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.
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.