Sunday, 31 October 2010

Big Numbers

‘Mad Love’ was a publishing company established by comic book writer Alan Moore, his wife Phyllis and their mutual lover Deborah Delano in 1988.
The first production of the company was ‘AARGH’ (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) an anthology challenging Clause 28, a law designed to stop schools and councils in the United Kingdom from ‘promoting homosexuality’.
Following this Moore worked on a comic called ‘Shadowplay: The Secret Team’ for Eclipse Comics. This was part of an anthology called ‘Brought To Light’which was commissioned by the Christic Institute and examined the role of the CIA in drug smuggling and arms dealing.
The artist on this project was Bill Sienkiewicz whose blend of photorealism and abstraction had revitalised comic art in the 1980's.
This proved to be a successful partnership between the two men, whose love for detail and discord combined beautifully.
For his next project for ‘Mad Love’ Moore was to push himself to new heights creatively and would need an artist that could keep up.
‘Big Numbers’ was the story of a new shopping centre in a small town in England.
On the surface this seems straightforward enough but Moore had decided that the best way to examine the impact of the opening of this new structure on the lives of the people in the town was to use a combination of Chaos Theory and the Fractal Geometry of Benoit Mandelbrot.
Moore felt that the only artist that could handle the shift between the mathematical ideas underpinning the piece and the human drama at the forefront was Sienkiewicz.
The first two issues were published in April and August of 1990 with another ten due to follow.
However, Sienkiewicz was overwhelmed by the work that the book required and soon began to miss deadlines. Eventually he backed out of the series completely, having got as far as finishing the majority of the art for the third issue.
The delays meant that the book missed slated publication dates and the overheads of the project, with no product being released to generate revenue, caused the production to stop.
Kevin Eastman, the owner of Tundra Comics, stepped in to take over the publishing of the comic and Al Columbia, Sienkiewicz’s art assistant, was hired to provide the artwork for the remainder of the series.
After beginning work on the fourth issue Columbia also quit the book, claiming that he had destroyed the artwork he had produced.
In 1999 the ten pages that Sienkiewicz had produced for issue #3 were published in the magazine ‘Submedia’ and then in 2009 a photocopy of the complete lettered art of #3 appeared as part of a lot on eBay. It was bought for $49.99 and included issues #1 and #2 of the published books. The successful bidder, having got permission from Alan Moore first, published scans of the work on LiveJournal.
In 2000 Al Columbia posted his version of events on the ‘Comics Journal’ message board:

“...I was paid $9,200 to complete issue number four of ‘Big Numbers’.
A lot of times Paul Jenkins (the editor) was good enough to pay me as I went along without even seeing the pages.
Okay, don’t tell anybody, but the truth be told I didn’t even finish the issue-but was paid for it anyway.
You see, I never had any intention of staying with the project but merely attached myself to it in order to gain a certain prominence, at which time I would quit in the manner we have all heard about.
This way, with no visible proof of the artwork, it would always shine as a masterpiece in people’s minds and imagination.”

Alan Moore has spoken about the future of the piece a number of times.
In 2000 he said:

“I don’t see any way that I can resurrect it as a comic script...
For ‘Big Numbers’ the television’s the idea of selling it...
I mean, I think fractals and shopping is a great idea but not as a pitch to hot, young Channel 4 presenters who are just mainly thinking ‘Let’s do ‘Queer As Folk’ again and see if we can shock some more retired colonels from the Home Counties and get viewing figures off the back of it.’”

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