5 out of 5
Brighter Than You Think is, in part, a collection of ten of Alan Moore’s more exceptional – and rare – short stories. But the other part of this book, and arguably the larger part (while certainly acknowledging that one cannot exist without the other) is Mark Sobel’s analysis and annotations that follow each story, outlining – in detail but not dryly – the context for the writing, as well as plenty of observations that support his intention of highlighting this work as noteworthy.
I’ve read some analyses before, openly bias or more stick-to-the-facts variety, but I am incredibly admirous of Mark’s approach: I dig Moore but not his whole body of work, and regarding these stories, left on their own merits as I would have perceived them, I can’t say I would have enjoyed them all; with Mark’s added commentary, however, I absolutely appreciated Moore’s skills and each story’s construction and genesis. More concisely: I found myself looking forward to Sobel’s thoughts. Often ‘analysis’ functions like movie commentary: Some interesting tidbits, but mostly just chatter. Better examples of course exist, but even then things can either go wildly awry with asides, or he too dry or too outright flattering. But as Mark outlines in his intro, he approaches his task based on W.H. Auden’s words: To, essentially, just stick to the facts. Mark doesn’t hide that he has immense respect for the author, but I was continually pleased at his dedication to that tenet: Whenever I would catch a clearly bias statement, it was being cited from another source, and not as proof of anything, but rather – appropriately – shading for the analysis.
The pieces are organized chronologically. This does tend to group his somewhat more traditional stuff first, closer, timewise, to his 2000 AD roots, with the middle tales the post-From Hell period where things got a bit more literary and studied, ending in the 90s, Promethea-era recluse with some major milestones behind him and a note of whimsy. The book takes its title from its last entry, a compressed biography of John Parsons, an Aleister Crowley contemporary. This final story is a good example of Sobel’s accomplishments: The information doesn’t do much for me, and if I was compiling a ‘best of,’ this story wouldn’t be there. But within the couple of pages of commentary, Mark highlights how succinctly Moore has compressed a complicated biography, while subtly overlaying some humor – in the text and in Melissa Gebbie’s visuals – and his own worldview. Understanding the seemingly offhand ability to wrangle such gangly information into a few pages does make the story more rewarding, or worth reflection as to the What and Why of it (…which can be further considered with the background provided by the analysis). Not only does this big picture to small representation approach stand as something of a snapshot of the book itself, but it again highlights that these are notable stories, and not necessarily a ‘best of,’ with some comparable examples chosen based on the rarity of the source material. Which, in a way, makes this a more cohesive collection than most of the other Moore compilations, as saying, for example, ‘these are all Alan’s Future Shocks’ may provide a snapshot of a particular time, but it’s no guarantee of theme or quality. To then add to Sobel’s ability to string these stories into something of a progressive narrative through part of Alan’s career the notion that some of these are hard to track down makes it an essential read.
So I could highlight how In Pictopia – like a more humorous, surreal version of Watchmen – is one of the best things I’ve ever read, or how The Bowing Machine is almost (seemingly) purposefully structured to be hard to read, but going story by story misses the overall impact of the collection. Even if you have the originals, spread across their disparate sources, Mark Sobel’s extras make all the difference, leveling the playing field such that favorites / least favorites feels like an unnecessary qualifier, and you’re interested to dig through the dryer stuff just to get a better perspective on how it all fits together.
Definitely one of the best analyses I’ve ever read – one that will be reread – and that gives us some insight into how to approach some of the prolific Moore’s work that may not have grabbed us as much before.
Here are the contents, for easy reference:
Love Doesn’t Last Forever
The Mirror of Love
Come On Down
The Bowing Machine
I Keep Coming Back
The Hasty Smear of My Smile
This Is Information
Bright Than You Think