I’m currently re-reading the old Alan Moore Swamp Thing books. This was a comic that had a couple of false starts and then, in the early 1980s, Alan Moore took over and completely renovated not only this particular title, but the concept of horror comics across the board. Alan Moore is one of those writers that constantly redefines a genre or a medium (Watchmen, From Hell, V For Vendetta, The Killing Joke just to name a few seminal graphic novel works).
Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore, Vertigo DC Comics
With the Watchmen movie opening on Thursday (which I’m still very dubious about) I’ve been revisiting some of Alan Moore’s other work, which is what led me to his Swamp Thing stuff again. He picked up the Saga Of The Swamp Thing title in its new run at issue 21 in 1983. It’s the trade paperback collected edition (which has issues 21 to 27, shown above) that I’m currently re-reading. I was particular struck by Moore’s introduction to the book where he asks what horror is and why we have such a fascination with it. I was so struck by it, and thought it quite relevant to a lot of my own work, that I thought I’d reproduce a key part of it here. Particularly interesting is that this was written over twenty years ago and is still very relevant now:
In a century packed to the bursting point with paradoxes, one of the most puzzling must surely be the meteoric rise of horror as a genre in literature, cinema, and even music, all at a time when each day seems to make us just a little more conscious and aware of the real-life horrors unfolding all around us. While the faces of missing children stare from milk cartons, lines for the latest dead teenager movie are stretching ’round the block. While the AIDS virus sweeps through society with a chilling ease, born upon a colossal wave of ignorance and prejudice, the shelves of our bookstores creak beneath the weight of plagues and infestations filling the pages they’re forced to support – whether they be plagues of rats, slugs, crabs, or centipedes that characterize the nastier end of the market or the real thing, as presented in Stephen King’s The Stand. While radioactive clouds blow west and test-ban treaties go up in a mushroom of poisonous smoke, punk bands gob out splatter-movie imagery with a ferocity that at best signals hopeless defiance and at worse a perverse and nihilistic acceptance of the situation.
Like it or not, horror is part of our media, part of our culture, part of our lives – none of which answers the question of why an entire society should stand around engrossed, reading Dracula while up to their jugulars in blood. Do we immerse ourselves in fictional horror as a way of numbing our emotions to its real-life counterpart? Is it some sort of inoculation… a tiny dose of something frightening with which we hope to ward off a more serious attack in later life? Could it even represent a useful, if not vital tool with which we enable ourselves to investigate and understand the origins of horror without exposing ourselves to physical or mental harm? Whatever the answer, the fact still stands: horror fiction of one form or another is a major totem of the twentieth century. – Alan Moore
(c) 1987 DC Comics
And still that applies nearly a decade into the twenty first century.
I post this not so much to provide an answer than to provoke a debate. Everything that Moore says is true, perhaps even moreso now than it was then. Dark fiction in all its forms is still massive business, from the pop culture mass consumption stuff like Ghost Whisperer and Supernatural on TV to the more more cerebral dark fiction found on television, in books and in movies. It’s an eternally popular genre, even if it is something of a sub-culture.
Then again, I’m often surprised at the people that read and praise my books. It’s not all goths, emos and heavy metal fans that enjoy my fiction about demons, magic, death and mystery. It’s housewives and grandmothers too. Gentlemen and teachers. Very few people, if really questioned, are averse to a bit of darkness now and then. Some people have berated me because my stuff scared them and kept them awake, yet they still read it. Something compelled them. And my stuff isn’t really straight horror, designed to scare people. It’s dark fantasy, designed to peel back any veneer and reveal the dirty, gritty reality of the human condition.
It’s like a rollercoaster ride. We love to be scared. But why?