A Small Killing is not quite like any other Alan Moore scripted comic I’ve read. When I reported back on my experiences reading Maus I mentioned that Art Spiegelman thinks that the most effective comics are written and drawn by a single author; I pointed to Alan Moore as the scriptwriting source of many obvious contradictions to that position. Well, I’d certainly stick by that, but A Small Killing, which is not about superheroes, spaceships, adventures, or any such malarkey, and bears more resemblance to ‘literary fiction’ than anything of Moore’s I’ve previously read, was written in a more closely collaborative way than most comics. The initial story idea came from Oscar Zarate, the artist; the idea was then developed and elaborated by both men in a long running series of discussions; and only then did Moore go off on his own and write the script from which the finished book would be executed. However, when he’d finished the script, rather than bouncing the artwork back and forth in the usual manner of comics development, Zarate simply drew it, without any further input from the writer. The consequence of all this is that the book has a very coherent voice, and hangs together with the concision and clarity of a well written poem.
It’s basically a highly allegorical account of a mid-life crisis, dealing with ideas around the abandonment of principle, emotional engagement, careerism, geographical rootedness, and the ethics of everyday life. It is painted in a naïve style, with few nods at full on naturalism, although it leaves you with a very clear mental image of the characters, and the art seems inseparable from the story that is told. The narrative is constructed like a puzzle box, as one might expect from Moore, although the plot itself is extremely simple and linear. At times the tragic irony is laid on with a trowel, and the central character sometimes struggles to retain much audience sympathy, but generally the characters are engaging and believable, and the sense of place, both geographic and social, is realised superbly. A Small Killing is only a very short book, but it’s liable to linger in your thoughts long after you read it, and because it’s so short it’s quite an attractive prospect for a re-read. It’s a very interesting and engaging piece of work, which seems less magisterially accomplished than some of Moore’s earlier work, but only because, for its modest scope, it is in many ways more ambitious.