Retro Interview #1: David Lloyd 2006

[This interview originally appeared on the now-defunct Fractal Matter website in October 2006. I remember when I suggested to my editor that I could do an interview with David Lloyd, she said, 'Who's he?...']

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Dark Horse have just published Kickback, which I believe is your first outing as both writer and artist. Can you tell us about the book?

David Lloyd: Well, I’ve written before – short stories, one-off issues (Kalgar in White Dwarf, 5 episodes, 1978; Man In the Fog in Tales of Terror #3,1985, with Bob Curran; Journal of a Space Traveller in Alien Encounters #5, Feb 1986; Vixen – early story from 1977 – in Negative Burn #6, 1993; Lasting Impression in Dark Horse Presents #86, with Siobhan Dodds; Aliens: Glass Corridor, Dark Horse, 1998; The Big Snooze in Gangland, DC, 1998, reprinted in later collection; and Internet, in Vampires, Editions Carabas/ France, Dark Horse/US, 2001) – but it’s tough finding time to write your own stuff if you’re constructing someone else’s dreams, and enjoying it, and paying the bills doing it.

Kickback was written in a quiet summer month in 1999, when I’d finished a job and the phone wasn’t ringing with another job to take its place. It was finished in first draft form and secreted away when the phone rang again with an interesting offer.

I eventually got time to interest someone in the project in 2003 – but I chose France to offer it to instead of the market I usually work for, the US, because when I wrote it, that was the market I thought would embrace it more immediately. In 1999 crime comics were not big sellers in the US apart from staples like Sin City, whereas the French market loved crime books and wasn’t clogged up with superhero stuff.

I’d worked with a great guy in France in the years preceding 2003 – Jerome Martineau from Editions Carabas – who liked my work and trusted me completely as a creator. So he ended up taking the book, and published it in France in two albums, with a compilation edition in March of this year to coincide with the release of the V for Vendetta movie.

Because I own all rights in the work, I eventually sold it to Spain and sold it to Dark Horse for publication in the US. I’ve since sold it to Germany and Italy.

The story is about a corrupt policeman in a corrupt police force and how and why he gets to change the direction of his life. But on a deeper level it’s about corruptibility in us all. We are all corruptible, I’m sorry to say. It’s our biggest problem.

PÓM: Can we expect to see you doing more writing from now on, and would you like to write for other artists, or would you prefer to do your own art?

DL: Well, I had a great chat with Dave Gibbons about that, who has written much more than me and for many artists. He’s happy with good artists doing his stuff, and he’s been blessed. I’m not sure I could write for other artists unless I had to. No-one else will ever be able to see things the way I see them – and the only circumstances in which I could be happy with what someone else had done with my characters is in circumstances where I didn’t care what happened to them. So I’ll try to stay in the position of perfect interpreter as much as I can. By the way, I don’t anticipate a rush from publishers to ask me to write for other artists on the strength of Kickback – though I would be extremely flattered if that proved to be the case.

PÓM: You once told me that you’ve never worked on superhero comics. Did this make it difficult to get work, before the growth of the non-superhero comics market?

DL: No problem getting work – I worked in the UK most of my early career, and superheroes weren’t even a factor here, though one of my early jobs was drawing a crazy superhero character for TV Comic called The Kicktail Kid, who had a rocket-powered, flying skateboard and zipped about like a junior Silver Surfer. After that, I did work on a couple of superhero characters but stopped doing them as soon as I could. I developed an antipathy towards them after I realised just how immovable their domination of the market was; and also from seeing the influence they have on the general public’s perception of what comics are all about. Unfortunately, they just represent a big hurdle for anyone who wants to show the enormous potential there is in telling stories in strips. You have to jump it somehow, in order to convince people who aren’t familiar with comics that you can do something vaguely serious with the medium. And the non-superhero market hasn’t grown that much, you know.

But I must say I do like superhero characters – and I draw them now and then in special circumstances. I did a Captain America story recently – for what I thought was going to be a benefit book and turned out not to be – and I enjoyed it. I drew him in a kind of Sixties style – in the only way I could draw him that worked for me. I’m a big fan of that period of Kirby style.

And, of course, I did the covers for MadroX recently. But then, what Peter [David], Pablo [Raimondi] and Andy [Schmidt] did with that series was not superhero as we know it. It was a believable thriller. More like that would be better for the superhero genre if publishers really want to get non-comic readers into accepting it more.

PÓM: There’s been a lot of interest in old UK comics recently, with various reprint volumes, a few books like The Ultimate Book of British Comics and Paul Gravett’s forthcoming Great British Comics. Is there any of your old work you’d like to see in print, and do you have any deep dark secrets from that time you’d like to tell us about?

DL: A lot of my old stuff is too flawed for me to want to see reprinted, but if anyone wanted to reprint a selection and wanted me to choose, I’d be happy to do the honours. Some of it still shines.

Deep, dark secrets? Don’t know what would count as such. Sorry to be a killjoy, there.

PÓM: Are you pleased with the success of the movie of V for Vendetta? Have Hollywood been knocking at your door since?

DL: Yes, I’m very pleased with the success of the movie and the response most admirers of the original seem to have to it, here, in the US, and in other countries I’ve visited since its release. Generally, that’s expressed as pleasant surprise that it’s so good, with a regret that it isn’t as good as the book. For me, that’s a good enough reason to have supported the movie from the time I saw the script and to maintain my support for it now. The creators of that film made a great film that was a creditable version of the original – and one that managed to encapsulate much of the best of the original’s value.

Hollywood has not come knocking on my door, but I’m shamelessly knocking on theirs, because Kickback would make a excellent piece of cinema; and, frankly, the way things are at this moment with the distribution and awareness of Kickback as a graphic novel, here and in the US, making a movie of it is the only way people are likely to know it exists at all.

PÓM: You are always name-checked as ‘The man who drew V for Vendetta,’ a project you started about 24 years ago now. Has the success of V overshadowed your other work?

DL: The success of V has become the bedrock of my career, and if people don’t know me for much else, it’s my own fault for not maintaining a constant presence in the market with higher profile stuff than I’ve chosen to work on since that time. But I don’t do superhero stuff hardly at all, and I only work on something that interests me instead of anything that pays my bills on a regular basis. I also have neglected the importance of personal publicity – self-publicity. That’s something I will be attempting to correct from this point on, late though it may be in my business existence to start such endeavours.

PÓM: What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to make a career of comic art?

DL: That is one of those questions that cannot be effectively answered in a general fashion because it depends on the nature of the recipient of any such advice, and the quality of their innate talent. I ended up doing it because I did that better than any other form of illustration work, and kept doing it even when I was being paid to do other illustration work. That’s probably one useful gauge to use, somehow.

PÓM: Finally, if you hadn’t been a comics artist, is there anything else you think you’d like to have done?

DL: Something easy and relaxing that paid me lots of money.

PÓM: Thanks a million for doing this interview for me, David. I’ll buy you a pint next time we meet!

DL: Thank you!

© Pádraig Ó Méalóid 2014

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Filed under 2006, David Lloyd, Fractal Matter, Retro Interview, V for Vendetta

Retro Review #2: The Beats – A Graphic History

[This review originally appeared on 3:AM Magazine/* on Tuesday the 8th of December, 2009.]

Title: The Beats – A Graphic History
Writer/Artist: Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor, and others
Publisher/Year: Souvenir Press, London, 2009
Price: £12
Format: Compact Black & White Graphic Novel, 200 pages
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The Beats – A Graphic History is a black and white graphic novel about the Beat writers, with major sections on the three major writers – Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg – and further short entries varying from one page to three or four pages for many others. This is mostly written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Ed Piskor, with some entries written and drawn by others

It’s entirely possible that I’m the only person I know who has never read anything by Jack Kerouac or William S Burroughs, or Allen Ginsberg, for that matter. On the other hand, I’ve read quite a bit by Harvey Pekar’s work over the years. So, when I was offered the chance to review this book, it seemed like a good opportunity to learn something about a group of writers I knew little about from a writer I was familiar with. Surely I couldn’t but enjoy this book?

But, in the end, this wasn’t the case, for several reasons. The first reason was that, as a group of people, the Beat writers seem by-and-large to have been a particularly obnoxious bunch. In a lot of cases, being on the road seems to have just been an opportunity to have run away from their responsibilities to family and friends. Any number of them were alcoholics, drug addicts, homophobic (in at least one case whilst being homosexual themselves), racist, and appallingly misogynistic. Whatever their achievements as writers, they certainly seemed to have been hideously bad at being human beings. Burroughs in particular is remarkable for his severe drug problems, his predilection for sex with young boys, and for shooting his wife dead whilst allegedly trying to recreate a scene from the legend of William Tell. And I found I just couldn’t get beyond that: rather than finding a desire to perhaps go and read any of their work, I find I feel quite the opposite. Any likelihood there was that I might have picked up On the Road or Naked Lunch is now gone, although I might still go have a look at Ginsberg’s Howl. His worst trait seems to have been his propensity to take his clothes off in public regularly, hardly worth mentioning, in the perspective of what some of the rest got up to.

Another reason I found I never warmed to this book was that the writing and art often seemed terribly static and undynamic. Harvey Pekar is an absolute maverick superstar in the field of comics, having self-published his wonderful autobiographical comic American Splendor for many years. However, while he seems to have the ability to make even the most mundane aspects of his own life interesting in American Splendor, his writing here seems to largely consist of a list of someone’s achievements, and generally there was just a lack of any sense of movement, of any sort of narrative. He is obviously enormously knowledgeable on and enthusiastic about his subject, but for whatever reason I just never felt that his translated out of the page. A certain amount of this seems to be down to Ed Piskor’s art. In at least fifteen different places we are given a frame consisting of someone standing, often in profile, in front of shelves of books. When I started to notice this I went back and counted them, which I why I know how many there were. Quite a few frames were of people doing readings in front of other people, and there were other stock poses: hammering away at a typewriter, sitting thinking, and so on. I realise that trying to find an interesting artistic angle about writers writing is not necessarily the easiest task, but Piskor’s work in particular in this seems lifeless, whereas the other artists seems to have brought a lot more life to their pages. In fairness to Piskor, the others only generally did one piece each, whereas he had to do the majority of the book, so it’s entirely possible if the roles were reversed I’d be holding someone else’s work up for criticism instead.

There was one entry, though, which I though made the whole thing worthwhile. Harvey Pekar’s wife, Joyce Brabner, a woman with impeccable credentials in the comics field, and no mean writer herself, wrote a piece called Beatnik Chicks, which virtually acted as a counterweight for everything else in the book. In it, she says,

I found Kerouac and his cronies loathsome. Drive across the country. Drive back. Roll joints. Roll around with women. Dispose of each when done and get back in the car. Fascinate your buddies with epic tales of road trips told in run-together sentences laced with amphetamine argot, jazz jargon. Self styled odysseans whose abandoned children grew up angry, like Jan Kerouac.

That Brabner quote pretty much sums up my own understanding of what the Beats were about. Like I said at the top, the thing that I most got from the book is that this was a bunch of guys who didn’t want to take responsibility for their lives. It’s not that I didn’t like this book. I certainly found it informative, at least. And maybe I might feel differently about its subject matter if I had read their works beforehand, or if I was twenty five years old, instead of fifty. I’m certainly saddened that, having finally got around to writing a review of something by Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical work I admire so much, it couldn’t have been a bit more positive, but there you are. I am what I am, and it is what it is. A suitably Beat sentiment to finish on, I imagine.

© Pádraig Ó Méalóid 2014

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Filed under 2009, Beats, Harvey Pekar, Retro Reviews

Retro Review #1: Albion

[This review originally appeared on the now-defunct Fractal Matter website in February 2007. I've touched it up a very tiny amount...]

Long before it ever came out, Leah Moore and John Reppion’s Albion had a long and fascinating history behind it. All the main characters come from old UK comics, specifically those that had been published by Fleetway/IPC. From comics with names like Lion, Valiant, Smash!, and Wham! came Captain Hurricane, Robot Archie, Janus Stark, The Steel Claw, and many others. In and around the mid-Seventies, most of these comics ceased publication, and their inhabitants were seen no more. Albion sets out to explain why these characters disappeared, and what happened to them afterwards.

UK comics were always different from US comics. During their heyday, between the fifties and the seventies, they came out weekly, were generally in black and white, and were all anthology titles, featuring several different stories in each, often with only two story-pages per issue. And the characters themselves couldn’t have been more different. In the US, you had a predominance of superheroes, with the clearly identified good guys fighting the clearly identified bad guys. In UK comics, nothing was ever that simple. Many of the characters were either morally ambivalent, or just downright bad. Magical artefacts and lunatic technology abounded, and, for a nation not long out of the Second World War, and still feeling the deprivations caused by rationing, tables heaving with food were a regular feature, usually in the last panel. If American comics were aimed at adolescents, then British comics were definitely aimed at school kids, with lots of school strips, and many of the protagonists of the adventure strips were school kids, too.

If you’re a gentleman (or, indeed, lady) of a certain age, as I certainly am, then you remember these comics, and all their idiosyncratic and twisted characters, with enormous affection. You long for another look at a page of Ken Reid’s Faceache artwork, or Leo Baxendale’s Grimly Feendish. Although this isn’t quite what you’re getting with Albion, it is, by god, very definitely the next best thing.

This is what happened: After all the great old British comics died off, in and around the mid-seventies, for reasons too numerous and complex to readily explain here, the ownership of the characters shifted around quite a bit. As yet another part of the complex and complicated history of Albion, the history of the publishers is also labyrinthine. What started with Associated Press at the beginning of the 20th century turned into IPC, Fleetway, and eventually IPC Media, with all sorts of side journeys and mergers involving Odhams, Longacre Press, and Hulton, amongst others. In the end, as happens, one company bought another, and so on and so forth, and suddenly AOL Time-Warner in America ended up owning IPC Media in Britain. This meant that DC Comics and the archive of old IPC characters were related to one another. This fact struck several people at around the same time and, to cut a long story short, Alan Moore and Shane Oakley put forward a proposal to WildStorm, the subsidiary of DC that was dealing with the whole thing, and the idea for Albion was born. Moore was too busy to actually do the writing himself, so suggested to Wildstorm editor Scott Dunbier that he might be interested in giving the job to a pair of young writers called Leah Moore and John Reppion, who had already written one mini-series, Wild Girl, for them. And there you have it.

Straight off the bat, I’m going to tell you all that I loved Albion. I had a whole lot of fun reading it, not just because it is very well written and illustrated, but also because it helped me to remember lots of comics I read in my childhood, and had mostly forgotten since. I had an outrageously good time trying to guess who was who (and got it right a lot of the time!), and all in all I was intrigued and captivated from beginning to end. And the end, of course, is not really the end at all, but just the beginning of a whole new set of adventures for all these fabulous old folk. Or so I fervently hope.

The six issues tell a slowly unfolding tale of how the old comic characters were captured and imprisoned by the authorities, with their weapons and magical artefacts taken from them, and used covertly by the government. Our primary protagonist, Danny, a ne’er-do-well scouse lad, finds himself caught up with Penny, who grabs him at the trial of Grimly Feendish, and in fairly short order embroils him in her scheme to break into the Scottish castle containing all the prisoners, and free them. Eventfully, with the help of at least one very unlikely and unwilling ally, they set out to do just that. In the meantime, tempers are short and things are beginning to fall apart in the prison itself. Where will it all end? I strongly recommend you read the book and find out for yourself.

Albion teems with huge amounts of old comic characters, all drawn with obvious love and respect by Shane Oakley, who seems to have, in the last issue, tried to put every UK comics character that ever existed, along with all their toys and odd creatures, into a number of double-page spreads. If you’re interested in old UK comics, or even if you’re not, you should get a lot out of Albion. I certainly did, and it has afforded me hours of pleasure, just trying to tease out the identity of that last robot or gun or creature luring in the corner of a panel. I’ve ended up buying lots of old annuals and comics, just to see some of those old strips again. You can even get a taste of these old strips in the Albion collection, as there are several pages of reprints of old stories in the back.

If you decide you want to know more about old UK comics, then you’re in luck. There seems to be a growing awareness of what we’ve lost, and quite a number of books have come out over the last few years about British comics in particular. You could try Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury’s Great British Comics, an excellent, if perhaps over-full history of the medium since the beginning of the 20th century. Another excellent sourcebook is The Ultimate Book of British Comics by Graham Kibble-White. There have been some nice reprints from Titan of stories featuring The Steel Claw and The Spider, too. However, bearing in mind that these are skinny hardback volumes at rather elevated prices, I think I’ll quote Garth Ennis from his introduction to Battler Britton #1 (one of the other titles to come out of the IPC treasure trove) where he says,

Americans tend to look after their history a little better than the British, and the comics industry is no exception. Archive editions, masterworks, hardbacks and more, lovingly reproducing thousands of pages of classic American comics, are widely available and kept in print for future generations to enjoy. But what about us Brits?

Titan Books take note!

That’s what I’d really like to see, you know. Lots of big cheap reprint volumes of Faceache, and Galaxus, and, oh, just lots and lots of them. Of all of them.

© Pádraig Ó Méalóid 2014

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Filed under 2007, Alan Moore, Albion, Captain Hurricane, Fleetway, Fractal Matter, IPC, Janus Stark, John Reppion, Leah Moore, Lion, Retro Reviews, Robot Archie, Shane Oakley, Smash!, The Steel Claw, UK Comics, Valiant, Wham!

Steve Moore 1949 – 2014: A Personal Appreciation

Stephen James Moore was born at 2:00pm on June 11th, 1949, in a house on Shooters Hill in South London, where he lived all of his life, and died on or around the 16th of March, 2014, still in that house on the hill. In between, he produced a huge body of work, of a very high standard, most of it written in that same house. He was a hugely private man, but his life and mine intersected over the past few years, and I got to learn a lot about him in that brief time. INT028

But, actually, I was aware of Steve Moore’s work long before that. I had only ever been a desultory reader, at best, of 2000 AD, where he wrote a multitude of short sharp tales, but it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that Warrior, where he was a vital component both in front of and behind the curtain, changed my life. However, I had probably been reading his uncredited work in British comics for years before that, all unknown.

After leaving school at the age of 16, Steve spent a year and a half working in a laboratory in a flour mill, before started at Odhams Press as a Junior Office Boy, in their offices at 64 Long Acre, on 1st May 1967, and within three months was promoted to junior sub-editor on Pow! and Fantastic. The first story he sold professionally was a three-page ‘Pow Short Story’ called The House in the Haunted Swamp, that appeared in Pow! #45, late in 1967, when I would have been turning eight years old, and was undoubtedly reading Pow!, or comics like it. He went on to work on editorially and write stories for several different UK comics, including Whizzer & Chips, Valiant, and Cor!!, with its two exclamation marks. Eventually, in 1972, he left the security of fulltime employment to become a freelance writer, a career he pursued for nearly forty years thereafter.

Before all this, though, he had been very active in British SF and comics’ fandom, attending meetings of SF fans in London in his teens, where he met writers like Michael Moorcock, John Brunner, Kenneth Bulmer and E.C Tubb, and made his first steps in publishing fanzines, on some very primitive copying technology. After attending Worldcon in London in 1965, he became involved in comics fandom, and in July 1967 he published Ka-Pow, the first British comics fanzine (although the actual first comics ‘zine on this side of the Atlantic was Merry Marvel Fanzine, published by Irishman Tony Roche, who lived in Dun Laoghaire, a once-posh-but-now-dilapidated suburb of Dublin where I was also living, but was still only seven years old, so completely unaware that history was being made, just down the road from me). Further ‘zines followed, and contacts were made with all sorts of people who would later go on to become important names in UK comics, as well as further afield.

In August 1968 Steve Moore organised, along with Phil Clarke and Kay Hawkins, Clarke’s then-girlfriend, Comicon ’68, Britain’s first comics’ convention, held in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. The registered attendance was less than fifty people, but these included comics artists Paul Neary, Mike Higgs and Jim Baikie, and Nick Landau and Mike Lake, who would go on to found Titan Distribution, open the London-based Forbidden Planet comic shops, and publish black and white comics reprint volumes as Titan Books. Also in attendance, although not listed on the membership list, was Derek Stokes, universally known as Bram, who went on to open legendary London bookshop and counter-culture hangout, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed. One other name on that membership list, although only in a non-attending and supporting capacity, was a fifteen-year-old Alan Moore, of whom we shall hear more later. A second comic convention followed, in 1969, called, obviously enough, Comicon ’69, which Steve was also on the committee of, after which he decided that the convention life was not for him, and not only retired from con-running, but from con attending as well, and became a self-professed recluse, certainly as far as attending public events relating to either SF of comics were concerned. But attendees at that second con included Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Barry (Windsor) Smith and Bob Rickard, who we will also hear more of later.

Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes opened Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in Bedfordbury, just beside Covent Garden, in 1970 and, soon afterwards, fantasy writer Stan Nicholls opened Bookends in Notting Hill in 1971. When Steve Moore went freelance in 1972, he was invited to buy into Bookends, and after parting with £500, he found himself as part owner of a SF bookshop, which also came with a room in the basement full of comics, where he could write in between serving customers. Some of what he wrote was for an editor called John Barraclough, who had just launched a comic called Target for New English Library, and took comics stories from Steve than included a four-part horror-thriller called The Curse of the Faceless Man, and a sword-and-sorcery strip called Orek the Outlander, as well as text serial stories in all sorts of genres, including The Horror in the Churchyard and The Scourge of Planet X. At the same time, Barraclough was supplying a Swedish comics company with Tarzan stories, which Steve turned his hand to. There were also a few serials for IPC girls’ comic, Mirabelle, which he didn’t even get to see in their finished form, as IPC didn’t send out copies, and he was too embarrassed to go and buy copies himself. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, but it turned out that it really was all too good to be true. The Obscene Publication Squad raided Bookends in late 1973, and, between one thing and another, the shop went to the wall, with £5000 worth of debt, which Steve Moore ended up having to mostly repay himself, while Stan Nicholls ended up in Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, so at least their friendship endured, for a while, until Nicholls decamped to Landau and Lake’s Forbidden Planet shop.

Meanwhile, in another part of his life, Bob Rickard, who he’d met through various fannish activities in 1968, was about to change Steve Moore’s life, forever. Rickard had discovered that the Odeon cinema in Birmingham was showing Chinese movies at one o’clock in the morning, so that Chinese restaurant staff could see them after work. He brought Steve to see a film called The Sword, starring Wang Yu, and he was hooked, immediately. This would lead to Steve seeing as many of those Hong Kong and Taiwan produced movies as he could, and eventually writing about them, and Chinese culture in general. He spent a large amount of his leisure time in the early and mid-1970s hanging around in Chinese cinema-clubs in the Chinatown area around Gerrard Street in London, and still had some of the lobby cards and posters he managed to persuade the staff to give him. Eventually this led him to the I Ching (more correctly Yijing, as the preferred spelling is these days), or Book of Changes, which became a major area of scholarship for him, leading to his writing the non-fiction The Trigrams of Han, published by HarperCollins in 1989, which was well-liked by fellow scholars, but made him no actual money, to speak of. He also joined the I Ching Society in London, more for the publications than the meetings, and soon took over production of their journal, The Oracle. He ended up as a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was one of the main contributors to I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography, an exhaustive 350-page analysis of the subject, published by Routledge in 2002, and continued contributing to both scholarship and debate in the field, right up to the present day.

Another consequence of his friendship with Bob Rickard was that he became involved with the fledgling Fortean Times – originally just called The News, back in November 1973, when it started, but changed to its current name in June 1976 – for whom he clipped odd news stories (as would I, and many others, years later), wrote on Oriental phenomena, and soon became a contributing editor, reviewer, and general occasionally-paid helper-out. Because of Steve’s long friendship with Bram Stokes, the Fortean Times people began meeting in a room above Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, until the shop closed down in 1981. None the less, forty and more years after it started, he would still meet up with the rest of the FT helpers every few weeks, to sort out all those clipping people sent in, and keep in touch. During those forty years, he worked as editor, indexer, and contributor on a large number of books relating to the magazine, including – but not limited to – six volumes of Fortean Studies, thirteen collected volumes of the magazine, and a number of compilations of clippings, with titles like Fortean Times Book of Inept Crime and Fortean Times Book of Strange Deaths (published in America as The Comedian Who Choked to Death on a Pie—and the Man Who Quit Smoking at 116: A Collection of Incredible Lives and Unbelievable Deaths). One other piece he produced for them was to have a profound influence on my own life, but I’ll be getting to that just a little bit later.

Meanwhile, he was still writing comics, back where we left him in the mid-seventies, but now from the comfort of his own home, which is where he worked from from then on. He had worked with comics’ editor Dez Skinn in his time at Odhams/IPC/Fleetway (where there had been many mergers, and name changes, both of the comics and the companies producing them), and went on to work with him in a number of titles for other companies, including House of Hammer (1976), Starburst (1977), Hulk Comic (1979), and Dr Who Weekly (1979). He also ended up writing some, most, or all of the contents of TV and movie tie-in annuals for John Barraclough at Brown, Watson/Grandreams Ltd, starting with the Kung Fu Annual in 1974, and going on to write a total of 69 over the course of the next thirteen years. An average year – 1979, in this instance – saw him write content for the Dick Turpin, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Sherlock Homes & Dr Watson, Spider-Man, Star Trek – The Motion Picture, and Young Maverick annuals. One year he wrote a Supergran annual. If you’re from this side of the Atlantic, and in a certain age range, there’s a very good chance you got annuals he wrote for Christmas. As well as all of this, he worked a few days a week at Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, wrote for the Fortean Times, and even wrote for ‘men’s’ magazines, including a story for Titbits that was allegedly a true telling of My Sexual Adventures in Bangkok, but was obviously entirely fictional, as he had never been farther east than Dover. This story was to have been published under the newly-devised pseudonym of Pedro Henry, although some sort of editorial gremlin saw it actually go out under his own name, embarrassingly. But Pedro would survive to fight another day.

While all this was going on, there were changes afoot in British comics. In February 1977 IPC Magazines launched 2000 AD, one of the tiny handful of UK comics that is still in print. Steve Moore’s first story for 2000 AD appeared in Prog 12 (that is, issue #12), with the first part of a 12-part Dan Dare story, on the14th of May, 1977. He would continue to write for the comic, on and off, for nearly thirty years, finishing with Prog 1458 on the 28th of September, 2005. In Prog 25, he wrote the very first story to be called a Tharg’s Future Shocks, which would become an umbrella title for very short stories – which is still used as try-outs for new talent – which would go on to be written by all sorts of people, like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Alan Moore.

Alan Moore, who is famously no relation to Steve Moore, had first met his namesake through the pages of Phil Clarke’s sales-list fanzine The Comic Fan, around the middle of 1967, where Steve had advertised looking for a book called Dead or Alive, an Avengers novelisation – the British TV series Avengers, rather than the American comic Avengers, that is. In the end, it turned out that the book had never actually been published, of which Steve Moore said,

So the whole friendship is basically rooted in a quest for a non-existent, chimaerical book … which is a motif that’s turned up occasionally in the work of one or other of us, in mine as recently as Somnium. It’s not a bad symbol for writers, too, as their job is to bring non-existent books into existence, by writing them. But perhaps more interestingly, in view of our more recent notions about Idea Space, we were brought together by the idea of a text, rather than a real one. Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.

A regular correspondence soon developed between the fourteen-year-old Alan and the eighteen-year-old Steve, and Alan would become one of Steve’s two closest friends, along with Bob Rickard. And Steve is the man Alan blames for leading him astray, in all sorts of ways, although Steve begged to differ, when I asked him about it…

PÓM: I have this romantic scenario in my head where Alan is the wild one, always leading you astray, whilst you are the quiet one, being dragged into all sorts of wild scrapes by your friend. But this is really entirely wrong, isn’t it, as regards comics, drugs, and magic? You are quite literally the man who led Alan Moore astray.

SM: Well, I’d like to portray myself as an evil Svengali who took one look at Alan and realised that here was a striking-looking but malleable individual who I could get years of pleasure destroying an inch at a time, but it wasn’t really like that … even if he has said publicly that I was the man who ruined his life! I just wander into these things like writing comics, smoking dope, practicing magic and resigning on points of principle, and the next thing I know Alan’s decided that as I haven’t actually died as a result, he’ll do the same … only he does it much larger. It’s not my fault, honest! Mind you, he doesn’t always follow my lead. I’ve never got him hooked on China or classical music, in the same way that I’ve never really shared his interest in science or stand-up comedy. We just have areas of interest that overlap … and enormous mutual respect in areas where they don’t. And even where they don’t, there’s still a bit of influence going back and forth.

Both Moores were interested in working in comics, and would later quite often try to put work each other’s way. Alan was perfectly capable of getting his own work into music paper Sounds in 1979 – where Steve would later take over writing scripts for Alan to draw on the younger Moore’s The Stars My Degradation comic strip – and into 2000 AD, where he would write Future Shocks. Steve, meanwhile, had a hand in the early planning of a new comics magazine in the early eighties called Warrior, where actual rights for creators were promised by the publisher, Dez Skinn, and suggested that his friend Alan might be able to help relaunch 1960s UK superhero Marvelman for the title. Between the two Moores, they did the vast majority of the writing for Warrior, with the senior contributing strips including The Legend of Prester John, Father Shandor, Demon Stalker, and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. Later on there would be Twilight World, and the wonderful Zirk stories, and lots of other bits and pieces, some under his revived pseudonym of Pedro Henry. This eventually led to both Moores writing comics for the American market, with Steve’s Laser Eraser and Pressbutton appearing in Eclipse Comics’ Axel Pressbutton series.

He also contributed occasionally to another ambitious British comics anthology series, Atomeka Press’s A1, including an article about Fortean Times in A1 #2, in January 1990, which I read, and which caused me to go looking for the magazine, and which, along with Jan Harold Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker, was responsible for fundamentally changed my worldview. In is no exaggeration to say that a good deal of what I am today has been shaped by my reading that article in A1 #2, and by Steve Moore.

But he soon moved away from comics, mostly, and this was when he was heavily involved with Fortean Times, as mentioned above. He did come back to comics, to write for Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint, where he contributed to titles like Tom Strong, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, and America’s Best Comics: A to Z. His last work for comics was to write two five-issue mini-series for Radical Comics, Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Hercules: The Knives of Kush, on which the forthcoming film, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is based.

By the middle of the new millennium, though, he was done with comics, and had retired, largely to look after his brother Chris, who was suffering from Motor Neuron Disease. Chris Moore died in 2009, after a remarkable life of his own, in his own chosen field – as documented in this eulogy by Alan Moore – and his brother Steve found himself with time to write his first novel, Somnium: A Fantastic Romance. This was published by Strange Attractor Press, in association with his own Somnium Press, in November 2011, and this is the point at which my own occasional interactions with Steve Moore were to stop being virtual, and become real.

I got offered a review copy of the book – probably prompted by my writing this piece about the book – and, out of the blue, also got an email from Steve Moore, thanking me for the piece, and asking if I would like to ask him any questions about it. After I got over my genuine shock at getting a mail from a man I had always presumed was going to be forever beyond even my reach, I told him that I would indeed. And I did, ending up with this interview, which went online on the 11th of November, 2011, as pleasing and magical a date as you could wish for.

There was one other aspect of Steve’s life that he cared about deeply, and shared with his friend Alan: Magic. This was, once again, a field where the older Moore had taken the lead, although the younger one is the more famous of the two of them for doing it. Both of them had their own chosen deity: The moon goddess Selene in Steve’s case, and the snake god Glycon in Alan’s. Together, they formed The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, originally a two-man coven – but soon to include many of their friends also – for which they laid out the ground rules in Kaos #14 in July 2002, as republished by myself on my own Glycon blog. Despite their flippant words there, it was something they both took seriously. One of its outgrowths would be Alan Moore’s Unearthing, a 45-page essay for the Iain Sinclair edited London: City of Disappearances, which I asked him about when I interviewed him in 2011:

PÓM: You are legendarily reclusive. How did you feel about Alan’s Unearthing, which is essentially a tell-all biography of you? Or is the reputation for reclusiveness exaggerated?

SM: Reclusiveness is relative! I prefer to think of myself more as ‘private’. I love seeing my friends, and I like going out (though with the state of 21st century culture, it has to be said that there isn’t really a great deal to go out for, except perhaps dinner) … but I just don’t like making public appearances, and I’m not at all interested in fame or reputation. All I want to do is write. I don’t have the slightest interest in the game of being ‘a famous writer’ and I’ve no liking for Conventions, so nobody sees very much of me. Which suits me …

Anyway, as for Unearthing … Alan was invited to contribute a piece to Iain Sinclair’s anthology London: City of Disappearances, and really the only part of London he knew anything about was Shooters Hill, as he kept visiting me here. He then decided, for reasons best known to himself, that he wanted to make it a biography of me as well, so I just said okay. I told him I’d correct any factual details, which I did, but apart from that he could write anything he liked about me, which is what he did! Apart from the comic exaggeration in places, it’s all true, so I said fine and thought the piece would disappear as one of Alan’s ‘minor works’. Obviously it didn’t happen like that! Now it’s become an audio-recording, been performed, will soon appear as a coffee-table book photo-illustrated by the brilliant photographer Mitch Jenkins and, apparently, will even be coming out as an app. How do I feel about all this? Well, I imagine that like most people I tend to judge what’s ‘normal behaviour’ pretty much against what I do myself, so I’m just sort of bewildered by all the attention it’s getting. But overall, it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with Mitch and his photographic team, meeting the musicians and attending the performances. And the whole thing has rather surprised my friends and relatives!

PÓM: I suppose there’s an enormous irony in a piece about a private man becoming the subject of such an amount of attention, particularly in a book apparently about disappearing. There’s a section in Unearthing where Alan dictates what happens next, and then has you do what he’s said you would. Did this actually happen, or is that just Alan entertaining himself?

SM: Of course it happened! I read through the manuscript when it first arrived and knew I just had to go for my usual walk, as described. And, yes, I hung about for a while by the burial mound, as described, and there were actually rain showers that morning. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite disappear, as the manuscript prescribed! But you have to remember that Unearthing was both about magic and, to a certain extent, was a magical piece in itself, with the writing and world described merging together. So I naturally acted out what was described, just to ‘make that real’. And Alan knew I would when he wrote it, even though he hadn’t told me in advance what he was intending to do.

Although Steve Moore had essentially retired from work, having passed 60 in 2009, he did still have a few projects that he kept up with. He had a wide correspondence, and kept up his Fortean-related activities. He had been, for quite a number of years, slowly working with Alan Moore on a book called The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, a project that was finally actually approaching an end. Under his own Somnium Press imprint, he produced occasional 16- or 20-page booklets, mostly composed of his own Tales of Telguuth, which he had at one stage also written for publication in illustrated comics for in 2000 AD.

And, in August 2013, out of the blue, once again, I got an email from him saying,

I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days I remembered that when we were last in touch you expressed an interest in doing a more general interview with me, and now that I’ve got a bit of distance from the comics industry, I thought it might be time for a retrospective. It’s something I’ve put off, although I’ve never really had a problem with interviews on more specific subjects, like Abslom Daak or Somnium … but I’ve always tended to be a bit nervous about more general retrospectives, because I want to avoid situations where I’m asked questions like ‘You know Alan Moore better than anyone, so tell us all about him and … etc.’ That’s still not an area I particularly want to get into, but if you want to discuss my life and career, I’d probably be up for that. Assuming you’re still interested, of course …

So if you’re up for it, I’d probably prefer to do this by email, as I then get time to think about my answers, and possibly look things up (though a lot of records have long disappeared … along with large chunks of my memory!), but we can always do further sets of questions if you want to ask me more about something that’s come up. And as it’s a pretty long career, we might want to do it in sections, too. But if we both look on it as ‘something we do when we have time, around other things’, I imagine we could do it. Let me know what you think. No obligation, of course. If you’ve got better things to do, no problem!

So, did I want to interview the most reclusive man in British comics, and a man who had, unknown to himself, taken a hand in my own life, here and there? Yes, I most certainly did. We started a slow to-and-fro correspondence, working through his life from its beginnings in 1949, slowly towards the present day. I’d send a handful of questions, he’d send answers back, and I would then respond with additional questions about his answers, as well as some fresh questions to move it all forward a little, and so on. It slowly inched onward, not only at the cutting edge of it, but in the middle as well, as either he or I thought of something that might be useful to add in to a particular section. Sometimes he would suggest specific questions, and sometimes I would suggest how I wanted him to answer a particular question, to allow us to reach a particular thing we wished to discuss. It was probably the most satisfying interview process I had taken part in, of all the interviews I have done.

Amongst other things, behind the veil of private emails, we discussed our own lives, a little. We both were unwell, in our own ways. I had prostate cancer, but it was going to take years to get me. He had problems with his stomach and lungs, and was having regular CT scans, but as recently as the beginning of February he had been told it was all under control, and that he needn’t bother coming back for another scan until October. There was certainly no sense of imminent death, and I had imagined that another few months would get us to the end of the chronological part of the interview, and onto more etheric matters, like his ideas about writing, and about magic, and other things. Then a bit of editing, and we would actually have a usable document, although exactly what would happen to it, and how or where it would actually be published, was still anyone’s guess.

I had broached the idea of death with him, early on, and had intended to come back to it towards the end of the interview.

PÓM: I can’t help noticing that both of your parents and your brother died in their sixties. Does this give you pause for thought at all, seeing as you’re in your sixties yourself now?

SM: Yes, of course it does, especially now that I’m developing a few common medical problems associated with ageing. On the other hand, though, my maternal grandfather lived to be 90, so there may be hope for me yet! But I’m pretty much of a fatalist, and a recent scientific notion about the nature of time (called ‘Eternalism’) suggests the future already exists and the universe may actually be deterministic. A lot of people don’t like that idea, but I actually find it rather comforting, because it means that everything happens in the only way it possibly can, whether we like it or not. Even if that’s not the case, when it comes to time to go, I’ll just have to go, so there’s not really any point in fretting about it. But I’m aware that my time isn’t limitless, and some projects can’t be left forever. And that awareness may also have had something to do with my deciding to do this interview.

In the meantime we both took holidays, had problems with our computers, and got distracted by other things, as one does. By the beginning of March, six months after we started, and after a little over 48,000 words, we had got as far as Warrior – already the size of a small book, with the prospect of possibly the same amount again to come. I had sent off a last handful of questions, just to tidy up the very end of what I needed to know about his time at Warrior. When I didn’t hear back from him after a week or so, I sent another, and then sent a mail to a few other people, to see if they had heard from him. They hadn’t. One of them arranged to have a member of the police call to the house on the evening of Tuesday the 18th of March, and he was found dead there. There hasn’t been an official announcement of the cause of death, but it’s likely that it’ll turn out to be related to his heart, or his lung problems, I imagine.

One of the last things we know Steve Moore did was to post out copies of The Marmoreal Frown of Ahuralura Marrz, his last Somnium Press booklet, and a copy arrived to me on Wednesday morning, which I got just a few short hours after hearing of his death. It’s hard not to think of it as a last magical act, a last story from a great man, and a great storyteller, set to arrive after his death. As he said himself, in another context, ’Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.’

I only got to meet Steve Moore once, in London last November, when he surprised not least himself by going along to An Evening with Alan Moore, to mark the launch of Lance Parkin’s biography of the younger Moore. There were many things about the evening I treasure, and meeting Steve is very high on that list. I had fully imagined that we would meet again, on one of my occasional visits to London, but that is no longer to be. And I still can’t really believe that.

He had already made plans for his funeral – in Sketches of Shooters Hill, another of his Somnium Press booklets, whilst talking about a four-thousand year old Bronze Age burial mound on Shooters Hill, he says,

Born high up on Shooters Hill myself, when I die I want my ashes scattered on the burial mound, by the light of a lovely full Moon. So, just for a moment, I too can become an offering to the local Gods and Goddesses, and merge my essence with the native soil … before all that physically remains of me is blown away and scattered, like oak-leaves on the whirling wind.

I hope I can be there, at least for that, to pay my final respects to a wonderful, extraordinary, and gentle man.

INT027

[The first and last photos are by Kevin Storm, and are used with his permission. The rest are a mixture of images Steve Moore sent me, to go along with the interview we were doing, scans of my own books, and things I've, essentially, robbed off the internet. ]
— Pádraig Ó Méalóid –

[This post also appears here, on the Comic Beat website, just before this was posted.]

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Filed under 2014, RIP, Steve Moore

Last Alan Moore Interview?

A few words of explanation about this interview: On the 26th of November 2013 there was an event called An Evening with Alan Moore, where Moore was in conversation with biographer Lance Parkin, whose biography of Moore, Magic Words, had just been published by Aurum Press. The evening also included two short films, Act of Faith and Jimmy’s End, both part of a larger cycle of works, as well as some of Moore’s collaborators taking the stage, and a Q&A session with the audience. The evening seemed to be a great success – at least, I was there, and it seemed so to me, and to anyone else I talked to – but one of the attendees was not happy, and took to Twitter to say so. He Tweeted ‘Really wish An Evening with Alan Moore hadn’t involved four white people on stage defending the “golliwog” as a “strong black character” – Followed by a short film about a young woman stripping, dressing in “slutty clothes” and killing herself on screen – Followed by Moore insulting Gordon Brown based on mental and physical disability – I then left the venue. Much Internet conversation ensued, and much condemnation was poured on the heads of Moore and his associates, both for the fact that they did what they supposedly did, and that nobody had taken them to task for it. The Twitterer also didn’t take them to task for any of it, mind you, although he had originally intended to ask a question: ‘I was going to tell Moore I found Killing Joke very problematic in its representation of Barbara Gordon (shooting, sex assault) and ask if he could go back in time, if he would have written TKJ differently in that respect. But after the applause that greeted his (to me) gratuitous, exploitative, slut-shaming, disturbingly graphic short film about a woman’s suicide, I didn’t think it was the right time,’ presumably fearing he’d be lynched by the baying hordes of Moore fanatics. People stated opinions. Sides were taken. I was involved in some discussions about it myself, which led me to volunteer to actually ask Alan Moore some of the questions it was being said nobody dared ask him I’ve interviewed him before, numerous times, but I was still quite nervous asking him about these, but it seemed somebody had to, so it might as well be me. I got my answers, but I got quite a bit extra as well. those ‘minor points of my own that I’d like to raise‘ he mentions. So, judge for yourself.
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Alan Moore: Pádraig, thanks for your list of questions. It may take me a while to complete this, with the cruellest season upon us, but hopefully I’ll be able to answer all of the issues you mention to at least my own satisfaction, following which, if you’ll permit me, there are a couple of minor points of my own that I’d like to raise.

The Golliwogg / Galley-Wag
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: There is a character in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories called the Galley-Wag, which is based on Florence Upton’s 1895 Golliwogg character. First of all, adding together a few things Kevin O’Neill has said in various interviews, I’m surmising that he wanted to include the character after he read about Florence Upton, and that you were initially resistant to this, but eventually agreed to use him. Is this broadly correct?

AM: On the issue of the origins of the Golliwog or Galley-Wag character in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, your own summary is largely accurate, although you may be overstating or overestimating my initial ‘resistance’ to the character’s usage. I certainly wouldn’t want it to look as if I were suffering from liberal qualms over the character’s inclusion, nor that I only gave in to the pressures of my South London Irish racist collaborator. For the record, as I remember the incident or incidents, Kevin had initially alerted me to the potential that he saw in Florence Upton’s Golliwog(g) while we were still working on volume two of the work under discussion. This would presumably have been because it was a striking character that Kevin had stumbled across in his often strenuous research, and one that had origins in the late 19th century period we were then working with. It may have even been Kevin’s original notion that the character could be used in that second volume’s main narrative in some way, although in the event all we could manage was an oblique reference in the New Travellers’ Almanac which accompanied that second book. Upon seeing the character and hearing Kevin’s explanation of his origins, I immediately felt that this could be a very useful and engaging figure to introduce to the overall League continuity, and my only misgivings were based upon story logic and aesthetic considerations. (This is not to say that issues of ethics or politics were not considered, of course, merely that I had absolutely no misgivings in those areas.) The logical and aesthetic difficulties which the character presented revolved mainly about how a character with the appearance of Upton’s creation could be rationalised as a semi-credible entity without sacrificing the fiercely independent qualities of the original, say by making him a robot toy of some kind. Once I’d arrived at the conceit of an escapee from a hypothetical Baryonic or ‘Dark Matter’ cosmos interwoven with our own, arriving at our previously-established North Pole-located Toyland and being given his ‘Dutch Doll’ automata by the robotic Queen Olympia (from Hoffmann’s The Sandman), any further problems regarding the character had evaporated, and we were able to use him (I think interestingly) at the conclusion of The Black Dossier. It would have been around the time of the Dossier’s publication that I addressed these issues for the first time, although I suppose by modern standards that is quite a while back and memories may need refreshing.

PÓM: The golliwogg is generally seen these days as being a racist character. Why did you decide that you wanted to use a character with a problematic history like that in your work?

AM: Without wishing to appear pedantic, I think that the Golliwog these days is seen as an insulting racial stereotype rather than a racist character. A racist character, i.e. a character perceived to be racist, would be The Black Dossier’s Bulldog Drummond or even Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain. But if you’re asking why I wanted to use a character largely perceived as a grotesque racial caricature, I would say that the answer is because Kevin and myself felt that we had identified a considerable gulf between how the character was originally presented and intended, and how the character had come to be viewed. Yes, I am of course aware that among nostalgic right-wingers such as Carol Thatcher there is the often-expressed sentiment that the later Minstrel-attired racist-slur toy should be returned to our toyshops and marmalade labels, and that it’s exclusion is a sign of political correctness gone mad. I would have hoped that it might be fairly obvious, with a little thought, that neither I nor Kevin are likely to be of that persuasion, but it appears not. What we perceived in Upton’s original was a strong, likeable and positive figure, presumably some manner of animated toy (although this would presumably have been one reasonably unique and personal to Upton herself, since the mass-production of subtly but crucially altered Golliwog toys only followed the publication of her stories), black-identified if only by virtue of his skin colour, during a period when the only other supposedly sympathetic black figures in fiction would be Nigger Jim or Uncle Tom.

I presume, for want of any earlier sources, that Upton had given her character the name ‘Golliwog’ purely because she liked the slightly nonsensical way that the word sounded, its most probable derivation being a word such as pollywog (which, lest there be any misunderstanding, is a word which has only ever meant ‘tadpole’ since its Medieval English origins as ‘polwygle’, and which has apparently never been used, either in the U.K. or the U.S., as a slang expression of any sort, let alone one with racial connotations). The later English 20th century usage of the word ‘wog’ as a derogatory term for almost any non-white person, while often glossed by apologists as an acronym for ‘Western Oriental Gentleman’ or the like, is clearly an appropriation of the name of Upton’s character but now given negative racial connotations that the author never intended, and now clad in minstrel attire to make racial mockery the only point of a figure that, up until then, had seemingly been intended to express the exact opposite. Upton dressed her creation in the black suit that was the standard formal attire of her day. One might suppose this to be a shorthand suggesting that he was a dignified and respectable figure. His courage and strength of character were ably demonstrated in his picaresque adventures, as was his intellectual acumen. My own thinking, and I would imagine Kevin’s thinking on the character, was that here we had a character which in its day was positive, bold, innovative, and the creation of a typically overlooked woman creator who had quite possibly wished to situate an admirable and loveable black figure in the imaginations of the white Victorian children who comprised her readership. It was our belief that the character could be handled in such a way as to return to him the sterling qualities of Upton’s creation, while stripping him of the racial connotations than had been grafted onto the Golliwog figure by those who had misappropriated and wilfully misinterpreted her work. While we felt that we had succeeded in what were well-intentioned aims, such an interpretation can only ever be subjective. It may have been the several years that have elapsed between our initial introduction of the character and this present round of debate, during which the Galley-Wag appeared to have elicited little or no controversy, which have led us to believe that our intentions had been largely understood by our generally insightful readership.

As for the use of ‘problematic’ figures in the pages of The League, a great number of the literary figures which we’ve appropriated or re-imagined in the course of the book, have been to my mind every bit as problematic as the Galley-Wag. They just haven’t been black. As an example I remain somewhat unsure, in light of these current issues, as to why our use of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu in volume one seemed to have passed by without a murmur, given that here we have a character who was actually intended by his original author as a crude racial caricature of the most negative and xenophobic strain, and for whom our only act of rehabilitation was to suggest that Rohmer’s ‘Devil Doctor’ may have been motivated by a hatred of the British justifiably inculcated during his childhood in the years of the bestial and shameful Opium Wars. And yet, hardly a word said, as I recall. I would have thought that an attempt to, say, revive the Fu Manchu movie franchise, unreconstructed, would have been at least as unwelcome as a revival of the post-Upton Golliwog, but there may be something that I am missing or which I have failed to examine here. The nature of The League is that almost all of the interesting characters from fiction – or at least, all of those characters interesting to us – can be seen as problematic from a contemporary viewpoint. In our attempts to reinterpret these characters and to make them viable for a modern narrative, we have arrived at some solutions which, inevitably, some individuals are almost certain to find offensive. And while such individuals are of course entitled to their opinion, I don’t see that this should necessarily influence decisions made by a work’s authors who are likely to have thought about the matter at length and to have come to different conclusions. I would cite the minor internet controversy that was apparently generated by our use of the ‘Jimmy’ character in The Black Dossier. Apparently, while it was our explicit intention to reinvest the character with all of the unexamined misogyny and sadism of Ian Fleming’s still-popular original, there was a certain degree of outcry from persons presumably only acquainted with the character from his screen appearances, who felt that we had desecrated a beloved icon of their adolescence by implying unpleasant characteristics of which their hero was entirely innocent. As I say, these people were all entitled to their opinion, but from the perspective of what we were attempting to achieve – the prompting of a re-examination of this murderous, womanising and very popular masculine role-model – that opinion was completely useless and I feel that we were right to ignore it.

PÓM: How do you respond to the contention that it is not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg?

AM: The idea that it is not the place of two white men to ‘reclaim’ (although I’m not certain that’s exactly what we were doing) or otherwise utilise a contentious black character, unless I am to understand that this principle only applies to white men using black characters, would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves. Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race – and specifically to black people and white people – then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes. I cannot assume, of course, that my perception of such a prohibition as self-evidently ridiculous and unworkable is one that will be shared unanimously, and indeed this would appear not to be the case.

It may be some variant upon this way of thinking that has for so long precluded positive representations of women, non-white people and people of alternative sexual orientations from most entertainment media (not historically well-staffed by women or people of different ethnicities or publically-stated sexualities), although upon consideration it’s probably more likely the result of simple ignorance and ordinary unexamined prejudice. Surely, rather than some rather poorly-conceived proscription being applied to the depiction of all differing groups of people across all of the arts, it would be more sensible to judge each separate occasion individually and on its own terms? Actually, whether it’s the most sensible approach or not, in any practical sense it is the only way that these issues have been judged in the past, and lacking any non-totalitarian alternative I imagine that it is the method by which such things will be judged for a considerable distance into the future. It is perfectly proper and correct that our interpretation of the Golliwog should be interrogated and questioned, as it was with the character’s first appearance some few years ago, when I believed these issues to have been addressed and that our motives had been both generally understood and generally accepted.

I hope it’s not improper or untoward of me to confess that I have found the ready assumption of my alleged racial insensitivity or thoughtlessness to be a little disappointing. I’m not expecting anyone to be that interested in my disappointment, but it is a subject that I’ll be returning to later on in this discourse, so I thought that I should flag it up in advance for anyone uncertain as to where all of this is inexorably leading. Returning to the question, as to whether it is ‘permissible’ for people of one kind to depict people of another (and, again, asking why none of this seems to have applied to our ‘reclaiming’ of Dr. Fu Manchu), I submit that if this restriction were universally adopted, we would have had no authors from middle-class backgrounds who were able to write about the situation of the lower classes, which would have effectively ruled out almost all authors since William Shakespeare (whose rarity as an example of a writer from an apparently working class background is attested by the number of theoreticians from more elevated social groups who would have it that his work could only possibly have been composed by a member of the aristocracy). While I might have winced on many occasions as a middle-class author such as Martin Amis presents his (at least to my mind) lazy and offensive studies of a vulnerable underclass, I would certainly hesitate before proposing any imposition of an ideology that would also exclude the works of Charles Dickens, Gerald Kersh or any of several hundred other fine writers. I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor. So, no, I personally don’t see anything wrong per se in including Florence Upton’s creation in the pages of The League, nor, in light of the above argument, do I see how anybody could reasonably adopt such a position. Whether we have succeeded in our intentions with regard to the character is, patently, a different question entirely, and one to which, as I’ve already said, everyone is of course entitled to their opinion.

PÓM: as far as I can make out, the golliwogg is the only character in the League stories – certainly amongst the ones that are in the public domain – whose origin you have radically changed. Why did you feel the need to do this, when you didn’t do it with any of the other characters?

AM: This is a difficult question to answer, only in that it seems to be based upon an inaccurate perception. While with all of the multitude of fictional characters which we’ve included in The League we have tried to retain as much of the spirit, flavour and incidental detail of the original figures as is possible, in the act of trying to get all of these imaginary entities and continuities to add up to a coherent integrated world we have had to make minor or major alterations to almost all of them – not least in that four of the five original members of the group were officially dead before the opening of the first volume. As for changing a character’s origin, to the best of my knowledge the character never really had an ‘origin story’, this being largely a preoccupation of a more comic-book-oriented public than existed in 1895. In common with similar anthropomorphic children’s characters of that approximate period, like, say, the cast of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, I assume that the Golliwog had, for the purposes of Upton’s story, always existed with his supporting cast intact and thus had no need for a expository narrative about ‘how he came to be’.

The processes by which we arrived at our conception of the Galley-Wag’s origins were almost identical to the processes by which we reconfigured Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to suit our perhaps over-intricate continuity: in the case of Orlando, once we’d extended the character’s immortal history even further into the past in order to include the events of Orlando Furioso and Orlando Inamorata (along with the Roland legend upon which that character was initially based), we had the problem of coming up with a logical-sounding explanation for the character’s existence in our continuity; an explanation that did not violate too many of the details around which the character had initially been created. With Orlando, I felt we had to explain the character’s immortality and also the character’s propensity for shifting his/her gender. The blue flame or blue plasma-pool of immortality already established in Rider Haggard’s She provided an answer to the first difficulty, while relating Orlando to the gender-shifting Tiresias of ancient Thebes from Oedipus Rex took care of the other. With regard to Upton’s Golliwog, the difficulties were of course different, but the approach we took to solving them was essentially the same. We felt it necessary to explain the character’s physical appearance, mode of dress, behaviour, and existence in our continuity. Having already used ‘genetic experiment of Dr. Moreau’ for Rupert Bear, Tiger Tim, Mr. Toad and the rest in volume two (characters where I’d say we altered their ‘origins’ quite significantly), it seemed that something else was called for. We wished to preserve the independence and strength of character exhibited by Upton’s original, which, as mentioned earlier, ruled out simply making him another of Queen Olympia’s robotic toy subjects.

I believe questions have been raised concerning why we didn’t simply make him a positively-presented black male human, but that wasn’t the character that we were dealing with: Upton’s character didn’t look like a black male human because he was not, as far as I can discern, meant to be a black male human. I believe he was originally intended as a heroic, romantic and fantastical being whose skin colour was no more an indicator of race than that of the yellow creature in Mervyn Peake’s Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor. Why, if our intention was to examine and recreate Upton’s original, would we have sought to make the same racial equation as those entrepreneurs who’s dressed him in that minstrel outfit in the first place? What we actually did with the character was to decide that a character of those non-human squat proportions – which seemed to suggest a great density – and that non-reflective black colouration, might conceivably be a stranded alien entity from that sizeable majority of the universe’s missing mass and substance that is hypothetically described as ‘dark matter’; from a dark matter cosmos with little light and thus with sound being the most probable carrier of information, and where heat is generated by the greater and more compacted mass of the dark-matter bodies themselves. In order to reference and acknowledge the racial connotations that had accumulated since Upton’s first imagining of the character, I decided that our re-imagined Golliwog was most probably an escapee from a dark-matter-cosmos slave galley (for which we borrowed a previously established fictional slave-trading alien race who were un-problematically pink and thus fit the intended parallel rather well). Having a self-invented and self-constructed dimension-spanning escape craft took care of the balloonist aspect of Upton’s character, and having him arrive on Earth by way of our Arctic Toyland gave us a chance to explain his earthly attire and his Dutch Doll companions. It also occurred to me that having the character refer to himself as a ‘galley-wag’ might tie nicely into this escaped-slave construction, while further distancing our reinvention from the racial and racist associations that had been layered upon the name of the original. His dialogue, which as far as I can tell betrays no racial associations whatsoever, was intended to enhance the piratical, ferocious and more than slightly surreal way in which we wished to present the character. (The tone of the character’s dialogue uses some of the same kind of coinages that Upton herself employed, such as in the Kingdom of ‘Pankywank’.) As I say, this process is not essentially different in any way from our many other doctorings and revisions, and I imagine that the real question that is being asked in all this is actually ‘shouldn’t there be some fictional figures who, for whatever reason, authors and artists are forbidden to examine or refer to?’. To which my answer is a fairly unambiguous ‘no’, with the proviso, as stated above, that any such examination or reference should then be judged on its own merits or otherwise.

PÓM: Are there further plans for the golliwogg and the Dutch dolls in the League stories?

AM: As regards further plans for the character, I have nothing specific in mind beyond the fact that he will probably continue to appear in League publications in future, to a greater or lesser degree. There may well be an appearance in the forthcoming volume four of The League, although I’d been thinking of it as more of a cameo appearance to tie up a necessary plot thread than anything else. We’ll see. Certainly, this current debate is unlikely to affect my thinking one way or the other.

Sexual Violence Against Women
PÓM: one characteristic of your work that gets singled out in online debate quite a lot is the prevalence of sexual violence towards women, with a number of instances of rape or attempted rape in your stories. Why is this something you feel you need to put into your stories? Does it worry you may be alienating some of your audience by doing this?

AM: Well, now, this a very serious and substantial charge, and, I think, demands an equally serious and substantial reply. We’ll be getting to the subject of just how subjects like this tend to arise in online debate in just a moment, after I’ve answered this current question, but I’d first like to establish exactly what is meant by the ‘prevalence’ of sexual violence towards women, including rape and sexual assault, that is in my work. I would have thought that a term like prevalence would have needed some kind of qualifier regarding what it is prevalent in relation to. Is it prevalent in relation to other expressions of sex in my work, or perhaps to the non-sexual violence contained therein? I’ll admit I haven’t counted, but I wouldn’t have thought so. On the subject of other expressions of sex, it seems to me that there is a far greater prevalence of consensual and relatively joyous sexual relationships in my work than there are instances of sexual violence. As regards non-sexual violence, there is clearly a lot more non-sexual violence in my work that there is violence of the sexual variety, although in our current culture that’s true of nearly everyone’s work, isn’t it? I certainly can’t claim special credit. So perhaps the prevalence in question is the prevalence of rape or sexual violence in my work in relation to the sexual violence in, say, literature, cinema or the modern recording industry? Again, I wouldn’t have thought so.

Is what we’re actually talking about here the prevalence of rape and sexual violence in my work in comparison to that in the work of other writers working within the comic industry? Now, here, I’d probably have to agree, especially if we’re talking about the comic writers of thirty years ago, when I first commenced my apparently rape-fixated career. If you look at the attempted rape in the first episode of V for Vendetta, for example, I think you’ll find that I was only able to identify the crime by its initial letter on the lips of a traumatised and stammering Evey Hammond. Still, this was one letter more than had been available to EC Comics a couple of decades before, when they were forced to tell their still-shocking tale of a rapist hiding behind a sheriff’s badge without referring to the actual crime except by implication. My point is that rape did not exist in the comic books of that period, save for the occasional permissible off-panel rape, such as when a tavern dancing girl might be pushed back into the hay by a muscular barbarian, her lips saying no but her eyes saying yes. Other than this, no overt sexuality of any kind existed in the mainstream comic books of that era, with the last of the underground comix having bitten the dust during the previous decade.

I’m curious as to what anyone who considered themselves to be a committed and conscientious modern writer would have done in those circumstances. What conclusions might the commentators of today have come to in relation to those issues? What options were open to creators of that period? Well, quite obviously, the safest and most comfortable option would have been to go along with a censorious status quo and simply not refer to sexual matters, even obliquely. Indeed, as I remember, this is exactly the option that most of my contemporaries in the field back then tended to make their default position, since they were understandably reluctant to displease their editors and thus to jeopardise their chances of future employment. It seemed to me, however, that if comics could not address adult matters – by which I meant a great deal more than simply sexual issues – then they could never progress to become a serious and accepted artistic medium, and would never amount to anything much more than a nostalgic hobby for ageing teenagers. To my mind, the only mind I had direct access to, it seemed that such a potentially astonishing medium deserved more than this. Along with political and social issues, I elected to make sexual issues a part of my work.

As I say, most of my writings in this area have concerned joyous expressions of sexuality, with as much diversity as I was capable of applying at the time. Unless anyone is arguing that comic books are not a place for sexual matters, then I don’t see that they can have any major disagreements with the above. So perhaps it is the next decision that I made wherein I am at fault: my thinking was that sexual violence, including rape and domestic abuse, should also feature in my work where necessary or appropriate to a given narrative, the alternative being to imply that these things did not exist, or weren’t happening. This, given the scale upon which such events occur, would have seemed tantamount to the denial of a sexual holocaust, happening annually. I could not, in all conscience, produce work under those limitations without at least attempting to change or remove them. Presumably, my current critics would have done differently, and indeed, as I remember, most people in the field found it more convenient simply not to address issues of sex or sexuality – or those of race, politics, gender and any other matters of social substance, for that matter.

As to whether it worried or concerned me that I may have been alienating part of my audience by addressing any or all of the above issues, why would I be concerned about alienating part of my potential audience on a moral issue which I had already thought through and come to what I felt was a considered opinion upon? Surely, the only reasons an individual would have for concern in such circumstances, and the most likely reasons why the majority of other comic professionals of that period chose not to risk any form of controversy in their work until ground had been broken and it was safe and indeed profitable for them to do so, would be reasons of financial gain and career advantage? But perhaps it might be thought that by discussing all of this context at such length – I’m told that context is not necessarily a welcome commodity in this type of discussion – I am attempting to evade the central issue, which is presumably the question why I, as a male, should feel privileged to discuss such matters in my work. How can someone who has not, to the reader’s knowledge, suffered rape or any other form of sexual invasion, conceivably be qualified to handle such topics in their fiction?

I hope readers will understand that I am being anything but flippant when I point out that, as yet, I have not been murdered either. Certainly I have known murder victims and their families, and I have likewise met murderers and their families too. While I cannot say whether this qualifies me to talk about murder or not, I am fairly confident that it has afforded me a more informed and compassionate view upon the subject than I might otherwise have had, which as a writer I presume to be a good thing. This is also true regarding the subject of sexual violence. While I myself only suffered an attempted abduction at the age of six or so and the minor molestations of a paedophile head of first years at the age of eleven along with almost everyone else in my year, I have known a distressing number of women, including women who are or have been close to me, who have been raped, sexually assaulted or otherwise threatened with sexual violence. In fact, when I think about it, I’ve had a lot more contact with people who’ve suffered from the effects of sexual violence than I’ve had contact with people either killed or devastated by their proximity to a murder. Lest this be thought a purely personal perception or perhaps a blip in highly localised statistics, I would cite the figures mentioned in my most recent copy of prison newspaper Inside Times (the most convenient source of information to hand at the moment for someone without an internet connection). From what I understand, last year there were 60, 000 rapes in the UK. I’m assuming that this is reported rapes, and that actual incidents of rape are possibly two or three times as high. There were a further 400,000 cases of sexual assault, and a frankly horrific 1.2 million cases of domestic abuse.

Leaving aside the sexual assault and domestic abuse figures and just focussing on the rapes – which is of course rather my ‘thing’ – I would have to say that I do not recall the sixty thousand homicides that occurred in the U.K. last year, possibly because – well, they didn’t, did they? Except, of course, in the pages of fiction, where I would imagine that there were considerably more violent deaths than the above-mentioned figure. It would appear that in the real world, which the great majority of people are compelled to live in, there are relatively few murders in relation to the staggering number of rapes and other crimes of sexual or gender-related violence, this being almost a complete reversal of the way that the world is represented in its movies, television shows, literature or comic-book material. Forgive me if there is something glaringly obvious that I am missing here; some evident flaw in my reasoning that I myself am blind to, but why should this marked disparity be so? Why should murder be so over-represented in our popular fiction, and crimes of a sexual nature so under-represented? Surely it cannot be because rape is worse than murder, and is thus deserving of a special unmentionable status. Surely, the last people to suggest that rape was worse than murder were the sensitively-reared classes of the Victorian era. Certainly, the actual victims of rape that I’ve known and spoken to don’t seem impressed with the idea of a ‘fate worse than death’. Most seem of a mind that while what they went through was unbelievably horrible, at least they hadn’t been killed, even if they had been threatened to that effect by their rapist. And yet, while it is perfectly acceptable (not to say almost mandatory) to depict violent and lethal incidents in lurid and gloating high definition detail, this is somehow regarded as healthy and perfectly normal, and it is the considered depiction of sexual crimes that will inevitably attract uproars of the current variety.

Again, if nobody is seriously arguing that rape is much more serious a human event than the actual violent termination of a life in its entirety, why should this be so? Why should sexual violence be ring-fenced when forms of violence every bit as devastating are treated as entertainment? If I may venture an answer to my own question, might it be because the term ‘sexual violence’ contains the word ‘sexual’, a word relating to matters traditionally not discussed in polite society? As I affirmed earlier, thirty years ago rape and sexual violence were unmentionable in comics. Now, God bless everyone who imagines that this was because the comics editors of thirty years ago were more sensitive to the possible upset feelings of women readers than their equivalent today, but I’m afraid this is not the case. Mentions of any form of sexual activity, positive or negative, were out of bounds and the reason for this is that since the Victorian period, sex had been considered rude and dirty by the middle classes. Indeed, the avowed sexual control exercised by that class was one of the main features by which they differentiated themselves from the more animalistic urges present among the lower orders and immigrant communities. I am not attempting to be disingenuous here, but I genuinely cannot see any reason why lethal non-sexual violence should be privileged over sexual violence, other than a residual middle class discomfort or squeamishness over all matters pertaining to sex, which in this instance has taken on the protective colouration of a fairly spurious appeal to contemporary sexual politics. Nor can I see any compelling or worthy reason why I, or any other writer, should restrain themselves from addressing whatsoever issues they feel are worthy of address, if they have the courage to engage with those subjects in the face of the possible approbation and loss of livelihood which may be entailed. Fortunately for those who think differently to myself, this is one of several traits which very few modern commercial career writers would seem to possess. I hope that, before I allow myself a more personal response to these matters, I have answered all of the questions raised with sufficient clarity and honesty to avoid having to repeat or re-repeat myself at some point in the future. I apologise for the length of my reply, but clearly these are important issues, to which I have been visibly turning my attentions for the past three or four decades. Surprising as it may seem to some, I have given these matters a certain amount of thought during that time. Possibly, although I cannot of course assume this, more than they themselves have exerted in their flurry of perhaps ill-considered responses to this somewhat manufactured controversy. Anyway, my longwinded screed may at least convey something to the casual reader of how dull, tiring and irrelevant I myself have found this episode. I certainly hope so.

Now:

Although I understand that these exchanges are intended to be by and large one way communications, I’m afraid I haven’t had the reasons for this satisfactorily explained to me, and so intend to ignore this convention. Similarly, I intend to presume that moral criticism and speculation as to motive are not the sole prerogative of any one side in this discussion. If this presumption is erroneous, or is in any way seen as a breach of manners or protocol, then I hope this will charitably be attributed to the many deficiencies of my age, my background, or, conceivably, my education.

Since I understand the various concerns addressed above to have largely arisen resulting from my attendance at the launch of Lance Parkin’s recent biography, a few words relating to the background of this event, at least from my personal perspective, may be in order. When Lance contacted me a couple of years ago and told me he’d been commissioned to write the book, he asked if I’d like it to be an official biography, a generous offer which I declined. This was partly because I felt that there had been rather a lot of books about me, and I didn’t want to appear self-regarding by actively collaborating in another one, whatever its merits might be. I also told Lance that in my opinion unofficial biographies were generally far more honest and revealing and suggested that he go ahead with his book on that basis, with the proviso that my friends and family not be interviewed on the grounds that they have probably suffered enough.

Of course, this really only left Lance with a string of people who are in neither of those categories. Despite this obstacle, when I finally got to read a proof copy of Magic Words I felt that he had done an excellent and fair-minded job, presenting the information with as much context as was available to him and then allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions about some of the rather remarkable claims made about me and my work. Having paid little or no attention to the utterances of the comic field for some decades, there were obviously more than a few statements by former associates that were something of a surprise and which seemed to me in many instances to be founded upon the distortion or even the wholesale invention of events. There were also, as you know, a number of statements by Grant Morrison – someone whom I have only ever met and spoken with once and have tried my best to avoid all contact with ever since – including his no doubt well-intentioned observation that there is apparently a rape in every single comic series that I have ever written. I imagine that this might have something to do with some of the actually rather important issues which have been demoted to use as ammunition in this presumably not uncommon online ‘controversy’.

While claims such as the above are obviously the equivalent of receiving a gift-wrapped turd through the mail, since Grant Morrison seems to have spent as much or possibly more time discussing me and my work over the years than he has his own, they are not, by this point, entirely unexpected. Despite these few slightly depressing passages, I felt that Lance and the people at Aurum Books had clearly worked tremendously hard and had produced a remarkably good biography, especially given some of the sticky-to-the-touch sources they’d been forced to resort to by my ‘no friends’ stipulation. When I was invited along to the launch of the book, despite the fact that I’m generally trying to avoid public appearances at the moment in order to concentrate on work, I felt that it would be a good way of showing Lance and the Aurum crew how much I appreciated what they’d done.

When Melinda and I arrived at the venue and I had the pleasure of meeting Lance for the first time, he surprised me by remarking on the current dust-storm of angry commentary that was apparently then being generated online, surrounding remarks I’d made in a newspaper interview. Not having a great deal of interest in online comment, this was news to me and I was at first unable to identify the interview in which I’d made this seemingly inflammatory statement. When told that it had run in the previous Saturday’s Guardian, I was still unable to recall conducting it. It transpired that this was because I’d actually taken part in the interview a couple of very busy months earlier, on the afternoon when I’d given a half-dozen brief press interviews relating to the launch of Fashion Beast. The subject of comic-related-films (or film-related-comics) had understandably arisen and, when asked, I had ventured my honest opinion that I found something worrying about the fact that the superhero film audience was now almost entirely composed of adults, men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties who were eagerly lining up to watch characters and situations that had been expressly created to entertain the twelve year-old boys of fifty years ago. I not only feel this is a valid point, I also believe it to be fairly self-evident to any disinterested observer. To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times. These, anyway, were my thoughts on the subject, and I remember that Lance said he wanted to ask me a question on the issue during our interview later, in order to give me an opportunity to clarify my remarks, to which I agreed. (I hadn’t yet realised that the somewhat belated date on which the Guardian had finally published the interview was, perhaps coincidentally, the date of the much-publicised Dr. Who anniversary – another phenomenon that had passed me by completely – during which a number of people in their thirties, forties and fifties would be enjoying characters and situations that had been created to entertain, well, the twelve year-old boys of fifty years ago. I hadn’t been thinking about Dr. Who when I made my original comment, but I suppose the timing of the interview may very well have made that appear to be the case, and anyway my opinions are probably as applicable to Dr. Who as they are to the Avengers movie that I was actually discussing. They would also probably be as unpopular and unwelcome in either instance.)

The evening unfolded from that point and I must admit that I’d been under the impression that the audience, a broad range of ethnicities and sexualities with a welcome and nowadays pleasingly common almost-equal gender distribution, had enjoyed themselves as much as the participants. Even when Lance asked me to reiterate my possibly contentious comments regarding the apparent emotional and intellectual arrest of modern cinema audiences, I didn’t get the impression of any vociferous reaction upon the audience’s part, either for or against. The same audience seemed to have generally enjoyed or at least been interested in Act of Faith and Jimmy’s End, and with these two short films having been freely available on You Tube for some considerable time, I must admit that neither I nor Mitch (nor Siobhan or Bob or Melinda) were expecting any kind of extreme reaction. Frankly, we were just grateful to those members of the audience who sat patiently through two not-entirely-comfortable films which they may have seen before.

As I understand the course of events unfolding after the launch, there had been someone in the audience, whose name escapes me but who is evidently pleased to identify himself as a Batman scholar, who had been offended by Act of Faith and, as people in this branch of scholarship presumably do, he had advertised this fact on social media. In a message that I was shown, his objections to the film became more obvious when he described and summarised it as film about a woman who dresses in ‘slutty clothes’ and then commits suicide. Without wishing to labour the obvious, I fear that this gentleman may have understood the film too quickly. Quite why he should have done this is a question that I have more trouble over, but of that more presently. For those who also had difficulty in interpreting the fifteen-minute film, and without wishing to spoil it for those who may not have seen it, the basic outline of Act of Faith is as follows: we witness a young woman, the Faith of the title, returning home after a day’s work as a journalist to reply to various answer-phone messages which lightly sketch in some details of the character’s life and situation. We next see her calling a costume hire shop to ask if anyone has been in to pick up the paramedic costume that she has presumably reserved earlier, to be told in reply that a young man has indeed called by to pick up the requisite disguise. She next changes into an outfit that we – including the actress Siobhan Hewlett who played the character – felt suggested a faintly sad and misjudged attempt at seamy eroticism. The character next places a call to a man who answers the phone with a matter of fact “Hello, Chad Bailey?” before being asked by his young woman caller if she’s speaking to “the paramedics”, after which he lowers his voice, adopts a huskier and more aroused tone and agrees that yes, this is “the paramedics” speaking. At this point Faith goes into a fairly obviously staged account of how she’s a young woman living alone and planning to kill herself. She also goes into a rather heavy-handed and, one might think, unnecessary description of the “slutty clothes” that she is wearing in preparation for this supposedly terminal act; her “stockings and everything”. Following this she hangs up and commences a clearly rehearsed set of ritual actions – the removal of a set of handcuffs from a plastic bag, the balling up of the plastic bag and placing it in her mouth, and finally looping a clearly pre-prepared noose around her neck with the other end attached to the rail of her wardrobe. Securing the handcuffs behind her back she gradually lowers herself to the extent of the rope, and we see from her expression that she seems to be in a state of arousal. This expression changes abruptly when her answer-phone receives another message. This is from the same young man we heard her speaking to earlier, only he sounds breathless and frightened, and commences his message with words to the effect that “If you’ve not started already, then don’t.” He goes on to tell her that there’s been an accident and that his car is not operational. He assures her that he’s running around to her place as fast as he can and tells her she should “just hang on”, amending this after a moment’s thought to “I mean, just don’t worry”. By this time the young woman, understandably, appears to be very worried indeed. We close upon the now-silent phone, which blurs to black as the track on her CD player plays itself out. This is the end of the film (or unusually high-quality trailer, as we’d originally thought of it), although a helpful screen caption at the film’s end announces that the film Jimmy’s End will be following shortly. We thought this might tip off viewers who had missed the many other trailing or unresolved references in the film that Act of Faith was a self-contained part or episode in a considerably larger, broader, and more complex narrative.

And yet this is characterised, apparently in good faith, as a film about a young woman who dresses in “slutty clothes” and then kills herself. I must assume that the offended person genuinely has no knowledge of or did not recognise what most of those watching the film have correctly understood to be a dangerous sex-game that goes very badly wrong. Presumably he didn’t recognise the clumsy and clichéd sex-talk to “the paramedics” as the inexpert role-playing that it was intended to be, or perhaps the concepts of auto-erotic asphyxiation and sexual role-playing are utterly unfamiliar to him. If this is the case, then I must inform him that as far as I am aware, these are both fairly well-known phenomena, at least in the world that exists beyond the confines of his main area of study – although surely the idea of someone dressing up in a costume for reasons that are less than transparent and possibly unhealthy shouldn’t be beyond the reach of a Batman scholar? I wouldn’t wish to suggest that the standards of scholarship in this person’s chosen field are so lax that he simply didn’t bother paying any attention to the film before he started broadcasting his somewhat hastily-constructed opinion, and it would seem impertinent to even imply that perhaps someone more used to superhero comics might have difficulty in extracting meaning from a morally-complicated scene lacking the presence of a caption box to explain to them precisely what is happening, without any confusing ambiguities. I don’t think there’s any field of expertise where that would be recognised as a proper scholarly attitude, or at least I would sincerely hope not. If I don’t wish to say that this person is obtuse to the point of actual stupidity, or that he was prevented from understanding the film by reason of a suspiciously sheltered upbringing, then I’m at something of a loss when it comes to explaining his actions and behaviour.

This is, of course, if his outrage was actually related to Act of Faith, and if his misunderstanding of the film was genuine rather than actively constructed. As I noted earlier, it was not until my arrival at the venue that I’d been informed of the angry response from the online superhero fan community to my comments in the Guardian interview four days earlier, which I’d formerly had no idea had been published. As I also noted earlier, Lance raised the point again during our interview at the book launch, and for most of the audience the issue did not seem to be a terribly contentious one. I can’t help but wonder, of course, if someone who has made their continuing interest in Batman such a central part of their adult life might not have been offended or felt personally slighted by my suggestion that the mass devotion of middle-aged people to superhero figures might be a cultural indicator of intellectual and/or emotional arrest. Just speaking hypothetically, if such offence had been taken, what might such a person’s outlets of response amount to? It surely wouldn’t be sufficient to Tweet something to the effect that “Alan Moore thinks adult superhero fans are possibly emotionally stunted, and as a Batman scholar I strongly disagree with him”, even though that may in fact be the sum total of the actual truth. Is it unthinkable that such a person might attempt to assuage his hurt feelings by pretending that he is in fact angry about other issues, issues such as sexual violence or misogyny, which are genuinely important matters and might be expected to arouse more condemnation than an affront to one’s favourite imaginary costumed vigilante?

I genuinely hope that this is not the case, and that I have as seriously misconstrued this person’s motives as he has misconstrued mine. I genuinely hope that he is simply a poor scholar whose limited field of enquiry has resulted in him being unable to understand adult situations, or at least those which do not involve a rather simplistic revenge-motivated and bat-themed crime-fighter. In short, I hope he is as intellectually lazy and socially limited as he appears to me to be, because the alternative reading, that he deliberately chose to disguise a sense of wounded comic fan entitlement by resorting to manufactured allegations on an issue that has devastating impact upon millions of real women, who are not fortunate enough to be made out of paper and reside in Gotham City, would seem to border upon the actually vile. Especially so if there was any conceivable intent to raise one’s personal stock in the no-doubt vitally important arena of Batman fandom by publically launching an attack on someone who has worked prominently on that dull and wearyingly angry character, albeit in one of the least personally interesting and most regretted works of his career.

I might add that these very serious allegations, if indeed they result from spite rather than conviction, are a deployment of some very big guns over what were, relatively speaking, some of my less genuinely hostile opinions with regard to superheroes. If I had gone on to say, as I have on other occasions, that modern superheroes seem to mainly function as cowardice compensators for a number of their conflict-averse creators and readers, or that the origin of capes and masks as ubiquitous superhero accessories can be deduced from a close viewing of D.W. Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation, then I hate to think what I might have been accused of.

Given that I’ve only heard about this self-assembly contretemps at second hand, you’ll forgive me if I remain uncertain as to the precise order of events after our Batman scholar had provoked his excitable audience, whether actually school-age or just young at heart, into what I must suppose passes for a frenzy in this slightly airless world of interconnected back-bedrooms. I’m not sure at which point the person who is apparently an American photographer joined the debate, and again must apologise for being unfamiliar with her name. The only thing that I’d previously heard concerning this person was Kevin’s brief account of someone he’d apparently encountered at an American signing for The Black Dossier, an African-American woman (if that is still an acceptable U.S. term) who had seemed upset by our inclusion of the Golliwog/Galley-Wag. In Kevin’s account as I remember it he’d done his best to explain but was left feeling that he may have done an inadequate job, and that the woman hadn’t seemed to be interested in his account of Florence Upton’s original creation, or in the context within which we’d come to our decision. For what it’s worth, Kevin was genuinely concerned to the point where we talked for some while about the one person on his signing tour of many individuals who’d expressed a negative opinion concerning the character. However, given that Kevin had tried his best to provide an honest explanation in a face-to-face situation (somewhat more that most ordinary readers of the book had been allowed) and seemingly failed suggested that there was little more to be done. Other than resolving we should perhaps be more explicit and reveal more of the character’s back-story on future outings, to hopefully make our motives plainer without our regular readers thinking we were uncharacteristically underlining everything, we couldn’t really do otherwise than continue with our work. Unless anyone is realistically suggesting that we remove the character from our continuity after a negative reaction from a solitary reader, I don’t see what else we could have done.

Now, this person has an absolutely inalienable right to her reaction, and I am not suggesting or implying that her response was ‘wrong’ in any way. If that was her reading of the story, then she is fully entitled to retain her opinion. I would hope that in my lengthy response to the first several questions on your list that I may have perhaps allayed some of her misgivings, although my feeling is that this is frankly unlikely. I at least hope that in having raised her concerns and been listened to in a personal encounter with the book’s artist, and now having these issues addressed to the best of his ability by the book’s writer, that she will accept that her concerns have been engaged with to a degree that is greater than most readers could or would reasonably expect. I would point out that while everyone is entitled to their informed opinion, this is actually the full extent of their entitlement.

Possibly because I’m typing this on Christmas Eve I feel inclined, despite the long hiatus between this person first airing her grievance and us hearing anything further from her, to take her stance at face value. I can readily imagine how justifiably angry the depiction of non-white characters in contemporary comics, or the relatively tiny number of artists or writers of colour compared to the number of non-white comic readers, could make anyone, irrespective of their colour or ethnicity. I simply feel – and this is only my personal opinion and in no way privileged over her own – that in this instance that anger is misdirected. As I understand it from the questions I’ve been asked, the major bone of contention seems to be the question of whether white creators can presume to present possibly controversial material relating to black characters. I’ve addressed this more comprehensively above, but would only add that if I had adopted this attitude back in 1999/2000, there is every likelihood that the United States, surely embarrassingly, would be nearly a decade-and-a-half into the 21st century and still without any positive examples of mixed-race marriages producing mixed-race offspring anywhere in its media. Certainly not in its comic books. (I’m referring to Tom Strong here, incidentally, which is apparently also distinguished by the fact that it is the one title in my oeuvre in which I somehow managed to restrain myself from depicting acts of sexual violence against women.)

Moving on to someone whose name I recognise and whom I have at least spoken to over the phone on one solitary and never-to-be-repeated occasion, I note that one of the more vociferous complainants in this borderline-remedial debate is the alleged journalist Laura Sneddon. This is someone I encountered when my publisher Tony Bennett was arranging a very limited (at my request) series of interviews with mainstream rather than comic-oriented media (again at my request) relating to the then-imminent publication of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 2009, the third and concluding section of Century. Tony told me that she seemed to be legitimate and would be interviewing me for the Independent, which at that point was a newspaper that I still harboured a certain amount of respect for, and explained to me that she was one of the very few people who had received an advance copy of 2009, under conditions of strict confidentiality, in order for her to be able to venture informed questions during the scheduled interview, which seemed fair enough.

The interview itself turned out to be a fairly routine exercise and passed without either memorable incident or memorable question. I had understandably forgotten about it until, I think, on or about the occasion of the signing that we’d scheduled to accompany the book’s launch. This was when I learned that in an edition of the Independent released roughly a week before the book itself Laura Sneddon had gleefully related all of the major plot developments and denouements, including the death of Allan Quatermain and the identity of the ‘Moonchild’ or Antichrist figure that we’d been carefully building up references to over the four or more years that we’d been labouring on that third (and longest) volume of The League. In addition to Ms. Sneddon’s apparent assumption that she and the newspaper that she represented were for some reason exempt from the confidentiality agreement which presumably lesser mortals had evidenced no such difficulty in respecting, she or other parties at the Independent had also seen fit to run an article in the main body of the paper, a sensationalist tabloid-style non-story speculating heatedly about the likelihood of J.K. Rowling’s lawyers taking action over a book in which none of the names or likenesses of her characters or institutions had been so much as mentioned. This actually seemed like an attempt on the Independent’s part to bring about the highly unlikely situation which their article had envisioned, perhaps in the hope of filling another half-page or so with over-excitable copy in which they could liberally use the words ‘Harry Potter’. You can of course understand their position. I mean, it wasn’t as if there was any genuinely important stuff going on in the nation or the world back then, was there?

As anyone of even rudimentary intelligence might have predicted, absolutely nothing came of these attention-seeking predictions save for Tony Bennett (who’d arranged the interview in good faith) contacting Laura Sneddon and informing her that neither he nor the book’s creators wished to have anything to do with her in future. When somebody has seemingly done their level best to sabotage a major project, whether by malice or by a frankly incredible degree of stupidity, I fail to see how anyone could have expected a professional publisher or professional creators to do anything else. I certainly don’t see that simply withdrawing contact, compared with her own actively deceitful actions, can be seen in any way as harsh. Ms. Sneddon, it seems, did not agree. There was a flurry of rather panicked communications in which she insisted that she had actually been attempting to help us by revealing the ending of a four-or-five year serial continuity, and by apparently trying to involve our work in a completely spurious legal controversy. This help, it hardly need be said, was both unsolicited and unappreciated. You will perhaps think me cynical, but this looked to me like an insultingly clumsy bid to have reneged on an important matter of trust and responsibility and yet to somehow still maintain important media contacts that might prove useful in the subsequent advancement of her career. In fairness to Ms. Sneddon, we offended parties quickly acknowledged between ourselves that she could not have been solely responsible for the situation, and that at the very least the Independent’s standards of journalistic integrity clearly also left much to be desired. In an attempt at even-handedness we decided to forego any further contact with the newspaper in its entirety and that, not unreasonably I feel, was where the matter would have rested were it not for Laura Sneddon’s current (thus far successful) efforts to bring herself to my attention.

Actually, that isn’t wholly accurate. While discussing this latest highlight of my continuing presence in the comic field and my present perceived persona as a rape-fixated racist with my wife (and let me just repeat that to underline the seriousness of what I’m trying to get across here: WITH – MY – WIFE), she foggily and uncertainly recalled an incident which had apparently taken place some months ago but which had previously seemed too trivial to commit to memory, or to mention. Having travelled to Edinburgh as a guest at the Literary Festival only to belatedly realise that she’d be appearing in part of a comics-related subsection of the main event, as she distantly recalled she’d retired to her hotel room in order to avoid as much of the (to her mind) surprise comic convention as she felt she could politely manage without giving offence. Although in a state of some distraction over her unexpected and not entirely welcome immersion in the comic world (despite impeccable and courteous treatment by the Festival organisers), she thought that what had most probably happened next was that she’s been disturbed by the ringing of the room’s phone. Answering, Melinda discovered she was talking to a young woman who announced herself as Laura Sneddon and seemed to think that Melinda may have heard of her, perhaps assuming that there has ever (until now) been a point in my relationship with Melinda where we’ve had nothing more interesting to discuss than the machinations of journalists. When Melinda expressed her unfamiliarity with the name, this reportedly prompted another burst of implausible self-justification and the irrelevant news that Ms. Sneddon was no longer employed by the Independent. There followed a request for an interview on comic-related issues, which Melinda declined, and then a hastily-reformulated request for an interview on supposed feminist topics, from which Melinda also excused herself, perhaps fearing that this appeal to sisterhood may be insincere.

In light of Ms. Sneddon’s recrudescence in the admittedly very seasonal pantomime immediately to hand, it might be thought that these apprehensions were not without foundation. It may be that in her own almost endearingly clumsy Miranda Hart-like way, Ms. Sneddon is once more only trying to help and that I am once more leaping to unfair and unreasonable assumptions with regard to her motives, but it seems to me that what has quite possibly happened here has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever opinions she professes to hold with regard to feminism or to violence against women. Could it be that having demonstrated her reliability as a journalist and had it found wanting, her mystifying sense of entitlement to a profession within which she is, in my own opinion, transparently incapable of conducting herself properly has been outraged? In her apparently affronted astonishment that if you play what look like unpleasant and self-serving games with people who have trusted you then there may be unforeseen consequences, I think it not unlikely that she has attached herself to our Batman scholar’s very public ostensible disgust at Act of Faith as a particularly slimy way of settling whatever she imagines to be the score; once more, it would appear, with no evident forethought on the subject of potential repercussions. (Not being personally familiar with online discussions I’m clearly taking a shot in the dark here, but is there something about the nature of internet discourse that encourages this actually reckless sense of impunity in persons who might otherwise be reluctant regarding more immediate and direct confrontations? As I say, this is only a guess.)

From my perspective, this appears to be a case of someone who has from somewhere acquired an attitude that whatever furthers their own personal interests is entirely justified, and that it is only nasty and belligerent people who will fail to understand this. Having decided to ignore an agreement of confidentiality (something which I don’t remember the Independent ever doing in the case of J.K. Rowling herself) in the hope of some kind of manufactured ‘scoop’, and having been predictably cut off by the persons whose trust she had betrayed, it seems that she has next attempted to position herself as the injured party in all this. Alternatively, it may be that since her first ploy to increase her status and attract attention has worked about as well as might have been anticipated, making a lot of hurt and offended noises might conceivably be some kind of Plan B. Again, I have to say that the thinking here is less than impressive. After the initial incident, if she had quietly accepted our wishes to have no further contact with her and had simply continued with her own career, then there is absolutely no reason why Tony, Kevin or I would ever have had reason to mention her or even think of her again. Instead, she has apparently elected to seek both redress for her wounded feelings and perhaps further playground notoriety by joining in with the ill-informed and suspiciously-motivated outcry over Act of Faith, expressing surprisingly strong feelings concerning a film which she reportedly hadn’t seen or previously demonstrated any interest in. Perhaps seeking to broaden the debate in order to include a comic field that she clearly feels she knows something about, she has introduced the wider issue of the continual pageant of rape running through my work, at least as it is described by Grant Morrison. Again, given her understandably powerful feelings as a woman and as a purported feminist over this genuinely serious issue, I’m surprised that she didn’t think to bring it up when interviewing me over League: 2009. In fact it’s something of a puzzle as to why none of the many reputable journalists of either gender who’ve interviewed me during my thirty-something year career have possessed Ms. Sneddon and Grant Morrison’s penetrating insight or earnest concern for womankind. Unless, of course, there is absolutely no substance to that insight or those concerns, in which case we would be talking about persons of almost unbelievable pettiness and vindictiveness; persons who are prepared to trivialise rape and sexual abuse by using them, casually, as bludgeons in their purely personal and career-furthering vendettas.

Wondering at the source of what seemed to me to be Ms. Sneddon’s embarrassingly low standards of personal and journalistic ethics, I was unsurprised to the point of actual tedium upon discovering that her entry to the field of journalism was achieved by means of an interview with her compatriot and, I’m assuming, her fellow convinced ‘feminist’ Grant Morrison. I neither know nor care about the extent of the connection between them, but I hope that everyone will understand that I really don’t see any convincing reason why I should invite any continuing contact with what appear to me to be polluted and toxic sources. To this end, as with Ms. Sneddon’s previous venture which resulted in the severing of connections with the Independent, it appears that I must extend these sanctions to any other publication or institution with which she claims to be associated. Surely, given my response to the earlier incident, this cannot be an entirely unexpected outcome. I really have no interest in this woman, in her to-my-mind pretended outrage, or in her career. I don’t imagine that my life will be greatly impoverished by never hearing of her or having anything to do with her again.

This, I think, leaves us only with the herpes-like persistence of Grant Morrison himself.

The first time this name passed briefly through the forefront of my consciousness before swiftly making its way to the latrine area would have been at some point in the early to mid ’eighties. As I remember, I was in Glasgow for a signing at local comics outlet AKA Books, although for a signing of what I couldn’t possibly tell you. Bob and John, the proprietors, both very likeable and honourable individuals, were taking me for a dinner at (I think) one of Glasgow’s many fine curry establishments, and asked if a regular visitor to their shop who had aspirations as a writer might be allowed to join us. Since I liked and respected both of them and had no reason to suppose that any of their associates would prove to be in a different category, I readily agreed. They were, after all, paying for the meal, and an extra guest presented no inconvenience to me. Of course, with hindsight…

At the restaurant I was introduced to Grant Morrison. I can’t say I remember him making any particularly vivid or lasting impression on the occasion, in terms of his appearance. All I can reconstruct at this distance is a blurred image of a soberly-dressed and smallish man with tidy collar-length hair and no remarkable or memorable features beyond a general pastiness of complexion, perhaps four or five years younger than I myself was at the time, although this age-gap seems to have somehow increased since then. As to his conversation, he was quite forthcoming in his praise for my work, telling me how much inspiration it had provided and adding that it was his ambition “to be a comic-writer, like you”. Looking back from my present position, it strikes me that I may have only imagined that there was a comma in that last statement, but at the time I took it at face value. I thanked him for his compliments (as I recall he’d been most effusive with regard to V for Vendetta, despite that might-as-well-call-it-a-rape in the first episode), encouraged him in his efforts as much as I could without having seen any examples of his output, and told him that I’d look out for his work in future. Short of perhaps adopting him on the spot as my ward and rather elderly boy sidekick, I don’t see what more I can be expected to have done for a complete stranger on such a brief acquaintance, although it may be that he came from a background with a different set of expectations and thus felt slighted in some way by the encounter. Certainly he gave no indication of this at the time, and I’m only speculating based upon what I perceive as his subsequent peculiar and creepy behaviour.

The next time his name arose would have been, I think, around the time that my relationship with Dez Skinn and Warrior magazine was beginning to enter its down-slopes. As I remember the occasion, I was approached by Skinn with an on-spec submission from Grant Morrison, a Kid Marvelman story as I recall, which while I had nothing against the story or its author did not fit into the storyline which I was attempting to establish. Additionally, I was the author solely responsible for Marvelman’s reinvention and was as puzzled by Skinn’s actions as I’m sure Steve Moore would have been if presented with a script for a spin-off Zirk story by an untested new writer. I held none of this against Grant Morrison, and simply told Skinn to explain to him that the story didn’t fit with my plans for the character. As intimated above, I was already starting to formulate an impression of Skinn as a duplicitous and untrustworthy hustler by this point, and for all I know his initial statement (via Lance Parkin’s book) to the effect that he’d called Morrison and informed him that I’d rejected the story out of my growing possessiveness and paranoia may be, uncharacteristically, a true one, at least in as much as it may be a truthful account of the distortions that Skinn was trading in at the time. I can say with some degree of certainty, however, that Grant Morrison’s colourful account of the threatening letter which he purported to have received from me on the subject is entirely the invention of someone whose desperate need for attention is evidently bottomless. From Skinn’s less-than-smooth revision of his account in order to synchronise his notes with Morrison’s later publicity-ploy, I can only assume that these two individuals are in approximately the same bracket in terms of their moral outlook ( I’m told that Skinn apparently sells my old Marvelman scripts to collectors, presumably when he needs additional pin-money), and that there was thus a great mutual sympathy between them. Anyway, since again nothing was raised at the time of these non-existent events, I continued on my course with no knowledge of them and thus no reason to bear any ill-will towards someone who, in all honesty, was not really impinging on my awareness to any noticeable degree one way or the other.

It was an unspecified amount of time later, perhaps further towards the middle-’eighties, when I had ceased to be connected with Warrior and was already some way into my run on D.C Comic’s Swamp Thing, that I noticed a superhero strip written by Grant Morrison in 2000 AD, a periodical which I was only intermittently looking at during this period. I followed it for two or three episodes, noting that it seemed to have been influenced in several of its ideas and approaches by my own work on Marvelman and Captain Britain. Since every beginning writer probably shows undue signs of influence during their early career, I didn’t really see this as a fault at all, and certainly not an insurmountable one. I reasoned that once he’d found his own voice (as it turns out, an over-optimistic assessment) he might prove to be an interesting writer. Since at this time I was still on good terms with at least Karen Berger, and had only comparatively recently passed on to her the work of Neil Gaiman after he’d interviewed me for a men’s magazine, she’d asked me to recommend to her any other new British writers of interest whose work I happened to chance upon. I mentioned Grant Morrison, describing him as someone still very influenced by my work who could with time emerge as an interesting individual talent in his own right, just as Neil Gaiman had managed to do. While I have no idea whether my recommendation played any part at all in the decision to subsequently employ Morrison, I can’t see that that it would have hurt.

Shortly after this, as I was no longer really engaged with the British fanzine scene (as I recall there’d been a couple of letters attacking me as an individual by over-entitled superhero fans, which at the time I found to be a compelling reason to sever my connections with that milieu), I had called to my attention a number of unpleasant comments and insinuations regarding me and my work which Grant Morrison was making in the promotional platform/fanzine column that he was selflessly providing for one of these publications. This was somewhat annoying and I concluded, not unreasonably in my opinion, that this was evidently some pallid species of career-tapeworm that one might perhaps expect to pick up in the parasite-infested waters of the comic business; a fame-hungry individual without the talent necessary to satisfy his inflated ambitions who had decided to connect himself with my name by simultaneously borrowing heavily from my work and making studiedly controversial statements about me in comic-book fanzines grateful for any free content from supposed professionals. I decided that the best thing I could do about this needy limpet was to ignore him and everything connected with him, reasoning that acknowledging his existence by replying to his allegations would only be assisting his strenuous scrabble for notoriety, and would be involving me in a debate with some feverishly fixated non-entity (we didn’t have the word ‘stalker’ back then) in whom I had absolutely no interest. I avoided his work, which seemed no great hardship as there was no real reason to revisit ideas that it appeared either Michael Moorcock or I had formulated several years earlier. On the rare occasions when his name came up in interviews, I would give the formula reply that since I didn’t read or have any opinions about his work, it would be unfair for me to comment upon it. It was my hope that this tactic might eventually persuade my own personal 18th century medicinal leech to clamp himself onto some more promising and responsive subject, but it’s been around thirty years by now and I am seriously starting to doubt the effectiveness of my own strategy. I’m frankly beginning to feel as if some more conclusive approach might be called for.

A possible reason for Morrison’s excruciating perseverance was to be found some years later in another fanzine contribution that I had pointed out to me, this time an interview in the American Comics Journal where he discussed his early reaction to my work. By this juncture his appreciation had evidently moved on from the mere ‘inspiration’ which he claimed to have found in my work during our only conversation in a Glaswegian curry house, to the remarkable statement that he had experienced such a strong response to my early stories that he’d felt, in a sense, that they were actually his stories. While this would explain why he’d felt at liberty to plunder them for ideas, I feel I must point out that in the limited technical sense of things that really happened in the real world, those were actually my stories, weren’t they? Later in the same interview, he reflected upon those early years of struggle and upon the frustrations he’d known upon realising that he still wasn’t famous enough (fame seemingly being the whole point of his career, rather than say the development of a distinctive voice or talent). Allegedly it was at this point that the young author, presumably lacking the option of attracting attention by means of original and well-written stories, decided that it would be easier to gain status by smearing my name from the safety of his fanzine columns. He expressed some mild regret that this had for some reason led to me not wanting anything to do with him, but in validation of his unusual method for attaining fame without noticeable ability, he pointed out that it had worked. The end, at least in the Morrison household, would always seem to justify the means. And although he certainly implied that he’d only employed this ugly technique during his disadvantaged entry into the field, as far as I can tell he never actually stated in so many words that he’d stopped, or that he’d ever had enough imagination to engineer another means of drawing attention to himself and his otherwise unrewarding product. I presume that in the world which Grant Morrison and his fellow mediocrities inhabit, where the worth of one’s work is a remote consideration after one’s bank balance and degree of celebrity, these methods are seen as completely legitimate or even in some way entertaining.

It appears that he never developed to a degree where he felt he could safely abandon either his sniping criticisms of my work or his Happy Shopper emulation of the same. I remember some several months after my announcement of the fractal mathematics-based Big Numbers, or The Mandelbrot Set as it was originally known, I had someone call my attention to a Mandelbrot set that had been spuriously shoehorned into the plot of an issue of Grant Morrison’s superhero comic Animal Man. This may, admittedly, have been no more than trivial and unimportant coincidence, and yet over the next year or so it would come more and more to look like Morrison’s sole creative strategy and an obvious extension of his strange ‘I felt they were really my ideas’ ethos. I remember Eddie Campbell advancing the theory that Grant Morrison had arrived at most of his published works around this time by reading my early press releases concerning projects which it would take me years to complete and then rushing into print with his limited conception of what he thought my work might end up being like. I announce From Hell and in short order he ‘has the idea’ for a comic strip account of a historical serial murderer. I announce Lost Girls, a lengthy erotic work involving characters from fiction, and within a few months he has somehow managed to conceptualise a Vertigo mini-series along exactly those lines. What I at first believed to be the actions of an ordinary comic-business career plagiarist came to take on worrying aspects of cargo cultism, as if this funny little man believed that by simply duplicating all of my actions, whether he understood them or not, he could somehow become me and duplicate my success. It would appear that at one stage, as an example, he had concluded that the secret to being a big-time acclaimed comic-writer was to be found in having a memorable hairstyle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the possession of talent, hard-earned craft or even his own ideas would seem never to have occurred to him.

Having removed myself as much as possible from a comic scene that seemed more the province of posturing would-be pop-stars than people with a genuine respect for themselves, their craft or the medium in which they were working, I could only marvel when the customary several months after I’d announced my own entry into occultism and the visionary episode which I believed Steve Moore and myself to have experienced in January, 1994, Grant Morrison apparently had his own mystical vision and decided that he too would become a magician. (It wasn’t until I read Lance Parkin’s biography that I learned that as a result of Morrison’s apparently unwitnessed magical epiphany he had boldly decided to pursue a visionary path of ‘materialism and hedonism’. Could I point out for the benefit of anyone who may have been taking this idiotic shit seriously that this doesn’t sound so much like a mystical vision as it does an episode of The Only Way Is Essex? How does this magical discipline and philosophy differ in any way from the rapacious Thatcherite ideologies of the decade in which Grant Morrison wriggled his way to prominence?) I’m reliably informed that he has recently made the unprecedented move of expressing his dissatisfaction with the superhero industry, if only because there isn’t as much money in it as there used to be, and I imagine that there is a very strong likelihood that he will contrive to die within four to six months of my own demise, after leaving pre-dated documents testifying to the fact that he actually predeceased me.

Through the early years of this present century, as he somehow managed to perpetuate his career seemingly without the accomplishment of any major or memorable works, he apparently still found it necessary to keep up his running commentary on me and my writings through the very 21st century medium of a self-aggrandising website. I would occasionally have easily-amused industry associates insist upon passing on his latest hilarious sliver of Wildean wit, having conceived of no earthly reason why I shouldn’t find it as rib-tickling as they had evidently done. As I recall there was a particularly amusing piece where he’d suggested I should put a naked picture of myself on the front cover of Promethea because he (probably correctly) assumed that he and his discerning readership would very much like to see a image of my ‘todger’. (For American readers, I should perhaps explain that this is a cuddly, stuffed-toy-sounding euphemism used by British people who are too well brought-up to resort to words like cock or even penis.) While I understand that there is a large section of the superhero comic-book community who can see nothing at all unusual in one man being unable to stop talking about another, nor even in making a ‘jocular’ request to be allowed to look at his genitals, they should probably be made aware that from the recipient’s perspective this will obviously start to look like a genuine and long-sustained clammy infatuation which is (barely) sublimating its sexual component in saucy Carry On-style banter. It became difficult not to see this decades-long campaign of trying to attract my attention as some kind of grotesquely protracted schoolboy crush, or as a form of thwarted and entirely unwanted love.

This growing impression was only accentuated as I neared the end of my run on the America’s Best Comics titles when I was called by a colleague who happened to be related by marriage to one of Grant Morrison’s artistic collaborators and associates. It seemed that Grant Morrison had insisted on employing these third and fourth parties in order to ‘reach out’ to me and ask if we couldn’t perhaps be friends. Now, I understand that to a certain strata of the people reading this, my reaction of appalled incredulity will only provide more evidence of my apparently unfathomable and wildly eccentric nature, but this really isn’t how men in their fifties behave in the world that I come from. Why would I conceivably want to be the friend of someone who had never even previously been an acquaintance, whom I’d only previously ever met when he inveigled his way into a meal with associates in order to see if I could help him with his career, and who had subsequently orchestrated a campaign of abuse for the self-confessed purpose of making himself “famous” without recourse to anything difficult like effort or ability? When I raised these questions, it was suggested that Grant Morrison himself might argue that he was just being “a bit Johnny Rotten; a bit Punk Rock”, to which I pointed out that as far as I was aware John Lydon hails from a working class background, and that by his own admission Grant Morrison had spent most of the Punk era in his room for fear of being spoken to roughly by some uncouth person with a pink Mohawk and a U.K. Subs t-shirt. I’m afraid I didn’t see how appealing to completely unearned teen rebel credentials made any difference to the spoiled-child behaviour of a deeply unpleasant middle-aged man, and therefore once more declined the invitation to whisk him off to my Bat-cave so that we could solve mysteries together, perhaps in todger-revealing tights. I remained bewildered as to what kind of person could have made such overtures, deciding that if it wasn’t an extreme case of parentally-encouraged entitlement then it might possibly be something like clinical narcissism, shading into actual delusion. In either instance, this was evidently someone who I didn’t want anywhere near me, and who I could never have any reason to notice or take an interest in if he wasn’t, metaphorically speaking, continually masturbating on my doorstep.

Some few months after these appeals to a potential bromance, I noticed a review of a book by Grant Morrison in which, seemingly unable to stop mentioning me even when he’s moved on to a superficially more grown-up medium, he mischievously cites the apparently poor sales of Big Numbers as the reason for my return to superhero comics. This book, from what I understand a paean to the significance of both Grant Morrison himself and the franchised superheroes owned by his major employers, would probably have been in the proof stages around the time that he was making his conciliatory approaches, another testament to the sincerity of both the man and his work. It was at this point that I decided a more stringent anti-bacterial attitude to both him and the modern comic-scene environment in which he appears to flourish had become necessary. Without public fuss, I began to inform publishers of Grant Morrison’s work, starting with Jonathan Cape, that they should neither contact me nor send me any of their merchandise in future. Given the distance that I had already withdrawn from comic-scene matters, it seemed probable that I’d also have little difficulty in quietly disengaging myself from any people who considered themselves a friend, collaborator or close associate of his, and in this way further quarantine myself from a world in which I haven’t been interested for a long time, just in case anyone hadn’t noticed. The announcement sometime later that our neo-punk firebrand had accepted an M.B.E from the current pauper-culling coalition government, naturally, only confirmed me in the wisdom of my decision: I don’t want to associate with people I consider to be massively privileged Tories, nor with anyone who doesn’t see anything wrong in doing so. I particularly wish to avoid all of those who have struck rebellious or radical poses while always remaining careful not to offend their employers or to make any kind of moral or political statement that may later jeopardise their career prospects; all of the rebels without a scratch.

I think this brings us pretty much up to where we came in, with me arriving at the launch of Magic Words having read my would-be friend Grant Morrison’s characterisation of me as a writer with a rape in every single series he’s ever written. And then, after what had seemed a genuinely pleasant event, being made aware of the uproar orchestrated by the persons dealt with above (once more exempting the American photographer who I feel may have a genuine grievance which is in my opinion misdirected in this instance, although she is of course entitled to think otherwise). I hope the fact that I’m answering at such wearying length over the Christmas period – it’s now the 27th – demonstrates the seriousness with which I am taking your questions; possibly a far greater degree of seriousness than many of those who originally posed them. It might also indicate to a perceptive reader that I wouldn’t be doing this, at my advanced age, if I had any intention of doing this or anything remotely like it ever again. While many of you have been justifiably relaxing with your families or loved ones, I have been answering allegations about my obsession with rape, and re-answering several-year-old questions with regard to my perceived racism. I don’t imagine that anyone who has been following my career to even a cursory extent will be in any doubt regarding how I’m likely to respond to that, given my considerable previous form in such unwelcome situations.

As already stated, any publishers, friends, artistic collaborators or other close associates of Grant Morrison or Laura Sneddon should not approach me in future. Further to this, any periodicals or institutions which publish or have published interviews with Grant Morrison should similarly not attempt to contact me. To be brutally honest, I’d prefer it if, as with the Before Watchmen re-creators, their associates and their readers, admirers of Grant Morrison’s work would please stop reading mine, as I don’t think it fair that my respect and affection for my own readership should be compromised in any way by people that I largely believe to be shallow and undiscriminating. So far so predictable, perhaps, but an outcry over my appearance at an event which I myself had not seen as being specifically comic-related suggests that these measures are going by no means far enough. If my comments or opinions are going to provoke such storms of upset, then considering that I myself am looking to severely constrain the amount of time I spend with interviews and my already very occasional appearances, it would logically be better for everyone concerned, not least myself, if I were to stop issuing those comments and opinions. Better that I let my work speak for me, which is all I’ve truthfully ever wanted or expected, both as a writer and as a reader of other authors’ work. I’ve never presumed that I should have access to my favourite authors’ lives or, indeed, to anything more than that part of themselves which they’ve expressed through the medium of the words on the page. To this end, once I’ve satisfied my current commitments, I shall more or less curtail speaking engagements and non-performance appearances, certainly including all offers to talk on comic-related matters or in a comic-related context. Likewise, while I shall probably still do a couple of rigorously-selected interviews and perhaps a limited signing at the launch of any new books (since my worthy and excellent collaborators and publishers shouldn’t be disadvantaged in terms of publicity, although for my own part I’m not that bothered), it would be much more convenient if I just rejected requests for interviews unless I myself saw some especially good reason to do otherwise. I suppose what I’m saying here is that as I enter the seventh decade of my life, I no longer wish that life to be a public one to the same extent that it has been. As far as the signings and public appearances go, while I have over the years found the vast majority of my audience to be the nicest and most intelligent people that any writer could hope for, since Before Watchmen I’ve already ceased signing copies of any works that I do not own, which is of course most of them up to and including the A.B.C. titles with the exception of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I don’t keep copies of these books around or really have any good reason to think about them, and answering questions about them or signing copies of them, while I’ll sometimes make an exception for a particularly deserving case, is something that I can no longer do with any genuine enthusiasm.

This may seem like a disproportionate response, but for thirty years I have had to patiently endure the craven and bitchy hostility of someone who, when I bother to think of him at all, I think of as a Scottish tribute band. While he is clearly not the only reason why I have come to feel actual revulsion for the greater part of today’s comic world, he has probably done more than any other single individual to foul its atmosphere and make it unbreathable with his ongoing reeking incontinence – and that, believe me, is in a field where he has enjoyed a great deal of vigorous competition. There are perhaps a dozen or so people in the industry that I respect immensely and with whom I am delighted to both work and remain in contact, but the rest of it is a comic world that I don’t wish to take any part in; a world of fleeting minor celebrities who have managed to make this magnificent medium into a source of lucrative commercial product that is socially acceptable to the point of being neutered, or else into style accessories by which otherwise socially cautious and conventional people and publishers perhaps hope to foster an air of edgy modernity. During the Before Watchmen debacle, although I was touched and surprised by the response from a number of the readers and retailers, I received only two letters expressing support from anywhere within an industry that evidently has as little concern for me as I have for it. It’s hard to see how my withdrawal is going to greatly inconvenience anyone, and Grant Morrison will have finally vindicated all those long years of effort by at last getting my full attention for a few hours. I myself will be able to get on with my work without interruption, which I think is something that I’m entitled to do after all these years, and indeed part of the length of this response might be likened to someone taking their time about unwrapping a long-postponed and very special birthday present to themselves. The truth may or may not set us free, but I’m hoping that blanket excommunication and utter indifference will go some considerable way to doing the trick.

On the final point of my reference to Gordon Brown as a bipolar cyclops, I concede that this may have been thoughtless and I apologise for any offence unnecessarily caused by my remark. I have good friends who suffer from bipolar disorders. In every instance they are among the most motivated and capable people that I have ever met, and my comment wasn’t intended to denigrate either them or anyone who shares what I know is a debilitating and sometimes unbearable condition. My failed attempt at humour was a least partly born of a misunderstanding concerning current attitudes: I’d perhaps figured that my own monocular and Polyphemus-like qualities might get me a pass on the eye business, while I’d perhaps expected a more robust field of discussion on mental health issues after the many published comments about my own age and concomitant derangement, such as the last time I went ‘beyond paranoid’ in a ‘crazy old man rant’. I don’t remember hearing about waves of protest on those occasions, but that isn’t to say that they may not have happened. In the case of Gordon Brown, I was trying to suggest that while this condition in itself is one to be treated with understanding and compassion, it was perhaps not the best possible situation to have an undisclosed sufferer governing the nation. Still, if that’s what I was trying to say it was clumsily expressed for the sake of a funny conversational sound-bite, which is irresponsible. Again, I sincerely apologise, and the reduction of future interviews and appearances should prevent it from happening again.

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Filed under 2014, Alan Moore, Interview