Interview with Alan Moore, Part 2
Huzzah! The PennLive version of the interview is finally up! It's considerably more readable than this edition, mainly because it's been copy edited a few more times and isn't truncated into two parts, so you might want to head over there and read that version instead. I won't mind.
Anyway, here's part two:
Q: I want to talk really briefly about the layout of the book cause it’s one of the things I found the most fascinating, especially the way each characters’ stories is arranged differently, with Alice’s stories being all ovals and Dorothy’s being rectangular and Wendy’s being these kind of stained glass windows. What was the thinking behind that?
A: Well, the fact that they were from different social backgrounds, that they were different ages, different body types and ... we wanted to make each of them as distinct as possible.
We gave them different ways of talking. Different attitudes. Different ways of thinking. I know that Melinda, she gave them different skin tones. She gave them all different dress sense. And we were trying to distinguish between them and we thought that one good way of doing that would be for each of their narrative strands to be approached differently.
So Dorothy, born out there in cornfields of Kansas, seemed to suggest wide panoramic vistas, so we went for those horizontal panels that typify Dorothy’s story. I think that Melinda used pretty much exclusively colored crayons on the Dorothy section which gave a certain look to the Dorothy narrative.
Wendy we decided that upright panels would look more restricted in a way and more repressed. That would also echo the upright bars of the railings in the park. And we thought that the silhouette panels at the top of Wendy’s pages, that worked well with the motif of shadows that we’d already established as part of Wendy’s internal landscape.
The Alice pages — again, much of Alice’s narrative seemed to be reflective. Having established the mirror as the main motif relating to Alice, we though it would work well if we had these pool-shaped panels, often with some reflected or symmetrical element in the visuals to constantly be harping upon that kind of mirror world that Alice is inhabiting.
We wanted to think about every aspect of this, the design, the pacing. We didn’t want to miss a trick. We wanted to do everything we could to treat these three characters as lovingly as possible and to express them as personalities as fully as possible.
That is one thing that is notably missing from almost any pornographic narratives: that the people in them are meat puppets, they’re not actual genuine human beings.
Q: And character would be one of the things that could actually be an erotic feature in a story.
A: Absolutely. This goes back to what I was talking about at the start of the interview, about how originally, I was doing characters such as Swamp Thing for the mainstream comic companies and where appropriate I would try to make them a rounded character by giving them a sexual dimension.
Now, the same thing in reverse applies to "Lost Girls." These are characters in a pornography. But what we’ve tried to do is give them other parts to their personality as well that are not necessarily to do with sex. And to make them into more rounded human beings so that they’ll seem real to the reader. Or at least hopefully so.
If you were talking about sex in real life, it’s the difference between an inflatable doll and a real person. That difference is the animation, it’s the personality, it’s the character of the person that you’re involved with. Which, I’m sure for most of us is every bit as important if not more important than what a person looks like. It seemed like those would be good values to import into pornography.
Q: Speaking of Alice, mirrors and reflection seem to be a recurring theme in the book, not just with Alice but in the sequences with Wendy and her husband where they’re both seduced and it’s laid out exactly the same way.
A: Well there are kind of symmetries throughout the book. We open and close for example with the mirror, with the whole chapter reflected in the mirror. Which was something that I thought of early because that would give us a neat set of bookends with which to frame the entire narrative and would give a nice sense of completion, especially if we built up the mirror throughout the whole book as a window into this fantasy world.
Then, I thought that seeing it shattered in the last chapter would probably be very visceral and perhaps quite upsetting if you think about what that mirror has come to symbolize.
I suppose that was an element that just arose out of the Lewis Carroll narrative more than the others but it struck me that in some ways fiction is a mirror of reality and the imagination, which was what we were talking about. All right, specifically the sexual imagination but we were talking about imagination and art and culture in general.
It struck me that culture and art and imagination are in some ways a reflection of our practical, material human reality. One is the mirror image of the other. One is perhaps the way that we’d like to be or dream of being or that we fear being.
Q: Well, that’s certainly true of pornography, which is kind of a fantasy world where nothing bad can ever happen.
A: Yeah, where we project our reflected images. That is another good point. The fact that you say that nothing bad could ever happen. I think that Neil Gaiman ...
Q: That’s who I stole that from.
A: In most pornography it happens in a kind of pornotopia, where there are no consequences. Whereas in "Lost Girls" there are obviously consequences. Sometimes devastating ones.
Q: And that’s what I found so fascinating about the book, the way you segue back and forth between these stories where real things happen and then into this fantasy world. It seemed like you were walking a real tightrope there at certain points in the book.
A: Also, it seemed kind of natural. I mean we’ve got Alice, who is kind of cast adrift in this world of the Red Queen and her perverse circle.
Alice is sort of dragged into this because she’s been destabilized and damaged to a degree by her early experiences. She’s not protected. She’s very vulnerable. She’s drawn into this further and further. And at the end she has to undergo a period in a mental asylum.
I’ve known people who’ve followed that arc. It is one of the consequences that can sometimes occur.
And Wendy’s sex games in the spinney get out of hand. And Dorothy’s sexual exploration of the men that she has available to her on the farm gets out of hand.
All of these things have different consequences. Some of the consequences you’d expect, some are perhaps ones that you wouldn’t necessarily expect but which kind of make sense. And these people have to deal with these narratives for the rest of their lives.
Until they’ve actually spoken them to other people, until they’ve sat down with the other women and told these stories they do not know they are not alone. And this is something that we felt very strongly about with regards the pornography that we were writing.
Generally art, real art, the purpose that it serves is that we look at and we see an idea that we perhaps have but have not expressed. And in doing so that might fulfill us alone. We feel that somebody else has had these ideas, somebody else has had these thoughts.
Now, traditional pornography has had the exact opposite effect to art in that it makes us feel more alone and wretched and lonely. We wanted in "Lost Girls" to be able do a pornography that could be purchased and read without shame, without stigma, you can have it on your bookshelves and it might even be quite hip, who knows? But certainly it wouldn’t lead to social ostracization.
I don’t know about Kansas and those states in the middle. It may lead to ostricization there. I’m not familiar with the territory.
If we could kind of do that then people perhaps wouldn’t feel so isolated as if they were the only one who had ever had this or that idea. Because I think that is the kind of thing that leads to the sort of isolation that I was talking about earlier where people’s sexual ideas can kind of curdle and go bad. Because of the isolation, because they’re so alone in all of that.
Q: It seems almost as if you start confusing the fantasy with the reality, you can get lost, to bring that up again. It’s the start of the problems.
A: That’s it, and if you’re on your own with no one that you can talk to, more importantly, if you could actually talk about these things with someone else then there wouldn’t be so much chance of getting lost or of confusing borderlines between where fantasy ends and where reality begins.
Which is fairly plain for most of us I think. As the guy in the book says, it’s mainly only psychopaths and magistrates that have a problem with the two.
Q: I see that all the time around here where they’re trying to legislate against violent video games saying they’re going to cause all sorts of real crime.
A: I was hearing a lovely track by somebody called Todd Snider the other day. It was a track called "The Ballad of the Kingsmen." And it was talking about how ... the Kingsmen had clearly had got no idea of the order of the verses when they recorded their 1950s classic ["Louie, Louie"] and yet that was blamed for being an incitement to all of the 1950s juvenile delinquency at that time, just as Marilyn Manson, Eminem and all the rest have been blamed.
You might think that in any halfway self-aware society people might, after a few of these dreadful things have happened, thought, is it something to do with society, rather than that disposable 45-rpm pop song?
Q: But that takes real work.
A: That does take work. It’s easier to ban a record or a book than it is to actually deal with the problem, the real problems that are at the root of all of these terrible things that happen from time to time.
Q: I was doing a story on a controversial video game that’s coming out at the end of the year, and the one thing the pr rep said to me was he never underestimates the cluelessness of the American politician.
So to bring that around to "Lost Girls," are you prepared, are you worried or concerned at all about any kind of fight or controversy you may have to go through with this book? Or do you feel like it’s not going to create that much of a ripple? When I talked to [publisher] Chris Staros, he seemed to feel as though everyone was behind the book.
A: That is pretty much the impression that I’m getting. I did some months ago before the book had come out, say to Melinda that, in a worst-case scenario, if there was a slow news week, if England got knocked out of the World Cup too early, or there was nothing else to put in the newspapers, then we might be subjected to what is referred to over here as a "monstering," which is where you get members of the tabloid press turning up on your doorstep with flashbulbs and long lenses and a sensational barrage of questions, or a barrage of sensational questions if you like.
But actually what seems to have happened is that — all right, the book isn’t officially out yet — but in the response of the people who have actually read it has been so favorable that I’m starting to worry that we might get whatever the exact opposite of a monstering is. Where you get an "angeling" or something like that. Where people smother you with praise.
Yes, there could always be any kind of backlash at any point. I know that at the moment over in America there is a case that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are fighting which concerns an image of Pablo Picasso painting naked. Which is historically accurate. If that sort of stuff can be attacked then yeah, I guess anything can be attacked.
I have heard of Wonder Woman posters being seized from some comic shops by enthusiastic law enforcement personnel who felt that a woman in a one-piece bathing suit was simply beyond the pale. That this was hardcore.
So because there aren’t any functioning laws upon obscenity that actually define what it is, then I suppose it’s feasible. Obviously Chris has talked to lawyers and they all assure us that "Lost Girls" would be defensible anywhere in America.
So we’ll have to see, but the sense that I’m getting from the response so far is overwhelmingly positive. I get a real sense that actually there’s a lot of people who have been waiting for something like this. I mean Melinda says that at the San Diego convention where apparently Chris sold out of the initial 500 monstrously expensive volumes that he flown into the country.
Melinda was the toast of the convention and was being carried around in a gold sedan and showered with tickertape, at least to hear her tell it. There were people coming up to Melinda who’d actually bought the book ... more women than men, including apparently one woman who’d come up the next day with tears in her eyes to thank Melinda for "Lost Girls." That’s a great reaction.
So anything could happen. When we included "Rite of Spring" at the end of the first book, we did so purely because of its dramatic meaning and the dramatic way that it carried, but since then we’ve thought there actually are at least some parallels between the "Rite of Spring" and "Lost Girls."
I’m not by any means associating Lost Girls in terms of quality with Rite of Spring, which was an absolute blinding masterpiece — at the same time they’re both productions that are largely about sex and death. These very primal themes. They’re both emerging at the beginning of their respective centuries. They’re both emerging into worlds where there are very taut political tensions that could explode into horrific war at any moment.
In the original performance of "Rite of Spring" you’ve got the audience going absolutely berserk and you had Najinsky — the great Najinsky climbed up onto his chair and was standing there amidst the seething mob and shouting "You are all stupid!"
So I suppose that I would hope people who might criticize "Lost Girls" will at least think about how this might look in the future. Do they want to be the prosecuting attorney at the "Lady Chatterly" trial who said "Do you want your wives or servants reading this kind of book?" and who has been ridiculed ever since for the incredible pomposity of that statement.
Would they like to be down in the foam-flecked baying audience of the Paris Opera, or would they like to be up there on the chair with Najinsky? It’s a stark choice, you know.
Q: It seems to me like it might be a test for comics. Comics have changed so much in the time period from when you started "Lost Girls" to now, I wonder, if there isn’t an outcry, doesn’t that say something about how the American and British public regard graphic novels and comics? They’re not this kind of lost, red-headed stepchild anymore.
A: I think that’s definitely true, whatever the response to Lost Girls is. It’s clear that whether they actually deserve to or not, graphic novels have come in from the cold. That’s by no means an endorsement of everything that has appeared in the graphic novel format over the past 15 years. I’d say that it perhaps if there was an outcry over this, perhaps that would indicate that comics are being taken more seriously. I don’t know.
One thing that I would observe is that considering that comics when I got in them were considered to be a children’s medium, I would remark that it’s been possible to do things in comics that I could not have done in any other medium. Except perhaps possibly prose.
I mean "From Hell," the comic book, was something that it would have been impossible to duplicate as a film. The very flat approach to the violence, whereas it works very well in a kind of almost sort of autopsy sense in the comic book. An almost forensic approach to the violence.
If that had been filmed and in color it would have been unendurable. It would meant something completely different. It would have meant to shock people with viscera. Whereas the comic book medium allows you to do something different with it. Just as it allows us to do something different with the sex in "Lost Girls."
I think perhaps if people notice just the capabilities of the comics medium as expressed in "Lost Girls" hopefully that might tempt people to try something a bit more ambitious.
Q: At the same time, in the culture at large and also in comics I’ve seen attempts at creating these sex-positive, for want of a better term, works. I know Fantagraphics has published more art flavored dirty books like "Dirty Stories" and "Small Favors" and I even saw a book last year called "True Porn" which was a bunch of people doing comics about their own sexual exploits.
A: Yeah, I think that there was a thing I can remember from a few years ago called "Real Sex" which was by Dennis Eichorn. And there have been some very interesting books in the past.
Obviously a huge hero to both me and Melinda is Robert Crumb, along with a lot the other people who were around at that point who were real pioneers of this kind of material and broken off a lot of the ground for us.
There are also some standout publications in the interim. I’m thinking of Guy Cowell’s "Doll" which was a mini-series from the mid-80s early
Q: No, definitely not.
A: And I think that extends further than just the confines of the comics industry. I am quite familiar with the history of erotic art and erotic literature or I have become so over the course of "Lost Girls" and I don’t think there’s ever been anything as ambitious as this anywhere in erotica, in the broader field of erotica rather than just comic books. I can’t think of anything else.
The Marquis de Sade, of course, even if his work is quite unpleasant a lot of the time he is a very important pornographic writer because he was probably one of the first ones who tried to use it as a kind of social scalpel or something.
But even the Marquis de Sade after I think 15 days of Sodom, he threw in the towel. He was bored after 15 days. After day 15 he was ready to pack it in. There’s very few sustained and structured pieces of erotica on any kind of scale, let alone the scale of "Lost Girls."
Someone was gonna do it eventually. Someone was going to attempt it eventually, to do this kind of sustained, ambitious piece of pornography and have it also be a piece of art. I’m just incredibly smug that it was me and Melinda.
We got a letter from Brian Eno a couple of days ago saying he’d seen the book and thought it was fantastic. If we never get another piece of good feedback on the book again I would die a happy man, knowing that one of my great heroes has enjoyed it.
Anybody who might object to it, they really should have done it earlier because we’ve done it now. If they’d objected at some point during the last 15 years, during which there were earlier comic book versions that ran for a couple of issues.
Q: Yeah, I think I have the original Kitchen Sink issues.
A: Yeah? You’re a lucky man. Few people have got that. This has been around for 15 years and if people had any serious objections they perhaps should have raised them before. It’s a bit after the fact now. I think this is one horse that has rather bolted. What culture’s reaction to that is, that’s up to culture.
We’ve done the best that we possibly can on this and people’s reaction to it is entirely up to them but I hope that they might give it a chance and they might find it was of beneficial rather than a shocking and demoralizing experience.
Q: Are there any developments with the Ormond hospital?
A: I don’t know much about that. They have expressed some sort of concern. Chris has been looking into that along with copyright lawyers. As far as I understand it, the Peter Pan book is in the public domain in the United States at the moment and will be in a year over here. And as far as I have understood it, J. M. Barrie only gifted the rights to the stage production to Great Ormond. I might be wrong about that.
I know that Chris and the legal people that he’s got on retainer have been looking into all of this and probably Chris could give you a more coherent and lucid update on it than I could.
I don’t think it’s a major obstacle to me. I guess it might delay the distribution of Lost Girls in England. But England is a part of the world market and it will only delay it, it won’t stop it. I’m more or less just talking off the top of my head and don’t really know what I’m talking about. You’d be better off getting an informed opinion from Chris or someone.
Q: I can ask him, I still have his phone number. What are you working on now? How do you follow up something like Lost Girls?
A: That is a bit of a puzzler isn’t it? At the moment, and for the past 18 months and into the next 18 months, I have decided to write another novel. It’s going to be over half a million words long, which is gotta be pushing the upper limit of what you can actually get into one physical book.
How am I following up "Lost Girls?" The whole novel is a lucid, coherent and I hope entirely satisfying answer to where do we go when we die? So I’ve decided to solve the entire problem of life, death and mortality in my forthcoming novel "Jerusalem."
It’s completely mental. It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It’s all about the place where I grew up and a lot of it’s about my family, with the names changed to protect the guilty.
It deals with a lot of issues of which life and death and human continuity are only one. It’s talking about poverty, it’s talking about race. It’s talking about history. It’s talking about Jerusalem. It’s talking about William Blake and Charlie Chaplin and various other people who are connected to this area by some unusual threads.
It’s gonna take me about another 18 months just to finish the first draft. Then I’m gonna have to go through it. I’ve got my very good friend Steve Moore who is editing it brutally and covering it with red pen as I go through it. Just correcting my sloppy grammar and my freewheeling Marx Brothers approach to dates and history and facts and things like that. By the time it’s in the readers’ hands it will all make some sense.
Q: What kind of comics are you doing? Anything more with comics?
A: Well, I’m pretty much out of comics with the exception of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Kevin is just finishing "The Black Dossier," which is the last piece of work that will be emerging from Wildstorm/ABC/DC comics.
That is an idea which incidentally grew out of "Lost Girls." I’d such a good time working with previously established fictional characters in a pornography, I suddenly thought, "I wonder if this would work in an adventure story?" That was pretty much where "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" came from.
"Lost Girls" is an idea that has got a certain length. Once the women have told their stories that is the end of the book. Whereas "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," it’s limitless. And so, yes, we’re finishing off the "Black Dossier," which should be out by the end of the year. I finished it awhile ago, Kevin’s just doing the final sequences of it.
Then after that, probably through Top Shelf, we’ll be doing Volume III of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," which will be structured a bit differently. It won’t be six 32-page comic books, it will perhaps be three 72-page comic books. so that we’ll be able to tell a complete story in each book so that it won’t be too tantalizing a wait between issues for the reader. But so that the three books will eventually build up into an overarching story comprising the third volume.
And after that there’s plenty of other things that Kevin and me could do. I know that Melinda’s working on an illustrated version of the William Blake piece that I did as a performance over here four or five years ago. A piece called "Angel Passage," which has been out on CD from Top Shelf but which Melinda wanted to do an illustrated version of that.
I know that Jose Villarrubia is working upon an illuminated version of a passage from my first CD. It’s a section of the CD which is called "The Book of Calculations." I know that Jose was doing an illustrated version of that that he’s working on.
So there’ll be things coming out in all sorts of forms I’m sure. Probably I will not be working in comics certainly to the extent that I have been again. That is the last of it for me. At the moment, it’s mainly "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" that is the ongoing comics project.
But that’s not to say that there won’t be others that will occur to me down the line, but at least for the moment and for the next couple of years that’s likely to be the main thing.
Q: Is it just that you want to focus on other things like the book?
A: Yeah. It’s partly that I am a bit fed up with the comics industry. I’ve had a hell of a time in those last couple of years with all that business over the "V for Vendetta" filming. It was an exhausting war of attrition [and] I’d rather be writing.
And also I think that the comics industry really if it wants to attract, if it wants to be talked about as a grown-up medium, then it ought to be a medium that will attract grown-ups, in terms of its right as an artist.
It ought to be a grown-up medium. It ought to grow up in its business practices, rather than have them still rooted in the prohibition era gangsterism of the 1930s. If it really wants to be an industry that’s proud of itself then it really shouldn’t go around alienating the talent that has actually lifted it up out of the quagmire.
That is obviously something that is not in my control. It is purely in the industry’s control. I think that having spent 25 years laboring within the comics industry, that has probably reflected better on the comics industry than it did on me. Probably the comics industry got more out of the association than I did.
While comics remains a medium that I love dearly and that I think has got immense ground yet to be broken within it, there are thing that I would much rather be doing. You reach 50 and the math starts to add up a bit differently. Whichever way you shape it, you’re certainly more than halfway through your life. So you have to think a bit more carefully about what it is you want to do and who it is you want to do it in association with.
And "Jerusalem," I’ve been working at it every day. I’m probably working harder than before I retired [from comics], but a lot more joyfully. I’m getting up to the quarter million word mark and it’s been a pleasure so far. I’m looking forward to getting it finished so everyone else can see what it is that I’m on about. It should be worth the wait I think.
Q: Two last questions and then I’ll leave you alone. I just wanted to get back for a minute about your collaboration with Melinda. You mentioned that she liked stories where there are three women. Why is that?
A: It’s just something that she found from her early self-penned work that she found that she had a facility for and that she enjoyed.
I remember one story called "My Three Swans" that I think was featured in "The Smithsonian Book of Comics." But she had done a couple of other pieces as well that had just got three women characters in them and I just thought that she’d like the dynamic. it just seemed to make stories live for her in some way. I don’t know if there’s anything very logical behind it.
As with my writing or with any artist’s work we sometimes don’t know exactly why a certain thing works for us and a certain thing doesn’t. I think it was purely that in her own early work she had always been attracted to that kind of a story, that kind of a dynamic. You’d have to ask her about that and I’m afraid that she’s not here at the moment.
Q: You talked a little bit about how the collaboration was a very new experience for you and I was just wondering if you could go in a little more detail. Was it a more enjoyable experience than say writing something like "Watchmen" or "Swamp Thing" where you had to do it all on your end first and then send the pages off.
A: Well it was a much more intense experience than "Watchmen" or any of the other books because of the nature of the work. Obviously if you’re doing a work of this nature then you have to be completely frank, about your ideas, your thoughts in a way that probably other partners in relationships might not ever necessarily reach that point.
I mean, this was how we started our relationship, with that complete frankness. And I think that our relationship and the comic book both benefited each other. I don’t think that there would have been the warmth that there is in "Lost Girls" if we hadn’t been partners in an emotional sense, opposed to just a collaborative sense. I also think that probably our relationship has benefited from the amount of exploring of ideas and concepts and talking that we had to do about some raw emotional issues in the course of this book. I think that the two of them have benefited each other greatly.
That was the most striking thing about working on the book. Yes, the fact that technically I worked upon it very differently, that was unusual. But I have modified my work methods before.
If someone were to ask me, I would say that the secret to a strong relationship is to collaborate on a sprawling, epic work of pornography together.