Last month I had the fantastic experience of interviewing Alan Moore for the Independent on Sunday. Restricted in print to 1000 words and with Alan chatting for an hour on the phone, there was a whole heap of material left over.
My full and uncut interview with Grant Morrison was received so warmly, I have once more slaved over a full transcript for my fellow comic geeks. You can read the printed article here, and the full interview after the jump!
Sadly I could have done with another hour at least to expand more fully on some of my questions, but Moore is of course tremendously busy writing his novel, Jerusalem, and a good interview for the Indie was my priority. Still, I managed some of the women in comics angle!
Well, this interview will be published in November, when the League omnibus comes out...
Alan: Oh what the Black Dossier? Is that coming out in November?
No, no – the omnibus of the first two volumes.
Alan: Ah we hadn't... this is presumably because they're published by DC Comics so I hadn't actually heard they were coming out. Because I'm not in contact with those people any more but oh well, that's nice to know that they're milking the last of the franchise [laughs].
So I thought I'd be sneaky and use that as an excuse to talk about 1969 and 2009 instead!
Alan: Oh that would be fantastic. Yeah, I mean that's a lot dearer to my heart. Of course I like the old League stuff but the stuff that me and Kevin are doing at present is kind of... freshest in my mind.
I really enjoyed 1910 and 1969...
Alan: Ohh, so you've read up to 1969 then? You've got that far?
Yeah, and I found it really interesting how it moves into contemporary culture and gets much darker...
Alan: Yeah, I think that might possibly be because of the culture itself. I mean, when we were doing those first two books of the League, we made the decision that we were going to populate the entire story with characters from fiction that were around or were related to that particular period. But with most of the first two volumes, of course it was kind of limited to purely literary figures. But by the time we get to 1910, which is the date that the Threepenny Opera was I think first supposed to be set, then you've got drama starting to come in and so we sort of thought we'd take advantage of that and nick a few Brecht and Weill's characters.
Of course by 1969 you've got this whole spread of different media that have suddenly erupted so there's characters from films and television and all sorts of places that are turning up. As for the darkness, I guess that the Victorian Era, which was actually kind of with hindsight fraught with horrors, at the time when England was high on the hog it must have felt like a very bold, heroic, swashbuckling time. We were certain of our place in the world, we were certain that it was going to last forever, and so we created these kind of these figures. I suppose all fictional characters to a degree, especially in adventure fiction or heroic fiction, at the end of the day they're our dreams about ourselves. And sometimes they can be really revealing. In the case of the Victorian stuff, we were obviously pretty full of ourselves. I mean, characters like Alan Quatermain storming around the world without any kind of consciousness of the sort of colonialism that that represented, because we were still in the midst of it and we weren't analysing our behaviour.
But, with 1910 and Brecht you're getting some quite critical commentaries entering the picture. I mean, Brecht was talking about the criminal underclass and a lot of the moral issues that were arising with the new century, that the previous existing Victorian morality was not really capable of addressing. And I think that you've got that kind of critical delt continuing and becoming more pronounced by the mid-60s when you know it was post-Hiroshima and a lot of the certainties of even the post-Victorian world that had existed for the first half of the century had all been kind of blown away. And I think the characters that populated our fiction kind of reflected that.
And no, it's been a very interesting experiment just being resolved to bring the League up into the present day. It seemed to be braver than simply hanging around in the Victorian era which probably a number of the readers would have quite liked us to do! But you know it's not like we're Victorian fetishists, we just sort of recognise that that Victorian time did have a number of incredible imaginative characters. And the initial idea of the League, was “hey wouldn't it be kind of fun if they all kind of met up?” But by half way through the first issue it had evolved into this huge metafiction where every conceivable story was seen to have somehow really existed in the same world as all of the other stories, which has become by 1969 and 2009 this fantastic tapestry that we've got a timeline for running right back to ancient Thebes and beyond. And where we've got pretty much the entire of the geographical fictional world mapped. So we've got a pretty good canvass to entertain these fantasies on.
Yes and I mean, there's also... I mean, this is for the future obviously but there is a future! I mean, like in science fiction which has been around for a couple of centuries now there are all these stories talking about dates in the far future and places in the remote reaches of space, and they're part of fiction as well so there's no reason why at some point down the line we might not decide to have some League adventures set in the various worlds that science fiction offers. You know, in the coming centuries. Although I suspect that after we've wrapped up 2009 and a couple of other little things that we're planning we might want to plunge back into the rich history of the League and explore a bit of that.
It's all open, which is one of the big attractions of the strip for me and Kevin [O'Neill], that we can pretty much go anywhere we want with it and that helps to keep it fresh.
So the League is definitely something you plan to keep going with?
Alan: Oh yeah, I mean the League out of all my comics work, it's the only piece of comics work that I'm still continuing with and where it seems like it is such a good basic idea that can be put to a lot of uses and until me and Kevin get bored with it and feel that we're not giving it the same enthusiasm that we had when we started out then I don't think there's any problems at all for the League in the future. I mean, I've already got a... there's an event coming up, quite a minor story in many ways, in 2009 that once I'd written it I thought, well actually this opens up potentially catastrophic possibilities and I could see a really brilliant story that would actually tie everything in the League continuity in to a marvellous spectacular conclusion; not that it would necessarily be the last story of the League but it would bring a lot of the threads that we've had running since the first couple of volumes to a rather neat conclusion. So that's something that we're talking about after we've finished Century.
There's also a little thing that we might do set in the early 60s that me and Kevin have been talking about, so there's tons of possibilities and we're still fired up with enthusiasm so I don't think there's anything to worry for the foreseeable future.
It sounds like you've had a lot more freedom since you moved to independent publishers, like at Knockabout Comics as opposed to the earlier volumes...
Alan: Oh certainly, we're really happy to be working with Tony [Bennett] and Josh [Palmano] and you know, because it's just I don't consider the League to part of the same world as the rest of the comics field any more. I mean, it just seems to be, it is what is is, like my occasional musical offerings such as they are don't make me feel like I'm part of the music world. My occasional novels including the one I'm slogging through at the moment, they don't make me feel like part of the literary world – I don't. I just mainly feel like what I am! [laughs] It's sort of not wishing to be involved with everything that the industry has come to represent to me which I think is fairly toxic.
So yeah it's great, it's nice having this little oasis of sanity where we are actually allowed to produce the books in the way that we want and they seem to be doing better than ever. I mean I was hearing that even the Black Dossier which was kind of sabotaged on its release by various interfering factors and so wasn't officially for sale in this country [the UK] even I don't think, but even that apparently sold better than the previous two volumes of the league which was very heartening because that was the first time that we'd moved it out of its Victorian comfort zone. And apparently 1910 sold better than black dossier, and 1969 is selling better than 1910.
So that feels really good, it feels that we've got an audience that probably doesn't come from comic books. That seems.. or at least when we do the signings occasionally and we actually get to meet some of the audience, I mean I've noticed that there are probably a lot more women in the queues than there used to be which is perhaps a mark of the general kind of female uptake of comics, it's not such a boys field as it used to be, but there's also it seems that a lot of the people don't seem to be coming from a comics background. They seem to have come to the League through, I don't know, maybe through having seen that wretched film or possibly because they've got favourite fictional or literary characters that they've heard have got a continuing existence in these comic books. They don't seem to have some of the same preconceptions that the superhero crowd used to have, and they seem to be genuinely appreciative of the odd oblique cultural references that we sling in. I think that since, I mean 1969 we're at least talking about, a lot of the elements of that culture are elements that are still around today. Or they're recognisable to a modern audience who, yeah they may have heard of the Invisible Man and Jekyll and Hyde and all the rest of them, but it wasn't part of the culture they grew up with. Whereas films like Get Carter or Performance, and The Avengers and Danger Man and all these things, they're still available on dvd collections, they're still part of the culture.
So maybe that's got something to do with the audience response as well.
I think 2009 will be interesting in that way, as even for young readers it will still be very much their culture you're talking about.
Alan: Yeah, unless they're like three or something! [laughs] In which case they probably won't be reading the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen anyway. The artwork which Kevin's doing for 2009 is extraordinary. He initially had a lot of misgivings about that particular era because, in common with me'self, I think that Kevin's a sort of curmudgeonly old man, and we've actually got much fonder memories of the 60s or the 50s or even the Victorian Era which we never experienced [laughs] than we have regarding the present day. I find a lot of the culture, like I say, this is purely down to me, but I'm becoming increasingly cranky about the majority of culture. There's very little upon television, there are a few wonderful exceptions in all of these cases, but the movie industry seems to have, particularly in America, seems to be in a kind of reiterative rut, where it just remakes the remake that they last made ten years ago, and will presumably carry on doing that forever with reboots, re-imaginings. The comics field seems pretty much to be the same, and to a certain degree television and even the music field.
So Kevin was worried that he might not be able to really feel the 21st century in his art work but I think he's discovered that actually even if there are a lot of things about a culture that you really don't like that can be a kind of fuel as well. He's kind of turned his satirical eye upon a lot of things and he's really enjoying it. There's a wonderful first page with one of our characters stepping off of a bus, a bendy bus, in Oxford Street 2009 and it's not the modern world but it's the League version of the modern world so there are modern fictional characters wandering around, and modern references, and it's kind of, the look of cultural shock on the characters face I think will bring it home to the audience just how strange and frenetic our modern world is compared to the culture that it was only a few decades ago. Just how everything has speeded up and become more intense. And to a certain degree, it's kind of moved down market. You know? There are... the fictional characters of the present day, and again they're drawn from an even wider variety of media than we were employing in 1969, but this is probably just me and Kevin's take upon it, but you can't help but think that there's a certain degree of... a process of degrading that has kind of gone on, a deterioration.
And I suppose that, in Century as a whole, I mean we're going to be starting off with Bertholt Brecht and the Threepenny Opera which is pretty cool, and then y'know, 1969 we're referencing all these films like Performance and Get Carter which while perhaps not the Threepenny Opera were still pretty good, and in 2009 of course we're referencing the stuff that's around today which doesn't even feel to me like it compares with Get Carter, Performance, or even Villain which wasn't the best film in the world but you know, at least had a performance by Richard Burton and Ian McShane in it that was very watchable.
So I think that might end up being one of the subtexts of Century as a whole, that it will be just this slow degradation of culture, you know sort of in the space of a hundred years. I mean that's one of the things that's most extraordinary about reading and writing Century as a volume, is that yeah one hundred years, that's living memory. And yet we've somehow gone from the waterfronts that Brecht was writing about in 1910 all the way to the present day, and everything that that means. It's probable that previous centuries, the pace of change was not so extraordinary and not so marked. I doubt that... I mean there probably wasn't a huge amount of difference between the 16th century say and the 17th century. There were massive changes in society but compared to the changes that happen today, those changes were spread over a century, the same degree of change we can get in a week these days. It's a bubbling world.
The process of change itself is speeding up which is largely driven by our technology which of course makes lots of other technology possible which makes lots of other technology possible and it is a kind of an exponential curve that we seem to be riding upon here. And I think that yeah, looking at the hundred years between 1910 and 2009, I think it will be quite instructive and a little bit shocking just to see all the things that have happened to us as a species. I mean of course it's not our real history but it's a history of our fictions which is a kind of log of where our heads were at.
It certainly seems to be like there's been a whole lot of change but not an awful lot of progression.
Alan: Well I think one of the problems is that we tend to mistake change for progress. We've kind of internalised this, I don't know, the narrative of the Western world is, as my acquaintance [former D:Ream member and Professor] Brian Cox once remarked, it's basically that things can only get better. Which is, that is the kind of arrow of progress but that doesn't actually seem to pan out. I mean I don't think it's necessarily progress, it's just different stuff. It's things that have changed and because we assume something that is a new invention must be a hundred times better than whatever it was replacing and so on and so on with our technology being replaced every two or three months. I think we kind of, we risk simply losing genuinely valuable parts of society and culture because of our fascination with lights and bells and whistles. I blame a lot of culture, I found myself half way through one of my unfathomable rants the other night, you know where I suddenly sort of think, what am I actually saying? And it turned out what I was saying was that I blame most of Western culture upon the manufacturers of children's cot mobiles. Simply because I think that they have programmed a couple of generations to be entertained by something if it's moving and if it's making a noise. You know? I think that you could probably put most of Hollywood's output over the last couple of decades into that category. It's difficult to see what other appeal it's got. As long as we've got confident visual novelty, or confident novelty in general it seems that we're happy. And I think that we're missing out upon an awful lot.
I mean like recently I've been involved to a degree with a possible film that could possibly unfold into a bigger film and possibly other areas as well. And it is proving to be, I think both me and Mitch Jenkins who I'm working with have been gradually losing the will to live just actually having to go through all of the stuff that you need to get through to get a film made, even a little film.
And at the same time as this I've been working upon my novel Jerusalem which is at the moment on a pretty spectacular chapter where I've got a massive four dimensional hallway up above the world that is only above one area of the world geographically but it is above it in every particular moment of time. So it's this immense hallway, two miles wide, a mile high, and running down it is a naked old man with a naked 18 month old baby girl riding on his shoulders, and they're running down the length of time and they are seeing the big freeze when the Greenland ice shelf melts and the Gulf Stream stops, and then a bit further on there's a sort of a more jungly area, where presumably the warming of the planet has kind of counteracted the cooling down that would happen in these latitudes if the Gulf Stream were to stop, and you've got post-humans, genetically engineered to survive in a world with less food, and then after a few more thousand years of pounding down this corridor there's no more people any more. And then you start to get mega-fauna that have come up from the drying oceans, giant squids that are using their bodies as basically digital televisions, using the pigment cells in their skin to mimic their surroundings, and land whales that look as if they're part goat! Because I found out that apparently when whales came up on to land for the first time, the thing that they were closest to genetically was the goat. So I've got these horned whales with hooves, dragging themselves through these clearings, you know, towards the end of time.
And then after that you've got super anthills and then there's no biological life at all, and I rang up Robin Ince today to find out about the date, whether it's two million years when the Andromeda galaxy, might be two billion years, when the Andromeda galaxy crashes into our own, which will happen and I thought that should be quite spectacular! So I can refer to that in this chapter, and I've got the old man and the little baby running on down the corridor because they want to get to the end of time, to see what it looks like.
And I'm writing that, and I don't have to get the budget on the hyper-squids approved, I don't have to get clearance for the 18 month old baby, I don't have any problems with the nudity or, you know, the special effects. I don't have to get the CGI budget sorted out. It's always just 26 letters of the alphabet and a handful of punctuation, and I mean that is so staggeringly elegant. It seems to me that obviously language is the technology that all of these technologies are predicated upon. I don't think you can necessarily improve upon it.
But I mean to me, a book is like a program. It's software, it's running in your consciousness. It's like you are doing most of the work, or at least half of it. The author is doing half of the work, but as a reader what you're doing is, you're creating the way that all the characters look, you're creating the entire environment and it's completely personalised to you – another person reading the same book is probably imagining the characters differently, with different voices in a different landscape. That is wonderful. And it's such a personal experience, and I think that as more and more stuff is done for us, as more of the work of being an audience is done for us by our technology, I think that it kind of excludes us from the process itself. We just have to sit there and let this stuff wash over us. We're not engaged with it. We are entirely subjected to somebody else's visions, somebody else's ideas, and we have no say.
So yeah, I mean, call me old fashioned but I do really particularly love print media. And probably particularly just straight text. I mean as I was saying to Mitch Jenkins, after I've been writing all this and after we'd had another load of problems with the big tech companies that we've been talking to with regard to this film. I said to Mitch, I said look, text beats everything. You know, it sort of, it is the highest technology and it's so much fun, and I don't have to have meetings. I just have to sit in front of my word processor here and sort of, you know, just type away in contented bliss.
Are there big differences between writing Jerusalem and your first novel [Voice of the Fire], in comparison with writing comics which is much more of a collaborative process?
Alan: Yeah, there are. I mean one of the big differences is that it's a much more lonely and solitary experience. Which is in some ways good, and in some ways bad. It's good because you've only got yourself to think about. You are not having to consider, you know, an artist or a collaborator. On the other hand there is something very nice about having a collaborator to work with because you're constantly getting feedback, you're bouncing ideas back and forth, it's a much less lonely process. Whereas, I mean with Jerusalem I've been working on it for four or five years now, maybe it'll be at least another year or something before it's finished and that is a process yeah. I was reading out the earlier chapters to Melinda [Gebbie] but essentially no one's seen this stuff so I'm not getting any feedback. It feels a bit like kinda being in a... I mean I remember when I did Voice of the Fire, my first novel and that took me five years and I noted as I was finishing it that the Voyager spacecraft that had been sent out to take pictures of Jupiter, that had been launched at around about the time that I was starting the novel, and at the time that I was finishing the novel, we were getting the first pictures back of the surface of Jupiter. And I thought, yeah, I can identify with the Voyager spacecraft! [laughs] You know, it's sort of, it feels like a very solitary movement through personal space of some sort. But you know, that's not entirely a bad thing, it can get a bit sort of vast and sort of lonely at times but on the other hand it's a very intimate thing. You do get a relationship between you and the book that is kind of intense, perhaps maddeningly so, but it's not diluted by any other considerations. It's just you and the page, and there is something very addictive about that.
I'm also finding that because I'm not working with an artist I probably am very conscious of the fact that yes I'm a comic strip writer, or at least that's what I'm probably largely known for, who is working without an artist. So all of the stuff that I'd usually put in my panel descriptions, I am now wording a lot more carefully and putting it into the work to make sure that the visual element of the work is there, all the time. When you're just writing it you've got to keep the illusion of your world going, chapter after chapter, all the time: what it smells like, what it looks like, what it sounds like.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the length of Jerusalem is because I have been including my visual descriptions which the readers don't generally get to see. I mean the readers will see the result of those visual descriptions in the work that the artist has done, but they won't see the pages and pages of mind numbingly dull description that I'm doing to try and make every scene vivid and crystal clear to the artist. But I'm kinda working that into the prose of the novel now, and it's a pretty visual novel. I mean, I hope it scores on other levels as well but it's got some pretty fantastic images in it. I probably won't be looking at the idea of doing an illustrated edition... maybe at some point in the future if anybody has got the time and the inclination, but I didn't want this to be illustrated because I think the prose itself is kind of visual enough.
No, it's different. They've both got things to recommend them. I still love working in the comics medium, if it's with the people that I enjoy working with, people like Kevin. Melinda is about to start working on - she's getting to the end of her autobiography she's writing - and she's probably going to be taking up, doing the visual adaptation of the William Blake piece that I wrote about ten years ago now; it was the thing that I performed at Angel Passage, it came out on a CD and I performed it at the Purcell Rooms as part of their William Blake celebration, she'll be doing that.
And I mean, I like that, I like sort of, you know, comics is great if you're working with an artist that you've got respect for and you're working in a situation where there aren't the arbitrary demands, just the general bullshit of the comics industry to deal with. I think that me and most of the artists that I respect, we're too old for all that. We're old, we're tired [laughs], I just simply cannot be putting up with the petty interference that is part and parcel of the entertainment industry.
It's been really great talking to Tony...
Alan: Well no, I mean Tony's great. He's been dealing with cutting edge comic publishing for decades. And you know like, as one of the original British underground publishers, in fact the only British underground publishers, he's kind of, he's earned his stripes. You know, I mean he's been through brutal obscenity trials, obscenity busts, and has always fought his corner. Sometimes to his personal expense. It's great to be able to do the League with Tony and Josh, they're terrific.
Is it okay if I ask about some of your older work?
Alan: Sure! Yeah, which ones were you thinking of in particular?
V for Vendetta first of all is the obvious one...
It's one of my favourites and it always feels politically relevant, and is I think what started me on an anarchist-in-training path if you can call it that!
Alan: Oh that sounds great! That's really nice, that's really good to hear Laura.
I was wondering what your thoughts were on the current social unrest and events like Occupy Wall Street and so on [remember Moore has no tv or internet and this was mid-October!].
Alan: Oh what you mean the Anonymous people? Stuff like that? Yeah, I'm... obviously I couldn't say that I am universally behind everything that they might do in the future, you know? But sort of so far at least I've got a huge amount of admiration for the stuff that Anonymous and LulzSec and people like that have been doing. They are, they seem to be genuinely frightening authority in general because they're very hard to root out or track down and they seem to be very efficient in digging up information that we are entitled to know. And yet which our governments and our leaders don't want us to know for their own reasons.
I've seen a fantastic piece in New Scientist a few months back that was talking about the rise of activism and it was called Welcome to Democracy 2.0, and it was saying with groups like Anonymous and the ones that will certainly follow them and will perhaps learn from their mistakes or organise in different ways, it was saying that in the future, Western governments will have to work under the assumption that anything that they do behind closed doors will eventually enter into the public domain. And they were suggesting that the only way you can fool proof yourself against that situation is by the radical means of not doing anything wrong [laughs]. Which, I can see it taking a while for our government to actually adjust to that concept, but if it finally sank through to them that no, we're living in a glass world where everything we do is going to be discovered. So let's not do anything bad.
But this particular article was illustrated by a picture of a recent protest, possibly one of the anti-cuts protests, and there were a couple of people with smiling V for Vendetta masks. And yeah, I would like to think it's not just the mask it's some of the politics that are proving an inspiration, at least one of the points of inspiration. Yeah that's interesting, I mean like I have a certain amount, although I did my best when I was doing V, I wanted to... there were lots of things I wanted to say and I think that we said them very well, you know, and it's still a work which, yes I'm personally very proud of it although there's a certain amount of emotional distance purely to do with me. Just over the trail of tears that all of those books that are still owned by the big publishers have entailed for me personally. You know, sort of, damaged friendships or ended friendships, you know, and my current state of self-exile from the entire comic book industry.
So while I appreciate, while I've still got a lot of affection for those works and I'm really glad that they're out there in the world and that other people are getting stuff out of them, it's just that they've come to represent to me a lot of sometimes painful things. So I don't actually have a lot of my earlier work around the house any more. But it's nice to know that it's still out there in the world and seems to be doing a fairly good job, making a good account of itself. And I suppose that that's what every artist or writer wants really isn't it, to be able to make some kind of impact with your ideas.
Not to just sell a million copies or this or that or make yourself rich or famous or anything, but for your ideas to actually impact on some successful level with other people. I mean that's, I presume, what we do it for.
I had been feeling quite resigned about politics a few years back, and reading V really brought home to me that I still have a voice.
Alan: Oh that's fantastic! I was doing a thing with the wonderful Josie Long as part of her recent guerilla tour of the UK. Me and Melinda went along last Thursday to a guerilla event in Milton Keynes, and it was fantastic! There was an audience of about 25 people, it was freezing cold, in bitter winds, but Josie had brought loads of sleeping bags along to hand out to the audience and it was great. Josie did a little set, I did a little set, and she'd got some brilliant performers with her, including this wonderful singer-songwriter called Grace Petrie, she'd got some protest songs and then she'd got some songs about girls, you know, which is always a good thing. I thought she was probably the best singer-songwriter that I've heard since Billy Bragg. She sang quite a bit and she came up later and I was just telling her how much I liked her stuff and she said, “oh I really like your work”, I said is there anything I can get ya, and she said “I'd really like a copy of V”. And it's nice, to think that political activists and stuff like that have related to something that I did in the 80s when I was a bit pissed off and anxious about Margaret Thatcher and the way things were going, you know.
But no, that's really good Laura, I'm really, that's really heartening to know that it's sort of awoken anarchist instincts in you.
The other two comics I was going to mention together are Lost Girls, and the Ballad of Halo Jones. I focus a lot on women in comics, and a lot of the work you've done, along with Melinda as well, has been quite progressive in that regard.
Alan: Well, thank you, thank you. And I'm sure that Melinda will be pleased to hear that when I go out and make my dinner in about quarter of an hour!
But when I first got into comics it was very very much a boys field. And the main outlet for me when I first started comics writing was 2000 AD, where the majority of the heroes were huge kind of alpha males with big chins and big guns. That's not to take away from the credible work that people like John Wagner and Pat Mills and Alan Grant did on those strips like Judge Dredd or the others ones. But I remember that when they were asking if I wanted to do a strip for 2000 AD with Ian Gibson, and they were asking what I might like to do – that was around the time when all of the girls comics had suddenly been closed down. There wasn't a single – I mean I was annoyed – there wasn't a single girls comic in Britain. Now the girls comics did have their flaws, on the other hand they were a very different sort of narrative to boys comics. They dealt more with relationships and conversations and less with actual homicide than boys comics seemed to.
And it struck me that probably the only comics around that still had any female readers would have to be 2000 AD, so we just said look, let's just do a comic about a woman, a woman of the future. Not necessarily that remarkable or that heroic, but just, let's look at a woman's life in the future. And that seemed to go down brilliantly with both the male and the female readers. But particularly the female readers. And it's something that I'm always, because I am a kind of product of the 1970s and I'm a new man, I do the dishes and everything [laughs], so I probably have always kind of felt that that was an area that needed to be addressed. And I thought, well if you do more stories that are aimed at women, you'll get more women reading the comics. It would seem fairly simple and straightforward, but there was a lot of resistance in my early days [laughs] in the comics, you get told things by editors that, “oh well comic books that are about women characters, they never sell”. And you'd notice that women characters were basically used either as... basically as an adornment, you know, they weren't really that important to the plot, but it was just [sighs] pretty girls for the artists to draw, and I am embarrassed to admit that there are a fantastic number of male comic book artists who only got into the business because they would be able to draw semi-naked women all day and get paid for it.
And so when we were doing Halo Jones, we were thinking you know, there ought to be more than that. You know we ought to sort of try and educate our readers, our largely male readers that women aren't purely alien beings who are just there to be adored or rescued or whatever else might have been going through the male readerships mind. I mean obviously, we got away with quite a lot of stuff with Halo Jones, considering that it was a mainstream boys comic with at least part of its audience fairly young; I thought we were able to talk about quite a lot of issues there.
Now, when it came to doing Lost Girls, that was done in a kind of a heady atmosphere of absolutely no restrictions at all. It was like basically, it was purely done as, I'd been trying to include erotic or sexual elements, where they were appropriate, in my stories for years. Because it always struck me as peculiar that you could have endless American comics every month that were all around acts of violence, and yet to have something that was as universal and common and normal and socially productive as sex was completely forbidden. So I'd done stuff with, like there was the episode of Swamp Thing that we did where we tried to, as close as we could in a mainstream American comic book, to actually present a sort of sexual narrative that filled the entire comic. And I did later stuff in Promethea and various other things that you know, because if you're going to create realistic characters they will have some sort of sexual dimension because we all do. If you create a character that is completely sexless then it's not going to ring true.
So yes, generally I'd been trying to come up with a way of actually addressing sexuality in comic books for a long while, but it probably wasn't until I divorced myself from the comics industry the first time, around about 1989, that I started to think seriously about, wouldn't it be interesting to do a whole extended work that was about nothing other than sex and sexuality, to do an erotic piece that was as thought through and considered as any other work. And for a long while my thinking on it completely hit a wall because I was thinking in terms of the comics industry where 99.9% of the artists are male. Also white! That's perhaps not relevant to the current discussion. The thing is that they were... so I was thinking about doing this big sexual book in terms of getting a man to draw it. And that, it just never felt right. It would have inevitably led to a kind of locker room atmosphere, it would have been men's idea of women rather than women's ideas of themselves. With the best will in the world.
And so I kept hitting blanks until suddenly I was offered an 8 page strip in a never to be published collection of erotic comic strips called Lost Horizons of Shangri-La, and I was thinking who could I work with. And it suddenly occurred to me that I'd been a huge fan of Melinda's work for decades, and that I knew she was living in London and – oh! She just came in to make me a cup of tea – yeah, I knew that Melinda was in the country, I'd met her a couple of times and I was a huge fan of her work. I mean as far as I was concerned, she was probably the best, in terms of her draughtsmanship, her accomplishment, she was probably the best underground artist, and that didn't really need qualifying with the best female underground artist or anything like that. Just in terms of her talent she was, to my mind, up there with the best of them.
And Neil Gaiman put us in touch, and it turned out that Melinda had been invited to do an 8 page story of her own. So she came up to Northampton, we started talking about what we wanted to do and perhaps more importantly what we didn't want to do, and it didn't go anywhere for a couple of weeks until we finally had this happy collision of ideas where I suggested something about, maybe we could do something like the Peter Pan story as a sexualised narrative and Melinda had suggested that she'd always enjoyed doing stories of three women in a sort of dynamic relationship, and so that grew into Lost Girls.
And you know, we've had some incredible response – again, an awful lot of it from women, because it's hardly rocket science to do a pornographic book that will appeal to men, you know that's not really that difficult. So right from the very start, I mean it was both of our intentions to do something that would appeal to women and it was Melinda's artwork probably that made that so much easier to accomplish because Melinda was looking at the setting and the texture and the lighting and the balance of colours, and all of these things that are non-linear, non-rational, but are such a huge part of the emotional makeup of these kind of erotic moments.
It's been quite surprising really, the reaction to Lost Girls because while we were doing it we thought that we're probably gonna be ridden out of town, tarred and feathered on a donkey over this! We'd got no idea what kind of... it took us 18 years to completely finish it, and the world that we started it in was a very different one to the one that we ended up bringing it out in. There'd been paedophile panics, there'd been a sort of resurgence of the right wing and all that that usually brings with it. So we brought it out, confident that we could justify and stand behind everything in the book but with a certain amount of trepidation because we didn't know how it would be received. And I am genuinely surprised that we really didn't have any trouble with Lost Girls that was based upon its content. There was some minor troubling copyright issues and stuff like that but they all got resolved. But other than that there were absolutely, there was no kind of response to it that was negative, which I found startling. And instead we got, I mean I was in a Cafe Nero, this was a year or something ago, and I happened to see one of the women who generally serves me when I go in for my weekly ration of Lush bath products and she was telling me that she was with her mother, who was probably closer to my age, and they'd just been and picked up a copy of Lost Girls at the local book shop and so I was standing there in Cafe Nero having this transgenerational conversation about pornography and its merits. It was a little surreal because I thought well this is great, this is fantastic, we're having a civilised conversation about sexuality that wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't brought Lost Girls out. It's sort of just simply creating something like that, it opens a kind of an arena or for talk, and for sort of, for communication. And especially on a subject that is as personal to most people as sexual fantasy. It's something which most people cannot talk about, even to their partners, and so we hope that with something like Lost Girls - beautiful, intelligent - that we might be able to give a civilised platform for people to talk about their sexual ideas. And something a bit more dignified and beautiful than the only previous existing platform which was simply pornography.
But no I'm, that's really nice Laura, I'm really glad that you asked that question. Was there a final question? My stomach's starting to growl, but if you've got a final question to wrap up with.
That's about it I think, though I was going to mention that I'll be studying the Birth Caul in a few weeks.
Alan: Oh fantastic! Well I hope you enjoy that, that was a good work. You said this will be coming out in November sometime?
Yes, it's when the League Omnibus and Neonomicon come out.
Alan: Yeah, that'll probably get me ridden out of town on a donkey. Well that'll be fantastic. I mean, have you got any questions about Neonomicon or is it all fairly self-apparent?
To be honest I was going to base it more on 1969 and 2009, your more independent works.
Alan: Yeah, that sounds fair enough! That's brilliant. Well thanks a lot Laura, it was a great interview and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I shall look forward to seeing it when it comes out in November.
Fantastic, okay you take care and enjoy your evening. Okay, bye-bye.