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On the 26th of August 2013 I started doing a very long biographical interview with Steve Moore (as mentioned in my earlier post, Steve Moore 1949 – 2014: A Personal Appreciation). The plan was that it would take as long as it would take, and then we’d spend a bit more time fiddling about with it, then decide exactly what we wanted to do with it. Steve died on the 14th of March, give or take a day. At that point, we had reached the end of the questions and answers about his time at Warrior in the early-mid eighties, and I had sent off three final questions about it, just to clarify a few final details, before we moved on to whatever came next. The answers to those questions, although they were written, never got sent, and were found on Steve’s computer after he died. They’ll eventually make their way to me, and will be in the last post in this series.
In the meantime, there’s 48,000-ish word of interview between us that I have decided needs to be seen, even though it is unfinished. The current plan is to put it up here in reasonably sizeable chunks, every Sunday.
One note on the text: As we went along, I would ask supplementary questions, which got inserted into the previous text. To make it clear where a question has been added in later, I’ve included little arrows for those subsidiary questions, like this: ->. Occasionally, there were further questions, which are indicated by an ever expanding length of arrow, like this –> or this —>. Hopefully this will help to understand how the interview unfolded. So…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Before I get to your own life, can I ask you about your parents? Where they were from, what they did, and how they ended up in the house on Shooters Hill where you were born?
Steve Moore: As far as I can tell, my father, Arthur James Moore, was born in Charlton, South-East London, in 1908, the son of a soldier in the Royal Artillery. For reasons that aren’t very clear (possibly because my grandfather died or left the family), he seems to have started working at the age of 11 for a chemicals company called Frederick Boehm, firstly at Silvertown in East London and later at Belvedere in Kent. He stayed with the same company for the whole of his working life, eventually rising to middle management, before dying of a stroke in 1972.
My mother, Winifred Mary Deeks, was born in 1917, and came from New Cross, also in South-East London. I believe she was working as a secretary at Boehm’s when she met my dad, and they married in 1938, after which she became a housewife. She passed away from a stroke in 1985. The Moore side of the family seem to have been pretty much working class: bakers, soldiers and factory workers, and the earliest trace I’ve been able to find is of a Moore who was a farmer in Derbyshire in the 18th century. The Deeks seem to have originated in Suffolk, where my earliest traceable ancestors seem to have been brickmakers. If I have any sort of vague literary connections in my ancestry it seems to be on the Deeks side; grandfather Deeks was a printer, and my Uncle Don was a book distributor who specialised in oriental publications.
Jim and Mary, as they preferred to be known, seem to have lived in Charlton to start with, though they eventually bought the house on Shooters Hill in 1942 (Not 1938, as was stated in Alan Moore’s biographical confection about me, Unearthing, though this information only came to light after Alan wrote the piece). By one of those weird twists of fate, when my father was called up in World War II he was disbarred from serving on the front line because he’d worked for Boehm’s, a German-owned company. As a result he ended up in the Home Guard, working on an anti-aircraft rocket battery on Shooters Hill, which at least didn’t give him very far to walk to work.
My brother Christopher was born in 1943, and evacuated a year later, with my mum, to Gloucester, during the V1 and V2 raids. He eventually began working at Boehm’s too, though by then it had been taken over by the Hercules Powder Company. He rose to laboratory supervisor before being made redundant when the company moved, and spent the rest of his career doing bar work and greenkeeping at Shooters Hill Golf Club, at exactly the same location where my dad’s rocket battery had been situated, and on the same golf course where my dad passed away. Chris eventually died of motor neurone disease in 2009.
And then there was me, of course, born in this house on Shooters Hill on the 11th of June 1949 (at 2:00pm BST, in case anyone wants to work out my horoscope and perform evil magic against me!), and I’ve pretty much been here ever since. We Moores don’t move around much…
PÓM: I presume you went to school locally as well, then?
SM: It certainly was local – In 1954 I started attending Christ Church Primary School, halfway up Shooters Hill and about 200 yards from my house. It’s been extended since, but at the time it was absolutely tiny. Only 60 pupils, spread over six years; ten pupils per year. There were only two classrooms. The first two years (‘infants’) in one, the other vaguely divided into two, with two teachers, who each taught two years simultaneously.
Thinking back, I realise that my physical world was really quite small as a kid. Although I was theoretically in London (the border with Kent was only a quarter of a mile away), being on top of a hill rather cuts you off from the surrounding territory, and half the hill was covered in woods besides. There were a couple of ‘corner shops’ on the hill, but that was all. If you wanted to get to a shopping centre or cinema, etc., you had to get a bus; and as no one in the family drove we tended to stay home a lot. I don’t actually recall eating in a restaurant at all as a kid, unless we were on holiday. In the summer holidays my mum would take me off to the museums in central London, but that meant both a bus and a train to get there, and I didn’t really spend much time at all in central London until I started working there, aged 17. I suspect that may be why I still, to this day, dream an awful lot about trains and stations: they were the portals to the exciting world of possibilities that London represented.
On the other hand, living on top of the hill meant that I had enormous horizons – I could see the whole of central and East London – and a very large sky. I think that may have affected my mindset; I may have been pretty much stuck in one place, but both literally and figuratively I could see for miles, and fill up a very large world with my imagination. Which, being fairly solitary, I did. My brother was six years older than me, so he was already at school before I was born and the age gap meant that we never really played together much; it was a bit like being an only child in a two-child family. So I read a lot from quite early on.
->PÓM: What sort of a child were you: quiet, outgoing, or what?
->SM: I’ve really always been introverted rather than extroverted, so I was quiet, shy, occasionally sulky and easily bored. I also found it quite hard to make really close friendships, and as soon as I left primary school I left behind all the friends I’d made there. The same thing happened with grammar school and the job at Rank’s. The really close friendships I’ve tended to make have been based on shared interests, usually creative or scholarly, and they’ve been few and long-lasting. On the other hand, I think with hindsight that I was also a bit hyperactive, though I’m not sure the term had actually been invented then. In my teens and twenties I’d spend more time pacing up and down in my bedroom than sitting down, listening to music, thinking about story ideas, and so on. I suspect that’s reflected in my rather dilettantish shifting of interests over the years.<-
PÓM: And what sort of things were you interested in as a child?
SM: As for early interests, they divided roughly into two. On the one hand, there was the ancient world, and especially mythology – I remember from a very early age having an exercise book in which I’d collect, in my very bad hand-writing (it’s never improved), lists of gods and goddesses from all parts of the world, delighting every time someone gave me a new name to add to my collection. Possibly that sprang from seeing movies like Helen of Troy or the Steve Reeves Hercules movies (for which I still have a lingering affection), but it’s an interest that’s stayed with me ever since. On the other hand, I was also mad for outer space, especially after the first Sputnik went up in 1957 (about which I still have some original newspaper clippings somewhere in the back of a filing cabinet). Although I read some juvenile SF like E.C. Eliott’s Kemlo series and Angus MacVicar’s Lost Planet books, my interests were mainly non-fictional. I was a member of the junior branch of the Royal Astronomical Society and had my own telescopes; I read Patrick Moore’s books; I collected the complete set of 88 Space Cards bubble-gum cards (published by Topps in the States in 1958, and by ABC here), which explained, speculatively but not fictionally, and with painted images after the style of space artist Chesley Bonestell, how mankind would explore and colonise the solar system (I still have them too – quaint, naïve and absolutely gorgeous). And, of course, there was Dan Dare to read every week. My brother had taken the Eagle since issue one in 1950, and I just grew into it, and we kept having it delivered every week until it closed in 1969 (those, alas, I don’t have any more). As a kid, I used to think ‘I hope I’m still alive in the 21st century’ (which seemed an awfully long way away then), as I was expecting us to have moon bases, and colonies on Mars, and regular spaceflights. Needless to say, the reality has turned out to be a gross disappointment, to put it mildly.
->PÓM: I’m guessing, from what you’re saying, that you are something of a hoarder?
->SM: Pretty much so. Over the years my comics and SF collections got trimmed back so I pretty much only kept the stuff I really loved at the time, but I find it very difficult to get rid of anything, particularly non-fiction books, which I regard as part of my reference library, and which I also want to pass on to the Fortean Times people when I’m gone, as a research aid. And even though I’ve got the entire house to myself now, it’s still packed to the rafters (literally – the loft’s pretty full too!)<-
SM: Anyway, that went on until 1960, when I picked up my first adult SF book, an anthology of stories from Astounding called Men Against the Stars, edited by Martin Greenberg, on a holiday in Guernsey. That was quite a life-changing event, as I then spent at least the first half of the 1960s just devouring enormous quantities of SF paperbacks – people like A.E. Van Vogt, Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, Kenneth Bulmer, New Worlds in the John Carnell era, before it was edited by Mike Moorcock – and although I don’t read a great deal of SF these days, my tastes are still very much influenced by that ‘50s and ‘60s space adventure material. To start with, paperbacks were 2/6d each, and my pocket money was 2/- per week – but by some miracle (or more likely the kindness of my mum) I managed to get a book every week. That was pretty much the start of a collecting mania that these days has filled the entire house with books, though now very little of that’s SF. Just as an aside, back then ‘science fiction’ was always abbreviated as ‘SF’, and anyone who said ‘sci-fi’ was considered a hopeless know-nothing. I suspect that as SF has become more mainstream, the media have enforced a more pronounceable abbreviation, but to someone of my age, ‘sci-fi’ (or worse, ‘syfy’) still grates hideously.
Still, getting back to my education. I next went, in 1960, to the Roan School, a boys’ grammar school in Greenwich which, even if it was a bus ride away, was still fairly close at hand. I mainly chose it because they played football rather than rugby, which I didn’t fancy at all – mind you, I never actually wanted to play sport anyway. Still, with a greater interest in the past, these days, I’m actually quite pleased that I went to a school with 400 years of history. Influenced by my space and SF background, I ended up in the science stream, took my GCE O Levels a year early, and then embarked on the first year of A levels in biology, chemistry and physics. By then, of course, I’d discovered that what really interested me about science fiction was actually the fiction, not the science – and I was thoroughly fed up with school anyway – so as soon as I was 16 (barely), I was away [so, probably 1965 - PÓM]. Of course, what little qualification I had was in science subjects, so I ended up working in a laboratory at Rank, Hovis, MacDougall, the flour makers, in Deptford. By the time I’d been there a week, I realised I hated it, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I just retreated further into fantasy – which by then included comics.
PÓM: What exactly were you doing at the flour factory?
SM: I was working in the quality control laboratory, attached to the actual mill. We’d get in samples of grain and flour, which needed half a dozen different tests, though I can only remember a couple of them. One was ‘moistures’, where you’d weigh out a certain quantity of the flour into a small, close-topped tin. Then you’d bake a batch of tins in an oven for a couple of hours and weigh them again, and from the difference in the weight you’d work out a percentage for the moisture in the sample that had been driven off in the baking. The other was ‘proteins’ which entailed boiling the samples in flasks full of sulphuric acid (but I don’t quite remember the details). You’d spend a week working on one test, then move on to another the next, so you weren’t doing the same thing all the time, but it was all very routine. You see why I wanted to get out of there. About the only good thing about it was that they had a games room where you could spend your lunch hour playing snooker or table tennis. And there was a pub a few yards away…
PÓM: Do you ever regret leaving school so early?
SM: What’s the point of regret? I made a decision almost 50 years ago and there’s no going back to change it. Seriously, though, there was nothing they could have taught me at school that would have helped me in a career as a comic-strip writer. When I was at Odhams I did a day-release course in journalism for several months, and that was completely useless to me as well. On the last day of the course I presented the lecturer with a copy of my fanzine, Aspect #2, fully typeset and with a colour cover, with professional artists and writers, and he said ‘Why didn’t you show this to us before?’ The answer being, first, that I already knew all the relevant stuff he’d been trying to teach me and, second, I just didn’t want to, as I’d been bored rigid all the way through the course. I think it might just have been a way of showing my contempt for the course that I’d wasted so much time on.
Of course there are times when, considering my non-fiction research interests in the classical and oriental worlds, I think it would perhaps have been useful to have gone to university and learned Greek, Latin or Chinese properly, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. And knowing how much I hated school, I doubt I would have had any better time at university. Or that either of those things would have helped me make a living.
PÓM: Now, I wanted to ask you about comics. What comics were you reading at this stage?
SM: As a very young kid I read Robin, the junior companion to Eagle, and then I think I probably had the same line’s Swift, before working my way up to Eagle itself. I seem to recall reading DC Thomson’s The Beezer for a while when it first started (I was probably seduced by the free gifts given away at its launch) and as I said, I then grew into the Eagle, which was my main boyhood comic. I may have read some other stuff, but I don’t recall reading any of the major boys’ adventure comics like Lion or Tiger. I have vague memories of reading the odd copy of Marvelman and Young Marvelman, probably borrowed from other kids at school, but I wasn’t really into comics at primary school. Too busy reading The Boys’ Book of Space!
PÓM: Had American comics started to become readily available, and were you reading them?
SM: No. I think American comics weren’t imported into this country before 1960, by which time I was at grammar school and reading ‘grown up’ SF. The first American comic I saw was a copy of Mystery in Space, which my mum (knowing my tastes) bought to cheer me up while I was in bed with some minor illness. I liked it (and Adam Strange has always retained a special place in my affections as a result) but, again, the bug didn’t really bite at the time.
PÓM: You were part of the very first wave of British comics fandom, I believe. How did that come about, and how did you become involved in it?
SM: Well, first I was involved with British SF fandom, which was long established – from before World War II, I believe. I think it was about 1964 (maybe 1963) that I joined the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), probably as a result of seeing an advert in something like New Worlds. At the time there was quite a thriving London ‘scene’, particularly Friday evening meetings at the flat of a woman called Ella Parker, who lived in Kilburn, which I started attending regularly. I made a few contacts there and, while it might be too much to say I got to ‘know’ them, I at least got the chance to meet and hang out with authors like Mike Moorcock, John Brunner, Kenneth Bulmer and E.C. Tubb; and sometimes to share the tube back to Charing Cross with the charming John Carnell. Big thrills for a 15-year-old kid – though obviously I was too young to really make a connection with the professional writers.
It was through the BSFA that I got to publish my first fanzine, Vega. Things were pretty primitive back then – no computers, no printers, not even any copy shops. The height of amateur printing technology was the Gestetner machine, where you typed on plastic stencils which were then placed on an inked drum and printed from there. If you wanted to reproduce illustrations, you sent them away to someone who’d make ‘electrostencils’ for you. The BSFA ran something called the Publishing And Distribution Service, where you cut your own stencils and sent them in for printing (by future author and critic Charles Platt, who had his own duplicator). I don’t think there were more than about ten members of PADS at the time, but the idea was that you got a few copies of your fanzine for your own use, and there were also copies printed off for the other members, so you’d get an envelope full of everyone else’s fanzines as well.
Frankly, Vega was embarrassingly awful. The first issue was six pages long, the second and third eight pages. Having no contacts, I wrote the whole of the first two issues – mainly stories and book reviews – though by the time I got to the third issue a couple of other PADS members had taken pity on me and contributed stories. But by then even I couldn’t stand my own magazine any more, so I knocked it on the head – which was probably a relief to all concerned. But looking back, I can see a beginning there: I didn’t so much want to write about SF, I actually wanted to produce it, which was something that carried over into my comics fanzines. Not long after that, I started building up a nice little collection of rejection slips from magazines like New Worlds, but never sold a story at the time.
Charles Platt also published a very classy (and very fat) fanzine called Beyond, which was where, in early 1964, I first read an article about the exciting new Marvel Comics that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were producing, so I went out and picked up a few, and after that I was lost. For the rest of the 1960s I was collecting everything in sight … mainly Marvel and DC, though I’d look at just about anything … and as it was relatively easy at the time, I soon managed to pick up everything I wanted back to the time when American comics were first imported. But I was always picking up stuff as a ‘reader’ rather than a ‘collector’: it was very nice to have a brand new copy of something, but as for older stuff, so long as I had a copy I could read I really wasn’t fussed about condition and the idea of going out and buying comics as an investment and storing them in mylar bags would have just struck me as ridiculous. Later I picked up some older stuff from the ‘40s and ‘50s, but again condition wasn’t that important to me, and with that stuff I was much more interested in SF comics than superhero material.
Anyway, my first involvement with comics fandom really came about when I met Phil Clarke at the World Science Fiction Convention [Loncon II] in London, in 1965. We were a couple of 16-year-olds and hung out that weekend, and from that developed a close friendship that lasted several years. At the time, of course, everyone basically kept in touch by letter, but every now and then I’d go to Birmingham to see him, or he’d come to London to see me. And before too long we’d decided to produce a comics fanzine together. I think we might have seen a couple of American examples, but at the time there was nothing over here.
I then acquired a Roneo spirit duplicator, which is just about the most primitive form of printing you can get. Essentially, you’d have a ‘master’ sheet of paper with an ink sheet attached, like carbon paper, facing the back of the master. So you’d then type or draw on the master, and you’d end up with a reversed ink impression on the back of it – the standard ink being purple, though you could get other colours. The master would then go on the drum of the duplicator and be dampened by pure alcohol, which would dissolve just enough of the ink to print the image or text. It was hand-cranked, one page at a time, smelled appalling, and was good for maybe 50 or 60 copies per master. And, of course, if you left the pages in direct light for too long, they faded horribly. So that’s what I printed Ka-Pow with.
Frankly, my memories of this period are pretty vague now. Hunting out the old issues of Ka-Pow, it became obvious to me that we’d prepared masters of interior pages for a first issue, which are dated April 1966, but this was never published – though obviously I ran off at least one print from them, as I still have it. I suspect we just weren’t happy with it. But we eventually released the first, much improved issue in July 1967. As far as I know, that was the first British comics fanzine, though Tony Roche’s Merry Marvel Fanzine, published in Ireland, was a little earlier. By then we’d met a pretty good fan artist from Durham called Ken Simpson (though I’m not sure if he ever made it professionally), who contributed a cover and a strip called ‘The Cat’ while I, under the absurd delusion that I might be able to draw, did a strip called ‘Nite-Man’, and there was a text-story called ‘American Eagle’ by ‘John James’, which I think was me (at least, it was a pseudonym I used later when contributing an article to the men’s magazine Game about women fighters in kung fu movies), although it could have been Phil and I together. I suspect it was just a move to make it look like we had more contributors! And Phil and I both did articles about old time British comics. The line up was pretty much the same for the second issue (February 1968), except the article (on Tarzan strips) was by Gerald Cleaver. That was printed on the Roneo again and, frankly, large parts of my copy are now unreadable!
The third and last issue (August 1968) was all litho, which again I think was a first for this country, and featured strips by Mike Higgs, Ken Simpson and John Hudson (I’d learned my lesson by this point). I don’t know why we stopped – I suspect we may just have run out of steam. I was eventually involved in a couple more fanzines, but they come a little later in the story.
By then, of course, there were a number of other comics fanzines, and it was standard practice to trade issues and adverts with other editors, which was pretty much how the whole fan publishing network built up. Another good friend I made at the time was Frank Dobson, original publisher of the adzine Fantasy Advertiser, who lived not far from me in Lewisham. And although I’d realised by then that I couldn’t actually draw, I could still swipe, so I did most of Frank’s covers in 1968 and 1969, being basically pin-up pictures of favourite costumed characters. Frank was very good to me in that period. At weekends we’d jump in his van and go round the market stalls in London, where it was still possible to pick up second hand comics, Frank looking for stock and I for stuff for my collection, and there was never any competition. If I found something I wanted it was mine, even if it might have been something that Frank could have sold for a fair amount. He was a great EC collector, always looking to improve the quality of his collection by trading with dealers in the States; and, of course, EC had only gone out of business a dozen years before at that time. So if he’d got a pristine copy of something to replace a poorer one, he’d pass that on to me for about half the price he’d sell it in FA – which was great because, as I said, I wasn’t that fussed about condition. So I got quite a nice collection of original EC Comics really cheap, particularly the SF titles, which were obviously the ones I was most interested in.
Probably the most important other friend I made at this time was Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes, future owner of Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, the first specialist SF and comics shop in the country (and, I’m not sure, possibly in the world). I think I first met Derek at an SF convention where he was regarded by the more straight fans, many of whom could be surprisingly conservative, as a long-haired weirdo (particularly when he turned up for the fancy dress as a barbarian, wearing little more than a sword-belt and a translucent scarf as a ‘loin cloth’), but I rather took to him. He was hip, and it was the Sixties, and we had a lot of fun. At the time he was running a mail order business for SF, horror and comics called The Vault of Horror from a lock-up in North London, but eventually he decided to open a shop. I remember him coming over to my place with a couple of young ladies called Eileen and Cathy, and we then all sat on my dining room floor (as one did in those days) discussing a name for the place. There were two options: to call it after the fairy tale collection East of the Sun and West of the Moon, which I actually favoured, but the other three outvoted me and it ended up as DTWAGE, after the Ray Bradbury story.
->PÓM: Did you have many girlfriends at the time?
->SM: The short answer to that is no. Having been to a boys’ grammar school, and with my usual sort of stay-at-home lifestyle, I hardly had any contact with girls before I left school. The first time I asked one out was when I was already working at Rank’s. But besides my rather sheltered upbringing, I don’t think we matured as early then as kids do these days.
I got to know Eileen and Cathy as friends of Derek. They were part of a larger group of friends who gathered around the beginnings of DTWAGE (I think Cathy worked in the shop for a while), and we’d hang out together, smoke dope, go to concerts, and do all those other things people did in the late ‘60s – including getting together to sit on floors and talk about weird shop names. Later, of course, there were other ladies I was very fond of, but they all tended to be on a one-at-a-time basis. ‘Many girlfriends’, though – no.<-
SM: Derek’s first shop, a tiny place with its frontage painted a wonderful deep purple, opened in Bedfordbury, on the edge of Covent Garden, in, I think, 1970. I painted a pair of big, golden-pupilled eyes in the front window for him. I seem to recall doing this in black and gold gloss paint, so how the next owners of the shop actually got them off again, I’m not sure! Eventually he moved to larger premises in Berwick Street, and finally, and most famously, to an impressively large shop in St. Anne’s Court. That was pretty much my second home in the late seventies. By then I was freelance, and if the work was a bit short I’d go in a couple of days and work behind the counter – and at other times I’d just go in there and hang out, make cups of tea for the staff, etc. When it finally closed in 1981 I felt like I’d lost an enormously important part of my life, and a lot of good friends. But Derek ended up in Lancaster, and I just lost touch with him.
->PÓM: What else were you interested in in your teens and twenties? Music, cinema, television, anything like that?
->SM: Ah, now you really want me to show my age! The first record I owned was a 78 of Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog and, when he was still singing rock’n’roll in the late ‘50s, I quite liked Cliff Richard too (but please don’t use this in evidence against me – surely the statute of limitations must have run out on that one by now!) though I was actually much more interested in The Shadows, and an underlying interest in instrumental music, rather than songs, has remained with me ever since. From there I moved to the American guitar band, The Ventures, which in turn led my interest toward surf music for a while. I listened to The Beatles, but was much more fond of the Rolling Stones (their first album was the first LP I bought), but the band I really loved in the ‘60s was The Yardbirds, especially in their Jeff Beck period. Again, the guitar solos were a considerable attraction, but from there I developed a liking for blues, bands like Cream and some British psychedelia, and then for several years around the late ‘60s and early ‘70s I was into West Coast bands like the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service where, again, the emphasis was on extended soloing. By the mid ‘70s I was turning to jazz-rock, and people like Al DiMeola and Jean-Luc Ponty, and since then I’ve had phases of classical, Elizabethan harpsichord, world music, and so on. In all this stuff it tends to be the music that interests me rather than lyrics, possibly because I tend to listen to music more when I’m doing other things as well, so I don’t really want to be distracted by songs. And I have a great love of complexity; I tend to go back to things like Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas, or Paco Peňa playing classic flamenco guitar.
As for TV, I remember watching the BBC serial of Quatermass and the Pit, literally from behind the sofa as it scared me so much (mind you, I was only nine at the time). I really liked The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but the main series that impressed me in the ‘60s were The Avengers (particularly the Diana Rigg period) and The Prisoner. I never really took to Doctor Who, probably because the first series featured William Hartnell and a girl supposed to be his granddaughter, and I never liked programmes with kids in, so I swiftly gave up on it, and never really watched it until I actually had to write the character as a comic strip. And there was other stuff, of course, that I don’t remember. But I think that, generally, we watched far more TV in those days when we only had two channels than we do now, when the choice is almost infinite.
As for movies, like I said, I was brought up on late ‘50s sword-and-sandal epics, which I couldn’t get enough of. In my later teens I was fond of Hammer films, and still have some affection for that comfortable, non-threatening Gothic supernaturalism; whereas I wouldn’t dream of watching a modern horror film, most of which seem to be about horrible ways of murdering people or torture-porn. And while I was working with Steve Parkhouse at IPC, we’d often go off to the British Film Theatre or the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, and watch European art movies like Last Year in Marienbad and The Seventh Seal, and Japanese samurai movies, though considering where we saw them, these were mostly the up-market productions of people like Kurosawa and Kobayashi. And then in January 1972, Bob Rickard introduced me to the Hong Kong and Taiwan historical swordfighting movie which, again, caused a major shift in my life.
->PÓM: Do you read any recent SF, or is it more what you used to read when you were younger that you go back to?
->SM: No, I haven’t ready any current SF for a long time. When the ‘New Wave’ came along in the late 1960s, I started to lose interest. I’d always loved escapist space opera, and the New Wave stuff was much more contemporary and concerned with current ‘issues’. Like a lot of people at the time, I turned away from that (although I appreciated some of the fine writing by New Wave authors) and got into the burgeoning sword-and-sorcery/fantasy field, and the Weird Tales authors; particularly Clark Ashton Smith. The more traditional SF authors started turning out ‘hard’ SF, but whenever I looked at that stuff it just seemed to me like a lecture in astrophysics, which didn’t appeal to me, despite my boyhood interests; and by the 1970s I was moving into other areas anyway. Occasionally in recent years I’ve gone back and reread a few of my favourite ‘50s and ‘60s authors, but that’s really just a nostalgia trip. Apart from that, I don’t really intersect with SF at all these days.<-
To Be Continued…
A week after celebrating his 90th birthday, Silver Age great Dick Ayers has passed away, according to reports on Facebook. TwoMorrow’s David Spurlock passed along a brief obituary and the picture below:
Rest In Peace Dick Ayers. There have never been sweeter people than Dick and his wife Lindy. Here is a photo from one of my recent visits in which Dick and I collaborated on a few recreations of early, Marvel covers by the team of Kirby and Ayers. Richard “Dick” Ayers (born April 28, 1924) is an American comic book artist and cartoonist best known for his work as one of Jack Kirby’s inkers during the late-1950s and 1960s period known as the Silver Age of Comics, including on some of the earliest issues of Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four. He is the signature penciler of Marvel’s World War II comic Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, drawing it for 10-year run, and he co-created Magazine Enterprises’ 1950s Western-horror character the Ghost Rider, a version of which he would draw for Marvel in the 1960s. Ayers was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2007.
Ayers was a regular figure at conventions up until recently, and as I was just writing last week about Al Feldstein, a living connection to the history books.
One of the last living EC Comics titans has passed away: Al Feldstein has died at age 88. Feldstein was one of the main architects of the EC Comics legend, writing some of its signature stories and editing Mad Magazine for 28 years after the departure of founder Harvey Kurtzman.
Feldstein still recreated artwork from his EC days and until his health began to fail was a frequent guest at shows — and he had a prolific mailing list where he opined on various political topics from a liberal point of view.
As a writer, Feldstein was responsible for a lot of EC’s output—while the famed stable of artists gets most of the fame these days, it’s hard to underestimate Feldstein’s contributions, which I’m sure will be much discussed in the new few days.
One of the groundbreaking performances in CGI history and a memorable actor overall.
Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez has passed away. He was 87-years-old.
In 2012, Márquez’s brother Jaime revealed that the beloved writer was suffering from dementia. Earlier this month, he was hospitalized in Mexico City.
Throughout his career, Márquez wrote nonfiction, short stories, news articles, and novels including his best known works, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). In 1982, he won the the Nobel Prize in Literature and accepted the award by delivering his now famous speech, “The Solitude of Latin America.” (via Latin Times)
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Designer Courtney Utt, who was responsible for some of Viz’s most distinctive covers, passed away recently at the age of just 37 following a long battle with brain cancer.
You can see much of Utt’s work here.
Only a day after recording this promo, the man known as The Ultimate Warrior is dead at age 54.
Born Jim Hellwig, the masked wrestler eventually changed his name legally to Warrior. One of wrestling greatest icons from its 80s glory days, The Ultimate Warrior brought unmatched ferocity and craziness to his matches and promos. He was a comic book character brought to life.
After being on the outs for nearly 18 years with the WWE—at one point they even released an entire DVD devoted to showing how erratic he was in real life—Warrior had made a return just in the last few days, including a NEW three year contract to be a brand ambassador for the WWE. On Saturday, the 5th, he was iducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. On Sunday he appeared at Wrestlemania. On Monday he cut the above promo on Raw. And on Tuesday…he passed away.
Details weren’t known as I write this but suffice to say…wrestling is a very very difficult way to make a living.
The Ultimate Warrior at his WWE Hall of Fame Induction. (Photo: Jonathan Bachman, AP Images for WWE)
Stephen James Moore was born at 2:00pm on June 11th, 1949, in a house on Shooters Hill in South London, where he lived all of his life, and died on or around the 16th of March, 2014, still in that house on the hill. In between, he produced a huge body of work, of a very high standard, most of it written in that same house. He was a hugely private man, but his life and mine intersected over the past few years, and I got to learn a lot about him in that brief time.
But, actually, I was aware of Steve Moore’s work long before that. I had only ever been a desultory reader, at best, of 2000 AD, where he wrote a multitude of short sharp tales, but it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that Warrior, where he was a vital component both in front of and behind the curtain, changed my life. However, I had probably been reading his uncredited work in British comics for years before that, all unknown.
After leaving school at the age of 16, Steve spent a year and a half working in a laboratory in a flour mill, before started at Odhams Press as a Junior Office Boy, in their offices at 64 Long Acre, on 1st May 1967, and within three months was promoted to junior sub-editor on Pow! and Fantastic. The first story he sold professionally was a three-page ‘Pow Short Story’ called The House in the Haunted Swamp, that appeared in Pow! #45, late in 1967, when I would have been turning eight years old, and was undoubtedly reading Pow!, or comics like it. He went on to work on editorially and write stories for several different UK comics, including Whizzer & Chips, Valiant, and Cor!!, with its two exclamation marks. Eventually, in 1972, he left the security of fulltime employment to become a freelance writer, a career he pursued for nearly forty years thereafter.
Before all this, though, he had been very active in British SF and comics’ fandom, attending meetings of SF fans in London in his teens, where he met writers like Michael Moorcock, John Brunner, Kenneth Bulmer and E.C Tubb, and made his first steps in publishing fanzines, on some very primitive copying technology. After attending Worldcon in London in 1965, he became involved in comics fandom, and in July 1967 he published Ka-Pow, the first British comics fanzine (although the actual first comics ‘zine on this side of the Atlantic was Merry Marvel Fanzine, published by Irishman Tony Roche, who lived in Dun Laoghaire, a once-posh-but-now-dilapidated suburb of Dublin where I was also living, but was still only seven years old, so completely unaware that history was being made, just down the road from me). Further ‘zines followed, and contacts were made with all sorts of people who would later go on to become important names in UK comics, as well as further afield.
In August 1968 Steve Moore organised, along with Phil Clarke and Kay Hawkins, Clarke’s then-girlfriend, Comicon ’68, Britain’s first comics’ convention, held in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham. The registered attendance was less than fifty people, but these included comics artists Paul Neary, Mike Higgs and Jim Baikie, and Nick Landau and Mike Lake, who would go on to found Titan Distribution, open the London-based Forbidden Planet comic shops, and publish black and white comics reprint volumes as Titan Books. Also in attendance, although not listed on the membership list, was Derek Stokes, universally known as Bram, who went on to open legendary London bookshop and counter-culture hangout, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed. One other name on that membership list, although only in a non-attending and supporting capacity, was a fifteen-year-old Alan Moore, of whom we shall hear more later. A second comic convention followed, in 1969, called, obviously enough, Comicon ’69, which Steve was also on the committee of, after which he decided that the convention life was not for him, and not only retired from con-running, but from con attending as well, and became a self-professed recluse, certainly as far as attending public events relating to either SF of comics were concerned. But attendees at that second con included Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Barry (Windsor) Smith and Bob Rickard, who we will also hear more of later.
Derek ‘Bram’ Stokes opened Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in Bedfordbury, just beside Covent Garden, in 1970 and, soon afterwards, fantasy writer Stan Nicholls opened Bookends in Notting Hill in 1971. When Steve Moore went freelance in 1972, he was invited to buy into Bookends, and after parting with £500, he found himself as part owner of a SF bookshop, which also came with a room in the basement full of comics, where he could write in between serving customers. Some of what he wrote was for an editor called John Barraclough, who had just launched a comic called Target for New English Library, and took comics stories from Steve than included a four-part horror-thriller called The Curse of the Faceless Man, and a sword-and-sorcery strip called Orek the Outlander, as well as text serial stories in all sorts of genres, including The Horror in the Churchyard and The Scourge of Planet X. At the same time, Barraclough was supplying a Swedish comics company with Tarzan stories, which Steve turned his hand to. There were also a few serials for IPC girls’ comic, Mirabelle, which he didn’t even get to see in their finished form, as IPC didn’t send out copies, and he was too embarrassed to go and buy copies himself. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, but it turned out that it really was all too good to be true. The Obscene Publication Squad raided Bookends in late 1973, and, between one thing and another, the shop went to the wall, with £5000 worth of debt, which Steve Moore ended up having to mostly repay himself, while Stan Nicholls ended up in Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, so at least their friendship endured, for a while, until Nicholls decamped to Landau and Lake’s Forbidden Planet shop.
Meanwhile, in another part of his life, Bob Rickard, who he’d met through various fannish activities in 1968, was about to change Steve Moore’s life, forever. Rickard had discovered that the Odeon cinema in Birmingham was showing Chinese movies at one o’clock in the morning, so that Chinese restaurant staff could see them after work. He brought Steve to see a film called The Sword, starring Wang Yu, and he was hooked, immediately. This would lead to Steve seeing as many of those Hong Kong and Taiwan produced movies as he could, and eventually writing about them, and Chinese culture in general. He spent a large amount of his leisure time in the early and mid-1970s hanging around in Chinese cinema-clubs in the Chinatown area around Gerrard Street in London, and still had some of the lobby cards and posters he managed to persuade the staff to give him. Eventually this led him to the I Ching (more correctly Yijing, as the preferred spelling is these days), or Book of Changes, which became a major area of scholarship for him, leading to his writing the non-fiction The Trigrams of Han, published by HarperCollins in 1989, which was well-liked by fellow scholars, but made him no actual money, to speak of. He also joined the I Ching Society in London, more for the publications than the meetings, and soon took over production of their journal, The Oracle. He ended up as a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and was one of the main contributors to I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography, an exhaustive 350-page analysis of the subject, published by Routledge in 2002, and continued contributing to both scholarship and debate in the field, right up to the present day.
Another consequence of his friendship with Bob Rickard was that he became involved with the fledgling Fortean Times – originally just called The News, back in November 1973, when it started, but changed to its current name in June 1976 – for whom he clipped odd news stories (as would I, and many others, years later), wrote on Oriental phenomena, and soon became a contributing editor, reviewer, and general occasionally-paid helper-out. Because of Steve’s long friendship with Bram Stokes, the Fortean Times people began meeting in a room above Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, until the shop closed down in 1981. None the less, forty and more years after it started, he would still meet up with the rest of the FT helpers every few weeks, to sort out all those clipping people sent in, and keep in touch. During those forty years, he worked as editor, indexer, and contributor on a large number of books relating to the magazine, including – but not limited to – six volumes of Fortean Studies, thirteen collected volumes of the magazine, and a number of compilations of clippings, with titles like Fortean Times Book of Inept Crime and Fortean Times Book of Strange Deaths (published in America as The Comedian Who Choked to Death on a Pie—and the Man Who Quit Smoking at 116: A Collection of Incredible Lives and Unbelievable Deaths). One other piece he produced for them was to have a profound influence on my own life, but I’ll be getting to that just a little bit later.
Meanwhile, he was still writing comics, back where we left him in the mid-seventies, but now from the comfort of his own home, which is where he worked from from then on. He had worked with comics’ editor Dez Skinn in his time at Odhams/IPC/Fleetway (where there had been many mergers, and name changes, both of the comics and the companies producing them), and went on to work with him in a number of titles for other companies, including House of Hammer (1976), Starburst (1977), Hulk Comic (1979), and Dr Who Weekly (1979). He also ended up writing some, most, or all of the contents of TV and movie tie-in annuals for John Barraclough at Brown, Watson/Grandreams Ltd, starting with the Kung Fu Annual in 1974, and going on to write a total of 69 over the course of the next thirteen years. An average year – 1979, in this instance – saw him write content for the Dick Turpin, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Sherlock Homes & Dr Watson, Spider-Man, Star Trek – The Motion Picture, and Young Maverick annuals. One year he wrote a Supergran annual. If you’re from this side of the Atlantic, and in a certain age range, there’s a very good chance you got annuals he wrote for Christmas. As well as all of this, he worked a few days a week at Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, wrote for the Fortean Times, and even wrote for ‘men’s’ magazines, including a story for Titbits that was allegedly a true telling of My Sexual Adventures in Bangkok, but was obviously entirely fictional, as he had never been farther east than Dover. This story was to have been published under the newly-devised pseudonym of Pedro Henry, although some sort of editorial gremlin saw it actually go out under his own name, embarrassingly. But Pedro would survive to fight another day.
While all this was going on, there were changes afoot in British comics. In February 1977 IPC Magazines launched 2000 AD, one of the tiny handful of UK comics that is still in print. Steve Moore’s first story for 2000 AD appeared in Prog 12 (that is, issue #12), with the first part of a 12-part Dan Dare story, on the14th of May, 1977. He would continue to write for the comic, on and off, for nearly thirty years, finishing with Prog 1458 on the 28th of September, 2005. In Prog 25, he wrote the very first story to be called a Tharg’s Future Shocks, which would become an umbrella title for very short stories – which is still used as try-outs for new talent – which would go on to be written by all sorts of people, like Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Alan Moore.
Alan Moore, who is famously no relation to Steve Moore, had first met his namesake through the pages of Phil Clarke’s sales-list fanzine The Comic Fan, around the middle of 1967, where Steve had advertised looking for a book called Dead or Alive, an Avengers novelisation – the British TV series Avengers, rather than the American comic Avengers, that is. In the end, it turned out that the book had never actually been published, of which Steve Moore said,
So the whole friendship is basically rooted in a quest for a non-existent, chimaerical book … which is a motif that’s turned up occasionally in the work of one or other of us, in mine as recently as Somnium. It’s not a bad symbol for writers, too, as their job is to bring non-existent books into existence, by writing them. But perhaps more interestingly, in view of our more recent notions about Idea Space, we were brought together by the idea of a text, rather than a real one. Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.
A regular correspondence soon developed between the fourteen-year-old Alan and the eighteen-year-old Steve, and Alan would become one of Steve’s two closest friends, along with Bob Rickard. And Steve is the man Alan blames for leading him astray, in all sorts of ways, although Steve begged to differ, when I asked him about it…
PÓM: I have this romantic scenario in my head where Alan is the wild one, always leading you astray, whilst you are the quiet one, being dragged into all sorts of wild scrapes by your friend. But this is really entirely wrong, isn’t it, as regards comics, drugs, and magic? You are quite literally the man who led Alan Moore astray.
SM: Well, I’d like to portray myself as an evil Svengali who took one look at Alan and realised that here was a striking-looking but malleable individual who I could get years of pleasure destroying an inch at a time, but it wasn’t really like that … even if he has said publicly that I was the man who ruined his life! I just wander into these things like writing comics, smoking dope, practicing magic and resigning on points of principle, and the next thing I know Alan’s decided that as I haven’t actually died as a result, he’ll do the same … only he does it much larger. It’s not my fault, honest! Mind you, he doesn’t always follow my lead. I’ve never got him hooked on China or classical music, in the same way that I’ve never really shared his interest in science or stand-up comedy. We just have areas of interest that overlap … and enormous mutual respect in areas where they don’t. And even where they don’t, there’s still a bit of influence going back and forth.
Both Moores were interested in working in comics, and would later quite often try to put work each other’s way. Alan was perfectly capable of getting his own work into music paper Sounds in 1979 – where Steve would later take over writing scripts for Alan to draw on the younger Moore’s The Stars My Degradation comic strip – and into 2000 AD, where he would write Future Shocks. Steve, meanwhile, had a hand in the early planning of a new comics magazine in the early eighties called Warrior, where actual rights for creators were promised by the publisher, Dez Skinn, and suggested that his friend Alan might be able to help relaunch 1960s UK superhero Marvelman for the title. Between the two Moores, they did the vast majority of the writing for Warrior, with the senior contributing strips including The Legend of Prester John, Father Shandor, Demon Stalker, and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. Later on there would be Twilight World, and the wonderful Zirk stories, and lots of other bits and pieces, some under his revived pseudonym of Pedro Henry. This eventually led to both Moores writing comics for the American market, with Steve’s Laser Eraser and Pressbutton appearing in Eclipse Comics’ Axel Pressbutton series.
He also contributed occasionally to another ambitious British comics anthology series, Atomeka Press’s A1, including an article about Fortean Times in A1 #2, in January 1990, which I read, and which caused me to go looking for the magazine, and which, along with Jan Harold Brunvand’s The Vanishing Hitchhiker, was responsible for fundamentally changed my worldview. In is no exaggeration to say that a good deal of what I am today has been shaped by my reading that article in A1 #2, and by Steve Moore.
But he soon moved away from comics, mostly, and this was when he was heavily involved with Fortean Times, as mentioned above. He did come back to comics, to write for Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics imprint, where he contributed to titles like Tom Strong, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, and America’s Best Comics: A to Z. His last work for comics was to write two five-issue mini-series for Radical Comics, Hercules: The Thracian Wars and Hercules: The Knives of Kush, on which the forthcoming film, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is based.
By the middle of the new millennium, though, he was done with comics, and had retired, largely to look after his brother Chris, who was suffering from Motor Neuron Disease. Chris Moore died in 2009, after a remarkable life of his own, in his own chosen field – as documented in this eulogy by Alan Moore – and his brother Steve found himself with time to write his first novel, Somnium: A Fantastic Romance. This was published by Strange Attractor Press, in association with his own Somnium Press, in November 2011, and this is the point at which my own occasional interactions with Steve Moore were to stop being virtual, and become real.
I got offered a review copy of the book – probably prompted by my writing this piece about the book – and, out of the blue, also got an email from Steve Moore, thanking me for the piece, and asking if I would like to ask him any questions about it. After I got over my genuine shock at getting a mail from a man I had always presumed was going to be forever beyond even my reach, I told him that I would indeed. And I did, ending up with this interview, which went online on the 11th of November, 2011, as pleasing and magical a date as you could wish for.
There was one other aspect of Steve’s life that he cared about deeply, and shared with his friend Alan: Magic. This was, once again, a field where the older Moore had taken the lead, although the younger one is the more famous of the two of them for doing it. Both of them had their own chosen deity: The moon goddess Selene in Steve’s case, and the snake god Glycon in Alan’s. Together, they formed The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, originally a two-man coven – but soon to include many of their friends also – for which they laid out the ground rules in Kaos #14 in July 2002, as republished by myself on my own Glycon blog. Despite their flippant words there, it was something they both took seriously. One of its outgrowths would be Alan Moore’s Unearthing, a 45-page essay for the Iain Sinclair edited London: City of Disappearances, which I asked him about when I interviewed him in 2011:
PÓM: You are legendarily reclusive. How did you feel about Alan’s Unearthing, which is essentially a tell-all biography of you? Or is the reputation for reclusiveness exaggerated?
SM: Reclusiveness is relative! I prefer to think of myself more as ‘private’. I love seeing my friends, and I like going out (though with the state of 21st century culture, it has to be said that there isn’t really a great deal to go out for, except perhaps dinner) … but I just don’t like making public appearances, and I’m not at all interested in fame or reputation. All I want to do is write. I don’t have the slightest interest in the game of being ‘a famous writer’ and I’ve no liking for Conventions, so nobody sees very much of me. Which suits me …
Anyway, as for Unearthing … Alan was invited to contribute a piece to Iain Sinclair’s anthology London: City of Disappearances, and really the only part of London he knew anything about was Shooters Hill, as he kept visiting me here. He then decided, for reasons best known to himself, that he wanted to make it a biography of me as well, so I just said okay. I told him I’d correct any factual details, which I did, but apart from that he could write anything he liked about me, which is what he did! Apart from the comic exaggeration in places, it’s all true, so I said fine and thought the piece would disappear as one of Alan’s ‘minor works’. Obviously it didn’t happen like that! Now it’s become an audio-recording, been performed, will soon appear as a coffee-table book photo-illustrated by the brilliant photographer Mitch Jenkins and, apparently, will even be coming out as an app. How do I feel about all this? Well, I imagine that like most people I tend to judge what’s ‘normal behaviour’ pretty much against what I do myself, so I’m just sort of bewildered by all the attention it’s getting. But overall, it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with Mitch and his photographic team, meeting the musicians and attending the performances. And the whole thing has rather surprised my friends and relatives!
PÓM: I suppose there’s an enormous irony in a piece about a private man becoming the subject of such an amount of attention, particularly in a book apparently about disappearing. There’s a section in Unearthing where Alan dictates what happens next, and then has you do what he’s said you would. Did this actually happen, or is that just Alan entertaining himself?
SM: Of course it happened! I read through the manuscript when it first arrived and knew I just had to go for my usual walk, as described. And, yes, I hung about for a while by the burial mound, as described, and there were actually rain showers that morning. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite disappear, as the manuscript prescribed! But you have to remember that Unearthing was both about magic and, to a certain extent, was a magical piece in itself, with the writing and world described merging together. So I naturally acted out what was described, just to ‘make that real’. And Alan knew I would when he wrote it, even though he hadn’t told me in advance what he was intending to do.
Although Steve Moore had essentially retired from work, having passed 60 in 2009, he did still have a few projects that he kept up with. He had a wide correspondence, and kept up his Fortean-related activities. He had been, for quite a number of years, slowly working with Alan Moore on a book called The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, a project that was finally actually approaching an end. Under his own Somnium Press imprint, he produced occasional 16- or 20-page booklets, mostly composed of his own Tales of Telguuth, which he had at one stage also written for publication in illustrated comics for in 2000 AD.
And, in August 2013, out of the blue, once again, I got an email from him saying,
I’m not quite sure why, but in the last few days I remembered that when we were last in touch you expressed an interest in doing a more general interview with me, and now that I’ve got a bit of distance from the comics industry, I thought it might be time for a retrospective. It’s something I’ve put off, although I’ve never really had a problem with interviews on more specific subjects, like Abslom Daak or Somnium … but I’ve always tended to be a bit nervous about more general retrospectives, because I want to avoid situations where I’m asked questions like ‘You know Alan Moore better than anyone, so tell us all about him and … etc.’ That’s still not an area I particularly want to get into, but if you want to discuss my life and career, I’d probably be up for that. Assuming you’re still interested, of course …
So if you’re up for it, I’d probably prefer to do this by email, as I then get time to think about my answers, and possibly look things up (though a lot of records have long disappeared … along with large chunks of my memory!), but we can always do further sets of questions if you want to ask me more about something that’s come up. And as it’s a pretty long career, we might want to do it in sections, too. But if we both look on it as ‘something we do when we have time, around other things’, I imagine we could do it. Let me know what you think. No obligation, of course. If you’ve got better things to do, no problem!
So, did I want to interview the most reclusive man in British comics, and a man who had, unknown to himself, taken a hand in my own life, here and there? Yes, I most certainly did. We started a slow to-and-fro correspondence, working through his life from its beginnings in 1949, slowly towards the present day. I’d send a handful of questions, he’d send answers back, and I would then respond with additional questions about his answers, as well as some fresh questions to move it all forward a little, and so on. It slowly inched onward, not only at the cutting edge of it, but in the middle as well, as either he or I thought of something that might be useful to add in to a particular section. Sometimes he would suggest specific questions, and sometimes I would suggest how I wanted him to answer a particular question, to allow us to reach a particular thing we wished to discuss. It was probably the most satisfying interview process I had taken part in, of all the interviews I have done.
Amongst other things, behind the veil of private emails, we discussed our own lives, a little. We both were unwell, in our own ways. I had prostate cancer, but it was going to take years to get me. He had problems with his stomach and lungs, and was having regular CT scans, but as recently as the beginning of February he had been told it was all under control, and that he needn’t bother coming back for another scan until October. There was certainly no sense of imminent death, and I had imagined that another few months would get us to the end of the chronological part of the interview, and onto more etheric matters, like his ideas about writing, and about magic, and other things. Then a bit of editing, and we would actually have a usable document, although exactly what would happen to it, and how or where it would actually be published, was still anyone’s guess.
I had broached the idea of death with him, early on, and had intended to come back to it towards the end of the interview.
PÓM: I can’t help noticing that both of your parents and your brother died in their sixties. Does this give you pause for thought at all, seeing as you’re in your sixties yourself now?
SM: Yes, of course it does, especially now that I’m developing a few common medical problems associated with ageing. On the other hand, though, my maternal grandfather lived to be 90, so there may be hope for me yet! But I’m pretty much of a fatalist, and a recent scientific notion about the nature of time (called ‘Eternalism’) suggests the future already exists and the universe may actually be deterministic. A lot of people don’t like that idea, but I actually find it rather comforting, because it means that everything happens in the only way it possibly can, whether we like it or not. Even if that’s not the case, when it comes to time to go, I’ll just have to go, so there’s not really any point in fretting about it. But I’m aware that my time isn’t limitless, and some projects can’t be left forever. And that awareness may also have had something to do with my deciding to do this interview.
In the meantime we both took holidays, had problems with our computers, and got distracted by other things, as one does. By the beginning of March, six months after we started, and after a little over 48,000 words, we had got as far as Warrior – already the size of a small book, with the prospect of possibly the same amount again to come. I had sent off a last handful of questions, just to tidy up the very end of what I needed to know about his time at Warrior. When I didn’t hear back from him after a week or so, I sent another, and then sent a mail to a few other people, to see if they had heard from him. They hadn’t. One of them arranged to have a member of the police call to the house on the evening of Tuesday the 18th of March, and he was found dead there. There hasn’t been an official announcement of the cause of death, but it’s likely that it’ll turn out to be related to his heart, or his lung problems, I imagine.
One of the last things we know Steve Moore did was to post out copies of The Marmoreal Frown of Ahuralura Marrz, his last Somnium Press booklet, and a copy arrived to me on Wednesday morning, which I got just a few short hours after hearing of his death. It’s hard not to think of it as a last magical act, a last story from a great man, and a great storyteller, set to arrive after his death. As he said himself, in another context, ’Attribute whatever significance you wish to that. Maybe it was just the universe having a laugh.’
I only got to meet Steve Moore once, in London last November, when he surprised not least himself by going along to An Evening with Alan Moore, to mark the launch of Lance Parkin’s biography of the younger Moore. There were many things about the evening I treasure, and meeting Steve is very high on that list. I had fully imagined that we would meet again, on one of my occasional visits to London, but that is no longer to be. And I still can’t really believe that.
He had already made plans for his funeral – in Sketches of Shooters Hill, another of his Somnium Press booklets, whilst talking about a four-thousand year old Bronze Age burial mound on Shooters Hill, he says,
Born high up on Shooters Hill myself, when I die I want my ashes scattered on the burial mound, by the light of a lovely full Moon. So, just for a moment, I too can become an offering to the local Gods and Goddesses, and merge my essence with the native soil … before all that physically remains of me is blown away and scattered, like oak-leaves on the whirling wind.
I hope I can be there, at least for that, to pay my final respects to a wonderful, extraordinary, and gentle man.
[The first and last photos are by Kevin Storm, and are used with his permission. The rest are a mixture of images Steve Moore sent me, to go along with the interview we were doing, scans of my own books, and things I've, essentially, robbed off the internet. ]
– Pádraig Ó Méalóid –
The Gwar frontman is dead at age 50. Gwar had a big comics crossover of inspiration and I know they played Comic-Con several times.
Photo via Diabolique Magazine
I hate that this sentence must
now be in the past tense: Lucius Shepard was one of the great American writers
It's hard to find words, even though I've had 24 hours to search.
In a review of The Dragon Griaule
, I invoked Conrad and melodrama, and quoted Eric Bentley
on both. Here's part of that quote again, because it gets at exactly what Lucius Shepard's stories mean to me, and why they mean so much:
Only under the influence of a narrow and philistine Naturalism can we ask why an artist shows life at a remove and in some established genre. The transposition of an inner struggle to a duel between persons does not even need a convention to carry it: such changes are made nightly by everyone in his dreams. If one can make of one's tussels with suicidal wishes a drama of love and honor, one has given to private and chaotic material a public and recognizable form. One has made art out of fantasy and pain.
And now a sentence from the introduction to the final collection of stories published during Lucius Shepard's lifetime, Five Autobiographies and a Fiction
, after a description of a harrowing childhood and adolescence:
For the next twenty years I traveled aimlessly, engaged in bar fights, street fights, insulated myself from the possibility of self-examination with drugs, played in a number of rock bands, married twice without giving the matter much thought, dabbled in low-level criminality, drug-dealing, burglary, etc., and escewed anything that smacked remotely of the cerebral.
Luckily, he found his way out of at least some of that darkness, those difficult decades. He attended the Clarion writers' workshop and a few years later his stories began to appear in magazines and anthologies, and his first novel, Green Eyes
, was published as part of the resurrected Ace Specials
line that also brought out Neuromancer
and Kim Stanley Robinson's first novel, The Wild Shore
, among others.
I could try to be objective here and talk about the specific qualities of Lucius Shepard's writing that set him apart from most of his peers for me — the long, languorous sentences, of course; the precision of the imagery; the complexity of form; the rich social world implied from the texts; the fascination with the perils of machismo; the great variety of types of stories unified not by genre but by vision and even, to use a rather antiquated term, moral conviction; the sheer imaginative force the best of the work displays.
Maybe another time. It feels too cold and academic. Too un-Lucius. He hated analysis that got away from the practical. His entertainingly curmudgeonly movie reviews
were always based in a very personal voice, producing the sense of somebody talking to you from his own experience, hoping maybe that his experience could connect with, enlighten, enliven, enrage your own. I'm not (yet) interested in being entertainingly curmudgeonly, but I can't speak of Lucius Shepard right now without speaking about what, and how, his work meant to me.
(A momentary, weird personal aside: The indefatigable researchers at the Science Fiction Encylopedia are confident
that Lucius Shepard was born in 1943, not 1947 as he often claimed. If so, that means he was one day younger than my father.)
I started reading Lucius's stories when I started reading science fiction. My mother's boss subscribed to Asimov's
and loaned me a few issues. That first batch included the April 1986 issue
. The cover story was "R&R".
|cover illustration by J.K. Potter|
I don't think I read all of "R&R" then — I was too young, it was too dense — but I gave it a good shot. I was, after all, just getting over my infatuation with G.I. Joe
, and so J.K. Potter's cover and interior illustrations for the story grabbed my interest immediately. (That cover is seared into my brain.) I did start reading Shepard pretty soon, though, because once I was a confirmed sci-fi nerd, my parents let me join the Science Fiction Book Club, and one of the first books I got was Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction: 3rd Annual Collection
, which included two Lucius Shepard stories, "The Jaguar Hunter"
(the first story in the book) and "A Spanish Lesson". I wanted to know what "good" science fiction was, and the presence of two stories meant this was a major writer, so I studied those stories intensively. I don't remember what I made of them. I think I thought they were slow, but there was something alluring in them, something that wouldn't let go of me (and that never let go of me).
A few years later, I got a paperback copy of The Jaguar Hunter
, which collected most of the best of those early stories (the paperback omitted "R&R", which had been incorporated into Life During Wartime
, a book I picked up, but to this day have never completely read because some genius at Bantam Spectra decided the whole nearly-500-page book ought to be in san serif font. It's ghastly!). By that time I was in my mid-teens, had become a better reader, and followed Shepard's career closely. "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" and "The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter" were particular favorites from the early years, but many of the novellas of the 1990s also wowed me and wooed me, bringing me back to science fiction magazines even when I had claimed to move on to better things. The stories were vivid and gnarled, unpredictable, sometimes vexing in their ambiguities, their complex dance with the conventions of narrative form. They clung and haunted. "Skull City", "Barnacle Bill the Spacer", "Beast of the Heartland", "Radiant Green Star" — I still have the magazines and still remember where I was sitting when I read each story.
It was in the new century, though, that Lucius Shepard got really, really good. His work deepened, darkened, thickened. In addition to The Dragon Griaule
and Five Autobiographies and a Fiction
, read Viator
. Read A Handbook for American Prayer
. Read Floater
. Read Eternity and Other Stories
, which includes "Only Partly Here"
, still one of the most powerful stories I've ever read about 9/11.
(If you need a primer, Subterranean Press is offering the e-book of The Best of Lucius Shepard
for $2.99 at the moment.)
I got to know Lucius a little bit in his last years, mostly via Facebook, oddly enough — it proved to be a pretty good forum for him. I first met him in 2007 when we were the two readers at the KGB Fantastic Fiction series
for that November. It felt bizarre to be reading on the same bill as Lucius. I think I was there because there wasn't really anybody else around who was willing to do a reading a couple days before Thanksgiving. Or something. I don't know. I certainly didn't deserve
to be on a bill with Lucius Shepard! (Even I just wanted me to hurry up and finish my reading so Lucius could begin!) I was terribly intimidated and terrified of him, even though he was gracious and friendly. But he was Lucius Shepard
— one of the greats! I wish I'd had more guts that night, wish I'd chatted with him more, wish I'd gotten him to sign a book. But I was too nervous. We talked a bit at dinner afterward, and then later on we corresponded some. Just as I felt like I was getting to know him, he began to have his most serious health problems, including a stroke. I had plenty of faith that he'd pull out of it, that he'd write again. He had to. How could the world not have the force of his words?
I keep thinking back to a moment of childhood: visiting the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in Boston in the late '80s and paging through the Arkham House hardcover
of The Jaguar Hunter
, which I couldn't afford to buy. $21.95 was a fortune to me then. I looked at the book and looked at it and looked at it. But that's not why I keep thinking about it. What I keep thinking about is this: A year or two ago, I got a pristine copy of that book for pennies. A price I could have afforded even when I was a kid. A first edition, first printing of a brilliant book that ought to be a collector's item selling for a hundred times what I paid for it. I was happy to get a gift for my inner child, but also deeply angry that I could afford it — that it's not
as valuable and scarce as it deserves to be just reminds me of how little valued Lucius's work is in comparison to its quality.
He should have been a literary star. He should have been recognized as one of the great writers of his generation. Because he was. Sure, sometimes his need for money caused him to sell work that wasn't entirely great, but he should be judged by his best, which is as good as the work of nearly any of his contemporaries (not just in the science fiction field; his work is richer, more powerful, more vivid, more weird, and more meaningful than that of all but a couple of his contemporaries in SF, but it also makes most of the fiction written in any genre or non-genre look unambitious, minor) — and there's a lot of best. (And even the less-than-best is usually quite wonderful for a few pages at least.) His work probably doesn't have the qualities of bestsellerdom, but it should have been — should be — recognized more fully, appreciated more deeply. He won nearly every award in the SF field at least once, but I don't think it was enough, because he deserved a pile of the damn things. He deserved other awards, too, not just genre ones. But even within the genre that he ended up (imprisoned?) in, he wasn't as well known as he should have been, nor was his accomplishment recognized as fully as it deserved. The same could be said for plenty of people, yes, but I've felt for a long time that it's especially unjust in Lucius's case, because the work is so varied, so powerful, so special.
So here we are, then, in a world without Lucius. We've got the words, though, the pages and the books — and we ought to do something with them — we ought to seek them out and get more of them back into print, we ought to harangue critics to write about Lucius's work with the depth and seriousness it deserves — and, too, we ought to sing songs in his honor and spend a bit too much time in a bar now and then, we ought to howl at the moon, we ought to seek out some good movies, we ought to scowl at liars while recognizing what liars we are, we ought to stand up for the weak, we ought not ever get too settled in ourselves, we ought to write long sentences, we ought to be gracious, we ought to be angry, we ought to fight against borders and pigeonholes and easy expectations, we ought to stand brave against the violence at the heart of our selves, we ought to dream and laugh and spare some time for people different from us, we ought to seek to be more and better, to escape old pasts and old resentments and, most of all, old failures — because we're what's left, and we're still here, and the words still live.
We had reached a spot overlooking a strip of white beach guarded at both ends by enormous boulders. The blue sea stretched tranquil and vast to the horizon, and the cloudless sky, a lighter blue, empty of birds, echoed that tranquility. Nothing seemed to move, yet I felt a vibration in the earth and air that signaled the movement of all things, the flux of atoms and the drift of unknown spheres. An emotion swelled in my breast, nourished by that fundamental vista, and I felt, as I had not in years, capable of belief, of hope, of seeing beyond myself. Jane linked her arm through mine and rested her head against my shoulder, and whispered something that the wind bore away. And for that moment, for those minutes atop the hill, we were as happy as the unhappiness of the world permits.
—"Rose Street Attractors", the final story in Five Autobiographies and a Fiction by Lucius Shepard
Via Strange Attractor Magazine comes word that writer Steve Moore has passed away at the age of 65. Moore was a prolific comics writer, as well as an early editor of and contributor to Fortean Times. Among his comics work, many series for 2000AD and Rebellion, including Lazer Erazer, Axel Pressbutton, Future Shocks, Red Fang and Valkyrie. Moore also wrote for Marvel UK and DC, but is best known for friendship and mentorship of the unrelated Alan Moore, who cited him as a huge influence.
Steve Moore worked on several Alan related projects including stories for Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, the novelization of V for Vendetta and the yet to be published The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, co-written by Alan.
[photo by Etienne Gilfillan]
Author Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland has passed away. He died of prostate cancer. He was 83 years old.
Nuland was the author of How We Die, a nonfiction work about assisted suicide. The book won a National Book Award in 1994 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Book Critics Circle Award in 1995. He also wrote Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, Medicine: The Art of Healing, The Wisdom of the Body, and The Mysteries Within: A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths.
He regularly wrote a column on medicine and biomedical ethics called “The Uncertain Art,” for The American Scholar. He was also contributing editor to The American Scholar and The New Republic.
Nuland served as clinical professor of Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, and as Chairman of the Board of Managers of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. He was also a member of the editorial board of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, and a member of the Bioethics Committee of Yale New Haven Hospital. (Via NPR Books).
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Veteran comic book artist Nick Cardy has died. He was 93 years old.
Cardy was best known for his work with DC Comics and his work drawing Teen Titans and Aquaman. According to NickCardy.com, Cardy worked for the Iger/Eisner studio drawing for Fight Comics, Jungle Comics, Kaanga Comics for Fiction House. In the fifties he drew the Tarzan comic strip. When he started his career at DC Comics, he drew The Legends of Daniel Boone, a comic with only a couple of issues. In the 1970s he created artwork for movie posters including: Apocalypse Now, Movie, Movie and California Suite.
In 2005, Cardy was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. (Via Comicbook.com)
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Cuban American novelist Oscar Hijuelos has passed away. He was 62 years old.
He became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love in 1989. Hijuelos wrote eight novels and a memoir called Thoughts Without Cigarettes. In an interview about that memoir, the novelist reflected on his early inspiration as a kid growing up in New York City:
I don’t think the New York of my youth did a “better job” of fostering creativity, which comes from within and not from without, but it did offer the average kid a much broader range of choices in terms of affordable and inspiring activities; just about everything was much cheaper. And there were a greater range of interesting mom-and-pop shops to enjoy: For example, I miss the old second-hand bookstores that one could find on Fourth Avenue and getting lost in that world. Surely you can find the same stuff these days on the Internet, but it’s just not as much fun. I can remember how one could walk into the Pierpont Morgan Library for free—now it’s about twenty dollars—and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a buck or two, or see a Broadway show for ten bucks.
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Bestselling novelist Tom Clancy has passed away, ending a legendary career in espionage fiction.
Three of his books were turned into movies: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears. His work was adapted into a number of video game franchises, including: Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. CNN had the sad news:
[Clancy] died on Tuesday in a hospital in Baltimore. He was 66. The author Tom Clancy in 1996. Ivan Held, the president of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, his publisher, did not provide a cause of death.
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UK crime novelist Robert Barnard has passed away. He was 76-years-old.
Throughout the course of his career, Barnard (pictured, via) wrote 40 books and earned eight Edgar Award nominations. He enjoyed a following both in his native Great Britain and the United States. Here’s more from the New York Times:
Mr. Barnard called his work ‘entertainment’ and ‘deliberately old-fashioned.’ His murders, set mainly in small villages drolly christened with names like ‘Hexton-on-Weir’ and ‘Twytching,’ were plotted with an ingenuity and precision that made him popular among aficionados of what is known in publishing as the English cozy — mysteries with a picturesque setting, colorful locals and minimal violence. Reviewers said that many of his books crossed into the comedy-of-manners genre.
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Author and Writer Beware co-founder Ann Crispin has passed away.
Making Light posted the sad news and novelist John Scalzi shared a tribute to the science fiction writer. Earlier this week, she posted a final message for readers and writers on Facebook:
I want you all to know that I am receiving excellent care and am surrounded by family and friends. I wish all aspiring writers the will to finish and a good contract. Please continue to monitor Writer Beware and be careful who you sign with. Victoria Strauss and Richard White are there to help.
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Hachette Book Group sales rep and bookseller Conan Gorenstein passed away this week. He was 64 years old.
Gorenstein joined the publisher in 1991, working New York State, Vermont, Northeastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The publisher offered this tribute:
In his 22 years of service, Conan was a passionate sales rep, always interested in doing the best for HBG and his accounts Additionally, Conan was known far & wide for his cooking and kitchen experimentation – many accounts, authors & colleagues were delighted with his never-ending supply of baked goods … As many of us knew, Conan was a lover & aficionado of Magic, as his membership in the International Brotherhood of Magicians can attest to.
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|Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013|
It's going to take me a while to have anything coherent to say about Chinua Achebe
now that he has died. Not just because he was a great writer — and he was a great writer, as Aaron Bady says, "full stop"
. But because, right now at least, I can't think of a more deeply influential writer in our era. Not just for Things Fall Apart
, though that book certainly did a lot. But for so much else — his work as an editor for the African Writers Series
, his essays on Conrad, his championing of Amos Tutuola after Tutuola's work had gone out of fashion, etc. etc. (If you ever needed evidence of the irrelevance of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fact that Achebe never won it is Exhibit A.)The best writing I've seen so far on Achebe in the wake of his death comes from Keguro Macharia.
You should read the whole, beautiful essay, but here is a taste:
His departure now – euphemism must be used, if only once – feels much like an encounter with his work: it was unexpected because it had been possible to believe that he was beyond mortality. Achebe simply was. He existed in the world and the world existed because he did. I could afford to take his existence for granted, could afford not to teach or discuss or write about his work, because he simply was. His being in the world made certain things unnecessary. Because he was. Certain figures inspire a kind of faith that they have transcended death, and their deaths hit all the harder – most recently for me, Adrienne Rich who, like Achebe, simply was. When they die – euphemisms can no longer work – we continue to call their names, hoping that they will return to us, that their ghosts will continue to energize the labor they started and sustained and that we now feel unable to continue. So it is that we continue to call for Audre Lorde. Believing, as we must, that she can still provide the right words, the necessary words, the transforming words.
Simon Gikandi has written that Chinua Achebe “invented” African literature. This is not a claim about who wrote first – other Africans wrote before Achebe. Nor is it a claim about the volume of his work – others have written more. It is a claim, I think, about Achebe as an institution builder, as one who made possible a certain kind of imagination and, in his role as editor with the African Writers Series, made possible many other imaginations for African literature. Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given to a writer is this: that a particular book has been written. A particular imagination explored. A room populated. And multiple other rooms made possible.
Few contemporary Africans, if any, feel the need to write another Things Fall Apart. Indeed, by the mid-1960s, Things Fall Apart could not be written again. Achebe’s work had given African writers the permission to pursue their geo-histories, to take multiple paths, to pursue the mystical and the routine, the profane urban and the perverse rural, the unending past and the foreclosed future. Things Fall Apart had been written, and African writing pursued its multiple afters, with Achebe as inspiration, as guide, and as champion.
French cartoonist Frédéric Aristidè who worked under the name Fred has died at age 82. Winner of the 1980 Grand Prix at Angoulême, Fred was best known for Philémon, a long running fantasy strip about a youth who falls through a well to a magical world, accompanied by his loyal donkey. Fred co-created the satirical magazine Hara-Kiri, and was published in the New Yorker, among Engish language projects. A final Philémon book was piublished just this year.
The great film critic and author Roger Ebert has died.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported the sad news. You can find all of Ebert’s books at this link. Here’s an excerpt from the Sun-Times obituary:
Ebert wrote more books than any TV personality since Steve Allen — 17 in all. Not only collections of reviews, both good and bad, and critiques of great movies, but humorous film term glossaries and even a novel, Behind the Phantom’s Mask, that was serialized in the Sun-Times. He even wrote a book about rice cookers, The Pot and How to Use It, despite the fact that he could no longer eat. In 2011 his autobiography, Life Itself won rave reviews. “This is the best thing Mr. Ebert has ever written,” Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times.
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I've only known of Roger Ebert's death for an hour, but I can't focus on doing anything else
right now, so I might as well write this, raw and unformed and rambling as it may be. So be it.
A couple weeks ago, Ebert stuck my video essay on Clint Eastwood's endings up on his blog
. The last time I felt so close to fainting was when Samuel Delany first called me on the phone. (I bet Ebert would have appreciated that. He was, after all, a science fiction fan
.) I wish I'd sent him an email to thank him, to say how utterly gobsmacked I was to have somebody who'd been a constant presence in my life suddenly notice something I'd done, and approve it. I was too shy. I knew it was the right thing to do, knew he might even be pleased that his notice meant something to me, but ... I was too shy.
Roger Ebert was always there in my life. Well, not always. I suppose before the age of 10 or 11, I hadn't seen his TV show (one with various names, but I'll forever think of it as Siskel & Ebert
), a show that was born the same year I was
. In the days before the internet, that show was a lifeline for a kid like me, living in New Hampshire, in love with movies and yet without any easy way to get information about any but the most mainstream and blockbuster. I would watch with a pen in my hand and take notes on which ones sounded interesting. Thus I discovered so many films that I later came to love (or loathe). Often, I had to wait till they were on videotape; sometimes, I was able to see them at a Boston theatre on one of my occasional trips to the city. Who I am as a film viewer was deeply shaped by those years of watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel argue about movies on TV.
Truthfully, it wasn't until he lost his voice that I came to love Roger Ebert, though. As my film taste was shaped watching the TV show, I tended to side more with Gene Siskel. Then, once I was in college in New York I was reading film reviews in the Voice
and some of the film journals (whichever ones the Barnes & Noble at Astor Place carried: I'd grab a pile, sit in a chair, and read them cover to cover). Siskel and especially Ebert seemed, to a callow youth rather arrogant in his opinionating, utterly mainstream and utterly bourgeois. I suppose I was trying to expel his influence, to kill a father. Such is the nature of callow youths.
Then the Sun-Times
put his reviews online. He started blogging. He became Master of Twitter. He expanded his blog to include all sorts of younger critics from around the world. I learned about Ebertfest. I learned about all he had done for film culture in Chicago. I learned.
And though our taste wasn't ever exactly the same, I found I loved reading his reviews. Actually, I liked
that our tastes differed, because he was so good at expressing what he appreciated or didn't appreciate, even if my response was the opposite. What I had never known from the TV show was just what a marvelous writer Ebert was. A writer who happened to be a film critic. But a writer first.
Ebert's most interesting reviews aren't just reviews. They do the job a review is supposed to — they tell us about a cultural product we probably haven't yet encountered ourselves, and they give us the writer's take on it — but they are full of tangents, side remarks, bits of fact or philosophy. They are essays
in the broadest and most classical sense: moments of thought. The familiar Ebert voice is always there in the words, and it is a comforting voice, an entertaining voice, the voice of a friend or beloved family member, somebody really smart and passionate, somebody you just want to talk to — about anything, really. It's no surprise that when he wrote his memoirs, he did so masterfully. His reviews were also pieces of memoir.
Could one critic ever be so important again? Probably not. The cultural landscape has fragmented, fractured, gone all rhizomatic. Overall, I think that's a good thing. I wouldn't want to go back to those days of having to rely on Siskel & Ebert
for all my movie information. I like the easy access to variety today. But still. Roger Ebert, man. We often say a particular death is the end of an era. With Ebert, it really is.
He inspired millions of people to care about movies as something more than just entertainment, but without forgetting that entertainment is central to the experience, that visual pleasure and narrative cinema are nothing to be ashamed of.
Again and again, people have spoken of his generosity, his decency, his humanism. It is remarkable that a man who published three whole books of his most negative reviews could be so beloved! But Ebert wrote wonderful negative reviews. (Even of movies I like!) His generosity of spirit comes through, even as he is saying that a film is utterly awful, a terrible waste of time or effort or talent, even immoral. And when he praised, he praised like a poet.
I learned about one of my favorite movies, David Lynch's Blue Velvet
, from the Siskel & Ebert episode where Ebert lambasted it
. I wouldn't get to see the film for at least a year after that episode aired, but I remembered it, and I watched the movie while trying to evaluate what I thought of Siskel and Ebert's discussion about it. I decided I completely disagreed with Ebert on it. I still do. And I am utterly grateful to him for what he said, because it provoked me and haunted me and challenged me. There are worse ways to learn about aesthetics and morality, worse ways to learn about yourself.
Neil Steinberg at the Sun-Times
chose a perfect quote from Ebert's Life Itself
“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs,” he wrote, at the end of his memoirs. “No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
Carve those words in stone. Better yet, project them through celluloid.
Tonight, I will choose one of the movies from his most recent Sight & Sound ballot
to revisit, probably The General
because it would be nice to laugh, and to watch that most graceful of all screen graces, Buster Keaton, my favorite silent film actor.
Thank you, Roger Ebert. All our thumbs are raised high in your honor.
It's two hours now since I learned of Roger Ebert's death.
The signature closing words of Siskel & Ebert
are today among the saddest in our language:
The balcony is closed.
Workman Publishing Company founder Peter Workman has passed away after a battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.
He founded the nonfiction trade and calendar publisher in 1967. The company also includes Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Artisan, Storey Books, Timber Press and HighBridge Audio. Here’s more from Workman Publishing:
After a stint in the sales department of Dell Publishing, he founded Workman Publishing Company as a book packager in 1967, and within two years published its inaugural list leading with Richard Hittleman’s Yoga 28-Day Exercise Plan, a title that is still in print. His vision and drive grew Workman into a wholly unique and fiercely independent book publisher. Among its iconic bestsellers are B. Kliban’s Cat, The Official Preppy Handbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Brain Quest, Sandra Boynton’s children’s books, and 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. Also a trendsetter in the calendar business, Workman invented the groundbreaking boxed Page-A-Day Calendar.
He was the founder, president and CEO of Workman Publishing Company, one of the largest independent publishers of nonfiction trade books and calendars. In addition to the Workman imprint, the company consists of . He served on the board of the Goddard-Riverside Community Center and the board of Prep-for-Prep; he was a member of the Publishing Committee of UJA-Federation of New York and chairman of the Board of Governors of Yale University Press. Peter was a generous supporter of the Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, and the Anti-Defamation League, among many organizations. In honor of his late brother he developed the David Workman Grant Program at Deerfield Academy, a charity to help students fund and implement their own humanitarian projects.
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Author A.S.A. Harrison has passed away.
Her debut novel, The Silent Wife, will be released in July. She also published Orgasms with Coach House Press, Revelations (co-written with Margaret Dragu) with Nightwood Editions and Zodicat Speaks with Viking Penguin.
Penguin shared a brief tribute: “We are deeply saddened over the loss of a great woman and a very gifted writer.” (Author photo via)
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Author E.L. Konigsburg has passed away. She wrote the beloved kid’s book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Her bookshelf also included A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and The View From Saturday. In an interview, she once said “You have to experience kindness in order to be kind,” explaining why she believed in practicing random acts of kindness. She also outlined her writing career:
I was the first one in my family to go away to college. I came from a small town where there was no guidance in the high school at all. It was a mill town, and I never knew anyone who made their living from the arts. When you did go away to college, you went away to be something – an engineer, or a teacher, or a chemist. I never knew anyone who went away to be an artist until I was in college. When I was in college at Carnegie Mellon, I wanted to be a chemist. So I became one. I worked in a laboratory and went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh. Then I taught science at a private girls school. I had three children and waited until all three were in school before I started writing. When my third child went away to school, I started to write in the mornings. I’ve already mentioned that I want to write something that reflects their growing up, because when I was growing up the books I read never reflected me.
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