The Saga of Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing”

by Christopher Sloce

I used to have something that resembled a swamp in my front yard. I spent a lot of time in there pretending to be Roland from The Dark Tower, had a cap gun and everything. I also used to pretend to be Swamp Thing, who appealed to me as a more dynamic kind of hero; he’s powerful but ugly, something I felt acquainted with as a middle school kid. The first run of Swamp Thing made no bones about what it was: it was an attempt to move horror comics into the headier vein that horror literature had moved into. Go back and read Stephen King, who Steve Bissette used as a model for what to do (along with Clive Barker): he’s a competent if not startling prose stylist with a knack for colloquial dialogue. And even if you’re too good for Carrie, read On Writing. Bissette saw something in there, and how can you not trust a guy that Alan Moore did a ton of work with to know what’s good writing? Swamp Thing is the kind of weird that works. It’s a unique beast.

Swamp Thing isn’t a lab experiment that went wrong. He is, as Steve Bissette said in his illuminating lecture, an elemental thing, the Green Man with an American twinge. He’s the sort of thing you might encounter in a fairytale, years removed from Gaiman’s use of folklore. He just thought he was human. And Bissette’s panel work shows the fractured feeling experienced by Alec Holland, coming to terms with his monstrousness. This isn’t just spooks and terror; it reaches a melancholy note that is important. Horror’s a feeling and a genre, and just because something doesn’t make you cry in terror doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. And vice versa.

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