Steve Rude, we’re informed at the start of this new documentary film, is bipolar. He is shown as both an enormously gifted, classically-trained artist (a term popular “cheesecake” “artist” Adam Hughes helpfully defines for us, revealing the ignorance that informed his earliest days as a would-be artist) and a rage-filled, troubled man who seems to have become more and more difficult to work with over the course of his career in comics, getting fewer and fewer assignments, and making life very hard on his long-suffering wife. (I may be unsympathetic, but every one of Rude’s run-ins with the law seems to find Rude squarely in the wrong and deserving of arrest or confinement.)
I was a Steve Rude fan from virtually the moment he entered the comics industry. I bought those first three black and white Nexus comics new off the stands and was blown away by both the story and the art. Did I understand then how Rude had assimilated the art styles of greats like Kirby and Toth? No. Did I detect the idiosyncratic and increasingly political subtexts in the writing of Mike Baron? Maybe a little, but give me a break, I was maybe 15 or 16 years old. Was I blown away by the idea that an independent, creator-owned comic book could also be an ass-kickingly joyous exploration of science fiction and superheroes? Oh, my, yes. Blown away I was.
But Nexus kind of blew away into the winds of history. There are creators these days that people of a certain age (like 48, ahem) remember and revere, like Rude, like Windsor-Smith or Paul Smith or countless others, but who have been out of the regular comics marketplace so long that they no longer have the same cachet they once did. That’s not at all to say their talents have diminished, just that after your first or second decade out of the industry spotlight, your audience diminishes, leaving only those with long memories, refined tastes and the hope that your favourite creators will someday get back in print and show why they were superstars in the first place.
That’s talked about a little bit here. Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics (the third or so publisher to have Nexus in its stable of titles) talks about how Rude has a nostalgic element in his art, the implication being that that is detrimental to sales. That’s echoed in the discussion of how DC was unhappy with Rude’s interpretation of Batman and Superman in the late-’90s World’s Finest miniseries. Meanwhile, readers like me ache to see a style rooted in the proud history of superhero comics artwork. Darwyn Cooke is another example of an artist who brings both nostalgia and vivid energy to his artwork, but after he signed onboard DC’s egregious, ethically bankrupt Before Watchmen mini-series, I decided to never again support any project Cooke is involved in, and sold off or threw out any remaining works of his in my house. That’s how strongly I personally feel about how wrongly DC has handled their responsibilities and obligations toward Alan Moore and their abuse of the original Watchmen contract.
Steve Rude is also shown to feel strongly about creator rights, talking firmly about a time when he resisted working for Marvel because of the way the publisher has mistreated Jack Kirby and his heirs. It’s one of two moments of lucidity the troubled Rude evinces in Rude Dude, the other being his advice to learn how to draw feet properly if you want to be a professional artist. Sadly, those rare moments of genuine insight are offset by ramblings and meanderings that are starkly at odds with the achingly beautiful Rude artwork lavishly displayed throughout the film.
Rude is trying to channel his art into the fine art world now, having apparently burned his last bridge in the comics industry. His wife bemoans the fact that Rude is overpricing his fine art efforts, probably out of a misguided sense that he can convert the big bucks comic art commission buyers are willing to pay (he seems to be keeping his family’s financial head above water via commissions of popular Marvel and DC characters, which painter Alex Ross points out the irony of) with the money fine art buyers might be willing to spend on a talented but virtually unknown fine art painter. There’s little likelihood that one can convert popularity with a moneyed, nostalgic subset of comic book fans into a lucrative fine art career in less than a decade, but it’s clear Rude thinks otherwise, with his insane claim that he will earn “billions” in the fine art world. Perhaps Rude has a list of fine artists who earned billions of dollars while still alive to enjoy it; I am unaware of a single one.
Here is a highly watchable film about a sadly deluded, madly talented artist who was once a superstar comic book creator, who by all rights should have been able to write his own ticket. If Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld earned millions for their junk comics, and let’s be frank, they were junk and nothing more, Rude should indeed have been able to make a similar fortune on the back of his truly incredible gift. But his temperament, I would even say his madness, based on the evidence of Rude Dude, has not only held him back, it’s been highly destructive to the lives of his family. My God, look how miserable his wife is. Don’t listen to her words, look in her eyes.
The final info cards as the film plays out inform us Rude is better now. I hope so, because the guy in this film is mentally ill and hurting more than just himself through his self-destructive, arrogant and irrational behaviour.
I had forgotten one thing about Rude’s career that the film helpfully reminded me of. While Rude was angry once about the way Marvel treated Jack Kirby, one of the final info cards at the end of the film informs us Rude returned to DC Comics recently to work on Before Watchmen.
Seriously? Fuck you, Dude.
A copy of the film was provided for the purpose of review.
Good: Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue are proven, veteran actors who can more than carry a series like this together.
Bad: Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock is one-dimensional and irredeemably corrupt. Nothing less than a ret-conning away of material in the pilot can fix this, and it’s a huge problem in terms of the long term viability of the series.
Good: The relationship between Bruce and Alfred.
Bad: The actor playing young Bruce Wayne does not seem capable of pulling this off.
Good: The inclusion of Selina Kyle in the alley during the murder of the Waynes.
Bad: The rote, pedestrian depiction of the key moment in Bruce Wayne’s life. We’ve seen this moment a thousand times in the comics, on TV and in the movies, and every single one of those times was more moving and dramatic than this.
Good: For the first time, I kind of like The Penguin. Batman’s gallery of rogues has always been the most off-putting thing about Batman stories to me, but this depiction of Oswald Cobblepot actually worked for me.
Bad: Poison Ivy, The Joker, Falcone, The Riddler — too many villains jammed into the pilot. It made it feel not so much like Ultimate Gotham as Heroes Reborn Gotham, a tiny universe created by the mind of a child populated almost entirely by superheroes and villains.
Good: The cinematography was pretty decent, reminding me of Dark City in some shots. I saw a criticism that the pilot looked like a ’70s cop show, and was actually looking forward to that, but it really doesn’t. It’s like a dream version of The Big Bad City, and while obviously done on the cheap, they clearly did the best with what they had.
The good: While far from perfect, based on the pilot I’ll give the next episode a shot.
The bad: I’m far from convinced I’ll be sticking through it for an entire season.
— Alan David Doane
Foreword by Christopher Allen
I’ve been reading Alan Moore-written comics for nearly 30 years, but it just occurs to me that for about the last 15 of those years, my understanding of Moore and his work has been aided immensely by knowing Alan David Doane. I don’t ever recall Alan calling himself an expert on Moore, but there is no question to me that he “gets” Moore in a special way, not just as an excellent, imaginative, groundbreaking writer, but as a professional plying his trade in an industry short on ethics, loyalty or honor. It’s enough just to read and enjoy Moore’s work, but there’s another level of appreciation when one understands him as a man of high standards, personally and professionally, and who expects others to meet those standards as well. I don’t think Alan David Doane is all that different in that regard, which can probably make either man tough to get on well with over a span of time.
What follows is not the longest interview of Moore’s career, not the juiciest or most revelatory, but it stands out to me as one of the better conversations of which Moore has taken part. It has been said that Moore is something of an easy interview in that one can feed him just a few questions and he will go on and on, and there’s a little of that here (note how Alan’s first question ends up with a Moore response that answers several more questions he had ready). But Alan is able to, with just enough sincere enthusiasm for the work, elicit a series of thoughtful responses from Moore on his creative process, his ambitions, and what he saw at the time as his legacy. For the past several years—after this interview—as the particular corner of the North American comics industry many think of as “mainstream” (i.e. superheroes and other sci-fi/fantasy genre titles from American publishers like DC and Marvel) continues to get darker and more cynical, with Moore largely distancing himself from it, so many interviews have tried to engage Moore in trash-talking about this or that creator or publisher. There really isn’t much of that in this interview, just an honest self-appraisal of a terrific writer and his accomplishments and the occasional regret, as he warms up to an interviewer who has not only done his homework but connects to the work in question on an evidently personal level. Enjoy it!
Introduction by Alan David Doane
The following interview was originally conducted in early 2004, as Alan Moore was releasing his first prose novel Voice of the Fire through Top Shelf Productions, his primary publisher these days in the United States. Although much has changed in the decade since I spoke to Moore by phone, the interview remains, I believe, a valuable document of his thoughts on his creative process, and on Voice of the Fire and From Hell, which I believed then and believe now represent two of Moore’s greatest creative accomplishments so far.
That’s not to denigrate Moore’s output over the past ten years; not at all. I enjoyed his Lovecraftian crime series Neonomicon (with artist Jacen Burrows) much more than some critics seemed to. I dug the hell out of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century and the companion Nemo volumes Moore produced in partnership with Kevin O’Neill (also published by Top Shelf). More than all that, though, I am absolutely on pins and needles awaiting Moore’s followup to Voice of the Fire, the forthcoming prose novel Jerusalem, because Voice of the Fire turned my brain inside-out and I have been waiting impatiently to revisit that peculiar sensation. It remains to be seen whether Moore can achieve the heights of Voice of the Fire’s mind-boggling breakthroughs, like the difficult but hugely rewarding first chapter, or the astonishment of the novel’s final pages, in which Moore performed an actual act of magic using no tools other than his intellect and the English language. Read the book and see if I’m wrong. I’m optimistic that Jerusalem will be an even more entertaining and impressive work, as Moore seems that rare talent that just keeps learning and growing throughout his career.
This interview is also interesting, in my opinion, for Moore’s thoughts on Miracleman. On the very day we recorded this interview, Neil Gaiman made an announcement regarding the future of the property, an announcement which only really came to fruition this year, as Marvel began an ambitious and so far fairly satisfying reprinting of Miracleman, Moore’s highest achievement in the superhero sub-genre. The new reissues, crediting Moore (at his request) as “The Original Writer,” feature the finest colouring and reproduction this work has seen outside of its original, glorious black and white iteration in the U.K.’s Warrior anthology.
Moore’s thoughts on Miracleman remain important, and the comic itself remains important, because it represents a collision of so very many elements: Creator rights (the legal issues over the property may never be truly untangled or understood, despite the fact that enough dogs stopped barking long enough for Marvel to get it back into print after over two decades out of print and in often-contentious legal limbo); additionally, the series contains work by a half-dozen or more of the most significant comics creators in the history of the medium, including Alans Moore and Davis, Garry Leach, John Totleben, Neil Gaiman, Mark Buckingham and more. The original U.S. run was published by Eclipse Comics during a wild era in independent comics publishing history that can only truly be appreciated if you were there to experience it, but suffice to say that low print runs on later issues of the series, plus one or two controversial issues have priced complete sets of the Eclipse series (in single issues or trade paperback form) outside the budget of all but the most determined and well-capitalized of collectors.
The text of this interview hasn’t been available online since 2004. Whether this is the first time you’ve read the piece that follows, or if you’re revisiting this discussion after reading it some time in the past, either way you have my thanks. My hour or so talking to Alan Moore was truly one of the highlights of my time writing about comics, and I am delighted to share it with you.
Alan David Doane: What made you attempt a novel of the scope of Voice of the Fire?
Alan Moore: Perhaps it was the fact I lived in Northampton all my life. Northampton “born and inbred,” as we say around here. I’ve always been fascinated by the town and it’s always seemed to me quite a paradox that the town should be so extraordinarily rich in its history, and yet be almost completely unknown. Most people in Britain know Northampton as a vague blur on the M-1 Motorway between London and Birmingham and yet, when I started to think about writing a book about the town, I began to research its history and found enough evidence, to at least convince me, that Northampton is, actually, the center of the entire cosmos.
It’s a very rich history. It stretches right the way back to the Stone Age, you know, there were mammoth hunters in Northampton way back then, when there were still mammoths. It went through the Bronze Age and the huge influx of Celts…through the Iron Age, the Roman invasion, and it’s just that it seems to be so central in many ways; not just geographically central to Great Britain, which it is, but also central in the fact that…for example: George Washington’s parents and Benjamin Franklin’s grandparents, or I may have that the wrong way around, but these were living at two little villages in Northamptonshire during the British Civil War. Washington’s parents were living [here], and Franklin’s parents were living in a place called Ekton. They fled Northampton after the British Civil War because the British Civil War was concluded in Northampton, it was probably quite a noisy place to be during the seventeenth century. And so they migrated to America and, as far as I can tell…the American flag is actually based upon the obscure Northamptonshire village crest.
Francis Crick, the guy who discovered DNA, lived in Northampton, went to the same school that I did, although, you know, several decades separate us, and [he] went to Sunday School at the bottom of my street here. Most of the history in Britain…the War Of The Roses was concluded in Northampton, the British Civil War, as I say, the Gunpowder Plot was plotted in Northampton. This was an attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament in 1605, which we still celebrate over here because we thought that it might have been a failure but they made a good fist of it. And Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded here and…it’s got a lot of history, I’m not saying it’s got a lot of nice history, but it seems that there was something very central to human life and certainly to English life and possibly beyond that.
And it was also born of the conviction that, yes, Northampton is the center of the cosmos. I truly believe that. I also believe that Northampton is nowhere special. I believe that anybody living anywhere upon the face of the globe, if they were to simply take the time and do the research, would find an incredible nest of wonders buried right where they were standing, right in their own backyard. I think that all too often, in the 21st Century, and throughout the 20th Century, we tend to spend our everyday existence walking along streets or driving along streets that we have no real understanding of, even if we see them every day, and they just become fairly meaningless and bleak blocks of concrete, whereas, if you happen to know that such-and-such a poet was incarcerated inside an asylum upon this street or that such-and-such a murder happened here or that such-and-such a fabulous, legendary queen is buried in this vicinity: all of these little stories, it makes the places that we live much richer if we have a knowledge of these things. All of a sudden, you’re not walking down mundane, dull, everyday streets anymore, you’re walking down fabulous avenues full of wonderful ideas and incredible stories. It just makes living a much richer experience if we can fully appreciate the part of the world that we are living in, and I suppose that is a very long winded answer to why I wrote Voice Of The Fire.
Yeah, you actually answered my first four questions.
Oh? [Laughs] Good going!
[Laughs] So, we’ll move on to number five here, then. I’m going to guess that in the creation of the stories in Voice of The Fire, as you did your research and as you put the narrative together that, probably, a few things surprised you that came of the book that you weren’t expecting when you set out.
There were a great many things that surprised me. One of the compacts I made with myself when I started the book was that this was going to be clearly labeled as a work of fiction because I wanted the freedom that you only get in fiction to speculate about people and their lives, because I thought that would make it more human and more immediate if I could actually get inside the heads of these historical voices that I was conjuring, and, yes, that, of course, requires fiction. But I wanted it to be fiction that was as closely based upon the actual facts and circumstances as was possible, so I set out with that in mind and found that certain motifs, certain themes, seemed to be emerging from the narrative.
It seemed that most of the stories, quite coincidentally, were set in my birthday month of November. It seemed that there were certain elements that were cropping up again and again in the various stories, enough to suggest a kind of theme or a motif. There were people with injured legs, people with completely severed legs, there were an awful lot of black, spectral dogs and severed heads and a number of other fairly alarming motifs of that nature. Now, the big gamble that I took in writing “Voice Of The Fire” was that I knew that if I was going to tell stories of these slices from Northampton’s history and I was going to do it as I planned in first person voices, where I was going actually to have a narrator that was a man or a woman of that period. Then, I realized that the last chapter was going to have to be about the present day and it was going to have to really be my voice that was telling the story. And if I was not going to simply invent things, then it needed to be my voice talking about my particular reality, whatever it was or happened to be, during the month or whatever that I was writing that final chapter, which, coincidentally, turned out to be November, and I launched into the last chapter not knowing whether I was going to be able to resolve all of these various threads and motifs that I had running through the book because if the town itself didn’t provide me with an ending, then I pretty much had wasted the last five years work and would have had to have given back my advance.
Photo artwork by Jose Villarubia
As it happened, quite eerily, there were a number of events that more than satisfied the various things that I needed to finish the novel satisfyingly, you know, things like severed heads and big black dogs, often in conjunction with each other. So, it was very eerie at times, not just surprising, but incredibly eerie. There are moments during a writer’s life, especially if he or she is dealing with something very close to home, if it’s getting a bit self-referential, that sometimes the borderlines between fiction and your actual reality can get dangerously blurred and, yeah, that happened more than once during the course of Voice Of The Fire. There were some very surprising things happening in the prose and there were some very surprising things happening in real life that, in some way, echoed or mirrored these. It was a very unusual experience.
That final chapter, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it was one of the most startling things that I’ve ever read in my life.
Well, thank you very much.
There’s a phrase in that chapter, and I think you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when I say, “The man types the words, ‘The man types the words.’”
The repeated phrase that will make no sense out of context, but when you read the book, it pulls together the hundreds of pages and thousands of years that you’ve been reading and basically puts you in the room with…you…Alan Moore.
Well, it actually, hopefully, kind of puts you not only in the room with me, but in me. I really kind of was trying to draw everything together in that last chapter. I wanted to draw my life and my consciousness and the consciousness of the readers and all of this fiction that I’d been writing; I wanted to draw it all together and…I mean, up until that point, you could be mistaken for thinking that Voice Of The Fire was a series of very vaguely connected short stories with a common theme of Northampton. In the last chapter, it turns out, and this was as much a surprise to me as anybody, I assure you, to be about me, sitting, writing this novel and about the process of writing itself as much as anything. Yeah, it…well, I’m glad that that was your reaction to that particular phrase, because it gave me a mild tingle as I typed it. I thought, “This is getting spooky. We’re into some interesting territory here.”
The tingle that I experienced was not mild, I’ll just put it that way.
Well, thank you.
As I say, startling. You know, I had read your earlier graphic novel, From Hell, and there were certain points along the line in that story where I really thought that you had crossed a barrier between author and reader that had never been crossed before in anything I had read…
That is fantastic…
And the effect in Voice Of The Fire, I’m not sure which came first, but it seemed magnified one-hundredfold from the moments in From Hell that were like that where you really, as you say, entered the mind of the author into that final chapter of Voice Of The Fire where, you know, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that’s absolutely right, basically, the reader becomes Alan Moore in every way that matters.
Well, I mean, one of the things that I think maybe helps with that effect in that last chapter is the fact that, for largely instinctive reasons that I don’t fully understand myself, I do not use the words “I” or “me” or “my” anywhere during that final chapter. It’s a first person narrative without a first person. Somehow, that seems…I don’t know whether this was the effect, but that kind of leaves a space in the middle of the narrative that the reader can fit snugly into without being constantly reminded that this is a different “I” that’s talking. Yeah, it was a…like I say, I don’t really thoroughly understand my own processes but it seemed to work and that is fantastic; I’m really gratified by that response.
One of the things that binds both From Hell and Voice Of The Fire is that…I mean, I started both of them probably around the same time, although there was maybe a couple of years between the start of From Hell and the start of Voice Of The Fire, but one thing that they have in common is that, halfway through both books, I actually decided to become a magician and to begin a serious and practical study of the occult. And this was partly connected with certain parts of From Hell, where we were getting into some of William Gull’s beliefs about the nature of gods and, I mean, originally I was just writing these balloons as dialogue just to fill a panel, you know, to fill a page, but I wrote something about the only place that gods, inarguably, exist is in the human mind where they are real in all their grandeur and monstrosity. Which sounded like a nice ringing little line that filled a word balloon and then I sort of stopped and thought about it and actually realized that by complete mistake, by complete accident, I’d written something true, that I couldn’t actually think my way around and that was the beginning of a train of thought which, as I say, lead me to a very serious immersion in, what I suppose would largely be referred to as, magic.
And this certainly colored the ending of From Hell and it certainly colored the ending of Voice Of The Fire. I mean, with Voice Of The Fire, that was another surprise. I had started the first story and had it focused around a local witch doctor who was attempting to create a kind of a song line, a line of words, a memory aid, that would fix the position of his settlement in people’s minds. And by the end of the book, I suddenly realized I was the local witch doctor who was trying to do exactly the same thing, although I hasten to add that my way didn’t actually involve any ritual child sacrifice, so nobody needs to write in, you know…
The theme of From Hell, the theme that I took away from From Hell, which, unfortunately, I don’t think translated into the movie that was produced from the book…
I didn’t see the movie, so you’re ahead of me there…
Yeah, well, it probably would be impossible to capture the nuances of a six hundred page graphic novel in two hours of any movie, but — the thing that came through for me from the book was the transformative power of art to transform the artist and to bring power to the artist, to sort of unfold the secrets of the universe, or his own personal universe at any rate, and I thought that, again, that is a theme…the two books seem linked whether intentionally or not because it seems that that theme is kind of…resonates at the end of Voice Of The Fire.
Well, I think that that’s true. In both of those books, you know, my relationship with magical thinking gave me a kind of different relationship to the world around me, or at least a different way of seeing it, and that is probably as much as you could claim of magic; it gives you a different way of seeing the world that is hopefully more useful. And I think that part of it was that this also gave me a different view of history and of the human experience. And with From Hell, I think that part of my reasoning, part of my wanting to do a book about a murder in the first place…this was before I’d even decided that it would be the Whitechapel murders. Luckily, very, very few of us murder or are murdered. Murder, as an event, is an incredibly rarefied human situation. However, it is a human situation and it’s the human condition in extremis, if you like.
And I thought that it might be possible to examine a murder in a different way to the way that murder is examined usually. It struck me that it might be possible to put aside the standard “whodunnit” notions, which I think, thanks to a lot of lady British crime novelists, there’s been a movement in a lot of detective fiction and some crime fiction, to make murder into a kind of middle class parlor game, almost like Clue, where once you know who did it, where they did it, and whether they did it with the lead pipe or the dagger, then that’s it, you’ve solved the murder. And with From Hell always taking the position that that’s kind of simplistic, that to solve a murder means…to provide a solution, means not just to find out who did it and why they did it, but to actually make the whole situation transparent, to see the various social pressures or cultural pressures that murder grew out of, to see how that murder, in turn, influenced society; all of the various lines of events and happenstance that are running away from the murder.
And that kind of analysis, I thought, by looking at a murder, an extreme human event, with that kind of eye, it struck me that we might be able to say something general about the wider human situation. And the same thing goes for Voice of The Fire in a slightly different way. With Voice of The Fire, as I say, it’s not an attempt so much to prove that Northampton is the epicenter of the universe, although I fervently believe that to be true, it’s more a case of putting the point that anywhere, where we are located, that the landscape around us, wherever that might be, is much richer and bigger and stranger and more wonderful than we’ve previously believed it to be. With From Hell, I was trying to cast a perceptive eye of murder as a human situation, and what that meant about human beings and society and English culture and, with Voice of The Fire, I think that I was looking at place, at landscape, at where we are standing now, but, again, with a kind of an eye very much influenced by some of my recent magical thinking. I think that perhaps is what links the two books together.
You spent a significant portion of your career as a writer writing comic books and graphic novels, including From Hell, which we discussed, and Watchmen and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. You’re seen by many as a key figure in the history of comics and I’m wondering if you’d talk a little bit about what ways that you saw your career intersecting with, and affecting the course, of the comics industry in the time that you spent in it.
Well, my original intention was simply to try and scrape a very modest living as a kind of sub-underground cartoonist. I found within a couple of years that I was never going to be able to draw well enough, to my own satisfaction or quickly enough, to be able to carry out a career as an artist. At this point, I decided to maybe try writing, because I thought that I was perhaps I was better at that than I would be at actually drawing the pictures that go with it. So, I launched on a career as a writer and, from the very beginning, I had a couple of simple precepts, if you like…I decided that I was never going to write a story that I, personally, wasn’t interested in. I figured that this would be a helpful dividing line to prevent me from sliding into hack-work, which is always a danger in an industry where the deadlines come fast and furious. So, I kind of developed a method by which I would take…even on promising material, and then make it into something that was fun for me, that was either amusing or intellectually stimulating or, you know, that my use of language or storytelling or something like that…there some element in the story that would provide me with sufficient motivation to do a good job on it.
And by simply following that agenda, I found myself fairly rapidly in demand over here and then I was, swiftly thereafter, headhunted by DC Comics and asked to write Swamp Thing and I simply carried on doing the same thing that I’d been doing, in that I would try to make whatever I was given interesting from my own point of view, because my feeling is that if I’m not interested in the work, then I can’t expect the reader to be. That just seems to be obvious, that there’s something about the writer’s enthusiasm that communicates to the reader. I think that readers know if a particular piece of writing is being a joyless slog for the writer because that becomes obvious.
So, in order to make these things interesting to me, I found that I was having to radicalize them. I expected this to probably cause more trouble than it did to start with, but I found that the readers were responding to it and so I found that encouraging. So I carried on doing it only moreso and I got a lot of support from Karen Berger and the other people at DC at that time and they seemed to like the fact that the book was gaining in sales figures every month; it seemed to indicate that we were doing something right. So, I was encouraged to push it as far as I wanted and that’s, luckily, the sort of situation that I’ve enjoyed in comics ever since. I think people trust me to know that I’m probably going somewhere that’s at least interesting, you know, it might be a bit mad or disturbing or something like that, but it’ll probably be somewhere interesting. And, if I’m just left to my own devices, I probably won’t scare the horses too much and I’ll probably bring in a good end result.
And, as for how that’s affected comics, I really don’t know. Sometimes, on my darker days, I tend to feel that most of my influence upon comics has been negative, that perhaps people who read the early Swamp Thing or Watchmen or a lot of the work that I was doing in the ’80s, that what they took from it wasn’t its urge to experiment or its urge to stretch the limits of the form and the medium. It seems that perhaps what a lot of them took from it was the violence, a certain kind of intellectual posture…a few other things, and it seemed to condemn comics to a lot of very depressing and grim post-Watchmen comic books. Maybe that’s too bleak, like I say, it depends from day to day, it depends what sort of mood I’m in and you’ve caught me on a tired day today, so, I’m perhaps being a bit pessimistic there.
I mean, I’d like to think that if I’ve shown anything, it’s that comics are the medium of almost inexhaustible possibilities, that there have been…there are great comics yet to be written. There are things to be done with this medium that have not been done, that people maybe haven’t even dreamed about trying. And, if I’ve had any benign influence upon comics, I would hope that it would be along those lines; that anything is possible if you approach the material in the right way. You can do some extraordinary things with a mixture of words and pictures. It’s just a matter of being diligent enough and perceptive enough and working hard enough, continually honing your talent until it’s sharp enough to do the job that you require. I hope that if I had any sort of benign legacy at all, that that would be it, but I don’t know, I think that my legacy, some days, like I say, I think that my legacy is more likely to be a lot of humourless snarling, sarcastic psychopaths, but that’s just on my black days, pay me no mind.
The era that you mentioned that began in the mid-eighties after Watchmen and after Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, I personally track it back to a scene in your Swamp Thing series where you presented the Justice League, Superman, Batman, and some of the other characters, as virtual gods that were looking down on humanity from their space station. I’ve really often thought that that actual scene, it was just a couple of pages, but that was where the redefinition of the characters really began.
You’re probably right. I mean, that was the first time that I’d got my hands on any American-type superheroes, because Swamp Thing was, well, in a backwater, I suppose, surprisingly, he was kind of tucked away from the mainstream DC universe. So that issue of Swamp Thing…this was an opportunity to actually play with some of the toys that enthralled me during my childhood. I could have The Flash and Superman and all of these various people sitting around in their satellite headquarters, and the way that I decided to treat that scene was to return some of the charisma and mystery to these characters, to, suddenly, just make them a little bit unfamiliar. And this was done by a number of very simple tricks; I don’t refer to any of them by their superhero names, they’re mostly glimpsed in shadow, so you’ll just be getting little peeps at a chest emblem here or a silhouette there. And I used a number of quite terse little poetic phrases to describe these familiar superheroes in new terms.
I talked about Superman as somebody who can see across the planet and wring diamonds from its anthracite, which is a nicely resonant little phrase, and I talked about The Flash as somebody who moves so fast that his life was an endless gallery of statues. These are not deeply moving poetic observations, by any means, but they offer, perhaps, a new and refreshing way to see these, by then, over familiar, characters that had become too familiar, and familiarity does breed a certain contempt. If you’re used to these marvelous guys, these wonderful characters, then to some degree, the wonder is muted or tarnished, so it was an attempt to kind of just give back a little bit of that back spark that first enthralled me about the characters. But, yeah…yeah, you might be right, that might be where it all started or, I don’t know, probably…hadn’t Frank Miller done some stuff in Daredevil with Marvel characters turning up…?
Yeah, [but] I would say…he was working in the tradition that had already been established, though, rather than looking at the character in a way that nobody quite had before. And I would submit that if the creators that had followed both of you, in that era, had tried to emulate, as you said, your experimentalism and looking at things from a different angle rather than the shadows and the darkness, things probably would have been a little different in the years that followed.
I think that it certainly would have been. I think that..I mean, you know, that was always used to entrance me about Frank’s work. It was…it wasn’t the grimness or the grittiness, it was the mastery of the storytelling and the constant innovation that he kept up through all of those Daredevil stories and Dark Knight and all the rest. And it…yeah, I agree, I wish that people had focused upon that rather than upon things that were relatively superficial; the sex, the violence, the sort of…the intellectual posture. It was…it’s not to say that everything that followed Watchmen and Dark Knight was in that particular category, I mean there was some really great works that owed nothing to either book, but, in the mainstream, I think that their legacy…yeah, it could have worked out better. Probably not my fault or Frank’s fault at the end of the day, but still something to be regretted, a missed opportunity…
Speaking of legacy, your fellow writer, Neil Gaiman, has announced what he calls, and I’m quoting here, “the end, or pretty nearly, of a long chapter of dealing with an incredibly shifty and dishonest publisher,” referring to the apparent conclusion of his court case against Todd McFarlane in regards to Miracleman, a character that you reinvented and brought to prominence in the ’80s. And I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the case concluding or on the character and what you’d like to see done with the existing stories, including those that you wrote.
Well, I’m glad for Neil’s sake that the case is over, it must have been really unpleasant having to deal with that kind of stuff for the last couple of years. It was always kind of ridiculous that anybody was claiming ownership of this stuff other than the people who wrote it and drew it. I’m not really sure about the ethics of that, well, I am really sure about it, but I probably couldn’t describe them politely upon the radio show…it’s something very, very unpleasant, doesn’t reflect well upon anybody, doesn’t look good for the comics industry to know that there are still pockets of it where these practices are kind of commonplace. It’s a kind of embarrassment. But, hopefully, if Neil has heroically struggled through this kind of thicket and can see daylight on the other side, then…yeah, what I’d like to see is the work back in print.
I’d like to see it available to people again, so that they’re not getting scalped for rare, overpriced editions of the collected Miracleman from back in the ’80s. I think that there was some really good stuff there, I mean, Neil’s stuff, I thought, some of that was wonderful, I should really like to see Neil finish off what he had planned to do with Miracleman. And Neil had suggested the we kind of start a Miracleman trust or Marvelman trust and that, yeah, if, say, my material’s reprinted, then the royalties for that will go to me and the artists. If Neil’s and Mark Buckingham’s Miracleman is reprinted, the same goes for that. Any money that comes in, generally, from merchandising or anything like that, to the Miracleman trust that is not specifically anybody’s money, can go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and if films came out, I mean, for my part, I’m currently very, very disenchanted with films, so I don’t really want anymore films made of my stuff, but if there was a Miracleman or a Marvelman film, then I’d just not want my name attached to it and all of the money could go to the artists concerned or to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It would just be, it’d be nice to have that work available again from a legitimate publisher with legitimate practices and a legitimate treatment of the creators. I wouldn’t be expecting it to make my fortune, it would just be nice to have it out there and available and it would be very nice to know that Neil wasn’t still having to slog through this actual very demanding and very painful minefield day after day. So, my hat’s off to him. It’s certainly a lot more than I than I could have been bothered to do.
Special thanks to Alan Moore for taking the time to talk to me a decade ago, and also to Chris Staros of Top Shelf Productions who facilitated the original interview. Top Shelf is the publisher of many of the finest of Moore’s works, including his transcendent prose novel Voice of the Fire and the forthcoming followup, Jerusalem, as well as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, From Hell, Lost Girls, Unearthing, and many more. Thanks also to Roger Green and Christopher Allen for advice and support in bringing this interview back online.
In the interests of declaring my critical biases upfront, let me first state that in the past couple years, I’ve seen the time I’ve spent reading comics diminish substantially, in favor of this Golden Age of TV many agree we’re living in, as well as catching up on movies old and newish. When I buy comics, I’m pretty much a wait-for-the-trade consumer, and more and more those dollars go to projects from creators whose work I trust, with the occasional flyer taken on something with good buzz.
That good buzz led me to take a chance on Ales Kot’s Zero Vol. 1: An Emergency, and I liked Ed Brubaker’s and Steve Epting’s work, together and separately, enough in the past that the first volume of their new creator-owned series, Velvet, subtitled Before the Living End, was a no-brainer. Both happen to be spy series, quite different in execution but both hitting beats familiar to anyone who has seen one or two spy movies.
Zero is set around 20 years in the future, at least in its framing stories in issues #1 and #5, where an old spy, Zero, is about to be murdered by a young spy perhaps on one of his first assignments. Being a hired gun, basically a tool rather than a person, means you’ll eventually be replaced. The rest of #1 through 4 show us Zero at various points, completing an assignment to retrieve a piece of technology from some sort of augmented soldier or perhaps just a kind of robot, and as a boy being indoctrinated and trained to be a master spy and assassin. If you guess that at one point, this coldblooded super-assassin may feel a twitch of emotion, and that that emotion makes him a liability, then good for you, you’ve seen Hanna or any of dozens of other films dealing with this theme. It’s not that Kot does a bad job with it, not at all, and I’d be willing to follow this to another volume based on its baseline competence and an intriguing, perhaps genre-mashing twist at the end, but it’s nothing really special, either. My main problem is that Zero is, so far, an undeveloped character, and that’s one of the hazards when you create a character raised in a kind of bubble where all they know is killing: they have little interior life, few points of reference other than weapons and heartless slogans. Often, you want to give them some kind of life before they’re put in a program, or get them away from the action for a while where they can interact with, and learn from, regular people. I also wasn’t really knocked out by any of the five artists used (a different one for each issue/chapter). The first, Michael Walsh, I liked the best, and would have preferred he handle the entire arc. I think when you have multiple artists on one story arc, it can be distracting for the reader, pulling them out of the story as they recalibrate their expectations and their understanding of what the characters look like.
Velvet's first volume, on the other hand, while the same length (and both go for $9.99 each), is much more efficiently structured, as one should expect from seasoned pros like Brubaker and Epting. In its five chapters, we learn about middle-aged intelligence administrator Velvet Templeton as she investigates the death of a respected agent. It leads her to a seeming frame-up, so she's now on the run, quickly scraping off the rust of her previous career as a field agent, in an unfolding tale that keeps twisting and doubling back to put what Velvet previously believed into question.
Brubaker and Epting settle on a great design for Velvet, physically in better shape than average for her age, but nonetheless aged in face, a woman who has known not just 50 years but some of those years being sad ones. The white streak in her hair is a theatrical touch, reminiscent of Countess Valentina, the occasional girlfriend of of Marvel’s Nick Fury, but it also marks her as dangerous.
The elegant structure, carried through each chapter, has a short suspense sequence, then credits, and then the rest of the story, ending with a cliffhanger or twist each time. Brubaker portrays Velvet never as a cynical spy nor particularly as a zealot or blind patriot. She’s a professional but one able to separate work from personal life, until such time as they mix and she’s fighting for her life, stung by guilt and the realization her unassuming professionalism has made her a perfect target for a frame. Crisply illustrated and written, Velvet is more satisfying and surer in its craft, but Zero, with a lead character arguably more challenging to give dimension, shows promise.
Top Shelf Productions (an advertiser on this site) has brought back their Massive Three Dollar Sale, and from the looks of their online catalog, their prices have never been lower on quality comics and graphic novels. Here are the details, from a press release from the publisher:
THE 2014 TOP SHELF MASSIVE $3 SALE
Welcome to the 2014 Top Shelf Massive $3 Graphic Novel Sale, where you can pick up our greatest graphic novels at incredibly low prices by ordering direct from Top Shelf!
For the next two weeks — through Friday, September 26th — Top Shelf is bringing back our world-famous $3 sale. When you visit our web site, you’ll find 180+ critically acclaimed graphic novels and comics on sale — with over 125 titles marked down to just $3 or $1!
Each year Top Shelf uses this sale to help spread the word about our incredible recent releases, and raise funds to “kick start” a full rollout for next year. With your help, we’ll keep publishing some of the most beloved graphic novels on earth — from award-winning geniuses and exciting new talents (and yes, even heroes of the civil rights movement!). By loading up your cart with a pile of books, you’ll be supporting a great independent publisher and expanding your graphic novel collection at the same time.
(Plus, for the first time ever, you can complement your order of discounted PHYSICAL books with add-on DIGITAL copies! Simply visit your shopping cart and you’ll see the option to add the DRM-free digital edition of any eligible book for just a couple extra dollars. This add-on option is available on over 180 titles!)
To go directly to the list of items on sale at the Top Shelf website, just click here:
But here are a few examples to get you started:
Slashed prices on brand-new releases and beloved perennials!
— Slashed Prices: League Century HC, Nemo: Roses of Berlin / Heart of Ice, and more!
— Slashed Prices: March, MLK & the Montgomery Story, A Matter of Life, and more!
— Slashed Prices: Pinocchio Vampire Slayer, Alone Forever, We Can Fix It, and more!
— Slashed Prices: Blankets, From Hell, Lost Girls, God is Disappointed in You, and more!
— Slashed Prices: Essex County, Infinite Kung Fu, Swallow Me Whole, Super Spy, and more!
— Slashed Prices: Lost Dogs, Crater XV, Heck, Alec, Night Animals, and more!
— Slashed Prices: Maddy Kettle, Monster on the Hill, Korgi, Johnny Boo, and more!
Acclaimed graphic novels from world-class talents for $3!
— $3 Titles: The Underwater Welder, League Century 1910/1969/2009, and more!
— $3 Titles: Will You Still Love Me?, The Ticking, Gingerbread Girl, and more!
— $3 Titles: Ax, Voice of the Fire, Unearthing, Hey Mister, The Surrogates, and more!
— $3 Titles: Liar’s Kiss, Lucille, The Lovely Horrible Stuff, Undeleted Scenes, and more!
— $3 Titles: BB Wolf & The 3 LP’s, Three Fingers, The Troll King, and more!
— $3 Titles: Owly, Upside Down, Pirate Penguin, Incredible Change-Bots, and more!
Discover a new favorite with these great $1 books!
— $1 Titles: From Hell Companion, Stuff about Sex, Pistolwhip, Mephisto, and more!
— $1 Titles: Tales of Woodsman Pete, The Playwright, Sulk (Vols 1/2/3), and more!
— $1 Titles: Van Helsing’s Night Off, Lone Racer, Regards from Serbia, and more!
— $1 Titles: SuperF*ckers #1-#4, The Surrogates #1-#5, Dang!, and more!
— $1 Titles: Comic Book Artist, Hutch Owen, Okie Dokie Donuts, Yam, and more!
— $1 Titles: The Octopi & the Ocean, Tales of the Great Unspoken, and more!
— $1 Titles: Black Ghost Apple Factory, The Man Who Loved Breasts, and more!
Please note that Top Shelf accepts PayPal, as well as Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Discover — all secure — and that this sale is good for retailers as well (and comic book shops will get their wholesale discount on top of these sale prices):
Over at Comic Book Galaxy, I’ve posted a new essay on “Dawson’s Dilemma,” the struggle of cartoonists to make a living wage in today’s economic and creative environment. It’s called “It’s Unlikely You’re Awesome.”
— Alan David Doane
Photo by Richard Burbridge
Frank Miller’s friend and sometime-collaborator Bill Sienkiewicz has gone on the record on Facebook regarding the health of Frank Miller:
Everyone is expressing concern about Frank. It’s the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that everyone has zero qualms about seeing and discussing. We ALL love Frank— even those in the creative community who don’t share his political and creative views. I certainly can’t speak for him—he has actual reps and agents for that—but I’m close enough to honestly and sincerely thank everyone for their concern on his behalf. I’m sure he’d appreciate everyone expressing their best wishes, while at the same time poo-pooing any need for concern. When I saw him in SDCC, we hugged and he smiled and told me he was look forward to taking his first real vacation in 20 years. So Amen to that. He knows I- and so many others- are here for him should he feel the need to talk or whatever—-about anything at all. So we’ve all got that covered 12 different ways to Sunday- and his fans have it covered at least 3 times that. He deserves to be successful, happy, and healthy.
Public concern over Miller’s well-being arose after a recent Wired profile by Marvel historian Sean Howe included pictures by photographer Richard Burbridge that seem to make Miller look far older and more fragile than expected.
— Alan David Doane
1. The first controversy I remember in comics was when Gary Groth and Harlan Ellison talked in The Comics Journal about how Heck was generally recognized as the worst artist in comics. Heck was condemned as a hack. Even in my early teens, that idea baffled me. By the mid-to-late ’70s, Heck (inspired as he was by Milton Caniff, although I didn’t know it at the time or appreciate Caniff’s art like I do now) looked old-fashioned to my eyes, and certainly he wasn’t a favourite of mine, but there were many, many artists working in superhero comics who had far less appealing and individualistic styles, and whose storytelling chops were far, far worse. Don Heck: A Work of Art, by John Coates (published by TwoMorrows) puts Heck into context and his career into perspective in a way that is long overdue.
2. The book serves as kind of a complement to another well-done TwoMorrows book, The Thin Black Line: Reflections on Vince Colletta. Unlike Heck, Colletta earned his reputation as the worst inker in comics not only with his anemic, lifeless inking, but by erasing backgrounds and even entire characters from the pages and panels he inked, supposedly to save time, but (SPOILER WARNING) I think it was just because he was a lazy artist and didn’t give much of a shit most of the time. In both the Colletta book and this new one on Don Heck, we gain insight and understanding of their careers and talents. In Colletta’s case I didn’t gain any sympathy for his destructive inking technique, but in Heck’s case, I found a new appreciation for the style and consistency Heck delivered throughout his career in comics.
3. I had heard years ago that Heck had suffered some unknown tragedy that affected his artwork. I think most comics readers of a certain age had heard that rumour. This book tackles it. Read it and find out the story.
4. TwoMorrows books and magazines demonstrate great care in reproducing the artwork that is featured in them, and Don Heck: A Work of Art makes it clear that their commitment to quality reproduction has not wavered. Many of the pages reproduced are scans of the original art, and they look lush and lifelike on the page. I am mentally contrasting that with the new book featuring 75 years of Marvel Comics covers, many of which are jagged and do not appear to have been scanned at a high enough resolution for a book of such importance (and $50.00 price tag). My eyes aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still good enough (especially with my reading glasses) that I can see the care taken in the visual elements of the Heck book, a kind of care that is increasingly rare in the comics world, which is ironic given that we should be at the apex of quality reproduction given the tools at our disposal.
5. Related: There’s a pencil scan of an Iron Man sketch on page 7 that is so well-drawn and well-reproduced on the page that I want to cut it out and have it framed and hung on my wall. It’s entirely possible a fan of Heck, Marvel Comics in general or Iron Man in particular might feel they got their money’s worth with that sketch alone.
6. Page 83 has a quote from Barry Windsor-Smith about the phenomenon of artists trying to draw like Jack Kirby at Marvel in the ’60s. He shared the very same insight with me privately many years ago, and I am glad to see it in print. It puts a lot into perspective, and in the case of Heck, really sheds a light on how Heck’s talents were used (and to an extent, abused) by Marvel.
7. In the past, some TwoMorrows books have been printed on super-glossy paper that seemed not to be simpatico with the subject matter and didn’t take well to the binding process. This book is on an extraordinary matte-finish paper that is a delight to behold, and that really shows off the artwork superbly. They should stick with this paper stock, it’s a winner.
8. I am definitely a process junkie; whether it’s music, movies, novels or comics, I love to peek behind the curtain and see how it all came together. There’s a wonderful section toward the end of the book where we see page after page after page of Heck in combination with a huge variety of inkers. If you’re at all curious about how the art of comic book inking is done and how very much visual variety can stem from just one penciler, this section is a goldmine.
9. Many of the most important creators in comics who are still with us today weigh in on Heck, both as an artist and as a person. Not just BWS as I mentioned above, but Tony Isabella, John Romita Sr., Stan Lee, Joe Sinnott and many more contribute comments. There’s also a note from Steve Ditko, but that has to be seen to be believed.
10. TwoMorrows is a great resource for those interested in the history of superhero comics (I find that history more interesting than the actual superhero comics being produced today, for what it’s worth). Buy this one, and hopefully they’ll keep making more books like it.
— Alan David Doane
The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.
Over at Comic Book Galaxy, I’ve posted a few thoughts on the curious lack of coverage of Marvel’s re-release of the controversial Miracleman #9 (the childbirth issue).
— Alan David Doane
Guest review by Topic Zero. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a good game, but not great. They had a few promises in this game that I thought they did not deliver on. The new web swinging mechanic promised that you would need a surface for it to stick to and it would eliminate the grid from the previous game. For the most part it delivered on that unless you are in a mission, then web swinging wouldn’t need any walls. That grid mechanic was lazy at best and only makes a few appearances.
The game has added a few new costumes and for the most part they are all really awesome with some more recognizable ones like the glow in the dark suit from the previous game and the 2099 suit. They even went as far as to bring some lesser known suits into the mix like Ricochet. These were a nice addition to the game. They even had a small reference to the ’90s animated TV series, with the costume of Spider-Carnage. This costume was a reference to the multi-part story arc in which Spider-Man travels through dimensions and visits other versions of himself. In that episode he met people like the Scarlet Spider, Stan Lee, and some other, stranger Spider-Men. That storyline is my most favorite part of the entire series. Just seeing that costume made it all worthwhile.
The story in this game, however, is sub par. I found that almost nothing in it was compelling until the end. Towards the end the developers decide jam packing it with boss fights is the way to go. Which I can say from playing this… It really is not. It felt all mashed together with no breaks in the final four missions to just enjoy web swinging. The developers decided to add in this new conversation choice system. Or so I thought. All it really does is let you chose what Peter says first. This Mechanic does a great job of ruining the flow of conversations. without the regularly voiced conversations when you decide to say one thing over the other you instantly realize that this conversation feels patched together to give you the illusion of choice. There is nothing I hate more than a developer trying to make it look like you have a say when you really don’t. It is lazy and that is really all I can say about this game: It’s lazy. It doesn’t measure up to Spider-Man 2 on the PS2 but it is a good start. They need to focus more on the story and mechanics and less on shoving big name villains into it. all and all I would rate it a 7/10 because of the fun of web swinging around the city. The fighting mechanic is fantastic as always. The web rush has made a return and I personally like the web rush. Good game but not great. It is what I would expect from a Spider-Man game; fun, but don’t expect a new groundbreaking storyline.