In what may or may not become a long-standing tradition, Alan Moore has answered questions at Christmas set by the members of a Facebook group called The Really Very Serious Alan Moore Scholars’ Group, who are, as the name might suggest, a bunch of people who are interested in his work. This set of Qs & As were done over the month of December 2016, and in what has also become at least a short-running tradition, we’re presenting them here for a wider audience. You can find a link to the first group through the link below, where you’ll also find links to the previous year’s set of Qs & As.
Greg Morrow: When you are working on an intricate structure like Jerusalem, do you find you need to cleanse your palate and refresh your concentration by working on something simple, or do you need constant focus to maintain the structure?
Alan Moore: I’m not sure if I’ve ever had the chance to answer this question to even my own satisfaction. In the first few years of working on Jerusalem, it was probably the closest I’ve ever got to being able to work on just one project, but even though Jerusalem was the main thing taking up my time, I was still putting it aside every few weeks to work upon other commitments. The intricate structure of Jerusalem existed in my head and in my notes from the very first, and was so well-established there that having to take time away from the project really didn’t affect it. That said, there were certain sections of the book, such as the Lucia Joyce chapter, that demanded such a complete immersion it would have been near impossible to write much else while they were going on. And, after the conclusion of that chapter, I found that I needed to produce eight issues of Dodgem Logic as a palate cleanser and a means to refresh my concentration. I didn’t feel I had much choice about this, when to have slogged on doggedly with the novel would have been to spoil it with my obvious exhaustion, but in retrospect the couple of years I spent on Dodgem Logic gave me the time to seriously think through all the things that I wanted the third and final section to achieve. Stuff like the parallels between the third book’s structure and the structure of James Hervey’s wildly experimental Theron and Aspasio wouldn’t have emerged, and I may even have finished the novel before I received the vital piece of information about the Marvellous Mill at the junction of Tanner Street and Gas Street. I suppose the answer to your question is that I generally end up working in whatever way feels necessary, given my circumstances and inclinations at the time. Maybe when I’m through with my comic work and free to set entirely my own agendas, I’ll get to find out whether one project at a time is best or not, although I suspect that I’m likely to end up settling into my current all-over-the-place approach as a kind of default setting. We’ll see.
Geoffrey D. Wessel: You’ve done comics, novels, you make films, you’ve done everything on stage from spoken-word to playing in bands to stand-up comedy. So, any artistic / performance you’ve yet to try? Any chance of a short television series, or regularish podcast? How about Alan Moore in Residence, with only 25 people at a time able to get in, for, say, a week somewhere?
Alan Moore: Well, I seem at present to be well served with opportunities to explore anything I feel like, really. I added ‘Hip Hop Fascist Mandrill’ to the list you provide above on June 24th this year, and I believe there might be further things to come from that quarter thanks to the attentions of the brilliant Joe Brown, sublime Hacienda DJ Greg Hill and the lovely animated cartoon ninja that is Kermit Leveridge.
There may yet be a television series to follow The Show (also entitled The Show, largely through laziness), and I know that Stewart Lee and I have often talked wistfully about doing some sort of series together, but with the TV landscape in the shape that it’s in, all of this stuff is highly uncertain. [This interview dates to December 2016, so there has been further news on The Show since then… PÓM]
As for podcasts, I was appearing roughly once a month to between fifty and a hundred people at the local NN Cafe in 2014 and 2015, with Robin Ince and Grace Petrie (who was at the second Counter Culture Conference, Hexagram 23: Breaking Apart, last weekend, and who, sort of like the Hulk, just gets better the angrier she gets, and is thus approaching near-godlike levels of performance after 2016) and occasional other guests. These were all recorded as podcasts under the name of Robin, Grace and Alan’s Bloomin’, Buzzin’ Confusion, although when Robin’s contact failed to actually broadcast any of these, he suggested we rename it Schrodinger’s Podcast since its ontological status seemed to be in doubt. Since then, with the emergence of the Northampton Arts Lab, it’s been suggested that we broadcast them ourselves and then continue the series, perhaps with Josie Long on board. I’m potentially meeting up with Robin for a pizza sometime next week, so we’ll probably talk about it then.
As for the idea of a solo podcast, I afraid that I don’t have any interest in that, nor any wish to impose my thoughts and pronouncements upon an audience to a greater extent than I’m doing already. The big fun of podcasts is meeting up with people and getting the chance to just chat and enjoy their company in a relaxed setting. This was true when I was talking to Scroobius Pip, and it’s always true of Robin and Josie’s Utter Shambles, which, the last time I was on it, led to a meeting with John Dowie for the first time in thirty years. I’d recently described John as ‘the archaeopteryx of alternative comedy’, and tried to explain to him that this was intended as a compliment, rather than (as he rightly suspected) a cheap comment about his nose and his raucous, screeching voice. He got quite upset, launched himself from a first story window and glided away on the warm updrafts above west London. I haven’t seen him since. So, yeah, podcasts may well figure somewhere in my near future.
Kyle Rogers: In your work you’ve often incorporated elements from a variety of existing works. Right now we seem, culturally, to be at a high point for new works which rely on nostalgia or retreading known territory (narratively speaking). How do you feel about this phenomenon, and are there any creators in any medium who you think are using nostalgia or elements of past works in particularly interesting ways?
Julian West adds: This is a question that I’d like to see explored, because Alan Moore is known for (a) reinventing existing characters, or character tropes, and (b) for condemning the inability of the comics and film industries to avoid recycling the same old things. Were one being unkind, one might see a contradiction there, and such areas are often productive of insightful thoughts from Himself.
Alan Moore: In my experience of writing comic books in the late twentieth century, it would usually be the case that the writer would be asked to take over a pre-established character, frequently when that character was more or less on its last legs. The brief here, clearly, is ‘try and fix this concept so that it works and we can make money from it.’ I’d suggest that any attempt to do such a thing successfully involves a revision of some kind, whether we’re talking about Swamp Thing, Captain Britain or the Charlton Comics roster.
After all, if you took your job seriously, this is what you were being paid to do, back then at the end of the twentieth century when the problem of cultural recycling and zombie franchises was not so clearly defined or noticeable as it has become in the current era.
With the ABC [America’s Best Comics] books, I was making an attempt to re-imagine a mainstream comic book line founded on different principles, that borrowed from the medium’s rich and diverse past while trying to create progressive material adequate to its present and future. The League, from its outset, was much more a cultural game or experiment – the attempt to combine all fictional realities in one intertextual continuum – than it was an exercise in Steampunk nostalgia for the Victorian period, as evidenced by our rapidly moving on to other time periods after that second volume, leaving the lucrative market in Victorian intertextual nostalgia for things like, say, Penny Dreadful.
Similarly, Lost Girls was not an attempt to extend those three franchises well past their sell-by date, but rather an experiment in pornography that hopefully used those characters in a new and interesting way. My Lovecraft work for Avatar, especially Providence, is likewise not born of a nostalgia for Lovecraft, but rather from the complete opposite: a desire to re-examine Lovecraft’s work in light of the extraordinary amount of biographical and critical material that has appeared relating to the writer over the last thirty years, to throw out functionally useless fanboy ideas like ‘The Cthulhu Mythos’, to get rid of all the accumulated cosiness and show Lovecraft in a new light, as the experimental closet modernist that I believe him to have been.
I may be missing something, but I don’t see things like Dr. Who, or the plethora of recycled 60s and 70s music that we seem to have endured since the mid 90s, or the slew of contemporary superhero films, or the various reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes, as being revisions in the sense that I understand the term. What, in most if not all of these cases, has been revised? What, beyond the special effects budget and the self-aware nods to the nostalgic adults who now appear to be the show’s main audience, has changed about Doctor Who? What’s changed about the riffs and the sleuths and the supermen other than some new window-dressing here and a new medium or two there? It seems to me that these are more re-brandings, for obvious commercial purposes, rather than any kind of intelligent and purposeful revisions, for creative purposes. I don’t deny that there are many talented individuals attached to these shows and films and this music, but I don’t feel that they are engaging with genuinely new ideas in the way that our current times seem to me to demand.
As regards nostalgia in general terms, according to a recent issue of New Scientist, a little of it can be good for us, psychologically and neurologically. It was, however, initially diagnosed as a potentially fatal illness, something elegantly demonstrated by the South Park clip that John Higgs showed everyone at the recent Hexagram 23 event, with the ’Memberberries, or the Private Eye cover around eighteen months ago, with a UKIP candidate standing by a UKIP-decorated taxi cab, the driver of which is asking “Where to, guv?” and the candidate is replying “The 1950s, and step on it”.
The only time when nostalgia might be useful to a creator is when they have an assignment that needs to evoke certain qualities about a situation or character, to which personal nostalgia can provide a key. About the only example I can think of from my own career would be when Julius Schwartz asked me to write his final issues of Superman and Action Comics. He wasn’t asking me to revise the character. As I understood it, he was asking me to show what a great concept Superman already was, and how it really didn’t need the ‘revision’ that John Byrne would shortly be providing. In order to do this properly, having not been particularly attached to the character since the onset of puberty, I needed to use nostalgia as a way of reconnecting with my ten-year-old self, and then examining those memories with an adult eye in order to identify what it really was that to me, at that age, had represented the heart and the essence of the character. I concluded that to me, that essence had always been in the mythic trivia surrounding Superman rather than in the character himself, and I constructed my story accordingly. I can see that even if one’s purposes are radical character revision, a nostalgia-based review of the character and its initial appeal to you might not be a bad place to start, but beyond the above I personally can’t think of that many valid uses for nostalgia. If you enjoy it as an occasional pick-me-up to lift the spirits in bleak times, that sounds fine by me, but if depended upon to make contemporary life bearable or if used as a tool to manipulate an audience or an electorate, I think its effects would seem to be largely toxic, at least from my own perspective.
Further questions and answers will follow soon…