Last week we posted the first part of a fascinating interview of Alan Moore by Irish comics and SF expert Pádraig Ó Méalóid, in which they discussed Alan’s earlier body of comics work and his contemporary titles such as The Lost Girls and the next installments in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as his opinions on and experiences with different publishers. We’re delighted to offer you the second part of this chat, which ranges from, knighthoods to prose work and performance art, work by his wife Melinda Gebbie and his daughter and son in law Leah Moore and John Reppion and the importance of the fanzines and small press scene. Once again FPI would like to thank Alan very much for giving his time for this interview and to Pádraig for conducting it and taking the time to transcribe it all for us to enjoy; special thanks also to Chris Staros of Top Shelf for setting it up.
P: I wanted to ask you about Jerusalem, but before I get to that – Did you hear about this petition that apparently exists on the 10 Downing Street website to give you a knighthood?
P: Have you not heard about that?
AM: No, I think it is something that has escaped me… So what’s this knighthood nonsense?
P: Apparently you can put a petition on the website for number 10 Downing Street, and your name is up there – somebody suggested that you should become Sir Alan Moore, Sir Alan of Northampton.
AM: Well it’ll be nice to get the opportunity to turn it down. I’m sure there’s a lot of other names on there, they’ve got Jim Davidson…
P: Yes, yes, they do…
P: OK. Jerusalem. One of the questions I wanted to ask you about Jerusalem, is there going to be one of these intractable, impenetrable first chapters like with Voice of the Fire?
AM: Now, I did deliberately put the Hob’s Hog chapter in Voice of the Fire. I have been asked since why I did that. The only thing I could think of was, to keep out scum. But with Jerusalem – it’s very, very readable. It’s some of the most readable stuff that I’ve probably ever written. I’ve just finished the second third of it, and the first third is similar to Voice of the Fire in that it jumps around a bit from narrator to narrator and from time to time, and it’s all set in Northampton, but it’s got a different tone, it’s much more approachable.
The second section reads like, well, I’ve described it as reading like a savage hallucinating Enid Blyton. It’s because there’s a gang of ghost children that are the main characters, and even though there are very adult things happening all around them, there’s something about having a group of children that makes it into an Enid Blyton story, even though the background of the story and everything that’s happening is completely mental.
I’ve just started the third book which looks to be a bit more poetic, a bit more experimental, but, as a whole, I think that the difficulty with this book, it won’t be getting through the first chapter, it’ll just be picking it up! It goes beyond criticism because nobody’s going to be able to actually lift it. I just did the word-count the other day, I’ve got to the two thirds mark and the word count is just over four hundred thousand words, so that means, probably not quite three quarters of a million, but more than half. It’s coming together very nicely.
(Voice of the Fire, dust jacket designed by Chip Kidd, published Top Shelf and (c) Alan Moore)
I’ve just read it all through a couple of weeks ago, I read the whole thing from the start to where I’ve got to, and it’s actually quite good! I’d forgotten a lot of the opening stuff because I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, but, very readable, and there’s some great exciting stuff – and the fantasy in it is demented, it’s really thrilling to write. With Voice of the Fire I really didn’t want to do a book that was going to look like what it was, I didn’t want to do a book that was going to look like a comic writer who was doing a novel, so I didn’t want to make it any genre, I didn’t want to do a fantasy novel, or a horror novel, or a science fiction novel, because that’s generally what comic writers do. And, nothing against doing that, but I just wanted to do something that was outside genre.
Now with Jerusalem, which is all based upon the area in which I live, well, the area in which I grew up, I’ve got a hankering to call it scientific fiction, just because I think I can argue the case for that from a purist point of view, in that the central part of the novel extrapolates upon known facts of science the central theme of the whole book extrapolates upon known facts of science. I’ve got a couple of quotes from Hawking, and a quote from Wittgenstein, and some things that back up my general hypothesis so, yeah, I might call it scientific fiction, just out of perversity, as much as anything else. Just to confuse the people stocking the shelves at WH Smith.
P: Any idea when we would be looking forward to seeing that?
AM: Well, since I’ve started doing it, when people have said, “Any idea how long it’ll be before we can look forward to seeing that?” I’ve said, “It’ll be about two years.” I’ve been saying this for the past two years I just realised the other day, so, realistically, if it takes me another year to finish writing it, then it should take me less than a year to do the cover, which I’m going to do – I’ve already got it started, and I just felt like doing the cover – and to revise it, ‘cause I’ve been having as go through, and there’s bits there where I’ve repeated myself, given the same chunk of information in a couple of chapters because I’d forgotten that I’d done it already.
There’s going to be bits of editing that I’m going to have to do, bits of revision – I’ve got Steve Moore helping me, because he is the world’s best editor, and he’s going through and sorting out a lot of the really stupid mistakes that I’ve made, grammatical and spelling errors. He’s great for that, he doesn’t touch any of the actual book, he doesn’t say “I think we should lose half this chapter because it’s too broad,” he’s just doing what an editor should do. So he’ll edit it and then I’ll revise it, and when it’s as perfect as I can make it then, I guess a couple of years, then it’ll be coming out.
And as for a publisher, at the moment I’m thinking it’ll probably be Top Shelf. I don’t see any point, at the moment, in going with a big publisher, because I’ve got a following independent of note who publishes me, so the only thing the big publishers can offer you is more exposure, and they don’t very often deliver with that, because they’ve got so many people that they’re promoting that the chances of you getting to the top of the list are slim, so it makes more sense for me to work with a small, honest, scrupulous publisher like Chris Staros, so it’ll probably be coming out from Top Shelf.
P: There was to be another novel, wasn’t there? A Grammar?
AM: Now that fell by the wayside because, it was after I had finished Voice of the Fire. The only reason I did Voice of the Fire with Gollancz was because I liked Faith Brooker. She was a great editor, she was really nice, she looked after all the people who were working for her, and she was treated abominably, and so when Gollancz asked me if I wanted to carry on writing A Grammar I said, “Well actually I was really only doing it for Faith, and she’s not working for you any more, so, nah…” and to tell the truth, I hadn’t really got very far with the concept. It was because Faith wanted another book quickly, I think it would have helped her situation, that I’d come up with it at all, and once Faith was out of the picture I really didn’t feel like making that kind of investment.
Actually, this is going to be a better book, I think. Because, I was going to be writing this story about the sheep track between – that was what A Grammar was going to be – the sheep track between Wales and Northampton, and that would have given me a lot of stuff, but it wouldn’t have given me anywhere near the amount of stuff that I’ve managed to come up with for Jerusalem. I’m not really repeating any of the same territory that I used in Voice of the Fire.
It’s mostly all new stuff, well not new stuff, because most of it’s historic, but I’m just finding out new material all the time. I found out the other day that Hitler’s invasion plan for England ended with Northampton, and there was also the eighth century monk who was directed by angels to place a stone cross here because it was the centre of the land. So the way I see it, that if people want to argue with me about the importance of Northampton, then they’re not only arguing with me, they’re arguing with God, and they’re arguing with Hitler. And that, I think me, God, and Hitler, that’s the dream team!
P: The two books, Voice of the Fire and Jerusalem, are set very solidly in Northampton. If you had been born somewhere else, do you think you’d be able to have done the same sort of thing?
AM: That’s an interesting question, and, back when I started to get into this psychogeography business, it was mainly because of the input of Iain Sinclair, and just by circumstance the first works that I did were largely set in London; From Hell, because that’s where the Jack the Ripper murders happened, and a lot of the performance pieces that I did, I’d been asked to appear at London venues, so with Voice of the Fire I thought, “OK, well let’s see if I can do the same thing for Northampton as Iain and Peter Ackroyd and people have done for London,” and, yes, it was a great experience, and I think that the theory that I was working on then was that this must be true of everywhere.
P: Yeah. Well, I feel that it’s certainly true of Dublin.
AM: Absolutely, it would certainly be true of Dublin, and I think that this is part of the problem, because if you were to try and do the psychogeography of Dublin you would find that there is a mass of wonderful material. Iain does it about London, I do it about Northampton. We find these things, and that tends to make us think that every square yard on the surface of the British Isles must be of enormous psychogeographical significance.
That was the theory I was working on, and then, when Iain was working on his last book, Edge of the Orison, where he was following trails relating to John Clare, and he was visiting places like Peterborough and Kettering, and he came over to Northampton because Clare spent a lot of his time in the asylum, and Iain was saying that the book really only came to life when he came to Northampton. He was saying, “Your Northampton, it’s a fantastic place,” and I said, “Well yeah, obviously I think so,” I said, “but you could probably say that about everywhere, couldn’t you?” and he said, “No, I’m not so sure.” He said Kettering is completely dead. He said Peterborough is completely dead. He said he couldn’t pick up the least tremor of resonance, that there was nothing – and Iain’s very good at picking tremors of resonance. If there’s anything there his antennae are very finely tuned.
So I suppose the vote’s still out on that one. I would have said, “If I’dve been born anywhere I could have done The Voice of the Fire or Jerusalem,” but the more I get into Jerusalem, the more I feel that, no, I couldn’t have written this novel about anywhere, I certainly couldn’t.
(Alan in urban shamanic mode in Voice of the Fire, art by José Villarrubia, published Top Shelf)
P: No, you could only write the novel you could write about somewhere!
AM: Well that’s it. But it’s also that I’m becoming more aware of just how extraordinary Northampton is.
P: I’m looking forward to actually going over, to seeing the place. I have a certain curiosity…
AM: Well, you’ll be able to come and check out those opening scenes of Big Numbers, and things like that. We’re the Mecca of the Midlands.
P: Speaking of Big Numbers, is anything ever going to happen with Big Numbers?
AM: No. I tried, and I tried, and I tried. The initial comic collapsed, then we tried to get a replacement artist in, and he fled screaming into the night, and then I was working with a guy who was suggesting it as a television programme of twelve hour long episodes, something like Our Friends in the North, maybe, but with more fractal mathematics. There were some people working on a screenplay for that, a teleplay or whatever they call it, but that didn’t really happen, so that time it was three strikes and you’re out.
I really wouldn’t be able to summon the energy to finish Big Numbers, although in some ways, a lot of the stuff that I was thinking about with Big Numbers is going to be completely applicable to Jerusalem. Not in the same sense, not the same characters, not the same story, but some of the same spirit. So, I think that Big Numbers is probably going to be Edwin Drood, but everyone should probably have at least one.
P: You mentioned the performance pieces. Are there any more?
AM: I haven’t seen Tim Perkins – we’ve spoken – but I haven’t seen him for a couple of years now because he went against all my best advice and he reproduced. He’s got a wife and two children, and he’s living over in Oxford, and he’s apparently doing well with his composing and he’s taking his BA, I believe – or is it a PhD? – in musicology, I’m not sure, but he’s doing famously, but we were talking the other day and he was saying about coming over to visit sometime soon, and so that we can start work upon another album. We’re not sure what, but one of the things that Chris has always said is that if me and Tim get another album done, that would give him an excuse for bringing out the previous – five…?
P: Yeah, something like that, five or six. It depends on which ones you’re counting…
AM: And do a nice little retrospective package, and include this one as well.
P: That would be nice, because somebody was mentioning to me that they’re all currently unavailable.
AM: So me and Tim are thinking of – we’re not sure what yet, there’s different possibilities, it might be another performance piece. It might be a performance piece in Northampton, which I’ve never actually done yet, so that could be fun, but we will have to see.
P: A few of those have been adapted for comics. I know Eddie Campbell did two of them. Am I right in hearing that Melinda is going to do Angel Passage?
AM: That is the plan, although there are other things, other projects that she’s got involved in – she’s working on a beautiful series of paintings at the moment and she’s working on a book about her experiences in the San Francisco underground scene, and life experiences in general, because she’s had quite an astonishing life.
P: I imagine so, yes.
AM: She’s danced with James Brown, and there’s not many people who can say that…
P: And she ended up in Northampton!
AM: But, eh, the Blake thing is still, she’s hoping that she can get around to it. She’s done a couple of pictures, but the other things have taken precedence, so, it might happen.
P: I actually have a lot of odd bits and pieces of your output, and I scan some of them and I put them on the internet because – particularly the stuff that’s out of print – which I hope you don’t mind?
AM: Not at all mate. Someone told me that most of The Stars My Degradation is on the internet.
P: A lot of that I started off – I bought a few of them on eBay – eBay is absolutely great for stuff like that – I bought a bunch of them, and I got in touch with this guy who has a site called 4 Color Heroes, and I said, “If I scan them, do you want put them up?” because he already had a thing called Moore for Free, and I sent him off forty of them, and then various other people sent them in, and I think virtually all of it is up there.
AM: Well that’s great, Pádraig, I’ve got, because people have said, “Hey, can we bring out a book of it,” and I’ve said, “well, no, because I don’t want to make any money out of it because I don’t think it’s good enough.”
I’ve got no problem at all with it being on the ‘net, in fact I’m quite pleased that it’s on the ‘net. Steve Moore was telling me the other day, ‘cause he’s just sold the rights to the Pressbutton computer game, which is fantastic. It’s some much needed income for Steve and and I’ve said that it’s perfectly alright by me if he wants to use the Three Eyes McGurk material from Dark Star or any of the stuff that I came up with in The Stars My Degradation, so, it’s funny how these things raise their heads from time to time.
P: The Sounds thing, somebody was saying that it’s the longest unpublished piece of work which you’ve done…
AM: That’s probably true. Yes, and it will probably remain unpublished. I’m glad, it’s nice that it’s out there on the ‘net. The thing is, I was doing me best at the time, even if I didn’t. You can understand, I just didn’t feel that, to put it out as a piece of work by Alan Moore, it would be crap, because it wouldn’t be the Alan Moore that people are expecting, it would be back when I was just cutting me teeth, and, eh… So I’m really glad that it’s out there, so people can see, but I’m glad that…
P: It being on the internet relieves you of the burden of having to…
AM: I don’t even have to look at it! It’s fantastic! (Laughs) No, it’s brilliant, I have no problems with that at all, no.
P: Great, fantastic. And, actually, speaking of your early work, Avatar published a lot of your bits and pieces from early on…
AM: They were just asking if there was anything I’d got, or they’d find out about things and ask, “Can we do this as a comic,” and I’d say, “Yeah, I guess so,” and some of them looked all right – I’m not sure about – the artwork was great…
P: Well, the artwork was interesting…
AM: That was little bits and pieces the world could have probably lived without, but…
P: There are some of us who like to see all this stuff, warts and all, Alan.
AM: Oh, that’s nice, that’s appreciated.
P: Is Jacen Burrows doing something else of yours for Avatar?
AM: Well there was a think that I wrote, basically, because – it was a couple of years ago, two or three years ago – I wrote a thing because I needed some money to pay off tax, because DC were getting creative with our payments again, and I wrote a thing which – I don’t know how good it is –I was trying my best, but it was at a time when I was poisonously angry, and that may have coloured the work. It was a HP Lovecraft – my basic thinking was – all right, they asked me to do something that was in a a horror vein, they asked me, and I said, well, I had some vague ideas about a continuation of that Courtyard story that I originally wrote for a HP Lovecraft prose anthology…
P: I know the one.
AM: And I said I’d thought of a vague continuation of that, and they said, “Great, why don’t you do that, do it with Jacen Burrows,” who’s a great artist, so I wrote this four-part story, which is really horrible. It’s a modern Lovecraft story, but I was thinking, well, let’s put the racism in, and let’s put the, misogyny in, and let’s put the – where in the past we talked about Nameless Rites, let’s name them, and let’s see what happens.
And so it’s a very unpleasant story, it’s very weird, I’ve not looked at it since, and I’ve not, I don’t know if they’re even, if Avatar is still doing it, I’m not really in touch with them. Your guess is as good as mine, and even whether it’d be that good when it comes, I don’t know. I’m sure Jacen will have done a great job, I’m just not sure I did the writing well. And it might have been a bit dark, you know. I might have been going through a bit if a dark spell, which, sometimes it colours the writing and whether it’ll ever come out I really don’t know, but that’s be something to – it was called, what was it called? I can’t even remember the title! I know it’d got four parts, and it was, no, it completely fails me. I have no idea.
P: What do you think about Leah trying to make a career for herself in comics?
AM: Ah, it’s great, and they’re doing terrific, The thing was, when I first suggested to both Leah and Amber that if they ever wanted, for some unknown reason, to have a bash at working in comics, then I’d gladly do what I could to help them, and Amber had got other plans, but Leah was interested in it, and I remember that first Tom Strong story, I sent it off, I spoke to Scott Dunbier at Wildstorm and said, “Look, I’ve got somebody that I know who’s got a Tom Strong story that they’ve written. Actually I thought it was OK, but I thought I’d send it in and see,” and I’d done that with other people, and I didn’t mention that it was Leah, and I waited until he said, “This guy is really good!” and I said, “Well actually it’s a girl and it’s me daughter, and I’m glad you liked it.”
(cover to Tom Strong Book Three which saw Alan and daughter Leah working together, published DC)
And, since then, Leah and John have developed completely on their own, I don’t think that their writing style is anything like mine, and consciously so, I think they’ve made different choices, they’re going in a different direction, I think that – I fear for anybody that’s working in the comics industry, but I think it’s great the way that they are doing exactly what I would have done if I’d have been their age still. They’re doing fanzines, and they’re doing work for their friends, which is what I used to do, and…
P: Leah did a cover for me for a fanzine I produced.
AM: I think I’ve got a copy of that. Is that the space thing…?
P: Puny Earthling, that’s the one.
AM: Yeah, I’ve got that, I’ve got it downstairs at the moment.
(cover to Puny Earthling #1, edited by Pádraig Ó Méalóid and featuring cover art from Leah Moore)
AM: I think that the fanzine scene is the brightest part of the modern comic landscape.
P: Do you keep an eye on the UK small press stuff at all?
AM: I mainly see it through Leah, because I’ve got straight out of touch with everything, but Leah and John keep me updated upon things that they’ve seen, and I think it’s great, I think there’s a load of energy out there, and that’s where any new stuff is going to come from. It’s not going to come from the big companies or from the centre ring acts, it’s not going to come from Frank Miller or Art Spiegelman. It’s going to come from some scruffy-haired little Herbert in a back room somewhere, and he’s going to be the next Eddie Campbell or whoever, and that’s where it always comes from. The real energy in comics always comes up from below.
P: Well, the thing about comics is that anyone with a piece of paper and a pen is off.
AM: Absolutely. That’s why it is a far superior medium to, say, movies, or anything like that, because you don’t need all that money and backers and technology; a paper, a pen. And that means that even, I’m completely happy and confident about the comics medium because even if, as I hope, the comics industry collapses tomorrow, then there’ll still be people who have access to a Woolworth’s jotter and a cheap Biro – that was all I used when I was doing my first groundbreaking series of comics when I was eleven. The Crimebusters, I believe, which was a really shit knockoff of The Avengers and we used to staple them at one corner and then lend them out for a penny each, and that’s how nearly everybody I know started.
Dave Gibbons started off doing comic strips in Woolworth’s jotters, we all did, and I presume that the comics creators of the future – I remember, one of the biggest things for me was when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and I was starting to get into comics fandom, and to my delight at the local library I found that there was a copy of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes, which had got all this great Plastic Man and Spirit stuff that I hadn’t seen, and it’d also got a reproduction of a comic which Jules Feiffer had done when he was eleven or twelve or something, and it was every bit as dreadful as the things that I’d done, and that was inspiring, inspiring in the way that the Sex Pistols must have been inspiring at the Hundred Club, that people thought, “Shit, I could do that!”, and that’s the beauty of comics, that’s why I’ve got no fears about the medium at all, not while there’s a thriving small press scene, and the fact that it’s a press, the fact that this is not internet magazines. I mean, I’m a real print boy. I found some fanzines – I’ve thrown away almost all of my comics collection over the last few weeks, I’ve given it to the local shop, and things that I thought I’d never bet rid of but I’m just so bored with them – I’ve kept some things.
I’ve kept my nearly complete set of Herbie, which is one comic that I shall always worship, and, and I’ve kept the odd fanzine.
I’ve got a couple of Eddie’s early fanzines that I’ve kept, but it was the fanzines from when I myself was a comics fan in the early seventies, late sixties, and I found, I found a copy of Eureka!, which was Dez Skinn’s comic fanzine, and there was a letter in it from my still great mate Haydn Paul, there was a letter in it from Jim Baikie, there was all these names that have since gone on to other things, so, even though Dez Skinn had something to do with it, I kept that, just purely for interest because fanzines, they do reveal a strata of what was going on which you don’t get from looking at the comics of the period.
(part of a fan letter to Warrior by a young Warren Ellis, borrowed from Glycon)
AM: I’ll have to go back and check on that! I know that we had, was it Pat Kane from Hue and Cry, he sent us some letters…
P: I think if you had the time to go through all these old comics, and look at all of the people who sent in letters, you would probably find some stuff they probably would sooner was forgotten at this stage.
AM: I know that my mate Steve Aylett with, when he did his Caterer, when he was talking about his imaginary author Jeff Lint, and he was talking about how, in the Caterer comic book, the letters’ page was called Your Yell, and there was a letter saying, “How can I be like the Caterer? I want to have your power of stillness,” it said, and this letter turned out to be from a young Martin Amis, it says, “what was even more inexplicable is that he was twenty seven at the time.” I can remember hating Paul Gambaccini, I told him this when I met him, and I said, “you know, when I was seven, Paul, I used to hate you,” I said, “it was just that you always used to get letters in the Justice League letters page, and I thought you were really opinionated.” i.e. he had different opinions to mine, so, yeah, there was all sorts of interesting names cropping up in those letters pages.
P: OK, I think that’s everything I wanted to ask you. Thank you very much, Alan!
AM: Hey, my pleasure, mate, you take care of yourself and I’ll talk to you again sometime soon.
P: Talk to you soon, Alan, Take care. Thank you very much indeed.