Mondo Moore: Alan Moore on New Ideas, Old Ideas

Alan Moore on New Ideas, Old Ideas

Watchmen, the International Edition
Watchmen, the International Edition
In the massive mid-point of our six-part interview with Alan Moore on Century: 1910, Moore talks about his upcoming projects, including the massive novel Jerusalem, explains how the world has moved past his 25-year old ideas, moves closer to a grand unification theory of fiction, and discusses the use of the relatively recent character Norton the Prisoner of London in Century, and offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at his process for creating lunar life in Century’s backup story.

Part one here, part two here. Preview of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 #1 here, review here. 

Newsarama: In your non-League upcoming projects, it sounds like you’re moving away from superhero-based stories.

Alan Moore: Well, yes, certainly. As I’m always trying in my work, I’m trying to move in my perceptions and conception of reality. Back when I was doing Watchmen in the 1980s, the thing that was interesting about Watchmen to me was, firstly, nothing to do with the fact that they were “dark superheroes” or “realistic superheroes,” whatever that actually means.

The thing that was interesting to me was the way we were redefining what was done with comic storytelling, and we were also suggesting a perhaps more sophisticated way of how reality hangs together.

In Watchmen, we were suggesting, I think, that reality is perhaps a web of tiny coincidences and resonant images and little motifs that we hardly notice – this web of meaning that may be all glued together with repetitions of dialogue and slight similarities of image.

And I think that when that came out in the mid-80s, people were perhaps looking for a more complex worldview, for a view that would help them make sense of what was becoming a very complex world. Of course, the mid-80s are absolutely nothing compared to the early twenty-first century in terms of complexity. We are heading for a situation of bewildering complexity worldwide in every aspect of our culture.

And I think that it’s now time to move to new ways of thinking to help us understand this situation in which we find ourselves. I know that Watchmen is being talked about a lot at the moment because of this ridiculous film, but these are ideas that are 25 years old. I think that I started writing it in 1984. That’s why it was set in 1985, because I had the idea that it would be all out and finished in 1985. But it was 25 years ago.

I think that the world moves at an unforgiving pace, and that this has accelerated. I don’t think 25-year-old ideas, no matter how adequate they were at the time, apply to our current situation – either my 25-year-old ideas or anybody else’s.

So, for my own part, what I’m trying to do in all of the work I’m doing at the moment is push consciousness and perception forward. In Lost Girls, we were trying to push into a new area of sexual awareness and consciousness. With the League, I am trying with Kevin to push into a new kind of cultural awareness.

Even if it is a big literary game, it is a game that involves potentially every fictional character in the history of global culture. In the text backup to this volume of the League, we’ve got a story called “Minions of the Moon.” It’s serialized in Lewd Worlds of Science Fiction, edited by James Colvin in 1969.

Lewd Worlds of Science Fiction was a joke name that the science fiction writer Brian Aldiss made up for Michael Moorecock’s New Worlds of Science Fiction when it was being attacked by the censors for all of its sexual content in 1969. And James Colvin is a pseudonym of Michael Moorcock. So as with everything in the League, everything is some reference to some obscure piece of literary or cultural trivia.

But in this final book, in the text story in the back, we are tying together bits of fiction from all over everywhere. We’ve got references to The Story of O, we’ve got references to every piece of lunar fiction ever written, from Lucian onwards, right up to things like 2001, all the pulp stories about races to the moon, and H.G. Welles and Jules Verne and Georges Méliès.

The way we’ve got it so far is an exploration of how the insect race of Selenites ended up on the moon, and we’ve also got an explanation of how humanoid species such as the Amazon Women of the Moon wound up there, and The Clangers, a British children’s TV series about a bunch of squeaky knit animals that lived on the moon.

And because we’ve got various nationalities having established moon bases in the time when this story is set, which is 1965, because in the science fiction stories of 1965, every country had a moon base, I thought the American moon base would be a remnant of the Baltimore Gun Club’s lunar experiment from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.

Therefore, because it’s the Baltimore Gun Club who had originally sent their rocket-shell contraption to the moon fired out of a big gun, I think the American moon base would probably be under the auspices of the Baltimore Gun Club. So I’ll probably be able to work in at least glancing references to the names of characters in The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street.

NRAMA: (cracks up) Oh God…Pembleton in space.

AM: That is the beauty of the League! We can tie in all of this stuff. Hey, it’s Baltimore! There might have been some relative of Police Chief Rawls or perhaps Det. Munch who was involved in manning the Baltimore Lunar Base.

NRAMA: You have to do Munch, because he crosses over into everything…

AM: That’s what I was thinking! The name, at least. Because he has been in several shows I have seen. It’s always the same actor, Richard Belzer, and he’s always playing John Munch.

NRAMA: You ever read Dwayne McDuffie’s theory of St. Elsewhere?

AM: No, I hadn’t. What is it?

A long explanation of the theory (expanded upon here) ensues...

NRAMA: …so if you tie in to Munch, then essentially the League, and by definition every character in fiction, is inside this little autistic boy’s snow globe.

Lost Girls

AM: (laughs) That’s one way of looking at it! I saw a really good article to the same effect, by Jess Nevins, which I think was entitled, “It’s a Sherlock Holmes World, Baby, and You’re Just Living in It.” And it was a list of all the characters you can definitively state live in the same world as Sherlock Holmes, because they have crossed over in some story or television series, or with someone who has crossed over with Sherlock Holmes.

And yeah, Munch was in that. It basically made the whole modern culture this weird adjunct to these books by Arthur Conan Doyle.

There is a huge amount of connectivity in our culture, which is what The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is here to exploit. I mean, it was after having done Lost Girls that I belatedly realized how you could connect up separate fictions, and then I realized “Hey, you could do this as an adventure story as well.”

And the League blossomed from that. And it has benefitted from the fact that if you follow the threads through, and perhaps make a couple of psychological and logical and less-logical surmises, you can more or less connect everything with everything else.

It sometimes takes a bit of thinking-about. I mean, we had to work out how come there are areas with atmosphere on the moon, and how there must be some sort of tunnel of oxygen and breathable air that exists between the Earth and the moon, otherwise you couldn’t have all those early explorers like Lucian and Baron Munchausen and Mr. Godwin, who was a local man from Northhampton who wrote a book in the sixteenth century about how he visited the moon in a chariot pulled by geese.

And the Watcher from Marvel Comics, that bald voyeur! He was living in an area that had atmosphere. So we had to explain that. And the problem is that the reason the moon doesn’t have an atmosphere is because it doesn’t have enough gravity to keep an atmosphere. If there was something to produce atmosphere on the moon, it wouldn’t be any good, because the atmosphere would drift away.

So we solved that by introducing a species of silvery moths that produces lots of breathable air, and would of course be invisible to telescopes. And we solved the gravity problem by postulating that firstly, the black monoliths from 2001, there were more of one of them on the moon and were made of black matter, which is of a much greater density and creates much more gravity than ordinary matter. So if there were a number of these buried on the moon, they might create gravity zones that could actually hold an atmosphere.

It’s a bullshit science fiction explanation, but it kind of works. In a world where you’ve got the Invisible Man and Mr. Hyde, it’s as least as plausible as the science behind those characters. So yes, we’ve got all of this tied together, and that is one of the wonderful things about the League – that you can tie together everything from Baron Munchausen to The Wire.

As for the other works I’m doing, The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic is something that continues apace. It’s directed by the fact that I’m doing it with Steve Moore (no relation) every step of the way, and Steve’s time is limited due to personal difficulties, he’s got a sick relative that he has to look after pretty much full-time.

But the work he’s doing is marvelous. We’re learning so much from doing this. We’ve learned so many things that we thought we already knew, but apparently not. We’ve found out a lot of things about magic that we just hadn’t realized before.

Just in the historical pieces, where we’re trying to put together a history of magic through the lives of its practitioners, we’re turning up all this amazing stuff! We’ve got the entire story of Dr. Faust figured out. As far as I know, we’re the first people to have done that comprehensively. We’ve found all these other amazing little things as well, and that’s just one strand of the book.

What we’re trying to do with the book is, as with all of these things, is give people a different way of thinking about things. With the League, we’re trying to give them a different way of thinking about culture, a more playful and perhaps creative way of thinking about the culture they are increasingly being spoon-fed.

With the book of magic, we’re trying to give them a new way of thinking about everything. We’re trying to give them a new way of thinking about their lives and identities and their place in the universe. And we’re trying to do that in a way which reflects the qualities of magic as we understand it, which are that magic is sometimes, yes, a bit spooky, that is true, but not to the degree that a lot of the deliberately sort of gothic occultists would have you believe.

Magic is more profound, beautiful, and occasionally very, very funny. These are all qualities we want to reflect in this volume. And we want to explain magic lucidly, without any obscurities or mystification, so that if we are just talking nonsense, then that will be readily apparent to the reader.

We’ve laid all our cards on the table. We’re not making any ridiculous claims that the reader can neither prove nor disprove. We’re suggesting lines of experiment and lines of investigation that the reader can check out for themselves, and decide for themselves if there’s anything in all this or not. And if they do find anything useful, then the book will have performed its intended purpose.

And of course the biggest thing I’m working on at the moment is Jerusalem, which is this immense novel that’s going to be between half and three-quarters of a million words. It’s increasingly long; it’ll be closer to three-quarters than half-a-million. That’s a novel unto which I’m trying to squeeze in the entirety of space-time, my life, my town, everything.

To some degree, I suppose that my aim for it is similar to the aim of James Joyce when he was writing Ulysses. I believe he said something like, if Dublin were to be completely destroyed in a nuclear blast, it could be rebuilt from his work. And that’s what I’m trying to do with this book.

If the whole of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and all the other centuries of the town where I live were somehow eradicated, this would still be a pretty complete story, as well as talking about our place in the universe and, again, attempting to give people a different way of looking at things.

In the case of Jerusalem, it’s a different way of looking at history, a different way of looking at mortality, a different way of looking at life and death and where we go when we die. It’s taken me three-quarters of a million words to cover all this, but I think it’s an ambitious enough subject matter to justify that length. And I think it’ll probably be worth the wait; it’ll probably be a couple of years.

But to answer your question: All these various books are very different from one another. But what you get when you combine them all together is that they’re all attempts to see aspects of the world in different ways. I think that that’s our task, our responsibility, and increasingly, our best hope. If we’re going to get through what are quite hectic times, then our best asset is flexibility of mind.

And if there’s any common theme to what I’m working on, it’s that. It’s trying to encourage people to see things and think of things in a different way, and perhaps more appropriate to the turbulent times that we’re passing through.

Special Thanks to Moore Annotator Jess Nevins for his help with this feature.

Next: Alan Moore on Iain Sinclair and Philip José Farmer.

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