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.
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.
[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.]