Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Alan Moore - Artist, writer and magician

There are lots of interesting people making artistic crossovers between magic and art. And when I say magic, I do actually mean real magical and/or spiritual practice – not writing books about dragon slaying wizards (although, of course, that’s all totally cool. I am a swords and sorcery fan myself, and poster girl for all that is nerdy). It’s no more the province of bad pagan poetry – I love the trees/they speak to me/I am a faery in a wood/this poetry is no good or weirdos with dubious personal hygiene. If you’re interested to learn more about modern magical practice, you could do worse than read a few books from the Avalonia press, browse at Treadwell’s or, better, attend some of their brilliant and often academic-oriented events.

As far as practitioners go, lets look at Alan Moore, graphic artist and ceremonial magician. No-one can doubt his artistic credentials. Here he is talking about his engagement with magic and the relationship it has with his artistic practice:

“I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, writing, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness… Indeed to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people's consciousness, and this is why I believe that an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.”

Christine Hoff Kramer’s academic paper Alan Moore’s Promethea: Comics as Neo-Pagan Primer and Missionary Tool was presented at Harvard University’s 2007 Charming and Crafty conference and detailed the way that the graphic novel could in fact induce a state of magical awareness in the reader, and perhaps trigger spiritual experiences. Her abstract was as follows:

Alan Moore's series Promethea is a both a sophisticated reworking of the superhero genre and a primer on contemporary Paganism and ceremonial magic. Moore creates a strong female lead in Sophie, a college student who learns to channel the demigoddess Promethea and bring a utopian apocalypse of the imagination to the world. In the course of the story, the reader is extensively introduced to the elemental system used in contemporary Pagan ritual, as well as the occult kabbalah.

In this paper, I will argue that the graphic novel medium is an ideal form for this combination of story and spiritual instruction. Moore's writing, combined with J.H. Williams' art and layouts, creates a highly immersive reading experience that may potentially trigger spiritual experiences in the reader. As he told Comic Book Artist, Moore wrote the kabbalistic issues a state of ritual meditation. In order to describe each of the states of consciousness that Sophie would explore, he sought to achieve them, and to produce art as expressions of those states. "What you were seeing in the comic is not the report of the magical experience," he told CBA. "It was the magical experience." From this perspective, the comic itself becomes a tool to help create the positive shift in consciousness portrayed in its conclusion. The reader is not just presented with occult techniques for consciousness change, although Moore clearly does seek to educate and inform. For some readers, the comic also holds out the experience of consciousness change itself.

In a culture where the distinction between low art and high art still persists and "low art" works are often dismissed as cheap and mindless entertainment, the notion that a comic could effectively serve as a trigger for meditative or other spiritual states in its readers may seem absurd. Art historian David Freedberg's The Power of Images, however, explores the history of response to images in Western culture and charts the persistence of viewers' intense emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical responses to both popular and fine art. If anything, Freedberg asserts, it is more acceptable to have strong and varied responses to popular art forms, under which he includes everything from personal religious images sold for home altars to erotic photography. Freedberg presents convincing evidence for the persistent belief in images' power to affect viewers psychologically and spiritually, as well as to move them to action.

Moore uses comics' unique blend of word and image to communicate his personal religious vision to the reader with unusual power. As a spiritual tool and missionary text, Promethea may be properly considered an heir to the sequential religious art used to stir and educate medieval worshippers.
However, Christopher Loring Knowles makes a good point in his essay “Show me the Magic: Pop Culture and Occulture”  – that as far as art and entertainment is concerned, he, as the reader, wants to be entertained rather than lectured. As Kramer’s paper outlind, “As a spiritual tool and missionary text, Promethea may be properly considered an heir to the sequential religious art used to stir and educate medieval worshippers.” – and perhaps here the operative words are educate and missionary. It can be hard when using magic in writing or art not to evangelise, and bore. Ultimately your work is a novel/poem/painting, rather than an educational treatise on achieving nirvana.

“I don’t want to read comics about magic (I’d rather watch spaghetti boil) I want to read comics that are magic.

I’m not talking the soapy, sentimental “magic” of our idealized memories of comics gone by, I am talking about comics that do what magic is supposed to do- take you out of the everyday world and put you somewhere else. Comics that offer what life supplied to us when we were young-- new experience. Rejuvenation. A sense of real wonder.

Too many comics suffer from what every other pop culture media is presently suffering from. Too much emphasis on technique, too many gee-whiz digital pyrotechnics, too much sweat, too many committee-driven decisions, too little magic. And I’m here to tell you that comics is the last citadel for magic. There’s too much money at stake with every other form of mass entertainment for magic to thrive.

And the kind of magic I believe comics needs is not the charts-and-graphs magic of Alan Moore, nor the make-it-up-as-you-go-along magic of Grant Morrison, it needs a more primal magic. The magic of the shaman, of the seer. The magic of the prophet, of the holy man. This is the magic that I bank on. This is the magic that you can do more than read about.

It is the magic of an inspired creator, who throws him or herself into the primordial ooze of the imagination. Who ventures forth into those places in the Collective Unconscious where the gods dwell, speaks to them and then brings back their secrets to us. It is a true form of magic to make a bunch of random squiggles and symbols coalesce on a page and give the reader a true, immersive experience. Not just a momentary diversion, not simply a riveting entertainment but the kind of experience that pulls one out of their everyday experience and then takes them somewhere so radically new that the journey changes the reader forever.”

And I think this is the point – as part of one’s own spiritual development, whether as creator or consumer, it’s the transcendent ability of art that’s important, rather than its detailing of ritual and technique – which, after all, is only one of many roads to the same destination. Perhaps from this point of view the more immediate and visceral nature of visual art has a stronger relationship to altered spiritual states than writing. Perhaps.

1 comment:

Edward Gardner said...

Hello Anna, I just found your blog from a link at New Fairy Tales and enjoyed reading this post about Alan Moore. Although I don't have much experience with graphic novels or comics I like what you say about images as magic that reconnects us with a kind of primal wonder from our childhood. I thought you might also enjoy having a look at my blog, The Black Dionysia, which is a story I've written and am recently trying to finish editing and promote. It is a collage of classic fairy tale, myth, and tragedy along with some sci-fi and contemporary fiction. I hope the storytelling in it can also be categorized as a form of magic. Here's the link to the prologue and first chapter: http://treeofwonders.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/chapter-1-monkey-in-attic.html