domingo, 2 de dezembro de 2007

Interview with Alan Moore

This is an interview I made with author Alan Moore on the 28th, February 2007. It was published in Portuguese at the website Omelete, but most of Moore's readers, who speak English, couldn't read it. So, finally, here it is. It goes deeply into Lost Girls, his most recent major work, and I hope you will enjoy it. So much has been written about Moore's work that I doubt it is needed to introduce him much. Therefore I will attempt to put on a personal view as well as particular comments on how I see his work and persona.

To normal people, or non-comic book readers, Alan Moore must seem strange.

Well, even to comic book readers he seems strange. Alan Moore has got long hair, strange mystical rings, practices "magic" and says he worships a snake. Far from being stupid, he knows that this all creates a facade that impresses and also, to an extent, disappoints people. Some critics and readers won't take him seriously because of this, I suppose. The "official art world" (whatever that may be), for whom there are very limited ways to see, feel and behave about life.

It's brave, in a sense, of Moore to do that. Comic books and fantasy writing in general are victims of prejudice, and the fact he portraits himself, at least physically, pretty much as a weirdo is a bold statement that he does not care at all about these prejudiced views, and will go further into creating an unorthodox image, not minding if that displeases people who would otherwise take his work seriously and see how much he has to offer, how complex, sophisticated and rewarding his work is.

Alan obviously knows he has created a very curious image. And he likes it that people see him as a strange sort of crazy, weird genius.

It is a great image to create, a great image to live by, and a great image to be thought about, isn't it? Should be very fun, I think.

I mean, how many writers put on suits and glasses and pose looking to the horizon in photos made for the back cover of their books? Usually these are really "deep" books, written by an author said to have created a narrative that "untangles the intangible mysteries of the human soul"... or something like that.

Books that are, for the most part, really, really dull, pretentious crap.

In fact, cultural prejudices are stronger, I believe, in people not interested in horror, science fiction and different types of genre narratives in general. I was thinking the other day that most comic book readers - at least in my experience - are very much into these more extreme genres of fiction, probably because so many comics have been written within them.

Being into comics and fantasy probably also makes you more tolerant regarding strangeness and differences in general. You will get, of course, people like H.P. Lovecraft, who had great pleasure in reading and writing about the forbidden, the strange and the profane, and which had a fantastic imagination and curious mind, but who was a right wing racist. But I would say that they are more the exception than the rule. I think the comic book universe tends to be very liberal.

I also think Alan has got one of the most cunning, perceptive and clear perceptions of reality I have ever come across. The man has a profoundly interesting mind.

What does Alan Moore does that makes so many people take so much from his work? Why is he so important and influential? Why do bookshops have have shelves just for him?

I would suggest it is a combination of reasons. Amongst them; great, well written narratives with a excellent classic, three-act structure, gripping plots, interesting and impressive research about the subjects he addresses, very pertinent, intelligent observations about humanity and the world we inhabit, all mixed with moving, poetic moments.

Although he has created this strange and fantastic figure of himself, he constantly makes interesting, provoking, objective, sometime crystalline observations that perhaps invite the reader to read and think "Hmmm, how come I never saw it that way?”. It's because of his excellent powers of observation that he is able to create characters like Dr. William Gull, Nite Owl and Ozymandias. So different, so unlike and most of all, so believable. He probably feels such wonder for the world, because after all he can see it in such different and creative ways. Voice of the fire, his first novel, is also very much like that. A novel written showing several perspectives of Northampton, with perspectives from completely different characters in a progression through time, perspectives he portraits with great fidelity and understanding for their reasons, feelings,
points of view and conditions.

In what is perhaps his masterpiece, Watchmen, the character Rorschach sees the world in terms of moral absolutes. There is black and there is white. There is right and there is wrong. And evil




Rorschach. A man who has seen the world in very basic, simple terms, and who has enough confidence in what he saw and felt to do what has to be done, to do what is "right" and pay the price.

And there is pretty much nothing in between. But within that logic, Rorschach is a good man. He is, after all, what Batman would be if he existed at all. He fights evil with what evil is needed to be fought with; extreme violence and no compromise. Actually, these are some of his last words. No compromise.

And he pays the price for that. He eats out of tin cans, he suffers with a world that is not guided by “vague metaphysics”, gods and the such. He lives in a world that is evil because we are evil. People rape children, mutilate women and slaughter the innocent. Just people. Just ordinary humans.

The Comedian; a nihilistic figure, sent from hell, to show us that life makes no sense, and there is no god, or any redeeming value that humanity can create which will make this a world worth living. The only thing he seems to be after is hedonism; instant gratification, instant pleasure. To top that, the character has a complete disrespect for any belief of any kind on anything that may be related to hope, kindness and goodness.

The Comedian. Hating the world he lives in. His answer to all the pain and suffering we produce and witness? Bitter and cynical sarcasm. 

Kindness? Goodness? Vague, insipid human creations, developed to fool us of the cold reality of the grey, dark, horrible life that awaits us. Being nihilistic is being lucid. Being negative is seeing reality for what it really is. That’s the Comedian.

Ozymandias, or Adrian Veidt. The most intelligent man on earth. He sees the world as a blank page to be written on, and people and situations as things to be moved around, like strategic pieces, in this gigantic chessboard that is life, with it’s feeble and fragile rules we humans have developed. But, he is striving for the good of mankind; to bring world peace, he commits genocide.

Adrian Veidt or Ozymandias. A god-like figure that
decides human fate for the rest of us. Can one event control
the whole of human actions?

Who does he think he is?

His mixture of intelligence and a sense of leadership, combined with arrogance leads the world to peace, through genocide...
But, for how long?

But that’s just a strategic decision which will, in the end, benefit mankind as a whole in a scale never seen before.

I have my own ideas on how much Ozymandias’ plan would work, in a realistic scenario. I think it’s naive to assume that an alien invasion would bring world peace, even through the tensions of cold war. Look at the Tsunami in Asia, look at Darfur, look at hurricane Kathrina. It all goes down and nobody cares. World peace won’t be brought up by a cataclysm.

World peace will probably never happen. Maybe war is the natural state of the human species.

Dr. Manhattan. The human incarnation of the very concept of science. Determinism. Everything works according to natural laws, and not only that, natural laws and mechanical observations of the universe are the only things that matter. He possesses certainty. Perfect knowledge. And one of my criticisms of Watchmen is that no such certainty is possible. However, Dr. Manhattan is, to a degree, shown as flawless and never really questioned within the narrative. And I dislike that. I dislike that idea.

A lot.

However, all these worldviews, all these perceptions, feelings and annotations of the world are show in such depth, and with such profound detail, that we learn to love them, respect them, dislike them and care about them and how they turn out in the story. And that’s the magic that Alan Moore gives storytelling. A rare, rare thing.

I wish the Watchmen film was not being made. It will not only be, obviously (read the interview for details on the impossibility of completely faithful adaptations of Moore's work) a flawed version of the book. It will get the attention of people who do not DESERVE to read Watchmen, to the book. People who have despised comic books.

Maybe it will LOOK good. After all, Hollywood is good with that, isn't it? Art direction. Yes, it will be a pretty and esthetically pleasing film. No doubt. The actors are much more good looking and fit than the characters were.


I am getting old. This is not just an expression. I really am.

Sometimes I think Alan Moore has figured out humanity and I should just wait to read his work over and over again, waiting for any new releases, so I can read his comments to understand what life is all about after all.

At least I will figure out what he thinks about it, and that's more interesting than most ways of looking at the world.

Above all, what I get from Moore is this extreme sense of honesty. He strikes me as someone who has real aversion to falseness, lies, pedantism, poses. He exposes himself as someone who has nothing to lose (and I believe he doesn't, not by now) and he is constantly frank about his political beliefs, his ethical views, his moral views, his life, his love, his hate, his habits and the meaning of his works.

I believe Alan Moore is a good person. I don't know how important that is regarding his work, but I very much believe he is a good person. I believe that when he shook my hand, and thanked me for reading his work, he was being sincere and not making a mechanical gesture to please someone who buys his books. He transmitted me the same warmth I felt when I read the most emotional moments of his works, the moments in which he is trying to elevate his characters and bring redemption to the story.

When he decided to write pornography, with Lost Girls, I think it was the same blunt and warm honesty that moved him towards this goal. It was with great openness that he decided to write about such an intimate thing, sex. And of course, these being his personal views of sex. His views of what is arousing, of what is not, of how people behave regarding sex and how it can be depicted. How it can be shown as something sexy, as something ugly, as something forbidden, as something perverse, as a something fantastic, as a dream. How it can be shown in several human situations.

And as always he did it with something I love about his work: a positive, hopeful and optimistic view of how art should take us to better places, even when we have seen so much darkness.

As usual, Moore mixes up several elements in this work: sex, social life in the XIX century, politics, war, fantasy, social conditions and a lot of art, the art that was around at the time of the protagonists. And I love comments about art, within a story. That's another frequent characteristic of Alan Moore's work; a mix up of comments regarding several aspects, several facets, of the universes he is exploring.

In the same way, From Hell was not just a novel about murders, but actually a huge, black, bold, piece of work about Victorian society, dissecting it in many, many levels. Lost Girls is not just a book about sex, but an exploration of people in a context, a context that is shown in all its complexity and richness. People are not fucking against a blank, meaningless background. They are fucking within a world. Alan Moore always does that in his work. He uses the places, times, situations and people he is depicting in order to understand them.

That's what I think of Alan Moore and this work. I hope the interview and the questions I have chosen help you understand his work, I hope they inform and entertain you.

On another note...

I learned yesterday that Steve Gerber, the writer who created Howard the Duck amongst several other characters, has died.

I used to visit Steve's blog almost every day, and I think all the times I made a comment on his writings, he did reply. Once I wrote him explaining that I considered quite unique to have grown up in the '80s, reading the works he wrote in the '70s and '80s, the things he and many others from his generation wrote.

Some names related to this period: Len Wein, Mark Evanier, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont and so many, some I don't even remember the name of, for they are lost in that fog of fantasy and reality that we call "childhood". The fact remains that all of them helped shape my view of the world. I think these writers from the '70s and '80s created a whole generation with particular worldviews.

He commented, briefly, that he thought that there was something to what I was saying, and that he would like to actually write a complete blog post about that, "next week".

He never did. There was no time.

His health deteriorated rapidly on the last few months, and he died of pulmonary fibrosis. I was very sad for this loss, I think that without Steve's social commentary and introspective, avant-garde stories, maybe writers like Alan Moore wouldn't exist. His stories with Howard the Duck, The Man-Thing and even Marvel's Zombie were very personal, emotional, touching, sarcastic, funny, adventurous and groundbreaking. He brought the underground to mainstream, and played freely with the medium.

And when I asked him what he thought of Alan Moore, he said he found Moore's work great. He was complimentary of his peer.

How many people can write a story entitled "Where do you go? What do you do? The NIGHT YOU SAVED THE UNIVERSE!"? That's just so grandiose, so epic and beautifully poetic... And at the same time, lonely.

So Steve, thanks for all the stories you gave us. Rest easy, and in peace. You have achieved so much.

And now I leave you readers with Alan Moore.


Alan Moore: So how can I help you Joaquim?

Joaquim Ghirotti: I got the American edition of Lost Girls for this interview, and a lot of the book seems to have nostalgia associated with it, it has a lot of art noveau, the dawn of last century and even the title Lost Girls, is that related to something you think has been lost to modern sexuality?

Alan: I think that’s probably true. We were trying to capture a moment in European culture, before the First World War had happened and had pretty much changed that culture, perhaps forever. I don’t know if we are even over the First World War by 2007. It was cataclysmic and devastating. There was such a rich culture that existed before that point, and something about the sheer mechanical ugliness of the first world war seemed to bring in a new age of savage modernism, which while it had a load of things to recommend it, has displaced something. A perhaps more innocent period of culture had been displaced. And the idea of something lost, both on a national level and on a personal level, with the three girls having become distanced from the people that they were when they were younger. How a certain kind of innocent personality had perhaps been lost. I don’t mean innocent in a non sexual sense I mean how a certain innocent approach to sexuality had inevitable been lost with the passing of time and maturity. So yes there is an element of nostalgia but… not so much nostalgia, but… not so much nostalgia but a sense of trying to underline the loss.

The battlefield of Somme during World War One. Never had the world seen so much destruction in such large scale in so little time.
Nostalgia is generally, I mean it IS properly regarded as an illness, as a kind of a parking back to a possibly imaginary rosy past, while ignoring the present, whereas what we were wanted to do with Lost Girls was to underline certain things that had been lost by culture, or by us as individuals as a way of talking about the present. It’s not an entirely retroactive piece of work. It’s talking about the present and… I mean like, in that respect it is very fortunate that Lost Girls has finally emerged during the current George Bush administration.

Nostalgia, the name of a brand of
perfume sold by Adrian Veidt
in the
immortal saga, Watchmen
Joaquim: That’s something I wanted to ask you, do you tried to make a comparison between the violence of the First World War and the violence we are witnessing right now?

Alan: The thing is those considerations weren’t entirely intentional because we started doing Lost Girls in 1989, when I think that George Bushes’s father was still in the Whitehouse. And so we had no idea of when we were gonna finish this work, and I guess we could have finished it, say, during a Clinton administration when things would have been a lot more liberal but I think a lot of the political point of the book would have been lost, whereas coming out today in the midst of George W. Bush trying to turn America into a medieval theocracy with gameboys then it achieved a starker contrast. 

George W. Bush Sr.

I can’t think of a better time for it to come out. When you have most of the world pretty thoroughly immersed in a potentially ongoing war and worse it’s an war against an abstract quality: terror, which cannot of course never be beaten, it's like the war on drugs, you know? You can only wage war upon nations; you cannot wage it upon abstract concepts as I think that the current American administration and the British administration are probably learning, seven years too late to do anybody any good. But certainly we were aware that with Lost Girls coming out into the current landscape it would be specially poignant because it would be during a time in when as I said, there is prevalent war seemingly gripping most of the planet and there is also this very moralistic backlash from the Christian conservative right in American which are seemingly very anti sex, certainly anti pornography and so Lost Girls is challenging the current world view in a number of different ways and I think that it is important that it happens to have come out at just this time.

Joaquim: That’s something I would like to ask you about as well because Lost Girls is a work that doesn’t seem to fit with current times because you don’t really have so to speak thoughtful pornography like the Story of O or the Marquis the Sade or whatever coming out right now and suddenly you bring out this work that took 16 years to be finished and it has references to Stravinsky and the War and Freud’s psychology and so on. Where would you fit Lost Girls in the history of the exploration of erotica and pornography?

Alan: Well I mean like, Lost Girls is I think, certainly the first erotic book with this degree of ambition and with this kind of scale and attention to narrative and everything else, I think it’s the first erotic book which has been imagined upon such a grandiose scale. (laughs) It's also probably one of the first erotic books that has emerged to a mass market actually proudly declaring itself to be pornography, so it’s a very modern phenomenon I doubt that Lost Girls could have been produced before 2007, I mean simply we haven’t had the technology in terms of printing to reproduce Melinda’s artwork until very, very recently and if we had let go for much longer on the other hand we wouldn’t ‘have had the drums at the print photographers, because most artists work on a computer this days, they are being phased out so we wouldn’t have been able to physically photograph Melinda’s artwork so it’s a very modern thing but also is something that is very retrospective in certain degrees, it's looking back at a golden age of pornography. I mean in the white book sections of Lost Girls we look back at people like Franz von Bayros Pierre Louis, there are passing references to the Marquis de Sade because he is very important in the evolution of erotic literature but I’ve always found his work a bit boring (laughs) I can see the point of it, I can see the point of all this sadistic and scatological material to outrage the authorities of his times, but to modern eyes I find it a bit boring, repetitious and unpleasant. We refer to him but we actually focus on people like Colette, Oscar Wilde, some well known painters and illustrators like Egon Schiele and some lesser ones such as Aubrey Beardsley and that was our way of actually pastiching what we thought were some of the better elements from the golden age of Victorian pornography. So we were trying to do something which was very contemporary in the way it was conceived by having a comic book upon such a grand scale, but something which acknowledged the history of erotica and kinda of made a case for the continued existence of erotica and pornography free of sanction or kinda of the scorn of the official art world.

The girls, lost in delirium
Artwork by Egon Schiele

Alan and Melinda, now happily married!

Joaquim: So that’s one of the reasons why the book wasn’t made with computers, the coloring and everything else?

Alan: Oh yeah because (Alan starts lighting a cigarette) I mean it was Melinda’s hand drawn artwork and particularly her multi-layered coloring that first suggested to me a perfect quality that we could bring to this proposed pornographic work, and I know that around about halfway through the book, I know that Melinda became a little bit worried because she was laboring away doing this twenty different layers of colors just to get a flesh tone and a lot of her friends were getting very excited and enthusiastic about computer coloring and she was wondering weather she would be left behind. But I assured her that it seemed to me likely that as computer coloring became more ubiquitous, then people would come to value the human touch present in that obviously hand drawn, hand crafted work that they would come to value that a lot more highly, and I think that’s also true of the packaging of Lost Girls itself, I think that far from a future in which everything is on a screen, I think the beautiful artifact that you can hold in your hands will become much more highly prized. And I think that seems to have paid off with Lost Girls, I mean, Chris (Staros, editor of Top Shelf publishing) almost bankrupted himself actually carrying out our most delirious whims regarding the Lost Girls packaging, but it’s all paid off. I think everybody appreciates having a marvelous little artifact that they can hold in their hands. So, yeah it’s a sort of ah, it’s a modern piece of work in its thinking and its execution. But I don’t really see a modern outlook being completely synonymous with being obsessed with computers or other similar fruits of technology. I tend to think that, as somebody was remarking to me the other day, that in the future computers will be handy crafts, you will go to handy craft fairs and there will be people with these antique looking computers as a reminder of this phase that we went through and I think that even in that far future there will still be print media, because people, I think, at the end of the day human beings enjoying having a beautifully made object that they can hold in their hands.

Melinda Gebbie's artwork in "Lost Girls"
has got an incredible range of colors
and styles.

Joaquim: Still about the colors, as you said they have a quality that can’t be achieved unless a human is doing it. I think the colors are very bright and vivid and jolly, it’s like a candy shop…

Alan: Well, in some of the sequences yeah that’s true, in other sequences the colors schemes have been altered or mutated to give the particular effect that we wanted. Like the yellowish light before the thunderstorm, the grey and yellow light before the tornado in the first Dorothy flashback, and various other places. I mean one of the things we wanted to do, was to give that kind of golden warmth to all of the scenes we were depicting, that you might find in say beautiful children’s book illustrations, because having that kind of human, warm light in everything, it made even the most questionable scenes… They could be made to appear completely beautiful and enticing, you know? Like a confectionary you know? Some of the women, the flesh tones, it is like beautiful pink confections. This was also partly to do with the psychology of the audience we that we wanted to reach because yes, we wanted to reach men and women but frankly you don’t have to put a lot of thought into how to make men sexually aroused, you know? Men will… Men are largely undiscriminating and will respond to just about anything. Women are the problem and traditionally pornography has been approached, has been something which women haven’t really have a great deal of reason to want to check out, it's always been from a fairly strictly heterosexual male point of view, it’s always uninviting to anything that…It has a kind of very brutish male sensibility in that the rooms are ugly, the women look cold, vulnerable and a bit miserable, the men look ugly, the lighting is always as if a brain surgery is happening so you can see every pore and every wrinkle in it, it seems intent upon making sex look as ugly as possible, and maybe sex does look ugly if you film it under sort of harsh street lighting, but that is not the way most of us perceive sex, most of us when we are involved in intimate moments such as sexual union we are seeing the world through very soft, warm romantic lights, and that was what we wanted to capture in the drawings in Lost Girls, in the colors, we wanted to make an environment that was beautiful and inviting particularly for women readers who might have not found environments like that in erotic stories before.

Joaquim: Have you got responses from women in that sense? Because usually women are not the active protagonists of pornographic stories and you decided to take three girls to put in this situation right now, as protagonists, which is very unusual, and you are working with a woman as well.

Alan: Well yeah, I mean like women often are the protagonists of erotic stories but they are women written by men. You don’t have to go very far to find an example, Fanny Hill, Moll Flanders. These are women written by men as well but I like to think that I am quite good at writing believable women. In my other comic work this was something I always prided myself upon, to a certain degree, I’m not saying that they are completely authentic but I think I make a better stab at it than a lot of my contemporaries.

One of the very first editions of Fanny Hill.

With Lost Girls, obviously if it hadn’t for the fact that Melinda was working with me on it, this was as you pointed out a collaboration between a man and a woman, I don’t think it could have worked, in a million years I don’t think it could have worked, because otherwise if it was two women doing the erotica it would be purely a woman’s eye view of erotic, the same if it were two men, whereas this kind of collaboration allows both of us to express our sensibilities and to come up with something in the art work and the words which is pleasing and exciting to both of us, which was the kind of criteria that we were using as we spent sixteen years working our way through the book, you know? That was a very important part it in the making of Lost Girls. It was almost an alchemical process. I know that a lot of the original alchemists used to work in male/female partnerships because that does something to express some of the actual nature of alchemy, that it is, on a creative or mystical level it is very much a sexual combination of elements and I think that we were going for that in Lost Girls, trying to combine both sides of the sexual equation into the sensibilities in Lost Girls, in the hope of coming up with some kind of new fusion.  

Joaquim: And have you gotten any good responses from women?

Alan: From women we’ve had fantastic responses. I know that when Melinda was in the San Diego show, she said that at least half of the people buying the book were women, and there was a particularly lovely little story that she told me about how some woman had come and bought the book on the first day of the convention and said that she intended to take it away and read it, and she came back the next day, having sat up all night and read the whole thing through from cover to cover, and she had just come back to thank Melinda for actually doing it and she had tears in her eyes. The response has been incredibly warm and we’ve… I think more women have found themselves surprised to like it. There have been women that just because they have heard that it is a work of pornography have perhaps assumed that it will be like every other work of pornography that they have seen and it will be boring to them, if not actually offensive, but we have had some very nice responses from women which was the most important I think to us. I think in general the responses we’ve had got across the board from Lost Girls has been incredibly surprising and kind of inspiring, we really didn’t know wether we might be rode out of town after Lost Girls was published particularly because of the current religious climate in America, but we’ve had no trouble at all, in fact we’ve had the complete opposite, we’ve had the Canadian government, initially having seized Lost Girls on the borders, they received this dossier that Chris Staros had put together, which included reviews from prestigious American journals, of Lost Girls, and it also got a kind of statement of intent, put together by me and Melinda, and we got the most glowing letter back from the Canadian government, saying that yes, it did include scenes of child sex and bestiality, but it could no way be considered child pornography nor could it be considered to be obscene, that it was a work of tremendous artistic and social benefit and it went on and on like this, we could have used the letter as a blurb on the back of a future edition of the book with just “The Canadian Government” underneath it, it was perfect. I mean the response has been so good that we wondered wether this is all some kind of strange and marvelous dream and we are both going to wake up and find that we are actually in prison (laughs) awaiting execution or something (more laughs). No, really, the response has been kind of marvelous; it seems as if the sheer physical beauty of Lost Girls which is at least, at a first glance 99% down to Melinda’s artwork and to the wonderful production values that Top Shelf has wrapped the book in, I think the sheer physical beauty of the thing has tended to pre empts an awful lot of the possible negative comments.

The cover for the boxed edition of Lost Girls. A very luxurious edition indeed. 

The one negative response I heard about was from the Comics Journal, who have a little bit of a... Well because I said I was not interested in doing any more interviews with them they tend to have a bit of a beef with me anyway, but they got Melinda to do an interview with them, which she did because she was genuinely thinking the best of everybody involved and the young girl sent to interview her seemed very nice, and she had done this interview and then in the issue before the interview the Comics Journal printed one really terrible review of Lost Girls and then two other even worse reviews, for balance, and another one on the website, just in case anybody had missed the three bad reviews on the magazine (laughs) and then in the next issue apparently the new editor apologized and wrote an editorial in defense of Lost Girls, when in fact the only thing we needed defending from was the Comics Journal (laughs) but other than that it’s been pretty good, and like I said we’ve been very heart warmed and to a degree astonished by the response since it’s been so good.

Joaquim: I was thinking of the scripts for Lost Girls and I saw Melinda speaking about it and she said that initially working with your scripts was difficult for her because they are so detailed and so massive and you had to come up with a different approach for this project. 

Alan: Yes I did, I mean initially Melinda had always been writing and drawing her own work, she worked completely on her own, she worked completely on her own as a writer and as an artist and so this was the first time, in these early days of Lost Girls this was the first time that she ever actually worked from a comic book script, and let alone one of my comic book scripts which are immense things that are sort of the size of a phone book and that swamped her with lots of tight information, and she found it very difficult to actually work from the scripts because she thought that little details would get missed out so after a few issues, a few episodes, of Lost Girls Mel asked me if I could maybe do some thumbnails, so from that point on I began what for me was a practically new way of working in that, previously my other collaborators have lived far too far away for me to actually sit down and explain to them what this scribbled little thumbnails are actually drawings of, but with Melinda who would be living up here about half the week or so then we could sit down and we could do the thumbnails.

One of the very creative and interesting displays of narrative in Lost Girls

I wouldn’t actually do the dialog, unlike my normal practice. I would wait until Melinda had finished the art and then if there were any little bits that she would come up with and worked into it of her own such as the expression on a character’s face or some little detail of the furnishings or something like that I could work any kind of editions of hers seamlessly into the dialog and so as a result I think Lost Girls has probably ended up being one of the most seamless collaborations I have ever had, I think that this is the most closely I have worked with an artist, upon any of my books, and yes I mean I have always had input in the art with the thumbnail sketches but at the same time Melinda was having input into the writing, like every scene would be talked about in excruciating detail and if there were bits of it Melinda wasn’t certain about or that seemed to strike the wrong note, then they would be abandoned and they would be re-thought, until we got something which both of us were a hundred percent pleased with.

It seemed to be a good process, I’m not sure if it would ever be repeatable because I can't imagine working with anybody quite as close as I have worked with Melinda on Lost Girls. It was an interesting experience, quite an education.

Joaquim: Did you enjoy it as much as your regular process? 

Alan: Yes I did, it was different and of course although I can compose a panel pretty well using my thumbnails I would always be relying upon Melinda to actually make my thumbnails work., using her own sensibilities, and if she had visual ideas that were better than mine, then I would always go with them. So yeah it was completely different from the way I previously worked so I enjoyed it for just that reason. I mean, all collaborations are slightly different depending on who you are collaborating with, but this one with Melinda was very different, so it was very, very refreshing.

Joaquim: There is something which is always very present in your work I think which is a way of dealing with the narrative in a way which is linked to the way that comic books are and I don’t think they would translate very well to any other media. For instance when Wendy and Alice have their sexual encounter and you juxtapose the seven sins against them or when they are in the ballet watching Stravinsky and you have them on the bottom of the page and the ballet up. You always are doing this exploration of the possibilities of narratives of comics. Do you think this playing with the format is as important as the drama you are depicting?

Alan: Well, for me anyway they both have got to be equally important. Yeah I am something of a formalist; I really like experimenting with the form. Because if I’m gonna be working in the comics medium, then I wanna be sure that I’m pushing that as far as it will go, I’m constantly trying to come up with new ideas for actually telling a comic book story, and I think that at the same time you have got to have a strong narrative that is about something you believe in quite passionately. You gotta have some substance to the story as well as an elegant form, one of them is not going to work without the other, or it wouldn’t have made Lost Girls into the book Melinda and I wanted it to be. We wanted something that was incredibly elegant but it was, as we said, retrospective in certain areas but in terms of storytelling often very forward looking. We wanted something that had got emotional substance and intellectual substance and moral substance, and we wanted to deliver that message in the most elegant and compelling way that we could think of. So yeah I really do love formal tricks, and I have done it in a lot of my work that’s true. Some of the things in Promethea…

The enourmous, experimental poster that took up the entire last issue of promethea: Alan Moore and his formal experiments have created unique ways of making comics.

Joaquim: Oh yeah, the poster.

Alan: I love all that stuff. However I really try to make it so the actual form doesn’t overwhelm the content and vice versa so they are both equally important. 

Joaquim: Do you ever get an idea for a story out of an aesthetic trick? Like “I’m gonna make a poster as a story and I need something to fill this concept”?

Alan: Yeah that was the way in which both of those particularly outstanding and clever Promethea issues, the tarot card issue, that came out of thinking whether it would be possible to make an issue (door bell rings) Oh just a second, I’m gonna answer the door.

Joaquim: No problem.

Alan: Yeah so, thinking if it was possible to make an issue as a long freeze that included all these elements like a progression of Tarot cards, a pocket history of the human race, this anagrams of the name Promethea. That’s something that came from an abstract idea, “would that be possible?” I think that came from reading an old issue of the British underground magazine Oz, which instead of having articles produced as five pages for an article and then one page for a comic strip then six pages for another article and so on had got bits of every article in all of the pages.

The groundbreaking Oz magazine, this issue brought up a lawsuit upon its publishers and creators.

So the comic strip would have one panel per page throughout the magazine and there would be a running figure with word balloons giving a different though of narrative that ran all the way through the magazine, and I was thinking “This is interesting, I wonder if there is a more formal way that you could do this anarchic experiment?” And the thing with the poster, that was in the midst of a magical psychedelic vision I suddenly was overcome with a sort of an arrogant sense of my own omnipotence and suddenly decided I was going to make Promethea 32 the last one, and that it would be a wonderful psychedelic narrative that somehow magically transformed into a double sided psychedelic poster, and I just thought “Right, that’s that” and a couple of days later when I was striking out a bit I realized ‘This is going to be really, really difficult” (laughs) and I sat down with a friend of mine and we made a little paper dummy with a sheet of paper and folded it into a 32 page booklet, we numbered the pages, and we realized that in fact that it was almost impossible, that you couldn’t do a line drawing that wouldn’t be broken up into fragments in different sides of the poster. And that was when I suddenly thought of using impressionistic dots, because if you didn’t use lines, if you are just using impressionism, the it would give a lovely psychedelic color field as the background of every page where you could have your golden line drawing like a filigree so if you are reading it as a comic, the line drawing would be the most visible thing, if you are looking at it as a poster, the line drawing would vanish in a golden filigree And you would be able to see the bigger image behind, so once I came up with that it was a matter of thinking it through in stages, and eventually coming up with a narrative that seemed to fit that thing, but whichever one you think of first, it’s important they should carry their own weight. 

Joaquim: Usually do you fit the form to a narrative or the other way around?

Alan: I suppose I usually tend to fit the form to the narrative. I have narrative ideas more often than I have startling formal ideas. But it can really happen any way. Usually I come up with what I want the narrative to do and accomplish and all the things I want to hint, and then I'll come up with some sort of structure that will fit it. But it can occasionally happen the other way round as well.

Joaquim: There is a very strong scene of male homosexual sex in Lost Girls and that took me by surprise to an extent. I mean, I know it’s Alan Moore so I shouldn’t take anything for granted, but it was surprising to be in the middle of the book, inside it, and suddenly it comes.

Alan: Yeah that was partly included for one thing because we wanted to make this not just a piece of pornography for heterosexual males. We wanted to make this for women and for people of other sexualities, and also because I am a great admirer of Victorian pornography, of the late 1800 when considering how corseted Victorian society was both figuratively and literally it’s surprisingly liberal in its pornography. You do seem to have much more, whereas these days it’s obligatory for every woman in a porn film to be bisexual, whereas the men are rigidly heterosexual and that wasn’t true in the Victorian era, everybody seemed to be gloriously polymorphous, and it kind of spoke of an actually healthier attitude towards sex than the very specialized kind of pornography that we get at present. So that was how the Howard and Rob scene particularly and some of the other pieces in there got there. We wanted to include that to underline our sympathies with an earlier golden age of pornography and also to find a …. That pornography owned to people of all persuasions.

Joaquim: There’s a certain roughness to that scene, and to several other scenes of sex in the book. Did you want to keep that edge?

Alan: The thing is that sex has all sorts of facets to it. We didn’t want to say that sex is always a thing of tasteful gentility because that’s not all of sex, it's not even all of sex’s appeal, you know? Sometimes a certain roughness might be very arousing. We were very conscious of not making this a kind of a one note symphony. We wanted to play notes of all ends of the emotional spectrum in terms of the way sex was presented. Sometimes it can be stark and sudden, sometimes it can be quite humorous, sometimes it can be very serious and poetic and romantic, sometimes it can be rough, and we wanted to vary the pallet of it, because one of the big problems with pornography is the monotony that will ensue after a few repeatable couplings that kind of all happen at the same level. I mean we did try to actually have Lost Girls build up, in terms of sexual intensity, towards the climax, rather than just starting with the usual orgy and continuing in that way for 240 pages. We thought very much of the pacing and the timing and the structure of the whole thing.

Joaquim: Looking at the girls and the depiction of their very personal journeys, I think your work is filled with very moving little scenes of intimate emotions. Not only in Lost Girls but in Voice of the Fire you’ve got the first chapter with the boy who loses his mom, another story is about a character that comes back to his village and there is nobody else there anymore, on the other hand it seems you are always putting them in this great landscape of either the Great War or there’s Victorian England in From Hell for instance, or when we have the cold war raging and the personal stories of Rorschach, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan etc, behind them.  

What do you think it’s harder, to debate those big subjects and to put them in this framework or to move the reader with the personal journeys of your characters? What do you prefer to do?

Alan: Well again if you are doing the usual landscape painting it’s not a bad idea to have some sort of sense of human scale, to actually put a tiny figure upon the beach to give you a sense of the scale of the landscape and how it relates to the human beings in it, so to me, again, it’s two parts of any narrative which really have got to be as important as each other. The landscape and the people in it have both to carry their own weight. You have to pay attention to the world in which you characters are moving so that every detail of it is perfectly realized and creates the right kind of background atmosphere, and at the same time that landscape will be meaningless unless the people that you set into it are interesting in their own way. Well, both kinds of narrative interest me. I’m interested in the narrative of place. I’m interested in how landscapes change, in how towns change like in Voice of the fire, and as important as that I’m interested in the individual voices of the figures moving through that landscape and I think that… I mean that’s what reality is by and large isn’t it? It’s a series of landscapes with human beings moving through it.

Joaquim: Little stories moving.

In Watchmen the life stories of very different people with one thing in common - the fact that they are vigilantes - cross over, all with the 80's cold war as the background.

Alan: Yeah with little stories. And by paying attention to both of those elements enables me to come up with a much fuller and fully rounded sense of reality, which I suppose is what any writer or artist is trying to simulate in their own terms.

Joaquim: From your characters I get, sometimes, not all, but some, a sense of loneliness and a bit of melancholy. Rorschach is a guy you don’t agree with in the least but we do end up having sympathy for him. 

Alan: What you have to do with all these characters is to… my theory of human personality is that everybody has got a kind of gigantic million faceted gem somewhere inside them. And when we are constructing our own personality, we simply polish four or five of those million facets. There is the voice of the personality with which we talk to our colleagues, there is the voice of the personality with which we talk to our parents, to our loved ones, and so on, but that’s still only four or five facets. We could have polished any of those facets, so I think that we’ve all got a potential full cast of characters inside us. We are just the ones that we focus on. So that’s the approach I have always taken for characterization. With a character like Rorschach I simply have to put myself into that mindset and yes I have black horrible revenge fantasies or have had, the same as anybody does. And I suppose that I was thinking “Well, what if that was all there was to me?, just this drive to punish the guilty?” And you start to create the character out of that. With Dr. Manhattan, yes, because I have got a very, very good memory I have somehow, sometimes, had the sensation of “Yes all time is happening at once, I can remember exactly what it was like five years ago when I was having a conversation with this person, and now we are having a different conversation with different people and these two events juxtapose and they are quite poignant". And as you get older you start to notice more of that and so Dr. Manhattan was an expression of that.

Dr. Manhattan. Cold, distant, pure logic in human shape.
Nite Owl was an expression of the kind of school boy romantic who never quite grows up, which yeah I’ve got that in me somewhere as well, and Dr. Gull, when I was writing Dr. Gull Melinda said that had got a kind of a cloak of Victorian fiendish-ness sort of more or less wrapped around me when I was just talking normally, there would be this very heavy gravity, that I associated with Dr. Gull. You get into the characters you know? And at the same time all of the characters, the most joyous and exuberant characters yeah they are all part of me as well. Yeah the miserable, melancholic lonely characters, the psychotic characters, they are all part of me. I’m acknowledging that.

Joaquim: What I get overall from that, from the boy in Voice of the fire, Rorschach, Gull, who’s not a particularly likable person, is almost an understanding of them and a love for them as well. Is that the way you feel about humanity?

Alan: I have to love the characters. That’s something I found when I was writing V for Vendetta. When I came to write the Nazis I found out that I was writing them as almost caricature Nazis. They more or less all got monocles and a university of Heidelberg…. I though “This is not what real Nazis are like, real Nazis are ordinary people. That’s where they came from. They were street sweepers and bakers and butchers who just put on a uniform when they were asked to”. So I tried to come up with credible human beings who had chosen fascism for whatever reason. And I found that yeah, some of them were still unlikable characters but probably in order to understand the character you have to… you have to love them in a way because you have to look at them non judgmentally, and feel a bit sorry for them. And I think that greatly enriched the characters in V for vendetta, it made them much more three dimensional, it made it into a three dimensional struggle rather than a two dimensional bit of moralizing with a glamorous anarchist romantic hero against a bunch of cardboard cutout fascists. That was a lesson I took with me into all my work, that you’ve got to feel sympathy for everybody.

In Lost Girls in the final scene, when you’ve got those soldiers smashing up the room saying lots of unpleasant things about women, just having casual conversation, it's not that they are hateful figures, they are men who are cold and lonely and wish they were somewhere else and they are probably going to die in a conflict that they did not have explained to them properly and they I’d rather be home in bed with their wives. You have got to have sympathy. I mean, I’m convinced that if you look into everybody’s heart in the planet, it’s very likely that you would find something in there that you could love, something you could respect. There might be a huge bunch of things that are absolutely horrifying, but I’m convinced that in everybody there is some fragment of something you could feel sympathy for. That you could look at someone who grew into a monster and you could look back at some point in their childhood and think “Well yeah you didn’t have much of a chance did you? You made some bad decisions, they were looking around you to give you the right clues, and you ended up as an unforgivable monster”. I think that’s important. You have to be able to find sympathy with the worst of creatures if you are going to be a really successful writer.

Hey incidentally Joaquim, I’ve had a friend turn up, could we make this the last couple of questions? Would that be alright to you?

Joaquim: Sure, no problem. So, about the actual creative process. I know different projects demand different approaches, but how do you usually start to outline your work?

Alan: Well let me see… the most current piece of big work I’ve started is Jerusalem, that emerged out of a growing awareness of just how fantastic the community I actually emerged from was, and I found that I was preying upon my mind I was thinking about my family, I was thinking about the area where we all grew up, and I started to realize that there was an incredible treasure of stories that could be told. And I started to think of a way in which they could be drawn together. This is a massive project. And I sat down and I wrote a list of things that I wanted to talk about and I kind of broke them down into thirty five really smart ass chapter titles, that I was really pleased with.

Then I kind of looked at those thirty five chapter titles and thought “Well all right that’s a prolog and epilog, and three eleven chapter sections”. So a structure is starting to emerge. Then I divided up the thirty five chapter titles with brief notes about what each one would possibly be about, into three piles; beginning of the book, middle of the book and end of the book, and then I put them into order, and then I just started with the prologue, wrote that, moved on to chapter one, part one, and I’m just progressing through the book like that. I kind of got myself a big sturdy structure, and it’s just a matter of working through it now. This will probably take me a couple of years and it's probably be going to be half a million words long, when it’s finished. That’s is a way no matter the size of the project you are attempting, get all of your information, all the stuff you wanna talk about just down on paper in a big, sprawling mess, then start to impose some sort of structure. It can be an arbitrary structure upon the mess, and I'll find that a couple of stages along in the process of actually creating a finished work.

That’s a pretty good example of how I work. You only have to change that a little bit to talk about how I came up with From Hell or Lost Girls you know? The structure can be different, it changes with each instant, but that’s pretty much how I do it, I kind of get the idea of the whole feel of what I’m talking about, what I want to talk about, and then I'll try and divide that into usable chunks, and then I'll try to put those chunks into some sort of rough order, often according to a three part structure, because that is a very durable one. 

Joaquim: Do you ever make sheets with character profiles?

Alan: I’ve only done that once and that was with Big Numbers, where I’ve got a great big piece of graph paper…
A page of Big Numbers, Alan's never finished, bold work about chaos, mathematics, coincidence and quantum reality.

Joaquim: The A1 paper.

Alan: … A1 paper that I divided into forty names or something into the side and the 12 issues across the top, so there was something like 500 tiny squares in which I’ve got what every character was doing on every issue, and that was mainly done just to frighten other writers (laughs) but it was an useful experiment, and as far as Big Numbers progressed it was working. I think mainly I tend to do that in my head now, or just in brief notes rather than go out to produce something to make Neil Gaiman feel anxious (laughs). But it’s the same process

The poster for The Mindscape of Alan Moore, an excellent documentary on Moore directed by the very talented director Dez Vylenz. One of the most creative and interesting documentaries about an artist I have ever seen. You can check out more about it at Shadowsnake.

Joaquim: Final question Alan. I was talking with Dez Vylenz who made the movie “The Mindscape of Alan Moore” with you and we were thinking if you with your performance pieces and quite a number of CDs out for someone who’s not a professional, so to speak, musician, so do you feel like working with other media? Making short films or something?

Alan: It may very well happen. I mean, I don’t know where or when at the moment I’ve got a full schedule with all of the various writing projects that I embarked upon, the Bumper Book of Magic, the League Three and all the rest of it and Jerusalem, but I have been talking, I mean, there is a local guy, Barry Hale, who runs a film work shop which has done some fantastic work, he was asking me if I would be interested in making a short magical film. So yeah I would be, time permitting, if I have an idea that’s good enough. And we were talking the other night of the possibility of Cabaret performances I haven’t been in touch been in touch with Tim Perkins for a while because he has moved to Oxford where he is raising babies, against all of my better advice he went ahead and… (laughs) but we are supposed to get in touch soon and I know that Tim is getting a studio together in his garage, so we’ve got such a lot of facilities between us and the people we know, that In the coming years I’m sure that I'll see me doing all sorts of things, but I couldn’t tell you what or when they will be at the moment but I’m always looking for new ways that I feel excited about expressing myself in, so yeah I’m not going to be sticking to comics by any means, in fact, quite the opposite. Comics are just going to be part of my work, in the future.

The cover of Angel Passage, the album Alan recorded with Tim Perkins, who, against Alan's recommendations, had babies! Not following Alan Moore's recommendations seems like a bad idea.

Joaquim: You are not making any more comics after the League?

Alan: Well, I don’t know. I probably will do but they will not be by any means all of my work. I mean the activities of DC and Wildstorm have done an awful lot to sell on me upon the idea of working with any mainstream comic company ever again. And as for what I want to do, I think I feel quite happy with just having… (Alan Pauses to talk to someone) .... Well, The book of magic for example has got comic strips in it and it’s also got a lot of other things in it which are by no means comics. Even the Black Dossier when that comes out, whenever DC and Wildstorm finally decide to bring that out, I think people will see the kind of range that I am hoping to cover in the future. There is quite a lot of comic strip in it and there’s quite a lot of stuff which is not comic strip at all, text pieces and a lot of other surprising features. That’s the kind of playful area that I like to work in the future, where you can get serious about being playfull.

Joaquim: Alan, thanks very, very much for your time.

Alan: My pleasure Joaquim, and do give my regards and very best wishes to everybody reading the website!

Joaquim: Sure, this is absolute generous and people will love it. No words to express how thankful I am to you Alan. 

Alan: My pleasure mate. We will do it again sometime.

Joaquim: Thank you very, very much, send my congratulations to Melinda.

Alan: I will do and you take care of yourself Joaquim and I shall hopefully be talking to you again sometime

Joaquim: I hope so Alan.

Alan: Me too mate.

Joaquim: Thank you very much from the heart.

Alan: You are very welcome.


Joaquim Ghirotti © 2008