A FOR ALAN Pt. 2: the further adventures of Alan Moore
[Continuing my conversation with Alan Moore from November 1, 2005. A few of the questions and answers reflect events that were current at this time – notably the Tokyopop matter, and should be read with that in mind. In part one of this interview, Moore talked about his unhappiness with the comics industry. In this part, he finishes up on that topic, and talks about his novel and answers the question: Is V a hero?]
THE BEAT: You still have a good relationship with Chris Staros and Top Shelf, right?
MOORE: Absolutely, and various big works that are impending, Lost Girls and
The Black Dossier [League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 3 will be published through Top Shelf in 2007. THE BLACK DOSSIER, a LOEG book will be out from Wildstorm later this year], things I still own and am completely committed to.
THE BEAT: You own Lost Girls 100% and From Hell 100%, right?
MOORE: Absolutely, and A Small Killing and a painfully small number of other books. These are the books I'm completely happy about. These are the ones I can look at with pride and not with a pang of, yeah, but I don't own it. By asking DC to take my name off V for Vendetta and stop giving me the money for V for Vendetta, all I'm asking for is for them to treat me in the same way they’ve been completely happy to treat hundreds of much greater comics creators than I over the decades. I'm asking them to say to me the same thing they said to Gardner Fox and Jack Kirby and to all those other guys, just say to me you are not going to see a penny for any kind of future reproductions of your work and we're not going to put your name on them.
Why should I be singled out? They have extended this kind of freedom to all of their fellow countrymen who worked for them. Is it became I'm English? All I'm asking for is the same treatment they've given all these other fine, wonderful artists and writers. It’s not the editors or publishers who have done anything to make the American comics medium what it is, other than in the sense it's a mess. You know as well as I do, these dear old men, dear dead men in a lot of cases, wonderful men—well, they probably had the same number of pricks as any other occupation has got.
THE BEAT: A Robert Kanigher here or there…
MOORE: Even he had interesting eyebrows. A lot of them that I met were sweet talented people who had got a genuine love for this medium and in nearly every case it seems that love was cynically exploited [by an industry] whose main concern at the end of the day was their corporate masters or the movies
THE BEAT: Let me take you back to when V for Vendetta began appearing at DC…85 or 86. At Warrior you did own V for Vendetta and when you went to DC what was going through your head?
MOORE: What happened, at DC, they'd been asking if we'd do the Charlton characters and then they said, we don't want you to use the Charlton characters, can you come up with your own. I said yeah we can and we were assured, if you come up with characters of your own, you'll be able to own them under this new different deal that forward progressive DC comics is doing now, and I believed this. I was completely convinced by this. They seemed to be nice people who were treating me well and were offering what seemed to be a wonderful deal. So we signed the stuff on Watchmen and started work on it. At this point, they were asking, well what about V for Vendetta. I'd been shying away from anybody who wanted to own the work, but because I thought this was some new deal, that I'd been told about, I actually said to Dave Lloyd "I trust these people now, Dave." [laughs] I can hear myself saying it now. I trust these people, they won't take this away from us. As soon as they stop publishing it, it will be ours. And this was a time that no comic book had remained in print for more than 18 months,
THE BEAT: So you just didn't know at that point.
MOORE: Nobody knew. As Neil Gaiman pointed out to them later when he was saying, look it's a horrible situation you're in with Alan. You know as well as he did that back when he signed that contract, nobody could have predicted that these books would remain in print for that long.
THE BEAT: Right now there's this whole thing going on with Tokyopop publishing a lot of original manga by very young creators. Tokyopop is splitting the copyright with them and a lot of us old timers are saying well, that's not the best thing and the creators are saying, we know what we're doing, they will never betray us. It's obvious that some day, there could be heartache. Now, you were a little bit older, back then.
MOORE: I was in my late twenties. Not much older.
THE BEAT: You were a little bit beyond where they are, but still, did you have any idea then [where this could go from] talking to your peers?
MOORE: Well, I was a very aware young man at that point. I'd been reading the fanzines, I knew that Jack Kirby had been screwed. I knew that Marvel comics had screwed everybody and DC had screwed everybody since their inception. However, at the time when I was getting into the industry they were talking the language of progress, but sort of a mile a minute. There's new, dynamic currents running in DC, and you know, all right I was 28, I was an anarchist. I was very politically cynical, but I was also working in a medium I loved. Perhaps I was too ready to believe what I was told. That might be true. Perhaps if I'd really searched my stomach I would have thought these people are almost certainly lying. But that would have meant dismissing out of hand a lot of people who, up until that point, appeared to be my friends. And hadn't done anything.
THE BEAT: Probably most of them meant well. I'm sure Karen Berger meant well. And she did in fact did get creator copyrights soon after. You were almost there.
MOORE: Soon after I'd gone. This is what Neil was bringing up the point for, Is this really fair? Alan does all the spade work, and ends up in this invidious position, and doesn't benefit from any of it.
THE BEAT: You're still getting publishing money from Watchmen—
MOORE: For the moment.
THE BEAT: If you were to sit back and say, okay, whatever, go with god, you would still be making money off these books and V for Vendetta.
MOORE: Yeah, I would be and I would also still be subscribing to a "Culture." I'm very, very proud of the books I don't own. But I don't want to be associated with them any more because of the fact I don't own them any more, and I don't think it's fair I don't think it's any way to run a business. But I don't think that would be very honest. It wouldn’t feel honest to me, and I'm basically at the end of the day, I'm the only person I'm concerned about. That is selfish I know, but at the end of the day, it's whether I'm waking up at four in the morning in a boiling rage or not, and there is practically no amount of money that can compensate for that. I want to have the work I've done. [Such as the novel I'm writing.] This is a book about a subject that is, it's not next to my heart, it is my heart. It's right from the very core of me and what I'm all about. I'm loving it. It's the best thing I've ever written. I don’t care whether it sells or not. At the end of it I will own this. Just like a proper grown up author working in a proper grownup industry,
THE BEAT: Do you know who's going to publish it?
MOORE: No, I haven't got a publisher yet. I'm not taking an advance for it. I'm waiting until I've got it finished because I don’t actually want to send a synopsis and a chapter to an editor.
THE BEAT: Well, with your stature as a writer—
MOORE: I'm not going to have any problems.
THE BEAT: Yeah. You could probably, if you had an agent which I'm sure you—
THE BEAT: Yeah, and probably don't much like the idea of. But I'm sure you could get New York publishing houses in a bidding war over it.
MOORE: Well, yeah, when I've got it finished and I know how good it is rather than merely suspect, I'll see what I want to do with it. At the moment I'm thinking quite seriously of not going to a big publisher but going to someone like Top Shelf that I absolutely trust. Which commercially might be a terrible idea, but morally might be a good one. The kind of idea I should have been going for 25 years ago.
THE BEAT: At some point, you know, there's got to be away – well, what am I saying. I wish there were a way to make the system work for you
MOORE: Yeah it would be nice, wouldn't it. Although having kind of dealt with the system for the past 25 years, even when I didn't want to, I have to say I can't see any point at which it will change. I'm not expecting DC Comics to be shamed by my asking to have my name taken off the work. I don't think anyone's going to be shamed.
THE BEAT: Let me ask you one more question on my original list about V for Vendetta. It's fascinating that people growing up under our generation grew up under the threat of nuclear winter, now people are growing up under the threat of Islamic Jihad.
MOORE: Well, they think they're growing up under the threat of Islamic Jihad. They're in fact growing up under the threat of nuclear winter. Just like we were.
THE BEAT: If you have a last laugh on Joel Silver it's that he's made this movie and depending on what the news is the day before it opens, he might or night not be able to open it.
MOORE: I've got to say to say we are having a lot of strangely costumed bombers blowing up landmarks in London at the moment and we're not that happy about it. I would have thought a film coming out of it, perhaps the timing could be better. But we shall see.
THE BEAT: Do you think you were being prescient?
MOORE: I wouldn't like to claim I was being prescient but that said, it is pretty clear that I have a direct line to God and I know every moment of the future before it happens. [laughter] I mean, as a case in point, I was saying back in 1981 or whenever it was, I was setting this in the absurdly far future period of 1997, where Britain would be run by a computer centralized right wing government. And to show what they were a really nasty right wing government, the easiest and quickest shorthand was to put monitor cameras on every street corner. In 1997, in England, I believe it first began in the town of King's Lynn, they had monitor camera saturation, where you could track somebody from one end of the town to the other without them ever going off camera. And when this was successful they shipped it into every town in the British Isles. So, yes, there are monitor cameras everywhere. I can only presume that someone like our former home secretary David Blunkett [a blind British politician] must have somehow got hold of a Braille edition of V for Vendetta and thought oh, that's a good idea. But there again, these are not remarkably prescient ideas. It's fairly obvious. It's what I would do if I were going to start a fascist political state so I assume it's what anyone would do. It's like terrorism – you were talking about people being more frightened of dying in a jihad. No offense, but that is perhaps more of an American perception than a global one. You have to remember that over here, there were teenagers being taken out of cellar bars in separate carrier bags all through the '70s and '80s because of the war in Northern Ireland. Which in that case, the IRA were largely being supported by donations from America. That was why I was a bit worried when George Bush said he was going to attack people who supported terrorism, I thought oh my god, Chicago is going to be declared a rogue state and they're going to hunt down Teddy Kennedy and people like that.
THE BEAT: There were as many Al Qaeda ties in Brooklyn as there were in Baghdad,
MOORE: I should imagine there are probably a lot more Al Qaeda ties in Brooklyn than there were in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein because he was a secular leader who didn't have any connections with Islamic Fundamentalist. The thing is, another thing I understand about the sprit of this movie is that it’s not really made clear that all the black and brown and gay and Jewish people have been put in concentration camps and vanished. I believe the only suggestion is that he could be Islamic. Which was of course nothing that I'd ever thought. And also, they're making way too much of this Guy Fawkes thing. Guy Fawkes was not a freedom fighter, he was a religious fanatic.
THE BEAT: He was more analogous to a suicide bomber?
MOORE: A bit of it. I was just saying to Melinda [Gebbie, Moore's fiancé and collaborator] today, the Gunpowder plot, thinking about it, was really stupid. They'd just gone practically 60, 50 years of the reign of Elizabeth I who was a staunchly anti-Catholic monarch. She'd been dead 2 years. James was on the throne and he was a Catholic nutcase. This was the point at which Guy Fawkes and his plucky band decided on their perhaps ill-judged scheme. They were shot through with agent provocateurs. The guy who informed on them was actually one of my townsmen. The Gunpowder plot was actually plotted in Northampton. We're good at that sort of thing.
THE BEAT: There's a long heritage of anarchy there?
MOORE: Oh absolutely. The reason why Northampton is the biggest town in Europe and the reason no one has ever heard of it, is we really royally pissed off the monarchy back in the 1200s, and the British monarchy have got quite a long memory. You'd be surprised. The thing is that to me I was just using Guy Fawkes as a symbol, without really any references to the historical Guy Fawkes. It was the bonfire night Guy Fawkes I was referencing, with the at the time easily available Guy Fawkes masks. Although, weirdly, say we started doing V for Vendetta in 1980, something like that. Up until that point every November you'd be able to buy fireworks and you'd be able to buy Guy Fawkes masks in the shops. When we decided to use Guy Fawkes as the model for V for Vendetta, Dave Lloyd said, great I'll just go out around the shops and buy a Guy Fawkes masks to base it on. He came back and said to his astonishment, there weren't any Guy Fawkes masks to be had. And there have been none since.
THE BEAT: Really?
MOORE: You tend to get left over Frankenstein masks from Halloween. Nothing that refers to Guy Fawkes. It's also no longer referred to as Guy Fawkes Night. It's like there's been a cultural shift and any references to somebody who wanted to blow up the houses of Parliament have been carefully clipped out. So let's hope we at least reawaken some traditions.
THE BEAT: Do you think V is a hero?
MOORE: No, we called the first chapter "The Villain" where we introduce him. I don't want to say he's the hero any more than I really want to say he's the villain. He's a force. It's funny with fascism or anarchy, yes, they are the two poles of politics but neither of them are actually, strictly speaking, a political system. Fascism is a kind of weird mystical system and anarchy is an attempt to move beyond the need to be politic, the need to manipulate large masses of people. So I tend to think V is pretty much an allegorical force, an idea given human form. And, obviously I have a lot of sympathy with some of his basic ideas. But I think that killing people is wrong.
THE BEAT: Some of the things he does to Evey are dubious.
MOORE: Well…that was the bit where, I could get behind what he does to Evey – this is probably telling far too much about me – I could get behind that far more than I could get behind killing people. Because it seemed to me that even though, yes, he was actually torturing Evey, this was in his own mad way, an attempt to heal her. An attempt to push her to a point where she has to wake up to herself as an individual with its own will and own wants and destiny that is not just part of the carpeting of the world, but is a person, is a fully human being. And yes, he does use rather extreme methods. I suppose what I was doing was if I were to actually go-around and imprison all the people that I wanted to mentally and spiritually set free, and subject them to torture for a couple of months, I'd probably get locked up, wouldn't I? Nobody would understand that one. Whereas, if I put it in a comic then I can to some degree take the reader vicariously through the same experiences and give them the same revelations without risking a jail sentence which is one of the delights of fiction.