Thinking about Alan Moore’s “Buster Brown at the Barricades”

courtesy of kings road merch

UPDATE: WITH THE RELEASE OF THE FIRST OCCUPY COMICS ISSUE, THE SIZE AND SCOPE OF THE ESSAY BY ALAN MOORE IS LARGER THAN WHAT I ORIGINALLY COMMENTED ON. WHILE I STICK TO MY MAIN POINTS, MY CONCLUSION ABOUT IT FEELING INCOMPLETE IS CORRECT BECAUSE IT IS INCOMPLETE AND APPARENTLY WILL BE RUNNING IN SUBSEQUENT ISSUES OF OCCUPY COMICS. AT THE COMPLETION OF THE RUN (AND THE ESSAY) I WILL REVISE AND WEIGH IN AGAIN. THANK YOU – JEFFREY HAYES

Wired.com  has published online Alan Moore’s essay, “Buster Brown at the Barricades,” from the upcoming Occupy Comics series. Within that essay I agree with Moore that comics, and comic art, can function as a facilitator for social change and are sometimes formulated and lumped in to satisfy, as Moore states,”its [corporate comics] new social responsibility (and economic viability) with a bombardment of admiring quotes and press-relase-drived puff pieces in the media” (http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/12/alan-moore-exclusive/).

But that is where the argument about the purpose of comics in America gets tricky, as the line begins to blur between what comics represents and affords as a medium within a capitalistic society. You don’t need to be able to quote Marx to know that the point of living in America, and most countries, is indeed to make a living monetarily, and I would venture a guess to say the majority of artists who choose to go after a  life as a professional rarely if ever make money they would consider sustainable over a period of time. But Moore isn’t necessarily arguing primarily about the idea of the tricky meeting of art and commerce as it relates to the individual (although he believes money does change the role eventually), rather, he forms his point of view around this statement:

It might be argued that this is the true historical precursor of the cartoon and the comic strip, the signifier of a grand tradition rooted in its healthy scepticism with regard to rulers, gods or institutions; a genuine art-form of the people, unrestricted by prevailing notions of acceptability and capable of giving voice to popular dissent or even of becoming, in the right hands, a supremely powerful instrument for social change. It could even be said that, rather than such scurrilous and anti-social sentiments being a minor aberration in the otherwise sedate commercial history of comics, these expressions of dissatisfaction are the medium’s main purpose. (http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/12/alan-moore-exclusive/)

So should comics primarily serve as a political tool of the dissatisfaction of the people, a commentary on  as Moore states an “ability to faithfully report the legendary acts and general fabulousness of the upper classes??” (http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/12/alan-moore-exclusive/).  I do realize the audience he is writing this essay for , and it is for the purposes of a political publication (i.e. Occupy Comics), and by his contributing this essay to them I infer that he seems to hope that this series of comics should represent something subversively classical and antithetical to the current comics landscape in America (and possibly abroad). He builds his argument well, pointing out that indeed the history of art,editorial cartoons, comics and the voice of the people has a long history (e.g., hieroglyphics, William Blake, Hogarth, etc.). However, Moore ends his essay by staying in the past, and not reflecting further into the post industrial revolution, rather sticking to a point of:

This is not to say that heartfelt individual political opinions were no longer expressed in a cartoon form, but simply that they were more likely to be framed within the editorial restrictions of whichever periodical was paying for their publication. Even after the arrival of satirical endeavours such as Punch or Judge during the later nineteenth century, while there were often withering and irreverent social criticisms these were generally delivered in an almost gentlemanly manner that was careful not to cross the boundaries of taste or decency demanded by polite society. The scalding bile and no-holds-barred affront of Gilray was renounced and with it Hogarth’s eye for socially-revealing squalor, not to mention the incendiary anti-materialistic visions of pugnacious and impoverished William Blake. (http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/12/alan-moore-exclusive/)

Thus Moore argues, I believe, that money, or the machinations of capitalism in a post enlightenment era, destroyed integrity, art, and voice to a degree; the power of the medium, in the opinion of Moore, was neutered. Therefore, the power of the art form, its ability to represent something, died. This is a typical bold statement by Moore, and I admire him for it. However, I still believe this is a blanket statement about publishing in general for comics and the voice of the artist.  Moore is summating in the essay, I believe, that the Occupy Comics artists represent some form of the past that Moore lauds—but are comics, and the artists that still create them, something that really is so under the boot of modern publishing that it has struggled to be a true expressive art form, both personally and—for Moore— most importantly, politically? Or even that comic art and its creators are so deluded and achingly middle class in the 21st century that there is no true opinion or expression occurring in media outlets?  I don’t want to think so, and I may be wrong, but I like to be optimistic enough that artists and their voices, political or not, still express freely to a degree in the modern world, especially when we need them most to show us the images we need to see, and they will do so through eyes not opaque but rather filled with clarity and the ability to communicate to the masses a message in some form or another.