I finally got all my Alan Moore-related badges onto a badge board my Mother-in-Law made for me, along with a few non-related badges. Missing are any of the Warrior-related badges, although I’m hoping to resolve that in the near future. Obviously, if any of you lovely people have something I don’t, I would be very happy to add it to my collection.
Category Archives: Alan Moore
This is a transcription of the events of Magic Words: An Evening with Alan Moore, an event held in the Prince Charles Cinema in London on Tuesday the 26th of November, 2013, to publicise Lance Parkin‘s MAGIC WORDS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF ALAN MOORE, published by Aurum Press on the 7th of November, a few weeks earlier. This transcription is based on Pop Culture Hound‘s Podcast Episode 66 – The Magic Words of Alan Moore & Lance Parkin!, published by them on the 4th December, just about a week after the event. My transcription starts at 3:32, as the previous three-and-a-half minutes are taken up with PCH’s own material, which is not specifically relevant to the task in hand! All the time’s noted in [square brackets] are taken from the PCH podcast, if you want to check any of them for yourself. Sometimes it has been difficult to figure out exactly what’s being said, so if you have any suggestions for those, I thank you in advance. So, without (much) further ado, here it is…
Dramatis Personae (in order of appearance):
LP: Lance Parkin
AM: Alan Moore
MG: Melinda Gebbie
KON: Kevin O’Neill
MJ: Mitch Jenkins
RG: Robert Goodman
SH: Siobhan Hewlett
plus Audience Members 1-7
Lance Parkin in Conversation with Alan Moore. With guests Melinda Gebbie and Kevin O’Neill; Mitch Jenkins, Siobhan Hewlett and Robert Goodman.
Screening of Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins’ short film: Act of Faith.
Screening of Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins’ short film: Jimmy’s End.
Book Signing with Alan Moore and Lance Parkin.
[00:03:32] Lance Parkin: OK, so, hello Alan.
Alan Moore: Hello Lance.
LP: I’ve been studying the works of Terry Wogan and what you’re meant to do with these things is start with a nice easy softball question that allows you to plug your latest product, if you like, so my first question is this: are you a curmudgeonly old hermit who hates life and is fuelled by anger and rage?
[Sound of microphone being thrown to the floor by Moore, as he rises to leave. General laughter]
LP: It’s the question that everyone’s asking.
AM: Yeah, yeah, I kind of am. I didn’t want to be, but it’s just how circumstances have worked out. I hope you’ll bear with me. I wanted to be a much more loveable and happy person than this, but it’s just, it’s just the way that things have worked out, you know. Bear with me.
LP: OK. Very good. We have – early in the New Year we have an old work of yours, that was originally published in Warrior, is – it’s finally going to come into print after twenty-five years out of print, something like that, and I know that you’re keen to be involved with that, and that is of course The Bojeffries Saga. That’s going to be published by Top Shelf and Knockabout – some people in the audience got that joke! There’s not many in the audience that have got that, that would have got that! [laughs] One of the things that I found really interesting rereading The Bojeffries Saga is that this is a work that is very personal to you, and is set in a place very similar to Northampton, and fits really nicely into the work that you’re doing now, but it’s one of the first things you wrote, practically, and I was just wondering – first of all, have you re-read it recently, and secondly, what are your thought about the project?
AM: Well, I’ve not re-read it for quite a while – I’ve heard that Steve [Parkhouse] is just finished the new twenty-four page strip that’s in there, which – I’m looking forward to that. The Bojeffries was always kind of special to me, because – I’ve never actually been exclusively an adventure writer, or – certainly not a superhero writer. That was just largely the way that the market was, and I was working for a specific market. But with The Bojeffries, that was a strip that was actually about something really close to my heart, which is basically how extraordinarily mental much working class life is – or at least mine, certainly, and – there’s a surrealism in working class life. There are these factories that have got strange names – there’s a pile of blue shavings that smell funny. The factory does something like, you know, light filliping, or – And you think, ‘what’s that? Is that actually a thing? Does that actually exist?’ And often the labourers there don’t seem to know exactly what the place does. These places, they used to haunt my childhood, and the kind of – that life that goes on in those streets – it’s much stranger, and much more absurd, than most fantasy stories that I’m aware of. So, yeah, The Bojeffries was always really special. And the new one, where we’ve brought them bang up to date, so it’s during a Gordon Brown government – yeah, I mean, when I wrote it, it was quite timely, there was a lot of topical references which would have been really funny, believe me, you know. If you’d’ve read this a couple of years ago, you’d have been howling. But, yeah, it’s – I’m looking forward to seeing that.
LP: I think one of the things that – as someone writing a biography of you, one of things that’s very, very striking is that until The Birth Caul, practically, there’s very little – very little autobiographical in there. And A Small Killing – oh, Big Numbers, I suppose, and A Small Killing, a little bit. Nowadays it seems to be a lot more family history, local history of Northampton, and things like that. Is this you growing up, or is this you… What’s – why – it seems to be quite a shift in your career, a shift in your interests, perhaps.
AM: I suppose that, I mean, way back around Big Numbers, that was the first time that I thought, ‘I’m actually much more interested in Northampton that I am in most of the other places, including the imaginary ones, that I’m writing about.’ I think Northampton’s actually much stranger and much more involving. This has become more focused – these days I tend to think it’s all about place – I think that when it comes to, say, literature, the writers that I like best are the ones who are focusing upon where they are. I mean even, say, a writer like H P Lovecraft, who I’m very deeply involved with at the moment – I’ve got this huge stack of Lovecraft reference books. I’m, like, walled in with Lovecraft reference. There’ll just be, it’ll be like The Cask of Amontillado or something, there’ll just be this final copy of The Haunter of the Dark or something, and that’ll be slipped in place, and nobody will ever see me again. But – he was a writer who was completely obsessed with place. He was trying to express the New England landscape around him – and, yes, I do happen to suffer from the delusion that Northampton is the physical and moral centre of the universe…
LP: I think ‘moral’ is a new development…
AM: Well, I just thought of that one, I thought I’d try it out, try it out on the audience, see how it went down, you know…
LP: Is it where the Big Bang banged?
AM: Well, I mean, I’ve only just found out – this is like about a year… about a year ago – no, this last year. I mean, I’d already got most things in the universe starting in Northampton – and I have actually, I claimed in front of an audience that the Big Bang happened in Wiggins’ Coal-yard, which was just across –
LP: Was this when you were on stage with Brian Cox, did Brian Cox set you right?
AM: It probably was – he was in the building, certainly, you know…
LP: But did he correct you? Because if he didn’t correct you…
AM: No, he doesn’t – he’s very insecure – if you say a thing, if you say a thing forcefully enough, you know, Brian, he’ll probably back down, you know…
LP: So we can take it as read that is – science has said that…
AM: But I found out, about six months ago, something like that, amongst things that started in Northampton there were industry, and capitalism. Now this –
LP: It’s your fault!
AM: Well, it sounds like a kind of a large claim, but I’ve actually seen the underside of the – it’s a kind of traffic bridge over a river, and halfway – you have to sort of crouch down to get underneath it, and like, halfway along there’s all these – there’s beer cans, and there’s items of sodden clothing, and there’s syringes, and there’s handbags that have been completely gutted, and all the contents pulled out, and you think, yeah, this is…
LP: I’m home…
AM: …this is the fossil imprint of capitalism, isn’t it? And industry. So, yeah, it does all start in Northampton, it’s not just me saying that, you know.
LP: I think one of the things about the Northampton… stuff, if you want to call it that – you’re talking about really big themes when you’re talking about this, you’re talking about – I realised this, when you’re talking about the growth of history and the personality of family history, and things like that, these are bigger themes than ‘What would it take to have put on underpants and fight crime?’ I mean, creativity, and sex, and war, and death, these are bigger themes than that, and I wonder if this –
AM: They seem to me more important. I mean, like I say, I was – the only reason that I ended up writing so many superhero comics, or indeed comics at all, was because – I mean, I’d started out thinking, all right, maybe I could write books, or maybe I could write poetry – maybe I could draw comics, maybe I could be a rock star, who knows? A show jumper, you know? Ballet dancer? I was too tall, basically, you know – but you eventually, you kind of – that was never really what I – I tried to make those things into vehicles for things that I was interested in talking about.
LP: Now, you read a lot of comics as a kid, though, and you loved the American comics – got those over… read all about it, I mean, read all about it in the biography! You’ve been quoted – you found this out today, I think, you’ve been quoted in the Guardian as saying ‘Why would anyone be interested in superheroes?’, the line about anyone who – I’m 42, I know, I look more youthful – why would anyone my age, basically, be interested in watching Iron Man hitting things, to […] things, these are children’s stories for the youth. Could you expand on that, and give us a little context for this remark, you angry, grumpy old man?
AM: This is my current angry, grumpy – was it crazy and paranoid?
LP: Eh, no, I think I said curmudgeonly…
AM: No, there was – I did get a paranoid, didn’t I –
LP: I didn’t say paranoid…
AM: I think in one of the recent things – but I’m aware –
LP: You’re being paranoid! [audience laughter]
AM: That is part of my profile, you know. Now, what I was saying in that particular quotation, and it’s one that I – I repeat myself tediously, so I’ve probably said it several times – but someone happened to pick this one up – I was saying that I don’t really think that it’s healthy that the characters that were designed for the 12- and 13-year-old boys – and I haven’t missed out girls by accident there, these characters were designed for 12- and 13-year-old boys, of 50 years ago.
AM: Yeah, that was it. I was seven, seven or eight, something like that, and they were fine, they were brilliant entertainment for children of that age. But it seems to me that – surely the people of the 21st Century deserve something of their own, something that was actually crafted in their times, with their sensibilities in mind. I don’t really see – I mean, much as I would love to just recycle the 1960s forever – we need never have bothered with another decade, in my opinion, if we’d have just rerun it every ten years, that would have been great. But – that is actually what we’re doing, and I don’t think it’s very good. I really don’t see that – why we should be rerunning variations upon the music of the sixties and seventies. Yeah, I loved it, but this is 2013, you know. It’s – that’s not good enough. This century needs its own music, it needs its own comics, it needs its own concepts, and I – I am also a little worried that perhaps – I mean, I have said that, in the 1980s, comics didn’t actually grow up. I know that there were all those newspaper articles that said ‘Bam! Sock! Pow! Comics have grown up,’ but actually Bam! Sock! Pow! No they haven’t. No, it’s – what they did was, I think, and this might be a controversial statement, but, I think they met the emotional age of the general public, coming the other way. It’s like – there has been a retreat, I think, in this century. I think that because of the burgeoning levels of complexity that assail the entirety of our culture – yes, this is understandable. It’s too much for a lot of people. We were not designed to take complexity like this, and no previous human generation has ever had to take complexity like this. I can understand why people would want to retreat from that. I could understand why they would perhaps be more comfortable with the things that they enjoyed when they were children in simpler times. I can understand all of this. I just don’t think that it is what is best, either for people individually, or for culture. And also, I really just hate to see people having a good time, and enjoying themselves. [audience laughter]
LP: It is – I – this is – when I was looking at the things you criticised in your own work in the past, the two things that you were most vehement about at the time that they were published were DR & Quinch which, you know, breaks my heart, and The Killing Joke. These are the two things – these were both things that were quite straightforward. They weren’t really about, you know, your great political issues, or your great things, but they were also wildly popular. So is there something about it, it’s like, ‘Grrr, those kids, they like my stuff, but it’s the wrong stuff.’ Is this a…?
AM: When I was actually doing those things, I don’t really think that I thought of them as being wildly popular at the time. With DR & Quinch, I was finding it more and more difficult to actually keep up the standard of humour – and it was quite a high standard of humour, they were very funny. And also I was starting to feel a bit uneasy about using things like thermonuclear war as a source of humour – that was starting to sit a bit oddly with my green politics. It was just something that I didn’t really feel good about, so I wasn’t – it wasn’t a problem to me that people liked that strip. The Killing Joke was something different. I mean, to a certain – I have more or less disowned most of the work that I don’t own, if not all of it. It’s not really a pleasant feeling for me to actually see that stuff any more –
LP: Can I just ask, is this artistic, or is this purely because of the bad blood around…?
AM: Purely emotional. It’s purely emotional in that I find that all of those works, much as I enjoyed them at the time, much as I was excited by them, that it’s sort of – there is, there’s a lot of bad memories connected to each of those projects, and I’d much rather concentrate upon the things that do still give me pleasure, including the work that I’m doing at the moment.
LP: We’re in a – you might get lynched at this point, but, what do you think of people then that will reread Watchmen and go ‘Oh, Watchmen is still great!’ or ‘Well I really enjoyed The Killing Joke, what about it? What does Alan Moore know?’
AM: That is completely fine. I mean, personally I think that, yes, like I say, with Watchmen, with V for Vendetta, with a lot of those works, I put everything that I’ve got into them, and I was very proud of them. The fact that I don’t particularly want to see them again, that’s just purely down to me. The Killing Joke was a bit different. The Killing Joke, that was a Batman comic – I was largely doing it because that was what Brian Bolland – I wanted to work with Brian Bolland –
LP: You had a Batman / Judge Dredd crossover fall through –
AM: There’d been that, which – that lasted until I found out that John Wagner hadn’t actually been asked, at which point I decided that I didn’t want anything to do with the project.
LP: I think one of the things – that one of my big revelations writing this, and I’ve said this in interviews, so I’m sorry if anyone’s heard it – I realised about halfway through writing this book, that writing a book about Alan Moore I ended up with far more rights that I just took for granted than Alan Moore has generally enjoyed with any of his work. I think when you realise – and I don’t want to tattle-tale about this – when you realise that for example Alan Moore – very odd talking about him in the third person when he’s sat next to me – but Alan Moore isn’t being paid for Before Watchmen, and wasn’t – is not consulted about it, and they can just do that. They can make W for Wendetta whenever they want… [audience laughter] …and there’s nothing that they can – there’s no control. I think the power that you want is not money, and it’s not acclaim, it’s that you want to be able to say ‘This is a bad idea, don’t do it,’ and they will go ‘Oh, well, Alan Moore must know his stuff, we won’t do it.’ Is that all that – just respect…?
AM: All that I want is the ability to actually produce my work in the way that I want it to be produced, and I simply want the not unreasonable rights, which people in almost every field other than comics, enjoy. I think that comics would seem to be providing the financial backbone of a great deal of the movie industry at the moment, and an awful lot of culture in general. So why is it OK that the Kirby case isn’t settled yet? For those of you who don’t know, this is Jack Kirby and his estate who are still, I believe, trying to settle with Marvel Comics, who Jack Kirby created almost every character that you have ever heard of for.
LP: Just a quick rundown – The Hulk, and…
AM: The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Captain America, most of the Avengers, the original X-Men, possibly even Spider-Man, although Steve Ditko would probably have deserved the lion’s share of the credit, but… Siegel and Shuster, I think if that case has been settled, then it’s only been settled very recently – these are the people who created Superman, and sold the rights for – I think $300? There are photostats of the cheque that they – where they had all of their rights to Superman taken from them forever.
LP: I think one of the things – I don’t think – I think one of the things is, that you are not actually treated that badly compared with other people in the comics industry. This is the terrifying thing, if you like, is that you are treated well. This is what – you know, you’re on a royalty for Watchmen. Every time somebody buys a copy of Watchmen you’ll eventually get your cut of that, and I think that – that’s an era where comics were trying to be more like novels, and more creator led, and the Watchmen contract was meant to be the good contract, that was meant to be the first of this new thing, and I think – I don’t want to dwell on the business things, but I think the book – talking about it, uncoupling it, you realise there are things in there, where you realise the power that you don’t have. There’s some extraordinary things where if you’d just written novels instead of graphic novels, you would have all sorts of rights that you would have.
AM: Yeah, yeah – well, tell me about it, as they say! [audience laughter]
LP: So, what’s the difference now? Now that you are working, you’ve got your Jerusalem, which you claim is being written – you’ve got a chapter to go?
AM: Nearly there.
LP: Nearly – chapter, chapter…?
AM: Chapter, eh – well, I’ve got three pages to do on what is officially the last chapter of Jerusalem. Then I’ve got the epilogue, which is about a chapter long.
LP: So, we – tell us a little bit about – what’s – I think these people might be presold on it. We’ve got an audience here, they paid fifteen quid for a ticket, so you’d think they’d be up for it – but why should they be pre-ordering it from Amazon? Why should they be buying it on day one?
AM: Well, let me see. Because it’s, like, really really big, yeah? It will really impress everybody – you can put it right next to that copy of A Brief History of Time that you haven’t read, and, um – but, no, I – I don’t know. It will find its audience. I’m not sure whether it will be for everybody. The main reason that you should probably have a look at it is that it completely solves the minor problem of death. I just thought… [Scattered audience laughter]
LP: …or your money back.
AM: Well, I turned 50 and I thought – this was obviously ten years ago – I turned 50 and I thought, ‘Yeah, this doesn’t really add up the same that it used to, I can no longer kid myself that I’m roughly a third of the way through my life, unless I’m going to live to 150,’ you know, so I had to start thinking about it and, yeah, actually I’m pretty certain that I’ve cracked death. And – you don’t need to thank me, you know. Just buy the book and, er… No, but it’s – I mean, simply put, it’s the idea that, as far as I understand it, we are living in a universe of at least four dimensions, which means that those are all special dimensions, even the one that we perceive as the passage of time. That means that you’ve got what is called a Block Universe. It’s a solid construct of space-time in which everybody’s lives are embedded, unchangingly, forever. And, to me, that seems like, when you reach the end of your life, your consciousness has probably got nowhere to go except back to the beginning. And there was a lovely quote from Albert Einstein – I only came across this halfway through writing Jerusalem. It was about a few months before Einstein’s own death, and he was consoling the widow of a fellow physicist, and he said, ‘Look, it’s not – to physicists such as ourselves, death isn’t really a big problem, because we understand the persistent illusion of transience,’ which is lovely, isn’t it? The persistent illusion of transience. The idea that those good programmes that used to be on television, that they’re not on anymore, that you can’t get Spangles anymore, that – you know, those nice houses that you used to like, and they pulled them down, those people that you used to enjoy the company of who are dead. That – yeah, that is an illusion, the illusion that things are going away. That somewhere these things – they’re just a bit further back down the road, and – so this, obviously, is the centre of Jerusalem – Einstein said it in about, what, twelve words, something like that –
LP: So, twelve, that’s his record, are you going for his record?
AM: I’ve – it’s somewhere over half a million – I probably could have used an editor on that, couldn’t I?
LP: War and Peace is 325,000, I think, so it’s War and Peace plus this, basically [Lance Parkin hold up a copy of his book] – Did you see what I did there? That was good!
AM: It’s bigger than the Bible, and I hope more socially useful –
LP: Better selling –
AM: And better. Better.
LP: Better selling? Better selling, perhaps, more homes will own it, soon.
AM: More optimistic.
LP: So, the magic. The magic. I’m approaching this from my ultra-rationalist perspective, and I’m seeing it as a strategy for writing, and I’m seeing it as a way of improving – an Oblique Strategy, as Brian Eno would put it, as a way of improving that. There’s very clearly more to it than just top writing – you know, a writing tips thing. What’s it mean to you, and what’s it – what sort of part does it play in your life, rather than your work?
AM: Well, I don’t know if I can even separate my life and my work, and I certainly can’t separate, really, either of those from magic. When –
LP: Sorry, can I just – I interviewed Alan for the book, and I asked him if he had any hobbies, and he laughed, and then there was like a two-minute, and he went, ‘I go for walks every so often.’ So, the life and the work are –
AM: Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult to separate those things but, by magic, what I’m talking about is, I suppose it’s any artist, writ large, and in some ways any human being, writ large. I believe that it is just a – a human being, or an artist, trying to achieve their full capacity, for experience, and for production, for creation. To me it’s like – the standard approach to consciousness, which is that either that consciousness doesn’t exist, because it cannot be explained scientifically – which is only obvious, really. I mean, science can’t talk about anything which cannot be demonstrated with empirical experiments, so consciousness is kind of off limits. However, you do get people attempting to explain away consciousness, because it’s annoying – it’s irritating for scientists to have everything in the universe worked out, apart from the phenomenon that they are using to study the rest of the universe. [laughter] That’s really irritating.
LP: So, is magic a way of trying to articulate the inarticulate, is that the idea?
AM: Well, that is part of it, but mainly it’s a way of approaching consciousness. Now, to say that, yeah, alright, there’s no such thing as consciousness – consciousness is purely an accident of our biology. Yeah, it’s some sort of glands that are giving us the illusion that we are conscious, and those glands are based upon chemicals, and chemistry is a hard science, because that’s based upon physics, and physics is a hard science, but unfortunately physics is based upon quantum physics, which says that the mind can actually influence things upon a quantum level.
LP: What would be – what would be the bad thing – if science – if tomorrow you wake up and you go – and you read in the paper that science has cracked the problem of consciousness, what do you – what’s going to be the downside to that? What’s the thing for you?
AM: I would be very very VERY surprised – I mean, I read the New Scientist every week, I’m aware of the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, but you’re never going to be able to crack the problem of consciousness – in fact, you’re never going to be able to crack the problem of artificial intelligence because, as Alan Turing pointed out, with his Turing Test, which is – it’s not actually really a test, it’s a kind of – it’s a joke. He’s kinds of pointing out that you can’t ever tell if a machine is conscious, because you can’t tell if I’m conscious. You can’t tell if the person sitting next to you is conscious – you don’t know that this is not all a dream. Alright, it’s probably not, [laughter] but, sort of, that is – it cannot be proved otherwise. So, the – the thing of consciousness, it’s something that science really cannot approach.
LP: So art is a better tool for the job?
AM: Yes! Art is a much better tool and, if you’ve got to have a concept of consciousness, then for an artist, or a creative person, I really don’t see why you should have to limit yourself to the rather sterile and barren conception of consciousness which is all that science can actually formulate. To me, magic is a different approach to consciousness – you are imagining that maybe it’s capable of doing different things, that maybe there are ways of handling your own consciousness, that maybe things like ritual are ways of programming certain psychological experiences. If that’s all they are, then I’m completely happy with that. I do not know that gods and entities – they certainly don’t exist in the same physical sense that we do. I think that’s a pretty safe bet, isn’t it?
LP: A show of hands? [laughs]
AM: But, sort of, the thing is that by actually treating those concepts as if they exist, we may just be reaching some other part of our own psychology
that we’ve not previously had access to. But, if that’s all it is, that’s still pretty good!
[00:34:45] LP: OK, I think it is now time to invite Kevin O’Neill and Melinda Gebbie onto the stage. [round of applause] We have – we have – both have done plenty of work with Alan in the past, they – it’s a little bit – it’s always a little embarrassing because both Melinda and Kevin were working in comics long before this gentleman here. They’ve had long [undecipherable voice says something] – these two, I think – and – OK, long and storied careers of their own, and – one of them, incidentally, is married to Alan Moore, but I’m going to make you buy the book to find out – make you buy the book to work out which one. I don’t want to sort of spoil that, it’s sort of chapter eight, nine –
AM: Kevin, I thought we’d been through this in counselling…
LP: And the, the – I can think of all sorts of fancy ways to ask the question, but it’s basically going to be the same question dressed up, which is: what is it like working with this gentleman? What is it like to receive the infamously long scripts? First of all, Melinda, does he give you the ninety-four page scripts as well, or does he just kind of – is it Marvel style, does he just sketch it out, and say, ‘Oh, there’s a dragon in it,’ or whatever? Does he…?
Melinda Gebbie: Oh well, he – on occasion I’ll get a rundown on what’s going on – has he mentioned he has 162 of criticism on HP Lovecraft, so I’ve learned way more about HP Lovecraft than I ever wanted to, but since he’s been working on that particular project, and he’s been reading stuff to me, I actually enjoy the part he wrote – it’s just he –
AM: She calls it my Lovecrap [general laughter].
MG: Did I say that out loud? [laughter]
LP: You thought you’d just thought that, you didn’t think you’d said it?
MG: I was writing it in my diary – he must have read it.
LP: Kevin, you get – we’ve seen the publication of the League of Extraordinary scripts, and I think one of the more extraordinary things about (sorry, that’s a terrible pun) is – you actually add detail to those panels. He gives you these ridiculous panel things, and you add half a dozen other things to these…
Kevin O’Neill: I went mental. I actually lost my grip – it’s actually – on the Black Dossier, to be honest, when – Alan sends it to me in bite-sized chunks, and when I was cleaning my studio, when I’d finished it, I assembled it all, and it was, like, yay big [holds hand several feet off the floor] – it was a monster. If you’d got that all at once you’d run a mile, you just couldn’t bear to think of how much work that is. But I had 20:20 vision until I worked on the 3D section of Black Dossier, and now I have to wear glasses.
LP: A health and safety claim incoming, I think!
KON: And Alan…
LP: Just, for people listening to us on audio, Melinda is now playing, what, is that the world’s smallest violin?
MG: The world’s smallest violin.
KON: And the other thing, Alan’s scripts have had an uncanny effect on my private life as well, because even though I draw incredibly slowly, so when he writes them, it is often several years back – by the time I get to a certain highly emotive point in a script, it actually happens in my real life. Someone dies, or there’s a breakup, or it’s something really dramatic, and it’s uncanny. I mentioned it to him a number of times, and he won’t take any blame for it, at all…
AM: No, he was actually being haunted by Aleister Crowley, at one point. I mean, seriously – he kinda thought this was something to do with me, he was trying to pin it all upon me – you know, blame the hippie [general laughter].
LP: One thing I’ve really – I’ve written two or three comics in my time – just, literally, two or three comics – it’s really much easier to write a comic than to draw one, because you can go ‘The big army comes over the hill. There are a thousand of them, and they’ve all got a different facial expression. Over to you, Melinda. Over to you, Kevin.’
KON: I’m really glad you said that, ‘cause I certainly…
LP: I mean, is this something that artists secretly burn away at, and they go ‘I might be working with Alan Moore, but grrrr…’?
KON: Well, actually, something that fascinates me is it’s rarely happened that Alan has had – how can I put this? – an unsympathetic artist collaborator, but occasionally it’s happened, where you can see they read – what they do customarily is just read the dialogue, the word balloons, and ignore all the description, so what you end up with is this kind of discord between a brilliant script, and what it should look like, you know, how it should be constructed, and it’s like ignoring the blueprints if you’re building a house, you know, so you’ve got the bathroom out in the back garden and all the rest of it, it’s just chaos, it’s insane. So, when I first read one of Alan’s scripts – I mean, it’s daunting, and I’d worked with Pat Mills for years, and I thought that was bad – but, you know, the second half of my career has been infinitely more –
LP: Can I just say, I just reread Ro-Busters and the robot, the blind robot who has a robot guide dog with eyes is one of the great comic moments –
KON: Those were the easy years, you know?
LP: Melinda – so, when you – when you’re trying to visualise these things, is it – there’s a Star Wars anecdote where Harrison Ford runs up to George Lucas and goes, ‘You know, you can type this shit, but you can’t actually say it out loud.’ Are there moments when it’s like, ‘You draw it!’, you know, or ‘This is –’ you – or – I think – or is it a case that he’s sympathetic enough to see it from the artist’s point of view as well?
MG: Well, when I wanted to work with a writer, I imagined a writer who actually was a writer, so I don’t have that problem about George Lucas and Star Wars, and stuff like that. ‘Cause he came up on the dirty end of the lollipop, and thought that was literature, and was happy with that – but that’s film. So, no, I wanted a real writer, so whatever I did get, I got a real writer.
KON: And Alan writes very specifically for each individual artist, I have to point out as well…
LP: Plays to your strengths, a thing a lot of artists say –
KON: Things the scripts don’t do to it [?] – A lot of writers write, and it’s sent out by the editor to whoever they think might suit the script, which is a kind of horrible way of working, it’s just the industrial way of working, whereas I think Alan tailors for all of us who’ve worked –
MG: [stage whisper] A horrible way…
LP: You’re not interchangeable components, or whatever. I mean, which way around is it, do you think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a Kevin O’Neill project,’ or do you write something, and go, ‘You know what, Kevin O’Neill.’
LP: Before you– when you barely knew each other –
AM: When we – we wanted to work together, upon this project, and so, when I was putting Lost Girls together, I’d seen Melinda’s work, I’d seen her coloured work, which I hadn’t seen before –
MG: He was a fan of mine before I was a fan of his…
LP: I know, he writes about you –
AM: Yeah, but sort of, it’s like – all of that, yeah, you’ve gotta work to the artist’s strengths, and the same is true of Kevin, the same is true with most of the artists that I’ve – all of them, probably. If I’ve had a relationship with them, then it would be stupid not to work with what they do best, you know?
LP: OK. Melinda, I mean – the relationship. I’m sorry to sort of bring the sort of gossip mag thing in here – the relationship. Which way – were you able to separate your – whenever I tried to write this in the book, it was always like, ‘their romance blossomed,’ and it’s just like, did it? Draw that, you know!
MG: You’re not going to ask me who the guy is, are you?
LP: No, I’m going to ask you – what I’m going to say is, is, was there – was it connect- were you able to separate the work, of was it all part of the wonderful process, the creative process became part of the personal life…
MG: Well, uniquely, and freakishly, it was an alchemical process. Nobody can ever do it again, I swear to god on my life, and everybody else’s life that I know, nobody else is gonna do this again – it was too damn hard, but we did it, and it was alchemical, and it was personal, and we were very very careful about what kind of emotional input we put into the relationship as well as how we dealt with the book, because we realised, to our own great sense of panic that, although we were getting to really care about each other, we also had this massive book to do, and I don’t know how many men and women have worked in pornography together – perhaps Serge Gainsbourg and his daughter*, I don’t know, but apart from that…
LP: We’ll cut that, Bleeding Cool, so…
MG: They’re not going to come over from France, they’re too cheap to sue us.
LP: We’ll cut that as well! [laughter]
MG: All the good bits – [whispers] this is why radio is so bland – anyway, it was very very hard, it was very amazing we, we managed to do – we still talk about ‘How the hell did we do that?’ You know, we’re still friends, we’re still married, although I like to think he made people like you [undecipherable words…]
LP: A question for Kevin as well is, you know, you’ve known Alan a long time as well, and worked with him a long time, is it, when you’re working together, is it, are you able to – argue? Are you able to sort of, can it, can it stain a friendship, can it stain, you know, can it get in the way of that?
KON: Well I can see how it could. We’ve not had any… I think Alan and Eddie on From Hell may have had a couple of disagreements, which I think is a matter of record, and… I don’t think on League we’ve actually ever disagreed. Occasionally, I mean, occasionally I think we just bring different things to it and occasionally… we brought a character into League, who I think only we like, the Golliwogg, to kind of reintroduce this actually incredibly powerful black character back into our world, who’s completely misunderstood. Now, I think most people just take it as, like, the Robinson’s Jam golliwog or something, and don’t quite see it that way, but we never argued about it. I think we both were in general agreement about it…
AM: We were on the same page, definitely. I mean, yeah, it’s, I don’t think, I mean, we didn’t have any arguments about things on Lost Girls either. I mean, there would be things where you might say, “I think it’d be better if we did it this way rather than that way.” In which case I’d sort of say, “OK, fair enough. If you feel that way, do it that way.” And –
MG: We’d – we’d always discuss it, wouldn’t we? It was just – it wasn’t like one of was just going NYEH NYEH NYEH NYEH NYEH (makes snarky couples arguing sound)
LP: So, I mean – how – I’m thinking about arbitration disputes, here. I’m just thinking if you, you’ve written your script and you’ve said, y’know, ‘if you can think of a better way of doing it, do it,’ and all that. What happens if, you know, Melinda draws something and you go, ‘no no no‘ what happens if Kevin draws something and it’s like…
AM: It’s just never happened.
MG: We – we would never sort of be that blunt with each other. I mean, we’d get someone up like dear Oscar Zarate, who’s Argentinean, and show him.
AM: He’s down there…
MG: Is he?
AM: …he’s on the end of the row there. (Points at Oscar Zarate, who’s in the front row.)
MG: [To Oscar Zarate] I didn’t see you! Well, it was Oscar that pointed out to me that I had done rather a poor drawing of Dorothy – purely for the benefit of the book, which I really appreciate – but it actually happened after Alan and I had a bit of a tiff, and I went home and drew Dorothy looking a bit sort of unhappy in orgasm. So Oscar said [attempts Argentinian accent] “I don’t think that works Melinda, she doesn’t look happy at all. This is…”
AM: No, you can’t do the voice.
LP: No, you can’t do the voice.
AM: He’s right here.
MG: I’m sorry, Oscar.
AM: He’s right here.
LP: You can talk about golliwogs but you cannot do that voice. Sorry.
MG: I’m terrible, I offend a lot of people whenever I try to do anything but Americanese, I do apologise.
LP: When it comes to offence, I think this is quite interesting – Lost Girls is clearly a – it was always meant to be something that was on the extreme, where you’re sort of testing – testing a boundary, and there’s stuff, plenty of stuff like that in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as well, especially more recent stuff is talking about that. What’s the idea there, is it – what’s the point of offending?
AM: Well, this is not stuff that’s done to offend, it’s just that it’s done for grownups. I mean, like, as we were saying a little while ago when we were talking about superhero movies, things like that, superhero comics these days, they’re not for kids. I mean, they’re still the same material, by and large, as was used for kids, but the readership of superhero comics, it’s largely for people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Now, if we are working, if that is the audience that we’re really working for, then why do we have to aim the narratives at children? I mean, we are assuming, when we’re doing Lost Girls, that this is for adults. We’re assuming, when we do the Black Dossier, or Century that, yes, this is an adventure story, but it is for – it’s for grown-ups.
LP: Are we – when we read Lost Girls, say, are we meant to be shocked, or are – and this is a question for Melinda as well – are we meant to be shocked, or are we meant to go, ‘wow, everything else is so bland,’ because I think, you know, it’s depict- like as you say, you know, grown-ups, when you’re in your forties and fifties, there are things in Lost Girls you probably should have seen by that point. Perhaps some things you haven’t as well, but…
AM: Yeah, we weren’t – I really don’t like doing things just for shock. I think that that’s kind of – it’s kind of puerile, it – there are good reasons for having a certain scene, and that scene happens to work out shocking, then I don’t think that you should back away from that, if it necessary to the story. But if you’re going out of your way to provide shock after shock, it probably won’t be a very good story, and you’ll have probably exhausted your audience’s capacity to have responded to it.
LP: (Whispers to Melinda) Do you want to say something on that point?
MG: Oh! Yeah, well it – yeah, the tempo of pornography, which most pornographers don’t know about, is that it can move like music – it can be orchestrated, it can be fine art, it can be – it can include great philosophy, as part of the undercurrent of what’s going on physically between the people, so we hoped with Lost Girls that, yes, people who – well, I hoped that it would start dialogues between couples, that they could point to a page and say ‘I like that. What do you think?’ The other person would say ‘Turn the page, I like that one better, but let’s discuss.’ You know? So, sex on a ‘let’s discuss’ basis, or somebody else that makes all the mistakes, and people can look in an go ‘Nyeh, I don’t think I like that one, let’s move on to something else.’
LP: I think – I think that one of life’s little ironies is that, when I was looking at the press reaction and the reviews of it, that this – Lost Girls is the point where you hit a true respectability. It’s the point where The Independent goes, ‘Oh, he’s a great novelist, not just a great graphic novelist,’ and all that sort of stuff, and – You couldn’t have seen that one coming.
AM: No, I was certainly blindsided by that. It was –
LP: You thought you were going to be banned, and burned, and –
AM: Yeah! I mean, like, we were surprised that we were still at liberty, you know? We thought, ‘Why haven’t they hung us? I mean, what’s wrong with society? What are we paying our taxes for?’ [General laughter]
LP: How is this man still free?
MG: Our publisher was putting all his extra pennies into the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund in America, because he figured we were all going to end up in prison – when I went over for the debut of it in Los Angeles, yes, we were dead surprise that people were buying it – women were buying it in droves – one girl came back, and she was like eighteen – she proved she was eighteen! – she came back and she said, ‘I stayed up all night reading this book,’ she said [weepy voice] ‘I just came back, I just wanted to thank you for doing this!’ and floods of tears, and then I was in floods of tears, and I was ‘Oh thank you!,’ you know, so it was like a – a fairly rare pornographers moment, I think.
AM: I really didn’t want to go to prison because, like –
MG: I didn’t care, I’d nothing to lose!
AM: Well, I’m kind of…
LP: There’s some great literature written in prison…
AM: I’m kind of the pretty one… [general laughter]
[00:52:10] LP: Well, with that, thank you very much to Melinda and Kevin, and we’ll now see Mitch [Jenkins], and Siobhan [Hewlett], and Bob [Goodman] is there. Thank you very much. Thank you. [round of applause]
[…general faffing around sounds, as one group vacates the stage, and another ascends…]
LP: Oh no, we’d better make sure his mike works, ‘cause he’s a director and stuff, and he knows about these things.
Mitch Jenkins: You can come sit in the middle…
AM: You know, we’d invited Bob tonight, and he didn’t get the email, but…
MJ: He really didn’t…
AM: …but he’s just the kind of person who is just wandering around in Leicester Square [laughter], and somehow he’s here, you know.
LP: We did notice that Siobhan was here, and Alan noted that there should be some karmic balance, and Bob showed up, so, yeah… So, well, I think it’s a variation on a theme – we’ve got – I think Alan obviously is best known for his comics and his graphic novels, so, Mitch, you’ve worked with him for years and years and years on various projects – the first – when you get a script from him do you go, ‘Oh god, he’s writing a comic,’ or has he worked out that he’s writing a movie?
MJ: Ah, well I think that – when we got the screenplay for Jimmy’s End, I had no idea what a screenplay looked like myself, because I’d never directed a film, so I just took it as read that he knew what he was actually doing –
LP: It’s not like twelve hundred pages long for fifteen minutes?
MJ: No it wasn’t. It was about ten pages long, wasn’t it, Al?
AM: [faintly] Yeah.
MJ: Yeah, ten pages. So, like I said, I had no idea what a screenplay looked like until that point –
AM: And what – I didn’t actually have any idea what a screenplay looked like, so he still doesn’t, really, you know. [laughter]
LP: So, both of you, Siobhan and Bob, how did – was this pitched to you? I think, Bob, you knew Alan quite well before, didn’t you? You knew…? Have you got a mike? Have my mike.
MJ: It’s a Latitude moment…
Robert Goodman: Yeah, thanks very much. Yeah. Yes, Alan and I have been sort of good mates for many many years, and we’ve worked together before on various projects and the – Alan had been talking about doing a short film which he wrote, and one that he could do what he wanted to do with, as opposed to have to sort of kow down to what other people wanted to do with his stuff, one where he could do what he wanted to do with, and we’d sort of mentioned it over a short period of time, and then – and then he wrote the short – this film called Jimmy’s End, for Mitch to direct, and I think Alan sort of asked me
AM: I actually wrote the part around you, Bob, it’s one of the – it’s a really – you’ll see in the film it’s a really really unpleasant kind of character that I’d sort of – I mean, I’m not saying that Bob is an unpleasant character, you know.
RG: Oh good…
MJ: He’s a very good friend, actually…
AM: …he’s very likeable, but I – yeah, I kind of wrote it for the way that I – the lines that I knew that you could deliver, Bob.
RG: Well, thank you very much for doing that Alan, yes. And Alan and I, over the years, have got this sort of relationship anyway where we have banter between us, anyway – as you will see, and as you will see from the film. It was a very easy part to do actually, because, as Alan has just kindly said, he wrote the part for me, and in the character in which he sees me anyway, which I’m not sure whether that is too complimentary when you actually get to see the film. But there we are, yeah.
LP: And Siobhan, I don’t know – what was your – did you have a connection to the world of – did you know who this gentleman was before…?
AM: That’s too young. I can see, now how –
SH: You see?
LP: You’ve corrupted a generation.
AM: Oh my God, I am so sorry.
SH: It’s had a profound effect! Forgiven. Still one of my favourites. Yeah, of course, and Mitch and I had actually done a photo-shoot together – two photo-shoots – in the past, for some film PR work, you know, of some films that I’d done. And we’d stayed in contact, which has been, you know – ’cause he’s alright, I suppose.
SH: And, yeah, so just out of the blue I got an email from Mitch, just saying that Alan and he were, you know, gonna make some films together. And that they would like me to play the lead. And – you know, the way it was pitched was – you know, I love my job. As an actress I am just, like, so lucky to get to do what I do ‘cause I love it. But, on the flipside, especially in films and TV, a lot of the time as the actor you turn up, and it’s very much kind of, you know – regardless of whether you’re the lead or just kind of like spending a few days on set, whatever, doing your stuff, you have no control whatsoever. And it doesn’t feel so much of a collaboration as my great love, which is the theatre. So, one of the main things, which was the biggest draw, was actually the fact that we were gonna do this as a collaboration, together. And, you know, and be free to do our own things.
LP: I think it’s interesting – we’re gonna now see the movie, so, the fifteen minute Act of Faith, and you are Faith in Act of Faith, if people don’t know. It’s a very sort of complex part – it’s something – it must involve lots of judgements, how much of that is dictated in the script? How much of that was came through discussion…?
SH: I mean, definitely we did discuss it, you know, we did, but I think, you know, very much from Alan’s writing, I was very clear in my mind, of how it, you know, Faith was and, you know, I hope that it tarried with…
MJ: No, it did. And I think Alan’s scene descriptions, and his character descriptions is just so in-depth, and when you do look at other screenplays, which I’ve now subsequently done, you actually see that a lot of the direction there is just so ‘Yeah, it’s a white bloke, he’s thirty-five,’ and that’s about it, whereas on this occasion, I mean, everything that Alan provided, it was just so in-depth. So as an actor or an actress, you actually get a greater understanding of the character before you’ve even get in front of the camera. And at that point, that’s when you can start bringing it alive.
LP: I think one of the things people picked up on, and we’re surrounded by red curtains here, so it’s thematically appropriate – that you’ve been a fan of David Lynch for a very long time, and there’s Lynch-ey stuff there?
AM: Well, the thing is, yeah, we saw that and, yeah, I like I did quite like David Lynch. However, I would have to say that – I mean, the curtains, that was Mitch’s idea, and also the only film that I can think of that doesn’t have curtains in it, is perhaps, like, One Million Years BC. And I think that they actually did slip up and they did have some curtains – kind of, fur curtains.
MJ: Animal skins.
LP: Mammoth curtains…
AM: And – yeah, and we read one review saying ‘Yes, it’s got lots of David Lynch things in it like curtains, you know, and clowns‘…
LP: Fifties music…
AM: …and I thought, Hang on…
AM: …what kind of – are there any David Lynch movies – I mean, was there a really jolly bit in Elephant Man where the clowns came on, and sort of probably kind of got out of the car, and then the car fell to bits, and then they threw the bucket of glitter, and all the rest of it? I don’t actually remember any clowns in David Lynch movies. I think that people just think ‘Oh, clowns. That’s probably a bit David Lynch,’ you know? But, yeah, alright, it’s sort of –
LP: You were a big Twin Peaks fan, when Twin Peaks was on, weren’t you?
LP: You were a big Twin Peaks fan…
AM: Huge Twin Peaks fan…
LP: You’ve said before that if you were going to write…
AM: …that really wasn’t – David Lynch is probably somewhere in the mix, but-
LP: So when you’re thinking about cinema, and you’re thinking about what I can do in this wonderful new medium, what was the – what was the – what was the toys you could play with you hadn’t been able to play with before?
AM: Well, I wanted to play with as few toys as possible, I think we both did. I mean, like, I certainly have a sort of Khmer Rouge, Year Zero approach to filmmaking. I – I wanted to – and I think that Mitch felt the same about this, that I wanted to not have CGI, to not go for all of the things that have become commonplace, to just focus upon the story, to not have any special effects that we couldn’t actually do for real.
MJ: Shush shush shush!
LP: I’ve given away the ending.
AM: Spoiler alert! It’s, er – no, it’s, those were the main things. And we talked about films that we both enjoyed, – I mean, I really love things like Jean Cocteau, La Belle et la Bete, which is, there’s no special effects in it. The ones that there are, are completely ingenious, and have real poetry to them.
LP: I think what we need to do now is actually –
MJ: Watch the film.
LP: …watch the film! And I think we’re going to start with Act of Faith, and I think it’s about fifteen minutes, sixteen minutes? Something like that? And we have Siobhan centre stage, and pretty much the only person in there, I think. There’s some voicework, yeah, so enjoy that. We have to leave the stage, and we probably should leave the lights on while we do that!
LP: Thank you very much. [applause]
First film – Act of Faith – is shown – 16m 38s
[01:02:20] LP: OK, thank you, everyone. Alan has just apologised to Siobhan for doing nasty things to her. OK, we’ve got about twenty / twenty-five minutes. What I would ask, is ask nice pithy questions, don’t sort of come up with an essay, and ask Alan to comment on it. If you can Tweet your – you know, if the question’s long enough to Tweet, it’s probably about the right length, that’s the advice we’d give. I’m going to work around – if, if there are two mikes they’re going to have to wait to get to people, but if people want to throw up their hands – it’s going to be absolutely random element here, because I can’t really see anyone’s face, so if I can see a hand – there’s a hand waving there, so I think he got to be first, so just let the mike get to him…
Audience Member 1: Alan, if you had – sorry, hello. If you had some advice for someone who wanted to stimulate their own creativity, what advice would you give them?
AM: I would say, look at good work by people. But don’t look at too much good work by people, look at rubbish. Actually, really terrible work by people is a fantastic inspiration. Like – I’m doing this Lovecraft thing at the moment, and one of the headings that I put in writing for other people who might want to work in the same continuity was ‘What Can Brian Lumley Teach Us?‘ Now Brian Lumley is somebody who writes really, to my mind, quite terrible Lovecraft pastiches. So, read somebody like that, and then: don’t do that. It’s – I know that that – I’m being deadly serious here. I mean, I had – my daughter Leah was talking to me the other day and she was saying ‘You know that thing that you said about how it’s better to read bad work than good work?‘ and she was finding that the same thing was true. The thing is, great work, unless you’re careful, it can lead to you just emulating somebody who’s already done it better. To find your own voice, get a bit critical. Look at good work, bad work, be able to say why it’s good or bad. And then adjust your own work accordingly. That is – that is probably a good way – it also, reading work by people who are worse than you, makes you feel really good. [laughs] It’s serious advice.
LP: Okay, we’ve got a question, it’s – OK, we’ve got one right at the back.
Audience Member 2: Iain Sinclair talks about place possessing him, and he’s almost – he’s channelling place. Did you ever expect to be channelling Northampton?
AM: Well, I mean somebody has to do it, don’t they? It’s like, I believe that, alright, yeah, I happen to be pretty much fixed in Northampton. It’s where I’ve always lived and yes, I do believe that it is the –the most important place in the world. However, I do realise that other people will have their own point of view upon that issue, and that they might think that the places where they live are just as important. In which case I would say, that’s fine. Just, you do as good a job at channelling your places as I’m doing with mine. That’s not inconceivable. And I think that if – what I would really like is if everybody were to pay more attention to the boring, miserable, nondescript places that they’ve grown up in, or that they live in, and I think that they would probably find, with a bit of examination, that those places were not boring or miserable or nondescript at all. They might find that they were kind of fabulous. That absolutely mythical things had happened there. Which might make them feel a bit better about themselves, and it might be a way of restoring – I think that meaning is a vital commodity. And it’s like radioactivity, it has a half-life. Meaning kind of bleeds out of things, and I believe that our communities mean less than they did fifty, sixty, seventy years ago. I think that meaning has been leached out of them, and we live in meaningless communities and therefore we think that we, we internalise that, we think that we are meaningless. I think that by channelling the place that you live, if you like, there’s a way of actually reinvesting some of the – the energy that places actually need to survive psychologically, and that the people in them need to survive psychologically. I think that if more people were to use the tool of poetry to investigate the world surrounding them, it might be a more interesting and a more elevated world that they found themselves living in. I mean, yeah, I just happened to be born in Northampton, you know, to Northampton’s – I’m not sure how Northampton feels about that, but that’s not really my problem.
LP: OK, oh, – yeah, OK…
Audience Member 3: Thank you. A question about your magic and your work – what point in your life did you make the connection between magic being your work, and your work being a form of magic, and what led you to that conclusion?
AM: Well, I’d got about as far – there were various things – I’ve given various answers to why I got into magic – all of them are true, to a certain degree. But one of them was that I felt that I’d more or less exhausted what I could do with my work, while remaining within the boundaries of strict rationality. I felt that I’d gone quite a long way with my writing, that I felt that if I needed to go further, I was going to have to somehow break through into some – some new territory, and to try and connect up, if you like, with some of the writers that I really admired, who seemed to me to be visionaries, who seemed to me to be people who were kind of constructing a reality that was in some ways more real than the everyday reality surrounding us. They weren’t just writing fantasies. William Blake wasn’t a fantasy writer, he was writing this incredible symbolical material in a totally private language, and hoping to sort of, to illuminate the, the world around him. And I suppose that after my initial introduction to magic I began to see that, yeah, this is pretty much what all artists are doing, whether they know it or not, and indeed one of the problems with art at the moment, as I see it, is that there is nothing of the visionary in it. There is nothing of the magical in it, there is nothing of the numinous. This is the thing that is wrong. That I believe that art is magic, magic is art. I believe that if those two fields were to perhaps talk to each other a bit more, perhaps swap methods, I think that if artists saw themselves as magicians then they might do something that had got real fire, real meaning, rather than just this sorry conceptualist stuff, which – it’s not even a real concept. It’s a concept in as much as a piece of advertising that you see on television is a concept. It’s empty. And to me, if that was reinvested with magic, then art could start doing the job that it is meant to do. Conversely, if a lot of the magical orders that are around today were to actually regard what they did as art, then there might actually be some point to their existence.
LP: Next question, if that’s alright.
AM: Yeah, sure.
Audience Member 4 (Gary Gray): Alan, one of the wonderful things about Lance’s book is that he really looks at your sense of humour, something that’s kinda been overlooked by many people in the past. Do you have much opinion on that yourself, or do you think you could maybe have had a different career as a stand-up?
AM: Well, I’ve done, I’ve got a lot of friends who are brilliant, brilliant stand-ups, and – like Robin Ince has been kind enough to ask me down to the Bloomsbury Theatre for the last three or four Christmases, and so I get to go onstage with people like, you know, Josie Long, and Stewart Lee, and, like, Barry Cryer. And people who are really, really, really funny. And like, I am really not, you know. Or at least, compared with sort of, with those kinds of people. It makes me aware that, yeah alright, they probably couldn’t handle a long comic narrative with the same élan that I could, but – although, I – can I –
LP: You don’t want to read Stewart Lee’s pornography…
AM: I was going to – there was one thing that I did say that was quite funny, even I say so myself. I was talking about how, amongst people who thought that Northampton was the most important place in the world, there was God, because, like, he was directing a lot of angels apparently to Northampton in the 8th century. It was very very popular with angels. So God obviously thought that Northampton was quite special. The other person who thought that Northampton was quite special, that was Hitler, whose invasion plan ended with the capture of Northampton. Once he’d got Northampton everything else was a foregone conclusion. So I thought, right, so if you wanna say that Northampton isn’t the most important part of the entire Universe, then you’re not only arguing with me, you’re arguing with God, and Hitler. And, like, that is the dream team, isn’t it?
LP: It covers the bases…
AM: And I thought that this would be a great children’s kind of cartoon series, for a Saturday morning, and… No, it would. It would. And, and, I thought, like, and I even came up with a theme tune, which was [sings]
Alan Moore, Hitler and God,
Though their friendship may seem odd
One made space-time, one hates Jews
And one wrote some comics that got reasonable reviews
[general laughter and applause]
AM: And them – no, wait, wait, that’s just the first verse [more laughter][sings again]
Though their friendship may seem weird
All have moustaches, and two have beards
One’s a Nazi, and one made Hell
And Hitler and God probably did something as well
So, yeah. Now imagine that after a Stewart Lee routine. I think you see my point.
LP: OK, you’ve got the job of following that, so what’s your question?
Audience Member 5: Thank you – this is gonna be very boring, I was just gonna ask you for an update of your collaboration with Steve Moore on the magic tome…
AM: Well, Steve Moore is actually down here at the front but I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that we are kind of a whisker from the end. It’s quite a fat whisker, but, sort of, we have just got to – I’ve gotta do the last part of the, the ongoing pult decadent occult fiction serial that runs through the book, then we’ve got a couple of things to do on the tarot cards and on the kabbalah board game, and the pop-up temple. [laughter] This is all real, we don’t know whether we’re going to be able to do it, but this is what we hope to do, and then we’ve just got to write the final essay, that will be huge and will kind of be summing up the rest of the book and kind of making our closing argument. That’s gonna be quite big, but that is where we’re at. So, we’re hoping to get it finished probably next year, almost certainly. That’s the plan.
LP: Okay, we’ve got time for I think two or three more. We’ve got someone there. Yeah.
Audience Member 6: Hello. In light of Mark Millar and Grant Morrison, both of whom have now received honours, have you ever been approached by the shadowy figures who run the honours system, and if not, if you were to be approached, would you accept it?
AM: Well, I did, I believe, have my very good friend Pádraig, who’s somewhere in the audience, [I wave frantically] there he is, there he is. I believe he did call me up at one point and told me that there had been a petition sent in to Gordon Brown’s office asking if I could be given some sort of award. Then Pádraig asked me, pretty much like you have, whether I ever could accept an award like that, or some sort of honour. And I said – I can’t remember my exact words – probably it was, ‘No of course not, and certainly not from a bipolar Cyclops,’ [audience laughter] which is the kind of thing that means that you’re definitely not gonna be – and, like, that was from a Labour government, you know. I certainly could never take awards from this particular government, because – now this is old fashioned, it’s one of those kind of sixties beliefs, you know, but I kinda think that culling the disabled is wrong, you know. I know, I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it? But, sort of, to actually accept an award like that, you’d have to – you’re condoning the behaviour of the people who are giving you the award. You’re saying ‘that’s alright.’ No, that isn’t the way that I was brought up. I really could never accept an award from a Conservative government, and I could not accept awards from a Conservative government pretending to be a Labour government. So, no, I really – I don’t like prizes, awards – I don’t like them. I – I’m sure it’s very nice and people mean well, but it’s gonna – if you take any notice of that stuff you’re doomed. If you actually measure your life in Eagle Awards, or Harvey Awards, or whatever they do now, you are doomed. I – I threw out all the awards, and my mum said ‘Ooh no, that’s a shame, you don’t wanna throw ’em out, have ’em round my house.’ And then she gored herself upon my Hugo Award, and they all went in the bin. This is not because I’m resentful, or ungrateful, I’m just not interested. That’s not – If people have enjoyed the work, that is the only part of the contract that I was interested in. I didn’t want stuff to clutter up an already far too cluttered house.
LP: Okay I think we have one last question, so we have hand-waving there…
Audience Member 7: Hey. Just going back to the consciousness thing you were saying before, I was just wondering, have you ever read Biocentrism – a book?
AM: Who’s that by? [it’s Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza with Bob Berman – BenBella Books; 2010]
Audience Member 7: I can’t remember off the top of my head. [laughter] It’s very good, though. You should read it – It’s – it’s quite scientific, you know, it sort of studies the problem of consciousness, but with quantum physics, sort of, in it. It’s good.
AM: It sounds interesting – I mean – like, I’m not sure how much – our mention of the word quantum physics, that – I’m not sure about that because that is a word that tends to get used quite a lot these days. I’m not sure whether consciousness has anything to do with – aright, yes, there’s the observer effect, things like that. I haven’t read the book that you mention but there is one book upon consciousness which – it’s brilliant, it’s the – Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. You don’t even need to read the book – if you just remember the title, then you can kill any intellectual conversation stone dead.
LP: And on that bombshell, we have – OK everyone, thank you very much.
[The recording stopped at this point, but after this point they showed the second of Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’s films, Jimmy’s End, which was 32:35 long, bringing the official proceedings to and end at almost exactly 9.00pm. After that, there was a signing, which was meant to be an hour long, but actually stretched to two hours, as the queue was so long, and those of us who hung around finally went off to our various beds at 11pm, tired but very happy.]
Photographs from the event courtesy of Flavio Pessanha. Thanks, Flavio!
[*Serge Gainbourg and his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg cause a certain amount of scandal in 1984 when they recorded a song called Lemon Incest.]
[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
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.
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.
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.