I had intended to post up the Q&A exchanges involved in this, a few at a time, over the summer months, but inevitably time got the better of me, so I’m posting all of the rest of them in one go, although that’s going to be one very long – 12,000 plus words – read. And I should come clean, and reveal that Anne M Kletcha was me all along, to pretty much nobody’s surprise. Anne M Kletcha is an astonishingly clever pun in Irish, though, I promise. Anyway, here’s the rest of those Qs&As, for the remaining few of you who have been holding out hope that I’d eventually post them. There were, as I mentioned back at the start of the first post linked to below, twenty-five questions in all. Or at least that was the original idea. We ended up with quite a few more than that, which got winnowed down to twenty-five questions, or occasionally double questions, where two questioners covered effectively the same ground, but slightly differently. Names have been removed, to protect the innocent, and occasionally the guilty. But anyone that wants to come along and volunteer that they posed any particular question is welcome to do so, with only the one proviso, that they should be telling the truth. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the remaining fifteen exchanges, with the previous ten being through them links below. And just remember, these Q&As are from December 2015.
Previous Q&As can be found through these highly nutritious and 100% gluten-free links:
Questioner #11: I run a Twitter account called A Moment of Moore that is followed by a few thousand fans. Could you give me a message that is 140 characters or less that I can post? What the world needs more than ever at this time is a tweet from Alan Moore. Thank you.
Alan Moore: This is Life Eternal, right here. Be fulfilled, be happy, be kind, be in love, and never do anything that you can’t live with forever.
Questioner #12: Alan has satirized practical results magic in Fossil Angels and has said that he will include a section in the Moon and Serpent book explaining why you shouldn’t do it. What is his objection to practical results magic? Isn’t it at the root of magic and the focus of living traditions like the African diaspora religions such as Voodoo or Quimbanda?
AM: Well – bearing in mind that the following perhaps pertains only to my particular worldview, and that you of course have every right to question or criticise my stance – it seems to me that employing magic intended to yield practical results and personal benefit is, in the present day, to use the numinous as a kind of internet, and to suppose that it is chiefly there to increase one’s personal comfort. While, as you rightly point out, this rather earthbound use of sorcery has probably been a factor in magic since the subject’s very early days, I’d dispute that this has been magic’s prime use. At the risk of a massive spoiler for The Moon & Serpent Bumper Book of Magic, within those pages we define magic as ‘a purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness.’ This definition is certainly broad enough to contain practical results among the purposes for its ‘engagement’, but I think it also suggests much grander applications for magic, on a level of species advancement, that make the attainment of practical, personal results seem to me rather petty and perhaps even disrespectful of the stupefying, primal technology which I believe magic to be: in the
My other objection – and don’t worry, all of my answers won’t be this exhausting. It’s just that I feel this is an important point and deserves proper elucidation – is that practically-driven magic would also seem to do a disservice to that other sublime and world-changing phenomenon, the human being. My point here is that I don’t think that for any of us to be able to instantly accomplish our will through something like, say, scrawling a sigil would be very good for us as individuals. And in practice, this kind of magic generally boils down to a limited number of applications, most of which I feel are at least questionable. If you wish to magically conjure money from nowhere, I’d suggest that doing some sort of work, perhaps creative work, is the most reliable way of accomplishing this and may also turn out to have been of benefit to the practitioner’s body and/or mind. (Please bear in mind that the last couple of lines are not to be read in an Ian Duncan Smith voice or concluded with the phrase ‘and that’s why we’re taking away your disability benefits.’ I’m talking specifically about magic here.) If you wish to make someone fall in love with you – which possibly actually boils down to ‘have sex with you’ – then I would hope that the moral problems would be immediately apparent. I am, believe me, not being facetious when I point out that Rohypnol would be a preferable course of action, in that at least that isn’t involving the transcendental in some kind of mystical date-rape. The same goes for curses against some perceived enemy: hiring a contract killer is actually more morally responsible, in my opinion. And if this kind of results-based magic isn’t simply lazy or actually evil, it’s generally inane, at least in my experience. Steve Moore’s favourite example in his own overhearing was ‘I did a sigil to see a black dog, and then I saw one!’ While this kind of magic may have been a big part of the magic of the past, I don’t see that this is any good reason to automatically assume that it is still appropriate to the present or the future. After all, the biggest part of our Greek-modelled civilisation in the West, that model’s founding stone if you like, was slavery. It has to be acknowledged that slavery played a massive part in the establishment of western civilisation, but that of course doesn’t mean that we should reintroduce the practice. There are more angles to this, but I probably should leave them to The Bumper Book. I hope this at least goes some way to answering your question.
Questioner #13: Save for a few exceptions, why aren’t comic characters part of the universe of the League?
AM: I don’t think Kevin [O’Neill] and I have ever really discussed this, but even so I feel that we both probably have a similar attitude. For one thing, there are simply more interesting and fully-developed characters available to us from the worlds of literature and film than there are characters who interest us in contemporary American comics. We’ve referenced a smattering of American superheroes in The Black Dossier, just to establish that, yes, the League’s world contains the collective continuities of the various comic companies, even if we don’t see much point in flagging up super-powered children’s characters in a medium that is in danger of becoming a monoculture of such beings. You’ll notice that I’m largely referring to American comics here, which I think is the absence that you were questioning. As far as English comic characters go, whether from weekly children’s periodicals or from newspapers, we’ve actually featured rather a lot from the series’ first volume onwards, from Allie Sloper, Tiger Tim and Rupert Bear through to cameos for the excellent Viz comic’s Roger Mellie and Sid the Sexist in Century which also featured references to D.C. Thompson’s characters such as Jack Flash, or newspaper strip characters such as poor Wellington from Daily Mirror strip ‘The Perishers’. I suppose that me and Kevin have an affection for these old, often obscure and forgotten characters from the cultural background that we chiefly grew up with, while I personally can no longer stomach the American superhero industry, and Kevin, as evidenced by Marshal Law, has obviously despised it for far longer than I have. So, basically, my answer is that The League is pretty much brimming with comic strip references, but I suppose that wouldn’t be obvious to someone who was chiefly or perhaps only a reader of American comics. Perhaps if everybody were to regard The League as a sort of superhero no-smoking area, for people like myself with superhero allergies, or simply for people who don’t care to sit in a toxic atmosphere of other people’s secondary Spiderman. In fact, warming to my theme, why don’t concerned citizens insist that superhero comics carry grotesque and disturbing images as a mental health warning? You could have, for example, comparison photographs of two excised human brains, one of which appears to have the bat-signal branded onto the frontal lobe. Or perhaps of an innocent little baby being made to look at Wolverine. Or a picture of a superhero comic rolled up and somehow fitted into a syringe. Or the incontrovertible fact that exposure to Aquaman causes low birth weight. Then we can make people who want to read superhero comics go and do it outside in the dark and the freezing cold like the social lepers they are. In fact, much of the reasoning behind Electricomics could be seen as an attempt to come up with the comic book equivalent of vaping, couldn’t it?
Questioner #14: What appeals to you about the Crossed series in terms of storytelling, and do you think Crossed+100 is essentially an optimistic piece (until the end)?
Questioner #15: In Crossed+100 you and Gabriel Andrade paint a picture of ecological, social, gender and religious harmony, nearly a paradise. Then organized evil destroys it. Tell us about how these opposites and outcomes reflect your views on humanity’s future.
AM: Well, to answer Q #15’s question first, my work on Crossed+100 wasn’t really any sort of serious prognosis regarding humanity’s future, which I imagine is going to be a far more complex affair than the relative simplicity of trying to avoid the giggling rape-cannibals. The way that I approached the narrative – and this relates to Q #14’s question as well – was largely as an intellectual exercise that grew out of Garth’s stark but implication-laden initial concept. After reading a couple of arcs of Garth’s impeccable work on the book and enjoying Si Spurrier’s intimate and uncomfortable Wish You Were Here, I started thinking about what such a grotesquely awful catastrophe would actually represent in terms of world history. The first and most obvious point to strike me was that such a pandemic would only really be a problem for our own species, and that for the rest of the planet it would probably have to be seen as a godsend. The nations of the world would all, practically overnight, be meeting their carbon emission targets. Animal populations, other than those domesticated animals unable to outrun a simpleton with a strimmer and an erection, would presumably flourish. The second thing to strike me was that the basic mathematics of the situation would sooner or later turn in the favour of any surviving humanity, simply by virtue of the infected being unable to surmount a population hurdle which I rather coarsely typified as ‘Honey, I sodomised and ate the kids.’ (I’ve probably said this before, but I urge everybody to get behind the Kickstarter campaign for that movie right now, just for the sheepish look on Rick Moranis’ face on the poster.) I sat down and did a very rough working out, based on some figures Garth had mentioned in his Fatal Englishman arc, of the relative human/infected balance and then surmised that after the initial outbreak, when around 99% of humanity would have been either killed or infected, any human survivors may have found a safe and stable hiding place, or may at least have rapidly learned survival skills that might get them through the first decisive decade or two. After that, a very slow resumption of human reproduction would be matched by a massive dieback of the infected who, it must be said, don’t really look after themselves. And while all this was going on, the rest of the natural world would be having a field day. It seemed to me that in approximately a hundred years we might have reached a point where fortified human settlements were re-established and where the infected existed only in isolated and inbred pockets, if they existed at all. This lead to some rumination upon what such a resurgent human community might be like, after a century-long interruption to human culture that had been pretty much absolute: it seemed to me that our greatest and most intractable human prejudices on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, class, creed and everything else would be rendered instantly trivial in the face of the infected, and that the human communities would at least be free of the legacy of a divided past. However, I didn’t see this as being in any way paradisiacal, since in order to lose their prejudices, humans have had to lose everything else as well, including most of their language and nearly all their cultural and historical information. The opening line, ‘We’ve lossed so much,’ expresses this and at the same time informs the reader that the spelling of the word ‘lost’ is one of the things that has been misplaced. Loss is now a verb. The acronym AFAWK is another thing that underlines the limitations of knowledge as one of the main things the narrative is trying to talk about. Although it’s taking place in sunny Tennessee amongst the picturesque ostrich-pens and the wind-turbines, we are still very much looking at an abysmal human dark age, and this is all laid bare in the actual language that people are using, or in the heroine’s poignant archiving of aborted futures in her ‘Wishful Fiction’ collection. On that level, I didn’t think that Crossed+100 was an optimistic work, even before the Crossed cavalry turn up to ruin the day. In fact, just as I found writing and reading the Lucia Joyce chapter of Jerusalem to be a profoundly mind-expanding experience, I found the writing of Crossed+100 to be sort of neurologically dampening and faintly depressing. I liked the work I was doing, and found the invention of the semi-collapsed English language to be fascinating and engrossing, but the end result of employing that language was to (necessarily) enter the limited language of the characters, and thus their limited mindset and their limited world. There were so many things they could not say, or even think. Loving is subsided into ‘hearting’. Now, with Si Spurrier’s continuation of the work, I find a genuine and credible optimistic element entering the story and I’m actually enjoying the book much more than when I was writing it myself. However, Si was telling me that he’d personally suffered from much the same problem as I had with the limited and even claustrophobic mindset of our future protagonists. It’s as if you keep bruising your head on the characters’ low intellectual and linguistic ceiling. It seems that this may be a problem only apparent to the book’s writer, since as a reader I’ve been enjoying Si’s work on the strip immensely. The one panel in the whole of my run on the book, which was a joy to write and which in my opinion more than justifies my work on the series, was the panel set in somewhere like Starbucks during issue five, with the ruminations on the financial crisis and its precedents in the Enron scandal. That is also the nearest that my interpretation of Crossed gets to an intentional metaphor.
Questioner #16: I found the glimpses of your thumbnails in Gary [Spencer Millidge]’s Storyteller book really interesting. Prior to that I had assumed you just belted out the ‘phonebook’ scripts. Does the writing of the detailed scripts help immerse you in the storybuilding process? Help create detail/inspiration for future parts of a given story?
AM: Actually, it’s funny you should ask that: I’m pleased that you were interested in my indecipherable sub-thumbnails (perhaps the nails of some small mammal without a properly opposable thumb), given that recently my approach to scriptwriting has gone through some significant changes, and I’ve come to realise that the thumbnails are the only constant, stable, and above all necessary part of the whole process. The immense scripts, while they clearly served their purpose and on some of the more complicated works were definitely required, look in retrospect as if at least a significant part of their bulk was perhaps based upon a lack of faith in my own descriptive powers and a possibly neurotic need to convey to the artist every last detail and association which was in my head at the time. Now, as stated above, I like to think that on some of the works, this vast amount of extra labour at least did something to inform the general atmosphere of such-and-such a scene, and thus benefitted the work as a whole, but I was called upon to re-evaluate my technique after some useful insights that I received while reading a letter from Garth Ennis. In his letter, Garth was simply remarking what a pleasant afternoon he’d just had scripting – I think – one of his remarkable war books. He included a couple of lines that he told me had been a particular joy to write, a description of a near-miss in an aerial dogfight, that I read through, admired, and realised were a deftly written part of a panel description. There was something about their very deftness and completeness that nagged at me, though, and after a few moments perplexed frowning I realised, with probably a visible start, that these two graceful lines were the whole of the panel description. Being me, I immediately attempted to find ways to dismiss the perfectly functional brevity of Garth’s description, and if I could have done you may be sure that I’d have attributed it all to some quality from my lazy, racist and stereotypical picture of the Irish: Garth probably dashed out the description in a couple of sentences because he wanted to be out having the craic, drinking Guinness and doing some bad sectarian violence. However, the more I looked at the couple of sentences in question, the more evident it became that they contained absolutely everything that an artist with the proper reference might need to create a perfectly wonderful panel, all delivered in a stylish and breezy way that seemed altogether less punitive upon the artist than my usual mode. Simply put, Garth’s Mills & Wagner influenced no-nonsense stylings seemed more functional than my Steve-Moore-but-more-so techniques, invaluable as those techniques had been when finding my voice as a comic writer. Now, I may be impossibly slow on the uptake, but when I finally do accept some new insight I am quite rigorous about internalising that data and making it part of my everyday life, as evidenced by my plunge into magic or, for that matter, any of my other plunges. I decided to experiment with attempting to convey all of the essential information in as few lines as possible, while leaving greater freedom for the artist to bring his or her own vision to the finished piece. Some things were easy to weed out straight away as nonsensical and useless: if a character were facing the reader and, say, holding a gun in their right hand, I would generally for some reason describe that as ‘they have a gun in their right hand, which is on our left here.’ Now, all artists, human beings, and, indeed, higher primates probably know that if someone is facing you, their right hand is on your left. Inexplicably, I seem to have been unduly anxious that the artist might be suffering from some disorder that prevented them from distinguishing between left and right. There were an embarrassing number of further examples of these bewildering tendencies on my part, and in fact I quickly learned that I could greatly reduce the length of my scripts without seeing any apparent problems with the art as a result. Whereas a single page of a comic would previously have taken me two, three or infrequently more pages than that to describe – the Möbius strip spread in Promethea took around ten pages of script, as I remember – I now seem to have reached parity and to be turning in a single page of script for a single page of comic strip. It must also be said that this mode of working involves a considerable amount less wear and tear on the author: I don’t think I’ve belted anything out since the earliest days of my career. The actual process has probably been labour and time-intensive in order to achieve whatever rarefied effect I was grasping for, and at my current plateau of decrepitude I confess that the process of typing comic scripts comes to seem more and more like an unfortunately necessary chore. The creative writing in a comic script is all in those crude little scribbles that compromise my thumbnails, with their appended microscopic scrawls of dialogue. Typing up that dialogue, or transforming those easy little thumbnails into coherent written descriptions doesn’t have so much that is creative about it, and thus not so much that is fun. Perhaps that’s why I used to go into such a discursive and garrulous trance during some of my panel descriptions. As you rightly note, such a kind of drifting fugue state does help to immerse the author in the world of his or her story; his or her own mind. It was also an opportunity to be at least moderately creative, making up coarse jokes for the amusement of Kevin O’Neill and so forth, as a way of keeping the crushing slog of the typing process at bay, even though it was of course adding to the amount of typing. All in all, I think I’m better off working the way I do at the moment, so my sincerest gratitude is due to Garth Ennis for showing me the bone-idle light.
Questioner #17: What was his obliquest strategy?
AM: Q #17, dear boy, it’s been ages. And I think you’ll find it’s ‘most oblique’: your spellchecker obviously fancies itself as something of a free-jazz modernist, but it’ll get short shrift here. As for your question, I suppose there are two ways in which it could be taken. If you were talking about my most successful use of Schmidt and Eno’s original January 1975 edition of 500 Oblique Strategies, my set being number 444 – which I suspect you’re not, but I just wanted to flaunt how stupefyingly hip I am – then that would unfortunately have been in an unpublished sequence from Big Numbers #4 or #5 that no-one will ever see. There was a scene with depressed West Indian single parent Healdie Portus, uncomfortable around women since the death of his wife, forced to keep an appointment with his social worker, an Asian woman uncomfortable around black men since being forced to flee Idi Amin’s Uganda. I’d been planning the scene for a while. It was meant to be the really fractious prelude to an ultimate romance between the characters, and with the oppositional set-up of their conflicting prejudices I figured that once I got the characters together, a hilarious mix-up was bound to ensue. Except it didn’t. I don’t know whether I’d over-thought the idea, or misjudged the appeal of the scene, but my every attempt at it fell flat, and ended up as actually dispiriting, as if it were a tract on the impossibility of human being’s ever overcoming their resentments and genuinely connecting on an emotional level, which wasn’t what I was trying to say. Eventually I reached for the Oblique Strategies deck, reasoning that this was just the sort of circumstance the deck was designed for: where a creator has fallen into a kind of rut in his or her attempts to overcome a problem in their work, and is constantly applying useless variants of the same clearly unworkable solution. The card selected on this occasion had the question/instruction ‘Is there something missing?’ This led me to consider whether some apparently random third element might catalyse the scene if it were introduced, and eventually came up with a large dog which both parties assume must belong to the other, and which keeps clambering over the furniture between them and obstructing their view of each other, making an already tense conversation into something that is obviously and comically unworkable. So, anyway, that was my favourite application of the card deck itself. On the other hand, if you were talking about my most oblique personal strategy, that would probably be something that I was doing anyway, out of sheer bloody-mindedness (my version of Mindfulness), but which turned out to be actually quite clever and which I later took credit for. The best example is my dogged insistence on referring to Lost Girls through the sixteen to eighteen years that me and Melinda were working on it as ‘a pornography’. As I say, I was making a genuine if bloody-minded point about the coy use of the word ‘erotica’ to mean ‘pornography for people of a respectable social class and income bracket’, but in the end it worked out rather well. You’ll notice that culture generally is a catalogue of people (including my lovely wife) saying, ‘Your Honour, I contend that this is Art!’ To which the reply is, ‘No it isn’t, it’s pornography. I’m ordering all the copies burned, and would do the same to the lady defendant if it was still three hundred years ago like when I was a boy.’ Our oblique genius was to say, ‘Your Honour, this is pornographic filth,’ and then have society say ‘No it isn’t, it’s Art,’ before it could stop itself. I suppose my basic oblique strategy for everything, as expressed in the tear-stained final issue of my financially catastrophic Dodgem Logic, has always been ‘Let’s do everything backwards and see what happens.’ Nine times out of ten this seems to work. The one time out of ten that it doesn’t is when you’re unwisely applying the dictum to something like, say, approaching a cliff edge, a brain operation, or crossing Oxford Street. And believe me, I speak from bitter experience.
Questioner #18: If you were a member of the Bojeffries family, what would your freakish abilities be?
AM: Bless you for being tactful enough not to just come out and say it, but I clearly am already one of the Bojeffries family, if not all of them. Probably mostly Ginda, but with a fair smattering of all of the others in there for good measure. What you have to remember is that, at least atmospherically, The Bojeffries Saga is largely autobiographical. Perhaps it could be considered ‘magical autobiography’ or ‘lying’. I mean, obviously I didn’t have one uncle who was a werewolf and one who was a vampire – they were both werewolves, as my grandmother was a bit racist and thought that vampires were dirty, lazy, ‘always staring at you’, and didn’t want them in the house – but other than that, the emotional tone and texture is surprisingly exact. Oh, and it goes without saying that we didn’t keep my younger brother confined to the cellar and only feed him isotopes of uranium. Seriously, on my dad’s wages, where would we have got uranium from? Round our way uranium was for posh kids, and my brother would put up with thorium and make do. I’m sorry, but that’s just how we were brought up. It was called working class self-respect. As for my paranormal powers, I think that you’ll find that any of the Bojeffries family’s uncanny abilities are actually overwhelmingly pointless and irrelevant: Raoul can turn into a distressing disco lycanthrope in the middle of the works’ party, Festus can be accidentally killed and reanimated several times just during a single visit to the shops, and where does it get them? Nobody is even remotely interested, and urban life continues uninterrupted. So if I had a paranormal power, it would be doing lots of bewildering and spectacularly improbable things but, thanks to the curiosity damper that people mistake for a satellite dish, having everybody just sort of accept that as normal while I continue to devolve into a collection of sentient and opinionated amino acids randomly strung around a dilapidated greenhouse.
Questioner #19: OK… Somewhere, out in the multitude of universes, is the Bizarro Alan Moore. He said yes to the stuff our Alan Moore didn’t, went along with what our Alan Moore rejected out of hand. Is he happy? Is he producing good work?
AM: You know, personally I think that outside of science fiction and especially the science fiction of Michael Moorcock, the multiverse is either bollocks or a long string of cosmoses based upon slightly different start conditions, amongst which most of them blinked out of existence after something like 10-500 seconds and the rest are incoherent infinities with insufficient gravity for suns to stick together, let alone galaxies or planets or life, even the Earth-2 Flash. I mean, seriously, it’s a patch on the theory of inflation (‘If it can happen once, why doesn’t it happen innumerable times?’), which itself is a patch on the Big Bang theory (not The Big Bang Theory) to explain why the distribution of stars is much more smooth and even than the irregular lumpiness that such an explosive start to the universe is predicted to give rise to. I’m sorry. What was the question again?
Oh, right. Bizarros. (In the hands of John Forte, one of my all time favourite comic series, by the way.) Well, I suppose if you’re talking about a literal Bizarro me, with a chiselled chalk physiognomy and a Sid Vicious hairstyle, then the values his happiness or the worth of his work were judged by would be those of his native cube, in which case I imagine he’d be suicidally happy and that his work would be a thing of near-unsurpassable excellence that was almost to be spoken of in the same breath as that of Michael Bey. If, on the other hand, you were talking metaphorically, then I don’t imagine you’d have to travel as far as an imaginary square planet in a probably-imaginary alternate universe to find writers who have made exactly the opposite moral and career choices, possibly after seeing what sort of things happened to me. If such a person’s values were based largely upon wealth, status and conventional success, then I can see no reason why they shouldn’t be idiotically happy, nor why they wouldn’t think of the work that had got them to this position as ‘good work’, or at least work that had served its only real purpose. But then, these are people who un-crush diamonds into lumps of coal, and who deliberately expose their own secret identities so that saintly and well-meaning villains can strike at them by murdering their hated families. Looked at like that, they’re not providing much of a role model, are they? Quite the reverse, in fact.
Questioner #20: You’ve often cited ‘Superduperman,’ by Wally Wood, as an inspiration. Was the ‘Mad Comic Opera,’ also by Wood, an inspiration for your own use of music in comics, notably in LoEG?
AM: While Kurtzman’s writing on ‘Superduperman’ was certainly an influence on both Marvelman and Watchmen (as was Brian Patten’s oddly affecting poem ‘Where Are You Now, Batman?’ from the Penguin Liverpool Scene anthology, but that’s probably a story for another time), I think that Wally Wood was probably much more of an obvious influence on the artwork. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate Wood tremendously, both for his immaculate art and for his refreshingly unrepentant views on the comic industry (see his piece in Fabulous Flo Steinberg’s Big Apple Comix for someone’s whose attitude to the business makes mine seem cuddly and benevolent). I shared Steve Moore’s abiding love of everything from those early Avon Space Detective strips, through the material for E.C. or Tower Comics or a host of others, to the spirited triumph that was the quasi-underground Witzend, one of my all-time favourite comic magazines. I never got to meet the man himself, but did have the considerable privilege of working with his brilliant and lovely wife as colourist on Swamp Thing. During my single meeting with Tatjana, she told me how Wally had once been arrested for obscenity in central park for sunbathing without a shirt on. You can certainly see how he could have developed a hatred for prudery. But, no, regarding the use of songs in my work, I’d imagine that it comes as much from my background in the Arts Lab as anything, or maybe even from just slightly before that, when I first started hanging out with someone who could play a guitar (Gerald Claridge, who was on the Nation of Saints giveaway with Dodgem Logic and who lives just round the corner from me to this day) and made my first clumsy attempts at song writing. With the Arts Lab and afterwards I was collaborating with a number of different musicians… Martin Fitzhugh and the late Karl Bush just after I had my special rendition out of the Grammar School; Bob Matcham, who still runs the Romanian ‘Lovelight’ charity’s Northampton wing; Mr. Liquorice and Karl’s genius brother Glynn Bush; Alex Green in the first version of The Emperors of Ice Cream and so on through to the Sinister Ducks, the later Emperors, my collaborations with Dave J and Tim Perkins, the late and great Tom Hall, and the slew of actually quite good songs that I’ve put together with the extraordinarily diverse Joe Brown (one of his kidneys is Polynesian and the other is a lesbian), and the Crook & Flail/Drucker and Broder collaborations on the CD that comes with Showpieces, which I’m quite proud of. I remember that I wrote the words to ‘Murders on the Rue Morgue’ in 1973, which means that I invented Goth, and ‘Old Gangsters Never Die’ in 1974, which I think means I invented Gangsta and possibly rap, but not Hip Hop, as that was Jimmy Savile. Me and Joe have been talking idly about returning to some of the material we worked on at some point, which I’m quite looking forward to, and the Alabama Three’s whiskey priest D. Wayne Love has just dropped me in some beats to listen to with an eye to working with him, so song writing still seems to be a substantial part of my life. I suppose that when I found myself working in comics, my reasoning was that if there was anything else I was good at from another field of endeavour that might enhance my comic work, I should probably find some contrived way to work it in. The inspiration for the songs in Century was simply the brilliant and unsurpassable work of Brecht and Weill, with things like ‘Pirate Jenny’ or the ‘Cannon Song’ being some of my favourite songs from the twentieth or any other century.
Questioner #21: You could ask him what my pet onion, which I planted in his garden and was subsequently engulfed by more aggressive planting, was called?
AM: …wait a minute. What is this? Have I walked into a trap…? No. No, no, no. I’m not letting you do this to me. I’m not letting you burden me with guilt and make me feel like the worst dad since Fred West or the titan Saturn just because of some passing delusion of yours, probably from the last century. Your sister, for God’s sake, had a pet woodlouse that she called Peter Pan, and I’ve had to remember that in case she ever wants me to put up those ‘Have You Seen Me?’ posters on the neighbourhood lampposts. There was one Christmas where you kept looking at me and shaking your head ruefully because I’d temporarily misplaced a tree decoration that you’d named ‘Chris Chicken’ and evidently bonded with during your, frankly, Dadaist childhood – you were probably around twenty-eight or twenty-nine, as Stewart Lee assures me all children are in jokes. Then, last time you were living down here for a while, you took off with your pet snake but left all of the live crickets that you’d been feeding to him – and their names, for the record, were Tristan, Sean, Mick, Hermione, Galvatron, Manfred, Blanket, Courtney, Peppa, Trev, Other Mick with the Bad Leg, Yoko, Harper Seven, Curly, Samson and, presciently, Jeremy Corbyn – so that my living room was like the plagues visited on the Pharaohs, and I’d panicked and freed all my Hebrew slaves before I’d realised what was going on. And now you’re attempting to plunge me into a pit of self-recrimination over an onion; an onion which, if we’re honest, was never blessed with an outstanding personality or any remarkable abilities, and whom even other onions struggled to remember the name of. They just used to call him ‘the one with all the green spikes so that he looks like that idiot out of The Towers of London.’ No. I’m sorry, but this is just childish and I’m putting an end to your sinister mind-games for once and for all.
Was it Oliver?
Okay, I’ll organise a search party and try to contact his relatives, but this is the last time.
Questioner #22: Have you any serious doubts regarding four dimensional Einsteinian space-time, which you believe in? Einstein himself supposedly wondered why the way we experience time didn’t match up with that model. Why is there so much divergence between the model and how people usually perceive time as something happening linearly, do you think?
AM: I have serious doubts – or at least doubts – about nearly everything, as I think this is the best and sanest way to conduct one’s mind in a stupefying phenomenal universe. Consequently, the block-universe view that I have of spacetime as an eternal and unchanging solid is simply, to my mind, the likeliest model given the data we have at present. This is not to say that it couldn’t be superseded by some more compelling notion, and as far as I know this is how science – as opposed to religion – is supposed to work. In fact, just a few days ago I had a phone call out of the blue from Robin Ince at the BBC, asking me to explain my interpretation of Einstein’s view of spacetime, and to talk to the physicist Fay Dowker who had wanted to hear my opinion, because she is in the process of formulating a countering proposal which suggests – if I’ve understood her correctly in a five-minute phone call – that time is a particulate and thus a discrete phenomenon, and thus is really passing rather than pre-existing in a fixed and determined form with its passage an illusion that, as C. Howard Hinton phrased it, is ‘only to us’. She was really respectful of my ideas, as I was of hers. Indeed, I welcome opposing theories since their existence indicates that my ideas are falsifiable, a quality without which, as Karl Popper points out, my ideas would be worthless; not even wrong. So, yes, I have what I think are sane and reasonable doubts regarding my take on these ideas, but at the same time, on balance I still feel that they are probably correct and are superior to the other available models. My doubts, however, aren’t really based upon the apparent discrepancy between the block universe model and how we perceive the passage of time. While Einstein may have harboured sensible doubts about this issue, one of the quotes that I shall be using in Jerusalem, from just a few months before his death, would seem to suggest that by the end of his life he may have viewed death as a perspective illusion of the third dimension, as I do. And the discrepancy between how we perceive a thing and how science tells us that thing actually is shouldn’t actually be limited to my conception of time, but should be rolled out to include all of the largely contra-intuitive things that science assures us about our reality…that’s it’s apparent solidity is made up of moving particles, and that these particles are largely composed of nothing, along with even tinier particles which exist simultaneously in a multiplicity of states and are in troublesome contradiction to all of the laws which we believe to govern the universe at larger scales. Or, if we don’t wish to get all quantum about it, there is another quote that I shall be using in Jerusalem which pertains to Wittgenstein: out walking with a companion one day, he wondered aloud why it had taken so long for people to realise that the Sun was not, in fact, going around the Earth. His companion said words to the effect of ‘Well, I suppose that’s just how it looked to them.’ To which Wittgenstein replied, ‘And how would it have looked if the Earth were going around the Sun?’ My point is that how things seem to us is not always an indication of their actual nature. Consider the moments of our lives as individual cels on a reel of film: the reel of film, equivalent to a block universe, is neither moving nor changing, and the same goes for all the frozen images that the film contains. We, the film-going audience, know the above facts to be true. And yet when the projector beam – or our consciousness travelling forward through the solid medium of apparent time – plays over these individual instants, then we have the convincing perception of things moving, things changing, events happening, and Jim Carrey being dreadful. And as long as our passage through a medium is linear, as when on a train riding a straight track through an extensive and untamed wilderness, then our experience of that medium cannot help but be linear, even though the medium itself may not be. But, as I say, this is only my current scientific best guess, rather than an article of faith in an unshakeable belief-system.
Questioner #23: As far as I know, you have never discussed being a grandfather. Has becoming a grandfather changed you and what have you learned from it?
AM: Well, first of all, I regard it as an astonishing privilege/stroke of luck that I have not only managed to end up as a parent of two alarmingly brilliant women; I have also, despite all my best efforts to the contrary, somehow lived long enough to be introduced to four beautiful and fascinating grandsons who – and I know that every grandparent says this – are the next step in terrestrial evolution and will one day rise to crush insect humanity beneath their probably gorgeous and flamboyant shoes. It’s always difficult to describe feelings about family relationships. How does anybody feel, precisely, about becoming, say, an uncle or an aunt? We obviously feel a great deal, but it can be hard finding the language to express that without cliché. I suppose that the most obvious thing to compare it to is parenthood, and it’s clearly nothing like that: parenthood has a white-hot immediacy that will persist at gradually modulated levels of intensity for the rest of your life. You are right there at the epicentre of all the panics, the emergencies, and the moments of blissful and transcendent wonder. Being a grandparent is, of necessity, a genetic step back from the busy and uproarious foundry of the child’s actual moment-to-moment existence. The pride and the worry and everything else are all just as gigantic and affecting, but there is that sense of being at one remove from what you know the parents are probably feeling at the absolute heart of all that terrifying glory, which is as it should be. After all, they’re not your kids; they’re your kids’ kids, and though of course you give all the support and love and concern that you can, it isn’t you that’s working 24 hours a day at the coalface of the child’s wellbeing and identity, it isn’t you whose opinions are the important or relevant ones, and it isn’t you who’s having to handle the belt-fed onslaught of nerve-wracking decisions. In my experience, one learns how to become a parent, and though the learning curve is nowhere near as steep or severe, I think that one probably learns how to become a grandparent, too. As for the boys themselves, at this early stage I’d have to say they all seem a bit jaw-dropping, even in terms of my family. Eddie is a worryingly eloquent and imaginative child with a flair for the disturbing, who creeps his mother out by talking about his invisible friend with wings who’s in the after-dark back garden, and unnerves his grandmother by discussing tiny valves in the human heart which he insists are called ‘blood velvets’. Rowan is learning with dazzling speed how to operate a towering eleven year-old’s body with a five year-old’s mind, and seems as if he’s had to have that couple of feet of extension added on to accommodate all the radiant innocence and wonder: for a while, around three, he was keeping the sky as a pet after lassoing it. And then there are James and Joey, a captivating bright orange flame caught in a mirror, who are a mysterious and delightful jungle to themselves, and according to John have lost the ‘A-foo/ A-doo’ twin-language they used to speak (something about exchanging a toy, a position on the sofa, an aspect of behaviour, or conceivably a quantum property like colour or spin, as far as anybody could make out,) and can no longer even remember ever using it. Melinda and me adore and marvel at all of them, and think about them all the time. Best grandsons ever. (And lads – if you’re reading this after I’m dead on the infinite brain-octopus that will replace the internet in 2031 – by now you should be controlling most of the Pacific Rim, if you’ve followed my advice about first capturing and reinforcing Australia, like in Risk. I can’t foresee any real problems until the rise of the cyber-augmented insects in 2047, when I’d advise you to play them off against the cruel Barclayan Empire that will by then have arisen in Guernsey. If that fails, just tread on them or something. Then, when you’ve subjugated the globe, I’m assuming that you’ll want to rebuild me from my retrieved information and put me in charge when it all gets too much for you. And whatever you do, don’t tell your mothers. You know what they’re like about super-villainy.)
Questioner #24: Should we nominate Alan Moore for the Nobel Prize for Literature?
AM: You may be overestimating my general appeal a touch there, Q #24, but while it’s a very flattering assessment I’m afraid the answer is still in the negative: simply put, I don’t like prizes. It seems to me that they are mostly of benefit to the chosen artist’s publishers, or to some retailers, or generally to those persons with an interest in presenting the artist’s work to the public in a commercial form. The benefits to the recipients themselves seem largely to be in terms of shoring up the fragile self-esteem that many creators seem to suffer from, and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that for people who are in need of it, it seems to me that the positive benefit to a tiny handful of individuals is vastly outweighed by the adverse effects on the much higher number of people who don’t win awards. I have never personally felt that creation and achievement were competitor sports, and I feel that viewing creativity in this way is limiting and potentially injurious. I’ve known wonderfully talented individuals who’ve become fixated on winning some minor and probably transient comic industry award to the point where failing to acquire it – for the usual perfectly arbitrary reasons – has cast a shadow over their assessment of their own work and over their subsequent career. And this, of course, is only to speak of the most dramatically-affected individuals where I’ve learned through a personal connection about the pain and the problems caused. I imagine that there is a much larger section of the creative community who carry smaller bruises and disappointments in silence, and who are not enjoying their careers or their talents as much as they might have done; as much as they deserved to do. And if this is the price – or even a fraction of the price – that must be paid in order for one individual to have a self-aggrandizing statuette on his or her mantelpiece, then I have to say I don’t think it’s worth the candle. As for Nobel prizes, or major literary prizes of any nature, I really don’t see any reason other than snobbery and pretension to differentiate between them and the swimming certificates which used to represent the Eagle awards. If anything, the major awards seem more toxic to the subsequent careers of those receiving them, if indeed subsequent careers there be. There are numerous cases of those who have been effectively paralysed by their prizes, perhaps frozen by the awareness that it’s all downhill from here and that future work will be judged in comparison with their spurious award-winning ‘masterpiece’. As a result, they may never again create any significant work that is not saddled by a crippling self-consciousness. No, I’m afraid that as you might expect from someone who’s apparently opposed on principle to anything that normal people might take pleasure from, I feel that the bigger the award, the bigger the damage. Literally, in the case of my mother goring herself on my discarded Hugo, after which she saw the wisdom of my position and slung it out herself.
Questioner #25: You’ve got a lot of material coming out that’s been long-awaited. So what are you starting work on now?
AM: Firstly, Happy Christmas to those celebrating it, and a terrific day in general to those who aren’t. I figured that your question about what I’m currently working on would probably be the most upbeat and positive subject for this final door in the advent calendar. As that great and holy figure who is never far from our thoughts at this time of the year once wisely said, ‘Look to the future, now: It’s only just begun.’
As to what I’m currently working on in terms of comics, there are two principal things on the go at present, neither of which I can be entirely forthcoming about. Both are horror narratives, and both, in different ways, are attempts at a newer and more progressive approach to horror. The first of these, about which I can say next to nothing since it’s currently furthest from announcement and publication, could be said to have a relationship to the work of HP Lovecraft and thus a distant relationship to Providence. The second is a new project with Kevin O’Neill – which I imagine might in itself require some explanation. Basically, when we were finishing up the Nemo trilogy with River of Ghosts I think we were both reassessing our work on The League in general. Not in terms of how pleased we were with the strip or in terms of our commitment to the concept, but simply in terms of the sheer length of time we’d spent on the work’s construction. We started the strip fifteen or sixteen years ago, as difficult as that is to believe, and while during that time I myself have been able to work on a variety of other projects, for Kevin it’s been pretty much a sentence without hope of parole. After talking this stuff over between ourselves, we thought that we both might benefit considerably from a break in which we tackled something as different from The League as we could imagine; a strip or a concept that allowed us to do completely different things with the narrative. With this mind, we decided that an overarching concept which could contain complete short-form experimental pieces would be a refreshing change after the potentially endless continuum of The League; a format where we could present stories that we wanted to tell, in whatever style or mode seemed appropriate, without having to carefully dovetail the work into an existing Byzantine continuity. We’re currently around eighty pages – or ten chapters – of completed work, and we’ve both become very excited by the seam of material that we’ve found ourselves mining. I think we both had doubts at the commencement of this new project, wondering whether our initial relatively simple idea would prove viable and be able to go the distance, but pretty much as soon as we buckled down to the work we realised that we’d struck lucky: some of the stories that we’re telling in this new project could not have been told using any other vehicle, and some of them I think are among the very best work that Kevin and I have ever perpetrated together. There are storytelling techniques and effects that I can’t imagine arising in a different context, and I think that by the end of this project both of us will have extended our grasp of the medium into new territory, as well as possibly having opened up some novel and exciting possibilities for the comic book horror narrative. This is an attempt at new wave horror, if you like.
So, that’s what Kevin and me will be doing for the next couple of years, following which we intend to begin work on volume four of The League, which in all probability will be the final volume. Yes, I know that there is a certain melancholy about that announcement – felt no more keenly than by the creators, I assure you – but the alternative is to continue with our endless and delightful continuum until one of us becomes either mentally or physically discorporate, and then end it abruptly halfway through an arc, an issue, a panel. As it is, we have a plan for volume four which is, I think, an irresistible ending for The League: it ties up all of the narrative threads for the whole series, including some that you perhaps didn’t know were there. Story elements building since the opening pages of issue one, volume one, will be brought to an explosive head, and in particular most of the apparently random things in The Black Dossier will be shown as major parts of the overall drama, while a significant reason for the Nemo trilogy will become apparent. Seriously, if this works as we’re expecting it to, then everybody’s questions concerning the League and their history should be resoundingly answered.
Anyway, that’s all the comic work I have planned for the foreseeable future. As far as The Show and its related projects are concerned, we’re letting that progress naturally, as long as it progresses within the rigid and fanatical terms that we’ve established, which is to say no ownership other than by the creators, and no editorial interventions of any kind. Since we’re expecting to go into production on the feature film around this summer, I should imagine that if that’s as good as we think it will be, things like the projected TV series (also called The Show) and related ideas like the dangerously absorbing console game or the intriguing social network may start to gain momentum around that time. If this happens, I could find myself doing all sorts of unlikely stuff, often in areas where I have all the knowledge and expertise of a newly-hatched earwig. Although I’ll admit that I am quite looking forward to playing Frank Metterton again, and not just because I’ll get another outlandish outfit and a fantastic pair of custom made shoes.
On the musical front, me and Joe Brown have been talking about what to do with all of the songs that we’ve written together, which we think deserve some sort of airing (and possibly better vocalists). Our conversations thus far have been very vague and tentative as we try and feel our way into the project, but the intent is there, and maybe by the time the weather is getting better again we’ll be starting to think about something concrete. I know that Joe is currently amassing an interesting array of synthesisers, which threatens to lead to something serious, so we’ll see.
Other than that, I continue to turn up at roughly monthly intervals down at the NN Café for the irregular show I’m doing with recovering touraholic Robin Ince and the sublime Grace Petrie, which Robin has described as Schrodinger’s Podcast, in that it is definitely a real podcast, but it’s apparently only being broadcast in a universe adjacent to the one that we’re in. Then, next Saturday (November 28th ) I’m helping put together an event at Northampton University called ‘Under the Austerity, the Beach – A Day of Counter-Culture’, with Melinda, Robin, Grace, Scroobius Pip, Josie Long, Francesca Martinez and John Higgs, where we hope to explain why we have never needed a counter culture more desperately than we do in the present day, and why we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one Jeremy Corbyn. I have no idea what might grow out of such an event, but if anything does I’ll probably be a part of it in some way or other.
Finally, as to where I might be moving next creatively, I’m thinking very seriously about poetry these days. Partly that’s just out of the personal perversity which leads me to seek out the most overlooked and least remunerative areas of culture, but more seriously is born from a feeling that poetry is very probably the highest of the literary arts, and also that it’s one with which I have never engaged sufficiently, or at least not with the level of attack or confidence that I can bring to my other work. I’m a bit scared of poetry, which is a really good reason to seriously attempt it. Part of this is also due to the fact that I’ve been very impressed with the work that seriously gifted poet Chrissy Williams (Kieron Gillen’s wife, editor, and probably moral compass) and brilliant cartoonist and cultural commentator Tom Humberstone have been doing in the field of Poetry Comics, and is also on account of the magnificent Will Shutes and his Test Centre project. Will has been producing his poetry publication Test Centre for a number of years now, with every issue in a different obsolete format – for instance, it may have been typed onto 1960s wax stencils with an archaic period model typewriter and then cranked out one side of a page at a time on a vintage duplicator machine, such as we used when we were putting Embryo together in 1969-1970. Steve Moore made some contributions to early issues, along with a bunch of really excellent poets who were entirely new to me, and although Will had asked if I could contribute something I seemed to have terrible difficulty in actually committing. Test Centre then started running pieces by Iain Sinclair and publishing fascinating side-project books by people like Stewart Home, and while I made a faltering start on a poem when I was down at Steve’s over one weekend, that poem was lost with Steve’s death and frankly wasn’t much of an opening anyway. Then, a month or so ago, Will sent me along his latest obsolete Test Centre venture, which turns out to be a box of cassette tapes collected by Paul Buck in the course of producing his legendary poetry magazine series Curtains. There was stuff in there by Paul himself, Allen Fischer, Eric Mottram and my late darling, the astonishing, beautiful and doomed Kathy Acker. My sense of guilt at not having contributed anything to Will’s excellent magazine finally became too much to bear, and I sat down and over a couple of days wrote my first serious poem for many years. It’s only twelve lines long, and it’s a reconstruction of the poem I started down at Steve’s only I think it’s considerably better. It’s called ‘The Town Planning in Dreams’, and it will be appearing in the issue of Test Centre that will have emerged sometime during December. I don’t know how good it is, but I’m pleased with it as a first attempt to re-engage with the medium, and I think that sometime in the not too distant future I might very well be gradually working my way up to some sort of major poem, at least in my own terms.
There may be something that I’ve forgotten, or something that has yet to bring itself to my attention, but otherwise I think that’s pretty much it for new projects, and also for my lengthy dispensation of seasonal wisdom and goodwill to all except corporations and Shy Conservatives.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I hope that you all have a great festive season and a splendid 2016. God knows we all probably deserve one. Love to everybody and Merry Winterval. Peace out.