Our four-part talk with Alan Moore on the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969 continues today. In this part, Moore discusses the 1970s, the influence of legendary British SF writer Michael Moorcock on this work, the moon, and how the Golliwog ties to the heat death of the universe. Also, several of the most obscure references in the book are explained for our benefit. Read on!
Newsarama: Alan, you show a bit of the 1970s at the end, which is a very different world from the 1960s…
Alan Moore: And yet only a few years after those heady, dreamy days of the 1960s. The atmosphere was suddenly completely different. This is one of the things I was talking about earlier about the range of the series – you can do sudden cuts like that, where you can leap from the end of the Hyde Park festival in 1969 with that balloon reading “Love” and that giant statue of Edward Hyde beneath reaching out, as if to grab it – which is in fact something Kevin put in, and is one of the most beautiful summaries of that entire decade in a single image that we’ve got in the entire book – to cut straight from that to the punk club that their basement headquarters has now become.
The cut is brutal. The music is completely different – there’s none of the trippy, hippie lyrics that we hear from the suspiciously Michael Moorcock-looking character when we visit the Basement club in the 1960s. Now it’s very dark, it’s very vicious, fueled by completely different kinds of drugs, mainly speed and alcohol.
And most importantly, there is no plan or ethos beyond nihilism. At least in the 1960s, it’s possible to kid themselves that their path is part of some huge change to humanity, that everything is going to be altered because of their heightened consciousness, or the heightened consciousness of their far-out generation.
Which I don’t think is a bad aspiration or belief, but it didn’t quite pan out that way. Within a few years, you got, rather than a culture that had all sorts of plans for politics or the environment or the future of the world, you got an equally-dejected and volatile generation of youth who were bitterly disappointed in all the un-kept promises of the previous generation, and hadn’t really got a plan other than to express their anger at their entire deal, at the future they’d been left with.
Like I said, I can see their point. But I don’t think it was right to direct it at the generation before, that had wanted to do something, however misguided those efforts might have turned out to have been.But yes, the difference in those two approaches is kind of a shocking one, with its nihilistic violence, and something that Orlando, a soldier since at least the Trojan War, is quite partial to. Allan Quatermain is left going into what is perhaps his default position. Just because he cleaned up on the opium in Book II doesn’t mean that he is cured, or that he still isn’t an addict. He’s just a recovering or recovered addict, and there was a situation in the late 1960s where you could barely move without tripping over drugs, including some of the ones Alan’s quite fond of.
In many ways, the 1960s were a bit of a minefield. It didn’t perhaps appear to be a minefield at the time, but certainly looking back at it and seeing the huge number of people who were dedicated to a radically better world, a radically better future, and seeing how many of them were either destroyed – possibly by their own foolishness – or were defused, who decided it was perhaps better to go along with the emergent “me first!” culture of the late 1970s and 1980s, until for all of its dreams and ideas, within five or six years, that culture was completely gone, and had taken a lot of people with it, either physically or mentally, or in some cases, morally.
So yes, looking back at that period, it was possible to see it in a different light, and by the way the narrative jumps in the final pages to the very different 1970s, we were able to make some sense of what it felt like clear.
Because I can remember – and I think Kevin can remember as well – however much to an emerging degree we liked the music, we were perhaps a little startled by the suddenness of which the earlier values had been transplanted into something completely different and nihilist.
It was shocking, because it all seemed to happen very suddenly. In fact, looked back from the telescoped perspective of memory, it seems as abrupt as depicted in that seven-or-eight-year cut in the last pages of the book. I think that that sudden jump is very much what the sudden jump in culture felt like, at least to me and to Kevin, if not to everybody.
Nrama: Curious to see the 2009 section of Century, as you’ll have gotten to the point where popular culture is referring to itself, and everything is pointing toward the past…
Moore: Right, and at least at the moment, what I can tell you about Book III of Century is that it looks lovely so far. I’ve got about a quarter of it from Kevin, and it’s extraordinary. I mean, I feel that Kevin’s work gets better with each progressive chapter of LOEG. And I think we both feel this book is probably the most adventurous and progress and in some ways the best book so far.
With regards to the third book – yes, we are dealing with modern culture, which is kind of always, as you say, self-devouring, or is perhaps a little bit barren. Certainly if you compare it to the fantastic inventions of the light Victorian era with which we began Century, there’s not much about it that is of any real significance or interest, even with relations to the richness of the characters and situations that were available to us in 1969.This is reflected in the story, when we bring it all – hopefully – to a sensibly apt conclusion. But yes, there is a kind of critique of culture that is embedded in the whole run of Century. It’s probably a fairly surly perspective, but atmospherically, people will find something in it that they recognize. At least I hope that’s the case. I hope readers old enough to remember 1969 might also find something emotionally familiar in our treatment of it.
All of the stuff – the drugs, the concerts, all sorts of ugly signs starting to blossom all over the late 1960s that didn’t point to anything good or very pleasant. And I think that in the 2009 section, we show exactly how those early omens and intimations have played out. To a degree, we are living in a greatly altered and perhaps diminished culture in the present day.
So like I say, it looks wonderful. The opening few pages that Kevin’s sent me are absolutely splendid. They’re immediately recognizable as Kevin – I was worried that as we got to the present day, which neither of us found visually interesting, that he might find the artwork particularly lackluster, particularly when it came to the architecture and the kind of culture that we have around us now. But I think then Kevin remembered, “Oh, this isn’t the present day, this is our dream of the present day. This is the present day of the fictional world.”
So yes, in the pages of Book III, we’ve got a 2009 that feels like the present 2009, but it is very, very different, because it is accommodating all of our fiction into its world. And the text story will come to a very interesting conclusion.
I find I’ve been enjoying that prose story quite a lot – it was a last-minute addition to the first volume, a backup feature that wasn’t like what we had done before. And I’ve enjoyed that the “Minions of the Moon” story, this sort of English New Wave piece from the period of Mike Moorcock’s tenure of New Worlds, which is my favorite.
Nrama: You’ve got Moorcock all over this volume – the back-up, the band leader and of course Jerry Cornelius.
Moore: Well, that’s it. I mean, we’ve even got a little cameo by Mike Moorcock himself playing with the Deep Six band in the Basement club. The Basement club itself is actually in a street and location that only exists in Michael Moorcock’s mythology of London that he produced for Iain Sinclair’s London: City of Disappearances anthology, which is the same place that the meal that our three characters are eating comes from – London Flesh Pie, which is rumored to be human meat but is more sensibly the hern, which I believe is an entirely fictitious bird that Michael Moorcock also invented.
The clubs and the places in the story are mentioned in Mike’s story – the Basement Club is where he says the Beatles first played, though we changed it to their fictional equivalent, the Rutles.
Moorcock was one of the most interesting fictional voices of that era. So it’s probably not surprising that we plundered his work shamelessly. And I was very, very pleased to include Jerry Cornelius in there, in his A Cure for Cancer incarnation, which was the first Jerry Cornelius serial I read.
In fact, that whole scene with Jerry Cornelius is very poignant. It would probably be poignant to British comic fans of a certain age. The shop that they are passing by, which I think is called “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which is of course a Ray Bradbury story, is an imaginary version of the actual shop that used to stand there, which was called “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed,” which I believe was probably one of the first comics and science fiction shops in the world, certainly the first in England.
Right next door to it were the offices of IT (International Times), which was the British underground paper, which I’ve in turn replaced with the fictional newspaper Hunchback, which comes from a Jack Trevor Story…story that was featured in Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds entitled “The Wind in the Snottygobble Tree.”
It’s impossible to overvalue Moorcock’s contribution to that entire culture. So, yes, if Moorcock’s spattered all over this second part of Century, then that’s only right and just. I’m looking forward to sending him a copy of this one – he’s a huge LOEG booster and fan, so I’m hoping our friendship will survive my treatment of Jerry Cornelius. (laughs)
The reason I’ve got Jerry Cornelius popping into the offices of Hunchback to pick up the royalties of his comic strip is because Moorcock was doing a Jerry Cornelius strip for IT, which was right next to the comic shop, and interestingly, a bit later on – nobody will notice this, and it’s not even meant as something that even more than a handful of people will get – there’s a panel in the climax of the Hyde Park concert sequence where you’ve got a shot of two people, one of whom has short hair and glasses, and is either eating a sandwich or perhaps has a cigarette in his hand.Next to him sits a dreamy-looking individual with a beard and blond hair. This is a reference photo that I sent to Kevin. It is actually a photo of Steve Moore, who was the founder of entire British comics scene, pretty much, and my mentor, and Derek “Bram” Stokes, the founder of “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed,” who were actually in Hyde Park on that particular Saturday when that free concert was indeed being performed.
So it was nice to get in some little sort of tribute to the place where the entire British comic scene started out. One of my earliest memories is Steve Moore taking me around to Bram Stokes’ shop, and oddly enough, we will probably be doing one of the signings for the book at a venue not a million miles away from that location. So it’s funny how these things work out.
That sort of was one of the little details we worked in there, though as I say, I hope the details don’t become annoying to readers who might not be able to pick them all up. It doesn’t mean we think you’re stupid! (laughs) There are so many references in there that probably only we would get them all, and to be honest, I don’t get all of them!
Kevin puts in all these references that he has to explain to me because he has an incredibly broad field of knowledge about culture. So, there are bits of the League where even I don’t get the references, but hopefully that doesn’t detract from the story that we’re trying to tell.
With that second section of the “Minions of the Moon” story, we’ve got a couple of Wire references in there, but we’ve also got a compendium of nearly every story that we’ve ever heard about the moon compressed somewhere into that narrative.
There’s references to the Francis Godwin expedition to the moon, which was in a chariot pulled by geese, and there are some instances of it being considered one of the world’s first science fiction stories. It was written in the 1600s, and it was written in Northampton, funnily enough. And we thought that we’d get that one in there, along with Maza of the Moon, and Mysta of the Moon, which I think were Otis Adelbert Kline’s creations for Planet Comics.
And there’s Professor Cavor’s lunar expedition and various other bits of interesting and sometimes obscure moon-related trivia, including, most notably, Amazon Women of the Moon. I think we’ve managed to ties these in together quite ingeniously.
And as for the origin of the Golliwog, which we’ve also included within this second text story, I thought it was interesting that we had the Golliwog as a character start out in a black matter cosmos that exists within our own. And interestingly, since writing that, I’ve found from the science magazines I regularly peruse that yes, it is conceivable that there might be life in these black matter areas of the universe which are thought to comprise most of its mass.And not only that, but when all of the stars have gone out, or receded over the cosmic horizon, when we’re right at the end of the universe, the black matter cosmos will probably the last place in the universe that is radiating any heat, because black mass, apparently, from their positions, radiate heat without the need for a black sun.
So yeah, this started out as a sort of very deranged fiction, but as it turns out, that is some truth about how the universe works, even if it doesn’t produce fierce, adventuresome Golliwogs at the drop of a hat. (laughs)
Coming up: Moore talks more influences, and some guest questions from other writers.
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