The second of three parts of a telephone interview I did with Alan Moore in October 2010 about Marvelman and his later incarnation, Miracleman. The first part is here, if you haven’t already seen it.
The bits in [square brackets] are later clarifications added by me in the last few days.
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: I think, was there, as much as anything, was there just a clash of personality between yourself and Dez, above and beyond what you just said?
Alan Moore: No, it was purely that – well, if that was the case, then it was entirely from Dez Skinn’s point of view because, as far as I can see, I was doing a great job for Warrior, I was probably the main draw in Warrior. I was doing it for the relatively low pay that Dez Skinn was offering, I wasn’t causing trouble, until Dez Skinn seemed to feel threatened by the fact that I was becoming popular, and he said as much, that this was what had spoilt John Bolton. ‘That John Bolton, he used to be a great artist until he became popular, and then he was unmanageable,’ which, I wasn’t unmanageable until somebody tried to manage me, you know? It could have gone on perfectly easily, except that I suspect that it was not within Dez Skinn’s capacity to think that – I think that he thought that it was his magazine, like the rather Dez-centric, I don’t know, the little things like him insisting that there was a different pointless strap-line above the title – The Magazine of Slightly Weird Heroes…
PÓM: Yes, I remember them well! [Although there was never a ‘slightly weird heroes’ header, there were lots of other variations on it, like the above.]
AM: He thought this was one of the things that was bringing the readers back issue after issue, and he wanted it to be – I think in his head it had been, yes, I was the genius behind the conception of Hulk Weekly, I hit upon this brilliant formula, I am now repeating that brilliant formula, and the magazine’s a success, so everybody will know how brilliant that formula was. It’s something that I’ve seen in people in non-creative roles in comic companies. I can remember that when the DC marketing department hit upon their, the square format that Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, the prestige format, I can remember the head of the marketing department at DC claiming that the success of Dark Knight was purely down to the prestige format. To prove it, he would do a book about Green Arrow by Mike Grell, which didn’t sell at all. [That’s Mike Grell’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, DC Comics, August – October 1987.]
PÓM: Yeah, I remember it.
AM: And this is I believe the same marketing director who, as I have said about many of the people working in the comics industry, if it wasn’t for the comics industry with its famously low standards, these people would be unemployable. They did not actually have any skills, and I believe this particular marketing department genius who invented the prestige format, he – obviously I was exaggerating, of course – but from what I heard he did get a job in Blockbusters, so obviously a level of skill is required for that, but I think it was something like that – this is my take on it: I think it was that Dez Skinn wanted to feel that – he wanted to be Stan Lee. He wanted to be the person who got all the credit, whose name was on the whole package. Dez Sez, back in Hulk Weekly, and that’s how he saw himself, as a transatlantic Stan Lee, and I think that the fact that Warrior was mainly attracting attention for the artists and the writers, and specifically for me, that might have been the root of the problem – I’m only guessing.
PÓM: I think, as I said, there was a clash of personality probably there. Dez came in as the superstar editor, and you suddenly popped up as the star of the show, and, maybe that was not necessarily easy to take for a man who had – where this wasn’t his vision for the whole thing. He was going to be the star, as far as he was concerned. Anyway, moving along…
When Marvelman stopped running in Warrior, according to Alan Davis he tells me that he didn’t send in the artwork for one issue because he wasn’t paid for the previous one, and that’s when it stopped.
AM: Now what happened, as far as I know, was that, when it came to the Eclipse version of Miracleman I was asked if, when they ran out of reprinting the Warrior stuff, I would carry on writing it.
PÓM: Can I just stop you there for a second. When the last episode of Marvelman appeared in Warrior – I think he said that he had sent one in, and it was printed, but he wasn’t paid for it, so he didn’t send the next one because he hadn’t been paid. This is Alan Davis…
AM: I didn’t know that he hadn’t been paid for a last issue of – I don’t remember whether I was paid for it or not.
PÓM: And then, from that point, which would be issue #21 of Warrior, which was the last actual Marvelman in Warrior – whatever other issues there were…
AM: That might well have been it. I know that I had said I didn’t want to do it any more in Warrior. This might have coincided with Alan not getting paid. I didn’t know this, because I wasn’t anything to do with the payment system. I wasn’t, I don’t think, talking to Dez Skinn by then. But as I remember it, I just said that I wasn’t going to be writing anything else for Warrior beyond a certain point. I pretty much stopped dead after that near fisticuffs in the New Cross basement. From what I can remember, when the Eclipse thing started, I had said – they asked me if I would write more, the continuation, and I said that, yes, that I was only prepared to do this whole thing if they would get me – I needed to know that the artists were happy with this. I said that if they could get me some stuff from – I think Garry Leach, who was still very thick with Dez at the time, he assured me that he was OK with it. I asked – I wanted something on paper that said that Alan Davis was OK with everything. I remember it getting closer and closer to the time when I would be supposed to be writing some new material, at which point I got a phone call from the very stroppy cat yronwode, suddenly stroppy out of the blue, saying, well, are you going to write any of these Marvelman stories you promised us? Right from the word go, very aggressive, and of course I don’t have to put up with that from an editor, for Christ’s sake!
PÓM: You say that word ‘editor’ with quite a degree of scorn!
AM: As far as I can see, most of the people who call themselves editors in the comics industry would be hard pushed to define the word ‘edit.’ Most of them would say, ‘Oh, it’s one of those guys who phones up the artist and make sure everything comes together in time’ – which is actually production, it’s not editing. If you want to look for a real editor in comics, you have to look back to somebody like Steve Moore.
But anyway, so she phoned up and asked me very sarcastically if I was going to be doing any work on Marvelman any time soon, and I said, ‘Right, have you got that paperwork from Alan Davis?’ And she said, ‘What paperwork?’ And I said, ‘The paperwork that I asked you to get me.’ And she was being very blustery, and trying to make out that I’d done something wrong, while not answering my questions about this paperwork. She said something else that sounded offensive and I said, ‘Well, perhaps we could just stop the entire project right here.’ At that point Dean Mullaney, who’d obviously been listening in on the extension, came and said, ‘Oh hi, Alan, it’s Dean. Yeah, look, we’re going to get you that paperwork, we promise we’ll get you that real soon,’ and other things, because he’d known that I was just about to pull out and just completely abandon the project there and then. But he continued to talk and promised me faithfully that they had got this paperwork, or they were getting it, and if I could just start writing, then they would be getting it to me.
They never got it to me, because it didn’t exist, and I felt that Alan Davis had probably felt that I was party to screwing him, which was not the case, and was regrettable. As with many other points in the Marvelman saga, if I’d known the true circumstances, I’d never have got involved with it in the first place, Pádraig.
PÓM: I have to tell you, the book, I pulled the title for the book out of a quote from an interview you did with Kurt Amacker last year, when you said that it was like a poisoned chalice, and I’m calling the book Poisoned Chalice…
AM: It certainly was…
PÓM: Because, really, it does seem to have left – the people involved, comic companies, all sorts, it’s just left a trail of wreckage behind it.
AM: This is why I though the whole thing was poisonous…
PÓM: This is my fascination with it. The whole thing is absolutely fascinating, so many twists and turns and bits and pieces. And we’re going to get to another one of those right now. OK, allegedly, you objected to changing the name to Miracleman, is that correct, or what happened there?
AM: I didn’t like it, because it was actually accepting Marvel Comics’ bullying, so of course I objected to changing it. When it became clear that that was the only way it was going to be – apparently, I was told that, when the new editor at Marvel took over, and he actually took over Jim Shooter’s desk, they apparently found a crumpled letter from Archie Goodwin – a wonderful writer, and a wonderful editor – that was to Jim Shooter saying, ‘Look, Alan Moore says that he’s not going to allow us to reproduce Captain Britain unless we allow him to call…’ – I’d suggested that we call the book Kimota! as a solution similar to the Shazam! solution [at DC Comics], but no, I got some very stroppy letters back from people who once meant something at Marvel Comics, and were all-powerful and supreme, and are now probably working in Blockbusters next to the guys from DC.
PÓM: That’s a lot of people working in Blockbusters, yeah?
AM: Yeah, it probably is. That’s where most of their workforce comes from. But, yeah, I just decided that I wasn’t going to –I didn’t like it, I didn’t like submitting to bullying but, apparently, yes, Archie Goodwin had said, ‘Alan Moore’s not going to be working for Marvel in any way, or letting us reprint Captain Britain unless we ease up on the Marvelman deal,’ and Archie Goodwin had said, ‘I suggest that you go along with him.’ But Jim Shooter, who was another one of these comic book industry führers, whose will is not to be meddled with, so he’d petulantly screwed this letter from Archie Goodwin up and thrown it in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. So, eventually, because there was no other way that the material could come out, I said, ‘OK, let’s call it Miracleman.’ Or that was one of the suggestions – I don’t remember where it came from, I’d obviously used the name Miracleman in Captain Britain, so it was one that was somewhere in my…
PÓM: You used it in one other place at least, where you in your original synopsis, as reproduced in George Khoury’s Kimota!, at the very end of it you say, and if we can’t get the rights for Marvelman we can always call it Miracleman, and give him a magic word that’s, I think it was, I can’t remember what it was – it’s nuclear backwards [yes, the word he mentioned was RAELCUN!], anyway, so, somewhere in your head, you had the two things, Marvel and Miracle, tied together.
AM: Somewhere like that, yeah. I think I’d suggested it as a fairly acceptable compromise, that if we were going to have to make one, then I suggested that that should be it.
PÓM: OK, now, to go back a bit to Dez Skinn and Warrior, and so on, what was your understanding, do you recall, of the rights issue with Marvelman?
AM: I understood that Dez Skinn would be purchasing the rights to Marvelman from the Official Receiver, which is where he had told us the rights to Marvelman now resided since L Miller’s bankruptcy and, given that they had owned Marvelman, this is what we were told.
So it was suggested that I should have a third of the rights to Marvelman, because I’d written it, and would come up with the character – basically, the original was just a Captain Marvel knockoff, I’d done something different. Garry Leach would have a third for having come up with the artwork for the character, and Dez Skinn would have a third for having gone to all that trouble of getting the rights back from the Official Receiver, who’d had them ever since L Miller went bankrupt. And this all seemed fine at the time, so this was why, when I, I’d always, I’d got a third of the rights, so when it came to the end of book three, this is the third that I gave to Neil Gaiman. This is the Poisoned Chalice.
PÓM: Obviously, this wasn’t true, because L Miller never went bankrupt, they wound up their business in the early-to-mid seventies, they stopped publishing comics more or less in 1966, the same year that Len Miller died. His wife and son and daughter carried on the business because they did a lot of other stuff – distribution and all that kinda stuff – and they eventually wound up. I have yet to find out exactly what happened to their rights. If L Miller owned the rights to Marvelman…
AM: I heard later that he didn’t. I was shown Marvelman material that had got Marvelman copyright to Mick Anglo. This is what I was shown.
PÓM: My own understanding from my research so far is that the Millers and Fawcett between them came up with this idea that they would produce a Marvelman clone. They couldn’t publish Captain Marvel in the US, ‘cause they were injuncted against that, but it was also successful, lucratively successful in the UK market, and so they came up with this slightly disguised version, so that it still belonged to Fawcett, that Fawcett and Miller came up with it between them, and that Mick Anglo essentially came in to, to do this – At one stage Mick Anglo said in an interview that the first person to draw Marvelman was Don Lawrence. [A source who I cannot publicly name] tells me that he was shown a drawing that he thinks looks as though it might be Don Lawrence’s, so it’s all very murky, still.
AM: I don’t know. The only thing that I do know is that, yeah, L Miller hadn’t gone bankrupt, and that the rights had never been with the Receiver, and that nobody had acquired those rights from the Receiver…
PÓM: And, look, even if they had gone bankrupt, the Official Receiver in nineteen-sixty-whatever-it-was was not in the habit of hanging on to the copyright of a defunct comic book character. The Receiver’s job was to sell the stuff off…
AM: Yeah, that’s probably… like, eh, it sounded plausible when I heard the story from Dez Skinn. He’s a very plausible man, or at least he was when I’d just got into the industry.
Advanced interviewing techniques, Northampton, 2008
(To be concluded on Friday the 25th. And then there’ll be a piece on Sunday the 27th about Marvel’s recent announcement, and what it all means.)