Promethea Book 4
Written by Alan Moore
Art by J. H. Williams III
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
And the journey continues. Promethea Book 4. The one with the abyss that made everyone who worked on it sick.
Here’s J.H. Williams III:
When working on the abyss issue, where the characters have to cross a great dark divide in order to reach the highest forms of reality, they had to make it through a destroyed reality, Alan had called to warn me about possible physical dangers I might face while working on this issue. While he was writing this particular issue he had become very ill and became better upon completion of the script. He was convinced this was due to the thoughts on this negative reality becoming manifest physically. He actually experienced many of the sensations the characters did in the story. So he thought it best to warn me that strange things could occur while drawing.
As I worked on the issue and got closer and closer to the middle of the issue where we show this black hole in the reality that leads to the inverse negative Tree Of Life, I began to not feel well and started having chest pains. The closer I got to drawing this black hole scene the worse my chest pain became, to such a degree I went to the emergency room to get looked at by a doctor. They ran an EKG test, among others, to see if maybe I was having a heart attack. After all of the tests were done the doctor couldn’t find an explanation for what was occurring. During this time I had kept working on the issue. As I got past the drawing of the black hole scene and started to reach the end of the issue all of my chest pain and feeling bad went away without any further incident.
When Mick was inking that issue I remember him saying that everyone in his house came down with the flu or cold virus or something.
How’s that for odd?
The abyss issue is a whole bunch of messed up. Up until that point Sophie and Barbara have been climbing up the Kabbalah Tree of Life with every issue being a new kind of zone (if it helps any – think of it like the Crystal Maze – only on a cosmic intergalactic kinda scale) – where every place is a new aspect of life and thought and meaning and symbology. And then there’s this abyss between the spheres where they just kinda fall and end up in the anti-matter version of it. Where everything is kinda done in this kinda night light stuff and all of the life and creatures are the kind thing that – as one of them so memorable puts it like something “H.P. Lovecraft pulled out of his nose”
Oh look – here we go:
Also Promethea Book 4 is also the place where they become God and the whole comic turns into a beautiful ethereal white: like a mixture between Philip Glass and Brian Eno.
I haven’t read anything that talks about how doing this issue made Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III feel but I’d like to imagine that it made them feel really really blissed out and had them chewing their mouths and giving all of their friends backrubs while they talked non-stop about how they really really loved them man like oh my god so much I can’t even put it into words – do you know what I mean? Do you know what I mean?
I mean: even looking at it makes me feel nice (I swear I can almost hear the noise it makes).
And then there’s the point where they jump off the edge of the universe. Which for some reason I’m not able to find a picture of – but made my brain feel like it was being stretched all the way to it limit (how it is possible to be able to fit a picture that’s spread so large and wide and epic on to only two bits of paper?
And then – oh yeah: just for good measure: towards the end it does Promethea fighting against two aspects of herself that also kinda doubles up as a thing about Islam versus Christianity
And that’s not even including the whole thing with the Fatherland and the Motherland (altho I should admit that reading the fonts in that issue kinda makes my head hurt a bit – and I’m not too sure how much of it I understand properly but erm something something Babylon something apocalypse?) – plus the cartoon crazy trial at the end.
All of which is to say is: oh my god I love this comic you guys? Every time I read it I’m just left almost completely dumbfounded by all of the things that a comic can do. All of the styles and forms and tones and shapes and colours it can take. At the Barbican Comic Forum it’s a bit of a running joke about how I like to talk about “comic-y” comics and oh my god: I’m pretty convinced that Promethea is the most comic-y comic of them all.
What do you guys think?
This series, man… This fucking series. I love it and hate it in about equal measures. It’s a gorgeous experiment in how to tell a story through comics, but it’s also a navel-gazing screed where nothing happens forever.
One of the reasons I love comics so much is that they’re the closest you can get to a film while still having complete control over every aspect of it – every twich of an eyebrow, every nuance of speech. In this case, that’s split between Moore and Williams, but the principle’s the same, that they can completely control it.
I guess the film analogy would be Kubrick (127 takes!) or Del Torro, except with even more control. So when the story meanders around like it does in Promethea, I see that as a deliberate choice. It’s two masters of storytelling (Watchmen is plenty evidence for Moore, and William’s art speaks for itself) really pushing the envelope of what a comic story can be, and even if there’s places where I find it utterly loses me, I absolutely love that it exists. It feels like they’ve invited me along as they experiment.
Am I right in thinking Promethea started just a couple of years after sandman finished? Sandman was ’89 to ’96, Promethea ’99 to ’05. Yeah, that makes sense – I get the impression that a lot of ABC’s comics were ‘Moore’s reinterpretation of X hero/series’, so maybe this was his take on the mystical/mythical exploration of Sandman? (Also, has the club done Sandman yet, because we totally should if not.)
It’s the closest mainstream comics have got to fine art, I think. At least, for the time period. Sometimes that’s a good thing, often it isn’t. It’s still cool that it exists, and I think it paved the way for a lot of art-comics – Jimmy Corrigan, Park Bench, etc.
And… I’ve not even touched on the art. It’s weird for me, being mainly an artist, how much discussion of comics focuses on the writing and story. There’s really not many series that are defined by their art – I can only think of Hellboy and Sin City off the top of my head. I think maybe that’s because art takes so long to make, and the studios prefer to have many artists working on a piece, so the styles become very generic.
But christ, Promethea is gorgeous. Again with the fine art comparison, it really feels like Williams has put thought into every part of the artwork. It’s not just a vehicle for the plot like a lot of comics, but every fucking page is a legit work of art. I’d go into depth on a page, but they’re all amazing. Anyone in the group have a preference? Pick a page, and I’ll try to drill down into the art a bit.
It feels like both Moore and Williams put absolutely everything into the series, so I guess I can believe the stories of them feeling sick with the darkness of the story. Normally I’d write it off as hype, but for this one it’s just about plausible.
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Of course we did The Sandman! In fact – it was the very first thing we did (all the way back in the day): https://londongraphicnovelnetwork.com/category/books/the-sandman/
It’s funny that you mention Kubrick seeing how the Book Club’s sister club Film Club just did a whole big thing of The Shining (see: Doesn’t Care About That Kind of Safe Distance) which has lead me on to massive inhaling of all the Kubrick stuff I can get my hands on (when you’re spending good money on a book of collected Kubrick interviews – it’s time to start admitting that you have a problem…).
And yeah – well I never really noticed it before until reading Rat’s email but Alan Moore and Stanley Kubrick both have a lot in common – especially in their belief in the possibilities of the medium. In fact if it’s ok I’m just going to quote a whole big fat chunk of it (cool? ok cool):
”I have a feeling that no one has yet really found the way to tell a story to utilize the greatest potential that films have,” he says. ”I think the silent movies come closest to it because they weren’t trapped in having to present a scene which was essentially a stage type of scene; movies consist of little play scenes.” He sounds gentle toned, as if he were not discussing the heart of his existence. ”There’s a a gap between the guys who can actually write a story and someone who can visualize it, and that’s a big gap because even the directors who write, like Woody Allen and Bergman, are very much bound up in the conventions of the stage.”
As he talks, Mr. Kubrick suddenly puts his envy of the silents on a track parallel with his curiosity about the 30-second Michelob spots. ”The best TV commercials create a tremendously vivid sense of a mood, of a complex presentation of something.”
”Some combination of the two might work,” Mr. Kubrick says, braiding a fantasy that seems to twirl somewhere within. ”I have a feeling that no one has begun to do what a movie could really do.” His voice has a casual, New York mood, but his eyes reflect a terrible determination.
(taken from here – STANLEY KUBRICK’S VIETNAM – if you’re interested in reading the whole thing…).
Like: this right here is what inspires me so much about Promethea and why I love it so and why I’m determined to try and make as many of you guys read it as possible… (Yeah damn right we’re doing all five books – suck it up).
Because yeah Stanley Kubrick and Alan Moore both operate in kinda the same vein. Like I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned this on here before somewhere (and it’s something that tends to come up a lot at the Barbican Comic Forum) – but Alan Moore comics are nearly always incredibly “comic-y” in that they do things and create effects that only really work in comics (short version: this is why Watchmen didn’t really work as a film). I mean yeah sure maybe HBO could do a Promethea TV series (created by Damon Lindelof maybe?) but there’s so many bits of it that just wouldn’t quite work (altho: just to contradict myself: I guess there are also bits that would? Like: having an episode just starting with a white screen and then having the actors slowly taking shape before you could be pretty actually damn cool).
Am not sure I totally 100% agree with the idea that Promethea is fine art tho. I mean yeah – bits of it are completely and utterly transcendent (of course of course: how could it not be?). But what makes reading it such a pleasure is how it mixes up all of it’s musings about the infinite nature of God and love and the Universe with all sorts of chewy pulpy thrills. I mean: The Painted Doll and the Five Swell Guys. Not to mention Weeping Gorilla (wait: how have we not mentioned Weeping Gorilla yet?) and all of the various twists and turns. Like: I’ve read Promethea quite a few times already but still the end of this volume threw me for a loop (“Oh no! Not Stacia!!”) and I don’t know – I’m sure if you asked Alan himself he’d stroke his beard and say that we was making a comment about the non-stop nature of life or whatever: but for me the final shot of Sophie running for life doesn’t really have any deeper meaning apart from “oh my god – I really need to read the next volume right now.” All those people complaining there’s no story? Well – there’s the story you’re looking for.
And yeah: that is for me is why Promethea is worth the time to get to grips with it – because it mixes up the high and the low until it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s like a TV commercial mixed with high opera or whatever. You know – showing you what comics can do.
Which I guess leads me on to thoughts about: I mean – what are people reading comics for? I realise it’s maybe a bit of a cheap shot to compare Promethea to Monstress but that’s like two sides of a coin right there… Like this is a low blow I know – but Monstress doesn’t seem to be anything more than just a pitch for a TV show / a comic about nothing in particular where the best thing you can say about it is that it’s comforting maybe… And well yeah: just in terms of my personal tastes – I’d rather read something that stretched the sides of my mind a little more and really gives the medium a work out rather than just having it fall asleep etc.
So yeah – This series, man… This fucking series. And all I can add to that is – Totally.