Book Festival: Alan Moore In Conversation With Steve Bell

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Alan Moore, Steve Bell

There was a hectic buzz of photographers at the Edinburgh Book Festival’s press area prior to this event. A journalist working on his laptop wanted to know what the reason for all this hubbub was, and what celebrity he could expect to see arrive.

Photographer: “Alan Moore.”

Journalist: “Who?”

Photographer: “He writes comics.”

Journalist: “Oh.”

That probably sums up many people’s view, and indeed knowledge, of the comic book. Because Alan Moore is about as good as it gets when it comes to comics and graphic novel storytelling in the English language.

Combine that with him allegedly being a grumpy old man that doesn’t like his works being made into films, and looking a bit like a cross between Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (in the old days) and Gandalf, complete with a gnarly wooden walking stick, and I expect even more people may have lost interest.

Not, thankfully, the bunch who had gathered to meet Mr Moore himself at the Book Festival, including two other master storytellers Iain Banks and Garry Trudeau.

Moore entered the auditorium in a black t-shirt with “Property of Miscatonic University” printed on the front and was greeted with a long applause. The girl next to me excitedly whispered “Glorious beard!” as if that was the most splendid thing you could ever say about a man.

Alan Moore is not grumpy at all. He is humorous and funny, with a deep voice and sparkling eyes. A natural born storyteller if there ever was one.

Moore got into writing for comics in the early 80s at a time when the mainstream American comic book was a dying species.

“When I was getting into comics,” said Moore, “it was a much more innocent time, and comics were nearly dead in the water anyway, at least the mainstream American comics industry. The 1970s was probably the worst decade ever for the mainstream comics industry. Coming along in the 1980s, it seemed to be a responsibility to actually mess comics up a bit, to try and make them fit their times more. The 1970s comics hadn’t really changed, except superficially, since the 1940s or 50s.”

After re-defining and re-constructing the superhero genre with Watchmen in 1986, Moore almost wished he hadn’t bothered. “After Watchmen [...] nearly every everybody in comics is a psychopath living in a totalitarian society and generally being kind of miserable.”

Watchmen is one of several of Moore’s works he doesn’t own the rights to, he doesn’t even own a copy himself. When DC Comics originally bought them of Moore with the clause to get them back when the book ran out of print, he was led to believe that would be for maximum six months. Comic books didn’t stay in print any longer at that time. That was 1986. As it happened, Watchmen stayed in print, and still is, and Moore never got his creative property back.

Moore not only dislikes the American comics industry, he doesn’t like the film industry either. Several of is works have been transformed into films, which is a painful topic for Moore, since he doesn’t think the comics medium can be made successfully into films in the first place.

Moore described the Hollywood handling of his first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book: “Let’s take all the characters out, let’s put all these new characters in, change the entire story. Let’s make it so that the only point of resemblance between what you wrote and this film is the title. And we’ll even change that to LXG, because we don’t know that extraordinary begins with an 'e'.”

Moore ended with saying that perhaps you could make his works into films, but that he couldn’t see a need for it.

“Because something succeeded in one medium I don’t think that you can automatically assume that it’s going to succeed in another medium. Certainly it’s not going to be better.”