With the new volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen now in stores, we got to call up creator Alan Moore in England to talk about Century: 1969, the psychedelic tale that puts the League up against occultists, gangsters and the changing times. In the first part of this new interview series, Moore discusses the era of 1969, why the League had to get out of Victorian times, the ultra-dense variety of characters in the background of the book, and much more.
Newsarama: Alan, really enjoyed the new book, but was talking about it via email with Jess Nevins, and I think you might be trying to kill him. Newsarama Note: Read Nevins’ extensive annotations on the latest volume here.
Alan Moore: [laughs] Yes, well, Jess was saying the same thing about the Almanac of imaginary places in the second volume. It’s probably more Kevin O’Neill – like any decent murderer, I’m trying to shed some blame to an accomplice – but it’s probably more Kevin, with his brilliant array of background details, that’s going to be responsible for Jessie’s death, rather than my relatively minor contribution to that unhappy event.
Nrama: I was wondering about that, because there’s so many “Where’s Waldo”-style street scenes of the characters walking around, and I wondered how much of that was scripted and how much was Kevin having some fun.
Moore: Well, a bit of both. There were some points where I made specific suggestions for a kind of scene. For example, there’s a cut away from an amorous encounter between Allan and Orlando to Piccadilly Circus and the nightlife of that era, which was a notoriously gay cruising area, where there the famous Piccadilly Palare, the slang of the gay community of that area, originated.
I’d suggested that a couple of the gay characters from the culture of that period, and perhaps a couple of gay business names, such as “Bona Fashions,” which would have been something mentioned by Kenneth Williams, the incredibly camp “Carry On” film actor when he was doing his 1960s radio show “’round the Horn,” in which he took on the persona, along with another comedian, of two screamingly gay proprietors in that area of London. This is at a time, of course, when homosexuality was illegal over here.
So yeah, I suggested a couple of people, but that particular panel came back with people I hadn’t dreamed of including. In at least one instance, I had to ask Kevin who these people were, which happens quite a lot! Kevin’s a very knowledgeable young man.There’s another thing where the League’s arriving in 1969 London, and we have a shot of a bus going by in the background, and just for the characters in the foreground, I suggested Beryl Reid in her role as the lesbian radio celebrity Sister George (Newsarama Note: This is the title character of the play and film The Killing of Sister George by Frank Marcus – thank you Google!).who I think is lasciviously eyeing a woman who may be the “Cindy” doll, which was basically our cheap knockoff of Barbie on this site of the Atlantic.
So I asked for these, but Kevin included a lot of characters that were quite brilliant and obscure, even by my own lofty standards. Y’know? If anyone’s seeking revenge for Jessie’s demise, they should seek out Kevin. [laughs].
Nrama: It took me several readings to get some of the major characters in the book – Jess explained several to me, and I got to explain a few, like how Wolfe Lovejoy is two Ian McShane characters. It seems like you quite like Ian McShane…
Moore: Yes. That came from noticing that in the original film Villain from 1971, Ian McShane played the main character’s boyfriend Wolfe, who might have had a surname, but it wasn’t bandied around a lot. While in the later TV series Lovejoy, the title character played by Ian McShane, who had criminal connections, was never really given a first name.
So I thought, “Oh, I’ll conflate the two characters as a kind of playful little sidebar on my depiction of 1960s criminal London,” where I’ve got a number of characters who are all pretty much surrogate Ronnie Kray figures, whether it’s Harry Flowers from the film Performance, whether it’s Harry Starks from Jake Arnott’s book The Long Firm, and the reference to the Monty Python character Doug Piranha, who was another surrogate for Ronnie Kray, and of course Vince Dakin himself.
I thought it was quite funny to have all these vicious homosexual gangsters in a pitched turf battle with each other going on in London’s East End. Hopefully, the story underlying all of this is still clear enough to enjoy, even if you’re not getting all the references.
Kevin had also pointed out the Ian McShane had appeared in a gay/criminal love scene in the film Sexy Beast, so maybe that was the same character as well!
Nrama: He’s had a long life under many different names…
Moore: I was thinking if there was a way I could have linked his Al Swearengen character from Deadwood in there was well, that would have been fun, but that might have been stretching the limits a bit too far…!
Nrama: Well, Swearnmgen was a real person, so that might violate the rules of your world…Moore: True. Though he is a real person who has been, through Deadwood, subsumed in fiction. There are things he did in Deadwood he in no doubt never did in real life. It’s like Winston Churchill – a real person, but there were many fictional versions of him.
So we’ve allowed ourselves a bit of stretch-room when it comes to allowing real historical characters, if there weren’t any obvious fictional surrogates. But Al Swearngen would have been a step too far in so many ways.
Nrama: Well, there’s the line in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When legend becomes fact, print the legend…”
Moore: Certainly, after all the stuff I did on From Hell, I became very away of the thin line between a historical event and the fictional mythology we build up around it. In LOEG, we’ve taken that idea pretty much as far as you can possibly take it.
We’ve “printed the legend,” but we’ve kind of undertaken quite an extensive project to link all the legends together into a single legendary landscape. I can’t remember why we originally did that, but it’s certainly proven to be a lot of fun, and it’s allowed for a lot of interesting storylines to develop, just by starting out with the premises we were given, and then allowing those premises to evolve logically, you know?It’s a very different world that the League are inhabiting in 1969 from the previous edition, 1910, even though this is only 50 or 60 years after, and so are the League. It’s an almost unrecognizable world, which I suppose is one of the emotional consequences of having artificially-extended life. There’s particular attention paid to Mina’s psychological state.
Nrama: There’s a bit where they’re at the nightclub, and Orlando’s introducing Allan to the young people going, “You know, he discovered King Solomon’s mines…” His adventures are already becoming pulp fiction and he’s still the classic adventurer while the world is this hyper-sexualized place with Taduki as a street drug.
Moore: Right, that’s it. It’s a degraded world. There’s still some marvelous fictional characters lurking about the peripheries, but it’s a world that’s come a long way in 50 or 60 years. Whereas in 1910, the general milieu, while it was different from the first two volumes set in 1898, it was perhaps not strikingly different.
It still seemed to be about the same kind of historical area of those original books. Whereas with the 1969 chapter, we’re back in the same territory as the narrative of The Black Dossier, but about 10 years later. England is almost unrecognizable from the previous books, which will become even more marked once we get to the third chapter, 2009.
In a way, one of the subtexts in Century is taking these three snapshots of the world of fiction at these three different points. You can’t help but notice a kind of…”deterioration” is not fair, but certainly a tremendous change.
And I think that read overall, by the time we finish this volume, I think that it will perhaps be quite a sobering, breakneck journey from one world to another in a space of only 100 years, a single human lifetime.
And the other thing is the effect of this on the characters. Orlando, who’s somewhere in the region of 3,000, has obviously gone through an awful lot of trials and tribulations and breakdowns and psychological adjustment. But Mina is only in the early years of her immortality, and is starting to find the rapid change of the culture around her somewhat stressful.
I was conscious in the early parts of the book that giving Mina this somewhat forced 1960s “hip” dialogue would look to some of the readers a mistake, or was having her talk out of character.
Hopefully, by the time readers get to the end, they’ll get the idea. Mina is in a very tricky position. She can either stay as she is forever, and become a fossilized Victorian freak, or she can attempt to keep up with the times insofar as she is able to.
Having introduced the idea of immortality, I figured it would be a bit of a cop-out if we then said, “Mina lived forever, and it never affected her emotionally.” It’d be convenient for story purposes, but I believe if you only have static characters who can never seriously evolve, you’ve got a dead piece of work on your hands.
This is why you’re probably trying to persistently push the League into all sorts of new areas, just to see how the concept function, and what the possibilities of the concept are in those areas, you know? If we’d have kept it only in the Victorian period, I doubt we’d still be doing the book, you know? We’d have run dry of genuinely significant story references to base the plots on. We’d have run out of powerful characters over and over again.
And I think what gives the characters in the League their poignancy and power, if they have that, is the fact that they never change. Their situation’s going to change, but they’re not going to die in the supernatural run of things.
I was quite pleased that having ended 1910 with a teenaged Janni Dakkar sort of taking her father’s place as Captain of the Nautilus, we open in 1969 with her as a woman in her 70s, with a grown daughter and a grandson, nearing the end of her life.There’s something kind of interesting about the vast time scale we can play with the League that allows for a shift like that. That’s not precluding that we’ve got all these earlier eras of the League with gaps and adventures that we can fill in if we like. But it’s nice to have characters altering and aging consistently throughout the entire series.
Nrama: In this volume, I got the sense that many of the references are some of the things you experienced in real life as you were growing up, and this was very personal for you.
Moore: Well, that’s true in the sense that this is the first volume where I was – well, The Black Dossier was set in 1958, but I was five in 1958, so those things in there were only misty memories from my childhood, but it seemed to be an interesting era.
With 1969, yeah, both Kevin and I had fun trying to remember the details from the culture that we grew up with. But the choice of 1969, since we were resolved to bring the series right up to date with this third volume, right up to the present day, we had to have one period around the middle of the century that we could venture through.
And it was just that right ‘60s period – certainly a very colorful one. And in terms of the fictional landscape, there were certainly a lot of very colorful characters moving around, most of whom we’ve managed to cram somewhere into the book, either in the foreground or background of 1969.
So yeah, I wouldn’t doubt there are nostalgic touches in there. But really, we chose that period because it was the most exciting period, in terms of fiction, that was available to us in that mid-century period.
Nrama: And I can imagine there are some specific works that had an influence on you, namely Villain and Performance.
Moore: Performance I always thought was a brilliant film. I liked Villain, but Performance I saw a number of times, because I loved what Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg did with that – an extraordinary breakthrough in filmmaking, in my opinion. It is one of me favorite films.
Villain was a very good film; I only saw it once. I don’t remember it being quite so engaging. We were looking for one of the pseudo Ronnie Krays to plug into the story. With Performance, we were trying to connect that late-‘60s world of pop stars, gangsters and people on the fringes, who were all kind of present in that heady mixture of the late 1960s.
So I wouldn’t say Villain was a huge piece that had a great influence of me, but it was a nice way to point to the other cult movies of that period and kind of base them in the same space, to have characters like Russell Hunter’s character Lonely from Callan, one of the series over here, have him in the same milieu as our Jack Carter-like character or our Vic Dakin-like character.
It was just interesting to see how all these crime fictions in late 1960s London could be connected together into a kind of coherent narrative, and how that fit in with all the other stuff, the psychedelic details of the day.
Nrama: When you put the details of the era together like that, do you find you have a new perspective on it?
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