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According to the FB post from his daughter, Leah, Alan Moore has finished the first draft of his long gestating novel. Jerusalem, which he’s been talking about for years and years. It’s billed as the history of a small patch of Moore’ native Northhampton, with characters coming and going from history, as he told the New Statesman:
That we have our lives over and over and over again an infinite number of times and, each time, we are having exactly the same thoughts, saying exactly the same things, doing exactly the same things as we were doing and saying the first time. If it’s even meaningful to talk of a first time.
I thought I’d thought of this idea myself because I was a genius . . . It turns out that the Pythagoreans had some sort of version of a great recurrence. They were basing it upon the idea that when this universe ends, because time is infinite, then there are bound to be other universes and, since those universes are finite, there will eventually be another universe exactly like this one, which I don’t really think holds up scientifically.
Whereas this idea of the dimensionality of our existence, it does hold up. I can’t see a way around it that doesn’t involve completely contradicting one of the main conceptual lynchpins of modern physics and, halfway throughJerusalem, I came across this beautiful quote from Albert Einstein that completely summed up everything that I was trying to say but very eloquently and at a lot shorter length than three quarters of a million words.
As described, the book sounds a lit like Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland, which also took a kaleidoscopic look at a British home town, and also Richard Maguire’s Here, a comic which similarly looks at a single location through time. It also recalls the themes of the great abandoned Moore opus, Big Numbers, which remains his only attempt at a story set among vaguely normal humans, although fractal theory was set to upset that apple cart.
Some more dispatches from the past:
In 2013 he told the Guardian:
“I am currently on the last official chapter, which I am doing somewhat in the style of Dos Passos. It should be finished by the end of the year or close to it. I don’t know if anyone else will like it at all,” he muses. I say that I can’t wait, and that it strikes me that the style he and the likes of Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock pioneered has become central to literary culture. He sighs, shaking the walls: “Oh God, have we? Oh no, we’re the mainstream!”
And he told The Beat:
I’ve done a chapter that’s like a mid-sixties New Wave, New Worlds Michael Moorcock-era science fiction story. There’s one that’s like a piece of noir fiction. It’s all these different styles, so I was getting to chapter 33, I know what I’m going to be doing in chapter 34 and chapter 35, but chapter 33, I thought, how shall I handle this? And I was thinking of all these different ways that I could do it, and none of them really worked. People were suggesting things – they were saying ‘well, could you do it in an epistolatory form?’, you know, as letters. I was saying, nah, that for one thing this third book is all in the present tense, and it wouldn’t really work with the plot that I’ve got for this chapter, and then finally, when I was talking to Steve, I said – when I first thought about this chapter, and was wondering what kind of approach to take to it, the first thing that I thought, and immediately dismissed, was I could do it in verse. And I said, I think the reason I said that I immediately dismissed is because it would far too fucking difficult.
Jerusalem does not yet have a publisher; despite its length given Moore’s stature as a literary figure I imagine it would still fetch an advance, should Moore desire it. Or maybe Top Shelf/Knockabout can have another go at it.
Now, how many years do you think it will take to give the first draft a run through?
No matter how long it takes. Jerusalem will be an event when it finally appears.
Although the Miracleman reprints by Marvel have more or less been business as usual and not the apocalypse, news of never-before seen Miracleman stories by Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan is still exciting. Vulture has the deets on a new Miracleman Annual #1 which will be out on December 31st and include a long-lost story written by Morrison, now found and drawn by Joe Queseda, and an all new story written by Milligan with art by Mike Allred. The cover is by Gabriele Dell’Otto, and the variant by Jeff Smith.
The Morrison story was unearthed in an article right here on the Beat written by Pádraig Ó Méalóid. Given the long antipathy between Morrison and Moore, it’s a surprising detail but according to Morrison in the Talking with Gods documentary, the story being spiked when it was written in the mid-80s might have been one of the root causes of the feud. Morrison said:
I didn’t want to do it without Moore’s permission, and I wrote to him and said, “They’ve asked me to do this, but obviously I really respect you work, and I wouldn’t want to mess anything up. But I don’t want anyone else to do it and mess it up.” And he sent me back this really weird letter, and I remember the opening of it, it said, “I don’t want this to sound like the softly hissed tones of a mafia hitman, but back off.”
With Miracleman back, Marvel started asking about the story and Morrison requested that Quesada draw it — it’s his first interior art in quite a while.
Milligan’s story is bit nostalgic as well, he told Vulture:
“We’re doing a story that, if you like, looks at the Mick Anglo years, what might be seen on the outside as the innocent, old-fashioned years,” Milligan told me. “There’s a scintilla of self-awareness, with Marvelman being — I don’t want to give too much away, but the story is not without some awareness that it’s all going to change very quickly. It’s an homage. All the guys are there, all the craziness.”
Marvel confirmed that the Neil Gaiman-written conclusion to the Miracleman story—now nearly 30 years in the planning—is still in the works. Finegrs crossed!
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 –
By: Kenneth Kit Lamug,
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, Alan Moore
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, Fabian Gray
, Five Ghosts
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After a tragic encounter with an artifact known as “The Dreamstone,” infamous treasure hunter Fabian Gray is possessed by five literary ghosts and granted access to their unique abilities.
Get this on Amazon Five Ghosts Volume 1: The Haunting of Fabian Gray TP
Thanks to a popular Kickstarter campaign, comics fans can enjoy a story so unique yet so familiar it’s like slipping on a pair of old slippers worn by a stranger. Famed treasure hunter Fabian Gray has the remarkable ability to channel ghosts of five archetypal figures—the wizard, the archer, the detective, the samurai, and the vampire—a power that comes in quite handy in the midst of his swashbuckling exploits. Barbiere’s writing and Mooneyham’s art are reminiscent of classic adventure comics, crammed with rubies to snag, helicopter ladders to lunge after, and biplanes that crash into deep jungles full of magic-wielding cults, all wrapped up in a plot dripping with revenge, regret, greed, and deep hubris. But Barbiere and Mooneyham aside, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the book’s colorist, S. M. Vidauri, whose muted tones and deep purples mix the nostalgia of iconic adventure tales with the rich, heavy visuals of contemporary comics, such as Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Scott Snyder’s American Vampire, and Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man. –Ben Spanner
By: David Thorpe
Blog: An Awfully Big Blog Adventure
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, Alan Moore
, David Thorpe
, George Orwell
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The founding fathers would turn in their graves. The British Library is hosting an exhibition of publications in a medium once accused of undermining literacy, decency and the very establishment itself: comics.
I haven’t yet visited Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK, which has been curated by Paul Gravett, author of Comic Art, which I reviewed last month, but I have a shrewd idea of much of its contents because of my own involvement in the industry from the 1980s and ‘90s.
|Deadline 3 - which published Jamie Hewlett's Tank Girl|
Previously I’ve been at pains to emphasise that comics are about much more than men in lycra
, but we can’t ignore the lycra or the science fiction and fantasy, which is in strong evidence here. What deserves wide recognition, however, is the role of attitude
in providing the energy of iconoclastic creativity that has seen so many writers and artists whose target audience was originally children become internationally hugely influential.
British comics and their creators have an anarchic spirit. In the late nineteenth century the 'Penny Dreadfuls' were sometimes considered so subversive and dangerous to the Establishment (in fomenting an industrial dispute) that at one point printing presses used for printing them were destroyed by the authorities, as documented in Martin Barker’s book Comics: Ideology, Power and the Critics.
There is a direct line from these through Fleetway’s Action
comic to 2000AD
, which in the late ‘70s and ‘80s saw the work of Pat Mills and John Wagner produce strips such as Nemesis the Warlock, which satirised corrupt organised religion, and Judge Dredd
, which satirised just about everything including a corrupt totalitarian state (although sometimes Dredd
seemed as though it was applauding the very summary dispensation of justice which it avowedly condemned).Action
was created in 1975 by Pat Mills for publishing house IPC. Soon banned for its violent content it nevertheless spawned 2000AD
, the home of Judge Dredd
|Jamie's Tank Girl - whom he called a female Judge Dredd with bigger guns on speed. |
could have been deliberately designed to be the kind of left-wing comic imagined by George Orwell in this fascinating article
he wrote about the heavily middle and upper class boys’ comics like Gem, Magnet, Hotspur, Wizard
and so on.
These class-ridden, patriotic comics were produced by the ultra-conservative family-owned Scottish DC Thompson publishers, for much of the twentieth century - up until the days of punk rock as staple fare for boys, a deliberate antidote to the previous, anarchic Penny Dreadfuls. Orwell describes them in depth in the article and observes their propaganda value as follows:
“the stuff is read somewhere between the ages of twelve and eighteen by a very large proportion, perhaps an actual majority, of English boys, including many who will never read anything else except newspapers; and along with it they are absorbing a set of beliefs which would be regarded as hopelessly out of date in the Central Office of the Conservative Party.”
|The cover of Revolver 1, which serialised Grant|
Morrison's deconstruction of Dan Dare
That aside, there is another ideological gradation that has Leo Baxendale’s Bash Street Kids
(also published by DC Thompson in the Beano
) and 2000AD
at one end - produced by angry, anti-authoritarian working class writers and artists - and the middle class Frank Hampton’s neo-Imperialistic Dan Dare
at the other.
Common to both is the preoccupation with slapstick humour, fantasy and science fiction as a way of boggling minds and examining present-day trends taken to extremes.
Orwell himself notes the value of Sci-Fi (which he calls Scientifiction) in this fascinating sentence:
“Whereas the Gem and Magnet derive from Dickens and Kipling, the Wizard, Champion, Modern Boy, etc., owe a great deal to H. G. Wells, who, rather than Jules Verne, is the father of ‘Scientifiction’.”
You can even position later writers, influenced by these earlier names, on this spectrum, such as Alan Moore and Grant Morrison on the left, and Neil Gaiman more in centre-ground. Grant slyly subverted Dan Dare
himself , imagining him as an older man sadly looking back on the glory days of space empire in the pages of Revolver
in the late ‘80s.
The ‘80s was a key time, because it was then that the kids who had been brought up on the Beano
hit adulthood and it became cool to continue reading comics. Inspired by Moore’s Watchmen
and V for Vendetta
, and the American Frank Miller’s Batman: Dark Knight Returns
, younger artists and writers gave birth to an explosion of creativity.
|The cover of Crisis issue 3 - probably the closest|
ever to Orwell's dream of a left wing comic.
|Pat Mills' and Carlos Ezquerra's Third World War deliberately made |
very cool heroes out of disabled, black, gay or female characters.
Eight years after my own story in Marvel's Captain Britain
about the Northern Ireland Troubles was censored, Fleetway felt able to publish, in the overtly political Crisis
comic, Garth Ennis' True Faith
, (but even that graphic novel was scandalously withdrawn from sale, following complaints).Crisis
was largely Pat Mills' brainchild. Overtly political and radical it ran the amazing anti-American Imperialism strip Third World War
, which attacked CIA involvement in central and south American countries, a topic already tackled in comics by Alan Moore's and Bill Sienkiewicz's documentary graphic novel, Brought to Light
|The cover of Doc Chaos 1 by me, Lawrence Gray and|
Phil Elliott published by Escape
Independent creator-owned comics sprang up all over the place, from my own satirical Doc Chaos
, published by Gravett's Escape
imprint, to Deadline
, from Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon, which came directly from a collision between comics and the new House music club culture, the true star of which was to become Jamie Hewlett's Tank Girl
. And most of us know what happened when Hewlett met Blur's Damon Albarn: Gorillaz
, the first band in history that was made up of comics characters.
|Peter Stanbury's and Paul Gravett's Escape magazine|
- beautifully designed, arty and hip.
I must given a special mention to Don Melia and Lionel Gracey-Whitman for publishing Aargh!, Heartbreak Hotel
magazine with the supplement BLAAM!
Because the mere fact that this anti-homophobic publication could be a comic was testimony to how far the medium had come since the days of Wizard
weekly comics in which homosexuality was a heavily suppressed element. Here is Orwell describing a cover image: “ a nearly naked man of terrific muscular development has just seized a lion by the tail and flung it thirty yards over the wall of an arena”.
|Heartbreak Hotel issue 5 cover by Duncan Fegredo|
|The first comic explicitly for black people, Sphinx|
|Repossession Blues from the pages of Blaam!|
|A cover of chaos magick journal Chaos International |
which shows the use of comics iconography
- the exchange of ideas went both ways.
There was a huge amount of talent around in the ‘80s, much of which will be on evidence in the British Library show, but I find it fascinating that I, along with the far more successful Bryan Talbot, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, (particularly the first two) were also at the time heavily into chaos magick. We’d discuss this when we met occasionally at the bar that used to be at the foot of Centrepoint, near Titan Books’ offices where I worked, and Forbidden Planet bookshop, and at comics conventions.
Alan only went public on this more recently, but Grant overtly used his research in long-running strips such as the intensely surreal Doom Patrol
and subsequently The Invisibles
, both for DC.
It is not necessary to believe in any of the gods and forces invoked by magical ritual in chaos magick to utilise its effects. The point for all of us was that Nothing is Forbidden, Everything is Permitted
, to use Aleister Crowley’s mantra. Chaos magick provided an almost limitless kit of tools to access the far reaches of the imagination. I learned my tricks from a group that met every week in Greenwich, above Bulldog’s café, from the legendary Charlie Brewster, aka Choronzon 666.
I used this massive wellspring of creativity when writing The Z-Men
for Brendan McCarthy. Brendan was a maverick comics artist who started work in 2000AD
, later becoming like many comics artists a film storyboarder, who was renowned for his psychedelic, mystical artwork.
All of us were also heavily influenced by Dada and Surrealism – this was the premier topic of my undergraduate degree. It is very obvious in Grant’s Doom Patrol
- just read my favourite story The Painting That Ate Paris;
and how else could you come up with a superhero who is an entire street (named - of course - Danny)?
|Pure anarcho-comics: Hooligna Press & Pete Mastin's |
Faction File collected from the pages of
squatting magazine Crowbar -
back full circle to the aims of the Penny Dreadfuls
Arguably, the most successful comics writers working for American publishers in the ‘80s and ‘90s were Neil, Alan and Grant – Brits all. Frank Miller, also a giant, is American of course, and, while anarchic, is sympathetic to the other end of anarchism
– right wing libertarian, which approves the right to bear arms and use them against Commie radicals.
I attribute all of their success not just to their supreme storytelling abilities but to their political views and their involvement in anything occult, arcane and extreme, because in these genres of comics, what readers demand is out-there imagination – and it takes some serious head-space distorting tricks to cultivate a mind that can repeatedly and frequently, on demand, to a punishing production schedule, come up with the mind-boggling concepts, characters and storylines required.
These lessons were not lost on the more recent wave of massively successful British writers, such as Warren Ellis and Brian Hitch, the creators of The Authority
, (just read Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan
for a taste of his brand of anarchy).
And I believe there are lessons here for all writers and artists who aim at children and teens
, that most demanding of all audiences, to help them feed and stoke the furnaces of creativity and imagination.
I could even attempt to sum them up in the following seven guidelines. Bear in mind that these are methods I am suggesting
, and in no way
am I advocating tackling a particular kind of subject matter. These are ways of researching, preparing to write and draw, and of writing and drawing itself
- Feed your mind with stuff from the far reaches of experience; and apply that to the everyday.
- You can’t be too extreme.
- JG Ballard's maxim: follow your obsessions.
- Never censor yourself – leave it to someone else.
- Boggle minds.
- Maximise drama.
- Above all - don’t take it too seriously.
By: Heidi MacDonald
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Alan Moore, Writer, along with Leah Moore, Editor
Anything that has the tagline ‘Not so much pushing the envelope of comicbook storytelling as folding it up to make a nice hat‘ just shouts Alan Moore, doesn’t it? But there’s no point my trying to tell you what it’s all about where there’s a handy press release to do just that for me, so…——————————Press Release——————————
Alan Moore creates digital app
The most famous modern comic book writer in the world, Alan Moore, is leading a research and development project to create an app enabling digital comics to be made by anyone.
Already known for revolutionising the comic book industry in the 1980s, Moore is pushing boundaries again with Electricomics – an app that is both a comic book and an easy-to-use open source toolkit. Being open source and free, the app has wide potential not just for industry professionals, but also businesses, arts organisations and of course comic fans and creators everywhere.
“Personally, I can’t wait,” said Moore. “With Electricomics, we are hoping to address the possibilities of comic strips in this exciting new medium, in a way that they have never been addressed before.
“Rather than simply transferring comic narrative from the page to the screen, we intend to craft stories expressly devised to test the storytelling limits of this unprecedented technology. To this end we are assembling teams of the most cutting edge creators in the industry and then allowing them input into the technical processes in order to create a new capacity for telling comic book stories.
“It will then be made freely available to all of the exciting emergent talent that is no doubt out there, just waiting to be given access to the technical toolkit that will enable them to create the comics of the future
Electricomics will be a 32-page showcase with four very different original titles:
Big Nemo – set in the 1930s, Alan Moore revisits Winsor McCay’s most popular hero;
Cabaret Amygdala – modernist horror from writer Peter Hogan (Terra Obscura);
Red Horse – on the anniversary of the beginning of World War One, Garth Ennis (Preacher, The Boys) and Danish artist Peter Snejbjerg (World War X) take us back to the trenches;
Sway – a slick new time travel science fiction story from Leah Moore and John Reppion (Sherlock Holmes – The Liverpool Demon, 2000 AD).
Electricomics will be self -published by Moore and long-time collaborator Mitch Jenkins as Orphans of the Storm, and funded by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. As a publicly funded research and development project, Electricomics will be free to explore the possibilities of the comic medium, without the constraints of the industry.
The app will be built by Ocasta Studios, under the guidance of Ed Moore (no relation). Ocasta create apps for the likes of Virgin Media, Vodafone, Harveys and The Register. They are excited to be making their first foray into the world of comics.
The research team will be led by Dr Alison Gazzard, who has published widely on space, time and play in interactive media, and is a Lecturer in Media Arts at the London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education. Joining her, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey is a pioneer in the field of experimental digital comics and senior lecturer at The University of Hertfordshire.
Moore’s daughter Leah will edit the project, having created the 150 page digital comic The Thrill Electric for C4 Education in 2011.
About the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts
The Digital R&D fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers. It is a partnership between Arts Council England
, Arts and Humanities Research Council
We want to see projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or develop new business models for the arts sector. With a dedicated researcher or research team as part of the three-way collaboration, learning from the project can be captured and disseminated to the wider arts sector.
Every project needs to identify a particular question or problem that can be tested. Importantly this question needs to generate knowledge for other arts organisations that they can apply to their own digital strategies.——————————Press Release Ends——————————
You can find Electricomics on Facebook and on Twitter.
Not only that, but I believe this is what’s going to be on the Electricomics website, once it’s properly up and running…
Welcome to… Electricomics
Almost three years ago, Alan Moore had an Idea.
Whilst working with director Mitch Jenkins on The Show, an eerie film and TV concept which seemed to have a life of its own, he imagined the children in the background of a scene reading comics on transparent flexible scrolls called Spindles.
The comics, he idly supposed, would be Electricomics, and would be yet another facet of the multi-nuanced and multimedia world of The Show.
So far so dull right? Big Idea Man has yet another idea.
Alan Moore ideas have an uncanny habit of inveigling themselves into reality, by fair means or foul, they emerge somewhere and demand to be taken seriously.
Almost a year on, when the small film project had inflated in the manner of an airbag deployed in case of cultural stupor, to become not just one but several films, not just one story but dozens of them woven together into a huge billowing cloud of wonder. It was then, that a colleague of theirs happened to chat to a friend and mention that scrappy little idea, Electricomics.
That was all the chance it needed, and before you could say ‘Hold on is this wise?’ or ‘Don’t we all have other jobs to do?’ there was a meeting and a pitch and a funding application to the Digital Research & Development fund for the Arts. The path was not straight or quick, but in the end it arrived here, in this website, in this project, before your very eyes.
The team that was assembled then could not be more delighted, and more than a little surprised, to find themselves here and now in this position.
They have been charged with the task of producing new comics for the digital age.
They must attempt new storytelling techniques, create and use new comic making tools which they must then make freely available to everyone.
This large and somewhat daunting burden will be shared with them, by such mighty talents as Garth Ennis, Nicola Scott, Jose Villarrubia, Pete Hogan, Peter Snejbjerg, and Todd Klein.
The stories produced will not only showcase what is possible but also hopefully inspire others to do the same.
The Electricomics toolkit would give users the power to create their own Electricomics.
Different, better comics, completely new and fresh comics in every way.
Right now, as this project launches, Electricomics is still an idea up in the ether, a hope and a plan before it becomes a reality, but like I said, Alan Moore ideas usually find a way to get through.
So now you know. Alan Moore is going to reinvent comics, again. Considering that the last time he did that, back when he did Watchmen in the mid-eighties, he gave the comics industry material that they continue to exploit even now, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with this time.
And, if I may make a personal observation, it’s great to see him coming back to dabble in a medium that has not always given him back as much as he has given it.
[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 - Prehistory, 2 - Marvelman Rises, 3 - Marvelman Falls, 4 - Intermission: 1963 to 1982]
Born in Goole in Yorkshire on the 4th February 1951, by 1982 Derek ‘Dez’ Skinn already had a long and successful history working in British comics. He had started producing the comics fanzine Derinn Comicollector in 1967, followed by Oracle in 1968 and Eureka! in 1969, and a spell editing longstanding UK comics fanzine Fantasy Advertiser from 1970 to 1975. In the meantime he had qualified in organic chemistry and got a job with Croda Chemicals, a few miles from where he lived. It was obvious to all that he wasn’t really suited to the job, though, and the managing director suggested that he might be better off pursuing a career in journalism, as this was obviously where his passion lay. He did, and ended up at the Doncaster Evening Post, but only stayed there for six months before going to London in 1970 to try to find work in comics. His first port of call was Mick Anglo, then working on Thorpe & Porter’s Super DC, repackaging DC strips for the UK market, but Anglo was a one-man-show by that time, and neither needed nor wanted an assistant. He directed Skinn to Marts Press, who in turn sent him to IPC/Fleetway, where he was finally taken on as a trainee sub-editor. After five years at IPC he was headhunted by Warner Brothers to become Group Managing Editor of their Young Magazines Group, and in particular to edit their British version of MAD Magazine. In 1978 he set up Starburst Magazines Ltd to produce Starburst, a science fiction movie magazine that is still going to this day. From there he was persuaded by Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, who was visiting Britain in 1979, to take over the editorship of the ailing Marvel UK. He only stayed there for fifteen months, but made important and lasting changes while he was there, launching titles like Hulk Comic, Doctor Who Weekly, and Frantic, and giving work to old co-workers Steve Moore and Steve Parkhouse, as well as a number of up-and-coming British comics talents, like John Bolton, Steve Dillon, Dave Gibbons, and David Lloyd. After his time in Marvel UK Skinn set up a design company called Studio System Ltd, and on the 4th of January 1982 he registered Quality Communications Limited, to produce a good British alternative to the comics that were then available, as well as to provide a showcase for talented British writers and artists. The first thing Skinn needed for his project was a title, so he revived a name he’d used previously in 1974. That name was Warrior.
With a publishing company and a name in place, the next thing was to find content for the magazine. Warrior was going to be an anthology, a format that had always done well in the UK market, as opposed to the single-story-per-issue format popular in the US, although it would be monthly, unlike the weekly British comics. Skinn had seen the sort of material that was popular for the comics companies he had worked for, particularly at Marvel UK, so knew what sorts of strips he wanted for Warrior. There had always been a dark streak in British comics, and Skinn was happy to allow some of the strips in Warrior to reflect that. He did, however, feel that he should include a superhero strip, to appeal to the American market, as much as anything else. Skinn’s plan for contributors was fairly radical for Britain at the time: He was going to offer less money up front (either a half or two-thirds of the going rate, depending on who you listen to), but was only buying first printing rights from them, and they would retain ownership of their creations – rather than surrender all the rights, as was usually the case with comics publishers – and would therefore be able to sell them to other markets abroad, as well as in collected reprint editions, and actually earn good money from doing so. To facilitate this, Skinn encouraged his writers to write story arcs that would run over the course of a year, which could subsequently be collected in book form. Skinn was also intending to set himself up as an agent for this work, to try to sell it abroad, primarily to the lucrative American market, as well as to the thriving European markets.
By 1981 Dez Skinn had been working in British comics for over ten years, and had made it all the way to the top, so he was not short on talented potential contributors for his magazine. He already had his old friend Steve Moore on board as his main writer, along with Steve Parkhouse, who was both writer and artist, and Paul Neary would also write and illustrate a strip. Other artists on Warrior would include Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Alan Davis, Steve Dillon, Dave Gibbons, Garry Leach, and David Lloyd, all of whom made significant contributions to the magazine, and most of whom would go on to become huge names in the comics industry, both in Britain and in America.
There was of course one other major contributor to Warrior. Since his childhood, Alan Moore had been fascinated by comics, both the home-grown British ones, and especially the imported American monthlies, which eventually led him to meet and befriend Steve Moore, first through the pages of the burgeoning British comics fanzines, then later through the regularly held London comic marts, where they finally met in person. He also became involved with the Northampton Arts Lab, a sort of artistic multimedia cooperative which encouraged its members to become involved in as many different artistic disciplines as they could. While there Moore wrote a lot of content, particularly poetry, for different magazines, as well as being involved in various bands, and at least one stage play, Another Suburban Romance, which never actually got produced. In his mid-twenties Moore decided that if he didn’t pursue his dreams of being a fulltime writer and artist then, he probably wouldn’t ever do it, so he gave up his day job as an office clerk at Kelly Bros Pipe Fitting Company and started sending out submissions. Soon enough, he found himself contributing a daily strip, called Maxwell the Magic Cat, to the Northants Post, which would run from the 25th of August 1979 until the 9th of October 1986. At much the same time he also started submitting work to Sounds, a weekly British music paper.
The strips in Sounds
were Roscoe Moscow: Who Killed Rock’n’Roll
, which ran for sixty episodes from 31 March 1979 until 28 June 1980, and The Stars My Degradation
, which ran for one hundred episodes from 12 July 1980 until 19 March 1983. Moore drew both strips, and wrote most of them, with Steve Moore coming in as writer for the latter part of The Stars My Degradation
. He realised, however, that he was not cut out for a career as an illustrator, so began to concentrate solely on his writing.
In 1981 Moore started getting work published in IPC’s weekly comic 2000 AD. Although 2000 AD had only been around for three years at the time, it was easily the most important thing to happen to British comics for many years, and would provide a launching pad for the careers of any number of British comics people, both writers and artists. Moore started submitting short pieces, Future Shocks or Time Twisters, as they were called. These were often only two or three pages long, giving him an ideal opportunity to perfect his craft. More work followed, with Moore contributing short one-off pieces to the newly revamped Eagle, as well as to Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Weekly. Later on, he would be offered the opportunity to do longer work at both IPC and Marvel UK. For 2000 AD he would eventually write Skizz in 1983 (effectively written to cash-in on the huge media frenzy surrounding the forthcoming ET movie, but only similar to it if you imagine that, instead of being marooned in a Disney-perfect, Hollywoodesque America, the extra-terrestrial crash-lands his ship in a dour and depressive Birmingham, deep in the throes of the worst excesses of Thatcherism), and The Ballad of Halo Jones in 1984 and 1985, which still stands as one of his finest and most touching pieces of work. In the meantime, in 1982, he would take over writing Captain Britain for Marvel UK. His first ongoing strips, however, were Marvelman and V for Vendetta in Warrior, where, with all due deference to the considerable talents of the other contributors, Alan Moore was perhaps the single most important creator to appear there. But Moore had not been part of Skinn’s original plan.
Skinn had decided that, if he was going to include a superhero strip in Warrior, he wanted to revive an old one, rather than try to create a new one. He’d been successful in revitalising the Captain Britain character in Hulk Comic whilst at Marvel UK, and there was really only one other British superhero that had ever had any success, so he decided that he’d bring back a character that hadn’t been seen on the shelves since 1963. That character was Marvelman. Various stories have been told over the years about how Skinn might have got the rights to Marvelman. For a long time the most widely accepted story was that L Miller and Co Ltd had gone bankrupt in 1963, and that their assets had been seized by the British Government’s Official Receiver, from whom Skinn subsequently bought the rights to Marvelman, and more crucially, this is the version of events that Alan Moore has said he was told.
This is wrong on several fronts, of course: the Millers didn’t go bust, in 1963 or at any other time, and even if they had, it is unlikely that the Official Receiver would have held onto the property, intellectual or otherwise, of a bankrupt company for close to twenty years, as it would have been sold off at the time to pay off any creditors, meaning there would have been nothing there for Skinn to buy in 1982. On top of which, I don’t think there is a single instance in print of Skinn being quoted as saying this at the time, or of subsequently verifying that it was true. Which is not to say that he might not have said it, or something similar to it, and indeed there is some hint towards this in later communication between Skinn and the legal representatives of Marvel UK, where he says, ‘Considerable expense was involved in securing and relaunching the 1950s and 1960s registered property,’ a particular statement that is actually backed up by Skinn himself, elsewhere.
When he was setting up Warrior, and actually had some people on board, he sent out a few internal memos [which are all to be found at the bottom of this post]. The first of these, dated the 24th of June, 1981, says, in referring to Marvelman, that ‘we’ve almost got the rights tied up…’ In the second memo, dated the 1st of August, 1981, he says:
Marvelman: Mick Anglo, creator/writer/sometime artist/all-time letterer of the original strip came up to the office last week. He gave the new version his blessing and was really pleased to hear that (as he did in the 1950s) a group of people are getting together to produce an alternative comic to the corporation products. He was reassuring us all no end, saying that it worked incredibly well in the 1950s, and he can see no reason why it shouldn’t work now. Mick is remarkably cued up on the current state of the industry, knowing the USA Warren approach and the Spanish & Italian album market. He’s totally behind us, offering any help or assistance he can.
Another internal document called Warrior Setting-up Costs – undated, but obviously from around the same time period – listed, amongst other costs,
Halberstam – Legal advice re Marvelman: £75.00
Woodham Smith – copyright information: £227.70
Obviously there were other issues relating to copyright at Warrior, besides those relating to Marvelman. After all, they were launching a magazine with all sorts of new rights being offered, and they would have needed legal advice for these, too. None the less, it’s still interesting to see these figures, and to speculate on what they might mean. After all, Woodham Smith, a now-defunct London legal firm, specialised in the field of Intellectual Property, so it seems likely that at least some of their advice had to be in relation to Marvelman.
Other elements of this version of events are actually close to the truth: L Miller and Co hadn’t gone bankrupt, but the company nevertheless no longer existed, so couldn’t own the copyright to Marvelman, and there didn’t seem to be any other clear owner, so, although it wasn’t being held by the Official Receiver, it was arguable that the rights were available for whoever wished to take them. Dez Skinn gave his version of events to George Khoury in Kimota! in 2001:
I knew the character was in the public domain, not because of the usual time lag after the end of the strip like when Stan [Lee] took Daredevil after the Lev Gleason run finished or anything like that. It was simply because the company had gone out of business and no longer owned anything. There wasn’t a copyright holder. It wasn’t a person; it was packaged – work-made-for-hire by L Miller and Son Limited through Mick Anglo Studios. Mick couldn’t claim copyright really, because he did the lettering and he gave the scripts – which were often photocopies of Captain Marvel comics – to the artist and said ‘Make this more English! Change the costume to Marvelman instead of Captain Marvel.’ The reason it felt close to Captain Marvel was because they were Captain Marvel stories.
Yeah, so nobody really owned it. There was no copyright holder.
Dez Skinn’s plan all along for Marvelman included republishing some of the old adventures from the 1950s as flashbacks, so he got in touch with Denis Gifford, the great British comics historian, to see what he could tell him about the status of Marvelman. Gifford directed him to Mick Anglo – who Skinn already knew of old – who Dez then talked to, to tell him that he wanted to use his old work, and to pay him for it. Anglo seemed to be the only person who still had an interest in the rights to the Marvelman, as shown by his copyright notice in Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties in 1977, but this doesn’t seem to have come up when he talked to Dez Skinn. Both of them have referred to their discussion at various times. Talking to Khoury in Kimota!, Skinn said,
I got in touch with Mick Anglo. I met with Mick and I said, ‘Look, I know you don’t own it but if we bring the character back and it’s popular… You have thousands of pages of material’ [...] because it would be nice for an old guy like Mick Anglo if we could reprint stuff that he was involved in and pay him.
And this is Mick Anglo, again talking to George Khoury in Kimota!,
[Dez Skinn] contacted me and he wanted to revive [Marvelman] and I said go ahead and do what you like, as far as I was concerned.
Despite the number of times that Anglo could have stated that he thought he owned the rights to Marvelman, including the time that Skinn went to talk to him in 1982 about republishing it, or when George Khoury interviewed him in 2001 for Kimota!, I still haven’t been able to find an account of him having actually said so in plain unvarnished English, although he does claim to have created the character in a few different places, a claim which itself could be open to question. If anything, he tended to distance himself from the character, and from his history with it. Could it be that he had lost interest in it, only five years after publishing a book containing a page of art with a copyright notice newly added to it? Or that he believed that, despite his copyright notice in 1977, he actually had no rights to the character that would stand up to scrutiny? Or simply that he thought that it was hardly worth bothering over, as more comics magazines folded after a few issues than ever survived?
One thing I’m pretty sure about is that he wouldn’t have stood for Dez Skinn using Marvelman against his wishes, and that if he felt he owned the character, he would have made this clear. Mick Anglo had been the boss of his own studio – where he reputedly once threw one of his artists down the stairs when he was annoyed at him – and had been a boxer and a soldier, to boot. In 1982, even if he was sixty-six years old, he was unlikely to allow himself to be pushed around. It simply doesn’t make sense to me that he opposed Skinn, or even that he had any interest in Marvelman at that point, as he would definitely have made this known, so the only conclusion I can draw is that he had no interest in Marvelman in 1982, and wasn’t claiming it as his own at that time.
In the summer of 1981, when Dez Skinn started putting together his plan for Warrior
, he had never heard of Alan Moore, as far as he knew, not remembering that he had given him work about a year and a half beforehand, doing a two-page Christmas gag feature called Scant Applause
in The Frantic Winter Special
(Marvel UK, 1979). By the middle of 1981 Moore was working as an illustrator on The Stars my Degradation
, as both writer and artist on Maxwell the Magic Cat
in the Northants Post
, and as a writer of various short one-off pieces in 2000 AD
. He was certainly up and coming, but his name wasn’t on everyone’s lips back then, as it would be later. Alan Moore had said in the Society of Strip Illustration Newsletter
in May 1981 that he wanted to write Marvelman, but there’s no way of knowing if Skinn would have seen that, or paid it any heed if he had, even though he planned to revise it – although this appears to mean that, by some huge coincidence, both Moore and Skinn, at pretty much exactly the same time, and unbeknownst to one another, wanted to see Marvelman revived, each for their own reasons. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely a coincidence, at that – Skinn was planning Warrior
from early 1981, so it’s possible he was talking about the possibility of publishing Marvelman then, perhaps even to people like Steve Moore
. It’s further possible that, in conversation, the two Moores had already discussed Marvelman, and that Steve Moore could have said to Alan Moore in early 1981 that there was a publisher interested in publishing something to do with the character, causing it to come to mind. The timing of it all is fascinating: Skinn was planning Warrior
from about April, the interview with all the comics writers was in the SSI Journal dated May and, by the end of June, Skinn had produced the first internal newsletter for Warrior
where he listed, amongst other titles,
‘Dream of Flying’ written by Alan Moore, drawn by Garry Leach. Set in 1981, England. The first episode builds up to re-introducing a hero who represents the (inevitable) super-hero content. And (gasp, shock) it turns out to be none other than Denis Gifford’s old pal, Marvelman. We’ve just about got the rights tied up…
Of course, it may simply have been that talk of the character was in the air, without anyone deliberately focusing on it, and that this caused both Moore and Skinn to think of it in terms of actually making a go of it, and that their apparently both fixing on it separately may simply have been both of them unconsciously responding to a raised interest in it in general. One way or the other, though, it’s unlikely that Moore’s announcing he wished to write Marvelman was made without him knowing that the possibility of that happening actually existed, it seems to me.
The supposition that Dez Skinn didn’t know of Alan Moore at the time, as he has claimed, is also open to scrutiny. Although he was new to comics writing, by 1981 he had already made enough of a name for himself for David Lloyd to include him in the list of ‘Five of the most respected and reputable strip writers in British comics’ that he sent his questions to, and David Lloyd would also go on to suggest Moore as the writer for the strip that would eventually end up as V for Vendetta. Meanwhile, Steve Moore, originally intended as Skinn’s anchor writer for Warrior, surely couldn’t have discussed the possibility of using Axel Pressbutton as a character with Skinn without mentioning the artist who had drawn the various strips he had appeared in. And, if Skinn was on the lookout for good British talent for his magazine, and particularly since he was very much involved with the British comics industry, how could he not have noticed this interesting new writer, although everybody else had? If nothing else, there just weren’t that many British comics, and it is likely that Skinn would have been familiar with all of them, and who was doing what. On the other hand, if Skinn had met Alan Moore, he’d definitely have remembered him, as there’s no way you would forget him. It may all just be Skinn wishing to play down how things happened at the time, for whatever reason.
In 1981, Dez Skinn had first offered the Marvelman strip to Steve Parkhouse, who wasn’t interested in it, and then to Steve Moore, who also passed on it, but who supposedly said that his friend Alan was dead keen to do it. Skinn was cautious about offering the strip to an unknown writer, but agreed to allow Moore to submit a proposal for the strip, initially unpaid, so that Skinn could see what he was intending to do with it, with the proviso that he wanted to use the 1950s material if possible, whether it be as a dream, a flashback, a what-if, or something else. Moore’s extremely detailed five-thousand-word proposal was a revelation, and Skinn knew he had found the writer he needed to revive Marvelman. Moore’s pitch is reprinted in its entirety in George Khoury’s Kimota! , so I’m only going to quote a few short passages from it here.
Briefly, what I’d like to do with Marvelman runs as follows… I’d like to make some very radical changes in the basic conceit to bring what was basically a silly-arsed strip into line with the nineteen eighties. At the same time, there are some elements of Marvelman which are obviously worth hanging onto… otherwise we wouldn’t be reviving it. What are these elements? Well, firstly there’s the obvious fact of his being a superhero. [...] I know this’ll sound very pompous and ambitious but what I really want to attempt here is not just the definitive Marvelman, but the definitive superhero strip as well.
The second important element is that Marvelman is an old fifties superhero, so there’s a strong element of nostalgia. Nostalgia, if handled wrong, can prove to be nothing better than sloppy and mawkish crap. In my opinion, the central appeal of nostalgia is that all this stuff in the past has gone. It’s finished. We’ll never see it again… and this is where the incredible poignance of nostalgia really comes from. So, without deviating in fact from the naive and simplistic Marvelman of the fifties, I want to transplant it into a cruel and cynical eighties. The resultant tension will hopefully provide a real change and poignance.
The third point relates to both the ones above. The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. [...] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.
So basically what I’m after is a spectacular nineteen fifties superhero in a blue costume who says a magic word and was given his power by a wise old wizard and who now operates in the nineteen eighties and who is totally scientifically credible!!!! Sounds tough, huh?
Towards the end of the pitch Moore says,
In the event of us not getting the rights to Marvelman then obviously I’ll have to rework all these notes. But possibly we could still do something featuring a pastiche character called Miracle Man who transformed himself with a cry of ‘Raelcun!’ or summat.
Talking about preparing to write Marvelman when interviewed by Eddie Stachelski in issue #5 of Fantasy Express in 1983, Moore said,
When I researched Marvelman, I tried to get right back to the roots of the superhuman and sort out exactly what made the idea tick. I read obvious things like the Greek and Norse legends again, I read a lot of science fiction stories that touched upon the superhero theme… things like [Olaf] Stapleton’s Odd John and Philip Wylie’s Gladiator. I even read a few comics.
There were other influences on Moore’s Marvelman, too. When I interviewed him in 20112, I asked him about the influence Robert Mayer’s Superfolks had on the character of Marvelman:
Well, I have read Superfolks. [...] But it was by no means the only influence, or even a major influence upon me output. [...] I can’t even remember when I read it. It would probably have been before I wrote Marvelman, and it would have had the same kind of influence upon me as the much earlier [...] Brian Patten’s poem, ‘Where Are You Now, Batman?,’ which was in the 1960s Penguin Mersey Poets collection, The Mersey Sound, and that, which had an elegiac tone to it, which was talking about these former heroes in straitened circumstances, looking back to better days in the past, that had an influence. I’d still say that Harvey Kurtzman’s ‘Superduperman’ probably had the preliminary influence, but I do remember Superfolks and finding some bits of it in that same sort of vein. I also remember reading Joseph Torchia’s The Kryptonite Kid around that time. I found that quite moving. [...] Like I say, it probably was one of a number of influences that may have had some influence upon the elegiac quality of Marvelman. I can’t remember any specific [...] things that I might have been influenced by, other than that general post-modern elegiac feel.
In Lance Parkin’s The Pocket Essential Alan Moore (Pocket Essentials, 2001) Moore is quoted as saying,
[Superfolks was] a big influence Marvelman. By the time I did the last Superman stories I’d forgotten the Mayer book, although I may have it subconsciously in my mind, but it was certainly influential on Marvelman and the idea of placing superheroes in hard times and in a browbeaten real world.
According to Lance Parkin, the quote was actually taken from a handwritten annotation to the proof by Moore himself, after he read a draft of the book in manuscript form, one of only three such annotations, so at the time he certainly must have felt strongly that he wanted to acknowledge the debt Marvelman owed to Robert Mayer’s book.
[There’s more information about the influence of Robert Mayer’s Superfolks on Moore’s writing in these two articles, if you’re interested: Alan Moore and Superfolks Part 1: The Case for the Prosecution and Alan Moore and Superfolks Part 2: The Case for the Defence.]
Dez Skinn had originally offered the artwork on Marvelman to Dave Gibbons, who was too busy to take it on, and then considered offering it to Brian Bolland, but decided that, whereas Bolland’s work was extremely good, he was also very slow. Eventually, apparently on David Lloyd’s recommendation, Skinn asked Garry Leach, an artist unknown to him at the time, but who would also eventually end up as Warrior’s art director, a job he described as being much more glamorous in its title than its actuality. Leach had been working as an artist for 2000 AD since 1978, and had previously collaborated with Alan Moore on the short story They Sweep the Spaceways in issue #219 in July 1981, at the same time that Dez Skinn was starting to put his plans for Warrior in order.
The pieces were in place, and the stage was set for Marvelman to once again take his place in the forefront of British comics.
To Be Continued…
(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here
Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.
[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 - Prehistory, 2 - Marvelman Rises, 3 - Marvelman Falls, 4 - Intermission: 1963 to 1982, 5 - Prologue to Warrior]
Warrior took nearly a year from its original inception in the spring of 1981 to finally reaching the shelves in March 1982. The contents of that first issue were, in order, an eight-page Marvelman story called …A Dream of Flying, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Garry Leach; a five-page Spiral Path prologue, written and drawn by Steve Parkhouse; a two-page one-off story called A True Story?, written by Steve Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons; the first part of The Legend of Prester John in seven pages, by Steve Moore and John Bolton; The Villain, the six-page first part of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta; a six-page Father Shandor, Demon Stalker story by Steve Moore and John Bolton called Spawn from Hell’s Pit!; and, last but not least, a six-page Laser Eraser and Pressbutton story written by Steve Moore and illustrated by Steve Dillon, who also supplied the cover for that issue. The issue also contained a one-page text piece by Dez Skinn called Freedom’s Road, introducing Warrior; a three-and-a-half-page text piece, again by Skinn, called Marvelman, Mightiest Man in the Universe; and, at the back of the magazine, a feature called Warriors All!, which consisted of brief self-penned biographies of most of the contributing creators, where Alan Moore famously described himself as A baffling hybrid between Renaissance Man and Piltdown Man. The writing breakdown for that first issue, ignoring the text pieces, was twenty-one pages by Steve Moore, fourteen pages by Alan Moore, and five pages by Steve Parkhouse. This page share would eventually tip in Alan’s favour, with him doing an average of sixteen pages per issue in the first dozen issues, as opposed to Steve Moore’s average of fourteen pages an issue, while Steve Parkhouse maintained a small but steady five pages an issue, and Paul Neary’s Madman appearing for a few pages up until #7. That pattern would change later on, when things turned sour, but for the time being the template for Warrior was largely set.
And this is where I come in. Despite the fact that thirty years have passed since I did so, I can distinctly remember the day I bought that first issue of Warrior, in a now defunct Dublin bookshop called The Alchemist’s Head, which stocked an eclectic mix of science fiction and occult books, with a rack of new comics in the back. I actually bought it in early 1983, because I remember going back in as soon as I could to ask them to get me as many more issues of this magazine as were available, which they did. I was 23 in 1983, and I’m 53 now, and it is no exaggeration to say that a lot of what and who I eventually became goes back to that day in 1983, and to Warrior #1. I was seeing things I’d never seen before in a comic, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the writer who was writing the strips I was most interested in was Alan Moore. For my sins, I don’t think I’d ever heard of him before then, but I was to devote a growing amount of my waking hours to his work from then on. And Moore wasn’t the only one I’d never heard of. Marvelman was completely new to me at the time, so much so that, despite the three-and-a-half pages of text filling us in on his back-story, I remembering wondering if this was some sort of carefully constructed imaginary history, and that he was really appearing in Warrior for the first time anywhere. It became obvious very quickly that this was going to be a superhero strip unlike anything I’d seen before. For a start, it seemed to be populated by real people with real lives, and was drawn in a very realistic, very grounded style. There was obviously some sort of back-story attached to it, which we would begin to see revealed as the story progressed. I was absolutely fascinated by this and, judging by the response on the letters pages in subsequent issues of Warrior, I wasn’t the only one. This was something new, something different. Something we hadn’t seen before. The writing sang off the page. In issue #2, while Marvelman is trying to explain to his – or, more correctly, Mike Moran’s – wife about his life as he remembers it, she laughs at the silliness of it. There is a memorable frame where he says ‘Damn you Liz, you’re laughing at my life!!’, accompanied by a caption that reads ‘The floor is solid oak. He splinters it to matchwood…’
Moore’s attempt to place his silly fifties superhero in the cynical eighties was pitch-perfect, and breathtaking to watch unfold. Probably the most memorable line in those early issues for me, a definite sign that this strip was going to take us places we hadn’t gone before, as well as a foretaste of themes that would later appear in work like Watchmen, was in the series of captions in issue #6, accompanying Marvelman’s aerial fight with Kid Marvelman over London, that says,
They are titans, and we’ll never understand the alien inferno that blazes in the furnaces of their souls.
We are only human.
We will never grasp their hopes, their despair, never comprehend the blistering rage that informs their every blow.
We will never know the destiny that howls in their hearts, never know their pain, their love, their almost sexual hatred…
…and perhaps we are the less for it.
It was when I read the words ‘their almost sexual hatred…’ that I knew that there was something new here, a complexity and depth that I’d never seen before in a comic, something I very much wanted to see more of.
As the months passed, and more issues of Warrior appeared, it quickly became evident that Marvelman was the most popular strip in the magazine, closely followed by Alan Moore’s other strip there, V for Vendetta. It must also have been well thought of editorially, as it was virtually always the first strip in Warrior, just after the contents page. The strip started to run into problems early on however as, although Garry Leach was only drawing between six and eight pages an issue, he was taking the whole month to do so, to the exclusion of any other work. Eventually he decided that he couldn’t continue to work like that, so he gave up the strip. Fortunately, there was someone else waiting in the wings.
One of the things that Dez Skinn tried to do with Warrior was to issue a Summer Special for 1982. The Summer Special, generally with a higher page count than the standard weekly comic, was a peculiarly British publishing institution started in the 1960s, presumably to give all those children in all those British seaside holiday resorts something else to buy, as well as to bring in some extra revenue for both the shopkeepers and the publishers, because it spent longer on the shelves than the usual weekly issues. Skinn thought it would be novel to try this out, alongside the regularly scheduled issues of Warrior, but ran into difficulties, and ended up publishing the Warrior Summer Special 1982 but amalgamating issue #4, scheduled for August 1982, into it, causing all sorts of problems at the distribution and retail end, as well as for people looking out for a clearly marked Warrior #4, who were not to know that what they wanted was called the Warrior Summer Special 1982 instead.
However, there was at least one good thing to come out of all the confusion. One of the strips in the Summer Special was a one-off Marvelman story called The Yesterday Gambit, a story that was not part of the ongoing continuity established in the previous three issues, but rather set a few years in the story’s future. The ten-page story was composed of three different parts, drawn by three different artists: Steve Dillon, Paul Neary, and Alan Davis. Alan Davis was at the time the artist on Marvel UK’s successfully relaunched Captain Britain strip, then running in Marvel Super-Heroes. The writer, Dave Thorpe, had left the strip, and Davis had suggested bringing Alan Moore on board as the new writer. Moore in turn suggested to Dez Skinn that Davis would be a good replacement for Garry Leach on Marvelman and, although Skinn had reservations about the only two superhero strips in British comics being written and drawn by the same two people, he none the less went along with Moore’s suggestion.
To ease Davis in, and so as not to have too sudden a change from Leach’s artwork to Davis’s, Davis only did the pencil art for issues #6 and #7, with Leach inking over his work. Indeed, Davis originally thought that he was only coming in as a stand-in artist to allow Leach to catch up on his own work, which may well have been the case initially, but it became evident that Leach wasn’t coming back to Marvelman, and Davis found himself the permanent artist on both pencils and inks. In private correspondence with Davis, he told me:
When I was first asked to pencil Marvelman I never regarded myself as Garry’s long term replacement – I was only asked to pencil two issues for Garry to ink. I believed I was simply doing some donkey work to help Garry make up time on deadlines – perhaps it was a test to see how I coped. When I was subsequently asked to pencil and ink an issue, and then another, I still made no long-term commitment. Firstly, I don’t know what led to me being asked to draw Marvelman or who championed my involvement – I have heard various contradictory explanations – but I was well aware that I was never Dez’s first choice – and I didn’t blame him, I was an utter novice – there were any number of seasoned/recognised artists Dez could have chosen IF he had more financial backing.
Secondly, it was never ‘work for hire’ because I sold a ‘first English language publication only’ use of my work which guaranteed that I retained ownership of the pages I drew and the images, and character designs, they contained. This is one of the common confusions with people not understanding the difference between the trademark and character copyright as opposed to the ordinary creative ownership of any work originated by the creator – and the variety of ways parts of those rights can be sold.
When it was finally made clear that Garry was going to quit Marvelman, to work on Warpsmith, I said I would only agree to continue drawing Marvelman if I was given an equal percentage of the trademark and character copyright Dez, Garry and Alan claimed to own. Each gave me a percentage that made me an equal quarter partner. Remember, Warrior was paying £40 per pencilled and inked page as opposed to £80-£95 from Marvel UK or 2000 AD so working for Warrior was a gamble to secure an equitable, or enhanced, payscale through royalties.
By the time Garry Leach was finished with Marvelman he had only actually drawn twenty pages of art, and inked a further fifteen pages of Alan Davis’s pencils. None the less, he established the look and the tone for the art that was to follow. Leach’s art wasn’t completely gone from the pages of Warrior, however, as there was a two-part Warpsmith story called Cold War, Cold Warrior, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Leach, which ran in issues #9 and #10. The Warpsmiths, an alien race co-created by Moore and Leach, would turn up in Moore’s Marvelman stories, beginning in the flash-forward story in the Warrior Summer Special, and would particularly feature in Olympus, the third and last book of Moore’s run, where they, along with their ancient enemy, the Qys, would play an important role.
The Warpsmiths would also turn up in the pages in another Moore and Leach story, called Ghostdance, in the first issue of A1 in 1989, an anthology comic edited by Leach and Dave Elliott, and published by their own publishing company, Atomeka Press. This had originally been submitted to Warrior, but turned down by Skinn. He had already temporarily lost distribution to WH Smith, a leading British book and magazine retailer, due to what they felt was explicit material in a strip called Zirk, Silver Sweater of the Spaceways by Steve Moore and Brian Bolland, which appeared in issue #3. Skinn felt that they might take issue with the Warpsmith story on the same grounds, possibly permanently this time, so erred on the side of caution, and decided not to publish it.
The Warpsmiths, and more particularly their sworn enemy, the Qys, play a very important part in Moore’s version of Marvelman. He had used the name Qys for a ‘starhopping alien race’ in perhaps the earliest comic strip story he wrote, the four-page Once There Were Dæmons, which appeared in Embryo #5, published by the Northampton Arts Lab, edited by Moore himself, and cover dated 18/11/1971, which would have been his eighteenth birthday. In the same story there is mention of a character who is ‘a blind warper from Algol’, so it would seem that the Qys and the Warpsmiths may have been at the back of Moore’s mind, waiting for a home, for some ten years or more before he used them in Marvelman.
In the Miller-era comics, young Mickey Moran just changed to Marvelman by saying his magic word, Kimota!
, and no further explanation was deemed necessary. What Moore did was provide a reasonably believable way for this change to happen. In Moore’s story, a Qys spaceship crashes in Wiltshire in 1948, allowing UK Airforce Intelligence, and particularly Emil Gargunza
, who was working for them at that time, to back-engineer the ship’s technology, and specifically to figure out how and why the pilot seemed to have two bodies, both attempting to occupy the same space. This leads them to learn how to clone superbodies, which they deposit in infraspace, with a post-hypnotic keyword to transfer a person’s consciousness from one to the other, and consequently to create superheroes. As he said in his initial proposal to Dez Skinn,
The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. [...] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.
Therefore, the modern version of Marvelman is inextricably bound up with the Qys and their technology, concepts that belonged wholly and solely to Alan Moore and Garry Leach. Much later on, I’ll be referring back to this, as it’s important.
Moore’s early work on Captain Britain with Alan Davis provides another intriguing glimpse of his ideas about Marvelman. On the third page of the very first full episode he wrote, in Marvel Super-Heroes #387 (Marvel UK, July 1982), while describing the unstoppable Fury, an organic-machine hybrid created to kill superheroes, there is a caption that reads,
The Fury doesn’t worry. It is used to superheroes. Ten years ago it battled the Iron Tallon who could become invisible. It killed him.
It battled Colonel Tusker and his killer toys. It battled the atomic powerhouse called Miracleman. It killed them. It had become used to superheroes.
A month later, in Marvel Super-Heroes #388, Captain Britain finds himself in a graveyard, where there are gravestones for The Arachnid, Gaath, Colonel Tusker, Android Andy, Iron Tallon, Captain Roy Risk, Puppetman, and Miracleman. These are all analogues of old British comics characters The Spider, Garth, General Jumbo, Robot Archie, The Steel Claw, Colonel Dan Dare, Dolmann, and Marvelman, quite a number of whom would turn up many years later in Albion (WildStorm, 8/2005 – 11/2006), plotted by Moore and written by his daughter Leah and her husband, John Reppion.
About a year later, in Daredevils #7 (July 1983) we see a woman called Linda McQuillan having a nightmare. She is actually Captain UK, a Captain Britain analogue from an alternate Earth, Earth-238 (as opposed to Captain Britain’s Earth-616), and it was on her Earth that all the superheroes got killed by The Fury. In her dream she is talking to her husband Rick, who turns out to be Young Miracleman, which can be seen by his uniform, and his being called Rick – as opposed to Young Marvelman, who was called Dick – and once again there is a list of superheroes that have been killed by the Fury: The Talon, Gaath, Android Andy, and the previously unmentioned Tom Rosetta, who had a magic stone that makes him invulnerable, like Tim Kelly from the old British Kelly’s Eye strip. And this time we get to see several of the characters who had previously only been referred to by name. In the last panel on the page the caption says,
Rick! Look! Miracleman! It shot Miracleman. B-But… but that’s impossible…
In the frame we see the back of the character referred to as Miracleman, wearing the uniform of Marvelman. It seems obvious that Moore had come up with a possible alternative name for Marvelman from very early on, as evidenced here and in the last part of his original Marvelman proposal to Dez Skinn.
To Be Continued…
(As ever, you can find larger versions of all the images in this post here.)
Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher. He is very happy to be writing for The Beat, which he considers to be the best site of its kind on the ‘net, hands down.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Mike Molcher is the PR Co-ordinator for Rebellion, meaning he is the man directly responsible for promoting their comics, 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. If you’ve noticed over the last few months that more people are talking about 2000AD, be it the recent ‘Trifecta’ storyline, or the ‘gay Judge Dredd’ teaser which got picked up everywhere – that’s Mike Molcher’s work. He’s also an interviewer and writer himself, who has interviewed many of the key figures who have worked at 2000AD over the years, including Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Dave Gibbons and Carlos Ezquerra.
But how do you go about promoting a company like 2000AD, which releases a new anthology EVERY WEEK? I spoke to Mike about his work with the company, to see how exactly he goes about promoting the series. And what is comic book marketing, anyway? How does it work? Is this interview secretly all part of his marketing plan?
By reading this, have we become trapped in Mike Molcher’s sinister plans for 2000AD to take over the world? Oh dear…
Steve: I’ll start with a self-sabotaging question: since 2005 you’ve been involved with interviewing some of the most influential 2000 AD creators – from Alan Moore to Carlos Ezquerra. What makes for a good interview?
Mike: Oof, tough start! I can’t say mine are particular exemplars of good practice so I can only speak about the interviews I enjoy reading – they tend to be the ones that actually stray away from what’s on the comic book page to what’s going on in the mind of the creator, what motivates them, what inspires them, what grinds their gears. By uncovering these things the interviewer can begin to form a picture of the roots of that person’s creativity. Talent and ability never exist in isolation, they have always come from somewhere (usually thanks to a lot of hard work) and it’s the people of comics that I find most fascinating. I like to think my interviews try and achieve that (he said, nervously).
Steve: Before you took on your current role, you worked as a features writer for 2000 AD. How did you first come to get involved with the company in this respect?
Mike: I think it was Matt Badham who first mentioned to me that 2000 AD was looking for creator interviews and features. At the time I was a local newspaper reporter in the north of England but had started up my own self-published magazine, The End is Nigh, which took a Fortean Times-style look at end-of-the-world theories. I’d interviewed Alan Moore about the apocalyptic aspects of his work and his ideas on the approaching human singularity, so I did a retrospective on him for the Judge Dredd Megazine. That opened the door to interviews and I’ve been doing them ever since. Fortunately it meant that when I applied for the job they already knew me and knew that I was a big 2000 AD fan.
Steve: Obviously, your goal as a features writer is to promote and flesh out the company you’re writing for at the time. Do you think there’s a natural step between journalism and PR? How do you alternate between the two?
Mike: I don’t know what it’s like in the States, but you’ll find many of the big names in PR in Britain started out as journalists in some respect. Personally, I’d say that firsthand experience of what goes on inside the head of a journalist and what makes a good story is invaluable when you’re trying to reach out to reporters and reviewers. I continue to write creator interviews in my spare time for the Judge Dredd Megazine and Comic Heroes, so personally I think one compliments the other, because it keeps me abreast of what’s going on in the industry and how we can use that to our advantage at work.
Steve: Only a short while ago you moved to become Rebellion’s PR Co-ordinator. What sort of work does this involve on a day-to-day basis?
Mike: Answering a LOT of emails, mostly. 2000 AD represents just part of my work so I spend a lot of time writing press releases for new titles and announcements, keeping the social media side of things flowing, running blog tours for our three novel imprints, keeping track of the development of the various games Rebellion are working on, plus trying to work out new opportunities to promote our products. Fortunately we’ve recently taken on a marketing coordinator, Robbie Cooke, whose focus is more on the games side of things so he’s been a massive help with that.
Steve: Rebellion don’t just publish 2000 AD/Judge Dredd, but also handle novels and computer games. How do you structure your time between the three?
Mike: With a rather heavily annotated diary, a lot of scheduling, and an increasingly wrinkled brow. Working across three different industries can be pretty mad at times and making sure I give equal time to every new title and product can be damn hard work. Ultimately I have to judge whether something needs a slight PR nudge to sell or a heavy marketing shove out the door…
Steve: The Dredd movie came out last year, giving you a unique opportunity for promotion on a wider field. How did the movie affect the way you promoted the comics?
Mike: I very quickly learned that ANY mention of movies gets people really excited – our most shared image on Facebook was one I did publicizing the fact that DREDD was number one in the DVD and Blu-Ray charts over here and even the slightest mention of the movie would get a huge response. We’re constantly asked whether there are movies coming for our other characters, so it seems the magic of film hasn’t exactly diminished in the digital age!
We obviously went heavy on the promotion of Judge Dredd to tie in to the movie and that’s really paid off – the collected ‘Case Files’ have been flying off the shelves on both sides of the Atlantic – but I have tried to make sure that when someone discovers 2000 AD for the first time they quickly see that it’s not all about Dredd, as loveable as he is. We have a huge and constantly growing back catalogue of some of the greatest characters in comics, from Halo Jones to Nemesis the Warlock and more recent things like Shakara, Low Life and Brass Sun.
Steve: Were there any promotional campaigns you were surprised to see get less attention than others? Do you find, when promoting a comic to a film audience, there was a difference in reaction than when you promote more directly to comic fans?
Mike: Nikolai Dante ended last year after 14 years. And when I say ended, writer Robbie Morrison and artist Simon Fraser brought the Russian rogue’s story to a close. In effect, we killed off one of our most popular characters. And he ain’t coming back. For a comic book to do something as bold as that, I thought, deserved more attention – alas, no-one really picked up on the announcement. It may be that he never had the right profile outside of 2000 AD, but by the time I came on board it was a bit late to change the situation.
I don’t think there’s a big difference in the way you talk to the two audiences other than reminding yourself that the film audience won’t be as conversant in the language and culture of comics as someone who’s been reading them for years. The biggest question we got was “I loved the movie, where do I start reading?”. We were very fortunate that someone can see DREDD then walk into their local comic book and walk out with a comic featuring the same character they saw on screen; Karl Urban and Alex Garland nailed the character of Judge Dredd so perfectly that it was like he’d leapt off the page. So marketing to fans of the film was a case of giving them a good starting point (The Complete Case Files #4, if you’re interested, then #5 and then pick up a copy of ‘Origins’ and ‘America’) and then letting them discover it for themselves.
Steve: You’ve spearheaded several successful campaigns for 2000 AD over the last year – the ‘gay Judge Dredd’ promo picked up a lot of attention, in particular. How do you decide which comics might be suitable for a push, and which stories are going to pick up the most attention?
Mike: I talk to 2000 AD’s editor Matt Smith about what we have coming up and he’s very good at highlighting things that are noteworthy. For example, we recently had BPRD’s James Harren do his first Judge Dredd story and we’ve got a couple of big artist announcements coming in the next few months which are quite exciting. I always do a baseline social media push for each edition of 2000 AD – teasing new stories or returning series, promoting striking covers – but quite often there’s something specific to push like new or returning talent.
The ‘gay Dredd’ campaign was a particular highlight. Not every fan was pleased with my tactics there, but the wall by my desk covered in national and international media clippings and the 30% hike in sales for that particular issue (with high retention and new subscriber rates) makes me feel somewhat justified. It was the same for the return of the Dark Judges as part of the Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos storyline – we ran a great teaser campaign with CBR and the sales graphs all blipped upwards and stayed there.
Alongside the digital explosion our print edition is benefiting from the higher profile – over the past six months, the 2000 AD iPad app has not only grown our number of subscribers overall but has also bolstered the number of print subscribers. We’ve got clear data showing that promotion has played a major part in that, so I’ve been very pleased with our work over the past year.
Steve: Similarly, the Trifecta story from Al Ewing, Si Spurrier and Rob Williams got a lot of critical acclaim. Can you plan for that sort of buzz ahead of a story being released? Ahead of the issue being released, do you try to arrange for more people to get hold of review copies? How do you manage a story which you think is going to be critically acclaimed, by fans and by reviewers?
Mike: We decided very early on with Trifecta that we wouldn’t spoil the surprise, but that once it was out in the open it was all hands to the pumps – Al, Si, and Rob played along brilliantly and once it was out there we really pushed hard on the reaction from readers and from those reviewers who picked up on what was happening. The issues of Trifecta have been some of our biggest digital sellers as people hear the hype then go back and pick up the relevant issues.
Building word of mouth isn’t much use when it’s for a single weekly issue because by the time people have heard about it it’s already time for the next issue, but when you have an exciting ongoing storyline then you can really help spread the word. We do weekly press previews to bloggers and journalists; getting those all-important reviews means getting copies in the right people’s hands, something that I think we’re much better at doing now than we ever have been.
Steve: Are there any techniques which always help drive attention to a comic? Valiant’s successful relaunch, for example, seemed to have a lot to do with the way they publicised themselves ahead of the first comic release.
Mike: On a very basic level you can’t go wrong with new artwork, the return of popular characters, and intriguing teasers. Nothing’s better for getting social media buzz going than a juicy piece of art or a surprise announcement that your favourite character is coming back. The biggest attention-grabbers are when you change the game a little bit or find a niche no-one knew was there.
Steve: What do you think about the current state of American comics, in terms of marketing? Marvel and DC seem to have become a lot more ‘stunt’ orientated over the last few months. Every other day sees about fifty teaser images get released.
Mike: In an insanely competitive marketplace, it’s small wonder that the big two have to shout louder and louder about their books. I like what DC is doing with its ‘DC family’ blog and the campaigns on titles such as Journey into Mystery, Young Avengers and Spider-Man that Marvel has been running have been spot on (and I was blown away by the skill of their digital announcements at SXSW recently), while Image has completely reinvented itself over the last two years into something a lot closer to the feel and ethos of 2000 AD than I think any of us realise!
I often get asked why we promote 2000 AD the way that we do and why we don’t just let “word of mouth” do our work for us. 2000 AD has been on a hell of a run for the past decade and the word of mouth was very positive, yet we weren’t significantly building our readership. Two years of strong marketing and new distribution and we’re adding readers. It’s not rocket science.
Steve: 2000AD must be an interesting magazine to work on, because it’s a weekly anthology series. How do you focus your PR for each issue? Do you focus on creators, or characters – or the magazine as a whole, single product?
Mike: All of the above! And yes, it’s a constantly fascinating, evolving comic to work on. We have a brilliant stable of artists and writers who’ve really knocked it out of the park over the last 18 months, plus a tiny editorial team who are just as enthusiastic and passionate about 2000 AD as any reader. It can be challenging at times because many non-readers have an idea of it that’s 20 years out of date; all those great strips and creators are fantastic and amazing, but the past ten years of 2000 AD have been universally praised amongst fans as a second golden age and that’s pretty bloody exciting.
Steve: We’ve seen 2000AD building up a reputation overseas (which in this case means America) over the last year or so. How do you approach publicising the magazine abroad? Again, do you find you have to tailor the material you offer overseas readers?
Mike: It’s been a particular aim of mine to make us as much of a part of the comics mainstream in America as any other publisher and I believe we’re starting to get some traction there. I’d like to offer more previews of material to news sites, though it can be a struggle to make people understand that carrying 2000 AD news can bring in readers. We have a great relationship with sites like CBR and Comics Alliance, and some real advocates of our comics in people like Doug Wolk, Karl Keily, and Tucker Stone. We bring out one or two collections specifically for North America every month so it’s a case of publicising them as normal while bearing in mind that American and Canadian audiences may not be as au fait with the language and culture of British comics.
Steve: Do you think digital has evened the playing field a little, now everybody has access to comics from home?
Mike: Completely. For reasons unfortunately beyond our control many comic book readers in North America can’t get hold of 2000 AD as easily as we would like, so being able to beam each ‘Prog’ directly into their hands is a massive bonus. We have a reputation as a British comics powerhouse, so we just have to make sure people are intrigued enough to give 2000 AD a go.
Steve: What would you say is the key to working PR in the comics industry, in the current climate?
Mike: Good material to work with, constant attention to social media and a thick skin (I admit mine could be somewhat thicker).
Steve: What would you like to see more of from comic companies in 2013, in terms of PR, co-ordination, and marketing?
Mike: A bit more innovation, but then that’s easy for me to say and very hard to suggest ways in which you could do it. While marketing is important, it should never drive creative choices but I would like to see marketing that pointedly pushes out into other demographics and stresses aspects of comics beyond the obvious – the industry has a lot of work to do to convince people it’s not all spandex and T&A for teenage and not-so-teenage boys. But it must always be about working with the creative teams, who are the ones delivering the material in the first place.
Many thanks to Mike for his time. Big interview! Repay him by following him on Twitter. If you’d rather see a Tharg-approved twitter feed, however, then you can follow 2000AD too. And if that still isn’t enough Tharg endorsement, head over to 2000AD online.
In May Top Shelf in the US and Knockabout in the UK will be co-publishing The From Hell Companion. The Top Shelf website describes it as
An astonishing selection of Alan Moore‘s original scripts and sketches for the landmark graphic novel, with copious annotations, commentary, and illustrations by Eddie Campbell.
Here for the first time are a set of pages, including some of Moore’s greatest writing, which have never been seen by anyone except his collaborator. Joining them are Campbell’s first-hand accounts of the project’s decade-long development, complete with photos, anecdotes, disagreements, and wry confessions. Arranged in narrative order, these perspectives form a fascinating mosaic, an opportunity to read FROM HELL with fresh eyes, and a tour inside the minds of two giants of their field.
…but then they would, wouldn’t they?
To get the real story, I wrote to Eddie Campbell, who did all the actual heavy lifting on this book, to see what he had to say about it. Along the way we discussed Bryan Talbot, Steve Moore’s middle name, and whether or not Hayley Campbell turned out normal…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Tell me about The From Hell Companion.
Eddie Campbell: The From Hell Companion is a selection of extra material and background stuff all relating to From Hell the book. It’s arranged in such a way that it becomes a retelling of the story from a bunch of new angles, including the personal and publishing histories. I mean to say that I’ve used excerpts from Alan’s scripts and thumbnail sketches, but I haven’t just dumped them in there in separate sections. I’ve woven it all together in narrative sequence, with technical commentaries, short essays and speculations, as well as anecdotes, photos and previously unseen artwork of mine. Plenty of digressions. The rarest thing I have is a 15,000 word synopsis that Alan wrote describing the second half of the book for the benefit of the movie production company. They bought the rights when we were only up to chapter 8, you see. The attraction of this synopsis is that it has a few sequences that play out differently from the finished book that everybody is familiar with. Again, I’ve worked these in where they belong narratively.
PÓM: What prompted you to do this now?
EC: Alan and I had planned to do something for quite some time, usually intending for it to coincide with the fifteenth or twentieth anniversary of starting or finishing From Hell. But Alan was never quite free enough from other absorbing subjects and we kept missing the boat with it. I had done a public talk in 2011 for which, in need of a subject, I had pulled out an old From Hell script anecdote. This went over so well that I thought I could put the whole book together myself, using all the materials available, both Alan’s and mine, but without having to wait for anyone. Once motivated, it came together very quickly as though it had always been waiting to happen, which of course it had.
PÓM: The thing with a book like The From Hell Companion, is it gives us a look at the process – I mean, people who say things like ‘I’ve read everything that Alan Moore has written’ couldn’t be more wrong, because what he wrote was the script, which they rarely get to see. What they’ve actually read is his script as processed through an artist – you in this case – so the opportunity to get a look at some of the process of the conversion of Alan’s raw script into the finished product is always an interesting and illuminating one.
EC: Yes, this is a book about processes. I bring the reader in on a couple of problems that have to be solved and show possible solutions as we go along. From Hell is like a huge big machine with a nice clean orderly front panel. And when you unscrew it and take that off, beneath it you see a complex of wires and cogs and moving parts caked with lubricant. That’s the Companion. After only seeing the front panel for years, this new version of the machine makes the whole thing interesting in ways you never thought of before.
: I’ve been having a quick look through the pdf you sent me, and there are a few things that I’m particularly taken with. There’s the research photos of London, with Alan
(no relation) Moore
, for a start. And there’s a few places where you compare and contrast your original illustrations with scenes from the film. There’s a sort of common theme here, of things going from one medium to another.
EC: (No relation) has become Steve’s official name, have you noticed that? He should have it made permanent by deed poll. Yes, from one medium to another. I also do a lot of putting Alan’s thumbnail sketches next to the finished page, both shown at approximately the same size. Alan made those all through the years, in his notebooks, not just for From Hell, for all his works, but the artist never got to see them. So there were some real revelations there for me when I got hold of them. Particularly in regard to how close they sometimes are to the finished page, and then there are some that I changed for one reason or other, and I tell the reader what the reasoning was for the changes. I show a lot of the thinking that went on behind the book, and draw the reader into the arguments between one thing and another. From Hell would be complicated enough just at the forensic level, but there are all these additional aesthetic complications. I make extra narrative layers out of it, new sub-plots. Like, for instance, how to you draw a character and at the same time say maybe she wasn’t there. The graphics of theory and guesswork is one of the running themes.
PÓM: I’m also fascinated by the piece with the illustrations by your daughter Hayley when she was seven years old, showing herself being killed in all sorts of ways. I mean, I met her recently, and she seems quite normal…
EC: That was a late addition. I thought I needed to shine a light of joy into the grimness of it all, so we ask, how did all of this look from a child’s perspective. Around about chapter six I became aware that my daughter was sitting in the room drawing her own version of the HORRORS. I don’t mean she was drawing From Hell. Her book was much more original than that. She was drawing a compendium of all the possible ways of dying. She drew over thirty of these before she ran out of steam. She was only seven after all, and had little experience of dying. But yeah, she seems quite normal. She must have got it all out of her system.
PÓM: I was talking to her about it just now, and she says she’d like to get it published. I know she’s working on a book about Neil Gaiman, at the moment [to be published by Ilex Press in March 2014]. Have you seen any of that?
EC: I think that first book of hers, The Ripper File as she titled it, was the place where she found herself as an author. We all have that first one, the first time we genuinely expressed something about the actual contents of our head instead of doing the thing we had been ordered or expected to do, like our homework. And Hayley has now arrived at the stage where she has written an official book, one for a publisher I mean, as opposed to one for the sheer urgent joy of making it, and I think she’s at the stage where she has to argue with editors who want to turn it back into that homework she avoided. The most difficult part of writing a book is that phase where you have to argue with the editor who wants a somewhat different book from the one you delivered. I still get that myself, even with The From Hell Companion, believe it or not.
PÓM: Are we ever likely to see the full scripts of From Hell published in book form, do you think? I’d love to see that series of them that Steve Bissette‘s SpiderBaby Grafix were doing finished.
EC: Who knows? But we’re missing a couple of chapters. I got around that in the Companion by filling in those spots with other stuff. I think also it would require a very serious scholarly interest to enable a person to read all of it like that. Inevitably a great deal of the script is essentially tending to the business of getting everything in the right place. I’ve selected the more exciting pieces of pure writing, and some of it really is very very good. For anybody interested in Alan’s work, there will be some great things in the book, most of it never seen before. And about the same amount again of my own theoretical stuff too. So there is a great deal here for anybody interested in the theory of what makes comics work. All those ‘literaries’ might learn a thing or two.
PÓM: Did you ever have any theories of your own about Jack the Ripper, about who it might have been, either before or after doing the book?
EC: My theory is that we cannot stand the idea that the universe is random, so we have invented god and conspiracy theories. We would prefer to believe that evil people are in control than that nobody is in control.
PÓM: You were recently writing – whilst being rude about that lovely Bryan Talbot – about your Basic Rules of Comprehension for comics.
EC: I love making rules, just to see people’s reactions. Artists all want to be rule-breaking punks. So if I say ‘shave after your shower because then your face will have been already softened by the hot water’, they say ‘don’t tell me what to do, I’m going to do it the other way round, I’ll shave before my shower so that the spray washes away all the foam and shavings’. Or if I say ‘don’t get your socks wet or you’ll get feet cramps in your later years’ they’ll say ‘fuck you Dad, I’m going to stand in the puddles and see if you like it, yeah fuck you’. I picked on Bryan because now that he’s got that honorary doctorate he’ll definitely take umbrage at me thinking I know more than he does. ‘Eat shit Campbell!’ he’ll shout.
PÓM: Are these actually collected together anywhere?
EC: No. In fact I threw them out after the first time I wrote them. And then when I needed something to put on my blog I tried to remember them, except I gave the ones I could recall the wrong numbers, which I only know because my rough notes for the original set turned up later. But really, I think comics have become quite unreadable. The amount of effort required to get through one far outweighs the nutritional benefit. They are like celery in this respect. All those young turks should get more orderly in their storytelling. Then they’ll say, maybe them rules do make sense, maybe we should have been wearing the socks inside the shoes after all.
Anyway, there’s a lot of those technical arguments in the Companion, about why it was done one way instead of another. Stuff about the complicated organizational strategies you need to think about in doing long-form comics.
PÓM: Is there any news on when we should expect to see the two volumes of Bacchus?
EC: They keep getting delayed. The Spanish edition will be out before the English language one.
PÓM: And there’s that book you published electronically, Dapper John. Are we ever going to see a physical edition of that?
EC: It’s an ebook [PÓM edits to add: Actually an iPad/iPhone App] because Russell Willis wanted to do it and nobody else was asking. I imagine everything will be ebooks eventually. And then print books will make an unexplainable comeback, like we are now seeing with vinyl.
PÓM: Is there anything else I should be asking you about? And forthcoming books I don’t know about, films, TV series, anything at all?
EC: There’s the book I’ve done with Neil Gaiman titled The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain. That’s another one that keeps getting delayed. It’s been ready to print for a year now.
PÓM: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Eddie.
EC: Thank you, Porridge. have I pronounced that right? You’re doing some fine work around the edges of our medium. Long may you continue!
…so now you know.
[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 - Prehistory, 2 - Marvelman Rises, 3 - Marvelman Falls, 4 - Intermission: 1963 to 1982, 5 - Prologue to Warrior, 6 - A Warrior is Born]
When Dez Skinn had started Warrior, he wanted the creators to own their own creations, which they all did, more or less. Marvelman was an exception to this, in as much as it had already existed prior to the start of Warrior but was, as far as Skinn was concerned, in the public domain and available to anyone that wished to claim it, who could acquire the rights by the act of publishing it. However, in keeping with the ethos of the magazine, he decided to give the majority of these rights to the creators, so gave Alan Moore and Garry Leach 40% each, keeping the remaining 20% for the publisher, Quality Communications.
Once Alan Davis took over from Leach, however, this arrangement began to cause problems. Although his earlier work on Marvelman was done, not as work-for-hire, but at the usual Warrior rates, Davis was, understandably enough, unhappy to continue to be working on that basis on a magazine where everyone had rights to the properties they were working on except him, so Skinn suggested a compromise situation. If everyone who already owned rights to Marvelman gave Davis 10% each, then he would have 30% of the rights, as would Moore and Leach, leaving Quality with the remaining 10%.
There are other, incorrect, versions of how the percentage share on Marvelman was worked out, sometimes told by the same person at different times. I have also seen the initial share as one-third each for Moore, Leach, and Quality Communications, leading to a quarter each for Moore, Leach, Alan Davis, and Quality later on. Or a version where originally Moore, Leach, and Quality had a third each, Moore and Leach gave Davis 5% each, and Quality handed over 18.3%, leaving Moore, Leach and Davis with 28.3% each, and Quality with 15%. But, as this document shows, it was 40% each for Moore and Leach, and 20% for Dez Skinn in his own name, as of the 3rd of March 1982.
LETTER OF AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE PARTIES HEREIN UNDERSIGNED ON THE 3RD DAY OF MARCH NINETEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTY TWO
In connection with the characters appearing in WARRIOR Magazine known as Marvelman, YOUNG Marvelman, KID Marvelman, GARGUNZA and the Marvelman FAMILY and any other related concepts initially established during the 1950s and 1960s by the publishers L. Miller & Son Limited.
It is hereby agreed that prior to any development work done on the characters mentioned above and concepts involved, the available copyright on such is divided in the proportions detailed.
This copyright agreement relates only to the basic concepts as they existed initially, before WARRIOR issue one was published and entitles the undersigned to their proportionate percentage of any licensing or merchandising ventures.
This copyright does not entitle the undersigned to any royalty fees for work which appears in WARRIOR or any other Quality Communications publication.
Alan Moore 40% ~~~~ Garry Leach 40% ~~~~ Dez Skinn 20%
Dez Skinn’s suggestion was acceptable all ‘round, so the issue was resolved, although the question of who owned how much of Marvelman would come up again, later on. The two Alans, Moore and Davis, continued to work together on Marvelman, to great acclaim. They were also still working together on Captain Britain for Marvel UK, and they had created DR and Quinch for 2000 AD, which first appeared in issue #317 on the 21st of May, 1983. Alan Moore and Alan Davis were the most highly regarded writer and artist team in British comics, regularly winning awards for their work together, and seemed set to go on forever. It was almost inevitable that something would go wrong, and it did.
Alan Moore was becoming unhappy with how he, and other people, were being treated at Marvel UK. He had been having a dispute with their accounting department about unpaid invoices, he didn’t like how his friend Steve Moore had been treated by them, and he was particularly unhappy with the way that he felt they had dealt with Bernie Jaye, who had been the editor of Daredevils, where Moore had not only been working on Captain Britain, but had also been producing a number of articles, fanzine reviews, and other bits and pieces for her at little or no extra cost. After she left he dropped all of the extra work he was doing for Marvel, finished out his run on Captain Britain, and didn’t work for them again. (I should point out that Bernie Jaye left Marvel UK of her own volition, to pursue work elsewhere, and was not fired, as is sometimes alleged.)
Moore also refused permission for Marvel in the US to reprint his Captain Britain work over there, a decision that would have very long-reaching consequences: Moore refusing permission for his Captain Britain work to be published in the US obviously meant that he was also stopping Alan Davis from being able to see his Captain Britain work published there, meaning Davis had no exposure in the American market. Moore, on the other hand, had started writing Saga of the Swamp Thing for DC Comics, beginning with #20, cover-dated January 1984, which was the beginning of his rapid climb to where he is today.
There were also problems brewing at Warrior. In the beginning, Moore had been very happy with the set-up there. In an interview with Eddie Stachelski in Fantasy Express #5 in January 1983, he says,
Working for Quality Comics is great! It’s cartoon heaven. The basic deal is that all of us creators work for about half of the going rate up front, but hopefully more than make up for that by way of the many side benefits we receive. For instance, once Warrior has passed the sales breakeven point the profits are split down the middle between Quality Communications and the creative people involved. So if it sells well, we stand to make about as much again as the sum we’ve already been paid as a flat rate. Maybe more. On top of that, we get a very healthy whack of the copyright in so far as it relates to reprint rights and merchandising deals. I’ll give you an example to show you what I mean.
Me and Dave Lloyd own V for Vendetta between us. It’s our character and in the unlikely event of us parting company with Quality Communications, V goes with us. We get paid the basic flat rate for it, and a few months later we hopefully receive our bonus, depending upon sales. When we’ve done about ten or twelve episodes we’ve got enough material to fill an album… A number of album publishers have already expressed an interest in syndicating some of the stuff in Warrior, so say they bring out a Vendetta album in France or Spain or whatever, me and Dave get about 60 or 70% of the royalty money and the rest goes to Quality Communications for setting up the deal in the first place. If V becomes really popular and they decide to make a film out of the character, then the same thing applies. Likewise posters, badges, T-shirts and stuff like that. If Palitoy decide to market a V for Vendetta Junior Home Terrorist outfit then it’s me and Dave who stand to reap the lion’s share. This is great. This is how it should be. The end result is that the creators are spurred on to do the best stuff possible because it’s them that stand to gain from its success.
I know that DC and Marvel in the States are starting to make some inroads into this sort of area, but it’s going to be a long time before they can approach the sort of deal we’ve got at Warrior. It’s the sort of deal that could only be instigated by a small independent company. Big corporations don’t really have a chance of matching it, if only because of the restrictions inherent in their corporate structure.
Quite apart from all this, the major benefit of working for Warrior is that we’re all allowed to do more or less what the hell we like. Dez knows we’re all competent professionals and tends to trust in our judgement on aesthetic matters. From the response we’ve had I don’t think we’ve let him down so far. If anything I think Warrior has benefited immensely from the diversity and outlandishness of much of its content. It sets us apart and makes us different. It enables us to make artistic progressions of a sort that the major companies are too nervous to even contemplate. And on top of that we’re all great buddies, we enjoy working together, we enjoy getting drunk together, and by and large it’s a shit hot way to round out one’s third decade upon the planet Earth.
Later on, however, Moore would have less flattering things to say about Quality Communications, and about Dez Skinn. At the beginning of their relationship, Skinn had been the superstar comics editor, fresh from his revamp of Marvel UK, and had been a major player in the UK comics scene for quite a number of years. Alan Moore, on the other hand, had only appeared on the scene with his short stories in Doctor Who Weekly and 2000 AD in 1980, two years prior to Warrior, and hadn’t as yet produced any major piece of work, so wasn’t at all well-known at the time. This was all to change, however, as Moore became the rising star of British comics, particularly for his work in Warrior, and what was to have been Skinn’s big project began to be seen as Moore’s own personal showcase. Inevitably, I suppose, tensions arose between them. In March 1982 Moore and Skinn were a year on either side of thirty years old. Both of them were ambitious, driven, and passionate about their work. They were also both stubborn young men who could not possibly have imagined that their youthful hotheadedness from half a lifetime ago would still be being aired thirty years after the event. What is obvious is that the two of them clashed, and that this was having a detrimental effect on Moore’s work for Warrior.
Nor was this the only problem besetting Warrior. In May 1984, between issue #18 and issue #19, Quality Communications published Marvelman Special #1, whose cover material read, Back in Their Own Title – After 20 Years – The Mightiest Family in the Universe! The contents consisted of four old Marvelman stories, reprinted from the L Miller & Son issues, and all attributed to Mick Anglo as writer, and to either Don Lawrence or Roy Parker as artists, with a small copyright declaration beside each story saying © Mick Anglo. Specifically, there was Marvelman Family and the Invaders from the Future and Marvelman and the Foam Fanatic, both drawn by Lawrence; and Marvelman and the Dreams and Young Marvelman and the Moon of Doom, with art by Parker. Marvelman Family and the Invaders From the Future had been previously published in Marvelman Family #1 in October 1956, but I’ve been unable to chase down the original publication information for the rest of the pieces. As well as the four Marvelman stories, there was a Big Ben story called Big Ben Versus King Arthur, which is attributed to Edgar Henry as writer – actually Steve Moore under another pseudonym – and Ian Gibson as artist. This piece had originally been produced in 1977 for Skinn’s abortive British Super-Heroes magazine, created for Thorpe & Porter’s Williams publishing division, which never saw the light of day. The whole magazine is wrapped up with four pages of framing device, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Alan Davis, tying it into the strip’s current continuity.
When Skinn had originally published Warrior, he had been very careful to distance Marvelman from the already existing Marvel Comics, not wanting to run afoul of their proprietorial interest in all comics with the word Marvel in them. However, by the time he got around to publishing Marvelman Special #1 in 1984, he had decided that he was safe from any interference from that quarter. After all, he had been publishing Marvelman in Warrior for over two years at that point, and there was also the fact that Marvelman himself predated the existence of Marvel Comics by a good seven years. Not only that, but both Warrior the magazine and Marvelman the strip had been mentioned and recommended a few times in various Marvel UK publications, both in letters’ pages and by the editorial staff. From issue #2 Warrior had, just to be safe, run a line of text along the side of the first page of every Marvelman strip that said,
Marvelman is based on, and a continuation of, the 1954 L Miller and Son Ltd copyright character and is in no way associated with Marvel Comics Ltd.
As well as this notice there was also a copyright declaration attached to each strip, originally reading © Alan Moore / Garry Leach / Quality Communications, 1982, and changing as it went along, to incorporate the changes in creative personnel, and the attendant changes in the shareholdings. Also, from issue #3, both the name Marvelman and a small image of the character were regularly featured on the cover in a sidebar column, and the actual cover itself was given over to illustrations of Marvelman on a few occasions. It seemed, by 1984, as if Marvel UK weren’t concerned about Marvelman after all, but it would turn out that this supposition could not have been more wrong. But before that, there were even more problems in store for Warrior.
Since its first issue in 1982, Warrior had received enormous critical acclaim. The publication and its creators virtually swept the boards at the Eagle Awards in 1983, taking or sharing eight of the ten awards in the British section. These were for Favourite Writer, Favourite Comic, Favourite Comic Character, Favourite Villain, Favourite Supporting Character, Favourite Single or Continued Story, Favourite New Comic, and Favourite Comic Cover. Four of these were directly related to Marvelman (Favourite Comic Character, Favourite Villain, Favourite Single or Continued Story, and Favourite Comic Cover for Warrior #7), and one other shared, as Alan Moore won the award for Favourite Writer, which would have been not only for his work on Marvelman and V for Vendetta, but also for work with Marvel UK and 2000 AD, for whom he was still writing at the time. Despite all this acclaim, Warrior never really sold as well as it should have. A look through the letters pages shows that there always seemed to be some problems with distribution and availability. As the sole publication of a new publisher, it would have been difficult for Warrior to come to the attention of either the newsagents who would have been selling it on the one hand, or potential readers on the other. Certainly it won awards, but this didn’t necessarily mean an awful lot more awareness amongst the general public.
Alan Moore once remarked that ‘the comic industry awards are all voted for by thirty people in anoraks with dreadful social lives’, and this may not have been too wide of the mark, with the Eagles being voted on by between 500 and 600 people in 1983. Whereas British comics fandom was wild about Warrior, Marvelman, and Alan Moore, this didn’t necessarily mean that anyone outside a very small group of British comics fans had any idea who or what they were. Even copies that did make it to newsagents’ shops didn’t necessarily sell and, as these were being offered to them on a sale-or-return basis, large quantities of the magazine were returned to Quality Communications unsold. Skinn found that, almost from the beginning, he had to subsidise the magazine from the profits of his comic shop – Quality Comics in New Cross, near Greenwich in London – in the hope that sales would pick up.
As well as this, creative and other problems were starting to appear. The antipathy between Alan Moore and Dez Skinn was escalating. Skinn had wanted Moore to incorporate the Big Ben character into the Marvelman story, and Moore had responded by turning him into a sort of sub-human, a failed reject from the same technology that had produced Marvelman. It all finally reached a head over suggested revisions to one of Moore’s scripts, brought about by the age-old conflict between commerce and art. In a telephone interview with Moore about Marvelman he told me:
The problems arose, I remember… It was something really stupid. It was probably one of the later ones, and I’d got a scene, probably taking place mostly inside the mind of Johnny Bates, where I had – there was somebody had called him a queer, a virgin, I think it was probably his adult evil self – he called him a queer, a virgin, and there was some other vaguely controversial, or apparently controversial piece of dialogue, and I remember Dez Skinn phoning me up and saying that he didn’t like these things and he wanted them changed. And I said that I didn’t want them changed because I thought that they were natural, they were a part of the characterisation, and also I didn’t see what the purpose of that was. Warrior was aimed at a fairly intelligent readership, we hadn’t had any complaints, and I tended to think that this was a hangover from Dez Skinn’s days at Marvel, and he mentioned lots of things – why offend even one reader? – to which I responded, because the alternative is to gear your entire product to the most squeamish and prudish member of the audience. I said that I’m not happy going along with that.
Eventually, the argument got down to, well, if I’d just change one of them, and it didn’t matter which one it was. At which point I said, so, basically, they’re all alright to go in, but you want me to change one of them? And Dez Skinn had said, yes, and that it was a matter of him not losing face, at which point I said, no, that’s an even more ridiculous reason for changing what – I mean, I take all of my stories quite seriously. I put things in them for a reason. And because Dez had manufactured this situation unnecessarily, where he was asking me to make changes, and then had said, well, if I could just change one, so that he didn’t lose face, at this point I said no, I was not prepared to change any of them. And that was how it went down.
Probably the breaking point came in a meeting in the New Cross offices. We were arguing over some other issue, at which point I had reminded Dez that he had rung me up about a week or two before and had asked me to change a piece of the story, it didn’t matter which part, simply because he didn’t want to lose face. At which point he said, ‘That never happened, Alan.’ This was calling me a liar about something we both knew was true in front of, I suppose, Garry Leach and Steve Moore. At this point I was halfway across the office, and Steve Moore and Garry Leach were saying, ‘Leave him, Alan, he’s not worth it,’ and at that point I ceased my work for Warrior. It was just that I couldn’t have somebody lying about me and my honesty.
The three instances were all from Warrior #7, and involved Kid Marvelman calling his alter ego Johnny Bates a ‘snotty little virgin’, a hospitalised terrorist calling Evelyn Cream ‘chocolate’, and Liz Moran telling Mike Moran ‘I’ve missed my last two periods’.
I asked Dez Skinn about this, as well, and he said,
I never fell out with him, I can’t speak for Alan. I think things got tarnished when I suggested we edit out such words as ‘chocolate’ (about Evelyn Cream), ‘virgin’ (in the context of a 12-year old boy) and ‘period’ (about Liz missing hers) – all from the same Marvelman script (#7, I’ve just checked specifics). We’d lost WH Smiths only a few weeks earlier because somebody’s mum had complained about the ‘adult nature’ of the Zirk strip in #3. This was a few months after #3 went on sale, about when I was checking fresh scripts for #7 (we had to work two extra months ahead, printing in Finland). I couldn’t afford a trade backlash against us, I’d no outside financier and wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, and my shop funded the magazine.
But I didn’t want to go ahead and change things without consulting creators. That wasn’t the way we did things, we weren’t IPC, DC Thomson or Marvel UK. The whole approach was one of discussion, over everything. Hence the idea of me wanting changes reared its head at our next monthly meeting. But before I could raise my concern about how it would affect the magazine’s viability – thus everybody’s income – if there were any more complaints, Alan suddenly announced, ‘I don’t believe in editors!’
This was a huge shock and I guess a potential stand-off. We’d always been very close in the past with him phoning me at great length at all hours (often getting me out of bed – I wasn’t a family man so I wasn’t an early riser!) I felt like replying, ‘So go find a magazine that doesn’t have an editor or do your own!’ but amazingly chose to be discreet and said nothing. I guess I lost a lot of credibility with everybody there by backing down. But it was a very difficult position Alan put me in.
Anyway, my non-assertive silence obviously paid off, Alan kept on contributing scripts right up to the final issue, so even if I did lose face, there were more important things… like proving to the world a new approach (first rights, returning artwork, etc) could be seen to be working. So things continued relatively smoothly. Either way, he still carried on contributing to the magazine. Which to my mind is what it’s all about, professionalism and the end product. Personalities can get in the way with anything creative (one writer told me it was ‘unfair’ that Alan Moore was getting the lion’s share of the magazine, obviously oblivious to quality being the determining factor). But as long as the magazine comes out, that’s the main thing. Everything else is tittle-tattle which we should strive to rise above.
Obviously the altercation with Dez Skinn happened quite a bit later than Alan Moore remembered. None the less, things were starting to unravel at Warrior, and worse was to come.
To Be Continued…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher.
[Previous chapters: Introduction, 1 - Prehistory, 2 - Marvelman Rises, 3 - Marvelman Falls, 4 - Intermission: 1963 to 1982, 5 - Prologue to Warrior, 6 - A Warrior is Born, 7 - A Warrior Stumbles]
By 1984, things were starting to fall apart at Warrior.
Alan Moore’s Marvelman is threatened by Dez Skinn’s Big Ben
Not only were Alan Moore
and Dez Skinn
finding it more and more difficult to work together, but Marvelman
artist Alan Davis
also withdrew his labour from Warrior
, for different reasons, and has his own version of other events there. He told me,
I had withheld an episode of Marvelman from Warrior because I hadn’t been paid for the previous one. I knew Warrior had serious financial problems but I simply wasn’t willing to work for free. In the time I withheld the episode Alan and Dez’s ‘fragmenting’ relationship hit a terminal crisis. (I’m not going to go into detail but I was in the middle, heard both sides and realised a reconciliation was impossible).
There was no heroic melodrama or valiant struggle for creators’ rights, just practical business decisions muddied by ego and legacy building. Dez had invested heavily in Warrior and was struggling to keep it alive. To add to his financial woes, DC started to poach his contributors. Pros, simply climbing the ladder of professional advancement and financial security, or rats deserting a sinking ship – the ship that had, in part, made their advancement possible?
Just look at the published chronology and factor in the delay of production time to create a timeline. Alan Moore got his break with DC in 1983. His last Captain Britain was June 1984, the last Marvelman August 1984. In actual fact I had finished my final Marvelman months earlier than his last Captain Britain but held it back because I hadn’t been paid for the previous episode. As creator Alan could get ahead on Marvelman scripts whereas Captain Britain was usually a rush after waiting for scripts (and page count) approval.
Details aside, Alan clearly quit both Captain Britain and Marvelman at virtually the same time but claims external, unconnected reasons for both. Isn’t it simpler to accept that with Swamp Thing and new offers from DC – which were far better paid – the volume of work increased to a point where choices had to be made. I know I, amongst many other creators, was hoping for a call from DC.
It’s generally thought that the two Alans fell out at this time over their work together, or over one or the other refusing to work on one of their mutual projects, or over Moore refusing permission for Marvel to publish his work on Captain Britain in the US, but that wasn’t until a bit later on, and they were certainly still talking after both strips finished, according to Davis,
I decided to write Captain Britain myself after Alan quit but my plan was derailed just a few months later when I was offered an Aquaman miniseries by DC. During a conversation with Alan about the reliability and practicalities of working for DC, especially their imposing ‘work for hire’ document, he asked me to consider Jamie Delano as a writer on Captain Britain – since I would quickly hit deadline problems with the addition of DC work. I agreed. Alan later came over to my house with Jamie, in part to introduce Jamie but also to see the last episode of Alan Bleasdale’s Boys from the Black Stuff which he had missed – this was in the early days of VHS and Alan may not have had a recorder. Jamie’s first Captain Britain appeared in January 1985.
The last episode of Marvelman to appear in Warrior was in issue #21, cover-dated August 1984, an episode called …And Every Dog Its Day, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Alan Davis. This story ended on a particularly dramatic cliffhanger, with Mike Moran in imminent danger of death, which anxious readers would have to wait a year and a half to see resolved in Eclipse Comic‘s Miracleman #6 in February 1986.
The Marvelman strip had run in seventeen of those twenty-one issues, amounting to 112 pages, drawn by either Garry Leach or Alan Davis; there was a further ten-page story in the Warrior Summer Special 1982, drawn by Steve Dillon and Paul Neary, as well as Alan Davis; and there had been four other Marvelman related stories – the two-part Warpsmith story in #9 and #10, drawn by Garry Leach, a five-page Young Marvelman story in issue #12, illustrated by John Ridgway, and a twelve-page Marvelman Family story called The Red King Syndrome in issue #17, also illustrated by Ridgway. All these had been written by Moore. In total, Marvelman and related stories had run for 154 pages, from March 1982 until August 1984, a period of just two-and-a-half years. In that time Moore had gone from being virtually unknown to the most famous comics writer in Britain, and probably in the world, a position he undoubtedly holds to this day.
Warrior itself continued on, but with its most popular strip gone, its days were numbered. Part of the problem was inherent in the way the magazine was set up – creators’ rights had a downside, as well as an upside, certainly from the publisher’s point of view. If the creators owned their strips it meant that, should they be late with their work, or simply cease doing it altogether, there was really nothing the publisher could do but carry on without them. And if two creators owned a property between them, and fell out, then there was little chance of retrieving the situation if they didn’t make up their differences. There was certainly no mechanism for removing the creators and replacing them with other writers and artists, as could be done if the titles were owned by the publishers.
There were also the ongoing financial problems. Despite its huge critical acclaim, Warrior had never been a profitable venture, and had turned into a black hole that consumed all the money that Dez Skinn threw into it, without any appreciable difference to the situation. With some of his best features gone or missing in action, Skinn began to use reprints and outsourced European material, further adding to the slide in quality, and to the disquiet of its readers. Warrior was on a slippery downward spiral from which it simply could not recover. Skinn told me,
Like Warren’s magazines, 2000 AD and the rest, Warrior lost some contributors after a few years. That’s inevitable. You showcase new talent and bigger players lure them away. It’s the downside of being a small publisher. But Warrior and my shops (I had opened a second one in King’s Road, Chelsea) needed each other to survive. Each promoted the other and as it was all Quality, the money went into the same bank account. Profit wasn’t the issue to me, I enjoyed what we were doing and just wanted it to continue.
But any big publisher would have cancelled Warrior when the issue #1 final sales figures came in. I just cancelled the Summer Special! The original shop was ticking over, I had very low overheads, so it worked. I couldn’t afford a car, a nice home or any luxuries but I only cared about my all-consuming passion, attempting to improve an industry I’d dedicated my life to.
But then the Quality shop manager dropped the biggest clanger imaginable. I’d been in a contra arrangement with comics’ distributor Titan, where we supplied them with Warrior and they supplied our shop with US comics. It worked fine until one Saturday Titan boss Mike Lake phoned me and said, ‘I’m really sorry but there’s been an accounts mix-up with the contra. You actually owe us £25,000 more than the Warriors you’ve supplied.’
When I investigated, I found the shop was grossly overstocked. As an example, to take the Doctor Who Baxter reprints then being published, which were up to about issue #10 at that time. I said to the manager, ‘How many copies do we order?’ He said, ‘A hundred.’ I said, ‘Do you know how many we sell on average – TEN.’ We’d ninety per cent leftovers in the back room and he hadn’t even noticed. Multiply that by the amount of titles he was ordering each month through sheer guesswork and you soon get to that £25,000 imbalance.
So it was a combination of things, Titan accounts mismanagement, Quality ordering mismanagement and me not keeping a closer eye on everything. Suddenly I was totally out of money and deeply in debt.
This was the time that Marvel UK chose to write to Quality Communications, via their lawyers, to express their disquiet about Marvelman. The following exchange of letters between Marvel UK’s lawyers and Dez Skinn was printed in Warrior #25 and #26:
21 September 1984
We act for Marvel Comics Limited and Marvel Comics Group, a division of Cadence Industries Corporation of the USA.
Marvel Comics Limited has since the early 1970s published and sold periodicals throughout the United Kingdom incorporating and/or bearing its corporate name and/or registered trade mark ‘Marvel’ and/or the names of the ‘Captain Marvel’ and ‘Marvel Superheroes’ characters which are themselves registered trade marks in the UK. Marvel Comics Group is the registered proprietor of the above mentioned trade marks. Our clients are and have been for many years closely associated and identified with the above characters and the registered trade marks derived from them in the eyes of the general public.
We understand that in June 1984 you published a periodical entitled ‘Marvelman’ and bearing the additional description ‘Special No. 1’. By using the name ‘Marvelman’ in connection with that periodical, you are representing that that periodical is a product of, or associated with, our clients, which is not the case. You are, thereby, wrongfully taking advantage of the substantial reputation and goodwill which our clients have established under their respective corporate and divisional names and under the names of the several ‘Marvel’ characters referred to above. You are confusing the existing and potential customers of our clients and this has caused, and is continuing to cause, damage to our clients’ business.
Therefore, unless we receive by 12 noon on Monday, 1st October your unconditional undertaking to cease using the name ‘Marvelman’ or any colourable imitation thereof (including ceasing to use that name on or in connection with your business and periodicals published by you and on all stationery and trading documents used by you) we will recommend that our clients commence High Court proceedings against you immediately thereafter claiming an injunction to restrain any such use and damages for passing off your business as that of, or associated with, the business of our clients. We are sending copies of this letter to each Director.
Jaques & Lewis
26 September 1984
Dear Mr. Watson,
I am in receipt of your letter dated 2lst inst in connection with the above mentioned fictional character who has appeared in Warrior since March 1982 and, more recently, in Marvelman Special Number 1, May 1984. I am personally well aware of the existence of both Marvel Comics and their recently re-launched publication Marvel Superheroes. In my capacity as Marvel’s editorial director several years ago, I initiated the launch of the original Marvel Superheroes. The intention of Quality Communications is meant to be complementary to other comics’ publishers by increasing the newsstand coverage for all, in a dwindling market. Our desire is not to confuse the existing and potential customers of your clients. In much the same way your client often mentions Marvelman and Warrior in their publications’ reviews and letters columns; always favourably, as a recommendation to their readers. In fact, your client recently flattered us by including the likeness of Marvelman in several of their own comic strips.
When your client recently launched a new comic, Big Ben, sending us a press release to this effect, though we had been featuring a character with the same name since early 1982, we reserved our position on possible litigation, feeling it more important to retain our good working relationship.
Nevertheless, the character Marvelman, who has not been named on the cover of Warrior since issue 16, on sale January 1984, ceased appearing in the magazine in issue 21, on sale August this year.
In connection with the Marvelman Special, all Marvelman strips were updated reprints of stories which appeared in the weekly Marvelman British comic of the 1950s and 1960s with full acknowledgement being given to their creator and copyright holder, and a full royalty paid to him.
I can only repeat that both my desires, and those of Quality Communications, are not to confuse the public into believing we are associated with Marvel Comics. In fact a disclaimer appears alongside the Marvelman strip within Warrior, tearsheet attached, and the cover of the Marvelman Special boldly stated the character was back in his own comic after 20 years, long before Marvel UK commenced trading.
For the continued good will of both publishers, I would hope this matter can be settled amicably, but if you feel this reply is not satisfactory, our solicitors are Howard Kennedy, [address removed]. All correspondence should be marked for the attention of Alan Banes.
2 October 1984
Thank you for your letter of 26 September. We note what you say but, with respect, this does not detract in any way from the request contained in our letter of 21 September.
We do not know whether or not it was your intention to imply in your letter to us that you would cease using the name ‘Marvelman’ or any colourable imitation thereof but, if this was your intention, it is not immediately apparent from your letter.
For the avoidance of doubt, we propose giving you an opportunity to restate categorically in writing the undertaking requested in the final paragraph on page one of our letter of 21 September and to deliver the same to these offices by 12 noon on Wednesday, 10 October 1984.
If that unqualified undertaking is not given by you in the manner set out above, we would suggest that you refer the papers in this matter to your solicitors as we will then be taking our client’s instructions as to the further action to be taken in this matter.
Jaques & Lewis
8 October 1984
Dear Mr. Watson,
We are in receipt of your letter of October 2nd concerning our publication of the above-mentioned character.
I personally must admit to a certain amount of confusion over your repeated mention to recommend High Court proceedings against us to your client, Marvel Comics.
My letter of September 26th was intended to inform you of various facts about which you may not be aware, to enable you to fully appreciate the situation before making any recommendations to your client.
To that end, I feel I must mention that the two instances you cited, ‘Captain Marvel’ and ‘Marvel Superheroes’ are not current publications, so I cannot understand your reference to confusing customers or causing damage to your client’s business. Neither can I find either to be registered trade marks.
However, we have no plans to publish any further magazines which would feature ‘Marvelman’ as part of the title, such as the ‘Marvelman Special Number One’ which you specifically named in your original letter of September 2lst. I would hope this prevents any confusion your client feels may exist.
Such confusion is not in our interest and certainly not our intention, given the trade feeling towards your client, according to various wholesalers we have spoken to.
In connection with the character ‘Marvelman’ appearing within our publication ‘Warrior’, we have been doing so for almost three years, having received no reaction whatsoever from the wholesale trade, from readers, or Marvel Comics or their representatives concerning confusion. Given Marvel’s own recommendation for our material in print several times, and their visual inclusion of Marvelman within recent publications’ storylines, we feel entirely innocent of passing off our business as that of, or connected with, your client.
Considerable expense was involved in securing and relaunching the 1950s and 1960s registered property, which has since won many awards for its originality, but until you have cleared up this matter with the copyright holders we would prefer not to resume publication.
Your client is well aware of the copyright situation concerning ‘Marvelman’, employing the same freelance creators as ourselves, but I must insist that if your client sees this as a genuine problem, the matter is resolved quickly as we cannot realistically withhold an unfinished lead feature indefinitely.
29 October 1984
We are in receipt of your letter of 8 October 1984.
Once more you have failed to deal with the main point in a direct and unqualified manner. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn therefrom, and we so do conclude, is a refusal by you to deal with the requests we have made.
Your reference to the use of the character, Marvelman, in comic strips is irrelevant.
Our clients, as you well know, are the registered proprietors of the word ‘Marvel’ in respect of the publication by them of magazines. You have published a magazine boldly entitled ‘Marvelman’ and, for the reasons we have already made clear to you, we have asked for your unqualified undertaking not to do so again. In your letter of the 8th inst., you vacillate. Whilst stating you have no plans to publish any further magazines entitled ‘Marvelman’ you go on to say you will not hold back from so publishing indefinitely.
It is quite clear that unless you give us the unqualified undertaking already requested our Clients will be obliged to seek this remedy by such proceedings as we advise them are appropriate.
We therefore finally ask for your written unqualified undertaking not to use the title ‘Marvelman’ on or in connection with any of your publications. Unless we so hear by first post on 5 November 1984, our Clients will, without further notice, proceed as appropriately advised.
Jaques & Lewis
2 November 1984
Dear Mr. Watson,
I am in receipt of your letter dated 29th October, in which you request a reply by first post Monday November 5th. Considering the three weeks taken by you to reply to my previous letter, you must realise it is impossible for me to give you any kind of legally binding undertaking in such a short period.
I can only repeat what I stated in my last letter, which you again have ignored apparently; Quality Communications Limited has no intention of producing any further magazines bearing the title Marvelman. We have no desire whatsoever to be confused with your client’s publications, the majority of which began publication after our own.
It is furthermore apparent to the majority of people working in the somewhat specialised field of comics that if anything, your client has been attempting to move into our own, older market, seemingly unsuccessfully because presumably of their lower budgets, with the short-lived ‘Daredevils’, utilising our major contributors, and now ‘Captain Britain’, reprinting material I co-created four years ago.
Finally, Marvelman was registered during the 1950s which in all sincerity I hope you have advised your client.
In certain ways, it suited Dez Skinn to publish these letters. It allowed him to explain away the absence of Marvelman from the pages of Warrior without having to reveal the real reasons for that absence. It gave him a very handy scapegoat for the forthcoming demise of Warrior, and there was no doubt a certain amount of cold comfort in being able to point an accusing finger at his old employers, who really were making his life very difficult. When he printed the letters originally, Skinn included the address of Jaques & Lewis, Marvel UK’s lawyers, just to make their lives a bit more difficult, which I have removed.
There are all sorts of intriguing insights to be found in, and inferences to be drawn from the letters, not least of which is where Skinn says,
Considerable expense was involved in securing and relaunching the 1950s and 1960s registered property, which has since won many awards for its originality, but until you have cleared up this matter with the copyright holders we would prefer not to resume publication.
This once again opens up the question of what exactly it was that Skinn was alleging he did to secure the rights to Marvelman, although it may just have been bluster, to try to shore up an otherwise legally ambiguous position. The same can probably be said for this statement:
In connection with the Marvelman Special, all Marvelman strips were updated reprints of stories which appeared in the weekly Marvelman British comic of the 1950s and 1960s with full acknowledgement being given to their creator and copyright holder, and a full royalty paid to him.
Here we have Skinn apparently acknowledging Mick Anglo as creator and copyright holder of Marvelman, although he later said he never believed this to be the case. And is Skinn having a little dig at Marvel UK when he says,
Such confusion is not in our interest and certainly not our intention, given the trade feeling towards your client, according to various wholesalers we have spoken to.
It’s also intriguing that the character of Captain Marvel is mentioned in the first letter as being one of the properties that Marvel felt were being infringed upon by Marvelman, as he was of course a direct copy of a different Captain Marvel.
I can’t help wondering if, much like DC suing Fawcett over Captain Marvel, part of the reason for Marvel UK’s actions could have been jealousy over the huge critical success one of their ex-employees was having with another publication, and with a character that reflected their name, at that? And if Marvel had actually taken Quality to court at that time, it’s possible that the actual ownership of Marvelman would have been settled, saving a lot of perplexity for future generations.
Cracks were starting to show in the subscription side of things as well. Subscription copies of Warrior #25 were so late going out that they were sent out with copies of #26, which had arrived by the time they were ready to post. Reasons given in a letter that accompanied those issues included the fact that copies only reached their offices at the same time as retailers got theirs, meaning they arrived in the office in the middle of the Christmas period; the labelling computer refused to work properly, leading to in excess of eight hundred envelopes being addressed by hand, and all of the staff having to turn their hand to fitting out and decorating the company’s new shop in Chelsea, Quality Art.
There’s another insight into some of the problems they were having in a letter by Benedict S. Cullum to issue #44 of Dave Langford’s long-running Ansible fanzine, published in September 1985:
I’m halfway through a subscription to Warrior and was dismayed, on returning home from college, to find I’d received no copies since Easter. I rang up Quality and learned that the Marvel/Quality action was over; that the writer involved (Alan Moore, I think) had reluctantly agreed to change the name of his Marvelman strip; that Warrior was currently being redesigned; and that the reason for this was the return of issues 25 & 26 by the wholesalers.
It seems that WH Smith wholesale love Warrior. WH Smith retail, though, don’t know where to put it, won’t take it, and leave the wholesale department to return forty thousand copies to Quality with the message that they’ll stock it, perhaps even SELL the odd copy, provided Quality change the format. It’s not a juvenile publication and with its present design cannot be marketed elsewhere on their shelves.
The last rally of the interchange between Marvel UK’s lawyers and Dez Skinn was printed in Warrior #26, cover-dated February 1985, which was to be the last issue of the magazine, so the redesign never did happen. Apparently there was no further correspondence after this point, however. Besides the legal letters in #26, there was also a bittersweet piece about how successful many of the creators had been in getting work with American comics’ publishers, and an intriguing little snippet referring to the possibility of a team-up between Marvelman and Captain Britain, although this was then ruled out in the first sentence.
About the only thing left worth the cover price was Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, the only strip to last the entire duration of Warrior’s run. Possibly the most important comic magazine to come out of the UK, an extraordinarily brave experiment in creators’ rights had finally run its course, but its influence would be felt on both sides of the Atlantic for many years to come, even up to the present day.
Although when I originally envisaged this book, I hadn’t any intention of doing direct interviews for it, this changed when I realised that a lot of what I needed to know wasn’t already out there to be quoted, so I’d need to take a direct hand by asking the questions I needed answers to.
I’ve already quoted from interviews with Alan Moore and Alan Davis, so it seems fitting to leave the last word on the fate of Marvelman at Warrior to the magazine’s creator, publisher, and editor, Dez Skinn.
The version for public consumption was that ever-so-handy Marvel legal letter. Amusing because by me (deliberately) running their full address I know a lot of amateur lawyers wrote to them in our defence. I even heard various tales of fan boycott of Marvel titles because of their pettiness towards us. But I should have seen it coming; they actually launched a UK weekly named Big Ben, about The Thing, after we’d published a character of the same name. Sad really.
Of course this wasn’t helped by finances being at a low ebb and me being unable to pay Alan Davis on time for his previous episode. Both Alans continued to contribute to Warrior individually after Marvelman stopped so I can’t really take the fall for that one. So if it wasn’t me that they were unhappy working with, it must have been each other. I’m putting this in a logical rather than personal way, because there’s been more than enough personal feelings, assumptions and hazy memories over the decades as it is.
And, finally, on Warrior itself:
The experiment worked. Warrior showed what creatives could do, it allowed them to flex their muscles beyond the straitjacket of everybody else out there (and actively encouraged them owning their own material). No number of additional issues could have better proven the point. I was broke at the end but I survived. Job done!
Warrior was no more, and Marvelman was homeless once more. Elsewhere, though, things were waiting to happen…
To Be Continued…
Pádraig Ó Méalóid is a middle-aged Irishman. He has been fascinated with the story of Marvelman for a very long time, and has written a book about it, which is currently looking for a publisher.
I’m breaking continuity on Poisoned Chalice, my history of Marvelman, to say something about the current disposition of the character, and particularly to speculate on whether Marvel Comics are actually getting any closer to being able to publish it, as is being suggested around the Internet this past while.
As might be apparent from my previous posts, I like facts. I like to organise the facts into order, and see what they tell us. I generally don’t like to speculate, and I particularly don’t like posts that speculate based on information the writer alleges they have, but can’t reveal the sources for. None the less, that’s exactly what I’m about to do…
The first question to ask is, Who Owns Marvelman? The simple answer to this seems to be that Marvel Comics owns Marvelman. That is to say, they own the rights to the character and his assembled supported cast, as well as the milieu they conduct their adventures in. Or, to be more precise, they own one particular version of Marvelman and cast and milieu, which is the one they acquired from representatives of Mick Anglo Ltd in September 2009, to much general acclaim (obviously there’s a lot of ins and out here I’m brushing straight past, which will be filled in eventually in the ongoing Poisoned Chalice pieces, as we get to them). But Who Owns Marvelman? may not be the most important question here.
The thing is, it’s all very well that Marvel claim to own the 1950s L. Miller & Co / Gower Street Studio / Mick Anglo Ltd version of Marvelman, but that’s not the one most people really want. There are fans of that version of the character, certainly, but they would be in the minority – you only have to look at the sales figures for the Marvel reprints of those comics to see that. The version of Marvelman that the overwhelming majority of people want to see is the 1980s one, the one written – and pretty much completely reimagined – by Alan Moore. So, why can’t they use that one? After all, they own the original Marvelman, so is it not the same thing?
No, it not. Because Moore didn’t just use the pre-existing Marvelman characters and milieu, he added a few elements of his own, and one of these elements is the key to his version of the character.
The key to the 1980s Marvelman can actually be found in Moore’s original 1981 pitch to Dez Skinn, as reproduced in George Khoury’s Kimota! The Miracleman Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001), where he says (as quoted here),
The superhero genre is an offshoot of science fiction (amongst other things), and good sci-fi usually runs according to certain established laws. To my mind the most important of these is that the fantasy in any given story should stem from one divergence from reality. [...] If my Marvelman is going to fit logically into a gritty and realistic nineteen eighties then the character should at least have some pretence of credibility. Thus all the fantasy in the strip stems from one point… the crashing of an alien spacecraft in 1948. Everything else follows on from that.
That alien spaceship was being piloted by a member of the interstellar Qys race, the ancient enemies of the Warpsmiths, and the technology that Dr Emil Gargunza found there is what he used to create Marvelman and his companions, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman. And none of this had been in the original 1950s Marvelman stories. (For more details, go read this.)
So, that ‘one divergence’ of Moore’s, that contact between Earth and the alien Qys, is the linchpin on which the 1980s Warrior version of Marvelman hangs, and Marvel can’t proceed with their plans for the character unless they own the rights to it. Which they don’t.
Or do they?
The Warpsmiths and the Qys were owned between them by Alan Moore and Garry Leach, and were always mentioned separately in any contractual assignment of Marvelman. Although Alan Moore has signed contracts with Marvel for them to use his Marvelman work as long as they take his name off it, this doesn’t mean he had assigned them any rights to the Warpsmith property, and they have no rights to use the characters in any subsequent work. So, they’re stuck, aren’t they? No, perhaps not.
I am starting to hear stories from sources I cannot possibly name that Marvel have bought out Garry Leach’s rights, not only to all his Marvelman work, presumably including any news characters he co-created with Moore along the way, but also the 50% rights share he has in the Warpsmiths property. And, as has been seen in the recent Superman court cases and, ironically, also mentioned in the context of Neil Gaiman bringing the Angela character to Marvel’s Age of Ultron, 50% is enough to allow them to exploit the property, as long as they reimburse the owner of the remaining 50% fairly for that use.
So, is that it? Do Marvel finally have everything they need to proceed with their exploitation of one of the most talked about characters in comics’ history? No, of course not, as there’s still a number of things for them to get control of. But they’re much closer to it than they were. Perhaps all those times when Marvel said that Marvelman was ‘coming soon’ will finally come true. Although, having said that, I thought that might be the case about a year ago, too…
In the meantime, here’s what the Internet has been saying:-
on Friday March 22nd, Kiel Phegley interviewed Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso on CBR:
Kiel Phegley: Lastly, with Neil writing and new characters appearing, this brings up the perpetual Marvelman question. Are we any closer to actually seeing this character show up in the Marvel U[niverse]?
Axel Alonso: We are, but I can’t say more.
And then there’s that intriguing quote on Bleeding Cool from artist Mark Buckingham at FablesCon, where he told them to ‘Wait six months’. So, were things moving at last? Was he getting ready to take up his pencils again, and to finally finish the story that he and Neil Gaiman started in June 1990? Once again, no. It seems the questioner should have stuck around for a longer answer.
To the original story, Bleeding Cool added this clarification from Buckingham a day later:
Just to clarify, before people get a little too excited, I’ve been saying the same thing to people ever since Marvel caught me by surprise with their big announcement of signing a deal with Mick Anglo’s people to bring Marvelman to Marvel. That was at the ‘Cup’o’Joe’ panel at SDCC way back in 2009. They caught me by surprise with that.
To be honest, nothing has really changed since then and no one has spoken to me directly from Marvel in quite a while. They reprinted lots of the lovely old Marvelman books but have remained quiet regarding the Miracleman material.
I’ve been telling people over a pint ‘maybe in six months’ or ‘I hope to hear something soon’ ever since.
I think most people know that, next to working with Bill [Willingham] on Fables, the one other project that means the most to me has always been working with Neil on Miracleman. We never finished our story and I really hope we will have a chance to return to it one day. But it is still just a hope at the moment.
After 20 years of waiting my enthusiasm for the MM book and working with Neil remains undiminished. The truth is, as was the case back in 2009, if Marvel do finally announce his return the little bleeders will probably find out before me.
…so perhaps the full quote, if someone had bothered to wait for it, would have been ‘Wait six months, then ask me again’…? It certainly seems that, not for the first time, Mark Buckingham was a witness to events, rather than their knowing instigator.
So, there you have it. It’s been 1348 days – or 3 years, 8 months, 9 days, if you prefer – since Marvel announced they owned Marvelman on the 24th of July 2009. Marvelman may be coming back, and Marvel may finally own the one thing they need to make that happen. But is any of this true?
Today, the 1st of April 2013, is both April Fool’s Day, when we attempt to deceive people into believing what isn’t true, and Easter Monday, when we celebrate the fact that a great man has risen from the dead.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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Kicking off the second round of Stripped events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival came the legendary and fabulous Melinda Gebbie, known for her work in the American underground comix of the ‘70s, the infamous and illegal Fresca Zizis, and of course her collaboration with Alan Moore on Lost Girls.
Melinda Gebbie is one of my heroes, and this was my first time listening to her speak in person. I was amazed that the room was only half full, perhaps due to overlapping events, but it was one of my absolute highlights of the festival. Larger than life and with one hell of a sharp sense of humour, Gebbie gave a career retrospective as well as a great big dose of enthusiasm for any women working in – or around – comics.
[One or two images potentially not entirely safe for work, depending on your work]
A special mention here for the chair, Teddy Jamieson of The Herald and Sunday Herald, who provoked some wonderful discussion that was of equal interest to those familiar with Gebbie’s work, and newcomers.
Gebbie is a UK resident, having moved to England in the early ‘80s to work on the animated film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows. Already well established as an underground comix creator, Lost Girls first came about in the early ‘90s when Gebbie collaborated with Moore on an 8 page story for an anthology titled Tales of Shangri-La, a project that never came to be due to a lack of publisher interest.
Having spent three weekends talking about their sexual politics and what they saw as the failures of pornography, and erotica, “pornography lite”, a new project was born: Lost Girls.
“I never actually realised how long it was going to take,” said Gebbie, of the 16 year process behind the book, explaining that previous projects had rarely been any longer than 12 pages.
Except from working with the animation studio, she clarified, saying that, “working on animation in those days was kinda like being addicted to methamphetamine!” The work had to get done around the clock and nothing else mattered.
During the creation of Lost Girls the working partnership between the two collaborators became a romantic partnership. Had the dynamic changed, Jamieson asked.
“It made it more ticklish,” Gebbie smiled. “We had a very professional relationship.” The artist explained that when discussing the project they kept their “business heads” on, and that of course during the period, Moore was working on at least 6-8 other projects, with several other collaborators. His head was “absolutely swimming” with projects all the time.
They had had one argument, she conceded, where in the aftermath she had drawn a really ugly face on one of the Lost Girl pages. When a mutual friend saw it he was horrified, saying that they must have had a fight and she had to redraw it. Which she did, with a much better result!
“We’re practically like an Edwardian little couple,” Gebbie laughed. Jamieson told the audience that Melinda and Alan had had their honeymoon in Edinburgh, suggesting that in a parallel world, that had made for the best Hello cover ever – causing Gebbie to have a major fit of the giggles.
Moving on to her history in underground comix, Gebbie talked about her experiences working for Wimmen’s Comix, a title she said, as if it was an entirely new concept, “like comics for beagles or something”.
There had been only 12 women working in the underground comix community at that time in San Franscisco, with around 30 men. Three of those men, Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, and Art Spiegelman, had enough work for them to work on their comix full time.
“There were feminist issues,” she said of Wimmen’s Comix, but “generally speaking feminist issues did not really come up much.”
“I brought sexual politics to [my] comics,” she explained, saying that she had been deeply interested in personal rights for women and fighting back against the system. But at that point, “it was not a coagulative movement, if that is a word.”
This was mostly, she said, due to the strange politics of San Francisco at that time. On attending one feminist meeting with two friends who were wearing make-up, they were told to leave and denounced as “breeders”.
At the gay parades, men gave leaflets to men, and women gave leaflets to women, with no interaction between the two sides. “We could not progress,” she said, “there was such factionalisation.”
“San Fransciso was a great place for weirdness of all sorts,” Gebbie said, reminiscing about the influx of punk and the role fashioned played in movements.
The artist explained how she had first got into comics after visiting a small independent publishers fair, where she met Lee Mars – one of the founders of Wimmen’s Comix – a “genuinely funny woman”. Gebbie spoke a little about how Marrs’ The Further Fattening Adventures of Pudge, Girl Blimp, combatted the “sexual fascism” that existed in that area, so close to Hollywood’s Babylon, where no one would listen to you unless “you were a size 8″, regardless of how bright you were.
There was huge hostility from male cartoonists towards the women working on their own comix. Gebbie told of how during a phone argument with S. Clay Wilson, he had said, “women aren’t supposed to be artists. They have babies, that’s what women are for”.
Reminding us that while this was a few years back now, it wasn’t that long ago, she said it was “quite extraordinary how backwards we were about human rights and human capabilities”.
Moving on to Lost Girls, Jamieson asked whether pornography was a term she was happy with when referring to that work.
“Well, I’m used to that term now,” Gebbie answered, pointing out that the only other term was erotica which didn’t really fit right. Lost Girls is drawn nicely, which is a decision that Gebbie made, to make it “look like a children’s book but for grownups.”
She said it was quite possibly the only pornography (of this form) that had been done “expressly for women”, to look beautiful for them and to celebrate female sexuality.
Gebbie spoke about how she had collected all kinds of magazines, and had a friend who had been editor on the infamous LA Star (“one floor down from John Cassavetes’ office”) and had edited infantile sexual magazines, “things about enemas, all sorts of crazy magazines!”
“I always found the variations of peoples interests quite fascinating,” she smiled.
On the intentions behind Lost Girls, Gebbie said, “we wanted to do a pornography that would appeal to women”. Moore had been following her underground career, long before he met her, and she had done a pastiche of the Story of O.
“I think the new lady who’s done the 50 shades of beige or whatever has done her version of it. Except that poor woman’s probably not had sex.”
But hers had been a response to the sexual savagery on the part of the male cartoonists. “They were some of the most backward guys in terms of their fears and belief systems, and their sexism. They were classically untrained in the consciousness of appreciating women.”
Many years ago, said Gebbie, she had often attended the San Diego Comic Convention with other underground cartoonists in the late 70s/early 80s, at the El Cortez.
People like Dan O’Neill and “the great” Harvey Kurtzman were there, and they “swam nude in the pool” and stayed up all night, playing guitar and singing. Gebbie had gone to a panel discussion featuring Kurtzman (“huge respect to Harvey”) and other cartoonists, saying, “oh well, y’know women don’t have any sense of humour do they? Or any discernible sex drive either.”
(Gebbie took a little aside here to talk about how artists should always always hold on to their work, as Kurtzman had only been able to keep two of his Little Annie Fanny strips from Playboy, depriving him of a huge amount of income.)
Gebbie had stood up on the spot to attack this idea, thinking it was an incredibly dangerous belief for people to hold, stating “I don’t know if all you do is hang around your mom all the time, but women do too have a sexuality and they do too have a sense of humour, it’s just that their sense of humour, you might find a little bit stinging! They’re too protective of you guys to subject you to it!”
Asked about the reaction to Lost Girls, the artist said that it has been almost all positive. “We’re not on the internet”, said Gebbie, but they do get sent reviews to read. Michael Faber’s review she said, had made her cry (Faber praised the sincerity of the book, and likened it to William Blake).
Jamieson brought up the one part of the book that had discomfited him: the incest. What’s my problem? he asked.
“Well, it’s always just about what you respond to and what you don’t respond to,” Gebbie answered. She went on to talk about how everyone has their personal preferences, friends and family included, when it came to the book, and that that was absolutely fine. Some of her friends, she said, had been really offended by it. “I didn’t take it personally, it’s just territory they didn’t feel comfortable with.” An outlook I greatly admire!
Talking about the imitation embroidery in the book, Gebbie joked that she almost went blind, which was physically and physiologically demanding. Drawing these “tiny tiny little penises spurting all these little pearls all over this giant ball gown” involved her sitting for a few minutes at it then having to talk around the room and come back to it, again and again.
The single thing, said Gebbie, that made the book difficult and why it took 16 years, was that she wanted it to be “irresistibly beautiful and tender” and wanted that “to transfer to the reader”, that it’s meant to effect you “like a beautiful memory” which is why the artwork is hazy and colourful. Gebbie spoke about how the colour had a character role to play, and how she wanted “all women who picked it up to feel comfortable looking at it.”
While the subject matter doesn’t appeal to everyone, she wanted that “tenderness towards my fellow women to be evident”. Gebbie explained that one of the biggest problems she had with her early experiences of feminism, was that there was so much competition and sabotage within the movement, as well as cruelty towards body shapes and different ways of presenting yourself.
“None of these things are as important as what you are inside and what you are capable of expressing as a human being.” The artist led into how it is so profitable for the media and the cosmetic industry to make us feel that we are unattractive and that that holds us back.
“That’s all irrelevant,” declared Gebbie. “What we need is to find out what we’re best at, find out how best we can express our affection for other people, make a difference in the world, be kind to each other, and get across a tenderness.”
Saying that she wouldn’t have the time to spend another 16 years on Lost Girls, the artist talked about how glad she was that she did the project, and that she has never regretted any part of it. “I feel I did everything I could.”
Jamieson next brought up the current campaign in the UK that focuses on getting rid of Page 3 in the Sun (a naked pin up page in a leading tabloid) and lads mags from supermarket shelves. How did Gebbie feel about that given the ongoing power of the male gaze?
“Well, I’m very lucky,” said Gebbie. “I get to be interviewed, I get to have a voice.” She revealed that she had pinpointed certain artists who she thought were really guilty of that kind of behavior in their art, and had been locked out of certain conventions as a result.
“I’m completely anti-censorship,” she added, saying that pictures of unfair wars where children are being hurt is surely far more damaging than any pictures of sex could ever be.
“I just think that more things with female gaze involved with it are going to work their own good health results. The male gaze is more evident because there is a longer history of it.” Gebbie spoke about how there are good women film makers, pornographers, and so forth. “I’m very pleased that there are more women in comics, absolutely thrilled about that.”
She spoke about how she hoped women in comics today were organising together, but in a “mutually positive way”, and that the younger women are more involved with the idea that we are there to support each other – women and men. And that we should all feel like we have the right to have our say.
Censorship was definitely something Gebbie spoke out about, saying that pro-censorship of anything can lead to the censorship of things we need, and that are important.
This led into an interesting question from Jamieson, on whether we can say that the imagination should never be policed, referring to rape fantasies in particular, not when women have them, but when men fantasize about being a perpetrator.
“Ye-es, that sounds like a perfectly sensible thing to say,” Gebbie began, and mentioned AM Homes as a female author who had targeted the issue from a male perpetrators perspective. “So no, again, I don’t think the imagination should ever be policed, because it’s in the imagination landscape that we work out some of these crucial issues before we have to act them out on the world stage.”
“Why don’t we have anti-tyrant rules?” she posed. “Why are people allowed to come into government looking like, oh let me pick one without using a name, that one that looks like an albino ape. That scratches his head and looks like a fun guy. And he’s actually a former thug who used to like to get involved in going around in a gang and threatening people.” [Points to any non-UKer who recognises this one!]
“Politics doesn’t seem to have an imaginary world that you can work from, and get an idea down on paper… If you have imagination you’re probably a little less likely to be a murderer. You’re probably a little less likely to be a tyrant, or a monster. Because you can imagine, and probably then empathise, with the people you are about to dictate to, or hurt.”
Questions were then opened to the floor, with the first question asking if a digital version of Lost Girls was forthcoming.
An idea for this had previously been floated, but Gebbie said that she “wasn’t completely comfortable with that idea at the time”. Saying that she wasn’t against digital books by any means, Kindles just weren’t for her.
“Alan and I collect lots and lots of books,” she said, talking about her love for her own library, and for collecting films as well. She added that “if somebody can make it fun for me and show me what the ups and downs of it is, then yeah I’d take a look at it”. But that if Alan wasn’t interested then it wouldn’t go ahead. “Unlike some of his other former collaborators, I don’t do anything without wanting his blessing on it. It was an alchemical work of magic.”
Gebbie spoke briefly about the various books Moore had created that had gone on to become films, that had all been badly made or badly thought out, and had all ignored the core idea in his writing. “It’s just all gone wrong for him so he hates those projects. I never want him to hate Lost Girls.”
The next question referred back to Gebbie’s own SDCC tale, and brought up the kerfuffle a few years back along with the creation of Womanthology, a project that Gebbie had not heard of.
I was personally quite surprised that Gebbie had not been approached to take part in Womanthology, lack of internet access aside, but she expressed great interest in the project itself.
“It sounds like it was never won,” said Gebbie of the battle against sexism in comics. “And the thing is, it is very very easy to convince a female creator that she is not up to standard. Women have been easily manipulated all these years.”
Gebbie talked a little about how few women creators she knew these days, but said she knew many women artists in Sweden, and that there were other countries that were so much more supportive of women in comics.
“DC and Marvel are pigs,” she said, speaking about her comic Cobweb, where an issue was spiked because it talked about L Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons and Scientology. Yet they had already published a book on that subject before.
“I will say that I think superheroes are an unfortunate sewage system of kudzu that’s taking over comics, lacking storyline, lacking heart, the same old stuff. I think it’s fine if if guys like pictures of other guys in tights, that’s fine… or dogs in capes – although it was cute when Alan did it, but no. There’s no storyline there. It’s industrial effluent, and it just keeps on rolling on.”
Gebbie said god bless to any creative person out there who wanted to create storylines, who had a heartfelt reason for doing their work.
The next question asked about the script for Lost Girls given Moore’s tendency to create very detailed scripts. Was Lost Girls more of a free flowing project?
“No, Alan doesn’t do free flowing!” laughed Gebbie. She said the script design had been very similar to the ill-fated Big Numbers, explaining that his printing is ridiculously tiny. First thing he had asked was what she wanted to draw, and the comic was built around that.
Gebbie added that Moore had dialogued the comic after she had drawn the pages, matching the speech perfectly to her faces, “which I think is kinda genius”. Moore had also provided thumbnail sketches for her, which was a “huge help” as she wasn’t used to collaborating with a writer.
Jamieson asked whether there had been a discussion about whether there were any subjects that Lost Girls should avoid.
Gebbie answered that there had been two – the book contained very light bondage towards the end, because bondage is a contentious issue, with the curtailing of personal freedom; and religious iconography had been taken out in case it was taken as being anti-papist.
The next question from an audience member asked what comic of her had been seized by customs, and why.
This was Fresca Zizis, much of which will be included in an upcoming collection of her black and white work. Gebbie discussed how her underground work had seen her being hugely “involved in bringing art movements forward.”
Fresca Zizis, which means fresh cocks, was seized by customs on entry to the UK. “There were a lot of steamy stories in it,” she explained. And the judge, who was apparently Richard Branson’s father – “still alive on some island of the dead!” – had asked her to stand up for herself, and she had said that “it wasn’t meant to be an obscene act or something I did for cheap reasons. The stories in here are actually based on what it’s like to be a person in this underground comix scene. This is a book of cautionary tales and it is not meant to titillate.”
The judge had given it a week and then “several hundred copies were burned, and then it was made completely illegal in England.”
The final question was whether Gebbie believed that sexual politics could be challenged via mainstream comics or whether it was best suited to the underground.
She answered that publishers like Jonathan Cape and Faber were buying up everything, resulting in some “very inferior” comics coming through her door. She said that she wouldn’t take anything with sexual content to those kind of publishers, as they were trying to appeal to the widest audience possible, and that to do required a lot of bravery on the part of the creator.
She spoke about how she had wanted to break into children’s books, and had taken some highly sexual art amongst her portfolio along to the publisher meeting. Funny now, not at the time!
The talk over, Gebbie sat and signed copies of Lost Girls and chatted to each person until everyone had left, beaming and clutching their heavy books. The event had been rather quiet in terms of audience size, but the passion of each individual person present was quite palpable. I await Melinda’s upcoming collection with glee!
Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist and academic, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. Currently working on a PhD, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.
By: Alex Carr,
In a medium where no character ever truly dies, and where even the grandest continuities can be rebooted every other decade, superhero comic fans were still surprised to wake up this morning to the news that DC Comics will publish prequels to one of its most sacrosanct properties: Alan Moore's Watchmen--and they will do so without the involvement of Mr. Moore.
Now, the latter bit of news is not much of a surprise. Alan Moore has famously distanced himself from Watchmen and superhero comics in general. What is surprising is this bold, wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat move on the part of DC. Given the reverence for the original work, a re-opening of the mythology will be met with the highest scrutiny, so DC smartly tapped some of the best writers and artists to lend weight and excellence to the project, including Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello, Amanda Conner, Jae Lee, and Adam Hughes.
The Before Watchmen series will launch this summer in single issues, with a new issue every week. Full details and covers are below:
Before Watchmen includes:
- RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
- MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
- COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
- DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
- NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
- OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
- SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner
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A comics fan must never say never. In a world where heroes are annually resurrected and prequels to Watchmen are soon to exist, just about anything is possible. Still, even I doubted that Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III’s criminally under-read masterpiece, Promethea, would receive the Absolute treatment: DC Comics’ deluxe, red carpet packaging for its most treasured stories. Promethea is my favorite comic series, but I'm well aware of how under-the-radar it flies. Yet in October 2009, DC and its imprint, WildStorm, released the first volume of Absolute Promethea, with two more installments promised to come. I was giddy. One year later, a second volume followed. Huzzah! Was this really happening?
Alas, the publication date for the third and final volume came and went. WildStorm sadly folded. Another month passed. I began sending panicked emails to DC. Promethea’s epic tale of imagination, empowerment, inspiration, magic, and weeping apes couldn’t remain unresolved, could it? As 2011 neared its close, I resigned my hopes. I said “never.” Then Absolute Promethea: Book Three arrived in the mail.
Since I began writing for Omnivoracious (closing in on four years, yikes!), an inordinate amount of bandwidth has been devoted to Promethea (see our spotlight on the entire series plus posts on previous Absolute editions). If you’ve made it this far with protagonist and avatar Sophie Bangs, I salute you and promise not to belabor this unprecedented and rewarding denouement’s apocalyptic plot. Instead, I’ll highlight what Absolute editions do best: the supplemental material.
- A brand-new illustrated slipcase and wrap-around cover by J.H. Williams III.
- A two-page introduction by Eisner Award-winning writer and artist Eric Shanower.
- A pull-out, double-sided poster of issue 32’s individual pages, pieced together to display their grand form.
- 12 different variations of the poster.
- A two-page “making of” feature on the final issue.
- All of Steve Moore (no relation) and Eric Shanower’s “Little Margie in Misty Magic Land” stories (twenty-five pages), plus two pages of character design sketches.
- “Promethea in the ABC Universe,” a ten-page focus on Promethea’s appearances in Alan Moore’s other series (only downside: Tom Strong’s final issue, very much a necessary tie-in, is truncated due to size limitations).
- A three-page look at the design of Promethea’s action figure and statue.
- A five-page retrospe
No picture available (the one on the left here is from a rather fabulous video) but word on the street has it that there’s to be a Hunger Games Barbie doll. So there’s the expected outcry, of course, but I’m thinking this one through. First off, Barbies are the number one most tortured dolls in America by my count. Every day is a Hunger Games day for your average Barbie. Seems to me that G.I. Joe couldn’t handle the horrors Barbie has seen. So with that in mind, sure. Make her Katniss. She’ll just end up bald in a toilet somewhere anyway.
- Would librarians ever have to pay for the right to read a picture book aloud in storytime? The Annoyed Librarian poses the question.
You know, if this New York Public Library gig doesn’t work out, at least I now know that there are street libraries willing to take me in.
Pity the pay’s so lousy. Thanks to Mike Lewis for the link!
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I wanted to finish up a few things on Before Watchmen and then, hopefully I’ll wrap this up. I finished Monday’s post while I was hopped up on Benadryl and that is not something I recommend for anyone. I was not able to articulate my name the main reason why Before Watchmen (BeWa) can be viewed as a depressing reality for the comics industry.
I’ll start with reprinting one of my comments on the previous thread:
The contract that Moore and Gibbons signed is actually pretty standard in publishing — the rights revert when it goes out of print. Pretty common.
Where it differs is in this: In the book publishing world, in general, when an author such as Alan Moore writes a worldwide smash that is quickly enshrined as a future classic….you try to keep that person working for you so you can make even more money off their future works.
DC, for reasons probably buried in their DNA from Jack Liebowitz, proceeded to alienate Moore by chintzing him on merchandise monies, and then subsequently alienating him by making him change The Cobweb stories and trashing an entire print run of LoeG.
Is Moore a high maintenance creator? Absolutely.
But you’ll note that the main reason Diane Nelson, DC’s current president, was given reign over the company is because she was so good at handling another very high maintenance creator, J.K. Rowling.
Would WB treat Rowling the way DC treated Moore?
I don’t think so.
In one of his searing posts on the matter, David Brothers presented a timeline:
1. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is an enormously successful comic book, on creative, critical, and commercial levels
2. Moore and Gibbons both signed a contract that gave DC the rights to Watchmen until the book went out of print for a year (I believe), at which point they’d receive the rights back
3. Watchmen was an unheralded success, and the book has yet to go out of print. As a result, Moore and Gibbons never got their rights back.
4. DC promised to share revenue from Watchmen-related merchandise, and then went ahead and produced merchandise and classified it as promotional and didn’t give M&G anything
5. These shenanigans, along with a coming ratings system that Moore disagreed with, led Moore to cut ties with DC entirely
6. DC brought Wildstorm, which came along with America’s Best Comics. Moore felt that leaving DC again would screw his artists over, so he stuck around
7. DC continued screwing with Moore over the years, from pulping his comics to either sabotaging (or botching to such an extent that it might as well be sabotage) the release of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
8. Moore cut ties again, and has consistently refused DC’s money, overtures, and renegotiations.
9. Before Watchmen is a series of prequels to Watchmen, some thirty-five issues that will shed light on characters from
Okay, so as the world has just noticed, in LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: Century 2009 we finally see Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s multiverse-spanning pop culture adventure reach the current day (or close to it) and since the current day isn’t in the public domain, there’s good old-fashioned satire in the tradition of about 8000 previous books. The Independent’s Laura Sneddon has the lowdown:
What then of the potential controversy? When dealing with references to other fictional works, albeit in the guise of parody and gentle repurposing, there are certain points on the fictional compass that lend themselves more easily to screaming headlines. The prophesying Andrew Norton, Prisoner of London, warned in 1910 of, “a quarter platform over, the franchise express, gathering steam.” At no point does Moore use the words “Harry” or “Potter”, but a magical train hidden between platforms at King’s Cross station, leading to a magical school where there are flashbacks of psychotic adolescent rage and whimpering children pleading for their life, all strewn with molten corpses, does rather suggest a link to the Boy Who Lived. A hidden scar and a mentor named Riddle, though possessed as he is by the real villain, completes the picture.
Okay as headlines have been proclaiming “Harry Potter is the Antichrist,” at least in the allegorical sense. Now before everyone gets up in the false equivalencies dudgeon, this is not the same as BEFORE WATCHMEN. JK Rowling has not gone on record as asking Moore not to do it. It’s a parody/literary pastiche of the kind that has been done since the dawn of the novel. And sure, you can say it’s in bad taste or whatever but it is not the same thing as jerking around your best writer for 25 years.
As soon as DC does a Harry Potter comic while JK Rowling stands on the sidelines complaining, we’ll talk.
Whatever you think of that aspect of LOEG CENTURY 2009, it is NOT the first time Moore has messed with Harry Potter—or in this case. Harold Potter. As we’ve noted in the past, in LOST GIRLS, the erotic comic by Moore and Melinda Gebbie, the grown Wendy’s husband is named Harold Potter—a name chosen many, many years before Rowling had thought up the boy who lived in her post-divorce haze. Harold Potter was present in the first version of LOST GIRLS which was published beginning in 1991.
LOST GIRLS features grown versions of Wendy Darling, Dorothy Gale, and Wonderland’s Alice meeting up in a pre-WWI hotel and having lots and lots of filthy sex together and with whatever else will join in. Potter is portrayed as a fusty middle-class man who has a joyless post-Victorian marriage with Wendy.
Have you ever written a scary story? In honor of the Halloween season, we are interviewing horror writers to learn about the craft of scaring readers. Recently, we spoke with author Barry Lyga.
Lyga (pictured) started off writing novels for an adult audience. When those particular manuscripts did not sell, he began penning stories for a teen audience. He established his publishing career with the release of his hit young adult novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. Check out the highlights from our interview below…
Q: How did you land your first book deal?
A: I had written a couple of adult-ish novels that no one seemed to want to publish. It’s not they were bad — plenty of people liked them — they just weren’t sparking anyone’s interest. But a bunch of editors and agents who read them said, “Not yet — show me the next one.” The next one was completely different from those adult books — a YA novel about a bullied, comic book-obsessed dreamer. But I proudly showed it off to every agent and editor I could, and this time the reaction was pretty astounding. Within a few months of finishing the book, I met my agent at a writers’ conference. Within six months, she’d sold The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl. It was sort of a whirlwind.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
It would be hard to overemphasize the influence that Karen Berger had on the comics industry. I’m sure some people will argue her influence only extended to the mainstream comics industry, but it would be hard to find too many young adults reading comics in the from the 80s on who didn’t find something to enjoy in somewhere in the line up of Swamp Thing, Sandman, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Shade The Changing Man, The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Fables, Y the Last Man, Scalped and beyond. That’s an insanely powerful line-up of iconic comics series and characters, and the creators who worked on the books were a who’s who of the engaged, inspired and imaginative creators of the era. In the tweet above, Roberson put Berger, whose exit from DC after 33 years was announced yesterday, in the proper company. Like Gaines and Lee, Berger excelled at the tricky business of matching story and art from disparate sources. You could add Julius Schwartz and Archie Goodwin to the list of the great editors, but they didn’t change the landscape the way Gaines, Lee and Berger did, terraforming it into a new thing with a new viewpoint.Julian Darius at Sequart has a succinct history of Berger’s career at DC, and he nails the rite of passage for just about everyone who wanted to write comics for the last 20 years: “getting a book at Vertigo” became universally known as the way to make your mark on comics.
Vertigo soon came to be regarded as a proving ground for many of the industry’s best writers. The imprint also became known for limited ongoing series in the model of The Sandman, although now creator-owned. Such a series came to feel like a rite of passage in a major writer’s career, increasingly even the case for writers Berger hadn’t personally recruited. Such series, all published by Vertigo, prominently included Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, Garth Ennis’s Preacher, Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan (after moving to Vertigo from DC’s defunct sci-fi imprint, Helix), Mike Carey’s Lucifer (a follow-up to The Sandman), Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, Bill Willingham’s Fables (although not designed to be limited in duration), and Jason Aaron’s Scalped. Even when one of these series didn’t sell particularly well, it almost invariably came to be listed as one of the first works mentioned in connection with that writer. Sometimes, these series helped catapult a writer to A-list status; in other cases, they were concurrent with such a rise, helping to legitimize that writer as a serious mind capable of serious works. Such was the power of Vertigo at its height.
With the support of then DC publisher Jenette Kahn
and especially president Paul Levitz
, Berger was able to carve out the dark, striking horror of Swamp Thing and imaginative fantasy of Sandman into a whole line of books—and did it offering creators a piece of the pie in an equitable publishing model that far outlasted similar efforts. Even with writers whose styles were as disparate as the above, the adjective “Vertigo-esque” was immediately understood by everyone who had come near a comic in the last 20 years. “Dark and edgy” soon became meaningless buzzwords, but there would be something gothic, something about expanding consciousness, blurry sexuality, disgusting maggots and decay, a hidden world. The earliest books of the proto Vertigo took bland superhero characters and made them angsty explorers. It was grown up (if often melodramatic) and it was very much the way Berger envisioned things should be. Writing for Vertigo meant you had to be enormously literate about not only comics but literature and science and weird, unexplainable things…and it was all on the page. At its best Vertigo meant intelligent comics for intelligent readers.
It was an extraordinary run, and twitter was filled with tributes:
Karen was my boss for two years, from 2000-02, and it’s safe to say that working at Vertigo was not a good fit for me, and we often clashed. We both cared enormously—but about different things. That said, they were mostly philosophical differences and I didn’t lose sight of Karen’s enduring legacy as an editor or the fact that she was, at heart, an incredibly nice and thoughtful lady. I was very pleased earlier this year when she agreed to appear on my panel about editing comics at New York Comic Con, and enjoyed hearing her talk about some of her most recent graphic novel projects. Mariah Huehner, who was an intern and assistant editor during my tenure, has her own remembrance of working at Vertigo:
Of the many things I noticed about Karen Berger, the high level of respect and esteem in which the other editors and creators held her was the most obvious. People -liked- working with her. They respected her opinions even when they disagreed, and she was a huge reason why people wanted to work there. Creators felt understood and encouraged, while also challenged and held to an extremely high writing standard. Her story notes were always simple and insightful, asking questions, never criticizing, but not letting things slide either. She made sure the story worked and helped the creator tell it, without trying to write it for them or push an agenda. She clearly understood how to be a story collaborator and agent, without ever taking anything away from the writer or artist responsible for its creation.
Although I didn’t work with Karen directly most of the time, she would encourage my writing and ask my opinion on pitches from time to time. She was always very fair in her reviews of my work and seemed to really believe I had the ability to be a good editor in my own right. It meant a lot. Before working at Vertigo I had somewhat taken my writing abilities for granted, even though I loved to do it. During my tenure there I was encouraged to do interviews, press releases, and copy a great deal, and learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t.
If all this has an elegiac tone to it, it’s that for all it’s huge success, influence and multiple Eisner Awards, it’s impossible to see Vertigo going on without Karen Berger, or even if DC and WB have any interest in continuing, or what that would mean. While news of Berger’s departure was stunning, it surprised no one who had been paying any attention, and over the last 12 months the demise of Vertigo and Berger’s potential exit were a staple of the rumor mill. Rich Johnston
has a succinct write-up of the downward spiral of the last few years
: from having signature characters Swamp Thing and then Constantine taken back to the DCU, and the end of Vertigo’s Hellblazer, to be replaced by a DCU Constantine. Only yesterday, Peter Milligan
, the last of the Vertigo’s elder gods to still work on books regularly, was talking about the end of Hellblazer
in curt, pained answers:
Was the end of the series a surprise to you, or is this something that has been in the works for some time?
Like I said, that my run was coming to an end was no surprise. I’d been thinking about it for a little while and thinking of my “out.” I had a strong suspicion that the series would end, but when it came, it came suddenly. Like death.
Are you surprised at all by the outcry from creators and readers alike that are angered/upset/dismayed about the end of “Hellblazer?”
No. Not surprised at all.
As the latest DC sales chart which is going up later today will show, sales had eroded immensely and looking at the bleak numbers—and without the idea of developing creators and properties to support it—the idea of a Vertigo imprint doesn’t make that much publishing sense any more from a business standpoint. Aside from the fact that a huge chunk of the Big Two comics writer of note for the last 20 years got “discovered” at Vertigo. Scott Snyder
, the hero of the New 52, was a Vertigo find; Jeff Lemire
was an an acclaimed, award winning indie cartoonist, much respected in his native Canada, but it’s fair to say Sweet Tooth got his name on the board at DC. Besides the Brit crew, writer who blossomed at Vertigo include Azzarello, Brubaker, Aaron, Brian Wood, Brian K Vaughn
, and so on. Without Vertigo to give talent a platform to really show what they can do, the scouting trips to Image are already underway. But will they really be needed? For me the death knell for Vertigo came when it was announced that Scott Snyder would be taking leave of American Vampire, his series for Vertigo, to catch up on Batman and Superman. Here’s the entire story, courtesy of Newsarama
Nrama: So this hiatus you’re taking is definitely not going to become the end of the series. You’re setting up what’s happening next.
Snyder: Yeah, I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely firm we are in terms of how temporary this hiatus is.
[snip] We know we’re only taking about six months off from the series, between us. That might mean a little longer between issues that the readers see. So what I mean is that Rafael is only taking off six months after he finishes #34, and I’m only taking about six months off from writing American Vampire — maybe even less. For me, it’s mainly so I can get ahead on Batman and Superman, and I can also get ahead on The Wake with Sean Murphy. Part of it is needing to be able to stagger these books to make sure I’m able to give 100 percent on each one.
The only thing that would really make me not want to do the books is if I couldn’t give everything I have to each one. So I’d rather stop doing a book for a few months than put out a book that I don’t feel 100 percent about.
And by the time we come back, I’ll essentially be way ahead on Batman and Superman. I’m ahead now, but I’ll be way ahead, hopefully. And I’ll be far enough into The Wake, because Sean [Murphy] has a really meticulous drawing style, which is incredible and I love, that it will be staggered by the time we come back. What I mean is, I’ll be far enough ahead on the books that it will be almost like having two books and not four at that point.
Although Snyder’s new Vertigo book (even typing that seems so tentative now) wath Sean Murphy
, The Wake, will doubtless come out, considering what a valuable player he is for the DCU, but it is’t hard to imagine that becoming more of an “Icon” type thing. Others have an even more pessimistic view.
Stewart has been drifting away from superhero work for a while, and without a champion, a third volume of a quirky book about a guy in a scuba suit does sound rather a reach for the modern corporate comics company.
There’s still the “Before Sandman” project, a new Neil Gaiman written Sandman tale, announced at the last San Diego Comic-Con which was to cap off the 25th anniversary of Sandman festivities. The artist on this project, JH Williams III, is wistful (and surprisingly candid) about the project’s completion,
I find the timing of her departure from DC to be sadly ironic, in that next year when Karen says her final goodbyes to the company it will also be the 25 year anniversary of Sandman, one the titles that sort of started the whole thing (to which there is a brand new Sandman project on the way for this anniversary that I’m to start illustrating very soon). Sandman issue 1 was published in October of 1988 but dated January 1989, which helped lead to the formation of Vertigo under Karen’s direction, next year will bring the 20th anniversary of the legendary imprint. Having known Karen for many years and doing a few things for vertigo here or there, I had long been looking forward to working with her at a much closer level on this new Sandman project. So while excited over Sandman, its become bittersweet as her involvement will be going away. I’m a bit uncomfortable over it, actually. But it is what it is. I know I will not help but think of her that first day I put pen to paper, on that very first page Karen will be there in spirit.
I was also seriously disappointed when I’d heard about the demise of Vertigo’s Hellblazer recently announced, in favor of transitioning the lead character into the DCU entirely, not an idea I’m overly fond of. As a longtime reader of Hellblazer it was disheartening. I felt as if Vertigo was beginning to slowly be sucked dry, it’s life’s blood drained away. And with the departure of Karen Berger I have to admit that I’m feeling even more disheartened. And speaking as bit of a fan here, not an industry professional, I’m feeling torn between a struggle of anger about some things and rather optimistic for what the future may hold for Karen, and in turn for us as readers. As a creative editor Karen has something to say, always has, and I’m certain her voice will rise up out of the din and resonate with something new. And when that voice does sound, in whatever form that may take, I know I’m there to listen.
So what then of the future? For Karen Berger’s future, although everyone wants to see her take on some new project, it’s unknown if she has a no compete clause the way many departed DC execs do. Also, she’s 54 and has nothing to prove. A boutique imprint at a major publisher like Random House maybe? Certainly this will become an interesting topic for the hot stove league.
As for Vertigo, the line itself, there will be “assisting in the transition to a new leadership team which includes veteran staffers whom she has mentored over the years,” a rather mysterious statement in the official PR that comes off like asking Rex Ryan who’s starting at quarterback for the Jets next week. This had to be in the cards for a while and yet Berger was making plans for new projects as recently as last week, according to one freelancer I spoke with.
As for who those “veteran staffers” might be, on is, obviously, there’s Shelly Bond, who was made Group Editor nearly a decade ago and continues to oversee the successful Fables franchise. Another is Senior Editor Will Dennis, whose work on many a DCU project, including Before Watchmen, leaves him in a strong position. Mark Doyle, who signed up Scott Snyder, would be another name in the mix. I’ve heard a few other, more surprising names, however. We’ll have to wait and see.
While any of these fine editors could carry the torch forward, the real, brutal question is…is the Vertigo imprint even needed any more? Johanna Draper Carlson lays it out:
It’s very possible to envision an American comic industry without Vertigo, and many people are. Although DC’s press release indicates intent to continue the imprint, as many people started wondering after the announcement of the cancellation of Hellblazer last month, it’s an open question whether Vertigo is needed at all these days, or whether it had a future under the Warner/DC Entertainment regime with or without her. There’s no longer any need it fulfills for the company or creators, as the main DC line now publishes mature readers material and creator ownership is easier to get elsewhere. I don’t know whether Berger intends to change industries or find something else to do in comics or retire, whether she’s tired of what DC has become or simply feels like a change, whether the company made her an offer she couldn’t refuse or suggested she leave before they pushed or were tired of paying that many vice presidents. I hope we hear more from her next year. She had a long and storied career, responsible for all kinds of major accomplishments it’s too late for me to list accurately. On a political level, she was one of the most visible women in a high-ranking position at a comic company, and losing her feels to me like another sign of how female-unfriendly corporate American comics have become.
At the most brutal level, there is no place in corporate comics for creator owned comics. That is just a fact. And on another level, Vertigo’s mission has become almost unnecessary. It isn’t a choice between Hawkman and X-force any more. It’s a choice between Hark a Vagrant and XKCD, Saga and The Walking Dead, Ganges and Sailor Twain, Building Stories and The Freddie Stories.
Vertigo, the brand, is still a valuable name on the spine of many of DC’s best selling backlist books, but how long will a book publishing program remain important to Warner Bros? In the face of declining sales, Vertigo tried to relaunch a bunch of monthly titles earlier this year—most recently with Saucer Country and New Deadwardians and so on and…well, that was it. The graphic novel program launched years ago and still has books in the pipeline, but has had dwindling internal support from all signs. Would the market have supported these projects with a new imprint, like DC Blaze or something? Corporate comics don’t do new too well.
All of this will unfold, privately and publicly. But it will all be different. In all of the outpouring of comments today, the one overriding feeling was that this was the end of an era. And you know, it was a pretty awesome era.
I’ll end this, Death of Speedy style, with a video from 1985 of young Karen Berger and young Alan Moore taking about Swamp Thing. It was all so innocent then, but the stories will endure.
Tweet Every once in a while, I attempt to document all the forthcoming work from Alan Moore that I know of, with previous attempts at the end of 2008 and in the middle of 2010, so I felt it was time to have another go at it. This is not without difficulties, as you might [...]
Superman, co-created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, first appeared in Action Comics #1 in June 1938, published by Detective Comics Inc, a fore-runner of National Periodical Publications and DC Comics. Virtually overnight it became a huge seller, and is running to this day, with uninterrupted publication for well over seventy years. A vast amount has been written over the years on the history of Superman, and by people substantially more qualified than I, but one claim, that Superman was based on the character of Hugo Danner, from Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1930), has some relevance to the larger story of Marvelman and, although I decided that it might be too far back to start this series of articles, if you’re interested in reading what I have to say about it, you should go read this article, and then meet us back here.
TweetPoisoned Chalice Part 3: Marvelman Falls [Previous chapters: Introduction, 1: Prehistory, 2: Marvelman Rises] The actual work on the Marvelman titles was done by various artists, and Mick Anglo goes into quite a bit of detail about them and their different styles in Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties. The outstanding Marvelman artist amongst all of [...]
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The end of the ROT WORLD crossover arc raises the question that Umberto Eco posed in his famous essay on Superman in 1972: can there really be change in a superhero universe? Doesn’t that imply aging, and movement toward an end, death, in fact? Whereas the constant return to a status quo at the end of each trial or adventure puts readers back in a position of looping time, and any seeming change in the lives of superheroes is seen to be a kind of necessary illusion. Eco even pointed out that “What If” stories are the only recourse to exploring meaningful life developments for superheroes like having long-term relationships or kids, milestones that can be neatly tucked away as “out of continuity”. We’re still struggling in superhero comics with the same realities of narrative constraint introduced by the Man of Steel, but that doesn’t mean that some writers and artists are satisfied to make all monumental events, the reason we read superhero comics in the first place, transient. Some are determined not to hand the property on to the next writer or artist in the same condition in which they received it, and that does suggest a lot of gumption on their part. Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire have suggested in interviews before the ROTWORLD finale that they fought to incorporate lasting change into the universes of SWAMP THING and ANIMAL MAN respectively, and the question is, are those changes really meaningful to the reader? What did the ROT WORLD arc add to the mythology of the DCU and will its impact continue to be felt, or will there still be a gradual return to the status quo to follow?
[Spoilers for ROTWORLD arc, ANIMAL MAN #17, 18, and SWAMP THING #17, 18 below!]
All evidence points to New 52 marketing wanting readers to believe that ROT WORLD was culminating in something monumental, something unheard of that might never be seen again. SWAMP THING #18’s cover, depicting Abby and Swampy embracing reads, “’Til Death Do Them Part!”, and ANIMAL MAN #18’s even more emotionally gripping cover, with Buddy Baker screaming in the dark, reads in rather gigantic letters: “This is the Most Tragic Day in the Life of Buddy Baker!”. As far as hype goes, it’s pretty extreme, and even though fans might not want these characters to suffer, anything less might seem like a rip off after this kind of advertizing. Maybe they want readers to feel conflicted because that means they are personally engaging with the titular characters.
Let’s start with the ROT mythology, and the way in which it affects a reader’s view of the DCU, then discuss the kind of “change” ST #18 and AM #18 introduce. As mythology, the introduction of The Rot is a significant accomplishment. It shines a light on the dark corners of the underlying principles of the DC Universe and helps fill out the cosmic principles that hold it together for readers. The Rot functions as a third element to stand in balance to The Red, the element of animals (and humans), and The Green, the element of the plant world. It makes sense there should be more than just The Green and the The Red struggling, often against each other. Adding a third principle, first as a mutual foe, that represents “decay” is pretty ingenious. It speaks to the reality of death and entropy in the DCU and gives readers a greater sense of just how things function in the DCU. So from an overarching standpoint, thumbs up. But honestly, it gets even better. In issue #17 of SWAMP THING when Swamp Thing and Animal Man start questioning their own view of what The Rot is, things get more “real” in the sense that the opposition between The Red and The Green versus The Rot becomes instead a triad of opposing forces.
As Constantine had warned earlier, The Red and The Green are not “black and white”. They are not alone, and don’t simply have a mutual foe. They have a mutually equal principle to deal with taken over by Anton Arcane. They begin to realize that the avatars of each principle can determine whether the element works in more helpful or harmful ways and that The Rot, a principle of decay, is, in fact neutral, though corrupted by Arcane. Though readers might have seen this coming, it forms a sudden clear paradigm for principles acting in the DCU, and suggests a satisfying emphasis on “harmony” between principles as a universal goal. It syncs well with all the struggles of heroes in the DCU, and could speak to Superman’s endeavors just as well as Batman’s. The ROT WORLD arc has added this paradigm to the DC Universe, and contributed to its mythology.
So much for a view from a distance. It’s wonderful, and maybe even essential to have a solid and well thought out mythology behind a superhero universe, but without elements of humanity in its characters, there are no real stories to be told. The entire ROT WORLD crossover is deeply psychological. One could argue that perception and uncertain perception of reality are some of its key themes, particularly focused upon Swamp Thing and Animal Man. Are the worlds they fall through and move through even real at all? Can anything be fixed and certain when time-travel and world-travel are involved? That could move the reader away from a sense of seriousness in the events they are witnessing, not being sure that anything happened “for real”. Snyder and Lemire actually break through the “fourth wall” in a way by writing this uncertainty into the storyline openly. When Swampy and Animal Man storm Arcane’s stronghold in Rotworld in ST #17 and AM #17, they encounter monstrous, twisted versions of their loved ones, Abby (Abigail Arcane, Swamp Thing’s girlfriend) and Maxine (Animal Man’s daughter) respectively. The loved ones seem lost, bent beyond recognition into Arcane’s principle of Rot, and though they speak in familiar voices, Swampy and Animal Man still question whether it’s “really them”. It’s a version of them, Arcane confirms, since he’s grown them from infancy for this role, but there’s a lingering possibility that somewhere, if only in a version of the past, Abby and Maxine are still untainted. It’s emotionally engaging to see Swamp Thing and Animal Man interact with these twisted versions, but if it’s not “really” them, the impact is limited.
That’s where issues #18 of both comics come in. They hold the key to determining if these are just essentially rather gruesome “What If” stories that have plenty to say about the DCU and especially a great deal to say about the psychology of central characters, but then, like a dream, will cycle back to normality having won the battle against Arcane and restored balance to the newly defined three principles of the universe. Lesson learned, life could more or less return to a version of the DCU that readers recognize. This is where, it seems, Snyder and Lemire’s determination to insist on change in the DCU after ROT WORLD comes in. They each take divergent paths to accomplish this, but the principle seems the same: restoring balance takes personal cost. If the universe is capable of righting itself after an imbalance, it does so with little concern over the impact on human lives, but works toward a bigger goal. Let’s also remember that Swamp Thing has agreed to be the avatar of The Green and give up his Alec Holland matrix of identity (as introduced originally by Alan Moore) and that Animal Man faces the same strict principles though his daughter Maxine is actually the avatar of The Red. This means that nothing is safe, and nothing is more sacred than that role.
Snyder brings humanity to the post-Rot roles of Swamp Thing and Abby through the unlikely final farewell to their humanity and a backward-looking but meaningful sentiment about their connection to each other, visually depicted by Yanick Paquette in stunning terms as their two human bodies lying together, presumably deceased, gradually covered by the flowers of The Green. It’s a farewell for fans, one that deserves some rites of its own, but its implications bring actual change to the DCU also. Abby has knowingly taken on the role of avatar for The Rot in its new, neutral form as a safeguard for keeping it that way. She’s not only resisting the kind of horror arcane unleashed upon the entire DCU in the form of his own version of The Rot, she’s doing something about, and sacrificing her humanity to do so.
As counterbalanced principles now, she and Swamp Thing cannot truly be together (witness the ashes arising between them when they touch). He is growth and she is decay, interactive elements with their distant parts to play. Satisfyingly in some ways, Abby is now Swamp Thing’s equal. Surprisingly, that makes sense, as if her potential and future role had something to do with bringing them together in the first place. How can it be satisfying, though, that they can never be together again? It’s satisfying only in the sense that it rings true because it is honest to goodness change in the DC Universe, one Snyder went to bat for. How can these stories continue to be deeply meaningful to us if there is never any deep change visible? Bravo, Mr. Snyder, no matter how miserable you have made Swampy and Abby. To be fair, they seem to accept this fate the way elementals do, with rather profound wisdom.
Jeff Lemire has, in some ways, a more difficult task at hand in ANIMAL MAN #18. Thrown back into his world to learn if things have changed, if at all, he has his entire family to worry about, not just his daughter Maxine. To introduce change into a family configuration is complicated. Do you change the nature of the relationships? Does Maxine, assuming she’s alive, stop being the avatar of The Red? What about losing his mother? That seems somehow like a reasonably nod toward change. But the scale of ROT WORLD has been so extreme that, simply stated, losing a parent might not quite satisfy readers. If Swamp Thing and Abby were tragic and nostalgic (and isn’t The Green usually anyway?), Animal Man needs something raw and violent to contend with, something primal perhaps. Steve Pugh does an excellent job rendering scenes between Buddy and his family human, and physical, once he returns to his world (particularly necessary with a title like ANIMAL MAN). I wouldn’t say that having his already ill son Cliff Baker, finally die, was predictable. It was a roulette spin on who might die, though death did seem likely, especially given the book’s cover art. Cliff doesn’t need to be the avatar of The Red like Maxine, and his death can be an emotional touchstone for readers to connect to Buddy Baker. Superhero stories have contained quite a few lost sons over the years, but that doesn’t mean the trope doesn’t pack a punch.
After everything Animal Man has been through to save the universe from the Rot, doesn’t he deserve better than this? And yet, that’s the point. In this way, he’s not special. He’s vulnerable and human, and could experience the loss of a child. This is change for Buddy, but it’s more a psychological change than a major plot shift for future issues of ANIMAL MAN. This isn’t to say that losing a character doesn’t change the DCU, it does, but Cliff’s death doesn’t change it on the same scale that Abby’s transformation will. Is the change that Lemire introduces less of a success because of this? Nope. He introduces change to the fabric of Animal Man’s life, and an emotional impact that will last forever in psychological terms. Exactly how Cliff’s death will impact the ANIMAL MAN comic, in fact, remains to be seen, but it would be very hard to brush it aside. This certainly isn’t a “What If” story.
So, the bottom line about the end of an era with Snyder’s final issue of SWAMP THING and the end of the ROT WORLD arc is that it does remarkable things to alter the way in which readers perceive and understand the DC Universe as a whole, and is a pretty impressive feat of universe building from the inside out. It creates growth and greater appreciation of a universe perpetually under construction, and for that reason, rarely explained in broad terms. But Snyder and Lemire also do something that shows a lot of fortitude and personal vision for what readers need to see in superhero stories to really grasp their significance: the potential for change. If these characters cannot be affected by their life experiences, where does that leave us, the readers, trying to connect and apply their experiences to our own?
SWAMP THING #18 and ANIMAL MAN #18 complete what you might term “Eco’s loop” in terms of creating continuity again in the DCU (by restoring balance in The Rot), but they also break through that loop and give us a glimpse, hopefully an enduring one, of heroes in a “real” situation of loss, maybe even a form of sacrifice to restore that balance. There’s nothing more human than the realization that things don’t always work out the way you want them to. Thankfully, for Snyder and Lemire, they did this time.
Title: ANIMAL MAN #18/ Publisher: DC Comics/Creative Team: Jeff Lemire, Writer, Steve Pugh, Artist, Lovern Kindzierski, Colorist, Jared K. Fletcher, Letterer
Title: SWAMP THING #18/ Publisher: DC Comics/Creative Team: Scott Snyder, Writer, Yanick Paquette, Artist, Nathan Fairbairn, Colors, Travis Lanham, Letters
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.