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December 17, 2011 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Alan Moore talks about HP Lovecraft, The Courtyard and Neonomicon (audio)
posted by Artw (39 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Blast, my comic book store doesn't have any of these two. Where could a Swedish person order these online with reasonable shipping fees?

[It's nice to have you back, Artw.]
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:07 PM on December 17, 2011


Be warned: Neonomicon contains some nasty stuff. Stuff that, on balance I'd say works within the context and is kind of justifiable because of that, but I had to think about that for a while and others might now agree.
posted by Artw at 1:19 PM on December 17, 2011


Gah. Others might NOT agree.
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2011


Dammit, I swore off buying comics but both of these were on my list so I figured why not. Then I saw volume 6 of Criminal is out so I had to get that.....

Last time I swear.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:31 PM on December 17, 2011


2nding Artw. I immensely enjoyed the trades, especially for all the references to the mythos and Lovecraft's oeuvre, but if you're someone who'd like trigger warnings on these, consider the comics to have a

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TRIGGER WARNING

{/marquee}{/marquee}{/strong}{/blink}{/big}.
posted by Decimask at 1:37 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought this last work of Moore was brilliant, but also fucked up beyond any possible fixing. As in, if I make any sense, without the utterly fucked up there would be no THERE there in the whole HPL mythos reinterpretation Moore does. And the ending (what was the quote that introduces it?, something like"Now I know what R'lyeh is."?) just piles it on perfectly. Moore has a filthy, filthy mind and I can't wait to read whatever older stories he bulldozes through next time.
posted by Iosephus at 1:54 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can one read the Neonomicon without first reading The Courtyard?
posted by stinkycheese at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2011


Yes. The Courtyard is about a guy going crazy. You start off Neonomicon with "crazy guy" and why he is that way doesn't matter a whole lot.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:20 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


That said apparently this TPB has The Courtyard in it anyway so it's no problem. I just wish I could get over Burrows' art, I find it extremely amateur.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:21 PM on December 17, 2011


I'd suggets reading it first anyway, for the Aklo.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on December 17, 2011


Am I going crazy or is it snowing on that page?
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:28 PM on December 17, 2011


That's just your voola. Ftagn.
posted by Artw at 2:33 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


at the end of the interview, Alan Moore makes a comment that he doesn't use the Internet.
I wonder what a hypothetical sequel to Neonomicon would look like after Alan Moore was contractually obliged to explore the internet for a year?
posted by Bwithh at 2:37 PM on December 17, 2011


He'd have to finish his set of novels exploring increasingly small areas of Northhampton over increasingly large spans of time first.
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought the Courtyard and Neonomicon were very good, and there's really two things going on that are interesting. One is Alan Moore doing his own style of postmodern weird pseudo-occult reinterpretation of Lovecraft's cosmology, a bit in the style of the occult theory bits in From Hell.

And the other is the problem of modernizing Lovecraft style cosmic horror. He's trying to do basically anti-Lovecraft subject matter here, with lots of sex and violence and punk rock and whatnot. There's even a character commenting (there's a bunch of meta-commentary in this) that Lovecraft's work had "lots of racism, no fucking".

There's a dilemma here, because either you write Lovecraftian horror with the same subject matter and POV as HPL himself used, and you end up sounding like an old maid who's skeptical of the foreigners who moved in down the hall, or you introduce sex and whatnot, and then you have to be really careful, because if you do it wrong, you end up sounding like the same old maid, but now with an obsessive fear of sex and all the horrible things it'll lead to. It's kind of hard to write cosmic horror with elements of sex and stay sex-positive.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I kind of felt like Moore embraced the racism and tentacle porn elements just a little too heartily. I don't think it is necessary to tell cosmic horror this way; he seemed to have sought that direction out himself. Sure it's a narrative choice, but it seemed gratuitous to me.

But I do gotta say that I love me some cosmic horror right down in my screaming void.
posted by dobie at 11:58 PM on December 17, 2011


It's interesting that some people see the sex and violence as being "anti-Lovecraft". It seemed more to me that in Neonomicon Alan Moore was making explicit something that was implicit in Lovecraft all along.

Lovecraft's unspeakable rites (why unspeakable?), his horror of miscegenation and his invasive, sometimes quite genital or fetishistic monsters (think of the rubbery, tickling nightgaunts, for example) have always carried a sexual charge.

Lovecraft doesn't discuss that sexual aspect directly, for a variety of reasons (censorship, a desire to maintain a certain refined tone, a fondness for implication not information) but I would argue that it is definitely there. We tend to think of sex as intimate and human, but it forms a natural part of a cosmic point of view: the theory of evolution makes sex into a kind of cosmic force, that builds strange and wonderful things over time (in a godless, meaningless way, if you want to look at it like that).

In general, I think this is more or less Alan Moore's technique with everything he comes across: his deconstruction works by pointing out what is implicitly already there*. So, when he looked at superheroes, he saw the cold war paranoia, the authoritarianism, the dangerously black-and-white moral absolutism, the idea of a being living on a different scale to ordinary humans - and he just drew all that out and thought about it. When he looked at Lovecraft, I think the things he saw were always there. It's one of the things I find rewarding about his work: sometimes it also functions as a psycho-analytic or a literary-critical essay about another author. But he is also very good at making his work stand on its own.

Of course, it then becomes very tempting to apply the same technique to his work. What would one make of the sensible women constantly confronted with monstrous, intellectual and controlling men? But perhaps there are things which man was not meant to know...

*All deconstruction works this way, of course. But usually it is explained either very badly or (being more charitable) in a particularly hard-to-decypher style, whereas Alan Moore is extremely clear and capable of "performing his point" in a way that most literary theorists are not.
posted by lucien_reeve at 1:06 AM on December 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ad hominem - I suspect after tonight's show you might want to add Fatale by Brubaker & Phillips to your list as well, sorry!

tumid dahlia - yes it is!
posted by alexfitch at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2011


Yeah good points lucien_reeve. I was reading it more as "Cthulu Mythos" than "Alan Moore deconstructs Lovecraft".
posted by dobie at 9:15 AM on December 18, 2011


So I read The Courtyard and Neonomicon last night (and had strange and disturbing dreams afterward). I really liked both stories, but it's easy to grasp how problematic Neonomicon #2 and #3 in particular are -- in reading up on the series, even Alan Moore himself seems uncomfortable with the material now.

Spoilers:

My biggest issue was the relationship between the female protagonist and the monster in #3, specifically her sympathies toward its perceived lack of malice and her having a conversation with it before it helps her escape. Why not simply have it smell her urine and take her out of the chamber? No sympathy or conversation were necessary plot-wise.

I've been dwelling on this since I read them, and the more I do, the uglier the whole thing becomes. At the end of the story, she comments on how she seemed destined for this all her life. She also states that she believes in fate, and remarks on her reading Lovecraft early on in school. All this seems to suggest things are pre-ordained (which of course is perfectly in keeping with the myths in general), but if that is the case, isn't her 'nymphomania' part and parcel of what happens later?

She had sex with lots of men because, as she puts it to her partner, she hated herself. She becomes a 'nun' to the Elder Gods and will presumably give birth to Cthulu. She's pretty happy about this though because she hates mankind ("vermin") and knows this will bring about the end of the world. She also suggests at the end that she may be under some sort of mind control. So, as far as agency, this protagonist has little if any throughout, and she acts self-destructively as a matter of course.

I'm going to be thinking about this for a while yet, I imagine. Thanks so much for the post, artw.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2011


At the end of the story, she comments on how she seemed destined for this all her life. She also states that she believes in fate, and remarks on her reading Lovecraft early on in school. All this seems to suggest things are pre-ordained (which of course is perfectly in keeping with the myths in general), but if that is the case, isn't her 'nymphomania' part and parcel of what happens later?

W/r/t fate, that all of this is "destined," in a sense, is crucial to the involvement of Lovecraft (that is to say, of H.P. Lovecraft himself) in the story. If The Courtyard and Neonomicon took place in a world merely inspired by the Cthulhu mythos, there wouldn't be a need for the fate aspect of the story...but because they take place in a world where both the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and the subject matter of H.P. Lovecraft are real -- but the biographical details of H.P. Lovecraft are more or less the same as we know them in the real world (i.e., that Lovecraft herein was not some occultist secret agent whose secret diaries were published as fiction or...whatever) -- then it becomes necessary to introduce the notion that Lovecraft could have written about real things while never understanding that they were really real. Given how convoluted all of that could have been, Moore's solution (which seems to make HPL some sort of unwitting psychic sensitive to whom Brears appears in a dream, etc.) is fairly simple and elegant.

But it's also not just plot gymnastics at work. Moore implies in the interview that forms the basis of this FPP that he believes the world has grown increasingly...well...Lovecraftian in the near-century since Lovecraft's death. That HPL is a seer seems important to the story's meaning as a whole.

She had sex with lots of men because, as she puts it to her partner, she hated herself.

Here I think we have to separate the character from the writer. Brears is a sex addict, and self-loathing is part and parcel of the addictive personality. But does addiction spring from self-loathing, or is the addiction itself just another thing for the addict to loathe herself over? Self-recrimination may be the most daunting hurdle any addict has to clear. It's extremely realistic for Brears to blame herself for her addiction, but it's likely a mistake to presume that Moore thinks she is at fault for it.

She becomes a 'nun' to the Elder Gods and will presumably give birth to Cthulu. She's pretty happy about this though because she hates mankind ("vermin") and knows this will bring about the end of the world.

I find this scene (in which she explains all of this to Sax) unbelievably chilling, because this is the most composed and together Brears we have seen through the course of the series. But again, I think it's a huge mistake to presume that anything that's going on here is something that Alan Moore would endorse or agree with. Reading this scene put me in mind of many anecdotes I have heard about people who have made the decision to commit suicide, and how they seem happy and content and focused in a way that sets at ease the minds of their previously concerned loved ones, who presume the unwell person has turned a corner and emerged stronger for having overcome their despair. The truth is that the unwell person has decided to end their despair by any means necessary, and -- seeing a light at the end of the tunnel -- is feeling just great, thanks. Again: Fucking chilling.

She also suggests at the end that she may be under some sort of mind control. So, as far as agency, this protagonist has little if any throughout, and she acts self-destructively as a matter of course.

Well, this is the whole Lovecraftian idea, though. We're not sinners in the hands of an angry god so much as we are ants in the path of a tornado. Most of us grow up, in one tradition or another, being told that there is a divinity in the universe that sees divinity in us, that treasures us for being more special and beautiful than we know. The horror of Lovecraft is that you can be the best, most realized you you can be, and the universe just doesn't give a fuck. It doesn't appreciate us. It doesn't care at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Great points all, thank you kittens for breakfast.

I wonder what you think about the Moore's decision to make Brears a recovering sex addict? It seems to me it could be in part a critique of the comics industry, in part a comment on Lovecraft's usual 'sexless' characters (again, the use of the word 'nun' in this inverted universe may be telling here) - but I feel like there's more there and, even after considering this and reading what you have to say, that decision on Moore's part still feels strange to me. I feel like there's more going on that I'm not really seeing (which is also, of course, a very Lovecraftian notion).
posted by stinkycheese at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2011


I don't really think I buy the argument (as expressed in Artw's second link) that all of this is just Alan Moore's commentary on the comics industry of today. I mean, when Red Hood and the Outlaws depicted Starfire as being a mindless sex object, it was widely read as sexism, not some arch comment on the state of the medium. I give Moore a lot more credit than whatever DC third-stringer was writing Red Hood, but it still seems like apologetics to hand-wave away all the rapey bits of Neonomicon as being a type of satire or something.

Altogether I thought The Courtyard was a more effective story, convincingly describing a slip into Lovecraftian madness, without all of these problematic details like the protagonist's past sex addiction and befriending of her rapist.
posted by whir at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2011


Not sure I really agree with that either. If it's a reaction to anything it's the tendency of Lovercraft and other horror to pull away or throw in a save of some kind in that kind of scene, to spare the reader and let them enjoy it without going through anything too horrible.

Anyhow, from the same writer, here's a very long and quite cool interview with Moore.
posted by Artw at 12:41 PM on December 19, 2011


The denial of rape culture in the comments is a bit sad and frustrating... ("quit having a political agenda and making this about rape! I just care about the quality of the comic...")
The reviewer handles them very well.
posted by Theta States at 1:32 PM on December 19, 2011


One thing I am pretty sure of is that Neonomicon is not a satire/commentary on the current state of comics as an industry. Frankly, I think that if Moore were to write such a thing, everyone would know it on sight. He doesn't exactly seem inclined to hide his feelings on the subject behind inference and metaphor, if you know what I'm saying here. I do think it does probably reflect the bitterness that Moore feels toward the comics industry, simply because of when it was written...and indeed, if he really did write the comic to pay a tax bill at roughly the same time Watchmen was being adapted, without his permission, into a film that cost the gross national product of your average thriving banana republic, I think it's really hard for any of us to even fathom the depth and richness of the bitterness in question.

I think Artw is right about the use of rape in the story, in that these are the things that Lovecraft alluded to but would not show. In the case of Brears's rape by the Deep One, I don't think there's anything there that falls outside the scope of Lovecraft's imaginings in "The Shadow over Innsmouth," the novella that seems to have had the most influence on Neonomicon (full disclosure: I think it's probably Lovecraft's best story, and I may have drawn from it for a comic book story I wrote myself a few years ago, though it certainly never occurred to me to include any exposed Deep One junk in it). Not only does "Innsmouth" imply intercourse between humans and the Deep Ones, but really you don't have a plot without it. In this regard, Moore and Burrows are only illustrating what Lovecraft made pretty plain eighty years ago.

Of course, the Deep One rape isn't really the source of people's misgivings, unless I'm very much mistaken. Even Brears "befriending" the Deep One doesn't seem to be the issue for most people; I get that this is a trope and an unlovely one on the face of it, but in the context of this particular story there's the implication that the Deep One's intelligence is kind of sub-human and animalistic, and that maybe he just doesn't get what he's doing any more than a dog would when it's humping your leg. Conversely, maybe the Deep One doesn't think we're capable of higher functioning, and doesn't recognize Brears as a worthwhile entity in her own right until he realizes she's pregnant. It's hard to say. But I don't think this is the locus of the squick.

That I'm pretty sure is the cultist rape, and that's a sickening scene that's all about debasing the heroes in a way I don't think would be anything like as disturbing if it were some fantastical contrivance. The point is that these are humans, and that Brears should have some justification for feeling okay with her species' impending extermination. Who would side with Cthulhu? Someone who really hated the human race. The cultists clearly place no value on human life, and now neither does she. I think it's crucial to the story. If it doesn't have to be as graphic as it is, you know, what does? That's the nature of the genre. It gets ugly, and placing limits on how ugly it's allowed to get -- letting you know it'll go only this far and no farther -- is, ultimately, bad for the genre. I can't say that it needed to get that nasty, but I can say it's easy for me to imagine it being much nastier.

As to whether it was necessary for Brears to be a sex addict...you know, I don't know. I guess that's a surprise after roughly a billion billion words, but I really don't. I'd like to hear Moore's take on that, honestly. I think it's something about this person who in a happier world might bestow love and caring upon people but here, in the ugly world of this comic book, is basically a fucked-up self-loather who is preyed upon by creeps? It's a pretty gross world they've created, after all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:10 PM on December 19, 2011


...Okay, there is one other thing, and that's this: While I think that Moore and Burrows's use of rape in the story is not gratuitous, per se -- that is, while I think it serves a purpose in the story and that it's not presented in a titillating way -- I would be the last person to argue that people who are upset by it shouldn't be upset by it, and I would certainly never argue that people who find it triggering (or who find the idea of it triggering, and hence choose not to read the book) shouldn't. Rape, unlike Cthulhu, is a thing in the real world that has real world implications for people. People's feelings are not less important than a Cthulhu comic book.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:52 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just came in the mail from amazon. Imagine my surprise to find that The Courtyard is set on the street I grew up.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:14 PM on December 19, 2011


Is there a courtyard there?
posted by stinkycheese at 9:34 PM on December 19, 2011


The Courtyard is supposed to be on Court Street. I can remember almost every building from from Brooklyn Heights to where it runs into Red Hook under the Gowanus expressway. Any tenements with courtyards must be past the Gowanus Expressway in Red Hook. Which makes sense since all the action in the comic takes place in Red Hook. But it takes 20 minutes to walk from Clinton street to The Courtyard in the comic. Clinton street is one over from Court Street. If we was walking 1 blocks it wouldn't take that long. I really am interested if there was an actual courtyard Moore had in mind when he wrote it.

Red Hook makes sense really, it is mainly industrial and Is really in the early stages of gentrification.

That type of tenement, with a courtyard in the front, is really not typical in those parts of Brooklyn.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:53 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually live between Clinton and Court myself, though up north in tony Carroll Gardens. I suppose that if he did have real buildings in mind, you could still walk north or south for 10 minutes even though the streets are only a block apart. (Of course, in the story there's also a geodesic dome over the entire area, so I don't think realistic geography was a particular priority.)
posted by whir at 11:41 PM on December 19, 2011


Right, Sax's room is in red hook, you could walk all the way up Clinton or Court from the expressway and make it to Atlantic in 20 minutes if you hustled. So the courtyard could be pretty far from Sax's room.

In at least one image of the courtyard you can see smoke stacks behind it, which look vaguely familiar like maybe the gravel plants by the canal or some of the smoke stacks in Red Hook closer to industry city.

Anyway, I agree with you, I doubt he was really trying to be geographcaly accurate. I don't know how Moore picked those street names but maybe I'll read the Lovecraft story set in Red Hook and see if they are lifted from there. Lovecraft used other Brooklyn street names so that might be the case.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:17 AM on December 20, 2011


Court and Clinton streets are straight from The Horror at Red Hook. Lovecraft does not have very nice things to say about Brooklyn.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:29 AM on December 20, 2011


I think the "sex addict" label is not really important. She suffered from some sort of sexual compulsion that was labeled an addiction. I think the compulsion was in some way a manifestation of pre-christian or cult sacred prostitution and fertility rituals.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:16 AM on December 20, 2011


I think the compulsion was in some way a manifestation of pre-christian or cult sacred prostitution and fertility rituals.

That sounds fairly important to me.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2011


Lovecraft does not have very nice things to say about Brooklyn.

Fucking hipsters.

(He actually calls it "a maze of hybrid squalor", which sounds like every cool artsy neighborhood to me.)
posted by Artw at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2011


IIRC pretty much everything of the Red Hook Lovecraft new got torn down at some point, but I guess the street names remain the same.
posted by Artw at 10:12 AM on December 20, 2011


That sounds fairly important to me

Well I meant the label, not the concept. The label is just shorthand to make us understand she had been compulsively fucking random people.

He actually calls it "a maze of hybrid squalor", which sounds like every cool artsy neighborhood to me.)

I think he must have been there before the Gowanus expressway was built. Like a lot of highways in New York it created a barrier, Red Hook became a wasteland.

I gotta confess I have not spent much time in actual red hook. I still have an almost visceral fear of it. It was always a sort of no mans land, half warehouses and light industrial and half squalor. Near the canal there are still salvage yards, giant vacant lots full of rats and feral dogs. It is almost impossible to cross the gowanus expressway on foot so it is cut off Caroll Gardens. I lived a couple blocks from the expressway and never really tried to cross. I only really went for the red hook public pool, which is exactly as bad as you would think a public pool in a blighted industrial area would be.

I hear it is much nicer now, maybe I should check it out.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alan Moore talking about science and imagination
posted by homunculus at 8:13 PM on December 27, 2011


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