A FOR ALAN, Pt. 1: The Alan Moore interview
[On November 1, 2005, I interviewed Alan Moore for GIANT Magazine. Although the finished piece was only 300 words long, I ended up talking to Moore for nearly an hour, and he went on at some length about his difficulties with DC Comics and the American Entertainment Industry, in general. A short version of the interview was published in Publisher Weekly Comics Week on November 8, 2005. I'd always meant to get the whole thing cleaned up and edited down, and with V FOR VENDETTA opening this weekend, it seemed like as good a time as any.
In talking to Moore – who is just as fascinating and voluble as you've heard – it becomes clear that the situation with his work at DC and in Hollywood causes him a lot of very real pain. As you can see from the transcript, you can disagree with some of his actions, but not with the real passion and love of comics that motivates them.
Since this interview was conducted, V FOR VENDETTA has indeed had Moore's name taken off the credits. The last I heard, his demand to have his name taken off the books he doesn't own still stood. Perhaps a follow up call is in order.
Despite Moore's unhappiness, he does manage to talk about V FOR VENDETTA, a work of which he is justly very proud. So with no further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Alan Moore.
The Beat: Can you in any way encapsulate the political climate that gave rise to V for Vendetta?
Alan Moore: At the time when I wrote it, it was of course for an English alternative comic magazine around about 1981. Margaret Thatcher had been in power for two or three years. She was facing the first crisis of her, by then, very unpopular government. There were riots all over Britain in places that hadn't seen riots for hundreds of years. There were fascists groups, the National Front, the British National party, who were flexing their muscles and sort of trying to make political capital out of what were fairly depressed and jobless times. It seemed to me that with the kind of Reagan/Thatcher axis that existed across the Atlantic, it looked like Western society was taking somewhat a turn for the worse. There were ugly fascist stains starting to reassert themselves that we might have thought had been eradicated back in the '30s. But they were reasserting themselves with a different spin. They were talking less about annihilating whichever minority they happened to find disfavor with and talking more about free market forces and market choice and all of these other kind of glib terms, which tended to have the same results as an awful lot of the kind of Fascist causes back in the 1930s but with a bit more spin put upon them The friendly face of fascism.
So V for Vendetta originally came out of the fact I'd been asked to write a strip for David Lloyd to illustrate. We'd originally been talking about doing a 1930's noir strip and Dave had bolted that because I think he'd had enough of digging out '30's reference. We thought maybe we could get the same effect by rather than setting it in the near past, to set it in the near future. So it all evolved from several different sources, but it was playing into the fact that over here in England we've got quite a good tradition of villains and sociopaths as heroes. Like Robin Hood, Guy Fawkes and all the rest of them. And in our fiction, in British children's comics, there were as many sociopathic villains who'd got their own comic strips as there were heroes. Possibly more. The British have always had sympathy with a dashing villain.
So I decided to use this to political effect by coming up with a projected Fascist state in the near future and setting an anarchist against that. As far I'm concerned, the two poles of politics were not Left Wing or Right Wing. In fact they're just two ways of ordering an industrial society and we're fast moving beyond the industrial societies of the 19th and 20th centuries. It seemed to me the two more absolute extremes were anarchy and fascism. This was one of the things I objected to in the recent film, where it seems to be, from the script that I read, sort of recasting it as current American neo-conservatism vs. current American liberalism. There wasn't a mention of anarchy as far as I could see. The fascism had been completely defanged. I mean, I think that any references to racial purity had been excised, whereas actually, fascists are quite big on racial purity.
The Beat: Yeah, it does seem to be a common element.
Moore: It does seem to rather be a badge they wear. Whereas, what I was trying to do was take these two extremes of the human political spectrum and set them against each other in a kind of little moral drama, just to see what works and what happened. I tried to be as fair about it as possible. I mean, yes, politically I'm an anarchist; at the same time I didn't want to stick to just moral blacks and whites. I wanted a number of the fascists I portrayed to be real rounded characters. They've got reasons for what they do. They're not necessarily cartoon Nazis. Some of them believe in what they do, some don't believe in it but are doing it any way for practical reasons. As for the central character of the anarchist, V himself, he is for the first two or three episodes cheerfully going around murdering people, and the audience is loving it. They are really keyed into this traditional drama of a romantic anarchist who is going around murdering all the Nazi bad guys.
At which point I decided that that wasn't what I wanted to say. I actually don't think it's right to kill people. So I made it very, very morally ambiguous. And the central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn't want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think, and consider some of these admittedly extreme little elements, which nevertheless do recur fairly regularly throughout human history. I was very pleased with how it came together. And it was a book that was very, very close to my heart.
The Beat: And you are still happy with it?
Moore: Well, this is a bit more complex, Heidi. A couple of weeks ago I did ask DC Comics to take my name off the book. This was after a long, long string of gradually worsening relationships which had been kind of obliviously ignored by DC comics. It's got to the point where I've become very, very distanced emotionally from a lot of the work which I don't own. It's a kind of feeling that sort of…if I don't actually have the moral right to declare myself the author of the work, does that not mean that I should have the moral right to declare myself not the author of the work?
V for Vendetta was about something that was very important to me. It was a book that I was very pleased that David Lloyd and I owned. And I never wanted to be in a position where I didn't own it. We were misled, I think is the probably the gentlest way of putting it, and ended up signing V for Vendetta away more or less in perpetuity.
The Beat: So near and yet so far…[laughs]
Moore: Yeah. At that point I kind of cut off contact with DC Comics and never wanted to work with them again.
The Beat: You're talking about back in the '80s?
Moore: Right. It was when I realized that in fact Watchmen and V for Vendetta had been taken from me. And I though, all right, fair enough. I was fooled once, and I decided I didn't want to work for DC Comics again or indeed for any of the big American comic companies. And this went fine for a number of years until DC evidentially thought it would be a good idea to force me back into the fold, when they purchased Wildstorm. I had already signed contract and would go back upon my word with people I'd made promises to. So I stuck with it for six years. I was assured at the beginning that DC wouldn't be interfering. This turned out not to be the case, but I stuck with it for as long as I told my collaborators that I would be sticking with it. Which was longer than I'd wanted to, but it took longer than I'd expected.
But I stuck it out and I did the best work that I possibly could. In the midst of all this, this ridiculous thing with V for Vendetta film came up. All of this nonsense could have been stopped at any point if—when I had said, look I want my name taken off the films and all the money distributed to the artists—if they hadn't said, Okay, well, you'll just have to sign some things then to give your money to Dave Lloyd. When in fact what they should have said was "--and we're not going to bother doing anything to take your name off the film."
The Beat: Your name is on [the] League of Extraordinary Gentlemen [film], right?
Moore: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the reason why I decided to take my name off all subsequent films.
The Beat: Well…[General laughter] I think anyone might have done that! But go on…
Moore: Yeah, a lot of things which had to do with League made me decide I really wanted nothing to do with the American film industry in any shape or form. Which is why I asked DC if I could possibly have my name taken off the films and the money redistributed. This went fine with the Constantine film. This was because my name was never going to go on the Constantine film in the first place. Because that had gone so well, I distributed the money amongst the other artists my name hadn’t been on the film and I was completely happy. I assumed when DC then sent me paperwork so I could sign my money over to David Lloyd on the V for Vendetta film this was going to go fine.
It didn't. I had an American producer actually lying about my involvement in the film, which made me look like a liar. When I said I'm not taking any money from these films and I'm not interested in them, he makes a statement that's completely dishonest and was saying the complete opposite. So I felt I had to at that point exercise my right to completely sever myself from DC Comics if, assuming that they weren't able to just get a simple retraction, nothing humiliating, just a simple retraction apology and clarification that would have said we regret that due to a misunderstanding blah blah blah. That would have been all.
DC told me they were really trying hard to get that, I kind of got the idea that in fact probably they were just hoping if they stalled for long enough it would all blow over and there wouldn't be anything I was able to do about it. After a few weeks it turned out they hadn't been trying to get any apology or retraction or at least not very hard. They certainly weren't able to offer one that was anything like what I'd asked for. At this point, I said that's it I'm not working for DC again and also I still want my name off this film, if they don't take my name off this film, I will be taking my name off the books, because it means that much to me to sever my connection with this whole painful business.
The Beat: But, Alan, isn't that throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
Moore: Well, I don't own the baby anymore, Heidi! The baby is one I put a great deal of love into, a great deal of passion and then during a drunken night it turned out that I'd sold it to the gypsies and they had turned out my baby into a life of prostitution. Occasionally they would send me increasingly glossy and well-produced pictures of my child as she now was, and they would very, very kindly send me a cut of the earnings. This may sound melodramatic, but I've been writing for 25 years and I think that the passion with which I write is probably evident—it's not faked. I really do feel intensely passionate about nearly everything I write. Obviously, it's going to vary, but I try to be passionate about everything I write. In some cases I succeed. V for Vendetta was one of those cases. It's that—I mean for 20 years since then, it's been a kind of a dull ache that the regular paychecks of our cut of the money don't really do an awful lot to assuage.
[Eventually] I said, look, if this would help, a simple solution would be, alright, if they are assuming my name's going on the film, then I don't want my name on the books, and I will sign off all the income from them. If they're thinking otherwise, if they'd just given me a small signed piece of paper assuring me my name's not going on this film. If they can get me that, before I see any books coming out with my name on them, that from my point of view DC are sort of producing dishonestly, then that would be all right.
Months passed. This piece of paper never arrived, but a big box of V FOR VENDETTA books did, that I specifically asked not to see, and which when I opened them had got on the front a big red sticker saying now a major motion picture. On the back it had kind of a half baked jingle from the film worked into the ad copy prominently, and it had also—
I have to say, the editorial standards in the comic industry these days are nothing that any proper editor would ever recognize as such. Most of these people—I mean, I wanted to be a writer or an artist ever since I was a child. I know most of the people in this industry, they wanted to be artists or writers since they were children. I don't know anybody who wanted to be an editor as a child. Or don't know anyone who honed their editorship skills and then got a job. All I mainly know is people who have got perhaps no marketable talent and who sort of drifted into the industry and found themselves in editor jobs. This is perhaps a bit of a slur on editors in general and there are some very good ones. But I hadn't even take the cling film of that V for Vendetta book and on the back cover in bold type, it's got the catchy phrase, "Have a pleasant…" [The copy has since been corrected to say "Have a pleasant evening."] I mean it's…it seems to me, I'm perhaps overstating, that nobody's even looked at this book at any stage during it's production.
The Beat: Hm, I just happened to get that book myself and took off the shrink-wrap, and now I'm looking at it. "Have a pleasant"…
Moore: Well, I think this is my basic message to the American industry at this moment. [general laughter] "Have a pleasant."
And so where I'm at, at the moment, it was heartbreak. When I got that package of books I took them straight out to the garage and threw them straight into a skid. I didn't even want to recycle them. That night at 4 in the morning I woke up and I had black thunder rolling in my heart. I could not sleep, I was just lying there thinking well, they're just going to ignore everything I say. It’s not my book. It's their book, but the only reason they've my name on that book is it sells more copies, and it gives them a certain amount of integrity and credibility that I don't think they would otherwise have had.
I'm perhaps overstating my case here a bit, but I think I lent an awful lot of literary and intellectual credibility to the American comics business and to the comics business in general when I entered it. I don't feel the same way about comics any more, I really don’t. I never loved the comic industry. I used to love the comics medium. I still do love the comics medium in its pure platonic, essential form, but the comics medium as it stands seems to me to have been allowed to become a cucumber patch for producing new movie franchise.
The Beat: I know what you're saying, but there is an awful lot of stuff coming out that's good.
Moore: There is some fantastic stuff but it is marginalized. The only things I ever get asked about are generally related to superhero films, and even some of the other stuff in the medium at the moment. I don't know, it's probably just my tastes. But one end of it seems adolescent in its brutality and in its inexperienced adolescent approach to violence and sex. And at the other end, at the more supposedly intellectual end I see an awful lot of angst, and adolescent breast-beating. This is not a complete blanket condemnation by any means, there's people like Joe Sacco, other people who do wonderful work that is not mainly concerned with them, and their fears of mortality or whatever it is. Or feelings of emptiness. This is not really what I wanted for the comics medium. That's fair enough. There's no reason why it should be the kind of medium that I wanted. But at the same time—I don't know. I think that my, kind of, contempt for the way that the major companies have handled things since their inception, they've only ever changed when there've been absolutely forced to at gunpoint. Otherwise the industry for all of the great claims it makes for itself these days—we're kind of post modern, we're hip, you know, we're sort of a major star accessory—the industry still seems to be based upon a gangster ethic that was around when it was founded. It's been modified slightly to sort of super times. But it's nothing I'm happy with.
The way that I've left it is, all right DC can take my name off V for Vendetta and stop paying me the money. And if that doesn't happen, take my name off all of the books and stop paying me the money. So no telling where this one could run to. I mean, believe me, I would be completely happy if my name came off everything I do not own.
The Beat: I know I'm not going to change your mind, but let me play devil's advocate. I certainly understand you reviling and castigating the sheer idiocy of things like the League film, but at the same time, the people who do understand what you're trying to get at are not going to be dissuaded just by the fact that Joel Silver has made V a liberal!
Moore: I know that. This started out with me being really upset with the way that the American film industry seemed to be treating me, not just on League but on V, but then it started to spread to the point where it's more the American Entertainment Industry that I've got a grudge against. When I originally allowed myself to work for DC again because I'd sign contracts with ABC, I said to Scott and Jim Lee, you know this is probably going to be very explosive, you might end up regretting this. I will do what I've said I'm going to do I'll work and produce these books to the best of my ability. And if DC leaves me alone we shouldn't have any problems, but be advised I am doing this against my will and I know that I am very volatile, especially with regard to this particular issue. But I was assured it was okay to go ahead. But I had warned everybody.
Now this stuff has brought up the whole original [reason why] I didn't want to work with DC in the first place. But it's brought it up more painfully and it's made it completely clear that actually I don't think DC Comics gives a shit about the comics industry or the comics medium except as an adjunct to Hollywood. I really don't.
The Beat: But do you honestly think Paul Levitz or Scott Dunbier or Jim Lee have any influence whatsoever on Joel Silver?
Moore: The thing is, Paul Levitz, Scott Dunbier and Jim Lee, I've got no axe to grind against them at all. Paul Levitz may not have any influence upon Joel Silver, but wouldn't it have been better for Paul Levitz to think about that before his company cheated me out of the ownership of my work and then peddled it to another part of their parent company? This wouldn't have arisen if they hadn't done this initial unfair act and despite the fact they've been given several opportunities to put it straight and logical reasons to do so when in fact it would have made them more money. Can you imagine how nicely this could have gone? It could have gone swimmingly.
[In the second part of our epic, which will be posted tomorrow, Moore has more very pointed things to say about the American comics industry, and even talks about his upcoming novel and V FOR VENDETTA.]