Part I: Steve Moore, River of Ghosts, The Show, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is here. Now read on…
PÓM: Actually, funnily enough, talking about Century, I do very much get the impression that, in the one set in 1969 – at the end of that it’s 1977, and it’s all very Punk Rock, and I was all very Punk Rock myself in 1977, because that was just the right kind of musical time for me, but I always got the impression you didn’t really like Punk Rock. Would that be about right?
AM: No, that wouldn’t be right at all!
AM: I really did like Punk Rock. I doubt that there’s many people out there with a better collection of early punk vinyl singles than I’ve got. I decided not to get my hair cut short because at that time I thought perhaps, I was perhaps more – more impressed than I should have been by the fact that Dee Generate, who was the drummer of Eater, if you remember them, he was fourteen, so I thought, ‘Oh yeah, well, this is a different generation to me, they don’t want me cutting my hair and wearing Anarchy t-shirts, I love the music, but I’m going to leave this to them.’ This was before I realised that actually Johnny Rotten was an ex-Hawkwind fan who was exactly, I think, a year younger than me, and that Jet Black of The Stranglers was probably old enough to be my dad.
So, no, I loved Punk Rock, thought that, if it’d got a problem, I thought that the problem was that, tactically, there isn’t anywhere to go after nihilism, that was it. That was my only criticism of punk. I mean, in the League, it was more a matter of contrast, showing this dopey, idyllic, and fairly irresponsible 1960s Hyde Park concert, with the Peace and Love balloons, and everything like that, and then just cutting brutally to a punk scene where, all right, just as we might have perhaps emphasised the hippiness of the hippies in 1969, so we perhaps also emphasised the atmosphere of spiky amphetamine violence that surrounded some early punk gigs. But we probably didn’t do it too much in either instance. Yeah, I can remember a couple of punk gigs where you would get people getting glassed, or whatever. It wasn’t common, but there again I can remember ugly incidents at hippie festivals as well. But, no, in the story, it was purely a sudden contrast in atmospheres.
PÓM: Well, I apologise for accusing you in the wrong.
AM: Oh no, not at all, not at all. I’m glad that I’ve got that cleared up. I wouldn’t want anybody thinking that I was averse to punk. I started out in 1978 under the name of Curt Vile…
PÓM: Yes, of course!
AM: … so I thought that was a good punk moniker. I was a big fan of psychedelic music, I was a huge fan of glam, and I was a huge fan of punk.
PÓM: Actually, before I get off this and onto the next thing, who did you really fancy in punk rock?
AM: Punk rock, let me see. The Sex Pistols had got immense energy, and there was something raw and incredible about them. The Stranglers I never really – I saw them, but they didn’t actually seem very punk to me. They sounded like a lot of Ray Manzanek / Doors organ riffs, and some fairly mainstream heavy metal sexist lyrics. There were some great little bands – The Adverts were good. I liked The Only Ones, they were good. They did Another Girl, Another Planet, and Lovers of Today. The Clash were brilliant – I even thought Sandinista! was a great album, even though – yeah, all right, there were four sides of it, everybody thought it was some kind of hippie concept album throwback, but why not?1 And there was some great music there. X-Ray Spex were great, Elvis Costello was great, although – everything on Stiff was tremendous. I think I’ve got, is it Stiff 9, the incredibly rare Stiff 9, which was Max Wall, doing England’s Glory?2
PÓM: Yes, that rings a bell! I know somewhere I have a Stiff t-shirt, the If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth A Fuck one? You can’t go wrong with that. OK, look, that’s the League – OK, Jerusalem. How soon can we expect to see a copy of Jerusalem in our hands?
AM: Again, 2016 sounds likely. At the moment it’s finished but I’m working on the edit. It was only the first draft that I’d finished, but we got a flurry of interest with that, and I’ll have to say ‘no, this is going to take a long time to edit.’ I’ve got people helping me with it. But I’ve promised that I can get it edited by, I think, November, and it should be finished by then, so 2016 sounds like the best bet.
PÓM: Do you have a publisher?
AM: We’ve got – over here it will be Knockabout – Knockabout / Palmano, and we’re talking with other publishers in other countries, stuff like that. That’s ongoing. But we’ve had some very nice offers.3
PÓM: That reminds me – Top Shelf got sold to somebody – IDW, is it?
AM: IDW, yeah. I had a message from Chris Staros – as far as I know it doesn’t really affect us much, it just means that Chris has got more money, and it’s a bit less precarious for him. But we still deal with Chris, so it doesn’t really seem to affect us very much. I’m glad that Chris is in a better position.
PÓM: Yeah. OK, Crossed – have yourself and Garth Ennis been mates for years now, or something like that? I know that you worked together years ago on The Worm, but –
AM: I never actually met any of the people who worked on The Worm. I did – in fact, I was just answering a question on that for the Guinness Book of Records, the other day.
PÓM: Really? Cool!
AM: Yeah, apparently I’ve got three records, none of which I want or am interested in. One of them’s for The Worm, having worked with the greatest number of collaborators, and I said, ‘Look, I came up with the initial idea, told David Lloyd that I thought it was a pretty stupid idea anyway, but said, “Look, this took me an hour to do, you can have this if it’s any good.”’ And then everything else was organised with all these other people – I didn’t take part in it in any way, and I didn’t meet Garth at that time. I did meet Garth on the train to Angouleme in 1989, and Garth was about, what, nineteen?
PÓM: Yeah, he must have been about twelve, something like that.4
AM: Something like that. And he seemed like a lovely bloke, and I enjoyed talking to him then, and I remember giving him dire warnings about what he should expect in the comics industry. But I actually met up with Garth, oh, two or three years ago – a couple of years ago – just through Avatar, and I was able to catch up with Garth’s frankly magnificent work. I’ve been a very bad correspondent, but we have exchanged a few letters, and Garth has very kindly sent me a lot of his stuff that I had missed, and he’s got incredible – there’s gravity, there’s an emotional gravity in Garth’s stuff. It’s visceral, it’s genuinely felt. The humour in there, there’s poignancy – he’s got a great emotional range, and it’s all exciting as fuck, generally. He’s a great writer, and I’ve been enjoying – I met up with him, and Si Spurrier, and Kieron Gillen, and Antony Johnston – a good bunch of blokes, and all of them really, really fine writers.
AM: Well, it came about because I’d got into reading both Garth’s Crossed arcs and Si Spurrier’s Wish You Were Here, and I found myself fascinated by the concept, just purely as a moral thought-experiment. And I found myself thinking aloud, almost – I was talking to William [Christensen] and I was thinking, actually, something like the Crossed outbreak would only be a problem for us. For the actual planet, it would probably be quite good – industry would stop overnight, and – actually, I just started thinking, what would happen, just as a thought experiment, what would happen in the hundred years after a Crossed outbreak? And it was musings upon that, and Garth was – we eventually came up with a thing whereby I’d write an arc of Crossed, and maybe at some point in the future Garth would write an arc of something connected to something of mine. And, yeah, I’m still not far enough away from it to see it clearly, I’ve seen Gabriel’s art up to #4, which looks tremendous – Gabriel Andrade, real old-school brilliant. There’s been a lot of – funny, some of the stuff about working on Crossed has reminded me a bit of – the values of it, it’s reminded me a bit of working on 2000 AD, or something. All right, it’s a lot more sweary, and a lot more violent, and there’s a lot more sex in it but, I don’t know, we’re using that very regular six-panel grid, and it’s a science fiction story, so, yeah, there’s been – and it’s done with an artist like Gabriel Andrade who’s clearly not afraid of using a few blacks. He comes from an – obviously from, it looks like a black-and-white comics school. It’s like the artists from England, or the Philippines, or – most places other than America, really.
PÓM: You just mentioned something there, so, I have to ask you – does the possibility exist that anyone else might at some stage do, say, a League story, write or draw a League story, besides yourself and Kevin, I mean?
AM: I don’t think so. Not the League. No, I wasn’t talking about – when I was talking about Garth doing something of mine, I certainly wasn’t talking about the League. No, the League, until our demise, is purely me and Kevin.
PÓM: No, I was literally, just when you said it, it came to mind, and I just thought I’d better – I’d ask. And, going back to something else – The Bumper Book of Magic, who’s doing art on that? I know that
AM: Yeah, and John Coulthart has said that he would not only like to finish off his illustrations to The Soul, he’d actually like to go back and improve – although I’m not sure how that would be possible – his early illustrations for The Soul, that it had been a long time coming, and I’m sure all artists get – we all improve over a few years.5 And at the moment Tony [Bennett] and Chris [Staros] are checking out other artists for the other sections of the book. The thing is that it won’t – if it was all one artist, then, yes, it would take another couple of years before the book was done, but these are all sections, so that shouldn’t be too long. I can imagine the Tarot cards taking quite a while.
AM: Still not sure about them – probably José Villarrubia – this is not finalised yet, but that was who we were expecting – don’t know. There’ll probably be quite an assortment of individuals ending up on this. Tony and Chris are scouting around at the moment – we’ll see. There’s a couple of people I’d really like in it, but don’t know if they’ll be available, but we can – again, this is something that in a few weeks I should know more about.
PÓM: Em, what else have I got? I’ve got loads more – this is one of the things – I was making a list of questions to ask you, and you really are doing an awful lot of work at the moment that I wanted to ask about, which is not a bad thing… Providence is due any day now, is it?
AM: Providence. I believe in the Spring sometime? I’ve just finished writing the last episode and, yes, it’ll be coming out in Spring6. I’m very proud of that – I don’t want to talk about it too much, except to say that I think that it’s – I wouldn’t say that it’s the ultimate piece of Lovecraftian fiction, that would be presumptuous. I would say that it’s my ultimate piece. It does a lot of things. It is not a typical Cthulhu Mythos story by any means. It is difficult to describe without giving too much away, but it is an attempt to come up with a comprehensive and integrated picture of the world of Lovecraft’s fiction and – not integrated along the lines of a definitive Cthulhu Mythos. It was one of the first notes I made, is ‘There is no Cthulhu Mythos.’ Lovecraft never used that term, it was one applied by August Derleth after Lovecraft’s demise. Lovecraft seemed to at best talk about his Yog-Sothothery, or his Cthulism, in a kind of a jokey way. He did talk about his New England cycle of stories, without making it very clear what that was meant to be.What I’m saying here is that we’re approaching Lovecraft from a different angle, and it’s an angle that tries to deal with Lovecraft’s fiction, it tries to deal accurately with the world in which Lovecraft existed and wrote his stories. The degree of actual research and reference that has gone into Providence is – even by my standards it’s a little bit stunning. I have to thank Joe Brown, Steve Moore, Ariana at Avatar, because it’s been very demanding – the bulk of Providence is set in 1919, which was an interesting year, in lots of ways. It was an interesting year for America in terms of America politics. It was an interesting year in terms of HP Lovecraft’s career – it was the year before he became HP Lovecraft. It was the year before he started keeping a commonplace book, before he had his major burst of productivity, and wrote more stories in 1920 than he ever did in the rest of his life. It was before Weird Tales. It was before his marriage to Sonia. It was before his creation of Cthulhu. It was before his friendship with Robert E Howard, or Clark Ashton Smith. It was before all of the things that we think of when we think of Lovecraft, which I thought was a much more interesting time than a little bit later, and indeed so it proved to be. And a lot of this, our approach to Lovecraft, is informed by the immense amount of Lovecraft criticism and Lovecraft biography that I’ve been absorbing over the last couple of years – you would not believe my Lovecraft reference library that I have compiled. There probably are books of Lovecraft criticism that I do not possess, but there probably aren’t many. The array of criticism that is available on Lovecraft now – you’ve got Structuralist Criticism, you’ve got Post-Structuralist Criticism, there was a fantastic book, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, that is not talking about Lovecraft’s philosophy – ST Joshi covers that very very splendidly in Lovecraft and the Decline of the West – what this book is talking about is a new branch of philosophy, a relatively new branch of philosophy, which I believe is called Speculative Realism, and they have adopted Lovecraft as their key writer. It’s too complex to précis here, but it certainly gave me a lot of ideas.
And also, I was able – one of the things I was able to appreciate about HP Lovecraft was that this was a man who absolutely detested Modernism. He loathed – in his letters, of which he wrote I think a hundred thousand, possibly, certainly getting on for that, during his lifetime – in his letters, he goes on about how much he loathes the output of Gertrude Stein, of James Joyce, of TS Eliot. He wrote a brilliant parody of The Waste Land, called Waste Paper, which is actually very very clever and funny, but it’s derogatory, it’s dismissing Modernism. Now, the weird thing is that actually reading his work again, I’ve realised that HP Lovecraft was a closet Modernist, that he’s using things like stream-of-consciousness techniques, he’s using a kind of glossolalia that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the work of Gertrude Stein or James Joyce – alright, that’s a broad comparison, I’m perhaps reaching a bit there, but you know what I mean? And he – some of his strategies – another thing in my list of notes which I’ve underlined dramatically a couple of times is that Lovecraft’s over-description, and his use of the unnameable, the thing that cannot be described – I said ‘This is not a flaw, this is a strategy’ That’s underlined several times. Lovecraft, I think, knew exactly what he was doing in the unusual way that he combined words. And it’s unpicking some of that – and also addressing the huge problem of visualising Lovecraft, which I think – you see, the big temptation in doing something about Lovecraft, the obvious thing to do is the tentacle monsters. That’s what everybody loves, isn’t it? The tentacle monsters. And Cthulhu. But that is not to address the problem of HP Lovecraft in the twenty-first century, when you.ve got a memorable appearance by Cthulhu on South Park – which was fantastic, but – I’ve got a pair of Cthulhu bedroom slippers upstairs that Leah [Moore] and John [Reppion] got me, I’ve got a Cthulhu and Hobbes t-shirt – we are entirely too comfortable with Cthulhu, and the big problem about any visualisation of Lovecraft is that you’re going to end up delineating perfectly something which Lovecraft went to great pains to avoid describing. Do you remember the actual description of Cthulhu from Call of Cthulhu?
PÓM: Not directly, but I’ve read it, yeah.
AM: The actual – when they first see the statuette that somebody has made after being inspired in a dream, there’s a really good line which actually sums up an awful lot about HP Lovecraft’s techniques. He’s talking about the statuette, and he says ‘Yes, it was like a combination of a dragon, an octopus, and a human caricature, but it was the overall outline, the general outline,’ in italics, ‘it was the general outline that was most shockingly frightful.’ So what that says is, ‘Yeah, there’s these three things, Cthulhu, he was a bit like a dragon, a bit like a human caricature, a bit like an octopus, except he didn’t really look like that, it wasn’t that that was the most frightening thing, I can’t describe what the most frightening thing was. That’s – it was something to do with the general outline.’ What are you supposed to make of that? It’s a deliberate attempt to prevent you from visualising the thing. It’s like when he describes The Colour Out of Space as ‘only a colour by analogy.’ What’s that supposed to mean? Was it a smell? Was it a musical note? What? Was it a slightly rough texture? This is a really key tactic to Lovecraft, along with a number of others. So it seems to me that HP Lovecraft represents our best chance at Modernism in Horror. This is like what Mike Moorcock said to me about why he started New Worlds in the sixties under his editorship, why he changed it into such a radical new magazine. It was because – I don’t think Mike was that interested in Science Fiction, but he was really really interested in Modernism, and so was Jim Ballard, and they decided to co-opt Science Fiction as a vehicle for Modernism, which is a brilliant idea. Now, I can see why you’d go to Science Fiction, because that does speak more to the future, doesn’t it? Whereas Horror, traditionally, it’s a Gothic tradition, and it’s more about the past. Whereas with Lovecraft, his was a kind of – it was largely a Horror of the present day, it was a Horror of the things that were being discovered by the scientists of Lovecraft’s era. It was Einstein, it was the quantum physicists. Their ideas were destabilising the traditional universe that Lovecraft had grown up in, and he was intelligent enough to realise what the implications of that were. He realised that, yeah, humanity was a tiny little outbreak on a fleck of dirt somewhere in a rather unimportant part of a galaxy that was one among millions. And so this blind, impersonal, chaotic universe, the thing that was actually – the forces, the blind, chaotic insensate forces that were actually dominating this universe, this is what he expressed in his blind idiot gods, his chaotic forces, his Haunters of the Dark, and indeed in Lovecraft’s later work you can see this really radical fusion of Horror and Science Fiction. It’s not really surprising that At the Mountains of Madness, I think that – I think Julie Schwartz sold that to Astounding?
AM: It was Science Fiction. It was just Science Fiction played on the heavy low notes at one end of the piano. And it was a new thing. It seems to me that Lovecraft offers possibilities for a completely new, progressive, radical, and experimental form of Horror that actually allows us to see Lovecraft in a new light, and in a less familiar light, and I think that is going to make Lovecraft’s concepts more frightening, at least in terms of what we’re doing in Providence.
To Be Concluded…
1The Clash’s Sandinista! was of course a triple album, so therefore had six sides. Also, Johnny Rotten is actually two years younger that Mr Moore, and Jet Black is fifteen years older, so just barely theoretically possible that he’s old enough to be AM’s father.
2Stiff Records generally catalogued their 7” singles as BUY 1, BUY 2, etc, although there were as number of other designations, also. However, they never used the prefix STIFF for a catalogue designation. What Mr Moore seems to be doing here is conflating two different Stiff singles. The first one is Max Wall’s excellent cover of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory, which was released as BUY 12 on the 1st of April 1977, but this is not the rare and largely unavailable Stiff single that he’s remembering. That would be BUY 9, Motorhead’s Leavin’ Here/White Line Fever, dating from the beginning of 1977, which was never commercially released, although it did come as one of the singles in , which contained the first ten singles released by Stiff, including the otherwise unobtainable Motorhead one.
3since this interview was done, news has broken that the American publisher for Jerusalem will be W.W. Norton imprint Liveright.
4Garth Ennis was remarkably young when he started in comics. He was only twenty-five when he started writing Preacher, for instance, and he already had a substantial body of work behind him by the time he did that.
5According to an old interview from 2004 on John Coulthart’s website,
Q: Are there any future collaborations with Alan you can tell us about? For example a quote from an old Previews magazine ‘John Coulthart, who will be doing a decadent, partly computer-generated occult strip called The Soul. The Soul is an occult investigatress who operates in or around 1910 – but it’s a very strange 1910, a very beautiful, Art Nouveau world.’ Can you tell us any more about The Soul? Do you know when and by whom it will be published when it is finished?
A: There’s not much to tell at the moment since the whole idea remains at a very early stage of development. There are several distinct spheres of influence that it should bring together: early 20th century occultism of the kind seen in many of the ‘psychic detective’ stories of the ’20s and ’30s, lush and exotic post-Decadence Art Nouveau and the cosmic horror of the early pulp magazines, especially Weird Tales.
Further information about other unpublished or unfinished Alan Moore projects can be found on Lance Parkin’s blog here, or on my own blog here, although not my own doing, but a guest post by the excellent Michael Norwitz.
6You’d think that, in two countries as close to one another as Ireland and England, we’d both share the same definition of Spring, but this is not actually the case. In England – indeed, in all of the United Kingdom – Spring is reckoned to be March, April, and May, whereas here in Ireland we have always seen it as being February, March, and April. So, much as I’d like him to mean this’ll be out next month, in April, it’s actually not due until May.