Storytelling Inspiration

What Brand Content Creators Can Learn from Alan Moore

By Ashley Taylor Anderson January 12, 2016

I suppose that the main drive is to find the edge of something and then throw myself over it.
—Alan Moore

My first encounter with Alan Moore was reading V for Vendetta one winter break during college. I had no idea what I was in for. At that point, the only graphic novels I’d read were Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Neither of them adequately prepared me for Moore’s storytelling approach.

The quote above aligns spot-on with my impression of Alan after reading his work. His writing is fearless, forward-looking, and a little bit insane. He’s not afraid to tackle complicated characters and issues head on, nor does he reduce them to simplistic, one-dimensional versions that are easy to evaluate. His stories evoke a visceral reaction from readers using powerful visual and written narratives.

Alan Moore has never written for a corporate brand. Given his annoyance with the mainstream publishing industry, I doubt he’d champion the work that we brand storytellers are doing. Even so, there’s a lot that we can take away from his work and apply to the content creation process in a marketing context, especially when it comes interactive content.

Here are 4 key takeaways from Alan Moore’s work that you can implement in your next interactive project.

Don’t Be Tempted to Imitate Others

Batman Alan Moore

Source: Batman, The Killing Joke

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery”—but it often produces the least inspired work. Copying someone else’s idea, even if the original concept is amazing, will generally lead to a mediocre output.

Alan puts it this way in his Writing for Comics guide: “Teaching a generation of emergent […] writers how to copy the generation before was a stupid idea…”

Instead of trying to imitate someone else’s approach, visual technique, or story, invest your time and effort into exploring your own original ideas. That’s not to say you won’t take inspiration from other people’s work—Moore himself drew on sources that varied from HP Lovecraft to Ray Bradbury to Thomas Pynchon, and had to work within the existing canon of characters for DC Comics. It does mean that, at the end of the day, your primary objective is to tell your own story from your own perspective and bring it to life in an original way.

Interactivity can lend novelty to your content, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that differentiates your content from your competitors’ or industry publishers.

Start With Your Story, Not the Delivery Mechanism

From Hell Alan Moore

Source: From Hell

When using newer technologies like HTML5 animation, it’s tempting to get caught up in the details of the delivery format rather than focusing on the story itself. This can be a siren’s call for digital storytellers because it draws our attention away from what really matters—our narrative. Sure, cool animation effects, layered information paths, and interactive visual components can be highly engaging for end users—but only if your content draws their interest first.

Alan says this: “You can produce a [story] about bright and interesting new characters, have a computer draw it, publish it in a lavish Baxter package and color it with the most sophisticated laser scan techniques available, and the chances are that it will still be tepid, barely readable sh*t.”

The point is that, without a meaningful story, your content won’t keep your audience engaged. Hollywood has proven this over and over with movies that, in spite of having a great cast, huge special effects budgets, and lots of action, totally bomb at the box office. If you don’t have a relatable narrative, all the bells and whistles in the world won’t save your content from sucking.

Take the above strip from From Hell. The content is riveting—in part because of the gradual tightening of the visual focus, but mostly because it’s a creepy story that pulls you in. Without the story, it’s just a paunchy old dude wearing a top hat walking down the street.

Think Like a Screenwriter When It Comes to Mood

The Watchmen Alan Moore

Source: The Watchmen

When creating a content marketing piece, we often don’t consciously try to evoke a specific mood. But mood is a crucial component to storytelling. Anyone who’s sat around a campfire and listened to someone tell a ghost story into a flashlight knows that the scary factor goes up by at least 10x.

Comics are great at evoking mood, and Alan Moore’s comics are some of the best. Using dialog, narration, color, imagery, and layout, stories become much more than the sum of their parts. They’re no longer just type and ink on a page. They become immersive worlds that suck you in as you read.

The frame above from The Watchmen shows what a powerful effect mood can have on viewers. The figures in the background are obscured in shadow against a red sky; the foreground explodes in flame from the weapon. The Comedian commands attention by his placement in the frame and the maniacal glint in his eye; his ever-present smiley face button serves as an incongruous element of childish whimsy amidst the violent scene. The narration bubble emphasizes the nature of both the setting and The Comedian himself: crazy and prone to senseless destruction.

You may not have your own illustrator, but with the talent of a skilled graphic designer and your own writing skills, you, too, can evoke powerful moods in your content. Using interactions and animation effects can further enhance the type of mood you want to create in your piece, whether it’s silly, serious, or seriously scary.

Ground Your Content in Something Familiar

Swamp Thing Alan Moore

Source: Swamp Thing

If there’s one common thread running through Alan Moore’s work, it’s that he writes about some crazy-ass people. From monsters to superheroes to aliens to serial killers, the characters in his comics are far removed from the usual suspects you encounter in your everyday life (unless your life is way more interesting than mine).

And yet… somehow, these stories resonate with readers, myself included. How does Alan do it? He grounds his narratives in familiar settings, emotions, and themes that his audience can relate to.

This frame from Swamp Thing is a fantastic example of how relatable elements can create a connection between content consumers and seemingly unrelatable scenarios. A strange and repulsive monster stands on the banks of a swamp, watching the sun on the horizon. He waxes philosophical about the endlessly destructive nature of humanity, and the impulse to try and rise above the destruction, and the inevitable failure that happens when we try. As readers, we can relate to both the setting of the scene and the emotions Swamp Thing feels as he reflects on what he’s learned.

Unless your company has some really cool products, you probably won’t be writing about monsters. However, you may be writing about something equally foreign to your audience. Grounding your presentation in relatable examples or themes can help you bridge the gap between your interactive content and your viewers.

Coda: WWAMD?

When it comes to interactive content development, it’s useful to approach the process the same way writers approach creating a comic or graphic novel. Using narrative, visuals, setting, characters, mood—and technology to bring all of these elements to life—you can develop content that grabs and keeps your viewers’ attention.

Alan Moore is a master of captivating an audience, and there’s a ton that we content creators can learn from his work. The mantra WWAMD (What Would Alan Moore Do?) may not apply to most life situations, but it certainly applies to interactive storytelling.

Before you go: What other comic writers or graphic novelists do you dig for their storytelling prowess? I’m always on the lookout for new series to throw my paycheck at when I visit my local comic shop.

Header image source: Fanpop

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