Alan Moore Interview

Mon, October 22nd, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Brad Stone, Contributing Writer

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Alan Moore. If you've been collecting comics for longer than 2 weeks and haven't heard the name you're obviously going to the wrong comic shop.

This past weekend Alan Moore's "From Hell," created with artist Eddie Campbell, debuted on the silver screen in North America, taking the #1 position at the box office. In an interview with Brad Stone at Newsweek.MSNBC.com Moore discussed his feelings and reaction to the big screen version of "From Hell" and the construction of the story which involves conspiracy, intrigue and obviously, murder.

In the second part of the interview found below, Stone, with the help of Jennifer Granick, continues his conversation with Moore discussing how he entered comics, his thoughts on early works like "V for Vendetta" and "Watchmen," what the future holds for fans of his America's Best Comics line and when he became fascinated with magic.

Why did you decide to go into comic books and become a comic writer?

[Jennifer Granick, Alan Moore and Brad Stone]
(L - R) Jennifer Granick, Alan Moore
and Brad Stone
I was starving. I've always liked comic books. Since I as 6 or 7. I'd discovered American comic books at age 7. I later came to appreciate comics as an art form, and realized that even with glorious exceptions like Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtz, this was a field that was still largely untouched. . Its great work still lay in the future at that point.

And I was working for a subcontractor to the gas board. Miserable office job. This was in the late 70s. I'd been through a series of fairly miserable jobs after my hurried removal from the grammar school that I was in.

Why were you expelled?

I was dealing acid. It was 60s. I was a 17 year old boy. Dealing it at school was a lot better than plan A, which was dumping it in the water supply. They should have taken that into consideration. The thing is, the headmaster didn't really share my sense of fun of the incident. And he not only expelled me from school, but he went to all of the further education colleges, universities and art schools, he wrote to them and told them that I was a creeping cancer on the morals of all of his pupils and they shouldn't take me on. And then of course when I started to try for jobs, they wanted a reference from a school. Pretty much from the age of 17 he wanted to make sure that I never did anything again for the rest of my life. Which seems a little harsh for a 17 year old. Okay, so I was a sociopathic 17 year old.

Where is he now? Has he stuck around long enough to see your success?

He hung himself. A few months later. I had nothing to do with that.

But so yeah, that was the backbreaker, the termination of my school career which didn't really leave me with a lot of choices. The only jobs I could get were the only jobs anyone could get even with a prison record. You know, job listing in the yards, or cleaner of a hotel. And then get a precarious foothold on office jobs, which were lowly pay but were at least indoors. You know… and then coming to the age of about 24, something like that, I had got a wife. And I was thinking well, I've always wanted to do something creative in my life , like writing. And I thought, well if I don't do it now, I'm just going to find myself in these miserable jobs when I'm 50, with a lot of regrets. And that terrified me. so I decided I was going to quit the job and just try to make a genuine go of at it as an artist. As soon as I quit the job my wife announced the test were back and they were positive and we got a baby on the way. At which point, I had a decision: give up a secure job, and throw yourself into this terrible insecurity with an infant on the way. On the other and I realized that once the baby had arrived and was staring at me with those big hungry eyes that I'd never have the nerve to quit the job. And so then they offered me the job back, I said no, I'll leave.

Then I spent about a year at the tender mercies of the British social security system. And then finally I managed to get a job doing a half page weekly comic strip in one of the British newspapers. Then I was working at drawing, thinking I still had delusions of adequacy as an artist. I was doing a little gag strip in one of the local papers in Northampton. Which netted me about two pounds more a week than I was earning from the social security. That was a good excuse to make an honest man of myself. And slowly I realized that I couldn't draw very well, or couldn't draw quickly enough to make a living out of it. but that I had learned a certain kind of authority with actually telling a story in pictures. So I got in touch with a friend of mine, Steve Moore, no relation, who has been a comic writer since he was about 16 or 17. And I got him to tell me how to lay out the basic script, how to arrange it. and sent in a few scripts to British Marvel, 2000 A.D. magazine, and it started from there and more or less continued.

What are your thoughts today on some of early works - V for Vendetta. Swamp Thing. Watchmen. Is that something you like to return to and read every now and then?

[V for Vendetta]I'm very proud of those works. I was a lot younger.. At least I said things I believed in. So I'm proud of that. V for vendetta. That was one of the strips where I was first working with David Lloyd and started to realize a lot of the possibilities about telling a story. That was very stripped down. David insisted on no thought-balloons, no sound-effects. Which at the time seemed like an imposition. But after we started doing it, I thought this makes it much more naturalistic, more credible. Swamp Thing, there were some issues that are better than others. But there were some very good ones.

After Watchmen, Miraclemen - you said you had taken the Super Hero genre as far as it could go.

I say a lot of strange things you know. I think what I said after Watchmen and that, was that I no longer felt the super hero form was really the best way to tell important meaningful stories. That if I wanted to do a story on the environment, I think it would be better without the swamp monster in it, if I wanted to do a story about politics, it would be better not to have a bunch of superheroes in it. I believe that the superhero icon still has a valuable power in it. It kind of transformed my childhood. Its a talisman of the imagination.

They were powerful as a way of opening up rooms in my imagination when I was a child. They were very very valuable to me. And the fact that you can use them to tell allegorical stories or whatever, that doesn't mean you should. "Batman: The Killing Joke", which still sells, and I believe that it has been accepted that it was the main influence on the first Batman film, for what's that worth, is a terrible book. I mean, it doesn't say anything. Its talking about Batman and the Joker, and says that yes, psychologically Batman and the joker are mirror images of each other. So? You know. You're never going to meet somebody remotely like either of those two people. You're not going to meet people who have been driven mad in that way.

What were the Superheroes you were interested in growing up?

Almost any of them. You have to remember, in Northampton, Middle England, I was going up in an area called the Boroughs. It was also the poorest area of the town. Pretty grim. I liked it, but it was sort of bleak, Victorian housing. We had no bathroom. We had no indoor toilet. We did have electricity, which was more than my grandmother had. She had gas. Talking about it now it sounds a bit Dickensian, its such a different world. In that context of this, I was reading the English comics. But the English comics were about naughty schoolboys, were about things that were kind of familiar to me. that I wasn't really that interested in. Looking back at them I now realize what a great amount of fantastic work went into those.

But come the age of 7, I was kind of seduced by the Flash, Action Comics, Detective Comics. Because it didn't really matter that you had a guy that could run at super speed. That wasn't the thing. These were in color. And they were set in America. And not just America, but comic book America. Which I thought was probably sort of the real thing. Like if you remember those Carmine Infantino city scapes that used to be in the Flash back in the 60s. I now realize that there wasn't anywhere in America that looked like that at the time. It was like, almost a science fiction world with these immense tall buildings and you know. And it was in color. Whereas the English comics, the best of it being towns of red and pink. That was as good as it got

So that led you to create that fantastic world of your current comic titles, Tom Strong, Promethea, and Top Ten (all published by the America's Best Comics, a division of D.C. Comics.)

It was when I was talking about Carmine Infantino that I suddenly realized that in the early Flash comics, the beautiful supreme antiseptic plazas, these tall kinds of buildings that looked like cocktail glasses, that this was not real. This was vision on how America might be or should be. So I kind of decided when I was going to do the ABC books, that I'd have it all set in America but I'd go out of my way to make it an America that didn't exist. But which was kind of evocative and poignant, that people would wish that it was like that. So yeah, in Tom Strong, Millennium City, with all the cable cars, and bridges.

And what inspired you to do League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which teams up Victorian literary characters like Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo and Mina Harker from Dracula.)

]League of Extraordinary Gentlemen]I think its funny, not being able to have characters mentioned by name that weren't recorded throughout Victorian literature. That changed the book for me, it became a much more enjoyable proposition when I realized. I think as well when Nina, Mr. Hyde, in the Rue Morg, and I thought well this is fun… you can do stuff like that, mix up all these things. than I got all the pornographic characters in the second issue. Characters that shouldn't be together in the same book are. I don't know why that delights me so much. Its like you can run amok in this literary neighborhood and pull down all the picket fences between people's stories. So that you could have the Frankenstein monster turn up in the middle of Little Women. If that's what you fancy.

Most of the characters are very faithful to the originals. Alan Quartermain, I have his original stories. He is a coward. He's a coward and a braggart and he does have a penchant for drug abuse. Nemo, is a sort of a Sikh fanatic. Which you tend to forget when you seen him being played by James Mason. Or someone like that. You say oh yes he was a white guy. the whole point with Nemo is that he's a fanatical Sikh who's obviously a scientific genius and hates the British, understandably. It was kind of putting all these people together, I thought wouldn't that be fun, if you have these characters and put them together in a super hero team. And all right, we need a woman, there's supposed to be some genius woman in Sherlock Holmes. The only woman that Sherlock Holmes had time for. But she was a bit obscure. You know… so I thought, Mina Harker. We'll have her be changed by the events of Dracula and she's divorced Jonathan and she's become a Suffragette. And she also has that scarf…

There are some suggestions in the first volume of LoEG that she might be a vampire.

No, no I've got this thing. Her and Quartermain are obviously getting intimately involved. I want to have this scene where she takes off the scarf for the first time. And its not too neat little puncture marks. Its like from an actual vampire bat. The teeth are saw blades and they're not razor blades. They saw… with a slash [demonstrates]. Its as if you were holding two straight razors. They open up these huge wounds that they can then feed on. And I thought, you know, when Mina takes the scarf off, her entire throat is scar tissue. Its horrible. And she's ashamed of it. and sort of, she says, 'hardly the two little puncture marks of popular mythology'. And you know. I think that could be a really powerful scene. And kind of erotic in some peculiar way.

…She has seen it all , that's why she's dropped Jonathan [Harker]. Because Jonathan is such a milk sop, I mean, I'm going to have her say, when we find out why she is so traumatized. [Quartermain will say] Was it because of what that fiend did to you? And she says 'no, I loved him, and I helped them kill him.' And that's all she says about it.

Are you envisioning LOEG as a continuing series?

Yeah, the second book is all Mars Attacks. The first issue which Kevin has already done. It all takes place on Mars. The whole first issue takes place on Mars. It opens up with a close-up of a carpet, and you're pulling back. And then you realize there's someone standing on the carpet. And then you realize that the carpet isn't actually on the floor its floating in the air. And then you realize that its floating in the air over this canyon, with dust storms moving down it. And there's this figure of a flying carpet moving down this canyon with two moons. This is Gulliver Jones, warrior of Mars who got to Mars on a flying carpet in the original stories. And you have him going and meeting - well actually it's John Carter, but he's not out of copyright yet, so they don't use each other's names very much.

I knew a lot of the Martian stories. I thought you have John Carter on Mars, you have Gulliver Jones, you have Michael Morcock's "Mars" stories set on Mars. I've discounted one's set on mars after 1898. Because that's still in the future. I've dragged in CS Lewis race, the Thorns. They must have been on Mars at this time if they real. So I've got CS Lewis, Wells, Gulliver Jones and Malcolm Morcock.

Mars is really the Paris of that time. Everybody who is anybody is there.

Right, I thought all these races could have existed. H.G. Wells' Martians, they are not from Mars. They are from some other galaxy. And they tried to take over Mars but have been driven out by the combined Martian resistance. You know, and that's when they come to Earth. In the backup, where we have the text stories. I didn't want to do another pulp text story. I got a bit bored with the idea. What I did decide to do - we got the whole of the back of the book, at least in the first issue, its going through the world, country by country, and sort of says ostensibly, here are the files of this part of British intelligence that is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It actually goes back to the 17th century. When it talks about the 17th century, there are a group of agents known only as "Prospero's Men". And they were run by this Duke of Omnium who was apparently a kind sorcerer, and people in that group include Christian from A Pilgrim's Progress.

We've compiled from the notes of these various people, that all of their reports from the cases where they've been. We've compiled an almanac, it's the fictional world, it's the one that doesn't exist, and its quite exhaustive. Its an England where, there's a Vacaville Hall, there are lots of ruins from the Arthurian period, which was a real historical period. And I've got this quit moving description of the state of disrepair of Lancelot's tomb.

Then we go on through France and Europe. And America… Africa. Asia. And the polar regions. And I'm going to go through all this sort of reference books to find out more of the imaginary places, and trying to decide where some of them were. I'm going to have a reference to Conan.

Sounds like you have a great time doing this.

Lovely, yes.

How far along are you in writing the scripts?

Well I'm not very far ahead at anything cause I'm doing so many books. I'm on the second I just finished the first one.. were both about halfway through the second one. [Illustrator] Kevin [O'Neill] is taking a well deserved holiday for the moment and I'll probably get him some more pages when he gets back.

Tell us about the conception of "Top Ten" [an NYPD Blue-like story about a police department of super-heroes in a city where everyone has supernatural powers.]

[Top Ten]I remember being a kid in the early 60s. And Batman got a computer. He put in facts and got punch type. Mr. Fantastic, Man from Uncle, all these superheroes got computers. It was part of their super powers. Now everyone has computers. And soon we'll all be hovering, if forecasts are to be believed. Compared to where we were in 1960, we are all super heroes now, and we still can't solve our problems. We still have disasters even though we can sum up more computing power than even Isaac Asimov imagined. That's the appeal of Top 10. It's a fantastic city full of unbelievable people, what a modern urban city feels like.

I was a big fan of Homicide and NYPD Blue. And I was thinking about [comics about] superhero groups, why they don't work. But Steven Bocho seems to be able to handle huge casts of characters very well. So I was thinking it through. Why don't groups work? Hill Street Blues works. So what if you could have a superhero cop book - at that point the light came on. It can be really funny and you can talk about stuff you cant talk about in super hero books. Like the prejudice against robots. Joe Pi [a police robot] - I'm really pleased with him. It's fun playing against type.

In the next chapter, if there is one, they'll go to Tin Town. The robots are all wearing cogs around their neck. And we have Malcolm Ten as a robot with his own ideas on how machines are treated, and saying to Joe Pie, aren't you selling out your brothers?

What are the obstacles to producing more Top Ten?

Well Jim Lee's Wildstorm was bought by DC. It's always precarious. I don't work in harness, I'm obviously a valuable commodity in the comics world. If I start to feel squeezed, I rise up spitting black blood with snakes coming out of my mouth. I'm potentially explosive. I don't trust em. Anytime something could drop and offend me enough to pull the plug. I won't want to do it forever. But another 12 issues of top 10? You can't stop the thoughts and ideas from occurring. I want to find a way to get them out of my system.

And how about your other super hero title, Tom Strong?

[Tom Strong]I wanted to do something sweet. It's lazy writing. Something about simplicity which seems to be what people enjoy. Surprisingly, I keep getting these bravery letters for putting in an interracial marriage. There aren't many mixed relations in comics. Since 1939, apart from the X-men, which was ambiguous, it hasn't happened. I hadn't thought about that. How shameful that is. How backward this medium is.

So the other title that seems to be very close to your heart is Promethea [which explores Moore's own fascination with magic and the land where ideas and myths take shape.]

Yes it's a thinly disguised magical rant, that you know you know that just happens to look a bit like a comic book. I'm really enjoying that.

Why'd you come full circle back to super heroes?

Well I'd been away from mainstream comics for quite a while. I've got no idea what the audience is like. And the Image Comics people were very keen for me to work for them. And since I've already said I wasn't going to work for DC and Marvel…

They are very honorable people like Jim Valentino (Shadowlink Inc.), Jim Lee (Image Comics)… the thing that basically they said, would you like to do some comics for us. I said yeah, you know.. just to see if I can do it. I looked at some of these comics. I thought, there's no story. There's no character. I've been away for five years, and comics have turned into some bizarre super steroid mutant hybrid that I've got no familiarity with at all. and the artists all seem to demand all big full page panels every 2, 3 pages so they can show off their skills. You know… So I spent a long time trying to work out what the audience wanted, what this new audience wanted, what would please them. This was completely stupid. I mean, I must have somehow misplaced my arrogance. Because actually its not my job to work out what they want. Its my job to tell them what they want. And once I remembered that, I felt you know, I was doing the "1963" stuff, which I did have a lot of fun with. But it wasn't too serious, groundbreaking. Then I kind of drifted into doing some of the "Supreme" stuff. Which was fun.

My conception of magic was always as a black art, manipulating reality. And you've introduced the concept of it as being sort of an idea realm, where ideas have life and gods are real.

There is a certain amount of darkness in magic but there is much more radiance and light. And it is purely about the world of ideas.

What sparked your own interest in magic?

The thing that turned me towards magic was a panel in From Hell where William Gull was saying something to the effect that the human mind is one place where all of the gods and monsters in human mythology are arguably real, in all of their grandeur and monstrosity. And after writing I thought, oh shit, that's true. Now I am going to have to rearrange my entire life around this. There is no way to disprove it. I thought I was writing this great piece of Gothic villain dialogue. The gods and monsters inarguably exist and they are real. Because if they don't exist how many people died because of them, or how many history changing things have been done in the name of these Gods that don't exist? If they don't exist why do they kill so many of us in their name? So at that point, it was just before my 40th birthday. I thought, well I could have a mid-life crisis and just bore everybody to death by going on about, what's it all about, what does it all mean? Or I could sort of just go spectacularly mad, which would at least be more entertaining for those around me. And more worrying. And that's good as well. Because I've started to run out of ways of worrying people. You should have seen the look on their faces when I said, I think I'll become a magician. Half of them were frightened because they thought id probably gone mad, and the other half were frightened in case I hadn't.

It seems to me that much of science doesn't like to even accept that there is anything going on inside our heads and wants to base it all upon hard proven laboratory things. But the mind is the only thing that we have any direct experience of. We don't perceive the world directly. We perceive our perception. We put together these weird jigsaw puzzles made from the light on our retina, the sound waves in our eardrums, the texture of our fingers. And moment by moment we are kind of compositing this together on some big screen that is reality. That is what we see. If we have a flaw in any of our perceptual systems than that will become part of our reality. I suppose magic was an attempt to kind of see if I could take my relationship with reality any further into any different areas.

 
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