Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Numbers #3 by Alan Moore - the find of the year?

Or maybe it's the find of the century so far?

Everyone thought this was lost forever. Big Numbers was the classic "lost" Alan Moore story. It was going to be 12 issues, 12" square, black and white with more and more colour as the series progressed. Published through Moore's own Mad Love company, issues one and two came out and then nothing more. Ever.

The incredibly complex story and the intricate detailing required put too many pressures on Bill Sienkievicz, who quit part way through issue 3. Mad Love went under due to the delay and the project passed to Kevin Eastman's Tundra. At the time Kevin was well used to throwing money by the millions at comic projects with dubious history and ever less likelihood of finishing - this was around the time they were delivering the merchandising money from the Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles in huge trucks.

Art duties fell to Sienkievicz's assistant Al Columbia who then either had a complete breakdown, a big strop or just lost interest depending on who you ask. The third issue was finished but never released. And allegedly the entire fourth issue was drawn by Al Columbia, but he destroyed it rather than have it see print and all that Kevin Eastman ever saw was a tiny scrap of a panel.

And that was it. Until now

Pádraig Ó Méalóid has now managed to get hold of a complete issue 3 photocopy. It looks genuine, and all concerned are convinced. An amazing find. But it really makes us wonder what on earth the whole thing would have been like. Such a missed opportunity. It would have been incredible. As Pádraig explains:
In January 2009 I bought an eBay item listed as BIG NUMBERS #1 & 2 + RARE UNPUBLISHED XEROX Alan Moore, which had this as the item information:

The REAL draw here for Alan Moore completists is a set of black-and-white Xeroxes of the unpublished THIRD issue of BIG NUMBERS, with art by Al Columbia, Sinkiewicz's assistant, who had been scheduled to take over the project. These might possibly be first-generation copies; more likely, they are second- or third-generation, but the art is very crisp and clear, and the story is easily read. This is a MUST for Moore fans.

I decided that it was at least worth investigating ... I honestly didn't believe that I had that easily bought a copy of something that, to the best of my knowledge, simply didn't exist. But this is exactly what it is. In any case, everything I know leads me to believe that this is a copy of the unpublished third issue of Big Numbers, and I genuinely didn't believe it existed, and certainly never expected to actually see a copy, led alone own one. Even Alan Moore doesn't have a copy, to the very best of my knowledge, which in this case is considerable, as I decided to specifically ask his permission before I posted this here. He is happy for it to be made available to the world, so here it is.
Explaination and low res on Live Journal.
The high resolution version on Flickr.

And, like all good stories, this one has a kicker. Eddie Campbell has posted up his take on the find at his blog. Complete with this section that just floored me:
Another thing I remembered, and I don't think I ever mentioned it to Alan, but I always felt a certain resentment that Billy the Sink got Big Numbers and blew it while i was stuck drawing Jack the bloody Ripper for ten years (I once described it as a penny dreadful that costs thirty five bucks).

I stand by my opinion that Big Numbers was the superior idea and would have been Alan's masterpiece. Of course it is also true that Sinkiewicz is a world class illustrator and there's no way I could have done a job that complicated in 1992.

I could have taken a crack at it later (post-Birth Caul/Snakes and Ladders), and offered, but Alan wasn't up for that.
That's right: Eddie offered to finish the bloody thing. Christ. That would have been great. Part of me loves the idea of it being finished. But I do take Eddie's point of it being very much a snapshot of it's time and publishing it now would either require a huge rejig (that Moore just isn't going to do) or treat it purely as a period piece.

1 comment:

  1. If Eddie Campebell simply worked from the script as written at the time, I'd buy it. It would be a period piece - so? Watchmen is of its time (as, for that matter, are War & Peace and Pride & Prejudice) but what difference does that make? Hell, if it would help to convince Moore to let it happen, I'd buy ten copies. Twenty copies. Thirty! Just as long as he agreed not to "revise" his original script.