Tripping to CENTURY: 1969 with ALAN MOORE, Finale
Tripping to CENTURY: 1969, Finale
Our four-part interview with Alan Moore on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969 concludes today with some guest questions from some well-known writers. Read on to see what they had to ask Moore…
Newsarama: Alan, I’ve got a few guest questions to wrap this interview up – and a few of them might be people you know. First up is a well-known crime writer, the creator of Inspector Rebus, Mr. Ian Rankin…
Nrama: Ian writes, “Do you envisage a future for physical printed comics, or is it all going to be digital?”
Moore: Well, I would say – and of course I know very little about these areas – I would say that yes, probably some form of electric comic will be with us very, very soon. I would imagine that there will always be, at least in the foreseeable future, printed versions of comics.
There are some people, myself included, who would like to see a nicely filled library shop, rather than the much more compact and portable e-selections that you can make on your various devices. So I’d tell Ian that yes, electric comics will be with us very, very shortly – next year? Year after?
Nrama: Well, in addition to webcomics, there are already digital copies of a number of hard-copy comics from most of the major companies, with recent announcements about digital copies of new books being available the same day and date as hard-copy editions.
Moore: The problem is that – yes, I have heard about some of the comics companies’ e-comics, which sound very much to me like their regular comics uploaded. It’s not as though they’ve been thought through with the design and capabilities of the new medium in mind. They are still based on what is pretty much the print technology of the late 1930s.
I mean, if you start to think about it, most of the conventions of comics are purely dictated by that archaic print technology. That’s why about a 32-page comic book is a convenient commercial length. But if you are going for an average of about six panels a page, you can tell quite a considerable or satisfying amount of story in that space.
But these things don’t really apply to new technologies. And this is before we even think about the extra possibilities that those new technologies might bring with them that would radically change the very nature of comics. So I think we’re probably likely to see a lot of that over the next few years.
And yeah, quite a lot of it will probably be quite lame, and it will be lame until it finds its feet and you get people using the medium intelligently and making it something progressive. But yes, I think that will happen.
I love the print medium material, and I’m sure there will be a continuing market for that material, but probably a diminished one as people of taste and feelings of association and ownership start to gradually change. They say there might come a time when print books are a rarity…ehhh, I don’t think so.
It’s a well-evolved medium, and so convenient, and also if power goes down, you can still read a book. If there is a massive solar flare that wipes out all our information, a coronal mass ejection in the next couple of years, you’ll still be able to read a book.
So I wouldn’t count books out yet, but we are going to see a lot of new technology entering a lot of fields over the next several years, and I most certainly think one of them will be comics. And I don’t really see the main thrust of that coming from the existing comics industry, who have barely shown that they’ve got much grasp on their existing very wonderful and mutable technology.
They don’t think anyone will buy anything other than a basic comic book, so I don’t know why anyone would think they’re liable to be addressing the abject unconsidered possibilities or drawbacks of what is effectively a completely new medium.
So that’s a long-winded answer, but if Ian can pick some sense out of that, he’s very welcome [laughs].
Moore: I remember Roger Langridge from back in the day! I probably haven’t seen the Fred the Clown material, but I remember Roger Langridge as a very, very stylish cartoonist from the 1980s. Like I said, I’m not much on contemporary references because I’m a weird, reclusive hermit who sort of doesn’t see much of the outside world. But yes, I do remember Roger’s art very, very fondly.
Nrama: Roger writes, “You tend not to return to old characters once you’ve finished their stories. Is that just because of a kind restless on your part, or is it a deliberately philosophical decision not to look back? Or is it even something you’ve consciously thought about?”
Moore: Well, I think the answer is “All three of the above.” It’s a restlessness on my part, in that I find I can’t be satisfied in just revisiting material that I’ve already done to death, where I’ve already extracted all of the meaning that I could think of from that material. It was why I finished Swamp Thing when I did, why I kind of made a lot of my comic book work finite series that has an ending, because to me, the biggest thrill is in breaking open new territory.
So it is restlessness. It is also kind of a philosophical position, I suppose, that I think it’s better if art is constantly attempting to surprise people. If art is not surprising people, it’s probably because they’ve seen it or something like it before. So ideally, I’d like to think that in every area of my art, I am trying something new, at least for me. I’m pushing into areas I haven’t been that comfortable about getting into before.
So yes, there is a kind of half-baked philosophical notion behind it. And I have considered personally that the best practical approach to my ongoing career. I mean, I’m not thinking in financial terms. If I’d thought in commercial terms, I can think of a lot of decisions I’ve made in my career that would have gone very differently.
So what I’m talking about is purely that possibility for breaking new ground. With Jerusalem, -- which is currently on Chapter 30, five chapters from the end – when I passed the two-thirds mark around Chapter 24, it was already over half a million words. And I was talking to Professor Steve Jones the other day, at the performance I did at the Hammersmith Apollo, as part of the Uncaged Monkeys tour of various scientists and comedians and people like me, who don’t really fall into either category.
So anyway, I was telling him about that milestone, and he said, “That’s longer than the Bible!” [laughs] So it’s certainly pushing it in terms of length, into new territory for me, and also in terms of style and what it’s about, this is probably the most valuable thing I’ve ever done. It’s one of the more readable things that I’ve ever done – if you ever actually get through it, or even lift the book [laughs]. It’s an example of the direction that I want my work to go.
So yes, if I ever start repeating myself, that will be because, at least in that particular area of my expression, I have run dry. And I hope that I will have the intelligence to know when that is, so I can stop or shift my work to another area, because I have got quite a lot of areas that seem to be opening up to me at the moment, and that’s a way that I can keep myself fresh as well, moving from one field to another. In some ways, it’s part of all of what Roger suggested.
Moore: Ah, Paul! Yes! A splendid, splendid gentleman. What are Paul’s questions?
Nrama: Paul writes, “What was he reading around age 10 or 11 that made an impression on him? Can he remember when he first came up with the echoed visual scene transition effect for which he became famous? What story was it, and can he remember if anything (like a film) inspired it?”
Moore: Well, I would have been reading probably a lot of science fiction anthologies that I borrowed from the library, which would lead me to things like sword and sorcery to Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds and then William Burroughs’ works by the age of 14, if I remember right, which was a bit of a shock.
But mainly around the ages of 10 to 12, I was reading a lot of a lot of occult horror fiction, actually. This would still be around the time I was reading H.P. Lovecraft. I was also for a brief period enamored of the British writer Dennis Wheatley, and you can only get absorbed into Dennis Wheatley’s fictions around the age of 12. And when you get a little bit older, you start to sort of realize a lot of the politics and morality of them are actually kind of oppressive! [laughs]
That said, I did read an excellent biography of Wheatley recently by Phil Baker entitled The Devil is a Gentleman. And despite having very little interest in the man’s writings after the age of 11, I found it an incredibly engrossing read, very instructive about someone who, even though I might have disliked much of the stuff he did, was a very influential writer.
I remember that being one of my first aesthetic experiences where I was exposed to things like symbolism, where I understood the kind of irony that was present in the series – in fact, it might have been The Prisoner! I remember the way they would cut from the lava lamp to the visually similar image of one of their giant menacing weather balloons bursting up from beneath the ocean waves to menace Patrick McGoohan.
I’m not saying it was, but there were a lot of things about The Prisoner that really impressed me – not just the story, but the way the story was told, and the kind of liberties the storytellers allowed themselves. So that would have been a seminal influence – it certainly would have been from around that time, when I was 11, 12, 13. That is the strongest influence I can remember and name as one of the resources of that idea of one image bleeding into another that Paul mentions.
Incidentally, I’ve only tried to use that extensively on Watchmen – I felt it was also a mistake to use it on The Killing Joke, and I’ve tried not to do that in my subsequent fiction, that easy visual linkage. But while I was using it, The Prisoner was as good as it gets as any as to where I got it from.
Andrew writes: “You may have answered this before, but do you still write those famous 100-page scripts? As you’ve gotten more experienced, do you find you’ve gotten less detail-oriented, or more focused on the small things and what they can bring to the page?”
Moore: Well, I think you find that my scripts are getting bigger and bigger. Like, I was reading a recent book that came out that had some of my old scripts reprinted in it, and I was marveling at how sparse they were compared to the scripts that I’m doing for the LOEG.
I used to be about an average of two pages a script to one page of published comic, but these days it’s going to be three or four pages of script – and this is single-spaced script! – to a single page of published comic. So for the 72-page published chapters of the LOEG, we’re talking about well over a couple of hundred pages of script. So yeah, if anything they’re getting longer.
I presume – yeah, it probably is – because my eye for detail and preoccupations have become more finely tuned, or perhaps I’m leaning more closely in to see what’s in the small details of things that I can bring out. And of course, with the LOEG, it is by its nature, if I’m suggesting loads of background gags and characters, that will make it into the script.
And if you’re doing a nine-panel page, even if they are simpler drawings and easier to describe than bigger panels, that’s still going to be a lot more typing than a three or six-panel page, or even the 1990s Image Comics style of a splash page every couple of pages.
Those are quite easy to write, because they don’t take very long, and especially now, if you are only doing a couple of lines a panel, if that, which I think is still the default setting for a lot of comic book writers, from what I hear of it.
So yes, this is purely the way I do things; it’s getting worse instead of better. My scripts are getting longer and longer. And the prose book I’m working on is looking to be 1,500, a couple of thousand pages. It’s not clearing up; it’s getting worse. But it lets me tell my stories precisely the kind of way that I want to tell them.
My life would be a lot easier for me if I didn’t keep thinking of ways to talk about what I want to talk about. I probably could have finished Jerusalem a thousand pages back. But that’s the way things go; being long-winded is the way I’m stuck being. So I kind of figure it’s working out for me so far, so expect more long-winded works from me in the future.
Nrama: Next up is another writer friend of mine – Michael Easton, who’s a TV actor as his day job, and has published a few graphic novels over the last couple years, the Soul Stealer trilogy with Chris Shy, for which he credits Promethea as a major influence, and The Green Woman from Vertigo with Peter Straub and John Bolton.
Moore: Well, I suppose that the short answer would be whenever we get The Serpent and Bumper Book of Magic finished and out there, whenever that is. But in general, I believe that all the creative arts are synonymous with magic. I believe any act of creation is an act of magic. It is something out of nothing. I believe this is true of all the arts, but it is particularly true of writing.
Writing is the most elegant, the most sophisticated, and the most in some ways enigmatic of the arts. Just the very concept, which connects up with ideas of Kabbalah, that you can conjure up the entire universe, the entire conceivable universe, with 10 digits and 22, 26 letters! I mean, the fact that what a writer does is to express his or her thoughts in this kind of brutally simple code – 26 characters, a handful of punctuation.
With that, he or she can transmit the entire contents of his or her mind into the mind of another individual with whatever kind of surprise packages might be found up in there! You can alter peoples’ consciousness – this is, of course, what all writing is doing, not all necessarily in a good way.
But, I mean, all of us have watched a dull soap opera when there’s nothing else to do and find ourselves slightly duller at the end of it. You can use writing as a kind of soporific to give people the same stuff they watched yesterday, and in that way keep them asleep, or you can use language to actually expand their consciousness.
This is not at all fanciful. I think if we agree with George Orwell that a reduced vocabulary will necessarily inspire a reduced consciousness, as in his Newspeak in 1984 where the vocabulary has been reduced to a few thousand words in hope of mentally enslaving the population, who will only be able to speak that language and only have that range of concepts available to them.
I think if we accept that that is possible – and I think it certainly is, given that the average reader of the tabloid Sun newspaper over here only needs 10,000 words, which believe me, is a pitifully small human vocabulary – if it is true, that by limiting people’s language we limit what they’re capable of thinking of, then the opposite of that must be true as well.
By expanding the range of words and concepts available to people, by putting those words into new orders, by exploiting the rhythmic properties of words, by using the almost magical capabilities of language to evoke or summon up some entity or mood or atmosphere to take the reader to some completely different imaginary world – most of the things magic claims are repeatable in ordinary prose.
I believe even Al Crowley himself said, “Actually, a great artist is superior to a great magician.” And I would say that that is true. I would say that in the purest sense, there is no difference between those two things. It just depends on whether you choose to see your craft in those terms or not.
I feel that because I do see myself in those terms, that has only had an empowering quality. I have gotten an almost religious kind of respect for things that I would previously have taken for granted and not thought about like, say, language itself. My approach to magic, if anything, has made me appreciate how much is already there in ordinary writing, in ordinary language, or in the extraordinary language that someone of the right inclination can bring to the field.
If you think about it, there are things in books that have caused bloody wars that have completely changed in the civilizations that they have happened to, for better or for worse. The immense power of the word is present everywhere in the world around us.
Every technology we invent is just that, it is a tech-nology – it is a nology, writing, about some kind of tech. That is what a technology is. And so all technology is predicated on the original technology of language. And I don’t believe there is anything the right kind of language can’t do.
I remember I was very inspired at the age of 14 or 15 by reading William Burroughs’ statement that a sufficiently convincing writer should be able to write about death so convincingly that any reader would die.
Now, that is a bit extreme, and not anything I particularly want to do, but I like the general principal that by using mirror neurons – which is something that I have been talking about a bit at a science festival with a neuroscientist and Iain Sinclair – which postulates that if we see someone doing something, part of our brain lights up as though we were doing it ourselves. And I think that that extends to reading about something in a piece of text.
If I am watching someone on a precarious window ledge in a television drama, the palms of my hand will get very, very sweaty, and I’ll have an uncomfortable tingling sensation in my feet. The same thing will happen if I’m reading a particularly convincing description of someone in a certain condition.
Words can affect you physiologically. They can change the entire world. It’s just a matter of how seriously you take them, and how ingeniously you apply them.
So that’s my answer, and I hope it’s not too repetitive of what I said before…!
Moore: Certainly, it’s got a very different feel to me as I’m doing it, and I’m sure to the readers as they’re reading it. I found an awful lot of characters from the 1963 to 1969 period to be just as interesting in many ways as their Victorian predecessors.
Like I said, remaining in the Victorian era wasn’t merely an option. We decided that perhaps the bravest thing to do was to take the bull by the horns and push our characters as close to the present day as possible to see what would happen to them. It’s an experiment in the ongoing experiment that is the LOEG.
I’d say that the characters of the later 20th century are in their way just as interesting, as fun to write as the Victorian characters were, but I do concede at this point that there’s something about those archetypal Victorian characters that’s hard to beat if you’re going to do kind of an enthusiastic, swashbuckling adventure.
The atmosphere of those stories was very upbeat, very forward-looking. It was the British Empire looking forward to a future in which the British Empire would be bigger and better, just before it all collapsed. Whereas, the characters of the later ages are more typified by the doubts and anxieties that came with those decades.
That’s not as universally cheering a series of characters and concepts as we were using back in the Victorian days. Although, I suspect if we were to go back to the 1600s for an adventure of Prospero’s men, we’d probably find that the same thing was true, that the Victorian period represented a bountiful cornucopia of characters, and times before then and since then have perhaps not had such and wonderful array of adventures and concepts for us to use.
But that is not to take away from the more recent, latter-day versions of the LOEG. It’s just to say that they’re very different, just as our culture now is very different from the culture of the Victorian period. And the various transformation of the LOEG reflect the various transformations of that culture and how it felt about itself.
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