Books above and beyond: Providence by Alan Moore

Alan Moore is enigma. Each of his writing as primary author had to be considered as “above and beyond”. Watchmen, graphic novel that established his reputation amongst critics and most of the reading world, was just one arrow out of many in his repertoire. What makes him one of the greatest writer of all time ? Is it expert command over language – you can apply this to all good authors. Is it exquisite prose writing – most of classic author helm this attribute as well. Is it great characterization – its must for all author. Is it story, plot and method of unspooling the story arc – still, generic attribute of all the good writers. For me, what separates him from good to great is his sense of not presuming his readers as fools. Alan Moore knows that readers hooked to his writing are cleverer than usual lot and had acute sense of not finding the fault in the writing but getting those gaps filled out by their active imagination and further research. To read Alan Moore books could be straightforward for a regular reader but to enjoy the same, one had to explore out of book pages and be familiar with subject matter. Once you do that, you’ll be surprised by the depth of meaning hiding in each of his books and graphic novels. That itself is genuine fan service Alan Moore do for his devout readers.

Take the example of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, LoEG in short. This four-part series with its spin-offs are undoubtedly most brilliant homage to three/four decades of literary classic novels, magazines, movies, TV shows and much much more ranging from 1950 to 1980. Still at first as a reader, you won’t even get that’s what happening in the background. I agree that after first 2 volumes, references got more pronounced and idea shifted towards more research towards finding out all the references. Fan supported sites were created to address the same. Open discussion channels were established to leverage knowledge of entire reading community to identify and log all the pointers/references/homages crammed into a page or sometimes in the frame. It seemed that beyond what presented in the pages of the graphic novel LoEG, entire new world of meaning and homage hidden. Its like you were presented with tip of the iceberg while what you really had to do to is to dive deeper in cold water to see what massive thing is that iceberg. And kudos to Alan Moore’s fans. Those annotation sites are so rife with details and evidences supporting their theory that sometimes it felt how could Alan Moore and Kevin O’ neill (artist) never advertised it as such. LoEG is still fantasy story of mismatched superheroes if you happened to be regular reader. There’s lot to take in if you are not. Absolutely mind-blowing.

When it comes to writing of Alan Moore, I would like to emphasize the fact that he started off as underground movement artist. And it shows. As a reader, one wants to avoid his books as lazy beach side read or cozy fireplace snuggle-read that spread warmth and happy feelings. You might want to get all the clutter out of your mind before delving into what Moore has to say. Moore believes in occult and magic. And that shows in his writing as well. Moore’s genuinely captivating proses are heavy and complex, addressing more complex issues of human nature. Definitely not breezy read. Take example of “V for Vendetta”. Graphic novel that made the Guy Fawkes mask so famous that due to its central theme of all about fascism vs anarchism, most of worldwide protest against government, even now, had protestors donning Guy Fawkes mask; kind of universal language of protest. Also novel was spectacularly drawn by David Lloyd, elaborating lots of shadow play with dark lines to portray fitting politically stifling atmosphere. Alan Moore also invented the technique called geo-psychology, geometry of the location being the key character and how it played out in different times, how it affects the psyche of the humans. This technique was masterfully employed in Alan Moore’s masterpiece “From Hell”, superbly different take on an age old “Jack the Ripper” story where east London and its many streets played very important role. Again, Alan Moore was appropriately accompanied by brilliant artist, Eddie Campbell. “From Hell” was metaphorically (and literally as well with huge size tome of around 600 pages) so heavy and rife with symbology that one had to prepare himself psychologically before committing to it. Its like visiting the art gallery, you should know what you going to see before entering gallery. Any less and you are out of league to understand the art on display. One should not blame the artist then as not to cater to his choices and better be out playing the kid’s game.

If you have voraciously gobbled down all of Alan Moore, whether Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Top 10, Promethea, LoEG, Voices of Fire (His first novel) and massive Jerusalem (his second novel), then you must be aware of his moody but exquisite take on H. P. Lovecraft’s work, Providence, three part horror graphic novel. All horror aficionados must know who H. P. Lovecraft was. This American author single-handedly created the most popular mythos in fictional horror word; The Cthulhu mythos. Most of his classic horror stories are rife with fragile human psyche, madness, greater being of universe, unimaginable horror and much more. During his entire lifetime, H. P. Lovecraft wrote many stories and novellas by observing the surroundings around Providence, USA. He did not get recognition then but over time he became legend and most of his ideas are transpired to all kinds of popular media. And still inspiring. When Alan Moore decided to give homage to him, it would be wise to get yourself absolutely familiar with all of H. P. Lovecraft and his work.

Providence is not the first time Alan Moore had influenced by H. P. Lovecraft. Providence – signature juxtaposition by Moore – is sequel to another H. P. Lovecraft homage by Moore, Neonomicon. Till now, I have avoided any mention of this controversial graphic novel by Moore due to sole reason of giving it proper meaning before introducing more superior spiritual sequel, Providence. Neonomicon is rough but genuine horror take on H. P. Lovecraft mythos. It seems that H. P. Lovecraft had left out lots of happening in his stories to reader’s interpretation and Moore had lifted the curtain of censor with Neonomicon. Imagery by Jacen Burrows is raw and unapologetic at times, but fits the grim tone of the graphic novel well. Excellent homage to H. P. Lovecraft and surely not for faint hearted. This homage was continued fervently in Providence, but whoever expecting the rawness of Neonomicon got surprised by deep rooted and extensively researched graphic novel in the path of “From Hell”. If Neonomicon was brass, erratic young age interpretation of H. P. Lovecraft’s work then Providence has been much more settled-down, mature later age brooding backed up by knowledge and intellect. Analogy aside, Neonomicon is still adult comic book that must not be exposed to feeble young minds.

Providence is journey of a reporter, Robert Black, working in The New york Herald out of New york in search of “the great plot” for his new novel. Year is 1919. He travels to New England for his research and entangled with occult and strange. Plot of the Providence is just veneer. What makes Providence so enticing is the subtle notions and hidden “nods” to underlying meaning. Each graphic section of the chapter is interwoven with lots of texts presented as Black’s diary reminiscing the day’s event. Its lots of reading unlike other graphic novels in general. Its part fictional, part excruciatingly researched non-fictional events related to H. P. Lovecraft’s life. And best part is, as a reader, you won’t be able to distinguish the seams. As mentioned above, all of the geological references are accurate as per time and space as Alan Moore habitually do. It’s so painstakingly researched and reproduced by Jacen Burrows that devout fans had gone to lengths to find out the photos of that era to match the graphic panel and not able to find out many discrepancies. Google maps have corroborated all New England streets and intersections correct as shown. And this is just the background scenery that most reader won’t even able to comprehend how accurate those are in graphic novel. Locations are accurate, so are events and factual characters. Coming to fictional aspect, you need to get yourself familiar with lots of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Some of the fictional aspects of those horror stories are seamlessly imbued with ongoing story arc and non-fictional locations and characters. This lends the Providence genuinely scary moments. Providence is out and out horror novel. Whether its “on-your-face” horror or social horror perpetrated to very specific community. Most prominent horror aspect was to identify H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos as legit by the way its presented. Charm of the Providence is to find out later what have you read through and what have you missed. And believe me, you have missed the whole plotline if you didn’t refer to below annotation sites. Alan Moore is different kind of reading experience. Providence is prime example of it.

Annotation sites to refer to: (Strictly do it after you read respective Graphic Novels)

For LoEG:

For Neonomicon and Providence:

For Voice of Fire and Jerusalem:

Buy Providence on Avatar Press

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s