Sunday, September 9, 2018

Providence: A turgid terror

Alan Moore's series of Lovecraft-inspired comics for Avatar - which recently climaxed with his Providence series - are not an easy read, in any sense of the word. His meanderings down Lovecraft Lane are dense and dour in a way that his works rarely are, and they have an artistic flatness at odds with the creeping menace that contributes to a numbingly repetitive structure.

This isn't typical Moore, (which was probably his main attraction to the style in the first place). Even when he has been dealing with heavy concepts and intense narratives in his previous comics, there has been a light touch to the storytelling, guiding the reader through the hard stuff by making it as charming and entertaining as possible.

But the story that unfolds with sinister moistness in the pages of The Courtyard, Necronomicon and Providence doesn't have that. It's easy to blame the legally blind artistic director at Avatar comics for the creation of comics that are so hard to get through - Jacen Burrow's art hasn't evolved much from the last time I moaned about it. But it also doesn't help that each issue ends with up to 14 fucking pages of handwritten scribblings in a fictional notebook.

Over his long comics career, Moore and his artistic collaborators have been paring back the clutter inside the comic panel, banishing goofy sound effects altogether and abandoning cheerful thought bubbles for stark captions full of dense purple prose. He's now even thrown away the captions for the most part, leaving the reader to find any nuance or inner feeling in the artwork alone (another area where Burrows just doesn't have the chops).

But Moore can't leave it with that, and now gets inside his main character's head by reproducing the man's journal almost completely at the end of each chapter, and it's just  huge fucking chore to get through.

Some of it is certainly illuminating, especially if you're only passingly familiar with all the Lovecraftian details, but a lot of it is just going over the things we've already just seen in the comic, and making sure that everything is spelled out clearly and repeatedly.

It also leaves the reader with the inescapable conclusion that the character they're following though the wet and wild terrors of the United States is just a bit dim, and you wonder how many times people have to say to his face that's he's a goddamn herald before it actually sinks in.

It's just no fucking fun to read through, when half the story a comic is trying to tell you isn't even in the comic format. It certainly offers up value for money if you measure a comic's worth by how long it actually takes to read

When he's spent much of the past decade producing 600,000 words for his Jerusalem novel, as well as a startling number of long-form essays in various places, and when half of his latest comic doesn't have any pictures, it's hard to not feel that Moore just looks bored in comics. His constant promises of retirement certainly add to this.

Mind you, none of this over-wordy gloom and deep despair is in Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, where he is currently working with one of the great depraved comic artists of the modern age on the final installment. That series is just as manic and propulsive and playful as ever as it barrels towards a sci-fi end.

So it's probably all just an attempt on Moore's part to capture Lovecraft's unique mood of turgid dread. Which works, because Providence is certainly turgid, and a quite dreadful reading experience.

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