With all the hoo-ha and fanfare surrounding the Watchmen movie it is hard to open a newspaper, eavesdrop on the Tube or glance at Twitter without hearing Alan Moore being discussed by otherwise sane and respectable souls. I love it, this brief and surreal world, and am making the most of it while it lasts.
In fact I have been asked by two - count them, two - different people if they should risk reading any of his non-Watchmen stuff. This fear on their part comes about because everybody knows the following three things about Moore:
1) He is a genius. I would certainly not argue with this. Indeed, I would go further and claim that future generations will consider Alan Moore and Shigeru Miyamoto to be the most important artists of our times - both in terms of how ground-breaking their work was in their chosen fields, and how prolific, consistant and inspired they remain - but generally I don't say this out loud, for fear of upsetting the muppets who spent £111 million on Damian Hirsts.
2) He is grumpy. There does seem to be a strong case that the man is becoming increasingly curmudgeonly with age. But there's no reason why this should put you off his work. It's not like you have to live next door to the guy.
3) He is barking mad. He worships a Second Century Roman snake God called Glycon. I admit, that does look a little damning. This fact more than any other does tend to make potential readers back away slowly. It doesn't help matters that Glycon was apparently no more than a hand puppet, a hoax God created by the wonderfully-named Alexander the False Prophet. And then there's the matter of Alan Moore's openness about being a practising magician. And not in the Paul Daniels sense.
But hear me out.
Give him a chance.
Alan Moore's philosophy revolves around a core idea - that thoughts exist and have value, and by existing they should be considered as 'real' as material objects, albeit 'real' in a different way. As starting premises go, you must admit, it's not that bad. His talk of 'magic' describes the manipulation of ideas, and indeed his definition of magic comes close to how many people would define creativity. His insights into the ecology of thoughts and ideas - how they relate to each other and how our modern world is shaped by them - have implications for all of us, because we are all wrapped up in thoughts. It is his willingness to engage with such a slippery subject which keeps his work startling and it will, I think, be the reason that his work will be so highly regarded in the long term. Alan Moore's madness, then, is not as incomprehensible and off-putting as it might first appear, because you only need to use this one concept to unlock it all. It is just that, well, once you accept his central concept and start to consider the implications of it, then you have embarked on a slippery slope that can lead, in a consistent and logical manner, to the worship of Roman glove puppets.
So how should a Moore rookie approach his considerable non-Watchmen body of work? Well, I would suggest the following, a path into his books from the most accessible to the most magical, allowing the reader to fully enjoy all the delights along the way.
A safe place to start would be V for Vendetta, if just to relax your certainties a bit and leave you nice and loose for what is to come. It is from his mid '80s, 'pre-magic' period, so the extremes are political rather than metaphysical.
After that I would say cut to the quick and move on to From Hell, his take on the Jack the Ripper murders and the Victorian world. This is arguably the key text in Moore's body of work, and much of his philosophy was formed by the act of writing it.
Following From Hell you may find yourself reeling somewhat, and full of questions. This would be a good time to leave the work and go straight to the man himself for answers. In conversation Moore is extremely focused, with a habit of answering single questions in long, clear, multiple-paragraph answers. He is also very funny, which is always the sign of someone worth listening to. I would recommend tracking down A Disease of Language. This is a lovely thing, with two of his spoken word performance illustrated by From Hell artist Eddie Campbell. It also contains one of the best interviews with Moore that I've ever read. Failing that, head over to www.alanmooreinterview.co.uk - one of those unsung web sites that make the Internet what it is - and browse away to your hearts content.
Now, Moore transcends comics in the way that Bob Marley transcends Reggae, so it might be an idea to leave comics behind for a bit, so not to get too bogged down in the medium. Time to tackle his first novel, Voice of the Fire.
A number of people have been put off this book by the first chapter. This is written in the dialect of a child in 4000BC, with a tiny vocabulary, no pronouns, and no real understanding of the difference between waking and dreaming - a challenging opening which, in the author's words, should 'keep out the scum'. But that won't put you off, will it? Heaven's no! You're up for anything. In fact, you're gearing up for the big one. You're about to read Promethea.
All of it, mind - there's no point starting this one if you are not going to finish it, for the end is a very different place to the start. There are 32 issues, collected in 5 volumes, and they need reading because nothing will give you greater insight into Alan Moore's mind, and what makes him tick. True, the story soon gives way into an extended lecture about the Kabbalah and other arcane matters, but stick with it, for all Moore's recent work will open up for you afterwards, and the ending is just unforgettable.
When I refer to his recent work, of course, I really mean the later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Forget the film and even the early volumes, this has evolved into a borderline-insane mission to weave the entire history of fiction into a single narrative. It has become so inventive, stylistically impressive and just so out there that it validates every strange and stubborn twist in Moore's career. It is also an ongoing project, with the first volume of Century nearly with us, all ready for you to jump aboard - no longer baffled by the madness of Alan Moore.
I tell you, writers who don't worship snake gods just won't seem enough after all that.