Our four-part talk with writer Alan Moore on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969 continues today. In this section, Moore gives us his thoughts on the new DC 52 relaunch, on the current state of popular culture, and names his love for a particular parody of his masterwork Watchmen.
Newsarama: Alan, I wanted to talk about a few different parts of the book. With Horace Spurgeon Fenton, was that a shout-out to Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter?
Alan Moore: Oh, no. He was a character that was invented by Jack Trevor Story, author of The Trouble with Harry and The Wind in the Snottygobble Tree, where he first mentioned Hunchback magazine, and where he mentioned his previous character Horace Spurgeon Fenton from One Last Mad Embrace and I Sit in Hanger Lane – he was kind of surrogate Jack Trevor Story figure who’d appeared in a series of semiautobiographical comic novels, and it had been mentioned that he was a writer for this fictional underground magazine Hunchback.
So I thought I’d put that reference in there. We’d previously referred to Jack Trevor Story in The Black Dossier, where we had his possibly more famous character Albert Argyle, from he perhaps-better-known Live Now, Pay Later trilogy of books. We had him giving a list to Allan and Mina while they were going down the coast.
So yes, that’s a particular favorite of mine, and a particular favorite of Kevin’s. He really likes Jack Trevor Story’s work, and he really likes Jack Trevor Story’s face, which was a gift to comedy in itself. He was also one of the closest friends of Mike Moorcock, so it was kind of appropriate that we should be referencing him in that particular section of the book.
Nrama: I understand if you don’t want to talk about this, but have you seen these announcements DC have done –
Moore: No, I’m afraid I don’t read any announcements about the comic book industry any more, I’m afraid. What have they announced?
Nrama: Well, they’re relaunching everything with new number ones in September, and folding the Vertigo “Mature Readers” characters back into the DC Universe proper. Part of this involves Swamp Thing literally being resurrected as Alec Holland and turning into a plant elemental –the opposite of “The Anatomy Lesson,” basically – and John Constantine will be running around the DC Universe, and Barbara Gordon is Batgirl again and out of the wheelchair from The Killing Joke. Some people have made the point that it’s a “Post-Alan-Moore DC Universe.” Have you any commentary on that?
Moore: No, not really. I’m not surprised. From where I am – I have no interest in comics any more. The entire world of comics seems to me, from what I’m reading in the proper newspapers over here, on the point of collapse. It seems that both of the major companies are going through some rather frantic thrashings as they try to retool their kind of flagging cosmoses by pulling the usual tricks, because, really, I don’t expect them to have any new ones.Some characters will be killed off. But this being comics, that will only be until they generate enough interest in them that they can be revived again. They can take these characters back to some pre-Alan-Moore state, if that is indeed what they’re doing, but I hope they remember what that state was! (laughs)
Like I say, it’s not really a field I think about any more. I think it is probably still in death throes, and they will perhaps continue for a while longer, but I’m kind of somewhere else now, and I don’t have any thoughts about that scene now. I can only say that yes, this doesn’t surprise me. It sounds like the kind of lame reboot that a major comic company might try, but this is fairly endemic across the industry.
I recall coming across a story in the Sunday papers a few months ago where you’ve got the head of Marvel Comics saying that Marvel Comics was gazing into the abyss, without actually coming out and saying that, though it’s been doing that for a while, so I would guess the word he was looking for was “plunging!” And I suppose things aren’t any better at DC.
So I guess we can expect a lot of revisions and overhauls and reboots from the companies that portend to represent the dying gurgles of the industry, and to a degree it’s its own fault. As you know, if what you say about DC is right and they’re doing these regressive moves back to a time when they still sold more comics, presumably, then, you know, it would seem that’s kind of predictable, because it seems to me comics have kind of gotten themselves in a position where they cannot imagine a future, and are endlessly trying to retreat back to a past where they felt more comfortable.
And all the while, they are dealing with a shrinking marketplace, and let’s face it, it’s been a while since that marketplace was composed of enthusiastic nine-to-thirteen-year-olds. The shrinking market is largely one of people between their thirties and their fifties, who clearly have a nostalgic connection to the reading material of their boyhood, and that’s fine. But we’ve gotten to a state where the entire industry is predicated on that.
I think the point happened probably in the late 1960s where the previous writers, at least at DC Comics, attempted form a union or something foolish like that, and were immediately relieved of their positions and replaced by a generation that were comics fan writers, who were anxious to reference the stories that had affected them when they were growing up.
What this kind of results in is a kind of – in terms of the art form, it’s a kind of incest, a kind of inbreeding, where we – when I dropped out of comics, this was the case anyway – you have stories that are only capable of referencing other stories from five, 10, 40 years before. The point is sorting out bits of continuity that most of the readership that is currently around have never heard of and have no interest in.
Whereas comics was once a form for the imagination, I think those resources have dwindled by the diminishing genetic stock, if you will, if ideas, where everything has to be some kind of reference to some earlier comic. Inevitably, that’s going to make the gene pool dwindle, to the point where you’re going to get some fairly unhealthy specimens emerging from it.
I suppose my basic feelings about the comic industry as it stands are that I just hope its final death rattle isn’t too humiliating or too desperate, because it’s deserved. If the industry is incapable of coming with new ideas and a future that it can evolve into, then it really doesn’t deserve to survive.And although yes, we’ve all got fond memories of those comics and those characters, the last time I looked at a rack of comics, there was nothing there that I recognized. Even the titles that I recognized, they were completely different characters, or characters who had been dead. It’s the same ideas recycled endlessly, and if you’re recycling your only fuel for decades, you’re only going to run out of any energy in your product, and it sounds like that’s what’s happening with comic at the moment.
All it would take is one good, original idea, and that could have been reversed. We’ll see what happens, and presume that history will take its usual way.
I don’t doubt that there are a few of what we used to called “independent comics,” marginal, small titles where there is great work being done. I know Melinda (Grebbie) enjoys some of the modern manga titles that she feels have genuine story work, and I suppose that’s fair enough. It’s just that I don’t see anything that seems to be revolutionizes the industry and the medium to the point where the industry can get a new lease on life.
I’m sure there’s dozens of really great titles out there, but it’s been a long time sine I’ve had time to read anything, let along a comic. I can’t remember the last book that I read. I’ve just mainly been engrossed in non-stop writing, producing Dodgem Logic, doing Jerusalem, doing the LOEG, all of which I finished a while back except for the final prose story, and all the stuff that’s brewing in other areas at the moment.
I haven’t even gotten a television set any more – here in Great Britain, they stopped broadcasting the analog television signal. And although I’ve had people explain to me I can easily and cheaply have a digi-box fitted to my set that will enable me to receive the digital channels, I actually don’t want to receive them. I have found life to be much more enjoyable since I stopped watching broadcast television.
Occasionally, if there’s a series where I can pick it up on DVD, such as Forbrydelsen, The Killing, which is a very gripping Dutch procedural – it’s best with subtitles and the original bleakness of Copenhagen – I find it very enjoyable.
[Newsarama Note: This series was the basis of the recent remake on AMC in the states. It is also much, much better.]I’ve been watching the latest seasons of South Park. I very much enjoyed the excellent episode “The Coon.” I thought some of those lines of dialogue in episode that were Watchmen-esque where great, like when Cartman is saying things like, “This city is a dying whore.” I thought that was just pure poetry. They’re my kind of guys, and they speak my kind of language.
I’m still enjoying the kind of programs I like to see, but I’m no longer tempted to just switch on the TV and sit through an episode of, I don’t know, CSI: New York I’ve seen before. There’ve been some programs I missed before, some new programs, but I find with newspapers and magazines, I can still get all the news even if it’s a few days behind everyone else. I’m not concerned about getting the news every hour on the hour, as long as when I finally do get it, I can understand it.
So I am pretty much divorced from a lot of modern culture at the moment, and I’m afraid comics are just part of that. Maybe when I get Jerusalem finished and some of these other things finished, I will have time to immerse myself in that world again and check out some of these things. At the moment, it’s kind of not working out like that. I seem to be more in a position where I’m perpetually producing work than sitting back and enjoying other people’s.
Nrama: Why do you feel there’s such a compulsion to reboot and reinvent characters constantly? With the LOEG, you’re going back and exploring the original versions of characters, but there seems like a constant need to reinvent characters for the modern context.
Moore: You could be forgiven for looking at most culture – Hollywood is a glaring example – for thinking that this must be, because they don’t have anything left. If you’re down to doing remakes of films that have already been done better somewhere else or in an earlier period, if you’re revising television shows from the 1960s or shows that nobody cared about, if one of the leading movie franchises at the moment is based on a theme park ride, then you have to ask yourself, “Where is the original material? Where is there energy that actually presumably created Hollywood, and is that in any part of culture, from high culture to low culture?”
I don’t really see anything happening that speaks to any kind of culture or any kind of progress. The thing is, culture has a liberty to take it easy, to mark time, to have a sit-down, to not bother with creating any new material because hey, we’ve got so much old material waiting around for us to cannibalize it.
We can adapt any book, any comic, any movie, any TV series – and there’s such a lot of that stuff around that we can keep regurgitate it forever, and who cares if it’s no longer nourishing, or entertaining, or interesting? I suppose the assumption is, “Hey, there’s a generation out there who’s never seen the Lone Ranger, so let’s resource all that!”But that was a character that was made to entertain, much like most of the superheroes, the children of the last century, and in many cases, the very early years of the last century. That’s not to detract from their charm or power in their day, but I would have thought that it would have been kind of expedient for creators of the present to come up with new forms, new ideas, new mythologies, new stories.
Because, I mean, the alternative is to see this continuing deterioration of culture that we kind of demonstrated in the closing pages of Century.
Next: Our series concludes with special guest questions from Ian Rankin, Roger Landgridge and more!
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