Friday, January 05, 2007

Promethea – Form(ulaic) writing

For my holidays I managed to snag all four volumes of Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s Promethea from the library. I’m on a bit of an Alan Moore kick these days since finding out I can get most of his oeuvre from the library which means I won’t cast off into financial dire straits trying to read his work. Also I missed a lot of his work the first time around as I probably wasn’t reading or buying comics then.

So what did I think?

Well, when it comes to Alan Moore I tend to be more patient and forgiving than I am with most other current comic creators. I don’t particularly know why but I am, whether that’s fair to anyone or not. I guess it’s because I trust him as a writer and I know that even if I’m not totally sold on the concept there will be something I like in the story or collection of stories. But on the flip side I also read his stories waiting for the porn story to appear. It’s inevitable, there will be some sort of sexual storyline in his work, especially his created universes like Promethea and Top 10.

What struck me the most with this series wasn’t so much the writing as the art this time around. Promethea, the comic, seems to be more of an exploration of what is possible within the medium itself with the writing, dialogue, and plot being secondary. They could have been talking about anything for most of the book and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference to me. Yes, the dialogue and plotlines where Promethea is exploring the coloured and tarot-magic worlds is reflective and supportive of the images but it seems to, ultimately, take a back seat to what we’re seeing. For a man who is known for his writing, Moore seems to have played a bit of the devil with this creation in making the book itself be about everything BUT the reading experience. I mean most of the dialogue is explaining a whole bunch of facts and trivia about the history of magic as well as a few tenuous pop culture references taken out of context and hammered with unintended meaning. But really, who cares? It’s about creating meaning by the interrelation between images, language, and knowledge.

It isn’t just about art though but the medium of comic books itself. The layouts of every page reflect the yin and yang dual nature of Promethea’s real world and immateria existence. We’re given challenging layouts, weaving text and dialogue as well as plotlines from strait up superheroics to whimsical cartoon strips to kid’s book illustrations to cuniform. I think somewhere in there is the idea that the beginnings of recording language were actual word images and that comics are essentially a hybrid of words and images combined into yet another form that is meant to relay meaning to the reader.

In the end Promethea had a lot of ups and downs for me as I loved parts but felt other parts simply dragged on too long and felt like a formal exercise. But what an exercise it turns out to be. As someone who had to read a bit too much literary theory and bad examples of people trying to deconstruct their medium this was a much welcome treat. This really is an prime example of a deconstructed textual representation. It examines itself while creating something new. Brilliant, but does fall into the ever present trap of deconstructionist dryness and distance from the reader and subject simultaneously. All the while looking beautiful and willing to push the limits of what a reader can experience.


Fortress Keeper said...

This was a tough comic to read on an issue by issue basis, and I must admit I gave up after awhile.

I'll have to try to hunt down the graphic novels. Maybe it'll make more sense.

Have you read the Top Ten: 49ers (I know I'm screwing up this title) graphic novel? That was truly brilliant.

joncormier said...

Hey Keeper, yeah I did. I read it after the first two Top 10 collections and loved it. Especially the faded and "timely" artwork to give it a sense of agedness.

I did feel that Promethea started strong then seemed to fade a bit for me as a reader. The text, especially in the magic realms, seemed to be only a secondary concern to the images.

Anonymous said...

Jon- I really enjoyed Promethea myself... I just wanted to pop in and let you know that there are actually five volumes, with the fifth and final being perhaps the most experimental, in a way, and really wrapping up the story marvelously. Track it down if you get a chance. - Chris B

joncormier said...

I had a feeling this wasn't the end of the series, and I will be seeking the final bookend. I'll have a part 2 post when I do.