INQUIRE ABOUT ADVERTISING ON TROUBLE WITH COMICS

Trouble with Comics

Emerging from the Narrative: Alan David Doane Interviews Alan Moore

image

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.

image

                          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.’”

That’s right…

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 moreThanks also to Roger Green and Christopher Allen for advice and support in bringing this interview back online.

Aside from the needlessly overblown title (Moore makes it clear he’ll be game for more interviews in the future when it suits his purposes; he’ll just be more selective now), this is a typically excellent, and even more hilarious than usual interview with the fine, put-upon author. At the same time, it’s depressing, because this is Moore agreeing to answer the “questions no one has dared ask before,” seemingly because they’re so sensational and crudely posed that one supposes they could only get to Moore through the Trojan Horse of O’Mealoid, who’d already established a convivial professional relationship with Moore. If you’ve ever wondered when Moore would get tired of remaining mostly mum on the subject of Grant Morrison, this is that moment, though thankfully it’s more than that, including thoughtful explanations on the controversial (to some) use of the Golliwogg in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and whether he agrees with the unqualified assertion that his body of work contains a prevalence of rape against women in it. 

Creator Rights vs. Fan Ignorance: Look Stuff Up and Find Out For Yourself

This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.

The history of the “Big Two,” is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It’s very easy today to say “maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place,” about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blewed and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it’s far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.

Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC’s contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?

Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it’s what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that’s understandable enough; it’s a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions — look up the “promotional” Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn’t have the courage — which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF). 

Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about. 

Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of “Copyright,” in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn’t agree with it? I could go on all day.

A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.

— Alan David Doane

Happy Birthday, Alan Moore!
ADD’s Top 5 Alan Moore Works

Monday is Alan Moore’s 60th birthday, and I wish him every happiness on that (and every) day, both because I respect and admire his wit, talent and politics, and because he has brought me more unbounded joy over the last three decades than probably every other comic book creator combined. Beginning very early on in his Swamp Thing run and continuing through to the current day, a new Alan Moore book means surprise and delight, and sometimes a little bit of controversy.

Moore’s recent Nemo graphic novel with artist Kevin O’Neill shows that Moore’s passion for fun and exciting comic books that are also complex and thought-provoking hasn’t waned at all. Although the very mention of Moore can anger and aggravate aggrieved fanboys over-invested in the importance of corporate comic book culture in their lives, the fact of the matter is that Moore’s work mattered, and continues to matter, for the very reasons they despise him in their thousands: Moore puts his own needs before corporate whims, he gives readers what they need, not what they want (giving readers what they want, or think they want, is the very foundation Moore’s former publisher DC Comics has built its current loathsome line of books on), and most importantly, he uses his unique and brilliant intellect to construct complex and challenging works that demand you exercise your own mind in order to not only enjoy, but even to comprehend. It’s hard to imagine any of the work-for-hire prostitutes who applied their minor gifts to Before Watchmen against all rational, ethical decency being able to even read the first book on this list, never mind write something anywhere near as entertaining, challenging and soul-satisfying.

About this list: Lance Parkin answered this very same question recently in my Five Questions interview with him, and made the terrific point that “at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.” I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. I fully support Moore in his stance against the abuses of corporate comics publishers against creators unable to stem the tide of their perfidy, but I think oftentimes even Affable Al’s most fervent fans get so caught up in the rhetoric and invective (Glycon knows I have been guilty of this myself) that they forget to celebrate just how much fun Moore’s work almost always is. The worst of his work in comics, arguably some of the stuff he did for Image in the 1990s (examined and put in context in Parkin’s wonderful new biography Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore), still contains the structure, humour and narrative left-turns that are trademarks of Moore’s style.

So here are the five Moore works that I find myself coming back to again and again, always entertained, always astonished by how fresh and vital they remain after a dozen reads or more.

Voice of the Fire

This is Moore’s greatest achievement to date, a prose novel that also functions as a collection of short stories and can be read and enjoyed as either. Each chapter is set in its own era, with its own characters, story and themes, but each combines as a whole to tell an alternative history of Moore’s hometown of Northampton and environs that is chilling, hilarious and mind-blowing. Anyone who has never approached this work because it’s “not comics” is denying themselves enjoyment of the most personal and powerful expression of the talent of the greatest writer comics has ever known.

Miracleman

Even though Swamp Thing got to the States first, Miracleman is the book that really showed the power of Moore’s gifts to change the way we think not only about comics, but about entertainment in general. And despite shipping delays, fill-in issues, mediocre art in some issues and an ethical and legal tangle that may never truly be understood, never mind sorted out, Moore’s run on this comic remains revolutionary, thrilling and timeless. I can’t recommend or endorse Marvel’s forthcoming reprints given their history of fucking with Moore and his work, but I do recommend you read these if you can and immerse yourself in probably Moore’s greatest superhero epic. Its impact and influence on entertainment since, in everything from comics to movies to television, cannot be overstated.

From Hell

Moore’s most complex and greatest work in comics to date, From Hell and Voice of The Fire convinced me that his interest in magic was truly informing his work in positive and unprecedented ways. There are moments in both books that will turn your brain inside out and leave you changed in ways that will last long after you close the cover and move on. There’s more technique and hardcore comics talent at work in From Hell than in 90 percent of every other comic book ever published, and at the same time, it’s also just one hell of a wild story, in comics form. It’s the one work of Moore’s that I recommend without reservation to anyone who wants to know why the man has the reputation that he does. In From Hell, Moore and artist Eddie Campbell prove beyond all doubt that, as Harvey Pekar believed, “You can do anything with words and pictures.” In From Hell, Moore and Campbell do everything.

Swamp Thing

A bit of a sentimental favourite, because it was the first Moore work I was ever exposed to. Despite Moore’s falling-out with artist Steve Bissette, their work along with John Totleben on Swamp Thing remains one of the greatest works DC ever published, and given how very shabbily the publisher treated Moore during their partnership and ever since, one supposes it’s kind of a miracle that it happened at all. But from the start of this run, I had the sense something different and more adult was happening in comic books, and I was right. Moore brought nuance and complexity to American comics with Swamp Thing, along with horror and dread and subtlety since unmatched. No one would ever again make Swamp Thing as important a title and character as Moore, Bissette and Totleben did, and in a world that makes sense, no one would have even tried. They said and did it all, and the run remains as vital and classic today as we knew it was even when it was shipping monthly to our local comic shops and drug stores. 

Wildcats

There’s a bit of proof of concept about Moore’s Wildcats run; Jim Lee had created a cookie-cutter X-Men ripoff for Image and imbued it with absolutely nothing worth talking about. When Moore took over the title, it immediately — immediately — became the wildest and most interesting superhero comic book on the stands. So if you want proof that Moore is the real thing, that he puts his money where his mouth is and delivers the goods virtually every time, then read the issues before Moore took over Wildcats, then read his run. There’s no greater evidence of why Moore is the best writer ever to work in comics. He can take any idea, or even the absence of one, and turn it into something professional, exciting and worth talking about. I re-read this run every few years, and its casual quality and absolute transformation of one of the shittiest comics ever published brings a smile to my face every time. You don’t think Moore is a magician? You need to read his Wildcats, my friend.  

Happy birthday, sir. And thank you.

Five Questions for Lance Parkin

imageLance Parkin has written the definitive biography of Alan Moore in the thick new hardcover Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, published by Aurum Press. Moore is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of comics, and many good books already exist that explore the man’s life and works. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how much insight and nuance Parkin brings to the subject. 

Alan David Doane: Magic Words paints as complete and objective a picture of Alan Moore’s career as I have yet read, and I’ve been fascinated with the man and his work since around the time his Swamp Thing began here in the States. Tell me how immersing yourself so completely in his works, his life and his worldview has affected you as a writer and as a human being.

Lance Parkin: Thank you. I’ve also been following Moore’s work since the dawn of his career. And you’re right to identify that a project like this will affect me as a writer and the way I see the world. Scrutinising his life, I see parallels with mine. He had a very similar upbringing to my father. Moore and I have written a lot of stories set in shared universes. He’s British but married to an American.

Writing a biography makes you think about how your own biography would read, makes you realise that it would be a story, not a life. I’m not summing up the full life of a human being in 400 pages, I’m providing a narrative, one that’s hopefully insightful and sees things from a few interesting angles.

And his career begs interesting questions about any type of professional writing. When do you compromise? What fights are worth having? What’s important? What’s fair? These aren’t questions with easy answers, or necessarily the same answers in all circumstances. Alan Moore has always gone bold. Never accepted laziness or mediocrity in himself or others. Which isn’t to say that everything he’s done is 100% perfect in every way. But he’s never gone ‘oh, people are just buying it for the logo or because they already like the character’. He knows that a certain number of people – enough to make any project viable – will buy anything with his name on it. He’s taken that as licence to produce weird, new things, not cruise along singing his greatest hits.

You go to great lengths to explore Moore’s interest in and practice of magic, starting with his announcement that he was becoming a magician and then looking at how Moore’s magical worldview has informed his work ever since. How do you view the impact this development had on Moore’s writing?

image

I’m going to be honest, I’m not in any sense a spiritual or mystically-minded person myself. That’s not to say I dismiss or mock anyone who is, least of all Alan Moore, but writing that chapter was more like a mapping expedition than me preaching the gospel. My instinct is to dismiss it, to note that if you take hallucinogenics, you’re going to hallucinate. My ultra-rationalist interpretation says more about me than Alan Moore, though.

When Moore says ‘magic’ he usually means something most people would call ‘creativity’, or a gift of expression, of art affecting the way we experience the world. He’s summed it up as saying that art does all the things magic spells are meant to – want someone to fall in love with you? Write them a love poem. Want to conjure up a million pounds? Write Watchmen.

I find it very easy to gloss ‘magic’ as a strategy for Moore to shake up his writing techniques. Writing’s all about finding new ways to say things, or it should be, and it’s easy to fall into self-parody, to find yourself repeating yourself. Moore’s got a system to avoid that.

At the same time, there’s clearly more to it. Like Philip K Dick and others before him, Moore’s had mystical experiences that he can’t get his mind around, least of all describe in words. There’s something deeply personal – unique – in his head, it’s clearly something he believes. He, more than anyone, appreciates how silly it sounds. I do not have the gift of telepathy, and I’m humble enough to admit that if Alan Moore can’t find the words, it would be a fool’s errand for me to try. My arch rationalist side looks at the stuff he’s produced under the influence, and concludes that whatever he’s on, it seems to be working.

Promethea is gaudy, convoluted and based on a philosophy that seems to be the direct opposite of the way the real world functions to the point at times it insults reason? Well, yes, but if we’re counting so’s Captain America.

Moore’s iconoclastic personality and powerful ethical philosophy has led to his falling out with some publishers and colleagues, and yet other relationships creatively and business-wise have continued for many years. What do you believe is ultimately the deciding factor in whether a creator or publisher is able to stay simpatico with Moore and work with him again and again over time?

Trust him, and - for the love of all that’s holy - hope that he doesn’t lose trust in you.

Personally, I believe in editors. I’ve been lucky to have a handful of great editors, starting with my first, Rebecca Levene at Virgin Books and including Sam Harrison who edited Magic Words, who understood my books better than I did, who could read a manuscript and find things already in there I hadn’t seen, to help me draw those things out and polish them up. I see editors as being a cox or a boxing coach. Their job – at the creative stage, this is, which is the bit I see - is to make my book the best possible expression of my vision. Not to help throw the punches, but to get me to direct my punches more forcefully and accurately.

I think Moore sees editors completely differently. This isn’t an analogy he’s ever used, but I think he sees them as more like gallery owners, something like that. He’ll bring the completed work, their job is to provide a great space to display it to best advantage and to sell the tickets. He’ll do the art, they’ll do the business. And if a painter shows up to a gallery and discovers that the owner has altered one of the pictures even slightly or is selling postcards of it when the painter asked him not to, then that painter would be perfectly within their rights to never put on a show at that gallery again and to loudly and frequently express his displeasure. Particularly if the gallery never gave him his paintings back, like they said they would.

The way to reconcile those two models is just thinking of it in terms of a good editor being someone who has respect for the artist, and an understanding that a writer has made artistic choices and made those specific choices for a reason.

I was delighted to see you used a quote from my own 2004 interview with Alan Moore (available in Avatar’s Yuggoth Cultures trade paperback or download the MP3 version here) as part of what had to be an exhaustive research process. As I said earlier, I’ve been following Moore and his work since the early 1980s, and feel a great appreciation for his body of work and admiration for the ethical stances he’s taken over the years. I will say that as a writer about comics, seeing Moore’s side on ethical issues has often led to disagreements between myself and members of what I’ll politely call “comics fandom.” The acceptance of Before Watchmen by comics as a business and a culture for me was a real breaking point, in that I felt the utter wrongness of DC and the creators who worked on the project should have been roundly rejected and reviled by every thinking human being, and the fact that didn’t happen really made me want to distance myself from comics as a whole. While you present the issue fairly, I have to ask, what are your thoughts as far as what the existence of Before Watchmen mean for comics as an industry and a culture?

Yeah, there are a number of distinct issues and perspectives, there. Deep breath …

Alan Moore is hardly the greatest victim the comics industry has seen. I’m a freelance writer, and the idea of having a book in print for twenty five years, selling two million plus copies, on a 4% royalty, with a big movie version … I’d take that deal. (That said, when I interviewed him for Magic Words, Moore told me he wasn’t entitled to anything from Before Watchmen). I think in his specific case, the issue is that Watchmen started life as a creator-owned, self-contained thing. It makes it different from Superman or Iron Man – which were not stories, they were characters, designed to have a tale that grows in the telling. What’s a fair way to treat creators and their estates when it’s fifty or seventy five years later and those characters are global multimedia brands in their own right? It’s an interesting question, but not quite the same question raised by Watchmen.

Was Before Watchmen a conscious attempt to shift Watchmen from an authored work to being a much more nebulous ‘brand’, like Batman and Superman? Was the plan to be able to say ‘oh, there’s more to Watchmen than Alan Moore, he’s just one of the writers’? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Before Watchmen seemed to miss the main selling point of the original series, which was that you could just buy one book and read it, and that was that. And that it mattered who wrote and drew it.

I didn’t read Before Watchmen beyond a couple of preview pages, but I really don’t think ill of the writers and artists for taking a high profile gig. They made some comics, it’s not like they played Sun City.

I admit I felt the same way you felt there, though, that it was a step too far. ‘Breaking point’ is about right. It wasn’t the first blow. I’m a DC man through and through, but the New 52 is just too monotone and po-faced for me. Raising the prices and cutting the pages just means comics are terrible value for money. The other day I was reading a comic with my headphones on and got through a comic in less time than it took to listen to one song. It worked out at about $1.50 a minute. And, sorry, but as entertainment products go, that’s more than the going rate for a Pink Floyd concert. And, you know, I’m 42 years old, perhaps it’s healthy that I’m not all that bothered who the Joker’s Daughter is or about the final fate of the Blue Lanterns. I’m quite prepared to concede it’s my problem, not DC’s. At the same time, I love Mind Mgmt, East of West is great, I found Battling Boy utterly thrilling (and can’t wait to re-read THB next year). I love what David Liss is doing with The Spider. I can go back and endlessly re-read the Wolfman/Perez Titans or Nemesis the Warlock or Luther Arkwright and it’s not purely because of nostalgia. I still like good comics.

Eight Before Watchmen series, or whatever it was, a dollar more than regular comics, one a week for six months, just seemed like an unusually blunt cash grab. It felt like something the marketing department came up with. Yes, all comics are designed to entice me to part with my money. They’re usually a little more subtle than that, though. I don’t want to be fed an endless supply of Watchmen, I want to be fed an endless supply of challenging, well-made comics.

The ‘fandom’ reaction baffled me. I mean, obviously, it’s a subset of fans, it’s not all comics readers speaking with one voice. And internet debate polarises and exaggerates. There was a strain of fan almost gleeful that Alan Moore didn’t want it to happen. Is that tribal loyalty to DC? If pressed, I’d say I had tribal loyalty to DC. But there were people who were going ‘yeah, right, this’ll stick it to Alan Moore’. And … stick what? Again, I can’t speak for him, but he didn’t seem angry about it, it was more that he thought Before Watchmen was a little sad.

I think it comes down to ownership – I think fans believe they have some sort of stake. You see that around V for Vendetta a lot. A lot of readers have taken the politics of the book and the (different!) politics of the movie to heart. So when Alan Moore says the movie script sucked and he doesn’t have the graphic novel in the house any more, to those fans it sounds like he’s saying he rejects them as human beings. I don’t know. I think it’s common across a lot of fandoms. I think ‘Star Trek fan’, ‘Star Wars fan’, ‘Doctor Who fan’, these are functionally the equivalent of ethnicities at this point, in the sense that it can be at the core of how some people identify. I’m 3/8ths Scottish. I don’t feel Scottish, I don’t feel the urge to return to the Highlands every seven years to mate. I am a Doctor Who fan. I would be a very different person, with a different career and social circle if I’d never been one. And it sounds silly to say that, it sounds like I’m trivialising, but something like comics demands an investment of time, of money, of intellectual energy, you need somewhere to store all those boxes. But it provides a common culture, and a community. When Alan Moore ‘rejects comics’, there will be people who take it personally.

What are your five favourite Alan Moore works, and why?

Thank you for this question, because I think at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.

THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES still does it for me. It has energy, it’s clearly had so much thought put into it, but equally clearly it was written week-by-week so a lot of the time it’s just finding ways the move the story along. It was originally meant as a counterpoint in a very male, very violent anthology comic, so it’s almost a different thing as a standalone. You can see Moore straining against the limits of the form, and Ian Gibson’s art just rather effortlessly keeping it all together.

BIG NUMBERS is the great ‘what if’? Only the first three parts of it have (or will) ever appear, we also have Moore’s giant chart plotting out what would have happened and a couple of long interviews about it. I think it’s the one point where Moore bites off more than he can chew. It’s this entirely new kind of thing, but wrapped up in a story that looks entirely mundane. And we only have the beginning of the story. So it’s something that’s very hard to grasp. It feels like an example of what Iain M Banks called an ‘excession’ – something that appears one day that just shatters all your assumptions, but is so big and weird and advanced there’s not much you can do about it.

The performance piece the BIRTH CAUL is available (kind of, it’s hard to find) on CD and much more readily as a comic strip adaptation by Eddie Campbell. What I like about Moore is that he can take visceral, hindbrain stuff and connect it up to an almost Vulcan, crystalline structure and you can’t ever see the join. Birth Caul is Alan Moore at his most personal and intense.

Controversial one, here, but WATCHMEN’s good. I’d read it countless times in the past, I read it three times during the course of writing Magic Words. Every time, I’ve seen something new or something’s taken on a new resonance for me. And it’s funny, which I spend a chapter trying to convince people of in Magic Words.

If I had to pick one thing, again, it would be something very obvious – the Valerie chapter of V. That, to me, should be required reading for … well, I was going to say anyone making comics, but any human being, really. The subject matter and the moral … yes, they’re weighty and important, and emotionally affecting. It’s self-explanatory, which is good, it’s always nice to just hand something to someone and say ‘just read this’. But just look at the way Moore and Lloyd compose it. Look at what they convey and how. It matters who wrote and drew it. It works because of them.

Buy Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore from Amazon.com.

seanhowe:

Alan Moore on Robert Morales, 1958-2013:“Appropriately for a man I met when he was spitting out incisive comments on the music business for Vibe magazine, my twenty-something-year relationship with Bob Morales was conducted, pretty much exclusively, in audio. I never got to shake his hand, but I imagine that Bob’s handshake was a firm one, and that it was warm. I’m going to miss the savvy New York creak his conversation had as much as I will surely miss his writing; the commitment, insight and rare passion that he brought to every story, ever feature, every line. One of the comic field’s conspicuously rare voices of colour, he was also one of its most gifted and original contemporary writers. As a genuine creator of integrity, inevitably he came into conflict with an industry that much prefers a bland subservience in its employees to the fierce, ungovernable talent of an actual artist who has something deeply felt to say and does not care to compromise a work which he or she believes in. That was the stance Bob Morales took, a fighting stance almost unheard of in a frequently less-than-superheroic marketplace, and that professional bravery is something else I’m going to miss. Moving with no apparent effort between his extraordinarily diverse realms of endeavour, Bob was like a human cultural adhesive that connected up a vast cobweb of people who, in every probability, would never have been introduced to one another save through him. One of the last authentic hipsters, he was sharp, astute, and very, very funny. If I’m honest it might be his anecdotes that I’ll miss most of all, the unexpected courtesy and deference extended to him by a crowd of strangers at a party whom, it transpired, had been informed Bob was a Puerto Rican mafia prince.
I may be wrong, but I did not see Bob as a conspicuously religious man with any firm conviction of an afterlife, and nor do I myself have any such beliefs. I do, however, have a strong affinity for Albert Einstein’s view that in this at-least-four-dimensional eternal solid that we know as spacetime there is only, as he put it, “the persistent illusion of transience”. Each instant, every hour and every human lifetime is therefore suspended, fixed forever in a medium without loss and without change, where our time-bound awareness recurs endlessly, our precious lives repeating in their joys, their sorrows and their sheer breathtaking richness, and each repetition new and unexpected, every time the first time round. Robert Morales had a fine and blazing life, a side or two of classic vinyl that I’m convinced will replay unendingly, just as I entirely expect to pick the ’phone up for an interview with Vibe, one day back in the hectic1980s, and commence a long, sweet friendship full of warmth and great ideas and lots of memorable laughs.
So long for now, Bob, from me and Melinda, and I’m looking forward to enjoying that mafia anecdote again.
Your friend and your admirer,
Alan Moore.”

seanhowe:

Alan Moore on Robert Morales, 1958-2013:

“Appropriately for a man I met when he was spitting out incisive comments on the music business for Vibe magazine, my twenty-something-year relationship with Bob Morales was conducted, pretty much exclusively, in audio. I never got to shake his hand, but I imagine that Bob’s handshake was a firm one, and that it was warm. I’m going to miss the savvy New York creak his conversation had as much as I will surely miss his writing; the commitment, insight and rare passion that he brought to every story, ever feature, every line. One of the comic field’s conspicuously rare voices of colour, he was also one of its most gifted and original contemporary writers. As a genuine creator of integrity, inevitably he came into conflict with an industry that much prefers a bland subservience in its employees to the fierce, ungovernable talent of an actual artist who has something deeply felt to say and does not care to compromise a work which he or she believes in. That was the stance Bob Morales took, a fighting stance almost unheard of in a frequently less-than-superheroic marketplace, and that professional bravery is something else I’m going to miss. Moving with no apparent effort between his extraordinarily diverse realms of endeavour, Bob was like a human cultural adhesive that connected up a vast cobweb of people who, in every probability, would never have been introduced to one another save through him. One of the last authentic hipsters, he was sharp, astute, and very, very funny. If I’m honest it might be his anecdotes that I’ll miss most of all, the unexpected courtesy and deference extended to him by a crowd of strangers at a party whom, it transpired, had been informed Bob was a Puerto Rican mafia prince.

I may be wrong, but I did not see Bob as a conspicuously religious man with any firm conviction of an afterlife, and nor do I myself have any such beliefs. I do, however, have a strong affinity for Albert Einstein’s view that in this at-least-four-dimensional eternal solid that we know as spacetime there is only, as he put it, “the persistent illusion of transience”. Each instant, every hour and every human lifetime is therefore suspended, fixed forever in a medium without loss and without change, where our time-bound awareness recurs endlessly, our precious lives repeating in their joys, their sorrows and their sheer breathtaking richness, and each repetition new and unexpected, every time the first time round. Robert Morales had a fine and blazing life, a side or two of classic vinyl that I’m convinced will replay unendingly, just as I entirely expect to pick the ’phone up for an interview with Vibe, one day back in the hectic1980s, and commence a long, sweet friendship full of warmth and great ideas and lots of memorable laughs.

So long for now, Bob, from me and Melinda, and I’m looking forward to enjoying that mafia anecdote again.

Your friend and your admirer,

Alan Moore.”

Grant Morrison’s Eroding Significance Apparently Bothers Him Very, Very Much

I understand completely why Grant Morrison is so insecure about his place in comics history in comparison to Alan Moore, but someone should really explain to Morrison how much weaker and more inferior he ironically makes himself appear with such verbose defensiveness. The work of the two writers should speak for itself, Grant, and let history decide how much you did or didn’t matter. This piece reminds me, more than anything, of Straczynski’s desperate, pathetic need to justify his participation in Before Watchmen by tearing Moore down, despite the fact that the worst thing Moore ever wrote is twice as interesting and enduring as the best thing Straczynski ever did. The last couple sentences of this article at The Comics Reporter really say all that needs to be said.

Alan David Doane 

My Comics July

I’ve been doing more of my own fiction-writing these days, as well as a lot of reviews of movies and other things at my other blog, so it really seems like a modest but achievable goal is to do maybe one or two comics posts here every month. Thus, since I’m going on vacation this weekend and not likely to write anything else for a week or so, my Comics July.

It’s just under a year for DC’s New 52, and despite trying at least the first issue of about 49 of them, the only ones I am still reading are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., The Shade, Action Comics, Batman, and Batman Incorporated (this last one having only relaunched in the last month). What you can infer from these is that I still have some affection for Grant Morrison’s writing and will see his exit from superhero comics (Batman Inc. is fun, Action more miss-than-hit, and the upcoming Multiversity stuff sounds interesting). I also somewhat enjoy Scott Snyder’s writing, though I’m not that interested in tying in old business like Arcane to the somewhat fresher Red/Green/Rot stuff. I guess it’s fair to say that’s just an expansion of stuff Alan Moore came up with many years ago when he wrote the series, but at least it’s a little new and not something that has been explored much before. I am pretty tired of the whole Court of Owls stuff on Batman, but you know, I like Batman and it’s not a bad book, though not a good one.

Jeff Lemire has done all right on Animal Man and Frankenstein, though the art on the former, while distinctive and great at the weird, disturbing scenes, is also distancing for what seems to be a comic that wants to be about familial strength and those bonds being stronger and more important to the lead character than doing superhero stuff. Frankenstein started with some interesting ideas but seems to be treading water, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it has digressed into the Rot stuff when it should be working more on making its characters distinctive. I still don’t really get Frankenstein, much less the rest of his groovy ghoulies. Overall, even with just two writers on these three series, I think tying them all together with the same menace has made each book less special.

I still read a lot of Marvel, though not much has stood out. Daredevil has regained some of its footing with Chris Samnee on art, a good choice, and Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, though unfortunately uneven artistically, has been consistently entertaining and presented a recognizable but more mature Spider-Man. Avengers vs. X-Men has improved of late, with nice Olivier Coipel art and a few chunks of issues that made sense, though a lot of the plotting is stupid and/or redundant. Why would godlike X-Men fear Scarlet Witch so much, and why is essentially dressing up some Avengers to look like her a good idea when the X-Men have telepaths who should be able to figure out who’s who?

I’m reading more Image books than I have in maybe ever, mostly creator-owned stuff. I can’t confess to loving any of it, but Saga has been imaginative and amusing if not immensely engaging yet, and I’ve also enjoyed the sort of arty take on superheroes and apocalyptic sci-fi in Glory, Prophet, while The Manhattan Projects feels so far like Jonathan Hickman going back to the well and getting S.H.I.E.L.D. right. I was into Hickman’s Secret at first, but the second issue was kind of insulting, with a cliched gangster scene and an obvious reveal stretched out to the end of the issue with four panel pages of not much going on.

I suppose, given how much his work has meant to me, that I should write more about the latest Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentleman book, Century: 2009, but it was just okay. Some lovely ideas, typically good Kevin O’Neill artwork and of course, it feels like good value because you read it slowly, trying to pick up on all the pop culture references. But while I appreciate that pretty much all of Moore’s work has some terrific layers to it (I’ve not doubt there’s a great story behind even garbage like Deathblow: Byblows), here, the meta-story about Moore’s disillusionment with the comics industry and the rest of popular culture is more interesting than the plot. Making fun of Harry Potter should have been more fun, right?

Having boycotted Darwyn Cooke’s latest Parker adaptation, The Score, and with no really memorable Hellboy or B.P.R.D. books this month, the only book to really excite me was IDW’s Artist Edition of David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. I’m not like ADD—I don’t read even my favorite comics over and over again, so it had been probably 20 years since I read this story. It still holds up very well, with an absolutely bulletproof first issue, although I think once it gets to the Nuke/Captain America issue, Daredevil is kind of a guest star in his own book. But while you can see some signs of writer Frank Miller’s eventual shock and awe style, he keeps things relatively restrained here, relying on Mazzucchelli to convey Captain America’s disgust and shame and the mental breakdown of Nuke. The main story of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s ruination by the Kingpin and subsequent rebirth is not perfect, either. Matt’s flirtation with paranoia and despair is a little too brief, and how does he survive for so long on the streets? Was he homeless? And sure, seeing old girlfriend Karen Page now a junkie whore may have seemed like a progressive move for superhero comics then, but now feels a little cheap and mean. Of course it’s the woman who wrecks things for the hero. Since there was nothing to really be done with Karen once she came back to Matt, better to maybe have left her out entirely and make Matt’s downfall come from his own hubris. I don’t know, maybe I’m just blaming a lot of lesser grim and gritty comics on this early example, which doesn’t get nearly the blame as Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the better superhero stories ever written, and Miller and Mazzucchelli work so well together they can pretty much pull off anything they try here. The presentation of this book is exquisite, with oversized, heavy-weight black and white pages and a few vellum overlays to show the reader some of the more complex effects Mazzucchelli used on covers and some interior pages. Seeing what amounts to faithful photographs of the original boards makes this not only the most exciting way to experience the story but also the most intimate. Without distracting from what is a real page-turner, one still takes away the immense effort, the will to do something memorable, on the part of the artist. I can’t really imagine reading this again in the small, color format.

—Christopher Allen

The New Extreme: Supreme #64

As I seem to be dropping a fair amount of Marvel books, and have dropped most of DC’s New 52 titles, I find that in the past few months I’ve gotten into a line of books from Image I wasn’t looking forward to and never thought I’d be enjoying: the relaunch of many of Rob Liefeld’s various Extreme books. Now, I like some better than others, and one not much at all, but for now let’s look at Supreme.

Although Prophet, Bloodstrike, Glory and Youngblood all continued their old ’90s numbering, they’re mostly fresh takes on those characters, or at least new teams picking up the pieces. Supreme is the only title to relaunch with its last writer, Alan Moore, as new writer Erik Larsen thought it would be fair and smart to use Moore’s final, unpublished script to bridge the gap between that run and what Larsen wanted to do on his run. It was a nice idea, as was the decision to publish a variant that matched up with the old logo and cover designs. 

Moore was setting up an assault of The Citadel Supreme in issue #63, where all the various Supremes in the Multiverse hang out, by all the variations of villain Darius Dax. Larsen continues with that idea here, although what seems like a slam-dunk (lots of action and the simple fannish appeal of drawing tons of different takes on the same hero and villain) feels kind of uninspired here, with lots of corny lines and so many characters it’s treated as expected that we know and understand the relationships between Ethan and Diana and Suprema and the like. 

The art, by Larsen and Cory Hamscher, looks a lot like the Larsen art I remember but more rushed, like a 24 hour comic. It lacks the texture and Kirbyesque dynamism I associate with his style, and I’m not sure if it has to do with Hamsher or not. Does Hamscher do the layouts and Larsen finishes? Don’t know, but it’s just an adequate teaming.

In the Afterword, after several paragraphs defending himself for being one of those guys who has to follow another guy’s celebrated run, Larsen explains that his goal here is to marry Moore’s Silver Age homage with the meaner, more violent take on the character as originally conceived by Liefeld. And so, the Mean Supreme is unchained and let loose on the Dax Army (I laughed when one of the Supremes can hardly comprehend that the Daxes would unite against the united Supremes—what else are they going to do?!), with bloody results. It’s okay, and I guess it’s sort of amusing that Larsen draws this Supreme in more of a Jim Lee style, but if, as it seems to be at the end, this Supreme is going to be the new Big Bad that the other Supremes have to stop, well, I honestly think I get enough of that story in Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. I didn’t dislike the issue, but unless Larsen does something really good with this new direction next issue, I’ll be dropping this one.

Christopher Allen