Come In Alone: Issue #50

Sat, December 16th, 2000 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Warren Ellis, Columnist

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Let me first congratulate my American readers for finally having a President selected for them. My contacts in the American political power structure inform me that the American national anthem will be changed in January to "Duelling Banjos" from the film DELIVERANCE.

I've been away for a while. A couple of instances of illness, a family holiday in Finnish Lapland (and, please, before I get more mails telling me I obviously earn too much - I'm in England, Lapland is only three hours away), the writing of comics, and the wrestling to the ground of deals made with companies outside comics. Some of you may already have heard about my development deal with MTV Animation and the various online content projects I'm involved with. I've got a couple of other things on the boil that should be announced next week, including a deal with a famous actor and his production company that I am completely forbidden from talking about right now, which is mildly irritating. Been a busy time.

It's not that I'm attempting to get out of comics - though God knows I'm not here to do long serials anymore, and the more things slide, the fewer comics I want to do - more than that I'm trying to stretch my legs. I've always been a writer, not just a comics writer. I've always done things other than comics.

In this, of course, I'm far from alone. A quick and incomplete checklist of comics writers writing things other than comics would still be as long as your arm. Scott Lobdell has a ton of film and TV projects in various stages of development. Grant Morrison is an award-winning playwright. Mark Millar is writing and directing a series for Channel 4 Television. James Robinson has a burgeoning screenwriting career. Adam Pollina's been developing concepts for film. Peter Milligan, Steven Seagle and JM DeMatteis have also been working in screenwriting. Steve Gerber has written a great deal of animation. Frank Miller's screenwriting again after a long hiatus following ROBOCOP 3. Peter David's created and produced his own TV series and written more novels than some nations' population count.

And then there's Alan Moore.

I frequently hear all kinds of ill-mannered complaints about Alan's ABC line at Wildstorm. People asking why Alan has suddenly become a genre writer, producing proto- or borderline-superhero work in bulk. Why he produces anywhere between forty to eighty pages a month of that instead of bringing us a similar volume of works like FROM HELL or LOST GIRLS. The serious work, the work that changes things.

And there's two simple answers to that. One, he's found he enjoys being a genre writer (again). And two, he's still writing serious, challenging work. Only not in comics.

In fact, the best thing he's written since FROM HELL is a CD.

For the last few years, Alan's been putting together live spoken-word performances, along with collaborators Tim Perkins and David J (late of Bauhaus). These have been part of his "coming out" as a magician, and a return to his roots of performing from the days of the Northampton Arts Lab and the various bands along the way from there to here. His collaborators provide musical backdrop to Alan's monologues and verse. The performances themselves are evidently artful and strange - I've not yet had the chance to attend one - the most recent being accompanied by a dancer. These performances are either recorded live or recreated in the studio.

[The Moon and the Serpent ...]The first of these, THE MOON AND SERPENT GRAND EGYPTIAN THEATRE OF MARVELS is the most overtly occult, being an exploration of Alan's magic and an invocation of the old Roman snake deity he was focussing on at the time as well as a tour of the wild magic of the London area the piece was being performed in. Parts of this emerged first as introductory pieces to FROM HELL; the Iain Sinclair mockumentary-documentary for Channel 4, meeting Kray soldier Tony Lambrianou, Alan's own fictional end in the TV piece as an occult fanatic trapped in a room with strange old books. Probably not a million miles from the truth, either.

Niki came into the office while I was playing that. "What's that rumbling sound?" she said. "Alan Moore, singing," I said.

The second is THE BIRTH CAUL. And this is possibly the most affecting thing Alan's yet written. It fulfils the promise of his novel, VOICE OF THE FIRE, and of BIG NUMBERS and the best bits of FROM HELL. This is Alan Moore summoning his powers and finally delivering a pure burst of the way he sees things, divorced from genre and obsession and postmodern gameplay and any of those other touchstones by which we habitually identify Alan Moore's work. It is very simply an examination of death, life and birth as we understand them today, explored by agency of the birth caul itself, the membrane over the face with which some children are born. The caul becomes a talisman, an instrument of divination leading us up and down the years of our lives.

[The Birth Caul]Sounds dry as dust, doesn't it? Not even close. It has the big emotional punch of Alan at his best - bigger, in fact, because there are points in the recording where you hear him living it. You hear the voice genuinely crack when it talks about the death of a schoolyard crush, you hear the voice slow and become strange and fascinated as it leads us beyond the ancestral tree to the heart of birth, the start of everything…

There is an excellent adaptation of THE BIRTH CAUL into comics form by Eddie Campbell (who by my count now owes me at least three beers) available through Eddie Campbell Comics. Bug your local comics store for it, and if they won't play, buy it online.

[Brought to Lifht]The third is actually an old piece. Alan has committed the central monologue of his graphic novel BROUGHT TO LIGHT to CD. BROUGHT TO LIGHT is one of my favourite Moore pieces simply because of its command of the monologue. Based on research gathered by the activist legal team The Christic Institute, BROUGHT TO LIGHT is an oral history of the CIA and its molestation of the rest of the world, as delivered by… an American eagle. This raddled, coke-fuelled, drink-sodden surreal anthropomorphic wreck IS The Agency, and its amphetamine monologue carries the same electric intensity as the central revelatory sequences of JFK. On the CD, Alan speaks the monologue in an American accent that, yeah, slips once or twice, but otherwise proves that the only good written dialogue is the kind that stands up when spoken.

The most recent is THE HIGHBURY WORKING. You can find this on http://www.stevenseverin.com. Steve Severin used to be one of Siouxsie And The Banshees. This came as an invitation to do a "Moon And Serpent"-style evocation/invocation of a specific area. Highbury, in London. These eight monologues go from Alan quite rightly declaring the place "an anecdote-free zone": "It wasn't at death's door, it was halfway down death's passage hanging up its coat… you might as well be on the moon." HIGHBURY is described as "A Beat Sance", and through these eight pieces we find Alan excavating the bland face of Highbury to raise up its forgotten secrets, pains and glories. Art as archaeology; he raises the horse goddess worshipped by the Romans when Highbury was a garrison of the empire, and also the horse that fell into the pit on that spot and died when sewers were being dug over a thousand years later: Joe Meek, the troubled Phil Spector of England, and Aleister Crowley, the untroubled Great Beast of Cefalu. THE HIGHBURY WORKING is an act of cultural magic, raising the town's secret ghosts from the deep dead, lighting Highbury on fire with resurrection; telling human stories in the dark, ones that you need no familiarity with Highbury or London to have resonate within you.

Search them out. These are Alan Moore's greatest recent works.

I leave you to consider why they did not emerge as comics.

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