Every once in a while something really terrific drops in your lap. It happened to me in early October, 1997, first thing on a Monday morning. Hadn’t even had my first coffee yet when the phone started ringing. I picked it up and heard Matt Schwartz breathing on the other end. Matt went on to found Shocklines.com, the Internet boutique for horror literature and related items, but at the time he was Barnes and Noble’s key horror critique/buyer and responsible for a portion of their forthcoming Internet launch.
“How’d you like to interview Alan Moore for us?” he asked.
“Is this a trick question?” I replied.
“We need it by Thursday,” said Matt. “And if you get it in on time, I’ll pay you extra.”
I didn’t even need the coffee anymore.
Since that day, I’ve had the pleasure of several conversations with Alan who is almost as much fun and challenging to chat up as he is to read. But here’s our original conversation?never-before published in its entirety?just as it took place eight years ago.
Meth: What are you working on right now?
Moore: I’m still halfway through the final appendix of From Hell, which is more concerned with the Jack The Ripper writers than with the actual crime. So that’s sort of halfway through. “Lost Girls” is still on going?me and Melinda [Gebbie] have completed up to about episode #22, so that’s nearly done. Me first novel Voice of the Fire was completed and came out from Gollancz, but it’s not available in the States yet. People can get it imported but there is not yet an American publisher for it. I’m in the foothills of the next novel, which is going to be another massive task, but I’ve at least made some in-roads into it.
Meth: Is this where you want to be now? I mean, do you have any plans to leave comics, or can you continue to do all these things at the same time?
Moore: I can do them all at the same time, so I don’t see why not. It’s not just novels? I don’t see why I should be limited in anything I want to do, you know? Also I’ve been doing some performance work and I’ve released a few CDs. There’s a couple of CDs of these one-off performances that we’ve done. These are spectacular examples of sort of creative, conspicuous waste, if you like. We compose an ad-libbed performance?this will only be performed once and thereafter will never be performed again. It will be performed in one specific venue on one specific night and that’s it. It’s sort of the exact antithesis of rock and roll?of spending a while writings songs, recording an album, going out and gigging for a year playing those songs, and hoping that you’ve got enough for another album at the end. What we do is compose, record, and mix the piece within about two weeks, and that includes the performance. We do a CD of the performance and two of those are out so far. The first one was The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theater of Marvels that was based upon a performance in London around about ’95. And then there was one called The Birth Caul, which was based upon a performance done on my birthday I think in ’96. Currently, we did a performance last November, which we’ll be mixing down the vocals on this month. Next month, there’s a performance of Brought to Light, which was the book that I was commissioned to do by the Christic Institute back in ’88 or ’89. It was basically working from the Christic Institute’s affidavit?construction, in comic book form, of the activities of the CIA since the end of World War II, covering all sorts of stuff like Cuba, Viet Nam, the drug trade, Iran Contra, stuff like that. I’m doing a performance of that with music by Gary Lloyd, the electronic composer who recently worked with Ian Banks. Meanwhile, we’re ongoing in the studio on something called The Disco Kabala, which we think we’ll finish by the end of this year, if all goes well, but there won’t be a performance of it until the brink of the millennium.
Meth: This may sound like a silly question, but with all of these other avenues available to you, with you’re ability to reach far beyond the comics realm, which of course has a limited audience?with the music and the novels occupying so much time and being so challenging creatively, why bother with things like the Image comics that you’re creating?
Moore: It’s not a silly question. But the thing is I still enjoy doing comics. Also, I’ve found with things like Supreme? Well, a simple answer would be it took me five years to write my novel. The advance I got on that novel was, all told, somewhere in the range of about 15,000 pounds?something like that. If you divide five years into 15,000 pounds, that’s not a massiveincome. The CDs are in the black?we’ve not made a loss on any of them, but what I havefound is that with the stuff like Supreme, which is the best of my Image work thus far, it’s the closest to what I actually wanted?actually achieved what I set out to achieve?but it’s very enjoyable on a number of levels, and very lucrative. It keeps regular money coming in. The amount of effort that I have to put into it relative to a novel or CD or any of the more demanding work that I do, is minimal. That’s not to say that this is stuff that I just hack out, but I can have fun with it in-between the more seriousstuff. Given that a lot of the stuff I do is veryserious these days, perhaps even tending towards the heavy side, doing some silly-ass superhero stuff in amongst all that is quite a tonic and a panacea. It’s a refreshing sort of thing between steady main courses.
Meth: How old are you now, Alan?
Moore: 44. I’m 45 next month.
Meth: What are the projects you’re proudest of?
Moore: I’d have to say that my answer is relative entirely to it being today. If you asked me tomorrow, I’d give you a different answer. There are all sorts of different things. Obviously, I have a great affection for Watchmen. That was, at least for me, an intellectual breakthrough in terms of what a comic strip was capable of. It was the first time that I got my act together largely due to having such a wonderful collaborator in terms of Dave Gibbons, who helped me control all of the most minute vectors of the storytelling process to sort of weave this detailed, complex structure. So Watchmen is something that will remain important to me. V for Vendetta was also important to me because, although it probably wasn’t as intellectually dazzling or as accomplished as Watchmen, it probably had more heart, more emotion. That’s a probably a completely subjective opinion, but that’s how it felt.
Meth: Most readers agree that the three or five seminal pieces in modern comics include both V For Vendetta and Watchmen. While they both took us down very different paths, each of these books convinced me that it was time to read comics again. And then, of course, I was terribly disappointed to find that, while you had raised the bar, too few creators were even making an effort to leap that high.
Moore: Well, yeah?that was the big post-coital slump of 1990, when everyone realized that, no, it wasn’t a comic book renaissance?it was just five or six blokes that had done good books. While that was a shame, it was probably a needed blast of realism? Yeah, those two works are still important to me. Of course, from my comic book work, From Hell represents a pinnacle?to me, it almost goes beyond Watchmen. Big Numbers and From Hill, particularly, are works in which I really did try to go beyond what I’d done with Watchman by abandoning most of the techniques that I’d come to rely upon. Like Watchmen is almost now a textbook of Alan Moore clichés (laughs)?same transitions, overlapping dialogue?it was all fresh at the time, but it has become a bit of a cliché since then. I was very conscious of that almost as soon as finishing Watchmen. This stuff was new to me while I was doing Watchmen, and it was honest to use it, but don’t keep on using it forever because, you know, what you have to do is to go beyond that. So with From Hell, you found me stripping it down a lot more; there’s no captions; everything’s down to just pictures and dialogue. Sometimes the transitions are almost arbitrary, or very certain. It’s a different sort of musical approach, if you like?something that’s a lot more improvisational, rather than stringent. It’s aspiring to Ornate Coleman rather than Mozart, you know?
Meth: I understand there’s a film being made of From Hell.
Moore: Like with everything in Hollywood, these things can turn out to be mirages or phatamorgana that just vanishes with the wave of a hand. I mean there was supposed to be a Watchmen film for about the past ten years, and in various incarnations a V for Vendetta film. However, from what I understand, with the From Hell film, unusual for Hollywood, this might actually materialize. From what I understand they’ve signed Sean Connery and it will begin filming with the Hughes brothers directing.
Meth: Will you be involved?
Moore: Well, not on any sort of deep level. I’ve told them that?as with every film that’s been proposed of my work?I’ve got no interest in writing it. It’s sort of like if someone’s going to butcher my babies, I prefer it wasn’t me. I understand that in order to transform something from comic books to screen, you are going to have to lop a few limbs off here and there, you know? Just from a basic, simple level, if you look at From Hell you’ll see that it’s over 400 pages long with an incredible amount of information packed into those 400 pages. Yeah, you can have a three-hour film maybe, once in a while, but even then, you could not fit that amount of information into three hours. You’re going to have to edit, and, inevitably, you’re going to have to change it. With no disrespect at all to The Hughes brothers, nor to anyone else involved, the film will only have a coincidental relationship to the book that I wrote called From Hell. That’s fine?that’s how it works. I’ll no doubt go down to the set and sort of, you know, hang out and see what’s going on down there once in a while, but to me the film is something completely separate from the book.
Meth: Let’s change gears. Who did you grow up reading? Who are the writers that really had an impact on you?
Moore: Well, I started reading comics at a far too young age, really?I mean in comics terms. The Weisinger era of Superman books had a great impact, and the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby era of early Marvel books had a great impact. In terms of the broader field of literature, I suppose that I was a sort of fantasy junkie from a very, very young age. I learned to read at about the age of five?I could read before I went off to school, and the first things I started to read were children’s versions mythology, the Greek and Roman legends, the Norse legends. Then that sort of went into the comics, which to me just seemed like an extension?it was just more guys that could fight. This also sort of spilled over into an early affection for science fiction and for horror. I read Dracula at a very young age and I tried reading Frankenstein when I was very young but it didn’t have the same sort of pulp zing as Dracula. H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man and The Time Machine were stunning. I read H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury?the standard list of science fiction writers, fantasy and horror writers?that was pretty much my staple diet until the age of around 14 or 15 where puberty or something happened. I suddenly became interested in a broader world of writing. It didn’t have to be about fantasy anymore?the fact that it was writing of any sort was fantastic. I became interested in the Beat writers.
Meth: Which ones?
Moore: Burroughs, primarily. Kerouac was always more inviting and cheerful in his prose whereas Burroughs was alienating and frightening. But Burroughs fascinated me. And Alan Ginsberg. Reading Howl for the first time was something of a revelation?I suddenly saw things that could be done with language that I hadn’t really dreamed could be done before. And that probably established the course of my readings for the next twenty years.
(For part two of this interview, visit www.cliffordmeth.com)
© 2004 Clifford Meth