Sunday, August 03, 2008

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1

We read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1, by Alan Moore for book club. It's a graphic novel about a group of characters, some of whom you'll recognize and some maybe not (we all know Jekyll and Hyde, but do you know where Allan Quatermain originated?). The plot largely centers around gathering this rag-tag group of hero-types in a team to do... something... on behalf of some unknown entity. I'm not quite sure what.

Because a few of these characters were recognizable to me, I had to wonder if there were some references I wasn't getting. I meant to do a little googling before the book club, but I didn't get around to it. Lo and behold, it turns out practically every single panel in the novel contains a reference to some 18th or 19th century British literature. Only slightly more interesting than the question "If a tree falls in the woods and no-one hears it..." is "If a book is full of literary references that no-one gets, does it matter?" I have a general formula that goes like this:

Given: I'm pretty smart.
Given: I read a lot.
Given: most people are kind of dumb.
Given: nobody reads as much as me.
Proof: If *I* didn't get it, nobody did.

(Does that make me sound like a jerk?) I didn't really enjoy reading the graphic novel, mostly because I wasn't interested in the story and its shtick (that it's written for young boys, ie, not girls [however ironicly]) wore a bit thin for me. I did gain some new respect when I found out it had all these hidden references, though. My proof is wrong, of course, because my super-genius librarian friends did get it.

Aforementioned super-genius tipped me to a book called Heroes and Monsters by Jess Nevins that, essentially panel by panel, goes through the novel and spells out what most of us schmucks are missing. I'm going to have a peek at that book, and a brief return to The League as well (wikipedia by my side) to have a second look at some of these references and maybe get some ideas for future reading.


Lyman said...

I haven't read the entire GN but I do have the first couple of issues of the series. Alan Moore is widely regarded as the genius of modern comics and nearly everything I've read of his I've loved.

What did you think of the art? O'neil is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very-nice and far-too-kind shout-out, but I do have to say that my figuring out this particular graphic novel was greatly assisted by discussions with other "super-genius" librarian folk over the *years* (my wife, Patrick, Charlotte). Really, I think that Greta's notes & thoughts on LoEG, on her very first read, were outstanding and far more deserving of any "genius" accolades. But what I really liked about the book it that it made me *want* to learn more.

re: Lyman's question about the Art.

I found the O'neil's illustration inconsistent and the style a little spare at times, and it was often my only gripe with the book. What I didn't realize is how the style gave him room to pack a lot into the individual panels, and make certain illustrations far more majestic and stand out from the rest (particularly the Britannia bridge & the M's airship pages).

Thanks for getting the bookclub rolling, and hosting it.