"Only superheroes can afford to dream in color," said a young Alan Moore.
It's hard to imagine a time when Moore, a comics superstar, had the heart of an independent artist longing for validation. But the late '80s was that time, and In Pictopia was the comic.
These days, Moore's work is familiar from big-screen interpretations of comics like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, V for Vendetta and Watchmen.
In 1987, however -- the same year the Watchmen series was published as a paperback -- he self-published In Pictopia, whose 13 pages go on display at Pittsburgh's comic-art museum, the ToonSeum, for five weeks starting Sat., Sept. 25.
It is a work of meta-text where strange animal creatures who don't fit the continuity of the comic-book world are "slated for demolition," bulldozed in favor of Technicolor superhero types.
Illustrated by Pittsburgh-based artist Don Simpson, In Pictopia enjoyed only two original printings, once in the benefit comic Anything Goes II and a second time in the anthology, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore. Anticipating a smaller audience, Moore took a risk, resulting in a scathing satire that represented the reality of artistic merit cast aside for the sake of corporate interests.
Some comics historians place Pictopia among Moore's most brilliant works. After 24 years of cult status, Toonseum direct Joe Wos decided it was high time to unearth the comic from the archives.
"It's literally a statement about the comics selling out and ... cheapening themselves," Wos says.
Today, with the famous San Diego comicon ruled by movie execs, and works like Moore's being turned into Hollywood blockbusters, independent comic artists interested in preserving the heart of the art form are resurfacing, says Wos.
"[In Pictopia] is in that spirit," says Wos. "This is a comic about stepping back and saying, 'Wait a minute where are we headed? Is there anything we can do to stop this and preserve our legacy to preserve the voice of the independent comic creator?'"
A special limited reprint of In Pictopia is slated for mid-October.
Simpson, the illustrator, was one such independent creator. Described by Wos as an "outsider," Simpson dropped out of the comics scene years ago, after creating "Megaton Man," his most well known series.
Simpson remembers distinctly when he first met Moore, at a DC Comics banquet in 1985. "'By the way," Moore said, 'I'm ripping off Megaton man.,'" Simpson recalls.
When Simpson asked what he meant, Moore told him he was writing the script for a new comic (the one that became Watchmen) and that one of its principal characters (Dr. Manhattan) was a reincarnation of Megaton Man.
"That was his humor," says Simpson, but with none of the outrage one would expect.
In Pictopia, after all, was not Hollywood. It was not dreamt in color. It was precisely this: one independent artist who had something to say and another one who helped him say it.
In Pictopia exhibit opening reception 7 p.m. Sat., Sept. 25. Exhibit continues through Oct. 31. Toonseum, 945 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Free. 412-232-0199 or www.toonseum.org.