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An Alan Moore interview from sci-fi.com

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  • An Alan Moore interview from sci-fi.com

    Sci-Fi.com wrote:


    Alan Moore leaves behind his Extraordinary Gentlemen to dally with Lost Girls


    By Dorman T. Shindler


    After making a name for himself in the British independent comic-book scene, Alan Moore first gained attention in America—and began what would become a contentious relationship with DC Comics—when editor Len Wein hired him to help revitalize Swamp Thing in the early 1980s. Moore immediately drew critical acclaim for his smart, mature writing and plots.

    Given carte blanche, he created one of the seminal works of his career for DC Comics in the mid-'80s: Watchmen, a series that dealt with corrupt government officials and superheroes that were far more complex than any portrayed in comic books before that time. It was, says Moore, "an attempt to see how much complexity could be worked into a kind of comic-book narrative." In addition to a Harvey Award and a Jack Kirby Award from the comic-book industry, Watchmen also won Moore a Hugo Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a first for the comic-book industry. Along with writers like Frank Miller, Moore has been celebrated as one of the scribes who first brought thoughtfulness, depth and much-needed seriousness and respectability to comic-book heroes.

    Although he had a now-infamous split with DC Comics over their treatment of him and his coworkers (the artists) on titles bearing his name, Moore (at right with Lost Girls artist Melinda Gebbie) was unable to escape that company's clutches. The rights to subsequent works for other imprints, like America's Best Comics—titles like V For Vendetta, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong and Tomorrow Stories—were bought up by DC Comics, leaving Moore embittered and bewildered but wiser about the ways of the world of commerce. (Photo credit: Top Shelf)

    In recent years, Moore has been more careful about whom he sells publishing rights to. Lately, he has been working on the completion of a second novel (which he expects to clock in at around 100 pages) and overseeing the final touches on a project that has been near and dear to his heart for more than 16 years: Lost Girls, his new graphic novel created with Gebbie, is Moore's attempt to bring legitimacy to the genre of pornography. While that might seem like a doomed effort in today's conservative climes, Moore is, after all, the man who helped lead the way in a revolution that changed the comic-book industry.

    During a recent telephone interview from his home in Northampton, England, Moore spent some time talking about puritanical attitudes, Victorian and Edwardian erotica and Lost Girls, which will be published by Top Shelf Comics ($75, hardcover) in August.

    All of your work is created with a nod to works and traditions that came before you. Not many writers—in any medium—are aware of their predecessors or the literary history made before they were born.

    Moore: That's a tremendous shame. Certainly, from the earliest work I did in comics, I was aware of the tradition I was working in. You do get the impression that an awful lot of the people who are currently working in comics probably don't know much about comic-book history that goes back beyond the 1980s. You have to know what came before [your work] before you can plot a way forward. I have always in my work tried to combine progressive elements with traditional ones. In America's Best Comics, for example, there are some really splendid examples of that. Things like Tomorrow Stories. We were being progressive and doing experimental things, but in a context, a kind of format and characters that people would feel familiar with. And I think that makes for a very interesting way to move forward: to have a vehicle that people are going to feel reassured with, but then do something extraordinary with it that they've never seen done before, and in that way push the medium forward.

    Speaking of pushing the medium forward with familiar things: Lost Girls may be one of the few mainstream graphic novels to address the issue of pornography so explicitly.

    Moore: It's funny, we seem to have a marvelous tradition of erotic art, and a not so quite marvelous tradition of people getting upset about it. It's an ongoing dialogue, I suppose, that cultures have with themselves. Certainly it seemed to us [Moore and Gebbie] that sex, as a genre, was woefully under-represented in literature. Every other field of human experience—even rarefied ones like detective, spaceman or cowboy—have got whole genres dedicated to them. Whereas the only genre in which sex can be discussed is a disreputable, seamy, under-the-counter genre with absolutely no standards: [the pornography industry]—which is a kind of Bollywood for hip, sleazy ugliness.

    I think many of us in America have always felt puritanical attitudes toward sex were something we invented.

    Moore: It certainly is an American attitude, but I think it's one that is prevalent all over the world: It's okay to show people being killed or killing. It might be less so in the body of Europe, but I don't think it's the case in England. England has a reputation of being an uptight, spinster sort of nation, I'm sure.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. If you actually look back at British culture, you find the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales and most of the plays of Shakespeare are filthy! They are full of innuendo. There was a huge boom in English pornography during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. British pornographic magazines like The Pearl; The Oyster. Though it is less true lately, I think the reason, historically, that repression has always been so intense here is precisely because the British are essentially very bawdy.

    Then, of course, you have things like the "Lady Chatterley trial," which was actually quite a blow for liberating the sexual ethics of this country [England]. In opposing Lady Chatterley's Lover [the novel by D.H. Lawrence], the kind of establishment attitude was laid bare when the prosecuting attorney said, "You would not want your wives or your servants to read this book." Which was kind of saying: "We're all men, and we're upper-class men. So we can be trusted to read this without becoming depraved or going on a rape spree. Whereas, of course, people of weaker character, the lower class, women, black people, people who are closer to savages, they couldn't be trusted with it because it would probably inflame them!"

    And that is generally the argument against pornography. It's not depraved the person who passes judgment on it (it's generally a he), but he assumes it would corrupt and deprave weaker minds.

    Were there ever any worries about censorship when it came to publishing Lost Girls?

    Moore: Well, when Melinda Gebbie first arrived in this country, she was greeted by good old-fashioned British book-burning, in which one of her comic books that had been published in San Francisco had been seized. Melinda had to appear in court, defended it the best she could, and the judge decided that all the copies should be burned. We're both kind of fairly seasoned with dealing with outcries of various sorts. So we never thought for a moment what the reaction might be; we just did the work of art that we needed to do to fulfill our purposes and to make the piece of work we wanted to see in existence. And we really didn't think about anything else.

    I read that you've been working on Lost Girls since 1991—is that right?

    Moore: No, it started in '89 or '90. It's gone through two or three publishers who collapsed under it. There have been long stretches where it's just been done on faith because we knew it had to be completed. We've been working on it for 16 years. There was a period where the first two or three chapters were published in a magazine called Taboo. That collapsed. Then it was published by Kevin Eastman's Tundra publishing, which then sold it to Dennis Kitchen and Kitchen Sink, which then published a couple of issues of a kind of a comic book of Lost Girls, which didn't represent it in the way that we would have liked it represented. But for the time it was probably that—luckily over the last 15 years, printing has come along remarkably, so that now it is possible to actually reproduce the sort of color effects that Melinda has achieved.

    Did you steep yourself in Victorian-era pornography and such when researching the book?

    Moore: Yeah, the amount of research I had to do on this project—it was really a strain. I really don't like most modern pornography, and most modern pornography is photographic. I find that I gravitate more toward illustrations or literature. I did read a number largely from the Victorian and Edwardian period. I read a sampling of Victorian and Edwardian pornography which I thought was surprisingly good. It was very human, very pleasure-centered. And often you'd get quite startling chapters where, in the middle of an orgy, most of the characters suddenly break off to have a discussion about sexual morals, sexual etiquette. Discussions of how women should not be forgotten—views that actually sound very advanced for the Victorian period.

    You touch on a lot of taboos in Lost Girls, and most of us have the ability to get aroused by quite a bit of it.

    Moore: The thing is, unless we can talk about that mechanism of arousal, freely, then terrible things can happen. One of the things that—when we were still doing Lost Girls—I was aware of was the fact that certain countries in Europe, Holland, Denmark, Spain, have very liberal laws regarding pornography. Hardcore pornography is available in every family news agency. What they don't have is the appalling amount of sex crimes, particularly the number of crimes against children.

    Now, you could draw from this that perhaps pornography is providing an important valve, or a kind of forum, in which these ideas can be aired. And I think that if we were going to be true to our brief, which was the conditions we'd set ourselves, to write something that was genuinely pornographic and which explored the limits of human sexual imagination, and obviously things that figure in the human sexual imagination, there's quite a lot of things, but incest is something which obviously casts a shadow ... Sigmund Freud—who I've not got the greatest of respect for, but he's still the prevailing viewpoint in terms of human sexuality—he says that all sex is sublimated incest. I don't agree with that, but it certainly means you have to discuss the subject if you're going to explore pornography—because pornography certainly explores those areas.

    And one of the things that we were trying to do with Lost Girls, as well as create a world of pornography, was to create a work which looked at pornography and stood in it, in the form of the white book that we have running throughout the narrative. Which is left like a Gideon Bible in everyone's hotel room drawer, which is a fictitious anthology of erotic writings and drawings by some of the great artists and writers of the last hundred or so years.

    You both did an excellent job of recreating Edwardian erotica.

    Moore: Thank you; we spent a lot of time on it. Melinda has got a fantastic facility for adapting other artists' styles. Partly the white book was so we could show that off, and partly it was so we could pay tribute to people like Gerde Wagner, Beardsley and all of the others, including "anonymous," who was one of the most prolific erotic artists and writers; I don't know how he did it. He lived for such a long time! We felt obliged to deal with those areas, all the time keeping in mind that what we're talking about here is purely the human sexual imagination. We're not talking about sex: We're talking about the sexual imagination. And it's funny: It's not that I'm hoping to provoke this, but I am expecting that there'll probably be some dissident voices raised. We've been thinking about this for 16 years, so I'm confident I've got all of the arguments that are necessary.

    Was Lost Girls a jointly imagined project?

    Moore: It was very much a sort of joint chemistry. I'd always thought: Would it be possible to do a piece of erotica that is artistically satisfying as well as satisfying in a pornographic sense? And I'd expended a lot of energy thinking about this, but it had never come to anything.

    I'd had a vague idea about a sexual version of Peter Pan. Based on the fact that Freud says dreams of flying are dreams of sexual expression. And there are a lot of flying scenes in Peter Pan. It's a very simple, kind of lame-assed metaphor. But it was a starting point for the idea. It didn't go very far, because I couldn't think of anything that wouldn't have been just a crude, smutty parody of Peter Pan—and there have plenty of those, I'm sure. And it was basically when I came into contact with Melinda [that the project came to fruition].

    We spent a couple of weekends talking over ideas, not necessarily getting very far. I probably mentioned this clunky idea about Peter Pan again. Melinda mentioned that she always doing stories that had a dynamic of three women interacting. That somehow collided with the Peter Pan idea, and I suppose the logic went, if Wendy from Peter Pan was one of the three women we're talking about, who would the other two be? Of course, Alice and Dorothy are obvious names once you've gotten to that stage. We eventually came up with a sort of a rough timeline, where it seemed that there was a kind of an optimum window of two or three years where Alice would not be too old and Dorothy would not be too young. And it seemed that those years were around 1913 and 1914.

    That, in itself, suggested lots of story possibilities. What was going on historically then? Well, you've got the first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which was attended by a riot, because it so shocked people. Then, within a year after that, you have the Archduke Franz Ferdinand shot, which precipitated the first World War, from which Europe has probably never recovered, and which was a cataclysm the like which we had never seen as a species. And which was also a grim pointer to the way the rest of the 20th century was probably going to go. We began to see how using these three girls, and a kind of sexually decoded version of their narratives, we could say an awful lot about the human sexual imagination—about the human imagination in general.

    We wanted to give this book everything that an ordinary piece of literature would have: We wanted to give it characters and settings and themes, and motifs and metaphors and fancy stuff like that. And we wanted it to have a meaning amid all of the couplings and copulations. We wanted to have a human meaning that was serious and powerful and relevant to people's lives. And the sort of brooding buildup to the first World War gave us just that. Because what we're talking about in Lost Girls is the human imagination, of which, really, you couldn't have three better symbols than Alice, Dorothy and Wendy, who are perfect symbols of fantasy, the imagination and all sorts of things.

    If we're going to have a narrative that is about the human imagination, then it seemed interesting to counterbalance that with this terrible outbreak of war—which is the absolute failure of the imagination. War is the opposite of the sexual imagination. All of the culture, the sense of joy and beauty that is represented in the girl's narratives—that is all suddenly something very precious and very fragile that has got this immense machinery of war bearing down on it. We thought that those seemed like big enough themes to actually make this something that—yes, is a pornographic book, self-avowedly—but there is no reason why a book of pornography should not be drawings or writings about wantons, as I believe the word originally means. There's no reason why it shouldn't be arousing and yet also be talking about important issues, about serious human things.

    http://www.scifi.com/sfw/interviews/sfw13282.html

    "With a deep, not-unhappy sigh, Elric prepared to do battle with an army." (Red Pearls)
    - Michael Moorcock

  • #2
    Cool! Thanks Lemec!

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Doc
      Cool! Thanks Lemec!

      no problem ;)

      "With a deep, not-unhappy sigh, Elric prepared to do battle with an army." (Red Pearls)
      - Michael Moorcock

      Comment


      • #4
        yeah thanks. I've only just got into Alan Moore as a writer, but I have friends that are into comic books that hold him above all others in the genre.

        Comment


        • #5
          Cool!

          I was attending Worldcons back then, so I was one of the people who voted for Watchmen for that first-ever Hugo Award, too!

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Pellaz
            Cool!

            I was attending Worldcons back then, so I was one of the people who voted for Watchmen for that first-ever Hugo Award, too!
            A good vote, Pellaz! Alan Moore helped change everything in comics, which helped change everything in speculative fiction.

            Comment


            • #7
              An interview with Alan Moore, in today's Grauniad:
              http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009...men-lost-girls


              Alan Moore: An extraordinary gentleman

              Novelist, magician and 'guru of the graphic novel' <strong>Alan Moore</strong> talks to Steve Rose about Watchmen, the dark side of Hollywood and the morality of pornography


              guardian.co.uk, Steve Rose. Monday 16 March 2009

              As the world recovers from the onslaught of the Watchmen movie and its omnipresent marketing campaign, the spotlight has yet again come onto Alan Moore – its comic book creator, guru of the graphic novel and mystical man of mystery. And yet again, the spotlight has been desperately sweeping the stage only to find he hasn't turned up. He'd be easy to spot if he did – a giant of a man, always dressed in black, with formidable facial hair and large rings on every finger – but he's the archetypal reclusive writer.

              Amid the chatter of debate on the merits or otherwise of Hollywood's rendition of what is generally agreed to be "the greatest comic-book story ever", Moore has maintained his usual dignified silence and stayed put in his hometown of Northampton. On the day I spoke to him, he had already turned down a profile in Time magazine and an interview with CNN, stating that he was busy preparing for a forthcoming benefit gig at the Frog and Fiddler, a local pub.

              "I am aware of the immense power of absence," he says. "I'm not being completely disingenuous here. Of course I'm aware it doesn't hurt my reputation, but I'm not playing hard to get as some publicity ploy. I'm genuinely busy with stuff that is really important to me."

              Nobody quite believes Moore when he says he doesn't care about the movies made of his work. For most writers of any shade, a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of their work is a form of validation, not to mention a pension fund, but Moore puts his money where his mouth is – or rather isn't. He has had his name removed from anything to do with Watchmen the movie. He's also demanded that his share of any profits from it go to Dave Gibbons, the original artist of the comic book (who has co-operated with the movie production). Assuming there are any profits, that is. Despite being expensively made and exhaustively hyped, the movie has not taken the box office by storm. It adheres to the comic with slavish reverence, transcribing whole chunks of dialogue verbatim, and using the pages as a storyboard for the expensive cinematography and production design. As a comic, Watchmen was a cultural event, "the moment comics grew up"; as a movie, it's a star-free, 18-certificate proposition with a labyrinthine plot, silly costumes and offputting levels of violence.

              All of which only goes to prove Moore's long-held contention that it is impossible to make movies out of his work. "There is something about the quality of comics that makes things possible that you couldn't do in any other medium," he says, with just a hint of the exasperated schoolteacher. "Things that we did in Watchmen on paper could be frankly horrible or sensationalist or unpleasant if you were to interpret them literally through the medium of cinema. When it's just lines on paper, the reader is in control of the experience – it's a tableau vivant. And that gives it the necessary distance. It's not the same when you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second."

              Just as he distanced himself from other movies based on his works – V For Vendetta (a vigilante saga set in an Orwellian Britain), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a superhero team of characters from Victorian literature), and From Hell (a Jack The Ripper story starring Johnny Depp), none of which achieved any significant commercial or creative success – Moore hasn't watched Watchmen. He feels, he says, "emotionally distanced" from it now, and doesn't even have a copy in the house. Nor is he attached to any of the other titles he no longer owns the rights to, which is most of them. In fact, he says he's pretty much done with comic books altogether.

              Moore's career has been marked by disputes and fallings-out, largely due to issues of artistic integrity and perceived injustices. He rose to prominence in the early 1980s, when he was recruited by America's DC Comics (home of Superman and Batman), having established himself on British titles such as 2000AD and Warrior. He reinvigorated a minor DC title, Swamp Thing – a sort of sentient bog monster – with his now-familiar penchant for supernatural mysticism, psychedelic prose and adult characterisation. That led to Watchmen, and opened the floodgates for other British writers, such as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, who largely operated in the "mature reader" territory Moore conquered. His relationship with DC deteriorated over issues such as rights and merchandising, however, and in 1999 he founded his own company, America's Best Comics (ABC), where he simultaneously wrote five titles, including League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But a few years later, ABC's parent company, Wildstorm, was acquired by his arch-enemies DC, whom he now likens to "a rich stalker-girlfriend".

              "Much as I love the medium, I despise the industry," he says. "I've always despised it to a certain degree but after this last few years and all this nonsense with the films, I believe it to be a completely poisonous place that isn't really going anywhere. I did once feel I was part of a movement that wanted to change comics into something was valuable to culture, but I don't really feel that kinship in the way I used to."

              The Watchmen movie was the final straw. From his point of view, which he explains in great detail, various executives at DC (which is owned by Time Warner, co-producers of the Watchmen movie) tried to manipulate him and attempted to sneak out Watchmen-related products behind his back, using artist Dave Gibbons as a "messenger", and even exploiting the fact of his best friend's brother's terminal illness to exert pressure on him. "At that point, I decided I didn't want anybody at DC to ever contact me again. That was what made me curse this wretched film and everything connected with it."

              Moore can at least be assured that his most recent comic book epic will not be made into a movie. Lost Girls is a 320-page, three-volume work of pornography, illustrated by Melinda Gebbie, a veteran of the San Francisco underground and also his wife. In its own way, Lost Girls is as pioneering as Watchmen, albeit more difficult to read on public transport without getting strange glances.

              "Most pornography is simply horrible, and not just from a woman's perspective," Moore says. "We felt we could reclaim and redefine what pornography was, and we deliberately chose to use that word. We didn't want to hide behind 'erotica' – because it's not etymologically accurate for one thing, and I'm very fussy about that kind of stuff, and there's a class element to it. Pornos graphos – drawings or writings of wantons – that will do."

              Again, Lost Girls demonstrates what comics can do that movies can't – or at least shouldn't. The story centres on three fictional women – Lewis Carroll's Alice, Peter Pan's Wendy and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, whose sexual exploits at an Austrian hotel it details with a mix of Carry On-style humour and de Sadean exhaustiveness. Wendy gets it on with the Lost Boys, Dorothy gets it on with the Tin Man, everyone gets it on with everyone, in fact. There are polysexual orgies, incest, bestiality, semi-pubescent sex – polite softcore it is not. But in a country that's still only comfortable acknowledging bad literary sex, the shamelessness is utterly refreshing, even - dare anyone ever admit it - arousing. As always with Moore, he's done his homework, (including Simone de Beauvoir, Angela Carter and feminist critiques of pornography), and Lost Girls takes in the history of sexual literature, the impact of modernism, war, sexual repression and the ethics of the imagination. And even if Gebbie's illustrations leave very little to that imagination, they're dreamy and sensual rather than cold and anatomical. "There is a moral agenda in it. Put simply it's 'make love, not war' but it goes a bit further than that. I think if we had a better relationship with our sexual imaginations, there would be a lot less sex crime – and a lot less directed at children."

              Moore isn't entirely done with comics – there's a new trio of Leauge Of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories coming soon – but he's keeping busy elsewhere. A practising magician (the occult kind, not the Paul Daniels variety), he's been working on the Moon And Serpent Bumper Book of Magic – a history of the subject presented as a children's annual, with none of "that creepy gothic shit" that hangs around modern-day views of the subject. There's also a 750,000-word novel, which he expects to complete in a couple of years' time. Entitled Jerusalem, it follows on from his 1996 novel Voice Of The Fire, a collection of short stories set in Northampton over 6,000 years. "I'm trying to tell the story of the neighbourhood I grew up in – much smaller than the area I covered in my first book, which was paradoxically a lot slimmer. Whether my third novel is going to be a couple of million pages long and will be set just in this end of the living room I don't know. It's a possibility."

              In entirely appropriate defiance of physical laws, Moore's world seems to be expanding and contracting simultaneously. As his career has progressed, he has homed in ever closer on his immediate landscape, while roving further across history, literature and human consciousness – usually right out to the edges. In the process, his work has become ever-more inimitable and unclassifiable: a rich blend of fantasy, psychogeography, folklore, occult mysticism, baroque prose, down-to-earth humour, social critique and literary criticism. He surely merits his own adjective. Moorean? Mooreish?

              "To me all creativity is magic," he says. "Ideas start out in the empty void of your head – and they end up as a material thing, like a book you can hold in your hand. That is the magical process. It's an alchemical thing. Yes, we do get the gold out of it but that's not the most important thing. It's the work itself. That's the reward. That's better than money."

              The single-volume hardcover edition of Lost Girls will be published in May. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Voume III, Book One is out in April, both from Top Shelf productions.
              I say! Whizzo! Mr Moore, Sir! How absolutely topping! :D

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