BIG NUMBERS: a big deal

3387470920 f3149cbff1 b BIG NUMBERS: a big deal
Yesterday, the comics internets burst with the news that Pádraig O Méalóid, aka LiveJournal user glycon, had acquired and posted a set of xeroxes of the complete long lost BIG NUMBERS #3 by Alan Moore, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Al Columbia. Planned to run 12 issues, had it been completed, it would be fairly unique in Moore’s oeuvre– a contemporary story about real people, albeit with heavy duty science fictional trappings. It would be interesting to see how it would have been ranked by Moore admirers, but we’ll never know — he has no interest in completing it and it appears that many of its ideas will be incorporated into his long-simmering novel, Jerusalem.

According to Méalóid, he acquired the xeroxes via an eBay auction from someone who got the copies from someone who got the copies probably from someone who had worked at Tundra. Since the script for #3 was available, an unknown party went ahead and lettered the art.

Obviously there are a lot of missing steps here. A few pages of the art has previously been published in a magazine called Submedia, but it’s quite noteworthy that the missing pieces of such an important project from such a noted creative team had been floating around for nearly 20 years and just now got restored. (It’s a bootleg to be sure, but Moore has given his blessing to the posting.) It’s sort of like someone finding the lost tracking shot from the last reel of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, or Charles Dickens’ notes for the ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

At any rate, it’s fun to live in a time when oddities like that can still be discovered–despite our media saturation, there are still mysteries to be solved, and that’s half the fun of it.

Eddie Campbell has some very noteworthy commentary on the discovery:

this is an important event. I don’t know the whole story of who did it yet, but the entire unpublished third issue of Big Numbers has been cobbled together. I recall asking publisher Kevin Eastman at the time why, even though the 12-issue series was abandoned, he couldn’t put out the existing third issue. He looked at me as though I was daft. Who would want a third issue if they knew there wouldn’t be any after that? Given the number of unexplainables he had already published, and the millions of dollars squandered, I couldn’t follow his logic.


He also mentions this:

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).


Eddie, we think you may have had the last laugh.

We haven’t read the third issue yet — we have to find our copies of BIG NUMBERS #1 and 2, which we haven’t read in, oh…20 years or so. For a refresher, here’s Frank Santoro’s take on the book:

Okay, wait, I take that back. It’s an inspired work, but there is this lack of motion, of movement that adds to the density. Beyond the incredible glass shattering sequence in the first issue, it’s basically a quiet European film of a comic. I’m sure Moore’s script was pretty intense and Sienkiewicz does a decent job of mixing and matching talking heads and word balloons with these formal devices that “open up” the page and let it breathe a little. But again because of the photographic sources, there is always this middle ground focus where every character is shot from the waist up, gesturing. There will be two pages of dense talking head panels and then some sharp detailed sketch within a scene (like above) that is very focused, not only in technical articulation but in feeling. They show great restraint and balance and then release into sketchy memory. The pages are clean in their black white and grey purity but somehow the palette only adds to the gloomy claustrophobia of its rigid structure and square format. Big Numbers, just plods on and on formally like this and ultimately feels like a straight-jacket.

Comments

  1. “For the record it was the art for issue 4 that was destroyed by Columbia. Most of the pages for issue 3 were put up for sale a few years back. ” – Uhm, what I want to know is, WHO owns these pages? They are L.U.C.K.Y.

    Just FYI, the magazine was called Submedia.

  2. Brassai says:

    There’s another good discussion of the series here:

    http://polculture.blogspot.com/2008/09/fcla-friday-alan-moore-bill-sienkiewicz.html

  3. Eric Reynolds says:

    I’m pretty sure Columbia didn’t work on this issue. He assisted on #s 1 & 2 and then drew #4.

  4. Would make a lot of sense to compile everything into a “REALLY Big Numbers,” right?

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