Tom Huxley reports from N.I.C.E. for Bleeding Cool.
Last night, Alan Moore made his first comics convention appearance in over twenty years.
Entry to his talk at N.I.C.E. required a donation of a graphic novel to Northampton libraries, and by the end of the day they'd collected enough graphic novels to fill up several bookshelves. (My own copy of Essential X-Men 2, featuring the Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, will hopefully be enjoyed by many in the years to come.) So popular was it that the queue to enter the panel actually snaked around the whole building – though everyone fit snugly into the room.
Alan Moore entered to rapturous applause, with a smile on his face that suggested he felt genuinely touched by the appreciation. Appreciation he immediately redirected to a woman in the room named Wendy, who had come over from Australia and was celebrating her birthday that day.
Moore spoke for an hour about his experiences and views on reading, his early influences, growing up in Northampton, how he didn't appreciate how much better British comics actually were than their American counterparts back then, his earliest efforts breaking into the comics industry, stalking Steve Moore, how writing a 300 page epic shouldn't be all that different from writing a five panel strip about a magic cat, and his suspicion that "the internet is mostly about pornography". You can hear that part of the panel in full, here as well as watch a few videos from it, so I shan't discuss it further here. (Apologies in advance for any shakiness, blurriness, and Messianic light emanating from Moore – I did the best I could with what I had, which included being positioned behind the one person in the room who was wearing a top hat!)
Then, having lost track of time (and apparently his train of thought), he went straight onto the Q&A section. First up, what happened to the opera he was supposed to be doing with Gorillaz? Watch:
Then he was asked if he planned on retiring, or if he would be working "into his nineties". To which Moore said that he enjoyed working and had no intentions of stopping any time soon. He was currently finishing work on a photo-book called "Unearthing" with local Northampton photographer Mitch Jenkins, which had spilled over into Moore agreeing to write the screenplay for his film – after all, he's been so scathing about cinema for the last few years that it's about time he produced his own take on film that the movie industry could in turn be scathing about – and he regaled the audience with a story about how they'd been filming in a working men's club that had to stay open to customers, and one night they were filming a clown and a burlesque dancer at one end of the other, while at the other end was being held a wake.
He also talked a little about his novel, Jerusalem – which he says he is into his final three chapters on – and the conversation he'd had with Robin Ince about it. Moore told Ince that he had so far written over half a million words for the book. Ince remarked, "you do realise that's longer than the Bible?" To which Moore responded, "but hopefully better."
Next, a question about the origins of Tom Strong. Moore explained that he'd been working at Awesome Comics for a while, run by "that ridiculous individual" Rob Liefeld, and actually enjoyed himself doing so, so when that wound down and he started up the ABC line at Wildstorm he thought he might like to do a book about a superhero inspired by the pulp novels they were originally drawn from – and tried to imagine what that would be like pushed forward into the modern age. He says he received letters telling him how "brave" he was to feature a mixed-race relationship between the lead characters, which is something that had never occurred to him in their creation, but looking back he realised that this was probably the first mixed-race long-term relationship in comics, and definitely the first mixed-race marriage. In the year 2000. "It wasn't meant to be a more adult comic, but on that basis, it was more adult than most of the other comics on the market at the time."
After this came a question from a boy who couldn't have been older than ten, very sweet but clearly awe of the terrifyingly mythical figure in front of him, about whether he sets out to make his works complicated. Moore said that he felt that younger readers are a lot smarter than they were given credit for, and that they need a degree of complexity, although he tries not to make his work so complicated that it becomes unreadable.
Which comes first in writing, the character or the narrative? "Both," replied Moore in a comically unhelpful tone, saying it depends on the situation but it can be driven by either. He gave an example of his upcoming work, Providence, a follow-up to Neonomicon where he explores the inspiration behind the Lovecraftian mythos. He explains explaining that Lovecraft himself had been a bigot who looked across Europe at Hitler and thought he seemed like" a jolly nice chap", so Moore thought an interesting character to introduce into this story would be someone who was secretly Jewish and secretly gay. And in research for this character, Moore picked up a book about homosexuality in 1920s New York, which he says is one of the best books he's ever read. The book said a lot about gay society but also about straight society, and he added that the term "heterosexuality" was an invention of the nineteenth century, as before then nobody had ever felt the need to distinguish a person's sexual orientation. So a lot of that went into both the character and the narrative for his story.
A member of the audience related a radio interview with Stan Lee, where he was asked who his favourite artist was, responded "Alan Moore, I'd love to work with him!" Moore elaborated the rather embarrassing aftermath of this, wherein the interviewer in question had subsequently got in touch to say "I hope you don't mind, but I've given Stan Lee your contact details". Moore went on to explain that while he shouldn't say unpleasant things about an elderly man whose work he used to admire, he detests Stan Lee – and that back in the day "there was a reason why "Jolly" Jack Kirby wasn't always jolly, why "Sturdy" Steve Ditko wasn't always sturdy, and why "Smiling" Stan Lee was always smiling." Watch as he elaborates on this:
And finally, because he couldn't end on a bitter note, he was asked which writer currently inspires him the most. Right now it's Ian Sinclair, and he told the audience about Sinclair's mad adventures on a swan pedalo in the run-up to the Olympics, on which he and Stewart Lee briefly joined him.
And with that, he departed, leaving the rest of us to enjoy the merry songs of live band Cosmic Rays, featuring Phil Winslade on guitars and Charlie Adlard on the drums. A jolly N.I.C.E. time was had by all. Many thanks to Close Encounters and Wicksteed Park for their hospitality