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I distinctly remember going to the theater in 2003 to see the James Robinson-written adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. At the time, I hadn’t read the Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill series, I just happened to be drawn in by what I saw as an ingenious premise: the Justice League of Victorian literature.
Even my dad, who had no use for superhero movies pre Iron Man/Dark Knight/Avengers, was excited about the prospect.
You can imagine how deflating that day actually was: a gun-wielding Tom Sawyer, a barely interested Sean Connery, and so. much. camp. When the released just a few months later Underworld was more entertaining by comparison, you know there’s a problem.
I eventually discovered the source material and devoured it voraciously. I even love the somewhat more divisive Century volume. For a good long while I yearned for Fox to go back and correct this grievous cinematic misstep. Then Showtime introduced Penny Dreadful, which took the same basic concept with a number of different characters (Mina Harker’s father, Dr. Frankenstein, another live action shot at Dorian Gray, vampires, witches, etc) and toned down the broader action elements in favor of a healthy dose of “Hammer horror”. It was the League adaptation I always wanted, just without the name or central characters, and it is perhaps the strongest series that the premium channel has ever produced.
And of course now, Fox has announced plans to reboot The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the big screen per Variety. Just two years ago, there was talk of it becoming a television series with apparent go-to genre guy Michael Green as the showrunner, but that ended up not moving forward. Now producer John Davis will be teaming with Ira Napoliello and Matt Reilly to bring this new version to fruition, though no writers have been announced as of yet.
Can it succeed? Possibly! But given how Fox has generally mishandled its comic book franchises and fumbled with the League before, it’s tough to get excited on my end. Then again, we are talking about what I think is Moore’s best work from the ABC era to the current period, so the studio definitely has a tough row to hoe. In the meantime, season 2 of Penny Dreadful is wonderful thus far.
This announcement is somewhat confusing, but so is the entire legacy of Miracleman, one of the most interesting heroes that Marvel has ever published. First off, the run with The Original Writer (Alan Moore) has come to an end with issue #16 that Marvel started printing after they acquired the rights to the character again. Instead of just continuing the book, the publisher has decided to renumber the title starting with Neil Gaiman’s first issue #17 and changing it to Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #1.
However, the news does not stop yet, at C2E2’s Marvel Next Big Thing panel, the run with Gaiman (drawn by Fables artist Mark Buckingham) was announced to debut September 2015. The original comic ended before the run came to an end with Miracleman #24. There were originally only seven issues of the tale, but Marvel is now attempting to publish the rest of the saga written by Gaiman.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether there are any issues done, or whether Gaiman and Buckingham could perhaps start creating material with the character? Marvel already scraped Grant Morrison material from the vault with All-New Miracleman #1. Who’s to say they can’t publish more? Thanks to CBR for originally reporting on the news — and thanks to Miracleman for being one of the most interesting and convoluted characters in comics both in front of and behind-the-scenes of comics history.
For an incredible history lesson on the birth and death of Miracleman, take a look at our own Poison Chalice pieces.
600,000 1 million words long, he’s been working on it for over a decade…and Alan Moore’s epic novel Jerusalem is getting published next year. Knockabout will publish it in the UK while W.W. Norton imprint Liveright will publish it in the US. As described in many interviews, the novel involves Moore’s hometown of Northhampton and is written in many styles:
He has also mentioned the varying styles of each chapter: among them, one modeled after a Samuel Beckett play, another written in “a completely invented sub-Joycean text” and another “somewhat in the style of Dos Passos.” The book will include appearances by John Bunyan and Buffalo Bill.
This isn’t Moore’s first novel—that would be Voice Of The Fire. It should be quite the literary event, however, and it will be interesting to see how a mainstream literary publishing house handles the rollout.
(Photo by Murdo Macleod from The Guardian.)
Renowned comics creator Alan Moore has landed a deal for his second prose novel. Liveright, an imprint at W. W. Norton & Company, will publish Jerusalem in Fall 2016.
According to The New York Times, Moore’s manuscript may contain more than one million words. Moore sets this historical fiction-fantasy story in his hometown of Northampton, England.
Here’s more from The Guardian: “The acclaimed comics writer began work on Jerusalem in 2008 and finished his gargantuan draft last September, as his daughter Leah Moore announced on Facebook. The novel is said to explore the small area of Northampton where Moore grew up, ranging from his own family’s stories to historical events to fantasy, with chapters told in different voices.”
By: Heidi MacDonald
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It’s the 26th of February, and the time is 7.00pm, the usual time for all my telephone interviews with Alan Moore, since the first one we did, back in March 2008. This is something like the eighth time I’ve interviewed him 1, but I still get nervous. There’s the usual fumbling around with a voice recorder, and making sure I know how to put the phone on speaker – I’m totally technically incompetent, so Deirdre, my wife, has to come and oversee all this, to make sure I don’t do something stupid.
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: I’m going to get stuck into this thing because I’ve a long list of questions, at least some of which we’ll get to. OK, I was going to ask you about Steve. Obviously Steve Moore’s death must have been an enormous blow to you. 2
Alan Moore: Well, yeah, obviously, and it – it was a period of massive shock, and of course a few marvels in there. There was an ethereal period. We managed to follow Steve’s instructions, and scattered his ashes on the burial mound in Shrewsbury Lane by the light of, not only a full moon, but of a Supermoon, which is when the Moon is full at its perigee, which is apparently its closest approach to Earth, and it was just at the tail end of Hurricane Bertha so we didn’t think that we were going to be able to really do it successfully, but as it happened, the hurricane had blown all the clouds out of the sky by the time we got down to Shooters Hill, and it was a – a rather magical night in its way, even though I managed to end up wearing at least a small portion of Steve, when we had a difficulty transferring him to the scattering tube. Funnily enough, I’d said on the way down there that I hope this doesn’t end up like The Big Lebowski, with me kind of going on inappropriately about Steve’s service in Vietnam, while getting ashes all over me, but apart from me going on inappropriately about Steve’s service in Vietnam, that was pretty much what happened. But otherwise it was a great night and, yeah, I suppose that after Steve’s death I kind of hurled myself into a great deal of creative work – it’s just my way of dealing with things, you know? Or perhaps my way of not dealing with things, I don’t know. But, yeah, it still goes on, like at the moment I’m, I just went down last weekend to Steve’s place to talk with Bob Rickard3.
I went to the burial mound – it’s been padlocked since we did the scattering there, which – I don’t think it was in response to our scattering, probably more in response to some of the empty cider bottles that I’d noticed around the site, but I suppose in its way it’s fortuitous – if Steve had died a year later it probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as – convenient? – to honour his final wishes, but – no, he’s still an immense presence in my life. I’m still, I’m wrapping up dealing with his estate – and I shall be dealing with that for a number of years, I’m sure. But, yeah, we’ve still got the Book of Magic to come out, which is very very much a joint venture, even if – even if one of the members of The Moon and Serpent is now only active upon the Inner Plane, it’s still going to be both of us on the cover, there. It’s going OK, Pádraig.
PÓM: Good, I’m glad. As you mentioned the book, The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, is there any kind of a timescale for that?
AM: Well, at the moment I have just finished the final article, the big concluding essay that me and Steve had been working on for about six months before last March and that leaves me one episode of The Soul4 to do, and then I’ve got to go back and tinker with the Tarot Card, and the Kabala Boardgame, and some of the other, more art-centred things, and less text-centred – most of the text-centred stuff is completed. As to when that will come out – we would like to get it out in 2016, but that is not a promise, that is an aspiration5.
AM: I’m sure that – yeah, you know what that means – we’ve been living under a coalition for some several years now, so we will know what we mean by promises and aspirations.
PÓM: Somebody was suggesting – are you likely to do a performance related to that when it’s finally finished?
AM: Don’t know. Don’t know – I hadn’t been thinking of a performance related to it. Eh, don’t know, is the answer to that, it is nothing that I’d actually considered. These things tend to come in seasons. There was a period when I was closer to Tim Perkins – Tim moved to Oxford – me and Tim still communicate, and we still talk about possible projects together, but it doesn’t feel like the time at the moment when performance stuff is probably at the forefront. I had a very very nice offer from Paul Smith of Blast First records, talking about the possibility of getting some satellite time for something live, but, quite honestly, it would be filling three hours of live – no. It’s not like I – my urges at the moment are not really towards live performance. That said, tomorrow night I shall be going down to the local café, and me and Robin Ince and Grace Petrie will be doing another one of our, just impromptu little events6 which Robin is – we’re recording them all, Joe Brown is doing all of the mixing and everything, and they will eventually be released as podcasts. But that’s pretty much the extent of my public appearances at the moment.
PÓM: I met Tim Perkins for the first time in August. Worldcon – that’s the World Science Fiction Convention – was on in London, and myself and himself and Gary Lloyd ended up doing a panel about your musical output.7
AM: Aw, brilliant! And how is Tim? I haven’t spoken to him for ages.
PÓM: Tim was good! I was delighted to meet him, because I have a lot of his work, but I’ve one question I was asking him that I had always been interested in, which was, in all the musical work that you did, did you play a musical instrument at all?
AM: Oh, no. No, I never played a musical instrument. I am – yeah, I know I’m a fairly multi-competent kind of individual, but no, no. Playing a musical instrument has always been beyond me, and I have nothing but the greatest of respect for those that can, and I tend to – even if I could play a musical instrument, I’ve known such brilliant musicians that it would have been foolish not to leave that side of things to them, and to play to my strengths.
PÓM: Yeah, I know. He did say something about your playing – was it with one hand, was it Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, something like that, on a piano?
AM: Oh, I can actually – because when I was a child, I had a Sooty Xylophone, with numbered keys, and the actual score to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, with numbered keys on xylophone, is 1155665 – it’s been a long time since I played it, but I could remember it all the way through, on my Sooty Xylophone. So, yes, I suppose technically, if there is ever any need for a kind of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star refrain on xylophone, then you’ve got my number.8
PÓM: Fair enough. I always wanted to clear that one up.
AM: Well, it’s an important point, Pádraig. No, I’m surprised that Tim remembered that.
PÓM: Yes. Well, it obviously made an impression.
AM: Yeah, obviously, obviously.
PÓM: Tell me about The Show. What’s happening?
AM: The Show. Well, The Show is the name of the project that follows on from the Jimmy’s End films – which, surely to Christ, should be out soon. It should be very very soon – I’ve been kicking up a fuss, Mitch [Jenkins] has been kicking up a fuss…9
PÓM: This is the stuff from Lex Records?
AM: Apparently there’s been unavoidable delays on the packaging side. I don’t know!
PÓM: Yeah, I know, I know. It’s bad enough having to always wait for your comics to come out, but really…!
AM: It’s this film business, it’s – and I am kind of limited in what I can actually do. And it’s the same with the comics business, I suppose. Anyway, that should be out soon, and I have written a screenplay for a feature film, called The Show, which is designed to follow on from that. We have been talking with various parties about maybe making that screenplay into the first two episodes of a serial, which – we could probably have done it, but that doesn’t seem to be – that’s not technically gonna happen. At the moment we’re talking about maybe doing what we had originally intended to do, which is to bring out The Show as a feature film, and then to launch The Show as a television series, so at the moment, that’s all up in the air, and in my experience of these things, some things just remain up in the air forever, in defiance of gravity. So, who knows? But there are talks going on, it’s looking quite promising, and I’m sure that one way or another there’ll be – we’re asking for so little, to do this film, at least in terms of money. We’re asking for complete control, and complete ownership. But financially we’re asking for very little. It would be a very good film – it’d need me writing a few more songs, and it would be very differently paced to the five short films, because short films, they can be as long as you want them to be, and you can linger, whereas a feature film, that’s got to have – I’m not saying that it’s gonna be kind of action/thriller paced, but certainly a lot more conventionally paced for a feature film, put it like that.
PÓM: Yeah, of course.
AM: Yeah, that’s all going on as we speak – there might be more news – I’m sure if there is any more news, that’ll be in a couple of – in a couple of months we might know more.
PÓM: OK, fair enough. Emmm, what was I gonna ask? The League. The next – the third part of the Janni Nemo trilogy is coming out soon…?10
AM: River of Ghosts. I’ve just looked in the box that I got from Knockabout the other day, and I’ve got – yes, very soon, I’ve got my copies already. We are very pleased with it. It’s funny – when me and Kevin O’Neill first got our complimentary copies, we both looked through it, skimmed through it, independently, and when we were talking on the phone later I was – he was saying that he’d been – he’d felt that his art really, it was a bit tired-looking, and I was saying, ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I thought your art was great,’ I said, ‘but I don’t know with my script – I’m not sure that the ending’s not rushed, or something.’ Like, all these little things. And then, after that, I was still a bit despondent, but I sat down, and picked up the copy again, and started reading it. And I got to the end, and I went and phoned Kevin and left an answer phone message saying, ‘Actually, Kevin, I should go back and having another look at River of Ghosts, I think that it might be about the best run of the League since the first couple of volumes.’ And I got a phone call back from Kevin about ten minutes later, saying ‘Actually, I was going to call you and say the same thing! ’ It’s just that, when your expectations are up, and you first see the thing in print – I should know by now that very often my first reaction is disappointment. But then, you read it again and, yes, this is – it’s a bit of a corker. I think, beautifully rounds off the Nemo trilogy, and I hope will put the other two books into perspective, ‘cause I did hear a couple of comments saying, ‘Oh well, we’ve read Heart of Ice, good story and all that, but it does seem a bit – a bit slender, a bit thin, a bit inconsequential, compared to other graphic novels.’ It’s forty-eight pages, it’s like two issues of a comic and, really, it’s not until the River of Ghosts that we get to the end of the story – yes, they are all self-contained episodes, but there is an over-all story that’s going on, which I think we tie up quite nicely in River of Ghosts.
The story opens upon Lincoln Island in 1975, so this is six years after we saw Janni in League volume three in 1969. She’s now – what? – around eighty, and it’s been very interesting – I’ve always wanted, since I started writing Halo Jones, I always intended to have that conclude with Halo Jones as a very old woman, and I – I don’t know, I think that there is something magnificent about old women, and I’ve always wanted to do one with a very old woman in the main role. So, with River of Ghosts I think I’ve accomplished that.
There’s – we see a couple of old characters. There’s a couple of interesting new characters, one of whom might be of interest to you. Kevin found an American newspaper strip from, I think, 1902, that was entitled Hugo Hercules, and this is a very very big, very very strong man. I think it lasted for six or seven episodes – it wasn’t very long-lived. But, yeah, the first American superhero, I think, pretty much. I can’t imagine any earlier than that. Certainly earlier than Hugo Danner in Gladiator, a long while earlier than Superman.
So, yeah, I had a look at some of these early strips, which generally don’t have much in the way of dialogue balloons, but put most of the dialogue into captions under the panels, and from that, in the transcriptions of whatever the accent was supposed to be that Hugo Hercules was speaking in, I finally figured out that it was probably a racist and ill-informed transliteration of an Irish accent. It could just as easily have been Polish, or possibly Trinidadian, but I think probably it was meant to be Irish. So, we’ve kind of worked out, yeah, all right, if this Hugo Hercules, so-called, was Irish, what might be his backstory. Me and Kevin are very pleased with him as a character, and he plays quite a major part in River of Ghosts – which deals with, as you might expect from the first two volumes, it deals with a conclusion to the Ayesha question. Just kind of tying it all up in a neat and somewhat blood-stained bow.
The River of Ghosts in question is the Amazon, which means that we get to – as we did with Heart of Ice, less so, perhaps, with Roses of Berlin – but with Heart of Ice we were very much depending upon the New Travellers’ Almanac, and its gazetteer of fictional sights, and we’ve fallen back upon that quite a bit for this exploration of the Amazon. So, if that gives you any hints as to what sort of things we might be running into…
PÓM: It does! I actually find, I go back and I reread the New Travellers’ Almanac and the Black Dossier quite a bit, because I think that there’s a huge amount more information, a huge amount more stuff, about various adventures that’s coded into those than you’re probably ever going to put down on the comics page.
AM: Well, that’s true. And also, because we were very specific – I think back in the New Travellers’ Almanac there’s already bits talking about Jenny Diver…?
PÓM: Yes, yes.
AM: And we did have this fairly fully planned out, right from the start. One of the things that I’ve thought about is the possibility at some point in the future, of an actual integrated volume of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in chronological order, to see how that reads? I don’t know. This is nothing I’ve discussed with anybody else, so I’m going off the menu here, a little bit. But…
PÓM: I know – from all the stuff, there’s all sorts of bits and pieces, and there’s dates, and it is possible to build up quite a detailed chronology of – particularly from the beginning of the Victorian League, and Mina Murray and all of that, upwards. It’s remarkable how much little bits and pieces fit in. Like the current volumes, the Janni Diver stuff, is filling in more little odds – and you go back and look at something and say, ‘Ah, that was there all along.’
AM: This is it, this is what we’re trying to do. And, actually, having said that it would be nice to put it all in chronological order, there is a lot to be said for the way that we’re doing it, where we’re jumping back and forth a little bit. Jack Nemo, whom we glimpse at the end of volume three, and in River of Ghosts, it’s almost like an origin story. Jack Nemo features in it – he’s a very small boy, a couple of years older than when we saw him as a five- or six-year-old running around on the Nautilus in 1969. We’re stitching all of this together, and we’re doing it all for a reason. One thing that might be of note is that this will be the last piece of work that me and Kevin will be doing on the League for a little while. We – this is largely because – me and Kevin have both been doing the League for fifteen years now. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but it actually is.
PÓM: I know. It’s 1999, wasn’t it?
AM: Something like that. Fifteen or sixteen years? And during that time I’ve been doing quite a bit of other work, but Kevin, the League has been pretty much the only thing that he’s been doing, so it’s more like – it’s a long-term sentence. And although me and Kevin are both in love with what we’re doing on the League, I could see that, it was a bit of an unfair strain upon Kevin, because the League might not be the only thing he wanted to do with the rest of his life. So, anyway, I can’t tell you very much about what we’re doing – in fact, I can barely tell you anything at all, except that me and Kevin are going to be doing something new for about eighteen months, summat like that.
PÓM: OK. In a comic form, I presume, is it?
AM: In a comic form. It’ll be an episodic thing. It will be a million miles away from the League. And we’re both very excited about it, we think we’re actually breaking new ground in term of the effects that comics can achieve. Which is, again, ‘cause I know that Kevin’s always had a hankering to experiment, and we’ve done as much as we can of that in the League – the League is limitless in some ways, but in other ways there are certain stories that perhaps wouldn’t fit quite so easily into it, and with this, yeah, we’re a long way away from the League. What we’re thinking is, we’re going to do this, as a break for Kevin, for the next eighteen months, or something, and then we will probably be going back to do book four of the League, but this is a long way in the future, but we have got a lot of good ideas that would – in some ways I’d like to do a book four that wouldn’t be the last book of the League, but could be. And if it was the last book of the League, then everything would be tied up. All of the strands and insinuations and implications in the Black Dossier, all of the tiny little threads, going right the way back to issue one of the first volume, I can see a way that all of this could be tied up splendidly into a fantastic story – but that will have to wait until me and Kevin have had our little vacation. We’re about four months into this eighteen months sabbatical anyway, so hopefully it won’t seem as long as that in the outside world.
PÓM: Before we leave it, can you tell us anything about what’s going to be in volume four?
AM: Other than, like I say, a tying up of ends, it would probably be set not long after 2009 and it would be tying up threads from all three volumes of the League, from the Black Dossier, and from the Nemo trilogy. It would be a – it’s a kind of story that I’ve been thinking of for a few years, but, yeah, after we’ve taken this sabbatical, both me and Kevin thing that, when we do go back to the League, we’ll go back refreshed, and capable of giving – not that we aren’t incredibly pleased with River of Ghosts. Like I say, that seems to have some of the energy – I wouldn’t want to deny the energy of any of the volumes of the League, but it’s undeniable that, say, the first two volumes are paced and structured very very differently to Century. And there were some people who thought that Century was a bit slow, or a bit over-complex, but that was just what we wanted to do with the characters. We wanted to show that it didn’t always have to be a fast-paced Victorian romp, that there was plenty of interesting stuff in this world that could do with lingering over. But, when we finished Century we thought, all right, let’s take a break from that stuff, and do the Nemo trilogy, something very fast paced, where we’re paying a lot of attention to spectacle, where that is a big part of the story development, and that gives Kevin an opportunity to really show what he can do on some nice spreads, and things like that, of which there are a couple of – some of the best pages of art by Kevin I’ve ever seen, in this upcoming issue. Some very memorable little images there.
To Be Continued…
1Previous interviews I’ve done with Alan Moore in various places, including the Forbidden Planet blog, 3:AM Magazine, here on The Beat, and on my own Slovobooks blog:- June 2008 FP I, FP II, May 2009 FP I, FP II, FP III, March 2011 3:AM, July 2011 FP, April 2013 CB I, CB II, October 2013 MM I, MM II, MM III, and January 2014’s Last Interview? Which, of course, it wasn’t. That question mark wasn’t there for nothin’!
2In case you all think I was being hideously impolite by launching directly into talking about Steve Moore, I should point out that there was a certain amount of small-talk in there beforehand, which none of you need to know anything more about. However, if you wish to read my interview with Steve, called The Hermit of Shooters Hill, you’ll find them all (six parts so far) here on The Beat, under the tag HERMIT.
3Bob Rickard is the founder of the Fortean Times: The Journal of Strange Phenomena (Originally called The News, which both Alan Moore and Steve Moore contributed to over the years. He is also one of the two people Steve described to me as being his best friends. The identity of the other one should not be hard to grasp…
4The Soul is a strip, written by AM and drawn by John Coulthart, that was to appear in America’s Best Comics’ Tomorrow Stories, but is now going to be in The Moon & Serpent Bumper Book of Magic.
5A favourite saying of British politicians.
6 Another of these events, Alan, Grace and Robin’s Blooming Confusion is in the NN Café in Northampton on the 31st of March 2015, and there are still tickets available, here. Robin Ince is a comedian, and Grace Petrie is a singer.
7Tim Perkins is AM’s main musical collaborator, with five CD releases thus far between them. He has a hopelessly out-of-date website, here. Gary Lloyd is another of AM’s musical collaborators, having worked with him on the audio version of Brought to Light. The interview with Tim and Gary is slowly being transcribed, and will doubtless turn up on the ‘net eventully.
8Before anyone writes into to point out that the Sooty Xylophone isn’t actually a xylophone, not being made of wood, we’ve already got that covered. All I can do is report what is said!
9This is in reference to Lex Projects’ Kickstarter for Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’s His Heavy Heart short film, which those of us who backed it are still waiting to see make its way into our hands. It’s by no means the only Kickstarter project I’ve backed that I’m still waiting for, mind you.
10There was some confusion about the actual publication date of this book. It first made landfall on the shelves of GOSH! Comics in London on Tuesday the 3rd of March, and should have been available elsewhere – not just in the UK, but also in the US – that same week. However a labour dispute at American west coast ports meant that containers remained in the docks, rather than being shipped onward, with the result that copies weren’t available until about a week and a half later on the 12th of March.
11Why all the footnotes? I’ve been reading through the works of Flann O’Brien, and bits of it have rubbed off on me. It’s even slightly relevant to the subject of this interview, as it was largely his fault that I went back to them in the first place. Further enlightenment, at least of a sort, here.
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Previous parts of this interview: Part I – Steve Moore, River of Ghosts, The Show, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Part II – Punk Rock, Crossed, and Providence. Now read on…
PÓM: A few other things… Yes, now. Have you been following any of the latest revelations on Jack the Ripper? Do you keep an eye on that?
AM: [Laughs] No, because it’s all going to be bollocks.
PÓM: Oh yeah.
AM: Alright, I stand to be corrected, but what are the latest revelations on Jack the Ripper?
PÓM: Somebody claimed to have bought a scarf, a very expensive scarf…1
AM: Oh yeah, I read about that. And obviously at the time, that’s bollocks…
PÓM: Oh yes, absolutely and complete bollocks!
AM: And they’ve since proved that it’s bollocks – I think that they’ve just said that, no, there’s no connection at all between Catherine Eddowes and the stain on this scarf.
PÓM: I do remember thinking that they seemed to be in possession of an awful lot of information about DNA and all of that that seemed… unlikely.
AM: Unlikely at the time, yes. No no, that – these are always going to be non-starters. Alright, unless there is some brilliant piece of evidence waiting to be discovered that – how likely is that?
PÓM: I know. I just wondered if – ‘cause you did From Hell, I presume you still have some interest in the subject.
AM: Well, with From Hell, at the end of it, in The Dance of the Gull Catchers, there is that statement about – Look, how long can this go on? About Koch’s Snowflake2, about the increasing trivia applied around the crinkly edges of this case, but the area of the case cannot exceed the original events and consequently, new books about Jack the Ripper, they’re less about Jack the Ripper than they are about keeping the Jack the Ripper industry going, because it’s been quite lucrative for a few years, you know? And I honestly think that that is the truth.
So, no, I tend to be dismissive of – every four or five years there will be ‘At last, the final truth!’ And it never is. And it’s very often preposterous, or a deliberate hoax. Or you’ll get, say, Patricia Cornwell, with her vandalisation of a Walter Sickert painting in the ridiculous hope that she could match the DNA to that on the letters received the police, which were not from the killer anyway.3
PÓM: I remember when the documentary was on the telly, I saw it was coming up…
AM: Yeah, I saw that, and I saw at the end of it, all she’d got was some footage of Walter Sickert being led out, probably in his eighties, to be filmed in a garden somewhere, and she said, ‘Yes, look at those eyes – pure evil.’ Ignorant woman.
PÓM: I remember she said something like ‘I knew as soon as I looked into his eyes that it had to be him.’4 And this is a woman who…
AM: That was all the evidence that she’d got, and – the thing is, that Patricia Cornwell is apparently supposed to be an actual real-life pathologist…5
AM: …apparently cases in the American legal system have presumably depended upon her evidence – I hope she was doing a little bit more than looking in people’s eyes.
PÓM: I know! I have never been so disappointed with something on the television – in my life! Because I expected – because of who she was, and what she was, I expected this was going to be really incisive and good and interesting.
AM: I had read some of her books, so perhaps I wasn’t expecting quite as much as you were.
PÓM: [Laughs] Fair enough!
AM: I read a few of her books with the beautiful woman pathologist…6
PÓM: Oh, I know who you mean…
AM: …who somehow always ends up at the centre of every case. She’s always the one that the serial killer gets an obsession with, even though there’s no way in the real world that he would ever know who she was. She’s always smarter than the police. And then when I found out that Patricia Cornwell was herself a pathologist at some point I thought, ‘Yes, I think I can see where this is going.’
PÓM: Yes. It did seem as well the whole Jack the Ripper thing was kind of because her father had left home when she was five, and there were some elements of that in there, which is where it started getting strange.
AM: Yeah, well a lot of these people who get obsessed with true crimes, they’re – sometimes, they can be working out something in their own psychology, rather than anything to actually do with the crime that they are officially dealing with. I haven’t really taken a great deal of interest in Jack the Ripper since finishing From Hell – probably more in Psychogeography and London.
PÓM: I must say, we’ve been spending a fair bit of time in London, Deirdre and myself. We were over there last week. We went to see – do you know the Reverend Richard Coles?7
AM: Oh yes, I met him once. I met him with Robin Ince.8
PÓM: Yeah. He was doing a thing in the British Library, he was doing – because he’s got a first volume of his autobiography out – another good Northampton lad!
AM: Is he? Yeah, he’s from out in the outskirts, I think he’s from one of the villages.
PÓM: That’s where he’s being a Rev these days. A thoroughly lovely man.
AM: He seemed really nice when I met him, and of course he was great in The Communards.
PÓM: Well, he was. He was. Not a great dancer, but a charming human being. But, yeah, I’ve recently joined the British Library, which is completely fantastic.9 I’m doing research into Flann O’Brien, and The Cardinal and the Corpse, all of that.
[There’s actually a part of the interview missing here, because I felt it was so far removed from having even the slightest relevance to this particular site that it was best elsewhere. It concerns English writer Iain Sinclair‘s 1992 documentary film The Cardinal and the Corpse, which almost no-one has seen besides Alan and myself. It also peripherally concerns Irish writer Flann O’Brien, about whom I have been spending quite a lot of time reading and researching of late. The interview is here, on the gorse website. By absolutely no coincidence whatsoever I have an essay on Flann O’Brien in gorse #3, entitled The Cardinal & the Corpse, A Flanntasy in Several Parts, which I commend to you all. End of outrageous and gratuitious self-promotion.]
PÓM: Are you doing some series of things with Joyce Brabner?10
AM: There is a work that I’m – I’m doing a work with Joyce, but I’m starting that at the moment. I can’t tell you much about that, because it will be sometime this year – I’m more or less starting work on it now, over the next – probably over the weekend, and it’s likely to be something to do with identity, but I really can’t tell you much more than that – I’ve got my ideas, but they’re not really well formed enough yet, but later in the year I’ll be able to fill you in more with that.
A 4-seater swan pedalo
: Ok, cool. Sure, we’ll talk again, undoubtedly. And I think I’m going to wrap it up – I must say, when you’re talking about doing Swandown
, and things like that – that’s the thing with the pedalo, isn’t it? With the swan-shaped pedalo?11
AM: That is one of the sweetest films I’ve ever seen, and not just because I’m in it. In fact, I think that my contribution is one of the more negligible aspects of it. It’s English poetry. It shows you that there is no landscape that cannot be made poetic with the addition of a big plastic swan. And in fact, since then I also earlier this year – no, last year, last year. Spring or Summer, I went and filmed a bit with Andrew and Iain for their next project, which is called By Our Selves, and it’s all about John Clare12, and it’s got Andrew mucking about dressed as a straw bear, and recreating John Clare’s limping walk from Epping Forest and Matthew Arnold’s mental asylum back to Helpston in Northampton. Eighty miles or something, where he was eating grass and hallucinating. Yeah, so Andrew and Iain came up to Northampton, I spent a lovely afternoon sitting pretending to be a version of John Clare. They’ve got Toby Jones13
doing all the heavy lifting in terms of being John Clare, so that should be – ‘cause he’s an incredible actor…
Alan Moore and a Straw Bear, borrowed from here
: What I was going to say about that is, you do really seem to be having far too much fun, still – you’re doing everything you want to.
AM: That stuff is the best. Things like that that just come out of the blue. I still enjoy me comics work, I still enjoy the ordinary writing that I do, but – the little surprising things like that, that I’ve not done before, that are a great afternoon out, seeing lovely people, and knowing that it’s going to end up as a really poetic cinematic document, yeah, I am having a lot of fun with that, when it happens. It’s irregular, but charming when it does.
PÓM: Well, good. And I think that’s it. Is there anything that you’re doing that I should know about that I don’t know about?
AM: Yeah, probably. Whether I actually consciously know about it, is the big question. There must be some – did you hear about The Dying Fire?
AM: This was a book that I’ve just brought out from Mad Love Publishing, it’s the collected poetry of Dominic Allard…14
PÓM: Yes, I did, because I have a copy inside. Yes, of course.
AM: Ah right. With the big introduction. That seems to be going quite well, and Dominic seems a bit stupefied by the sudden exposure – mind you, Dominic seems a bit stupefied by most things, it has to be said. But, no, that was really good, taking the books down to him, and giving him a load of copies, so there’s that. What else have I been doing? I’ve been reading through Steve Moore’s journals, which I collected from his house, and that’s bittersweet. There’s some incredible information in there, things that I’d forgotten about. Just day-by-day stuff in Steve’s life, but he was meticulous about listing it all.
PÓM: Do you do that? Do you keep a journal, or anything like that?
AM: No I don’t. And Steve’s journals are part of the reason why I don’t.
PÓM: Oh yes, one other thing I did want to ask you. Do you remember our last interview? That was the written interview.15
PÓM: Did you ever get any feedback on that, or did you hear – there was a certain amount of…
AM: I don’t know if I did or not, Pádraig. Where would I have got it from?
AM: Well, indeed. There was huge amounts of hoopla on the internet about it, which – it was interesting. It was…
AM: Oh, that was the stuff about the Golliwogg?
PÓM: Yes, the Golliwogg, and…
AM: Yes, that was when I wrote my – Yes, I remember – that was when I spent the Christmas writing the rejoinder?
PÓM: Yes, yes!
AM: Yeah, I didn’t hear much about it, to tell the truth, once I’d got it out of me system, and I thought that the issues had been addressed, I just kind of let it go. Why, did – you say that there was a lot of furore?
PÓM: Oh, I had – when I put it up on my blog, and it just spread out everywhere, and I was getting hundreds of comments and replies. It was all quite fascinating – it genuinely didn’t bother me in any way, shape, or form. The people who said rude things, I just deleted them, because people have strange notions about what the right to free speech actually means. And it was just – it was interesting – it was great. It was a fantastic piece of, em…
PÓM: I was going to say a fantastic piece of writing, of a thing to put out there, and I was delighted to be in that way involved with it but, yes, a fine piece of invective, and all the better for it.
AM: I was talking with somebody who read it, and he was saying ‘I think you might have revived a kind of literary form, that has not been really practiced since the eighteenth century,’ the really crushing, bitter, stinging satire, if you will. Yeah, I was quite pleased with it. After doing it, I tended to put it out of me mind.
PÓM: No harm in that. I must say…
AM: Was any of the response positive?
PÓM: Oh yeah! Oh Christ, yes! Plenty of it. There was lots of people who are just happy to do down anything that turns up, but there was a lot of people that thought you gave someone a kickin’ that deserved a kickin’.
AM: Well, that’s good. I had a very nice comment from Ramsey Campbell16. He said, pretty much, ‘Right on, Alan,’ so that was nice. I did see, in the Michael Moorcock issue of Locus that came out recently that Mike, he was talking a little bit about Grant Morrison as well, just because he was asked some question about why he doesn’t encourage other people to do Jerry Cornelius stories these days, which apparently does rather connect up with some of Morrison’s work. Ah, I thought it needed saying, and it was better out than in.
PÓM: Well, indeed. Sure, it’s all part of life’s rich pageant.
PÓM: How’s Melinda?17
AM: Mel’s fine – oh, yes, that’s something that I should probably tell you about. Mel is preparing for her first spectacular exhibition. This will be at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.
PÓM: Oh, I love Bloomsbury, I have to say. I could live in Bloomsbury.18
AM: Have you been to the Horse Hospital?
PÓM: I don’t think we have, no.
AM: Well, I did a gig there with the lovely Kirsten Norrie19 – which also, she appears with me in that, By Our Selves, the John Clare film. But I did a gig where Kirstin was singing, and I was reading a part of Jerusalem, so I went to the Horse Hospital, and in there, I knew that our gig was underground, in the basement, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is a bit weird, there’s no stairs, there’s just these ramps.’ And then I thought ‘Horse Hospital!’
But it’s a lovely little space, and I believe that Mel will be doing her exhibition there on April the 10th, and there’s tons and tons of drawings, there’s seven or eight of her paintings, and I believe that there might be some bronze busts that she’s done of the three main characters from Lost Girls. So, if anyone reading this happens to be in the Bloomsbury area around April 10th this year, they could do worse than to drop in.
PÓM: I shall be sure to tell people.
AM: OK, you take care, like I say, Pádraig, and love to Deirdre – and that’s what Mel’s doing, she’s preparing that.
1On the 6th of September 2014 the Daily Mail carried a story that DNA evidence had been found on a scarf – allegedly once the property of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth of the five ‘canonical’ victims of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, whose exploits set Victorian London into a frenzy of speculation which has still not died away – which proved that the killer was actually Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski. The story is here, although you really also need to read the refutation, here, as well.
2I refer you to the Koch’s Snowflake page on Wikipedia, because they explain it better than I ever will.
3Crime writer Patricia Cornwell wrote a book called Portrait of a Killer — Jack the Ripper: Case Closed, published in 2002, where she claimed that British painter Walter Sickert was the Whitechapel murderer, and went to extraordinary – and, frankly, borderline insane – lengths to prove it, including supposedly cutting up one of his paintings in an effort to find clues of some kind. There’s an excellent piece about it on the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website, here. In the meantime, Cornell has written more on the subject, a Kindle Single called Chasing the Ripper, published in 2014, and available here, if you’re feeling brave.
4 Yes, she really says something almost exactly like that. Here‘s the relevant bit from the documentary, courtesy of those nice people over at YouTube.
5Patricia Cornwell isn’t actually a ‘real-life pathologist,’ although she did work in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia for six years, first as a technical writer and then as a computer analyst, so had at least some input into their findings, one imagines.
6Dr Kay Scarpetta, the protagonist of twenty-two Cornwell novels thus far.
7The Reverend Richard Coles is a Church of England priest, currently working as the parish priest of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon, Northampton, in the Diocese of Peterborough. He was previously in The Communards with Jimmy Somerville, formerly of The Bronsky Beat, with whom Coles had also occasionally played. He is openly gay and lives with his civil partner in a celibate relationship, although they have four dachshunds, and he remains the only vicar in Britain to have had a Number 1 hit single. Above and beyond all that, he does regular appearances on the television and radio in Britain, and is a thoroughly lovely human being. He did an appearance in the British Library on Friday the 20th of February 2015 to publicise his autobiography, Fathomless Riches, which I attended with my wife Deirdre.
8Robin Ince is an English Science-Comedian and renowned Atheist. He is involved with the occasionally annual Christmastime event Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, as well as the radio programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, both of which have included Alan Moore on occasion.
9If you think I’m being overly mean in describing the Rev. Coles as a bad dancer, I suggest you go look at this video of The Communards performing Never Can Say Goodbye
, and make up your own mind. The British Library
, by the way, is one of my favourite places in the whole wide world. If Heaven is not very like it, I shall be very disappointed.
10Joyce Brabner is an American comics writer, and the widow of the late Harvey Pekar. She has collaborated with Moore before, on Brought to Light, and on Real War Comics. Most recently she has written the non-fiction graphic novel Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, about the real-life efforts of people caught up in the AIDS epidemic in New York in the early 1980s. It’s good stuff, and you all need to go read it.
11Swandown is a 2012 film in which Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair pedaled a swan pedalo down the Thames from the Hastings, on the sea, to Hackney, in London, occasionally joined by people like Alan Moore and comedian Stewart Lee. Look, I promise I’m not making this stuff up, and there’s a photograph to prove it. From left to right we have Lee, Moore, Kötting, and Sinclair.
12John Clare, known as The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet, was the writer of collections like Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery and Village Minstrel and other Poems. The film By Our Selves is in part based on Iain Sinclair’s book The Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey Out of Essex’. More information can be found on the By Our Selves Kickstarter page. It was successfully funded, and the project is ongoing.
13Toby Jones is an excellent English actor. Amongst other things, he has done the voice of Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter films, appeared in an episode of Doctor Who, and had parts in films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunger Games, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and many many more.
14Mad Love Publishing is a publishing company Moore set up in the late 1980s with others, originally to publish AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), and subsequently the first two issues of Big Numbers. The company had a long hiatus, but has reappeared recently as the publisher of Dodgem Logic, and most recently of The Dying Fire, a poetry collection by Moore’s old school friend Dominic Allard. The Northants Herald & Post reported on the story here.
15The interview referred to hear, which Alan doesn’t at first realise I’m referring to, is the infamous Last Alan Moore Interview?, which some of you may have already read, or at least read about. It has, to date, a bit over 100,000 views, and 350 replies, which is not too bad for the first post on a new blog!
16Ramsey Campbell is an English horror writer who has written numerous novels, including The Doll Who Ate His Mother, The Face That Must Die, and The House on Nazareth Hill, as well as numerous collections of short stories. He has a list of awards for his work as long as your arm, including the British Fantasy Award, the World Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, and the Bram Stoker Award.
17Melinda Gebbie is an American comics creator, now settled with her husband, Alan Moore, in the heart of England. They’ve worked together on various things, including Lost Girls.
18Bloomsbury is the bit of London that contains the British Museum, occasional headquarters of the Victorian version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the British Library. It’s full of culturally wonderfully stuff, parks with friendly squirrels in, and lots of Blue Plaques to all sorts of writers and the like. I recommend you go visit, at least once in your life. The exhibition in the Horse Hospital runs until the 9th of May, so there’s time to see it yet.
19Kirsten Norrie is a Scottish artist and musician, and a member of Wolf in the Winter, an international performance collective.
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.
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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.
We sat down with comics creator I.N.J. Culbard to discuss his new graphic novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Culbard adapted the story from H.P. Lovecraft’s novel. Check out the highlights from our interview below…
Q: How did you land your first book deal?
A: Back in 2004 I was enrolled in The New Recruits programme set up by Dark Horse comics. I had two stories appear in an anthology there and a short while after that, 2000AD publisher Rebellion published a short strip of mine called “Monsters in The Megazine.” Following the work I did there I got in contact with artist D’Israeli, who put me in contact with a long time collaborator of his, Ian Edginton.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Here’s the sixth part of my interview with the late Steve Moore, with more to follow. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th parts are already online, along with some explanation of how the interview came about.
One note on the text, which is particularly relevant in this section, so worth repeating: As we went along, I would ask supplementary questions, which got inserted into the previous text. To make it clear where a question has been added in later, I’ve included little arrows for those subsidiary questions, like this: ->. Occasionally, there were further questions, which are indicated by an ever expanding length of arrow, like this –> or this —>. Hopefully this will help to understand how the interview unfolded. So…
PÓM: You were a young man in a very vibrant and modern London, at that time. Did you have any interaction with the kind of things we hear about it, like the emerging drug culture?
SM: Well, I had a couple of nice hippy bells [bell-bottom jeans, for those of you too young to know what he's talking about - PÓM] when I was working on Pow! (Ken Mennell was most derisive!) But in many ways I was more of a passive participant. I read things like International Times and Oz and I bought psychedelic albums by people like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, and occasionally I’d go to hip bookshops like Indica and Compendium (and, of course, Bookends was quite hip, though that was 1972, rather than the late 1960s). But I didn’t go on protest marches and I rarely went to see bands or to events like the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at the Alexandra Palace (and I rather missed out on the ‘free love’ too, unfortunately). I listened to John Peel’s Perfumed Garden show on Radio London in the summer of 1967, and he encouraged listeners to meet up, wearing Perfumed Garden badges to identify one another. So I made myself a badge and when a meeting was announced on the radio at Greenwich Park I went off and met a few people. I’d guess there were about a dozen people there, one of whom was Phil Bevan, with whom I became quite friendly for a few years, and who also worked at Fleetway House for a while as an art assistant, shortly before I left. We produced a little booklet together for the fanzine market in 1971 called Doomlore, a rather twee fantasy story that I wrote and he illustrated, and he also contributed to the unpublished Orpheus #2. And we’d occasionally drop acid together.
From which you’ll gather that, if I had a fairly marginal involvement with the culture, I had an amiable relationship with the drugs. I first smoked hashish in 1969 with the set of friends I mentioned that had gathered round the founding of Dark They Were and Golden Eyed and, of course, they’re absolutely right when they say it can lead you to much more addictive drugs. In my case, it was tobacco. I only started smoking cigarettes as a result of smoking dope, and that was a habit I didn’t kick until 2000.
Hashish was something I mainly indulged in when it was easily available, as it was at Bookends and during the time I worked at and hung out at DTWAGE, especially in the final years in St. Anne’s Court, when it was delivered by motorcycle courier. Otherwise, friends would get it for me when they got theirs; I had very little contact with actual dealers. So a lot of my work in the first period of my comic career, from 1972 to the late 1980s, was written on dope; I seem to recall this was particularly the case on Warrior. These days I can’t work on it at all, but since I gave up smoking I’ve had to eat it, and that can have a tendency to just wipe out all inclination to work anyway. Especially the way I tend to overdo it.
There were psychedelics around in the late 1960s and early 1970s as well, of course, though I tended to be a bit timid about those. Where friends would say ‘I’m taking two (or three) tabs of acid!’ I’d tend to say ‘I think I’ll stick to one.’ As a result I rarely got completely blitzed, though I had some interesting experiences; but I think I liked to stay in control a bit too much (though that hasn’t stopped me, on occasion, eating so much hashish I passed out, or laughed so much I went into cataplectic fits). There were a few LSD trips, a couple with mescaline (if that was, in fact, what was in the tablet it was sold as) and rather more with psylocybin mushrooms, which are probably my favourite psychedelic, though I hardly ever indulge these days.
When things got tough at Bookends, toward the end, we resorted to amphetamines for a while, to get the work done, which isn’t at all a good idea; and, being available during the late 1970s when I was hanging out at DTWAGE, I indulged again for a little while (though never since). If someone offered me a free line of cocaine I wouldn’t say no, and I smoked opium once or twice, but it only put me to sleep and didn’t do anything. Heroin and barbiturates I stayed well away from, though, as I could see the damage they were doing to people I knew. So it’s really mainly been hashish. I’ve tended to steer clear of modern, laboratory-made drugs, preferring stuff that occurs naturally. But I’m really not into ‘drug culture’ the way some ageing hippies are. If somebody says ‘Oh, but you must try so-and-so!’ I just say ‘no’, these days.
And if you ask: ‘can drugs increase creativity?’ I’d probably say, on balance, that for me, they probably haven’t, though I know some people would have a different view; but they probably haven’t decreased it, either. I neither advocate nor oppose them. When they were there, I took them; when they weren’t, I got on without them. That’s life…
PÓM: You mentioned you thought some of the Chinese clubs might have been run by Triads. Did you have any proof of this, or indeed any contact with the Triads, as you became more immersed in Chinese culture?
SM: No, I can’t prove they were run by Triads, though I rather suspect it. The best I can say is that this is what’s known as ‘informed speculation’. But it turned out that my friend, the young kid who’d been working as a projectionist and letting me in to the movies for free, quite separately managed to get involved with the Triads, and not in a very pleasant way.
For reasons that will soon become apparent, I’m going to call him ‘Chang’, though that wasn’t his real name. Well, by the end of the 1970s, the cinema clubs were starting to close down, to be replaced by Chinatown video hire shops, which meant that I lost touch with my beloved Chinese movies until the advent of the home video market in the mid-1980s. It also meant that Chang lost his job. By then he was in his early 20s and married to a Chinese immigrant who’d illegally entered Hong Kong, and they had a baby, so without the projectionist job he then started working in a takeaway restaurant in Watford. When he was back in London, I’d occasionally meet him for lunch, often accompanied by his equally young Scottish friend ‘Peter’ (again, not his real name), who seemed nice enough. And then the lunches stopped, and we just sort of drifted apart.
Then a couple of years later, in the early 1980s, Chang suddenly turned up on my doorstep (I think on a Saturday morning), in something of a state, which I eventually realised was fear. So I got him on his own (my mother and brother were still here) and a rather complex story came out. It seemed that, like many Chinese, Chang was fond of gambling, and he told me he’d borrowed £500 from a Triad loan-shark to get himself a stake. Obviously, that was worth rather more back in those days than it would be now. I think Chang had been mainly gambling on arcade gaming-machines in Soho but, unsurprisingly, he’d lost all the money. I don’t know what the interest would have been – probably something like 10% a week – but now the Triads wanted their money back, and they meant ‘now’, not ‘soon’. So he was sleeping in his car and hoping they wouldn’t find him.
Chang, however, had a novel solution in mind, involving Peter – of whom, it seemed, I’d gained a rather mistaken impression. Instead of being the innocent young kid I thought, it turned out he was actually both gay (I hadn’t realised) and an armed robber, who sometime previously had attempted to mug a pensioner at Waterloo. Things went wrong, however, when the pensioner not only fought back, but started chasing him as well, at which point Peter turned round and shot the man in the head, leaving him in a vegetative state. He then fled to Thailand with his Thai boyfriend, and I think was about to return now that the heat had died down a bit.
So Chang’s plan was to turn Peter in for the £1500 reward that had been offered, and use the money to pay off his Triad creditor. The only problem with this plan was that the reward wouldn’t be paid out until a conviction was obtained, so he wanted to stay with me in the meantime, in the hope that the Triads wouldn’t look for him here.
I still have very mixed feelings about my reaction to this (I’m not sure it was my finest hour), but I’d had a fairly sheltered upbringing with no direct contact with the underworld, and I really didn’t want my aged mother opening the door to a bunch of armed Triad thugs if they turned up looking for Chang. Or my brother or myself, come to that. I asked Chang if there was anywhere else he could go, and he said he knew someone in Manchester (which itself was a Triad hotbed, so I’m not sure this was the best option). So I gave him a blanket and all the money I had in my wallet, which I think was about £70, and off he went. I never heard from him again, so I don’t know what happened about the plan to shop Peter to the police, or whether Chang sorted out his differences with the Triads. But I find it very difficult to think of a particularly positive ending to the story. Perhaps it’s better not to know…
So that’s as close as I got to the Triads and, frankly, even that was rather closer than I wanted to get. But I still sorta hope that Chang managed to get out of that scrape … somehow …
PÓM: What sort of amount of work were you producing at that time?
SM: I’ve a feeling things may have been a bit slack around 1975/76, and that may have been the period when for a few months I worked a couple of days a week at DTWAGE. Each year I had the annuals to carry me through from about September to February, and on average there’d be four or five books to work on. I also know I did a few projects that never saw publication – I particularly remember doing a comic-strip adaptation of Stevenson’s Treasure Island for someone (which was the first time I’d actually read the book, and I found it far more enjoyable than I’d expected), but it never appeared. That may have been around this time. And it was probably around then that I was writing the movie scripts. But work started to pick up with House of Hammer, and then at the beginning of 1977 there was 2000 AD and in 1978 Hulk Comic, followed by Dr Who and Warrior. So the end of the ’70s and the beginning of the ’80s was one of my busiest periods of comic-book writing. I never made a fortune and (as I may have said earlier), if I’d had a mortgage to pay and a family to support I would have been in some difficulty. But I had enough to buy books, which has always been my first priority!
And apart from the paying work, I was writing stuff for Fortean Times as well. I had a regular oriental column around then called ‘Tales from the Yellow Emporium’ (a pun on the legendary Chinese ruler, the Yellow Emperor), and I’d write up archaeological stories, and occasionally more regular Fortean material. So I kept myself busy.
PÓM: Did you do any work for Dez Skinn while he was in charge of Marvel UK?
SM: Yes, quite a bit. Dez moved to Marvel UK shortly after HoH folded, and started Hulk Comic at the beginning of 1979. The first issue came out in March, so there would have been a bit of lead-time before then when we were working on this. Dez had the idea that we should do original material featuring Marvel heroes, but tailored for the British market, and I think this was around the time of the Hulk TV series with Lou Ferrigno. This was alongside the reprint material as well, so I think the early issues actually had two Hulk strips in each issue, one reprint, one original. I’m pretty sure I wrote at least some of the Hulk stories, though I can’t remember if I wrote all the original stories or shared them with Steve Parkhouse. The main thing I wrote for this, though, was Nick Fury, which I think ran for the first 19 issues. This was drawn by Steve Dillon, who was about 16 at the time, and it may well have been his first strip. I don’t think I actually met Steve when we were doing this. It was still the time when for the most part a writer would have no idea of who’d be drawing his script, and no contact with the artist; a situation that I think only really started to change when Warrior began, at which point I worked very closely with Steve.
I haven’t looked at Nick Fury for many years, so I’ve no idea how good it was, but I remember really enjoying writing it. The original strip had been one of my favourites, especially when Jim Steranko was drawing it, and it was the sort of non-superhero adventure that I liked to do. Writing it was also very influential on my later work, as the ‘tough dude with smart dialogue’ that was Fury influenced my characterisation of both Abslom Daak and the straight, non-underground version of Axel Pressbutton, though obviously in both cases this got twisted up with a lot of other weird stuff that went into them too.
Eventually the original strips were dropped, presumably because they were less economical than the reprints. And, of course, by then we were starting work on Dr Who Weekly, the first issue of which appeared in October 1979. So I just moved from one to the other, and kept on working for Dez.
PÓM: How aware were you of what else was going on in the UK comics business at that time? Pat Mills and the like seemed in particular to be trying to push what they could get away with.
SM: I was hardly aware of anything at all except what I was working on. Since I’d gone freelance I wasn’t really reading comics for pleasure and no longer considered myself a fan, and I’d never even heard of Pat Mills before 2000 AD. I’d really kept away from IPC, once I’d dropped writing the odd Slowcoach story for Whizzer and Chips (okay, apart from Mirabelle!) as I didn’t like their editorial attitudes when it came to handling scripts, and I much preferred to work for relatively smaller companies, rather than a big corporation like IPC, with its corporate attitudes. I gather that Pat was doing some fairly progressive stuff on Action and Battle, but Battle was a war comic, which of course was revolting to me, so I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near it. And, besides, I really hadn’t envisaged working for IPC again until 2000 AD came along, which only interested me because it was an SF comic.
PÓM: Did you end up writing for any of those new titles? I’m primarily thinking of 2000 AD here, of course.
SM: It was basically just 2000 AD, though before we talk about that I’d just like to briefly mention the short-lived comic Tornado as it’s a good illustration of my relationship with IPC. Tornado was a mixed action and adventure comic that started in 1979, under the editorship of Kelvin Gosnell, and only lasted 22 issues. I was already working for 2000 AD by this time, and Kelvin asked me to contribute a short strip starting in Tornado’s first issue. He may actually have asked me for a historical story, but anyway I persuaded him to take a three-issue series, which was a true story about the Japanese warrior-monk, Benkei, who lived in the 12th century and was eventually killed by his enemies. There was enough adventure in his life for me to make a decent little three-part series, but I was basically writing a historical biography of a real person, ending with his heroic death. When the comic eventually appeared I found they’d altered the ending into something much more optimistic. I haven’t got a copy to hand, but I seem to remember they’d changed it so that Benkei actually escaped his enemies and ‘became a legend’. This they’d done without consulting me, and they’d put my name on the strip, which, to anyone who knew about Benkei, would have made me look a complete idiot. I was so annoyed I never worked for Tornado again.
I can’t remember exactly how I got involved with 2000 AD. I think I must have heard about it over the grapevine from someone, and it was an SF comic so I got in touch with them, rather than them approaching me. I think at the time my only other work was House of Hammer and the annuals, so I was looking for a bit of extra work. But I never actually felt comfortable working for it, for a number of reasons. One of them was the thing I just mentioned about IPC being a large corporation, and whereas I always felt with a smaller company that I was working with the editor as a collaborator, with IPC I always felt I was working for them, as a hired hand. Successive editors of 2000 AD have always given me the impression that they thought it was an enormous privilege to work for it, and that I should be grateful – presumably because they always had lots of other people wanting to get in on the act. The only editor who I actually felt made me welcome was Andy Diggle, when I returned to work for the title in 2000. I also used to feel that the editors and contributors formed a sort of clique that went to conventions and on signing tours together, and from what I hear a lot of them are heavy drinkers. As I’m not a drinker and can think of nothing more ghastly than spending an evening with a bunch of drunks talking about comics, I never really penetrated the clique, and always felt something of an outsider. And lastly, of course, I don’t actually like the comic that much.
I always thought Judge Dredd was utterly loathsome (though I did write one short strip for an annual). I appreciate that it was often beautifully drawn and that John Wagner’s a good writer, and I’m also told that it’s supposed to be satirical on occasion, but it espouses execution without trial and is basically about a personality-free fascist who I find about as entertaining as that hilarious Mister Hitler. Then there are the thinly disguised IPC war stories like Rogue Trooper, and B.L.A.I.R.1, the side-splitting super-adventures of that notorious war-criminal Tony Blair. What could they have been thinking of? Even when I was working for 2000 AD, I couldn’t actually bring myself to read the rest of the comic. And I absolutely hated Tharg, which I thought was utterly stupid and childish, and brought down the tone of what I was given to believe was supposed to be aspiring toward a slightly more adult comic. I still feel the same way – and of course, they’re still continuing with the same dim-witted puerility, even though I gather that the average age of a 2000 AD reader these days is somewhere between 30 and 40. But if they’ll still put up with something as irritating as Tharg, I’m not sure exactly how the term ‘adult’ applies here.
But work was work and, besides, at the beginning I didn’t really know what direction the comic would be going. I was well-established enough by that time for them to offer me the second story-arc on the revamped Dan Dare, which I think ran from about issue 12 to 20, or something like that, and was drawn by Bellardinelli, an artist who didn’t appeal to me much at all. All I can remember about the story is that the villain had two heads, which argued with each other. I didn’t much like the new Dan Dare, and maybe it showed, because they didn’t offer me another series on it.
So after that, they asked me to write short stories as filler material, which is what turned out to be the Future Shock series (though the fact that they were then called ‘Tharg’s Future Shocks’ and were given dumb introductions pissed me off – as did being described as a ‘script robot’). Essentially I based the format on the old EC twist-ending SF stories and they’ve been doing the same thing ever since. I think I wrote the first dozen or so and, interestingly, the first few could be written to different page-lengths, just depending on how the story came out. I seem to remember writing one that was only two pages long, though later they settled into a more standard five-page format. I think they then began bringing in other writers, though I wrote a few more. And that was pretty much my first period of involvement with 2000 AD. I then got enough work with Marvel UK, and was happy to leave 2000 AD behind.
I returned in the early 1980s (when the editor was Steve McManus, who I found smug, arrogant and unsympathetic) to write some more Future Shocks and, of course, by then Alan Moore was writing them too, so we used to have a bit of a private competition to see just how far we could push the ideas and still get away with it. And at that time I also got the chance to write a revived series of Rick Random, a strip I’d loved back in the 1950s Super Detective Library, and with Ron Turner, the original artist. Apart from beefing the action up a little for a 2000 AD audience, I tried to write it fairly straight … more a tribute than an updated revision … and I think it was about six episodes long. I was really pleased with it until the last episode appeared in print, at which point it turned out that, for some reason I never discovered, Turner hadn’t finished the strip, and (of course, without informing me) they’d given the last episode to Carlos Ezquerra, an artist I hated anyway, and one who really couldn’t have been further away in style from Turner, and who made no attempt to emulate what Turner had already done. If they’d given the episode to someone like Dave Gibbons I would have understood it, and it would probably have been a reasonably close match – but they gave it to Ezquerra. So, you won’t be surprised to hear that after that I didn’t work for 2000 AD again for another fifteen years or so.
PÓM: I know that yourself and Alan Moore are friends, and have worked together on many things over the years. Do you remember how the pair of you first got in touch with one another, and when you first met?
SM: This is a bit vague, but Alan and I spoke about this recently and I think we’ve got it sorted out. Before organising the first UK Comic Convention, Phil Clarke put out a sales list called The Comic Fan (this is to be distinguished from The Comic Fan Special, which was the bulletin of the Convention), and I printed the lists off for him on my duplicator. In the second issue, as well as advertising Ka-Pow #1, there was an advert from me, because, being besotted with the TV Avengers at the time, I was looking for a novelisation called Dead or Alive. Alan saw those ads, wrote to me, and so the correspondence started.
Unfortunately, that issue of The Comic Fan carries no date, but as Ka-Pow #1 had already been published, it was some time after July 1967. The odd thing about this, though, is that Dead or Alive is a book that never existed. At the time, Hodder published a couple of Avengers novels, credited to Patrick MacNee but ghosted by Peter Leslie, called Deadline and Dead Duck. Dead or Alive was advertised as the third in the series, which was why I wanted it, but if it was ever written it never appeared. 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.
After that, Alan seems to think that we first met face-to-face at the second Con in 1969. I’ve a notion, though, that we first met on a day-trip he made to London with his parents. I met them in town (where they presumably got the chance to check me out and see that I was, in fact, at least basically human) and then brought Alan back to my house for the afternoon before returning him, apparently undamaged, to the loving arms of his family. But exactly when that trip was (i.e., either before or after the 1969 Con) may be open to dispute. I think it was before. Actually, considering how important that first contact turned out to be for both our lives, it’s surprising how fuzzy the whole thing is. Maybe the Martians have tampered with our memories. Or, more likely, it’s the drugs.
Either way, the tradition we’ve always maintained is that we’ve known each other since I was 18 and he was 14. Going by our respective birthdays, that would mean we’d have to have first got in touch by letter sometime between November 1967 and June 1968, which seems to fit with his being a non-attending member of the 1968 Con. Whenever it was, I think one of the things that drew us together initially was the coincidence of our surnames, absurd though that may seem. Of course, in the decades since I’ve seen myself referred to as ‘no relation’ so many times I rather feel they’ll put it on my tombstone, and it was with considerable glee that when we got to preparing the back-flap biographies of Somnium I was able to describe him as ‘Alan Moore (no relation)’!
Anyway, Alan used to send me entertaining letters decorated with little drawings of ‘The Avenging Hunchback’ (sole line of dialogue: ‘Glerk!’) and before too long we were seeing each other quite frequently. And taking drugs together, of course. Apparently, Alan decided that if I was smoking dope it must be okay for him to do so too (I don’t think his mum ever forgave me, especially after he was expelled from school).
->PÓM: Have you kept any of those letters? And, if so, how likely is it you can scan them for the rest of the world to see?
SM: Yes, I’ve kept Alan’s letters, but obviously they have to remain private. There’s no way I’m going to embarrass him by publishing his teenage correspondence. But I’ve scanned one of the sketches of the Avenging Hunchback …
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.<-
Alan swiftly got involved with the Northampton Arts Lab, and their poetry magazine, Embryo (and its variously-named sequels). That was another attraction for me: I’ve always chosen my closest friends (at least the male ones) among people who were actually doing things, rather than talking about doing things, and that creative bond has remained central to our friendship ever since. So I submitted a couple of poems too (don’t ask me about the quality!), which they kindly printed, and that rather set the pattern. If one of us was working on a project where we could offer an opening to the other, we did, and it’s been pretty much like that ever since.
There was a time in the mid-1970s when we didn’t see each other quite so often (perhaps twice a year) mainly, I think, because Alan was busy getting married, having kids, holding down a ‘proper job’, etc. And then one day he showed up and showed me a drawing he’d done (I’ve a feeling it may have been some sort of fantasy scene with a sailing ship) and told me he wanted to get back into drawing again. And that really kicked off the second phase of our friendship, which has lasted to this day.
->PÓM: Probably a colossally stupid question, but what was Alan Moore like? What were your first impressions of him, do you remember? What appealed to you about him?
SM: You have to remember that our friendship was first established by letter, and the ones he wrote were always entertaining, funny and a bit mad. When I actually met him he was still very young, with a thick mop of hair that hadn’t yet grown long, no beard and a slightly chubby face. And he was fun. He had a great sense of humour, he was affable, honest, generous, straightforward, interesting and interested in everything, and far more sociable than I ever was. We just took to each other and haven’t been able to get rid of each other ever since.<-
PÓM: Comics legend has it that you taught Alan how to write a comic script. Do you remember this, and what advice you gave him?
SM: It’s a story that Alan has very kindly promoted himself, as well, though I’m not sure what I did really justifies it. As I’m sure you know, at the start of his career in the late 1970s Alan saw himself more as a cartoonist, and was quite capable of writing his own stories when he was just presenting a finished page of artwork. But when he decided to write serious strips for other artists to draw (and editors to read), he wanted a little advice on how to present things. So I basically just showed him some of my scripts, and how they were laid out, etc., which was very much in the British professional tradition of the ‘full script’, as I’d picked it up from people like Ken Mennell and Tom Tully, with several lines of description for each frame (I still think of the pictures in terms of the British ‘frame’, rather than the American ‘panel’).
And he sent me his first couple of scripts to look at, on which I scribbled a few comments (not with the blue pencil that editors usually used, but with a red pen so I looked far more outraged!) … mainly about things like the usual beginner’s mistakes of using too many words … and that was about it. All the rest of it was Alan’s talent. And I should, perhaps, point out that a couple of other people later asked me ‘how to write a comic-strip’; but none of them actually ‘got it’ in the same way that Alan did.
Having said that much, though, I have to add that I’ve also learned an awful lot about technique from Alan over the years. Of course, back then we were writing very basic scripts, and such things as the immensely long frame description was something he developed on his own. Later, especially in my ‘second period’ in comics after 2000, I also wrote pretty long descriptions, and that’s an example of the reverse influence. I think we really started to get interested in technical discussions about the time of Warrior, and from there it just went on. Even when I’d left the comics field for a few years in the 1990s to write and edit non-fiction, we’d still spend weekends together talking about writing technique, in various media. Mind you, Alan was always more interested in technique than I was; I tended to have a more instinctive approach, which has also been the case with things like magic. I think it’s just a basic difference in temperament.
As for why Alan reversed the usual format where frame descriptions were written in lower case and dialogue in upper case, to write his descriptions in upper and his dialogue in lower, I’ve really got no idea. I tend to look at things like that and think ‘Oh, it’s just Alan …’
PÓM: You got him some of his earliest work, like the stories he did in Marvel UK’s Dr Who comics, I believe?
SM: Obviously, Alan got the vast proportion of his early work on his own. For example, Sounds and 2000 AD he approached entirely by himself. As for Dr Who, which was a little later, that came about because I was switching from the back-up stories to the lead strip, so a new writer was needed for the back-ups. I think by then Alan had made a few sales and wasn’t a complete beginner, so I felt confident enough to recommend him as a replacement. There wasn’t anything special about this. It was just the sort of thing you’d do for a friend, and it certainly didn’t take any work away from me, so everybody won out. I don’t really remember anything else, script-wise, in the very early days. There may have been one or two other things, but my attitude was basically just that if I couldn’t or didn’t want to handle anything, Alan might as well be offered it.
Before that, though, Alan was still thinking of a cartoonist’s career, and what he mainly wanted was exposure, so he was quite prepared to do stuff for free. Steve Burgess, one of the editors of Dark Star (a magazine about West Coast rock music), worked at DTWAGE, so I knew him quite well; and they occasionally ran one-page underground strips, so I made the connection for Alan. I put him forward for some cartoons for the BJ and the Bear Annual, and I think I suggested him for a spread in the Frantic Winter Special that Marvel did in 1979. The last two, he actually got paid for!
PÓM: Just to clarify on the reference to the BJ and the Bear Annual, is it that Alan only drew the cartoons, to accompany your text? Currently, his bibliographies have his as doing both, for want of clearer information. So you’ll be doing the world of Moore scholarship in general a service by clarifying this! [It's all here, if you're interested - PÓM]
SM: This was a feature called ‘C.B.? – That’s a Big Ten-Four!’ This was a glossary of C.B. radio slang, and I’m afraid I’ve got no idea who wrote it, but it certainly wasn’t me. Looking at the text, it doesn’t really look like Alan either, so my guess would be that it was an anonymous feature-writer working for Grandreams. Alan provided four cartoons that, printed large, stretched a very slim feature to four pages. It appeared in the BJ and the Bear Annual for 1981, and so the artwork would probably have been drawn in the winter of 1980/1981. The feature was reprinted wholesale in The Dukes of Hazzard Annual for 1982.
PÓM: You worked together on a few strips, starting with Three Eyes McGurk and his Death Planet Commandos. How did that come about?
SM: Actually, the first thing we worked on together was a half-page strip called ‘Talcum Power’ (not ‘Powder’, as it seems to be referred to occasionally), for Dark Star #21 (July 1979). Alan had produced a full page ‘Avenging Hunchback’ strip for #19, which was pretty much a parody of the Superman origin story, and also drawn a second instalment for #20, but the artwork was stolen before it could be printed. So as a replacement for that he then did a half-page ‘Kultural Krime Komix’ in which he committed suicide over the theft, and that was pretty much the end of the Hunchback.
‘Talcum Power’ was basically a jam session, constructed one stoned weekend when Alan was visiting. We ‘wrote’ as we went along, and then we pencilled bits and pieces alternately, handing the artwork back and forth (along with the joints), though Alan plainly did more of the drawing and filled out the backgrounds in most of the frames. And after he’d gone I inked and lettered the whole thing. We concluded with a tag-line saying ‘Did you spot the hidden meaning?’ to cover up the fact that it plainly didn’t mean anything at all … it was just two hippies out of their minds on drugs having a good time … but for some reason that quite escapes me now, Dark Star liked it enough to publish it. It went under the by-line ‘by Curt & Pedro’ which, as the name hadn’t gone on my ‘Bangkok sex’ article, was the first time, I think, that the Pedro Henry pseudonym appeared in print.
Just as an aside, at around this time Alan was also drawing ‘St. Pancras Panda’ for the Oxford underground magazine, The Backstreet Bugle, and I did actually draw (all on my own!) a half-page silent strip for them called ‘Foobl’, in which an ancient city is attacked by a biplane (again, the meaning probably wasn’t apparent). That appeared in Bugle #30, August 1979, again as by ‘Pedro’. Later, in the first episode of ‘Abslom Daak: Dalek-Killer’ for Dr Who, I included a passing reference to a character called ‘C. Henry Foobl’ (derived from Curt Vile, Pedro Henry and Foobl), which was pretty much the sort of in-joke we used to indulge in back then … and later Alan actually used the character in ‘The Stars my Degradation’.
Anyway, Alan liked my inks on ‘Talcum Power’, and then asked me to write a series for him, which turned out to be ‘Three-Eyes McGurk and his Death-Planet Commandos’, which we did as by Curt Vile and Pedro Henry. We ended up with Alan pencilling while I wrote, inked and lettered, and the four episodes appeared in Dark Star #22-#25 (Dec 1979 – Jan 1981). It took absolutely ages to produce … more than a year, though obviously we had professional work to do at the same time … and Alan, trying to be helpful, produced what was virtually finished pencil artwork, including every dot of the stippling, and as the episodes progressed it just got more and more minutely detailed. While most comic-book pages are drawn ‘half up’ (i.e., half as big again as the reproduction size) or ‘twice up’, we were actually producing this ‘a fifth up’ (Alan had somehow got the completely mistaken notion that this was the ‘right’ size for comics), which meant I ended up inking most of it with a rapidograph nib 0.1mm wide. Later, when I showed the printed copies to Gilbert Shelton, who was interested in reprinting ‘McGurk’ in Rip-Off Comix #8, he guessed the originals must be huge … twice up or more … and seemed completely bewildered when I told him the actual size. Alan and I were both thrilled to be in Rip-Off (a real American underground!) and I think we actually got reprint fees of about $20 a page for it. With Dark Star, of course, we got nothing at all, but that had always been the deal from the start. Many years later, while browsing the web, I discovered that someone had actually liked the strip enough that they’d called their band the ‘Death-Planet Commandos’, though what sort of music they played I’m not sure. It would have been quite nice to know …
One of the reasons Alan wanted me to script for him was that it would be a challenge, in that he’d have to draw stuff at somebody else’s bidding, rather than just taking the easy option of writing stuff for himself that he knew he could draw. I think he was a bit taken aback when I asked him to draw the Numinous Paddlesteamer, though he responded magnificently. Of course, I’d made a rod for my own back, in that I then had to ink the damned thing! We had a lot of fun: I just let myself off the hook and decided to be as mad as possible, and that drew from Alan probably his best pencils to date. But there was so much work going into everything that by the fourth episode he was sending me the pencils a quarter of a page at a time, so I could be inking while he was pencilling the next quarter, before taping together the four sections of the page. But even so I think we only just managed to get the last episode in on time.
‘McGurk’ saw the first appearance of Pressbutton, a character I’d first come up with in late 1977, and I still actually have the original notebook in which he was first scribbled down:
Character called ‘Press-button’ – he caught Vegan Green Rot years ago, and his body had to be rebuilt from the feet up to above his hips – at the same time they built a button into his chest which, when pressed, give [sic] direct electrical stimulation of the pleasure centres of his brain.
Thus he chats up broads (in bars): “Wanna press my button, honey?”
Thus he is shot to death ‘right on the button’ and dies a happy man – his chest shattered & a hideous grin on his face.
And his companions:
‘Lonesome Henry, the Human Bomb’
So, as you see, the plot for ‘McGurk’ is pretty much there from the start, apart from Pressbutton’s cleaver-arm, which evolved in the scripting. Incidentally in the very first frame he appeared in, Alan drew the cleaver on the wrong arm! At the time, though, I just thought ‘There’s no way I’m going to sell a character who has orgasms to IPC or Marvel’ (at least not in 1977) so the idea just got put aside, and it was only when I thought I could do it as an underground strip that I dusted it off. It should also be plain from this that Pressbutton was created before the Abslom Daak character I did for Dr Who. Some people seem to have got the impression that the ‘straight’ version of Axel I did in ‘Laser-Eraser & Pressbutton’, for Warrior, was somehow a ‘replacement’ for Daak, when I wasn’t writing that any more; actually it was quite the reverse … Daak was what I wrote because I couldn’t do a straight version of Pressbutton.
Of course, following my original idea, I had actually had Pressbutton shot ‘right on the button’ at the end of ‘McGurk’ and that, I thought, was that.
PÓM: I know Pressbutton turned up in Alan’s The Stars my Degradation strip in Sounds, which you took over writing for him a bit over halfway through its run. What I don’t remember is if he appeared before or after you were writing. So, can you set me straight, and tell me how you ended up taking over the writing of the strip?
SM: What happened was that by the summer of 1980, Alan was winding down his Roscoe Moscow strip, and decided he was going to do The Stars my Degradation, a story pretty much set in the same world as Three-Eyes McGurk (so I guess he must have enjoyed his stint on that … we were actually still drawing McGurk at the time). This sounded good to me, and then a couple of weeks later he phoned me up and asked if he could use Pressbutton in the strip. Well, I wasn’t envisaging using Pressbutton again (he was dead, after all, and I didn’t imagine I’d do any more underground strips) so I said of course he could, and he could use McGurk and any of the other material that he wanted as well. This obviously meant that the Stars material was placed earlier in Pressbutton’s life, and when we eventually did the ‘straight’ version in Warrior, that was set earlier still … so he kind of lived his life backwards. Pressbutton first appeared in the fifth instalment of Stars, and it was Alan who gave him the forename ‘Axel’ … I’d never even thought about a forename for him before that.
There were 100 episodes of Stars and a couple of Christmas specials, before it concluded in early 1983, by which time Alan was very busy with a lot of other stuff and was struggling to find time for it. So he asked me write the last third of the series (my first episode was 62), which I was more than happy to do (I was also writing Laser-Eraser & Pressbutton for Warrior by then, so there’s an awful lot of overlapping going on here). I think Alan was getting £45 a week for writing and drawing it, and he offered me £10 for the script, so I said sure and started scripting them in batches of four or five episodes each.
->PÓM: I note that you’re also doing this interview in sets of questions, rather than one question at a time. So, is this the way you like to work, doing things in lots, rather than a piece at a time?
SM: Umm … I’m making this up as I go along, Pádraig! I’ll do it any way it comes!<-
SM: Alan had given me a very rough idea of where he imagined the story-arc going, which was pretty much a ‘back-of-an-envelope’ size synopsis, and after that I just let myself loose and tried to make it as crazy as possible. One of the things Alan had been doing with earlier episodes of the strip was parodying things like The X-Men … but I’m really not interested in parody, so I wanted to make it more of a comedy-adventure in the style of McGurk. And once again, I was challenging Alan to draw all kinds of weird shit, like rubber Episcopalians and battles between newts and Amazons and, of course, the Immolato Tomato … so I was having lots and lots of fun and Alan was probably starting to think this was a really bad idea. And we were trying to get away with as much as we could, of course, which meant the strip was frequently censored, sometimes quite crudely, with whole frames deleted, which we weren’t very pleased about.
->PÓM: What sort of things were they censoring the strips for? I’d have though that the editorial imperatives at Sounds at that time would have been quite relaxed.
SM: We just had too much sexual content for them. Alan had something of a tendency to draw penises everywhere, which usually ended up with ‘censored’ labels stuck over them, and they were obviously less interested in showing acts of sexual congress than we were. There was one occasion where Alan had decided to render the episode in pencil and they simply rubbed out a scene they didn’t like. I should point out that this had been going on before I started writing the strip as well, but I admit it got worse when I took over … but when the story moved to ‘Gomorrah’s World’, on the planet Depravity, what can one expect?<-
SM: Sounds also managed to lose one entire episode, though as this was only about Pressbutton and Harry the Hooper practising before their final showdown, probably no one noticed … except me, and I still had the script, of course.
->PÓM: Are we likely to ever see the script for that episode that Sounds lost? And is there any chance Alan could be talked into drawing it?
SM: I’ve scanned the script, and also the full script for an episode where they deleted a couple of frames entirely. The reason the scans start part way down the page is because I was writing these in batches, rather than starting a new script on a new page. We’ve no objection to these scripts being put online, but I think I can say that the chances of Alan drawing the missing script are pretty close to absolute zero.<-
[Sorry for the quality of these, folks, but this as good as I have them, I’m afraid.]
PÓM: But you were just scripting now, rather than contributing to the art?
SM: The only other art involvement I had was with the special ‘Christmas on Depravity’ story that we did in December 1981, which was just before I took over scripting the strip. The script was mainly by Alan, though we’d discussed the story when he’d been down to visit previously, and there are one or two of my gags in there. It was also the one that ‘reunited’ Axel and Mysta Mystralis, even though they hadn’t actually appeared in Warrior by this point.
It was a four-page story, and thus the equivalent of eight normal half-page episodes, and it had a second-colour overlay on every page. It was due for delivery on a Monday shortly before Christmas, and Alan turned up at my place on the Friday with about half the strip drawn and none of the colour overlays done; I’m not even sure if he’d actually scripted absolutely everything. So we basically just worked through the weekend on it, with Alan drawing the foregrounds and myself contributing bits of background, often on the colour overlays, where we were just drawing in black ink on tissue-paper overlays. So I was tracing pictures of Japanese monsters, the interior of blood vessels, rains of carrots and anything else I could think of. It was basically work, fall asleep and then work again, but Alan left on the Monday morning to take a finished job into the Sounds office, and I went back to bed. The only trouble was, we’d been told that the overlay would be red on the first and fourth page and blue on the second and third, so we designed the overlays with those colours in mind. Of course, it came out with the colours reversed and, worse than that, the tissue-overlays had actually shrunk under the hot lamps in the scanning process, so everything was out of register, too! We were not amazingly happy about this. But those are the sort of things where you look back and think ‘did we actually do that?’
->PÓM: You did at one stage interview yourself in the guise of Pedro Henry, for Warrior. How did that come about?
SM: Dez wanted to do a series of text fe
Last May, Alan Moore announced he would be involved with a new line of digital comics called Electricomics. Given that Alan Moore is to computers as Daryl Dixon is to soap, this seemed counter intuitive, but it turns out his daughter Leah was very much involved in it. A line of comics was announced:
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)
But what’s new since may? Electricomics had a panel at Thought Bubble and Asher Klassen
has a detailed account
, explaining that the project is not for profit but being funded by the Digital Research and Development Fund for the Arts, leaving the project free to just noodle around and find out what is possible, which sounds pretty exciting, especially when you factor in the involvement of Daniel Merlin Goodbrey
, who is on the cutting edge of the “Future comics.”
Those of you picturing Alan Moore hunched over a computer workstation writing code with his beard nearly hiding the keyboard, stop it. Don’t be ridiculous; that’s what he has code demons for (No, seriously, a shed full of ‘em. It’s in the zine.). Mr. Moore may not be a wizard of the tech variety, but it seems his self-proclaimed alienation from modern forms of media has allowed to conceive this project relatively unpolluted by the endeavours that precede it. He doesn’t know Comixology, Madefire, or Manga Studio. He knows comics. That’s something that was made crystal clear through the course of this panel, the idea that, if you could distill from the form the Essence of Comics, then that would be the driving technology behind this project. That’s what a couple top theorists, legendary writers (did I mention Garth Ennis?), and hotshot programmers are doing with a bundle of government money: not an exercise in visual FX, motion graphic, music, flashinglight and pretty colours, but attempting to take the narrative structural and spatial freedom of a digital workspace and make it understandable and accessible to you through…an app.
With the convention season slowed down, I’ve begun to think about larger comics topics again, and “Future comics” is at the top of my list. As mentioned before, Madefire aside, this seems to have stalled out. Throwing think tank money at the question of what comics can do on the internet seems like a marvelous project and I’ll be eagerly awaiting more news.
Now what was that I was just saying about non Marvel and DC properties getting a second look—or in the case of From Hell, a third look. The masterpiece by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that followed the saga of Jack the Ripper in fascinating detail was already made into a movie starring Johnny Depp. But now it’s back in development as a TV show:
Now here’s where it gets interesting. Don Murphy, who producer not only the From Hell film but the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, is producing, with Children of Men’s David Arata (Children Of Men) writing a script. And then:
When the current resurgence of event series started, Murphy thought that would be a great way to handle the material properly, giving the story time to play out and doing it justice. He reached out to Fox Group chairman Peter Rice who was an executive on the movie. Rice loved the idea and the project was set up at Fox TV Studios whose then-topper David Madden had worked with Murphy in the past. Arata was brought in as writer and the drama was sold to FX, with FX Prods. coming on board to co-produce with FtvS. Murphy is executive producing with Susan Montford, via their company Angry Films, along with Arata.
What’s the interesting part? It is the LOEG adaptation above all that set “the Original Writer” Alan Moore’s heart against any film or TV adaptations—Moore was forced to testify in a copyright infringement lawsuit
, an event he found deeply repugnant. It is also safe to say that the amount of love lost between Murphy and Moore is such a negative quantity that it could form a gigantic black hole that could suck the entire universe right into it.
All of which is to say that expect Moore not to have anything to say about this and to get exceedingly cranky when asked.
BUT, you may recall that League of Extraordinary Gentleman was announced last year as a “put pilot”—meaning it would have to be made and shown or Fox would have to pay a sizable fee—and where is that? Not another peep heard.
All of that said, in case you need to be reminded, From Hell is a true masterpiece of comics, Moore’s phantasmagoric view of true life historical detail and artist Eddie Campbell’s deeply felt expressionist art combining with one of the greatest mysteries of all time to make an unforgettable story. If you haven’t read it, remedy that right now!
Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s Nemo trilogy wraps up in march with Nemo: River of Ghosts, recently acquired Top Shelf just announced. Like all of its Alan Moore publications, Knockabout will publish the book in the UK. The trilogy, which follows Captain Nemo’s daughter Janni, began in Heart of Ice, continued in The Roses of Berlin and wraps up here, with now aged Janni exploring the Amazon.
In a world where all the fictions ever written coalesce into a rich mosaic, it’s 1975. Janni Dakkar, pirate queen of Lincoln Island and head of the fabled Nemo family, is eighty years old and beginning to display a tenuous grasp on reality. Pursuing shadows from her past—or her imagination—she embarks on what may be a final voyage down the vastness of the Amazon, a last attempt to put to rest the blood-drenched spectres of old.
With allies and adversaries old and new, we accompany an ageing predator on her obsessive trek into the cultural landscape of a strange new continent, from the ruined city of Yu-Atlanchi to the fabulous plateau of Maple White Land. As the dark threads in her narrative are drawn into an inescapable web, Captain Nemo leads her hearse-black Nautilus in a desperate raid on horrors believed dead for decades.
This follow-up trilogy to the League of Extraordinary Gentleman saga has been quite entertaining in its own right. What else do Moore and O’Neill have up their sleeve I wonder?
By: Powell's Staff,
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, Alan Moore
, Alex Haley
, Christopher McDougall
, Dee Williams
, James Clavell
, Jay Mcinerney
, Jeanette Winterson
, Julie Campbell
, Kim Barnouin
, Lisa Leake
, Michael Brower
, Paul Monette
, Ray Kurzweil
, Rita Mae Brown
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, Rory Freedman
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We tend to think of reading as a cerebral endeavor, but every once in a while, it can spur action. The following books — ranging from inspiring biographies to evocative fiction to instructional guides — motivated us to step out of our comfort zones and make significant, lasting changes in our lives. ÷ ÷ ÷ [...]
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Poisoned Chalice
, Top Comics
, Top News
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, Garry Leach
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Miracleman, a character with one of the most fascinating back stories in comics chronicled in our own Poisoned Chalice pieces is getting an Artifact Edition from IDW. The collection was announced this morning from Comics Alliance, and contains 144 pages of sheer Alan Moore awesomeness. The hardcover is going to set you back $95, but features an orientation size of 15 x 20. The book is for those who describe themselves as ‘process nerds’ featuring artwork in the size that it was presented with notes as the title was produced.
Miracleman Artifact Edition HC
The Original Writer (w) • Garry Leach, Alan Davis, John Totleben, and more (a) • John Totleben (c)
Miracleman was launched 30 years ago in the now legendary Warrior magazine. It turned the concept of “super-hero” on its ear with big ideas that helped redefine an entire genre… when Miracleman fought Kid Miracle Man on the streets of London… well, things would never be the same.
And then there was the art.
Miracleman had a true knack for bringing out the best work from extraordinary artists. Starting with co-creator Garry Leach, followed by Alan Davis (and others) and finishing with one of the most amazing endings in comics history by the phenomenal John Totleben, Miracleman was a work of art painted on a grand canvas, unlike anything before or since.
HC • BW • $95.00 net discount item • 144 Pages • 15” x 20” • ISBN: 978-1-63140-392-7
Miracleman is a special character who was finally capitalized on in recent reprints of the series from Marvel. This excellent work from people like Garry Leach, John Totleben, and Alan Moore (who is credited as the original writer) is now widely available in numerous incarnations across bookshelves, and for that we commend IDW and Marvel. Miracleman is so rich with history and intrigue, it’s excellent to think that a new horde of readers are going to be digging into the incredible work.
Please, make sure to buy responsibly.
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Comics Media
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, Retailing & Marketing
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, Judge Dredd
, Mike Molcher
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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.
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
, Chris Mooneyham
, Fabian Gray
, Five Ghosts
, Frank Barbiere
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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
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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
Blog: PW -The Beat
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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.
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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!