Recently, Andre Lamar got the chance to delve into the mind of writer Steve Moore. In this interview, Steve gives us a very personal look at his adaptation of Hercules, along with a look to his own future.
-Alex J. Rodrik, Editor of Features and Interviews
Andre Lamar: How did you initially get involved with Radical to write Hercules: Thracian Wars?
Steve Moore: It all rather happened out of the blue. I’d worked for Dave Elliott previously, when he was doing A1 for Atomeka Press, and he suddenly got in touch with me when Radical was first setting up in business. Originally, he and Barry Levine had been thinking about asking me to do a graphic novel version of a movie script they had in mind. And then suddenly they asked me to write Hercules instead, which suited me much better. It meant I could do original work, and I already had a strong interest in the ancient Greek world and its mythology anyway. So we discussed the sort of thing Radical wanted…for example, that we should set it in ancient times rather than do a 21st century Hercules, and concentrate more on the human side of Hercules, rather than the mythological…and I went away and came up with a plot, and it went on from there.
AL: July births your latest Hercules series with Hercules: The Knives of Kush, in which the half son of Zeus lands in Egypt. How will the barbarian and his comrades adapt in this new environment?
SM: Not very easily! In the first series, Hercules and his Greeks considered themselves civilized by comparison with the barbarian Thracians; now they find themselves in Egypt, which has a much older and more advanced civilization, and the Egyptians are intent on letting them know it, too. Generally, there’s a bit of a change of emphasis here. In the first series one of the main things I wanted to get across was that Bronze Age warfare was actually hideously brutal, not some romantic sword-and-sorcery affair. In the second series, Hercules and his friends are still looking for work as mercenaries, but now the story’s much more of an adventure, with fantasy elements, palace intrigues, spies, weird cults, and so on. It’s not quite as dark as the first series, but I think all told I like it rather better.
AL: Why did you choose the title The Knives of Kush?
SM: It just evolved naturally out of the story. I was thinking of having a sorcerer from the barbaric southern land of Kush, which is the ancient name for Nubia. Then having decided to make the sorcerer the head of a dangerous secret cult, I thought of calling it “The Knives of Kush” …and then that just seemed like a good title for the series.
AL: What, if any, new challenges do you find yourself facing when tackling this new installment?
SM: The main one was that, while I knew a fair amount about Bronze Age Greece, I really didn’t know much about Ancient Egypt, so that meant I had to do some research, especially as we’d decided to try to make the stories as authentic as possible within the constraints of the comic medium. So I had to find out what was going on in Egypt in 1200BC, what people wore, what weapons they used, what gods they worshipped at particular places, and so on. And then, of course, I also had to try to give the artists as much visual reference as possible. Fortunately, I really quite enjoy that sort of thing, so it was fun; and looking at the books that we’ve ended up with, I think it was well worth it.
AL: How much leeway are you given by Radical in writing this edgy comic?
SM: The only real sticking point we’ve had has been on the subject of nudity, which I’m told the distributors won’t accept. If you do any research on Bronze Age Greek or Egyptian costume you’ll find it rife with young ladies wearing not much above the waist. So we’ve had to compromise on the costumes, which I have to say is rather a disappointment to me, both in terms of authenticity and the fact that I’m actually rather fond of young ladies wearing not much above the waist! Apart from that, though, I’ve been able to do pretty much what I want.
AL: How does your experience writing for Radical differ from 2000 AD, Marvel UK, and previous publishers you‘ve worked with? Is there a possibility that you’d write stories for those publishers in the future?
SM: One of the biggest differences is simply length. I learned my trade writing five-page complete stories, which is great training, because if you can tell a complete story in that short a space, you can pretty well tell it in any length. So working for UK publishers, I don’t think I’ve actually written anything longer than a story of about 10 five-page installments. These two Hercules series are actually the longest comic-book stories I’ve written, so obviously I had to get used to things like pacing a story over five 24-page installments. But like I said, once you’ve started on five-pagers…
As for the second question…well, anything’s possible, but I think it’s highly unlikely. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years I had to care for a disabled relative, which meant that I had little time for any other work than Hercules. As he’s recently passed away, I now find myself in a position where I can retire from writing mainstream comics, so once I’ve seen Knives of Kush through the press, I’ll be gone.
AL: In addition to Thracian Wars, can the fans look forward to a push from Radical to make The Knives of Kush a film as well?
SM: I’m afraid you’ll have to ask Radical about that! I’m sitting here in London and they’re doing the film side of the business in California, so I’m not up to date with developments. I’d imagine they’d need to see how things went on a first movie, before making decisions on a second…but as I said, that’s their side of the business.
AL: Considering the nature of your adaptation, what were your impressions of Disney’s Hercules film and the 90’s television series starring Kevin Sorbo?
SM: I have to confess that I wasn’t even aware that Disney had made a Hercules movie until interviewers started asking me if I’d seen it. I’m afraid I still haven’t. As for the Kevin Sorbo series, I watched about 5 minutes of an early episode when it was first showing, and thought it was so unutterably stupid I never watched it again. Apologies to Kevin Sorbo fans, but I just don’t like TV anyway, so you’d probably get the same answer about almost any series you’d care to name, if I’d actually
seen it in the first place.
AL: Prior to working on Thracian Wars, were you keen on Greek mythology?
SM: Certainly was. As anyone who may have read Alan Moore’s biography of me, Unearthing, will know, I’m a practicing pagan anyway, with a particular affinity for the Greek Moon-goddess Selene, and in researching her I read just about all the surviving Greek mythological texts there are, in translation, as well as a lot of books about the mythology by modern scholars. So, while Hercules wasn’t a character I was particularly interested in previously, I was delighted to have the chance to do something in that area.
AL: What intrigues you most about the half son of Zeus?
SM: Mainly the way that we seem to have forgotten or suppressed the fact that Hercules was originally worshipped as a god throughout the Graeco-Roman world, particularly one who warded off plagues and other evils. I guess it’s not surprising, in that a story about a man of divine origin born to human mother who eventually dies and ascends to heaven to be reunited with his father is uncomfortably close to the Christian narrative. And now he’s become the subject of comedy-adventures like the Sorbo series, or a Marvel superhero. That’s why I wanted to treat my version of Hercules seriously, because otherwise that’s a terrible disrespect to the people of the past, who prayed to him to prevent their house being burned down by bandits, or to save a dying child…
AL: Lastly, what else can fans expect from Steve Moore in 2009?
SM: Very little, I fear! I’m still working on the Moon and Serpent Book of Magic with Alan Moore, though progress on that has been slow recently because of my personal situation. Hopefully that’ll speed up a bit now, but we’re still at least a year from finishing that. Although it’s more about me than by me, there’ll be a photo-illustrated version of Alan’s Unearthing out next year. But as far as comics are concerned, I’m hanging up my hat and turning to non-fiction. A couple of short pieces for Fortean Times, hopefully dusting off my research for a book on Selene, maybe some more stuff on the Yijing. And putting my feet up quite a bit…