On the 22nd of October 2010 – three years ago almost to the day – I spent an hour on the phone with Alan Moore, interviewing him about Marvelman. At the time this was meant to be for the book I was writing about the history of the character, which has been serialised here as Poisoned Chalice. But, in light of recent events, I decided to ask his permission to put the interview up here, which he is happy for me to do. It wasn’t originally meant to be presented in public in its entirety, so is much more conversational in nature than a straightforward interview would be, and occasionally sees me breaking the first rule of interviewing, which is that the question should never be longer that the answer. Still, it is what it is, as a wise man once said. And I should point out that some of my own opinions, as stated here, are not necessarily the same opinions I now hold. And that’s enough from me, for the time being…
(Except to say that anything in [square brackets] has been added for clarification, in the last few days.)
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: What I want, I’m writing a book about Marvelman and, really, this was meant to have started off as an article, it was going to be like an internet article or a fanzine article, or something like that, and it just kinda grew and grew and grew, and I’ve ended up talking to a number of people: I’ve talked to Dez Skinn, I’ve talked to Alan Davis, Neil Gaiman, Rick Veitch, and it – I’m finding out all kinds of bizarre things, really, really finding out things that are, you know this, ‘Everything you knew was wrong’ theory? And I wanted to get your take on your involvement with it, specifically.
Alan Moore: Sure, ask away, Pádraig.
PÓM: Right, Marvelman. Do you remember your first experience of Marvelman, when you first came across it?
AM: I can’t remember specifically, but I can remember that I was probably already aware of the colour comics from America when I first became aware of Marvelman, which meant that Marvelman was always something of a poor relation, in that it was black and white, the stories actually weren’t as sophisticated as some of the newer comics that were coming over.
PÓM: The American stuff started coming into the UK in November 1959, I think. [Actually January 1960, although the comics were cover-dated November 1959]
AM: That would probably have been around about the time that I first saw it. I can remember buying a very early Showcase issue of The Flash, so that was in 1959…? And I then became aware a little later of these flimsy sixpenny British comics with coloured covers and black and white interiors, and if I couldn’t find any American superhero comics I would be tempted to pick up almost anything that fitted the bill. That could be Alan Class black and white reprints or L Miller black and white reprints, where you’d find these very intriguing pre-code Atlas and Avon stories, and then of course there was Marvelman and the other superheroes which, at the time, probably – they were merely there to fill a need if I couldn’t find anything else, but I was aware of Marvelman as about the only British superhero so, although I didn’t really go out of my way to collect Marvelman, and only had a scattering of issues, it was something where I was aware that there was an iconic quality to the character, purely because – not because of the artwork or the stories necessarily, although there were some good stories and some good artwork, but it was mainly just purely because this was, as far as I knew at the time, the only British superhero.
PÓM: OK. Did you read any of the other stuff that L Miller did?
AM: Well, I think Miller did Mystic?
PÓM: Miller did Mystic later on, yeah.
AM: So I read those, I’d probably come across, what was it? Was it Captain Miracle, or Miracle Man?
AM: It was I think Captain Miracle, and I think it was black and white – I think it was Miller who did the black and white reprints of Captain Midnight?
PÓM: It might have been. Miller was earlier than Alan Class. Alan Class went on into the seventies, because I remember picking them up here in Dublin.
AM: I remember buying the odd thing, but the main thing was that, the thing that probably sparked off my involvement with it, was the fact that British seaside towns seemed to have a different distributor.
PÓM: Yes! I have this on my list: it was the Seashore Caravan Camp in Great Denes in Great Yarmouth that you used to go and stay in, is that right?
AM: That’s right.
PÓM: Was that a regular annual thing?
AM: Yes, for about, at least eight years during my childhood, we were going every year.
PÓM: And was that just you and your parents and your brother?
AM: Sometimes. I think my paternal grandmother came along on at least one occasion, and sometimes there’d be friends or even relatives who’d be staying nearby, in one of the nearby caravan camps, and we’d meet up with them, but pretty much just me, me mum, me dad, and me brother.
PÓM: With my mother’s side of the family, down in caravan camps in Waterford, they did exactly the same thing when I was a young lad, so, yeah.
AM: Well, like I say, there seemed to be a slightly different distribution system – Kevin O’Neill’s commented on the same thing – it seems you could get different titles around the coast than you could at the inland outlets, and I remember that there was a seafront shop that sold beach toys, flags for your sandcastles, all of that sort of stuff, and it also had a rack of paperbacks and a rack of comics – well, in this case, there was a copy of the Young Marvelman, I think it was, I’m pretty certain it was Young Marvelman. It was a Young Marvelman hard-covered annual.
PÓM: So, that would have been Don Lawrence, maybe? Don Lawrence art?
AM: Possibly. I can’t remember. I was only thirteen or something at the time, or possibly even younger, twelve or thirteen, and it might well have had Don Lawrence art, but I wouldn’t have known about that at the time. The main thing was, it was just this purely chance conjunction of events, really, that they were selling the Young Marvelman annual that I hadn’t seen before, so I picked that up, and they’d also got a load of the Ballantine Mad reprints, which included I think The Bedside Mad, and Inside Mad, which were reprinting from the Mad comics, rather than from the Mad Magazines.
PÓM: Yes, I know exactly the ones you mean.
AM: And one of these that I picked up, possibly Inside Mad, had got Kurtzman and Wood’s Superduperman, [It’s actuallyThe Mad Reader that the story is in] and I remember I was reading these two very disparate books back in the caravan, and somehow there was a kind of a cross-fertilisation – well, it wasn’t even that much of a cross-fertilisation. I read the Superduperman story, and though, ‘Oh, I’d really like to do a story like that, that was so funny,’ and I thought, ‘well, you couldn’t do it about Superman, because they’ve already done it. Could you do a story like that about this British superhero, Marvelman, that I was aware of?’ And so I just started to think about it – I think at the time I was even planning to submit it to the school magazine, which was the only publishing outlet that was available to me back then. It never got any further than just the idea, but I can remember that I thought it would be funny to have Mickey Moran grown up and become an adult, who’d forgotten his magic word. And, yeah, at the time, that was seen as a satirical, humorous situation, but the idea just stayed in me mind, and over the next twenty or something years, fifteen years, it obviously percolated until it became my version of Marvelman.
PÓM: OK. I have a list of questions here, and you’re actually, I’m ticking them off as you’re getting to them yourself, before I’m getting to them. OK. Did you know anything about the court case that had happened between DC and Fawcett about Superman and Captain Marvel, or were you too young to have any idea about that?
AM: I was informed of it by that Superman story, the Superduperman story in Inside Mad, which featured a fight between Superduperman and Captain Marbles, and I think that at the time I did realise – this might have been when I was – I don’t know, I don’t know – I might not have realised at the time, but I know that very soon thereafter, when I connected up with British comics fandom, I certainly became aware very quickly. I can’t remember – I probably wouldn’t have known it at the time. I can’t think where I would have heard it from.
PÓM: Yeah. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t matter, I was just curious to…
AM: It was certainly something that I realised very quickly, that the story was alluding to the real live legal battle between DC Comics and Fawcett Comics.
PÓM: The next time Marvelman comes up really is you mention it – there was a question and answer thing that David Lloyd did in the Society of Strip Illustration Newsletter in May 1981, as far as I remember, and the last thing you said was you really wanted someone to bring back Marvelman so you could write it. Why did you say that?
AM: Because it was true. By that time I’d been working in comics for – what year did you say that was?
AM: I’d have probably been working in comics for a few months, as a writer, by that point, and I was mainly getting short pieces in the back of Doctor Who Weekly, Monthly, and the odd Future Shock, and I really, really wanted to have a continuing character. This would have been useful financially, as much as anything else, and it would have been a great deal more secure than relying upon when you got tossed a bone by one of the sub-editors of the companies. So – and also, having absorbed quite a lot of superhero comics during my formative years I thought that, ideally, I should like to do a superhero story. I’d got vague plans that if Marvelman hadn’t panned out I’d have probably tried to slip a disguised superhero into a submission for 2000 AD. But, I had got this idea for how Marvelman could be treated that I though seemed quite fresh and so, when I was questioned for the SSI magazine, yeah, that ‘Is there anything you’d really like to do?’, yeah, that was about the first thing that sprung into my mind.
AM: Well, I remember that the first time I had worked for Dez Skinn would have been a year or two before?
PÓM: Yeah, the Frantic Winter Special.
AM: Yeah, where I had not had any contact with him – I believe I’d perhaps met him at this convention briefly, I’d met him back when I was thirteen or fourteen, I knew of him, because he was around on the fandom scene. I’d known of him as a professional editor because he was the one editing Hulk Weekly, which Steve Moore was working for, and I know that, I think Steve had got me the Frantic job, if I remember correctly. Didn’t meet him then – or if I did, it was only in passing at a convention, and then I – the SSI thing was published, and as I remember it, Dez Skinn got in touch with me very soon thereafter, and told me that he had got, or was getting, the rights to Marvelman, and would I like to perhaps write it in this new magazine that he was putting together. And I said yes, and he explained that he wanted it to be modelled on what he saw as the successful formula of Hulk Weekly, and that Marvelman would be the superhero strip, standing in for the Hulk, I guess.
PÓM: I think for Captain Britain, was what he said, because he’d done Captain Britain before, and he’d brought in flashback stuff, which was cheap stuff to use, because you were using old produced stuff, and that was one of the things he wanted to do, was to bring down the cost of production.
AM: I didn’t hear that. Because, as far as I know, the only inclusion of Captain Britain had been in Steve Parkhouse’s Black Knight strip in Hulk Weekly, so, as I was pitched it, it was that he wanted to have Steve Parkhouse doing an archaic English fantasy story, to reproduce the Black Knight, he wanted Dave Lloyd and I think it was Dave Lloyd who suggested me as a writer, to do this strip that would be set in the nineteen thirties and would be a noir crime strip like Night Raven, he wanted Marvelman as a stand-in for the Hulk, he wanted Laser Eraser and Pressbutton I think as a stand in for the Nick Fury strip that Steve Moore had been writing – this is how I remember it.
PÓM: It was all – everything was a variation of something that had been successful previously.
AM: And he’d got Shandor from his House of Hammer days. He was trying to fill a formula. I think that probably the success of Warrior was in how widely we deviated from that formula: It wasn’t Night Raven, it was V for Vendetta, it wasn’t the Hulk, it was Marvelman, it wasn’t Black Knight, it was The Spiral Path. The strips in Warrior were I think an awful lot better than the original Marvel properties – which people had been doing the very best jobs that they could with, but it was still a British Marvel publication, it was limited in how far you could go, you were using characters that the powerful American parent company had got a very strict interest in so, that’s how I remember it coming about.
PÓM: With your – I know it was reprinted in [George Khoury’s] Kimota! – your original pitch to Dez, how much did you get to do exactly what you wanted, and how much did –I know that – Dez wanted Big Ben to be used in the strip, and things like that. How much compromise was there?
AM: Eh, well, pretty much, I did everything that I wanted, because the stuff that I was doing was good. And I remember that, yes, Dez had got this Big Ben character that existed – I think it was Ian Gibson? – It was something that Dez had done with Ian Gibson?
PÓM: I think it was something that had never actually come to fruition.
AM: It had never been published, but it had been something that had been done by Dez and Ian Gibson. Dez was hoping that Big Ben was going to be the superhero smash of the eighties, wanted me to launch it in the already successful Marvelman. I thought of a way that that could be done without damaging my continuity, so I was up for doing that.
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…
PÓM: Yes, that’s right, I know exactly the scene you mean!
AM: 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 wasn’t 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 Interviewer interrogates the Interviewee, Northampton, 2008
To Be Continued…
(On Wednesday, so not too long to wait. And then there’s a third and last bit on Friday. The Beat: All the Facts, All the Time!)