Comic book readers were taken by surprise when Leah Moore and John Reppion announced that comics legend, Alan Moore, would be publishing a new underground magazine "Dodgem Logic" in November. The shock stems from the project not being a comic book, but a print magazine, offering a mix of practical advice, humour, and some comics from the likes of Savage Pencil and "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" artist, Kevin O"Neil, as well as new cartoons from the pen of Alan Moore himself.
CBR News spoke with Alan Moore about what he does when not writing comics, and the the ideas and activism that gave birth to this latest publishing venture, which will be made available from Knockabout Comix in England and from Top Shelf in the United States.
So there's a general impression that most of the comics readers are a bit baffled and confused: "Oh wait, he writes comics. He's publishing a magazine now? We don't get it." (Alan laughs) It's like "You're a writer, you're not expected to publish or edit a magazine."
Well, as I've been saying in a few interviews, I don't really consider myself to be part of the comics scene in the way I used to be, anymore than I'm part of the literary scene or the music scene. I just do various things in various areas that I'm interested in doing. The magazine is an expression of that attitude. I suppose that I've been annoyed of my treatment by the comics industry, particularly over these last few years. I decided in the spirit of Eric Cartman, "Screw you guys, I'm going home!" That's where I am. Northampton is my home and I decided that I'd like to do something that was more geared towards where I live, whether that be Northampton specifically or Britain in general. This is not to rule out America, of course. If people find interest in the stuff we do in "Dodgem Logic," it isn't meant to exclude them. It's just centred on the places that are dear to me, and I'd been working with people in the community for a few years now.
I was approached a couple of years ago by a group of former young offenders from the Spring Boroughs area where I grew up. They were putting together a brilliant little film called "X Marks the Spot," which was dealing with the history of the Spring Boroughs area. This was done completely under their own steam. They got a lot of help from a community organization called CASPAR and also from the local museum, but it was entirely them that put the concept together. And they asked if I would like to appear on the film talking about Northampton history. Since I'm always pleased to talk about the history of that particular area, and since, coincidentally, I also wrote a chapter in "Jerusalem" that was called "X Marks the Spot," I thought it seemed auspicious. I went down there and met with them. They were basically a hip-hop posse based in the Boroughs area. It's a nice ethnic mix: black guys, white guys, brown guys, who all seemed to get on together and all seemed to be joined together by their mutual love of hip-hop.
So I'd been hanging out at the CASPAR offices and talking to the guys and their wrangler, a woman called Lucy Lisowiec. Being me, I dove into one of my interminable monologues that basically break down to "blah blah blah the Sixties, blah blah blah the Arts Labs, blah blah blah poetry readings, the magazines" and after I talked to them about how we used to do things back in the 1960s, 1970s, a couple of them said "Well, we should do a magazine." And so they worked and put out this small community youth magazine called OVR2U in the text-messaging mode. I kind of helped out and wrote a little comic strip for it and did an interview and a tail-piece for it that went down very well with the, oh, 12 or 13-year-old target audience. It seemed to speak to them in their own language, and at that point I suggested to Lucy that maybe we could directly address the problems they have in their neighbourhood. Lucy agreed, saying her organization was committed to informing and supporting the community, and there were things they weren't telling the community. They weren't really fulfilling their brief, so I did a little bit of research and wrote a very short article called "The Destructor." It was based upon the Borough waste destructor chimney tower in the neighbourhood that I grew up in. It used to turn the sky black over the entire area. It was where all the waste product of the town was brought for burning. The psychological message was not lost on the local inhabitants: this was the area where all of the town's rubbish was brought when people could no longer bear to look at it anymore, and that included the people.
It's almost Victorian.
Yes, the Destructor is long gone. It was pulled down in the 1930s, but the message is still there. It's still the area where the most vulnerable and deprived and helpless people are crammed, often into accommodation that, in one case, is actually condemned by the fire services. This is illegal. And I mentioned a couple of things, like the fact that Northampton Council, while shoving vulnerable people into firetraps, had spent something like £32 million in three years on consultants, people who charge hundreds of thousands of pounds to make your letterhead more dynamic. So I wrote this short article, and Lucy was then told that we could not publish it because it was critical of the Council.
Well, we'd kind of anticipated that and we talked about publishing an underground magazine. A truly underground magazine. And having just got out of a comic industry that is famous for its bullying, and which had disastrously tried to bully me on various occasions, I really wasn't prepared to put up with that. I asked Lucy how much she made a month and, as I guessed, it wasn't very much. Since I am a little bit flush at the moment, I said that I could guarantee her wages for six months and she could work full-time on this new magazine. That was how it all started.
So when did this go down, a year ago or less?
Lucy finished work on September the first. We went into all this with a real surge of energy. Admittedly, we had about a month before Lucy quit work so that we could hit the ground running. But the whole of "Dodgem Logic," as we decided to call it, has come together incredibly swiftly. We started work on it towards the beginning of August in earnest. So it's been, what, two-and-a-half-months, something like that?
If I sound a bit weary, it's because today I've just finished proofreading the bloody thing. I come from a generation where even though I was expelled from school at the age of seventeen, my literary standards are much, much higher than the younger people I'm working with, who've had an even more scattered and incoherent education. So yeah, I get to do the proofreading. It's going to press tomorrow or Monday. It looks lovely. Our baby looks, I wouldn't say normal, it's got its fingers and toes, I think it looks very appealing.
Whose idea was it to call it "Dodgem Logic?" it has a kind of British boy's weekly comics magazine feel about it.
That all came from me. We were discussing ideas for the name, and I came up with a couple of nonstarters that didn't really feel right. And then I remembered that back in 1975, when I was 22, still a man in the bloom of my youth, that I'd been trying to get a fanzine together. This was called "Dodgem Logic." And I was far too disorganized as a young man to actually complete the project. I'd interviewed the divine Brian Eno, and he incredibly generously sent back a 10-page list of answers to my questions. And then I never got the magazine out. I'd spent all the rest of my time working on the front cover. It was a disaster. I was a feckless human being at the age of 22, as I suspect many people of that age tend to be. I did manage a couple of years ago to apologise face-to-face on radio to Brian Eno.
Was this on BBC Radio 4's "Chain Reaction?"
Yes. We sat face-to-face, and I apologized for him having spent all his time doing this interview when he could have been recording another genius track, and then I hadn't published it. He was very genial about it. He called me a bastard in a genial way. So who knows, if I can find the interview, I might still get to publish it in a future issue of "Dodgem Logic." Then I could feel that I've lifted the karmic burden off my back.
Anyway, all that was left of that magazine was a front cover. It was basically adapted from an ancient British children's comic called "Golden." I adapted, modified it, and that was the basic framework. It looked kind of cute. So we decided that, for the first issue of "Dodgem Logic," we'd retain that basic banner headline and the strip down the left-hand side from my original drawing. We'd actually put some decent artwork on the cover in the form of a beautiful digital image by a local artist named Tamara Rogers. I'd seen some of her work locally, and I thought it was amazing the way that it turned a mundane landscape into something magical. So, she created a cover for the first issue, a picture of All Saints Church sinking into the waves. It's oddly appropriate. It works very well. Then the rest of the magazine just coagulated around the name, really. I have to say, even back in 1975, I had no idea what it meant. It just sounded evocative and rolled off the tongue nicely. Since then, I've come to realize it could mean a lot of things. Perhaps therein lies its sense. It seemed to suggest a new line of thinking, perhaps, or is a bit more chaotic and haphazard in its approach, which is kind of fun as well. The tagline on our first issue's cover says "Colliding new ideas to see what happens," which I think is fairly decent summary of our basic agenda. Aggressive randomness, I think, is the philosophy behind "Dodgem Logic." We didn't' want to make this a retro-1960s underground magazine. We wanted to do an underground magazine that had the spirit the underground press had in the 1960s and early 1970s, but we wanted to do something that was appropriate to today, that wasn't an exercise in nostalgia. By asking such a wide variety of people to contribute, I think we've successfully avoided that. I think we've got something that doesn't look like a 1960s underground magazine. It doesn't look like anything else that I"ve seen around in terms of present-day periodicals. It looks very odd. It's an appealing mishmash of lots and lots of different things.
We have practical advice columns. With the state Britain's in at the moment, people could use that. These include recipes that are wholesome, nutritious, incredibly tasty, and above all, cheap, by a local Carribbean lady, Wendy Jarret, who specializes in wonderful cheap, easy food. We've got a two-page column called "The Spinning Doctors," a rotating panel of medical professionals writing under assumed names, as are many of our contributors. They are offering medical advice, talking about medical issues, there's a connection to them on our website, which will be up in about a month's time, so that people can actually address medical questions straight to them, especially with the National Health Service being imperiled in the way it currently is. We've got an environmental columnist, Dave Hamilton, who co-wrote "The Self-Sufficient-ish Bible" for one of the big British publishers (Hodder & Stoughton), a very weighty tome on how to be self-sufficient-ish. He contributes a column that in the first issue is dealing with an experiment that he undertook in living without money for six weeks. That's something that people could use. They need to know that at the moment. We've got future articles coming up with the squatters' movement, because people have been having their homes repossessed at a staggering rate, and there are buildings standing around empty. People should know what their rights are. These are things people ought to know about, practical issues for getting through the Recession. We've got the lovely Tamsyn Payne, who designed my and Melinda's wedding gear. She's going to be doing a column that tells you how to make clothing for next-to-nothing, often out of old clothing.
We've got a rotating woman's column – not a column for a rotating woman – where we don't have a single person doing it month after month. We try to avoid getting that limited view where you got one woman having to speak for all women. We have a rotating column where we get all different sorts of women to speak about the way they see their position in the world, the way they see what's going on. Kicking off the column, we've got Melinda (Gebbie), who's going to be writing a piece on where Feminism went wrong, which is very spirited and contentious. That's giving it a rousing start. I myself contribute a six-page lead feature on the history of underground publishing since the 13th Century, which I was surprised by because I always assumed that underground publishing couldn't go back further than 1485 and the Guttenburg Bible. But since ‘publishing' just means ‘making public', it turns out that John Wycliffe's revolution in the 14th Century was supported by hand-written tracts that were just passed from person to person, and the same had been true in people trying to get support for causes as far back as the 1200s. I try to give a fairly comprehensive article that gets you all the way up to the French Revolution, the English Civil War and the 19th Century, and the proto-underground publications including things like Tijuana Bibles, which somehow went into this mix with things like Emma Goldman's "Mother Earth" magazine, which I think was the first anarchist underground publication of the 20th Century. So yeah, I try to cover all of this and of course the underground movement of the Sixties and Seventies, the Punk fanzines, the mid-70s, and it all pretty much petered out after that. Most of it has moved to the web, but that does not provide the same function as a magazine you can hold in your hands.
Yeah. It's difficult to see a truly underground publication appearing on the web. It may just be that I have a very strong print bias, but we will have a website, which will be either www.dodgemlogic.com or www.dodgemlogic.co.uk or both, but since I'm completely unfamiliar with the web and will never visit the site, I'm afraid I don't know the technical details at the moment. It'll all become plain, I'm sure.
Like I say, that'll be opening up in a few weeks. It was looking interesting, the few bits I was shown of it. What else have we got…? Oh, I've done my first piece of underground cartooning for about 25 years.
I picked up my rapidograph and I've done a page of the usual kind of stripling. I think my drawing's improved. It's a very Robert Williams-influenced piece. You'll understand what I mean when you see it. It was just the way the rapidograph was going. Comic strips are not unrepresented. We also got underground legend Savage Pencil, who I worked with when I was back working at "Sounds" at the beginning of my career. We've got him doing a brilliant page. And my old mate Kevin O'Neill has turned in this page… I couldn't even begin to tell you what it is. It looks like it's probably sexual, but Christ knows. It's just what you'd expect with Kevin. It's beautifully-drawn madness. You can see why the Comics Code banned even his general drawing style. He's certainly risen to the challenge. He sent a note with the page saying "Mother of mercy, will somebody please not help me!" After looking at it, I can see what he meant.
So we got a lovely little story by Steve Aylett to commemorate the anniversary of the moon landing that is called "If Armstrong was interesting." It's basically a kind of prose poem dwelling on what the possibilities could have been if Neil Armstrong had indeed been interesting. We wanted to have a lot of stuff in there that is funny. Because as well as giving people practical support in getting through these difficult times, we wanted to give them emotional support as well. A few good jokes, some pretty pictures, we have Alex Musson from "Mustard" magazine curating a couple of pages, which is a newspaper called "The Daily Mustard." We have got the wonderful Josie Long (comedienne and writer for shows like "Skins") doing a regular two-page column which she endearingly hand-letters and draws herself. The first one is a two-page essay on Love, which includes some of Josie's pie graphs relating to love, and boys that she has told she loved, and what percentage of them where she meant it, and what percentage she didn't and what kind of grey area where she kind of meant it and then it went wrong. We've got Graham Linehan, the writer of "Father Ted" and "The IT Crowd," contributing a short piece. I told everybody, "Write whatever you want," and Graham wanted to write about Twitter, but that's the thing with Anarchy – you never know what you're going to get.
We've got a wonderful six-page article at the end by a wonderful local fanzine writer named Gary Ingham, who is giving a context for Northampton music since 1957 to give people a bit of a hand in dealing with the free CD that we give away with the first issue, which is called "A Nation of Saints," which is approximately 50 years of Northampton music. I've heard the test-pressing of it. It sounds great. I was originally thinking it was going to sound a bit of a hodge-podge, because local music is so diverse. I thought it would probably sound like a well-meaning hodge-podge at least, but it sounds like a really good album. It is staggeringly diverse, 74 minutes long, 21 tracks ranging from up-to-the-minute local bands, some of whom won't have their first album out for a year, right the way back to skiffle, early Rock & Roll with Freddie Fingers Lee, a Northampton luminary of the 60s and 70s. There are so many different tracks on there. I do a track on there with my songwriting partner, Downtown Joe Brown, and the contemporary Northampton band, The Retro Spankees. We kicked off the album with that, because I'm the publisher and I can do what I want. We end the album with a track that got sent over by my good friend David Jay. All the Bauhaus stuff and Dave's solo stuff was tied up contractually, but Dave had got a demo tape of a very nostalgic song that he'd written about growing up in Northampton, called "Two Thousand Light Years from Gold Street." So that closes the album very appropriately.
Yeah, there's all of that, and a lot of columns that I probably forgot to mention. There's an 8-page insert section in the middle which is purely local news and reviews. This is so that other regions, if they want, can produce a regional edition by simply substituting their own 8-page insert. I don't know what the pick-up on that will be, but it's an idea that has some potential as a way of spreading the magazine's ethos around.
So we're looking at the possibility of a London edition, a Manchester edition, a Glasgow edition like The Big Issue does?
Yes, if people want it. Gratifyingly, we did hear that England's first underground paper, IT, "The International Times," is coming back in print form. So it is very much a case of "you wait for 40 years for a good underground paper, and two come along at once." It seems to have been very well-received. I get the feeling that people have been waiting for something like this, and this might be the time to do it. I know that this sounds irrational, given that most of the bigger print newspapers are having serious trouble at the moment and are going under because only their online editions are any way profitable. So I guess that bringing out a print magazine in the current climate seems a bit counter-intuitive, but that's not the reaction that we seem to be getting. People who can remember the Underground seem to have missed it, and the younger generation have never seen it before and seem to be quite fascinated by the idea. It's linking up a lot of disparate ideas into a gigantic cultural milkshake. It seems to be very palatable. I think the response seems to indicate that people have a thirst for this type of publication.
It could be because people are trusting the mainstream less and less, because the mainstream, in terms of newspapers and TV, are getting more homogenized and corporate-owned, and I think people, especially in Britain, can sense this when the economy is screwing them over specifically because of economic and political policies, so they're looking for something outside the mainstream that will address them.
Well, also, it struck me that forty years ago, it was only wide-eyed, long-haired anarchist lunatics who would seriously put forward the kinds of arguments and opinions that were prevalent in the underground press at the time. The idea that, say, the police sometimes killed people, the idea that governments sometimes conspired against their people or against their people's best interests. These ideas, which were incredibly radical forty years ago, are now commonplace. They're now common amonst the young. In the first issue, in the local section, we're talking about some recent marches that had taken place because, with the cuts that are looming on the horizon, the Council, predictably, are trying to make those cuts in the poorest and most vulnerable areas in the community, the ones least able to fight back, the old people. Like trying to take away the wardens in sheltered housing accommodation. Many of those old people elected to go into those accommodations because they have wardens. At the demonstration, there was one incredibly old man whose name is Fred O'Donnell. He was a Second World War veteran, he'd been in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, he had his prisoner transport ship torpedoed from under him, and had taken up sheltered accommodation with his wife when looking after her Alzheimer's with his failing eyesight. It had become difficult, and then, after she passed away, he needed wardens who could make phone calls for him or could read his letters for him. Anyway, he'd taken part in this protest march, and he's from a generation who would once have poured scorn upon the idea of protest marches, but it's an indicator of how desperate the times are when people of all ages and all ranks of society are prepared to take to the streets in order to preserve their liberties. I think the ethos of the underground press is now almost mainstream, which suggests it might have a much wider application this time round. That's the kind of theory we're winging it on anyway, and like I said, it's going pretty well so far.
And you're also doing the tradition British kid's magazine thing of giving freebies away.
Yes, whenever we can. I always thought that was what's charming about British kid's comics. Free stuff is cool.
So, when we can give free stuff to the readers, we'll certainly do that. We've got some interesting stuff coming up in "Dodgem Logic." The second issue will feature Melinda doing a lead article about Burlesque, both her memories of Burlesque as it used to be, and her experiences with the post-Dita von Teese New Wave, which we have some marvelous exponents of here in Northampton. We're setting up a photoshoot with the brilliant Mitch Jenkins, who is currently working with me on the huge "Unearthing" multimedia project that will be coming out sometime next year from a mixture of Top Shelf and Lex Records. Mitch is one of the most in-demand photographers in the world. I've been friends with Mitch for ages, so we're setting up a photoshoot with some of the local Burlesque ladies to accompany Melinda's article, and that will be the cover and photospread of issue 2. And for issue 3, we've got Gorillaz.
The band Gorillaz?
Well, we'd met up to talk about various things, here in Northampton, regarding the possibility of working together. And in a shameless quid pro quo kind of arrangement, Damon [Albarn] and Jamie [Hewlett] are doing something for issue 3 of "Dodgem Logic." We've got Stewart Lee, who I spoke to yesterday, and he said he'd love to do something for us. Again, like I said, we've only been doing this for a couple of months, and it seems to be snowballing quite interestingly. I'm planning a four-page strip. I've got a bit ambitious after doing that one-pager for the first issue, so I'm doing a four-pager for the second issue. It's nice. It really does feel like I'm returning to a place I'm very familiar with and very comfortable with, to the Underground, to cartooning. You know, that was where I started out and that was where I always wanted to be. My comics writing career was always a bit of a diversion. It's a very profitable and a very enjoyable one, of course, but it was something that I did because I couldn't cut it as an underground cartoonist or [the] underground figure I wanted to be, mainly because when I started, the Underground had all but vanished. Now this is my attempt to actually revive some of that energy and have the fun now that I probably missed out on back then.
And you're also dealing with a lot of contemporary stuff directly now, which I think a lot of people have missed, as much as everyone liked "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "Lost Girls."
Well, it was a temporary omission at best. With the current "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," which I'm currently writing the last three pages of, I'm setting [the story] in 2009, so there are lots and lots of contemporary references in there, which people might find entertaining. Yeah, you're right, with something with "Dodgem Logic," it does bring me right into the modern world.
Well, the things you had been doing in the modern world in the last few years had been outside the eye of the comics-reading public, since you had been doing local activism.
And writing this interminable novel, which I'll be getting back to in a month's time. Yeah, I understand that. And it gives people a very cheap dose of my work every month. The cheapness should be stressed. This is priced at £2.50 which should be the price of an ordinary comic these days. What are the prices of comics these days?
I think the price of an ordinary comic is getting close to three quid…
We've got 48 pages, no ads… well, we've got one ad that we do for free for people that we like. Otherwise it's 48 pages of pure content by some really interesting people for a disgracefully low price.
Recession prices. Is Tony at Knockabout going to offer a subscription for it?
We decided to get to issue 3 and see how it's going. I mean, there's a possibility that nobody might be interested in this thing at all, in which case we might not continue with it if it was a completely hopeless task. I don't think it will be. I imagine by issue 3 we can start offering subscriptions. Tony is going to be publishing this, at least nominally. He's providing a wonderful service. Tony used to distribute "OZ" and "IT" back in the '60s and '70s, so he's got a marvelous pedigree. All round, it's looking pretty good. I'd probably be more forthcoming if I hadn't spent all day proofreading the bloody thing, so I'm a bit sick of it at the moment. My joie de vivre will no doubt revive in an hour or two.
I think you've been more than forthcoming. I think you've given as full a picture as anyone's going to get at this point, so it should dispel any confusion or questions anyone has about the magazine.
I hope so, and if they have any lingering queries, then they won't have to wait long to have them answered, I'm sure.
"Dodgem Logic" #1 will be published by Knockabout Comix in November, and available in the US via Top Shelf