Alan Moore interview: ‘I’m giving all my screen royalties to Black Lives Matter’

After four decades in the comic book industry, Alan Moore is relishing being in the world of literary publishing. “I’m having a very good time of it,” says Moore, whose debut collection of short stories, Illuminations, is just out in paperback.

He says that his publisher, Bloomsbury, “respect my decisions and opinions. And I own my own work. It doesn’t sound like a lot if you’re used to traditional grown-up publishing, but it means an awful lot if you’re used to the comic books industry. It does make me wish that I’d maybe gone into writing prose fiction back in the late Seventies.”

Moore’s sanity might have benefited from a career writing fiction rather than comic books, but readers would have been deprived of many of the classics of the genre. As the mind behind Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell and V for Vendetta, he has been called the Shakespeare of the comic book.

Talking to me over Zoom, the 69-year-old Moore – a hirsute figure whose aesthetic might best be described as WFH Gandalf – insists that he has formally retired from writing comics now, despite the challenges that prose fiction brings.

The stories in Illuminations are in equal parts weird, funny and exhilarating, but what stands out – whether he’s describing an apocalyptic battle between angels and demons in the skies above Bedford, or the lovemaking of two disembodied brains in the moments after the creation of the universe – is his visual impact of his prose.

A scene from Watchmen, as drawn by artist Dave Gibbons

Credit: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

“I’ve always had, I think, a fairly decent visual imagination, and when I was working in comics the visual descriptions would be going into the lengthy notes that I was writing just for the artist.”

The centrepiece of Illuminations is a long story on the theme of the decline of the comic book industry. His objection is to “the gentrification of comics that happened post-Watchmen: that neighbourhood has been lifted out of the reach of its original inhabitants” – i.e. children.

“Now they’re called ‘graphic novels’, which sounds sophisticated and you can charge a lot more for them. What appealed to me most about comics is no more, and these innocent and inventive and imaginative superhero characters from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties are being recycled to a modern audience as if they were adult fare.”

Moore’s own efforts to bring darker subject matter and wider emotional range to the comic book are partly to blame, he admits. “I didn’t mean my experiments with comics to be immediately taken up as something that the whole industry should do. When I was doing things like Watchmen, I was not saying that dark psychopathic characters are really cool, but that does seem to be the message that the industry took for the next 20 years.”

He sounds like Dr Frankenstein regretting the creation of the monster – does he wish he’d never entered the industry? “Oh yes, I wish that all the time.” fndHh-SEDe0

The strength of Moore’s opinions is belied by their matter-of-fact delivery in a gentle Northampton accent. The son of a brewery worker, he was brought up in The Boroughs, “the most impoverished area of Northampton”.

Moore says that his “values system was formed in The Boroughs”: “although it was destitute there was an astonishing sense of community – nobody would rob anyone else because nobody else had anything. There was a kind of commonality.” In the 1970s he worked in underground comics and music papers, and those egalitarian values were nourished by the counterculture.

He has always espoused liberal values in his comics, and deprecates the work of the American Frank Miller of Sin City fame – his only rival for the title of King of the Comic Book – as “a pretty sub-fascist vision even from the days of The Dark Knight [Miller’s take on Batman]. It’s the idea of one man, perhaps on horseback, who can sort out this mess – that’s a bit too Birth of a Nation.”

Ironically, a “fascist hymn” that Moore wrote for V for Vendetta has become an anthem for users of the neo-Nazi internet forum Stormfront. “The person who posted it said: ‘after reading his beautiful words, I can’t help but think he must secretly be one of us inside.’ So yes, apparently I’m very big with the Nazis.”

Moore has no control over whether his comics are adapted for film or television, but has long refused to have his name attached to any film – and if you look at the long list of clunkers derived from his work (it’s hard to remember that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was Sean Connery’s last film without tearing up) you realise how right he has been to insist that his work is unfilmable.

Is it true that he refuses all money he is entitled to from the film companies, asking for it to be divvied up among the film’s writers and other creatives? “I no longer wish it to even be shared with them. I don’t really feel, with the recent films, that they have stood by what I assumed were their original principles. So I asked for DC Comics to send all of the money from any future TV series or films to Black Lives Matter.”

V for Vendetta masks have become a common sight at protests

Credit: Scoopt

He is not terribly interested in money, and lives quietly in Northampton, not far from where he was born. “Northampton’s perfect for me. The town is a ruinous dump, but its essence is not just its present circumstances, it’s the immense history that has accumulated here and which feeds into [its] character. The energy of the people here is wonderful.” He is inspired by, and perhaps places himself in, the line of Northampton-bred troublemakers ranging from Hereward the Wake to Diana, Princess of Wales.

I would have liked to go and beard Moore in his Northampton den, but he and his wife Melinda both have underlying health issues and restrict the number of people they see these days in an effort to avoid Covid.

“I’ve become used to a more virtual world. And I’ve kind of forgone public appearances, partly because I’m a bit old and doddery – and, as I get older, as you can see I get more unsightly – but also I was finding at comic conventions I’d talk to people and they were looking at me like they were having some sort of religious experience rather than an ordinary conversation. So I’ve sort of retired into what I probably originally thought a writer’s life was like, where you sit at home and write books.”

He’s now working on a series of fantasy novels set in mid-20th-century Britain. “Fantasy these days seems to have been boiled down to a kind of JRR Tolkein, George RR Martin world of warriors and dragons and, for some reason, dwarves. The fantasy books that inspire me are things like Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, which is actually about the real world in some ways, the changing nature of British society.

“Fantasy has no restrictions whatsoever, so it’s a bit lame to be constantly hitting the same note on the piano. Let’s have fantastic visions that nobody has ever seen before – and lay off people of restricted height for a change.”

The paperback of Illuminations by Alan Moore is published by Bloomsbury on Sept 14

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