man, I coulda bought what, twenty-five (non-prestige) books for that. And it was only a six-issue miniseries when it originally was published.
Am I totally insane?
Yeah, probably.
Uhm, it goes without saying that spoilers follow. Like I can spoil a 4-year old book, but I’m a considerate guy…
So, why would anyone in their right mind drop that much money on one of anything? I’m not even going to touch on the particular lunacy that is the back-issue market. Perhaps at another time. The only back issues I buy these days cost a buck (twelve for ten dollars). This cost as much as I should probably be spending on comics in a month (not that I really keep to that budget).
So you ask me again “What were you thinking? And you *pre-ordered* it!?” Yep. I did. I knew the day that it was announced that I was going to have to get it. Not just because it was an oversized edition (some 30% bigger than your typical comic), though that was certainly an attraction. What’s better than Kevin O’Neill? BIG Kevin O’Neill, that’s what!
Traditional comics pages are almost too small for him (and if you’ve read his work on Marshal Law, you’d agree.) I suppose that’s understandable, given his 2000 AD pedigree. The additional size here has really allowed his artwork a chance to really stretch, and to give full benefit to the (seemingly meaningless) details that he puts into his work. Yes, his artwork is highly kinetic and forceful, but seen at this size, there’s a lot of missed subtlety that is given a chance to come through. The facial expressions of all his characters, in particular, are given new life and vividness.
There’s nothing much better than a giant-sized splash page of Mr. O’Neill’s work. Everything is exaggerated just enough (can there be too much exaggeration?) to convey what’s necessary, but not necessarily jump out at you and scream “Look at Mr. Hyde’s misshapen anatomy! He couldn’t even STAND if he were built like THAT.”
But beyond the characters, the scene of an imagined 1898 and everything that inhabits it (particularly the impossible technology) is a fantastic blend of that which you’d expect, and that which Plainly Could Not Be. It’s always better to see that as large as possible. It’s an 1898 that didn’t exist, and as such is a wonderful and terrifying place.
But I’m wandering again, aren’t I?
So yeah, big art. That’s certainly an attraction. But the real attraction was the second volume in the set. The scripts. Yep, all the scripts (prolly, what, more than 100 pages certainly, maybe more) are included. For someone like me, that’s pure gold. But again, I’m one of those weirdos that thinks that the story is far more important than the art. Anytime I get a chance to sneak behind the curtains and look at all the scaffolding and plaster of the sets, I do it.
People often ask “doesn’t that take some of the fun out of it?” Certainly not. The process has always been interesting to me, sometimes more interesting than the final result (depending on the work in question.) So when I have a chance to get a look at the whole works, I take it.
Are the scripts easy reading? Heavens no! They’re somewhat dry (though Mr. Moore sprinkles a bit of humor through the works). The bulk of it is slow reading, however. Not the least reason for it is the typesetting, which is done in ALL CAPS AND IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO READ LONG PASSAGES OF TEXT IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THERE’S NO VARIATION IN CHARACTER HEIGHT SO IT ALL LOOKS LIKE A GIGANTIC AND IMPENETRABLE MONOLITH THAT IS BY ITS VERY NATURE QUITE DAUNTING AND VERGES ON MIGRAINE-INDUCING, PARTICULARLY WHEN THE AUTHOR IN QUESTION DESCRIBES EVERYTHING IN THE PANEL WITHOUT BENEFIT OF PARAGRAPH BREAKS.
I’ve seen this treatment of Mr. Moore’s scripts before, most notably in the collected Watchmen (yes I have one of the hardcovers; no, I won’t sell it to you). I honestly don’t know if this is how the scripts originally appeared when handed to the illustrator or if this is something that’s been done to separate the armchair acolytes from the truly dedicated. Whatever the basis for the typographic follies, it makes for difficult reading. At least in extended chunks. Page-by-page viewing is workable, but for your own sanity, not more than an issue at a time. You’ve been warned.
What have I learned from this as of yet? Not particularly much. Script-reading with the comic in the other hand is a time-consuming process. But then if anyone out there has actually read a screenplay alongside a video and gone scene-by-scene, you’d know about what this is like. I’ve only been able to throw an hour or so at it, breezing through the script of the first issue. There’s more meat to be had, for certain.
If anything the process teaches you about the absolute, crucial importance of having an artist who can tell stories graphically. Mr. Moore does his level best to pack all the information that the reader needs to Get It in his panel descriptions. Too much so, sometimes. Reading the scripts nearly induces information overload, having to take in the vastness of Mr. Moore’s mental vision through mere text. Everything down to the salt-rime on a metal railing in the background gets sharp focus. When you read it in the comic, you might notice it if you spend any time on the background. When you read it in the script, you have to take it all in. A formidable task.
But one certainly worth the time, in my book. Well, at least if you’re wired funny like me.
What this really does is give you a chance to appreciate mow much bandwidth comics can carry, in a completely different way from novels or films. Movies are time-based, always flickering along at twenty-four frames a second. Comics pages take as long or as short as you want them to take. Some go by significantly faster than others, but some demand sustained attention. Particularly when written by Alan Moore. Mr. Moore doesn’t lead you by the hand, so to speak. He (and his artists, I hasten to remind myself) are expert at giving you (as the reader) what you need when you need it. The scripts only reinforce that assertion in my mind. The breakdown pages and designs (a tad brief, to be honest) are interesting, but not so much as the text. Of course, I’m not an artist, so filter that opinion appropriately.
“Is it worth it?” you ask me. “Was it $75 wisely spent?”
For me, yeah. I probably would have paid more (at least I would’ve one those lottery numbers kicked in). But then I think that three bucks for most comics is far too much.
Go figure.

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