My Comic Book Obsession: PROMETHEA
By Craig Klotz, June 21, 2003
I am ignorant about many things, but I know what I like. For the last year and a half, Iíve been into PROMETHEA. For me, PROMETHEA has become an obsession. I now own every issue, and multiple copies at that!
I will explain up front that throughout this essay, when I write "Promethea" I am talking about the character of Promethea. When I write PROMETHEA, I am talking about the Alan Moore comic book series titled PROMETHEA.
So, what is PROMETHEA? PROMETHEA is many things. PROMETHEA is a comic book title created by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III. Promethea is the honorary mantle of the lead character in PROMETHEA.
PROMETHEA is art. PROMETHEA is imagination made incarnate.
Simply put, PROMETHEA is comic book magic.
Let me begin my essay by admitting that Iím not a genius. I do profess to be somewhat of a longtime observer and fan of popular culture. I appreciate art in most of its forms, from classical to post-modern, paint and sculpture, music and photography, television and film, the written word and most recently Iíve come to love comics. PROMETHEA has elements of all these art forms, which probably goes a long way to explaining why the series makes so much sense to me.
Maybe itís just that I can relate to, and laugh at, the Weeping Gorilla.
PROMETHEA is a story about an entity or life force known by the name Promethea. The storyís prelude begins in Egypt, circa 411 A.D. An angry mob, in a religious fervor, has come to the house of an old man, perhaps a holy man. His daughter is a young girl named Promethea. Promethea watches as her father is killed by the mob, but she flees into the desert, alone and scared. It is in the desert that she is taken away into the Immateria, by her fatherís gods Thoth-Hermes.
The Immateria is like a parallel plane of existence where the written word manifests itself as reality. All manner of storybook characters exist there. It is also where all of the different incarnations of Promethea dwell in a sort of immortality. Imagination is reality in the Immateria.
Once the origin of Promethea is established, the story jumps to a strange, psychedelic version of New York City, where we meet the characters of Sophie Bangs, Stacia Vanderveer, and Barbara Shelley. All three women either have been or will become Promethea at some point in the overall story-arc of PROMETHEA, but Sophie Bangs is the star of the series. We also meet the Five Swell Guys, the Painted Doll, the Weeping Gorilla, and TEXTure. While these characters add depth, humor, and a bit of plot, the real focus here is on Sophieís discovery of Promethea and her learning to use her fledgling powers.
One of the things that makes PROMETHEA truly great is the way in which we the reader follow along on Sophieís journey of spiritual and emotional growth. First, as Sophie learns to transform herself into Promethea and back again. Second, as Sophie learns how to travel back and forth between her normal environment and the Immateria. It is in the Immateria that she meets all of the former earthly Prometheaís. Next, in order to fulfill her role as Promethea, Sophie learns about magic and the tarot, and has a sexual awakening. Then Sophie, as Promethea, begins a long trek through the mystical Kaballah. It is during this journey, accompanied by the recently deceased Barbara Shelley, that Promethea meets several of the symbolic and iconic characters from the worlds of magic, religion and philosophy. This is a journey of growth and understanding for both Sophie and Shelley.
Eventually, Sophieís Promethea is transformed by the experience, and she returns from her journey through the Kaballah to reunite with her Mother and also her friend Stacia, who has been the acting Promethea during Sophieís absence in the Immateria. While Sophieís homecoming is an experience of love and understanding with her Mother, there is now a conflict with Stacia, who wishes to keep her role as Promethea. After a fight, the two Prometheaís are taken into the Immateria once again to stand trial. Court is adjourned in the Immateria to determine which girl is the true Promethea.
(At the time of this writing, the story has not gone further than the Court issue, so my overview of the storyline will stop here)
Although each issue of PROMETHEA is an exploration of mysticism, spiritualism, and philosophy, there is a whole other aspect of the PROMETHEA series. What makes PROMETHEA truly great is the fantastically beautiful artwork contained in the series. Kudos to the art team of J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, and Todd Klein (and everyone else who has worked on the series) for making this series "speak" with such a unique voice. It seems that all of the proverbial molds are broken here. Why? Because the art isnít just comic book art. The series is a tribute to ART itself!
As I stated above, Iím no Einstein, and I admit that I cannot place all of the artistic references that are employed throughout the run of PROMETHEA. But for me, the art works on a subconscious level. For example, consider the PROMETHEA covers. Ah, the covers! Each issue has a stylistically unique cover design. The designs sometimes pay homage to great artists ranging from Van Gogh to Peter Max. Or they may pay homage to film posters, Beatle records, or even romance novel covers. Each cover is different and provokes a different feeling, memory or response. And each cover has intrinsic meaning to Sophieís ongoing journey.
Inside the books of PROMETHEA, the artwork is equally stunning and beautiful. The pencils and inking work is top notch, as are the page layouts. The coloring is second to none. Even the lettering is stylized to the point where you can intuitively hear the different voices speaking. The combined effect of all the dazzling artwork is that the characters and settings of PROMETHEA practically jump off the page while you are reading it. The combined effect is both beautiful and hypnotic, and really takes the reader into the reality of the story being told.
The series author, Alan Moore, directs all of this artistic effort. A legendary writer in the field of comics, Moore has been writing comic books since the 80ís. I must admit now that I have not read everything by Alan Moore. It isnít that I donít want to. It is simply that he has written so many comics, and that some of them are very hard to find.
I guess my own personal magical quest is to continue searching for, collecting, reading and enjoying all of Alan Mooreís wonderful and fantastic comic book stories. That goes for J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray, too! For this task, Iím fully prepared and happy to participate!
Ó 2003 Craig Klotz
To view 3 different Promethea art commissions done by series inker Mick Gray,click here.