You'd be amazed at how much is missing from the available history of graphic novels. I mean, don't even get me started on the number of comics singles lost to the mists of time, that never got a collected edition and exist now as vague memories and piles of rotting pulp in the backs of comics stores and charity shops. But graphic novels: that's almost as bad. And I'm not talking about obscure stuff by creators who never made it into the public eye.
Alan Moore, one of the most significant and successful writers in the medium, has a bunch of awful holes in his available backlist. Pretty much all of his short-story comics are gone, never collected. Stories of alien VD, cartoon characters allowing themselves to be mutilated for money, the subjective time-travel of a man standing on the edge of a bridge... mostly uncollected, the few collections that did exist now out of print.
And two graphic novels, too.
A SMALL KILLING was part of a short graphic novel program run by literary publisher Victor Gollancz ten or twelve years ago. In theory, it seemed a fine thing to commission graphic novels from the like of M John Harrison and Doris Lessing. In practise, the work was often unnecessarily difficult and generally pretty worthless. The gem in the line was A SMALL KILLING, by Alan Moore and illustrator Oscar Zarate, to that point chiefly known for his visually arresting graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare. (They, too, may be out of print -- I bought a set in a bookstore clearance sale for when my daughter is old enough to need them.)
Slightly reminiscent to me of Dennis Potter's THE SINGING DETECTIVE, A SMALL KILLING pursues the life of an advertising executive, himself pursued by a small child of ominous supernatural presence. As his adult life becomes corrosive, he finds himself chased back to his own childhood in middle England. As the Singing Detective became the emotional detective of his own life, so does the ad exec dig back to the beginnings of his own brand, the things that defined him. The small killing that haunts him still.
It is, perhaps, more a song than the huge symphonies we've come to expect from Moore. But it is a very personal, tremendously affecting piece of work, and a keystone in his body of writing. It seems a palimpsest of his failed magnum opus BIG NUMBERS, an intended 500-page rumination on modern life in a Midlands town -- a focussing of the themes launched in the eighty pages that saw print.
It, to me, also had an effect on FROM HELL. Up to BIG NUMBERS, Alan's work was marked by a supercomplexity of plotting -- a million strands up in the air and all tied around one another. FROM HELL, though, began in earnest after A SMALL KILLING, shows something different. Plot strands that would previously have been pursued in parallel now largely resolved themselves separately. In FROM HELL, Alan becomes the writer he was always supposed to be -- a writer whose plot elements support emotional complexity. A SMALL KILLING is the beginning of Moore the mature writer.
Earlier, in the late Eighties and in collaboration with artist Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan produced a work called BROUGHT TO LIGHT, part of a larger unit of the same title. The book was a "flip" thing, two books in one, produced in support of American legal team The Christic Institute and their case against the US government and CIA drug-running. The other half was a documentary piece by writer Joyce Brabner and artist Tom Yeates detailing the difficulties of the case, concluding in a bomb attack against some of the activists involved.
Moore and Sienkiewicz's half was... what would you call it? Docudrama? We the reader end up in a bar in some lost place, talking with a CIA agent. The agent is an American Eagle, frazzled and deranged, coke-powered and with blood on his beak. The eagle leads us through the secret history of the CIA. It's an absolute tour de force. Sienkiewicz produces mad images, political caricature via Ralph Steadman, slapping down anything that might work -- photocopies, splatter, bits of metal, anything that might work. The Eagle, pissed out of his mind and coked to the tits, hunches there at the bar and vomits out the secret history of the American century -- impeccably research documentary coming out of the beak of a fictional beard.
Remember the best bit of the film JFK? Where Donald Sutherland lays out the whole thing in one long riveting monologue, and then concludes it with a sigh, and: "Well, I never thought things were the same after that."? It's like that, only funnier and scarier and more compelling. It demands it be read in one sitting, and it just sears with passion and commitment. It would have made a ton of money in the paranoid Nineties.
If it'd been in print.