« How to Boycott a Company Without Really Trying | Main | Genres in American Literature: Superheroes »

January 10, 2014



On the one hand, I do think Moore is a a bit delusional and unreasonable (never judge art by the artist, by the way). On the other hand, when I read the Black Dossier, it was clear to me that the Golliwog was not only *not* a black man (they don't have "African-Americans" in the UK), he wasn't *human*. He was a unique creature. So I find this hand-wringing over a re-imagining of a 19th century fictional character to be a bit ... overwrought.


Well, as I said on Facebook, the Golliwogg comes from a tradition of racist caricature, and "golliwog" is still being used as a racial slur today (I even link to a recent example in this post). Criticism of Moore's uncritical and unthinking use of that imagery isn't "overwrought."


Alan Moore is a melodramatic, self-important, remarkably un-self-aware jackass who is not nearly as talented or influential as he seems to think he is, and who hasn't been relevant to the comics scene in decades. His last great work was written during the Reagan presidency.


Yeah, I'm not looking to collect "burns" against Moore. One of the things that makes his recent comments so disturbing is his tendency to ruthlessly personalize any disagreement; I'd rather not mirror that.

Also, Clinton presidency, surely.

Johnny Walker

I can't believe you've written an article, and tried to condemn a man, based on nothing more than the vague recollections of someone else. Some of your criticisms are quite ridiculous (like failing to namecheck Noles -- as if that was some kind of deliberate slur by Moore!).

Moore was quite right that the Upton's Golliwog was a character in his own right. He wasn't written as a caricature of a black man, but rather based on a doll Upton had as a child. It's only the first book that he appears in minstrel attire (which is what the doll wore), and then for the rest of the time he appears in completely unique clothing.

He was his own character, not a grim stereotype (like the minstrels). The fact that he was based on a childhood doll of a minstrel is an unfortunate happenstance.

Furthermore, Moore made sure that it was clear that Upton's character wasn't even human -- but rather some magical, alien being.

Johnny Walker

Since Upton's work has now entered the public domain, I can link you to the first of her "Golliwogg" books. I'd suggest reading it for yourself. I think you'll find that Nole's assertion that the character is racist portrayal is completely unfounded.



I have read The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg, and the biography of Florence Kate Upton by Norma S. Davis, who knows more about Upton and her work than either of us do.

Can I ask if you've actually read the Noles essays? Because they establish the minstrel tradition that the Golliwogg emerged from and that was present in Upton's books from their inception. Noles and Davis both point out exactly where that tradition surfaces in the Golliwogg books. You would also find that Noles's extensively sourced posts are anything but "vague recollections"--they include everything from a bibliography to photographic documentation of the signing where she met O'Neill. So you'll understand why I don't take your dismissal very seriously.

It's true that Upton doesn't write the Golliwogg as a racial stereotype (although Davis points out his tendency to fail in his schemes, requiring the dolls to rescue him--not quite the heroic adventurer Moore makes him out to be in his increasingly defensive justifications). Racist stereotypes appear elsewhere in the books, from the Sambo doll who pops up in the first volume to the cannibals who inhabit the African jungle, but the Golliwogg isn't written as one of them.

But the characterization is literally only half of the story--these are picture books, and to ignore the visual representation of the Golliwogg is as strange and misguided as ignoring the visuals of The League itself. (Not quite as odd, though, as attributing the Golliwogg's minstrel appearance solely to his clothes--as if his pitch-black skin, bulging eyes, bright red lips, and fright-wig hair were not also blackface stereotypes.) The Golliwogg is unambiguously a blackface character, undeniably a racist image--and the image is the part of the character Moore and O'Neill have altered the least.

I find it puzzling that you and Brandon both defend the Golliwogg by stating that Moore's version is an alien being. He's not a human being in the Upton books, either; he's an animate doll. Specifically, he's an animate version of a very real doll, owned by Upton, that was based on a crude and dehumanizing depiction of real live African Americans, which was part and parcel of a culture that dehumanized them every chance it got. When you cite his inhumanity as if that lets Moore off the hook--no, that's the Golliwogg's original sin.

He was always a racial stereotype. Moore and O'Neill have done nothing to change that or to put it in a critical context that might distance their use from the original. The more Moore and his defenders insist that he went back to basics, that he was true to Upton's work--well, yes. That's part of the problem. What you call "unfortunate happenstance," others call their history.

As for the name thing: if Moore truly wants to answer his critics, he owes it to himself and them to respond to their actual views, not to invent the arguments it would be easiest to dismiss. I invite you to do the same.

Johnny Walker

I'm afraid that I find that it's hard to argue with something that isn't there. You're absolutely right that the character was born out of a racist and offensive tradition and image. Nobody is saying otherwise, even Moore.

But it seems that the people on the other side of the argument are those who are refusing to acknowledge what's being said. The originally Golliwogg character was NOT a racist stereotype. He was VISUALLY based on a *depiction* of a racist stereotype, but he himself, was not. (This is where Nole completely loses me.)

The difference between this and old cartoons, minstrel shows and other depictions that actually ARE racist, is *huge*. The only reason not to use the original Golliwogg now is because of racial awareness of the pain that OTHER similar depictions caused people. Does that make sense to you?

That's an important difference that's apparently been lost by those who insist on viewing it through today's eyes. The original books were a product of their times, but they had an innocence to them. They were not malicious, vindictive or hateful.

So the question is NOT whether the original character was racist in his portrayal (you seem to acknowledge he wasn't) but that he is VISUALLY offensive. That his *image* has baggage that comes with it.

I do understand what you're saying, and this is where Moore knew he was on tricky ground. But I think Moore does a good job of knowingly addressing this issue by placing the character in pretty much the only world he should be allowed to exist in: Our collective societal subconscious. Somewhere, in the back of our minds, the Golliwogg exists. And rather be the horrible stereotyped version, Moore changes him into something else. Something far more positive (and so in keeping with the original author's innocence), actually.

Your argument that this somehow "dehumanizes" him further, and so makes him MORE offensive, is nonsensical. Moore is clearly saying: This character is SO far from reality, SO far from anything human, that we should just treat him for what HE (the Golliwogg, not black men) is, something bizarre, silly and alien. (And in that way he's actually mocking anyone who thought the Golliwogg visage (not the original character) was reasonable stereotype for a human being.)

It's worth adding that Moore had a choice to make when he brought the character into his narrative: Deal with the baggage of his image, or attempt to capture what the original author was trying to do: Innocently create a hero that audiences loved as much as she did.

Moore is not ignorant. Moore is not saying that he agrees with horrible portrayals linked with the image of a Golliwogg. He isn't saying such portrayals can't be hurtful. In fact, he's said the opposite many times. But he IS saying that he believed that mature adults could process seeing the image, and place it in its proper context, without it causing harm or offence -- if it was done correctly.

That's clearly what his aim was, and it's also clearly what his argument is.

Johnny Walker

Also, I have to respond to your final sentence:

"When Moore fills his comics with racist caricatures and misogynistic violence—and defends them in such dishonest terms—he makes them everybody’s problem."

Moore has been working in comics for 30 years. To say he's been prolific over this time is an understatement. I take absolute umbrage with the idea that his work is FILLED with "racist caricatures and misogynistic violence".

This is absolutely dishonest of you.

Seán Michael Wilson

You make some good points above, thanks, but on this:
"When Moore fills his comics with racist caricatures and misogynistic violence" - I agree with Mr Walker above.

This has not been clearly proven or even held to be true by most fans, I think - yet you state it like a fact. It's certainly a considerable exaggeration, at least. There is not much point taking Alan Moore to task for his own inaccuracies and exaggerations, but then pile on more of your own, is there?


Johnny, if you have to change the wording of my arguments to make them sound dishonest, perhaps they aren't as dishonest as you would like to think. (I assume this is meant to be some sort of tu quoque for the accounts of Moore's intellectual dishonesty that are cited throughout my essay.) I would also add that violence against women is in fact a recurring theme in Moore's 30-year career, and that while any individual example might indeed be justifiable on artistic grounds (or might not), thirty years does start to look a bit like a pattern. But I made no such claims about his entire career: I'm talking about this book, which is absolutely filled with racist caricatures from rapacious Arabs to sinister Orientals to the ever-vexing Golliwogg.

It seems like you still want to separate the Golliwogg's characterization from his visual representation and cultural traditions. But, again, the characterization is the part Moore alters, and the visual representation is what he keeps; claiming he's being true to Upton doesn't let him off the hook when Upton's character is visually stereotyped from the very beginning. And I'm afraid I don't see any sort of critical commentary on the traditions that produced or used the Golliwogg anywhere in League; I would question whether the mockery you attribute to it actually appears anywhere in the comic.

I notice that you spend a lot of time asserting the "innocence" of Upton's Golliwogg and the good intentions of Moore. This is something I already addressed in the post, the idea that racism is purely a matter of intentions and that it cannot exist without bad ones. But actions, institutional practices, clichés, and stereotypes can be racist in their execution no matter what their intention; what you call "innocence" I call ignorance of the racism that permeated Upton's culture and that she chose to perpetuate, however unintentionally. I am inclined to cut Upton a little more slack, however. That ignorance, though by no means universal, was much more socially accepted and reinforced in 1895. By 2007 (or 2014) there's really no excuse.

I think you also give Moore too much credit in insisting that his Golliwogg is as positive, innocent, and disconnected from racial stereotypes as Upton's supposedly was. (And I gave too much ground in not challenging this earlier.) Moore adds a racist stereotype that is nowhere present in Upton's books: the portrayal of the Golliwogg as an oversexed lover with a massive penis. This plays into the Western fascination with/horror at black sexuality, which Noles has already mentioned in her posts. Moore has managed quite a feat; he's made the Golliwogg more racist than the original.

But as I said, Noles already mentioned this, just as I've already addressed some of your other claims. I'm afraid I have no confidence that you've actually considered the arguments you're so quick to dismiss.

Matthew J. Brady

I don't think I would say that it is "in keeping with the author's innocence" to have the Dutch dolls state that the reason they hang around with the Golliwog is that he has a huge penis.

The dishonest terms of his defense are what I find especially tiresome; absolutely nobody is making the argument that white people should not be able to write black characters, but he spends a great deal of time arguing against exactly that and extrapolating it to matters of class. And then he basically says the Golliwog isn't a black character anyway, so it doesn't matter!

I think his argument about sexual violence works a bit better, and gives some reason for its prevalence, while questioning why it disturbs people more than "regular" violence. I'm sure there are plenty of good critiques of what he's written, but a lot of the complaints come down to "why so much rape?" which he does offer some justification for. I'm not so keen on the argument that middle class people are too Victorian to talk about sex, but saying that he's trying to make people think about the real world prevalence of sexual violence is a better one. Of course, complaining that people are trying to engage his work critically isn't doing him any favors...

Matt Miller

"If anybody can identify the Morrison work that copies Lost Girls, let me know."

The best guess I have (even though it's not actually a miniseries, as Moore asserts) is that he's referring to the second arc of THE INVISIBLES. It's really the only thing that even approaches the description.

Johnny Walker

Marc, it seems you're still not actually addressing Moore's (or my argument), so let's skip it. I think insisting that Moore made the Golliwogg character MORE racist is absurd, but I don't think we're going to made any headway here, so let's part ways, and agree to disagree.

One final thing: I think you should remember that Moore is only responding to Padraig's questions. He doesn't read the internet. He simply responded to what Padraig (presumably) faxed over to him. If you look at it from that point of view, you'll see that Moore gives each question a very careful and thorough analysis. He did his best to answer the questions from every angle. This ISN'T creating straw men to knock down, as you keep trying to claim it is, but merely trying second guess what people might be thinking. If he didn't guess your thoughts, then maybe you should be blaming Padraig for not asking precisely the right question.


Johnny, you'll note that I mention that very concern about Ó Méalóid's questions in the post. That doesn't let Moore off the hook for attributing positions and assigning motives to critics he hasn't even read. Much as "agreeing to disagree" doesn't let you off the hook for your habit of ignoring or misrepresenting my and others' criticisms. But by all means, yes, let's part ways.

Matt (Miller), that's an interesting guess, but "Arcadia" doesn't really fit any part of the description (it was three years after Lost Girls, not a few months, and isn't a miniseries or a "lengthy erotic work"). I've also seen Sebastian O floated as a suggestion, which is a miniseries and which is only two years off from Lost Girls and which is sort of vaguely set in the same time period (except it's not). The truth is, nobody would confuse either one of those stories with Lost Girls unless they were looking for an axe to grind.

I found it very telling that among all the crimes Moore attributes to Morrison, he never mentions the specific accusation that Moore plagiarized Superfolks--but he does manage to throw the charges of plagiarism back at Morrison.

Matthew (Brady): jinx!

The subject of Moore's treatment of rape and violence against women requires another essay in its own right, and more time than I can give it now. Suffice it to say that he's just as evasive and dishonest in his defenses there as he is elsewhere in the interview (including his by-now-routine insinuation that people could only object to his handling of the subject because he's a man). But that doesn't even begin to do the subject justice.

Matthew J. Brady

I had thought he might have been thinking of Sebastian O for the ripoff of Lost Girls, even if that doesn't make any sense. But what is the From Hell ripoff that he mentions? The Mystery Play?

His entire spiel about Morrison really just fuels any accusations of paranoia, since while Morrison did write some provocative attacks against him and took some inspiration from him in his early career, the idea that he's been stalking him for thirty years (as opposed to just commenting on the comics field, of which Moore is kind of an important part) seems really overblown and kind of nuts. The funny thing is, rather than maintaining his silence, he spends thousands of words detailing a bunch of perceived slights, then declares his utter indifference. And he wonders why people might call him a paranoiac recluse.

Jake W

"But what is the From Hell ripoff that he mentions? The Mystery Play?"

Bible John.


Yep. For what it's worth, I always thought the first arc of The Invisibles also owed a lot to From Hell, but in a much less interesting way.

George Bush (not that one)

Marc, thank you for this. I am not sure that Alan Moore is an expert on 'emotional maturity'. His carefully chosen words are full of contempt and arrogance for anyone who dares to question him.I don't believe anyone with a bit of empathy would try to use the Goli.He makes it appear that they discovered the Goli in their research-"This would presumably have been because it was a striking character that Kevin had stumbled across in his often strenuous research, and one that had origins in the late 19th century period we were then working with."- but it not something 'stumbled upon', its very now. And what about the Golli coming from a dark matter universe? A Dark Person from Dark Matter? Really ?WTF! The Golli is an inherent racist image. You can't use a burning cross and say its a plasma alien can you? I think his evasiveness and dishonesty speaks loudly. Peace.


Superfolks? Really?!
Moore probably just forgot about that, but ok - just add it to the list of Morrison insults over the years. Because, yeah - nicking ideas from a badly written old 70s paperback, thats how you put together something like Watchmen.


Marc, correct me if I'm wrong, but your entire source for disgruntlement seems to stem from the notion that Moore is attacking "straw men", and therefore being "dishonest" in his responses.

You don't appear to be aware that the points Moore is responding to are actually taken from a (so far unpublished)roundtable discussion between Laura Sneddon, Pam Noles and Padraig O Mealoid.


I trust you will update your article accordingly, lest be accused of the same "dishonesty" you wish to accuse of Moore?


Sean: Moore definitely hasn't forgotten. He refers to "a number of unpleasant comments and insinuations regarding me and my work which Grant Morrison was making in the promotional platform/fanzine column that he was selflessly providing for one of these publications." That would be the Drivel column in Speakeasy where he made the charges. Moore nurses the grudge but he doesn't specify the insinuations, which would complicate his presentation of Morrison as a plagiarist. But anybody who's read Superfolks has seen the ideas that Moore used later in Marvelman and "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow."

And yeah, Morrison had no shortage of attacks on Moore over the years. I do wonder why Moore has chosen to respond now, when Morrison's been fairly quiet and even conciliatory for the past decade.


James, I don't think that roundtable ever left the proposal stage. As Heidi MacDonald describes it in her original post here, she says she planned "a proposed roundtable on Alan Moore’s writing among Sneddon, O’Mealoid, Pam Noles—whose discussion of the Golli-Wogg touched off some of this—and film critic Will Brooker." Ó Méalóid offered her the Moore interview but rejected the idea of publishing it as part of a roundtable, opting to publish it on its own without any critical respondents.

I regard that as a mistake: I think it would have done Moore some good to confront his critics directly (as directly as an internet roundtable allows, anyway) and respond to their actual criticisms instead of Ó Méalóid's reframing. I don't think Ó Méalóid has done Moore any favors by allowing him to remain in a bubble.

In any case, it's not clear to me that the roundtable even exists as a discussion to be published someday (although I would certainly love to see the other writers' response to the interview if they are ever so inclined). The only immediate contexts for Moore's latest interview are Brooker's tweets and Noles's essays, which are both mentioned and linked in my post.

Incidentally, I would say my "disgruntlement" (if you choose to call it that) arises from Moore's decision to use racist caricatures without any critical framework, to depict rape and violence against women in a frequently cavalier and trivializing manner, and to answer those who criticize these creative choices with a series of dishonest and misleading responses, including some very petty personal attacks. I hope this answers your question.


Maybe I wasn't clear about Superfolks - by forgotten, I didn't mean that Moore might have had no memory of it whatsoever, but rather that maybe it just didn't spring to mind while he was listing insults. Like, say, that Morrison interview in Rolling Stone (somewhat less than a decade ago).
We could discuss the difference between plagiarism and influence at length, but Moore's generally been fairly up front about his sources over the years - and I'd suggest Brian Patten's Batman poem shaped his superhero stuff much more than Superfolks - but so what?
Responses to the interview that zero in on small details - like which is the Morrison book ripped from Lost Girls - as if that refuted the substance of what Moore had to say just seem like more axe grinding to me.
Btw Its worth noting that Moore never actually claimed any Morrison books were ripped from Lost Girls.


Sean, if you want to focus on small details like the Superfolks charges (which Moore absolutely recalls as the "unpleasant comments and insinuations" from the fanzine column) that's fine, and if you want to address the bigger picture that's fine too. It seems odd to start out tackling one very small detail and then pinwheel around and suggest any focus on other details invalidates the criticism.

The big picture is important, but the proof is in the details--especially when one of the criticisms is that Moore consistently distorts the facts to suit his narrative.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 03/2004