Monday, October 11, 2010
Meeting Alan Moore
Couple of weeks ago, I read this announcement in Bleeding Cool that Alan Moore was giving a talk in Northampton for the benefit of the Fight for Sight Eye Research.
I quickly checked Google Maps and saw that Northampton was two hours away by train from Manchester. I didn’t care if it was four hours away by camel. It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet one of my comic book idols.
The event was held in the Great Hall of the Guildhall. The hall could’ve comfortably fit a hundred people, but there were only 50 of us, maybe even less. While waiting outside, I saw people walk up to the poster, read it, and then try to explain to their companion who Alan Moore was. “He wrote Watchmen and V for Vendetta!” One lady just said, “Well, he looks scary,” and continued to walk down the street. I just couldn’t believe that people from Northampton weren’t excited to meet Alan Moore.
His heavy footsteps echoed as he strode down the hall clad in a beige paisley blazer that seemed golden under the light and at certain angles revealed the patterns on the cloth. His electric blue necktie seemed to crackle above his black shirt, matching his black jeans and his black leather shoes, which seemed to reflect a purplish hue, reminding me of The Joker.
He stood at the foot of the stage and didn’t use the mic. “You can all hear me okay, right?” His voice boomed and reverberated in the hall. “I’ve been here before for other performances and I know this hall has really great acoustics.” None of us disagreed with him.
It felt like I was in front of Ozymandias, listening to his master plan on how to take over the world. If he floated off the ground, it would’ve felt like being in the presence of Dr. Manhattan.
“I assume you all know who I am and that’s why you’re here,” Alan Moore said. “Unless there’s someone in the back who came in here thinking, `I thought we were going to see that guy from Die Hard! No? He’s not Alan Rickman?`”
Alan Moore paced as he continued to talk, “Since most of you are probably not from here, let me tell you a little about Northampton.” And for the next hour, he told us the history of Northampton, starting from the dawn of time. As it turned out, he was going to use all that knowledge for his second novel Jerusalem, which would detail his home town’s history, specifically, an area called The Boroughs, as well as his family’s history.
“The book will spiral between memories and tales from Moore's family history, fantasy elements and historical dramatisations from Northampton's past.”
He said, when he’s finished with the book, it’ll be 2,000-pages thick and while most books will have a blurb in the back that says, “I just couldn’t put it down”, the blurb of this book will probably be the exact opposite.
He talked about how one of the knights who went on the crusades, ended up in Jerusalem and walked up to Golgotha. An angel appeared before him and told him to pick up this stone (or was it a cross?) and to bring it back to England. The knight walked all the way back and was guided by the angel set it down at the center of all England. That place was Northampton. Alan Moore also mentioned that Hitler stopped invading England when he reached Northampton because Hitler considered it the center of the country and if he already had that, then he generally had control over everything. So, Alan Moore pointed out, if angels and Hitler considered Northampton as the center of it all, then that was good it enough for him, because as he earlier mentioned, for some strange reason, Northampton is ignore by most of the country. He said, it isn’t even mentioned in the weather reports.
When he reached that point of Northampton’s history when they supposedly didn’t burn two witches, he read a chapter from his first novel Voice of the Fire, that focused on two women who were burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft and for being knitting partners.
He took a sip of water, sat down, and read from the book. He first apologized if what he was about to read would offend anyone, because most certainly, everything he has ever written has offended someone for some reason or another.
Alan Moore is as great a storyteller as he is a writer. His deep voice droned as he begun his tale, but he’d shift his tone as he read the dialogue of the different characters, whisper when need be, and pause at the right moments, looking up from the book, staring at you, as if to check if you haven’t freaked out yet.
He continued to talk about the history of The Burroughs and then read from an issue of Dodgem Logic, his underground magazine about Northampton. He took a walk around The Burroughs with a friend and jotted down notes, which he turned into heroic couplets. He said, “We are all heroes. That’s how we see ourselves – heroes in our own stories.” His poem begins and ends with the line, “Heroic couplets. That’s what this place needs.” Over two pages long, he described the different people he saw on the streets of Northampton and talked about their lives and their struggle.
He then entertained questions from the audience.
Someone pointed out that his most recently works shows how much he loves Northampton and asked would he ever considered doing something like what Harvey Pekar did and how he wrote about life in Cleveland.
Alan Moore mentioned that Pekar was a good friend, felt sad for his death, and proceeded to describe one of Pekar’s comic strip, where Harvey just goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, gets some lemonade, and drinks it. The strip didn’t use any words, but the visuals were like poetry, said Moore. It showed how wonderful life was and how we can enjoy drinking lemonade. He admires Pekar’s work but doesn’t think he can do the same thing.
But he really loves his hometown. When he heard some high school students were doing a film about the Boroughs, he decided to help them out and wrote some parts of their project. (Now, how many kids out there can say their film was written by Alan Moore?)
He talked about why he has not watched any of the films that have been based on his work and he said he wrote those stories for comic books. They weren’t designed to be made into movies. He said, he was showing off what comic books could do and that he was doing things that can only be done in comics, just like the Black Freighter comic-book-within-a-comic-book-story that he did in Watchmen.
He did mention that he’s written a script for a 10-minute short film. It’s called (not sure if I heard this right) Jimmy’s End and it’s about a writer, novelist, occultist living in Northampton, trying to take over the dreamtime of the Borough, the whole of England, and maybe even the world. As expected, the moment the universe hears, “Alan Moore has written a film script!” he suddenly got calls from producers and studios wanting to be a part of it.
In the film, the characters play a video game, so a video game company has called him up and said they’d want to produce the actual game. The characters in the film also watch a soap opera, so another studio called up and said they want to produce the episodes of the soap that will appear in the film. A music company that manages some well-known bands has offered to do the soundtrack for the film.
Goes to show Alan Moore’s powers at work. He conjures a story and the universe unfolds for him.
Given the chance, would he ever go back and write another superhero comic? He said, no. What attracted him to super hero comics was not the super heroics, it was the world of wonder that they presented. It was world that fascinated his imagination, a world where cities could be placed in bottles and dogs with capes could fly. And as much as Superman’s dog was fantastic, Batman’s dog was even better because he wore a cape and—a mask! (Just in case the other dogs might recognize him.) Moore continued to say that, back then, the writers were actually telling science fiction stories in the guise of comic book. Later on, this generation of writers came in and just wanted to do fan-service to the medium and just started to tell more of the same stories.
When he wrote Watchmen, he was trying to bring in things that he learned from novels and science fiction stories and tell it as a comic book. In writing Jerusalem, he’s now trying to bring in all that he learned from writing comic books, being descriptive and wanting the reader to visualize this world, and tell it in novel form and that’s why it going to be over 2,000-page thick.
He gave examples of why he didn’t like the American comic book industry anymore and talked about the time Marvel was about to give back Jack Kirby some of his original art. Marvel, being gracious, Kirby they were ready to turn over 900 pages of his artwork (even though they still held on to over 9,000 pages).
Later on, boxes filled with Jack Kirby pages mysterious disappeared from the Marvel offices and mysterious appeared at an art dealer’s office somewhere in New York. This was all supposedly masterminded by an editor from Marvel.
Years ago, at a comic book convention, Moore told the same story but pretended it happened to a British artist. As he told the details of the crime, he stared at the Marvel editor who was in the audience. When he finished talking, the editor supposedly stood up and yelled, “This is a kangaroo court!” Makes me wonder on the identity of that editor.
Someone asked him, would he be interested in setting up an academy for writers in Northampton. He said, he’d be willing to help it out, but he doesn’t think he can run it or teach fulltime. He said, he didn’t imagine how much time it takes to run an underground magazine like Dodgem Logic and that it has affected his schedule for writing other things.
“But shouldn’t you set one up? What happens when you’re gone?” the man persisted.
Moore said, he thinks what he’s doing now is already something for the future, that his stories will outlast him. He asked, what do you know about the Victorian era -- is mostly about what we read from Charles Dickens. What do you know about England in the 1600s -- is mostly about what we read from Shakespeare. They shaped and created those realities for us and we can do the same today.
After the Q&A, we all lined up to get our stuff signed and he signed everything that was placed before him. It didn’t matter if people brought their old copies of Watchmen or the latest Absolute Edition of Promethea, he signed them all. One collector brought an original page from one of Moore’s comic books (I couldn’t see what it was) which was already signed by the artist. Another guy painted portraits of Moore and asked him to autograph the canvass.
I brought along a copy The Killing Joke. When I read it back in 1988, it contributed to my mind getting warped and brainwashed me into loving the comic book medium even more.
As Moore signed the book, I asked him if he’s ever seen or heard Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis do their imitation of him. He said, he’s heard about it, but they’ve never done it in front of him. He has asked Gaiman to perform it. “C’mon Neil! Show me your Alan Moore,” he’d tell Gaiman. “But he’d always dry up,” said Moore.
I mentioned that when they imitate him, they make their voice very deep and exaggerate a bit. “I’m sure it’s all very satirical,” he said. “Eddie Campbell does a good me. He’d pretend to have my long hair and try to swipe it away from his face.”
I then gave Alan Moore a copy of Trese and told him its secret origin. “I originally pitched this story to Marvel with Marvel characters, but it got rejected. So, I changed the story, changed the setting from New York to Manila and I was able to find a publisher who liked it.”
“And why not!” Moore said as he flipped through the book. “Why does everything need to be set in New York? Why not set in Wolverton or Northampton. Keep it close to home.”
I had my picture taken with him, shook his hand, said thank you, and then shook his hand again.
Felt so excited and energized. I think I was running like a mad man all the way back to the train station. I think I could’ve run all the way back to Manchester.
Thinking about everything that Alan Moore said, I think the Philippine comic book scene is on the right track. It’s great that we’re telling stories about home, about our heritage, about ourselves. Our stories celebrate our being Pinoy, whether we are telling our own versions of spandex-clad heroes or using silent panels to depict our so-called mundane life, which will look like poetry in the eyes of the reader, which will shape the reality of future generations.
“Heroic couplets. That’s what this place needs.”
More reports / blog posts about the Alan Moore Northampton event:
Alan Moore’s Magical Northampton Tour by Casey Lau
Jimmy’s End – Alan Moore’s New Feature Film And Spin Off TV Series
An Audience with Alan Moore by Nicolas Pillai
Posted by Budjette at 4:50 AM