Alan started writing for 2000 AD in the early 1980s. With the publication of Watchmen in 1986, Moore confirmed his position as grand master of the graphic novel. That title remains his to this day.
For comic book fans and literary aficionados alike, the name Alan Moore needs little introduction. A tirelessly creative writer and thinker, during the mid-1980s he was instrumental in the transformation of comics from a childish distraction into something worthy of the title ‘graphic novel.’
But, for the comic industry he no longer cares: “And having scornfully turned my back on their infernal deadlines and various injustices, I’m free to do just whatever I want,” Alan says. But what he wants is no small thing. The mind which transmuted Swamp Thing and birthed the rebellious V for Vendetta has lately turned to matters of a magical nature.
Halfway through his second novel, and one third into a new series of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore – and a merry band of conspirators – have laid plans for a shamanic resurgence. The vehicle for this project: “A book of magical instruction – a grimoire.” Well, there’s no sense in aiming low, is there?Spanking, obviously
Alan Moore grew up in Northampton. A working class lad, he was exposed to comics including the Beano and Dandy from an early age. By the time he reached the age of seven, these august titles had become part of the landscape in Britain and Alan was in the market for something that had a bit more pizazz. With perfect timing, carried from the US as ballast in the holds of container ships, American comics docked in the UK.
At the time, Alan explains, British comics tended to focus on the antics of naughty school children and a few other British obsessions, such as spanking! Their themes just didn’t seem as exotic as full colour superheroes. “Except for the spanking, obviously.” Looking back, this was a golden age for British comics, but at the time they were too domestic: “I was easily lured to more exotic fare.”
Alan’s discovery “Commenced a kind of infatuation with superhero stories.” A few years later this was superceded by a fascination with the artists and writers creating these stories. “That’s when I came across artists like Will Eisner with Spirit, Harvey Kurtzman with MAD, and others.” It was the 1960s, “There was a lot of experimentation going on.” Utopian notions
By 1969, when Alan attended his first comic convention (which was arranged by his friend Steve Moore) the hippy ethos was firmly ensconced in his thinking. “These kind of utopian notions of how culture should evolve became part of the agenda for British fans at that time.”
Alan’s own goals for had begun to solidify too: “I saw from very early on the incredible things that comic books were capable of. Things that were not actually possible with other media.” There was a vast reservoir of potential and, as Alan explains: “This was a complete art form where all sorts of experiments and possibilities were just laying there waiting for somebody to pick them up.”
Though comics were generally still aimed at children, by the time Moore began to write for 2000 AD in the early 1980s his readership’s average age had begun to climb towards adulthood. There was plenty of room for development: “When I got into comics I was still consciously working on the idea of importing sensibilities from other sources,” says Alan. “Be it the from the underground comics or the books I was reading, or from films. It was very conscious.”Too horrific for film
For a young man with literary ambitions, comic books might seem at a strange tangent to the main event. But no, insists Alan, the comic book has a rare succinctness. “You can get an incredible amount of information into a few pages of comic strip.” Of course, you’ve got all the words to convey the information, and you have pictures too. “Then you have the thing that happens between the words and the pictures. The kind of odd effects that can be achieved by juxtaposing two apparently incongruous elements.”
If the picture tells the story, then: “With the text you can talk about other things. You can talk about texture, colour or scent. Or meaning. Or the intellectual dimensions to a situation.” All these are exemplified in Alan’s work. “Actually,” he adds, “It’s the best place for talking about these kind of things.”
From Hell is a good example. “The violence in that. The very forensic, cold blooded approach we took to the violence in that, which you couldn’t have even done in a colour comic” says Alan. And you get a palpable feeling of satisfaction that he found the way to tell that story. “You could never have done it in film. It would have been too horrific. It wouldn’t have worked.”Artistic interplay
Given that interplay, the role of the artist is central to the success of a comic. So much so, agrees Alan that “There have been numerous incidents where I’ve seen something in an artist’s work that has suggested practically the whole of the story.” Despite his exalted status within the world of comics, Alan is no prima donna, his concern is purely with telling stories.
So much so, in fact, that he’s developed a sixth sense for artists’ sensibilities. “One of my greatest talents,” he asserts, “is my ability to look at an artist’s work and understand something behind their thinking, something about their character and what they like to draw.” From this fertile soil, a story can be coaxed.
Alan’s collaboration with Melinda Gebbie on the recent Lost Girls exemplifies this: “I’d been floundering around, trying to think what to do with my vague idea of a serious erotic comic book”, he says. “I’d drawn nothing but blanks.” Nothing seemed to hit that sweet spot, “until I saw Melinda’s colour work.”
The artist may not always agree – Melinda did not: “I think Melinda at first wasn’t sure she could do the things I was asking her to. But it turned out that she could. They were just things she wouldn’t have though of herself.”Ideal world
In an ideal world the writing and the art form a virtuous circle. “They’re inspiring the writing and they’re shaping the way that it goes. It’s a
two-way procedure,” says Alan. Indeed, his work is a testament to what can be achieved when both sides of the creative team pull together. But in order for that to happen, Alan made the realisation that an essential element had been missing from comic books – structure.
When starting V for Vendetta, Watchmen or Marvelman, the concept of the ‘graphic novel’ didn’t exist. Moore’s concern with literary form told him that stories should have an ending. “Otherwise,” he says, “You’re writing soap opera, which is just an incredibly protracted middle.”
Structure, then is an important factor, but for Alan, there’s another, more pressing consideration: “To continually experiment.”
This he puts into practice without compromise: “Even if they are unprofitable areas,” you have a duty to check them out if you’re going to evolve,” he explains. It’s refreshing to hear someone speak with principles they can back up.COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Alan Moore’s Tomorrow Stories: Alan Moore’s Tomorrow Stories © 2002 America’s Best Comics, LLC; © Watchmen: Watchmen TM & © DC Comics 2005. All Rights Reserved; Swamp Thing: Swamp Thing TM & © DC Comics 2006. All Rights Reserved; Promethea 1- 3: Promethea TM & © 2005 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved; V for Vendetta: V for Vendetta copyright © 1990, 2005 DC Comics Inc. All rights reserved; From Hell © topshelfcomix.com. Images, except From Hell, courtesy of Titan Books www.titanbooks.com