I ended 2009 with a literary bang, not a whimper. But after interviewing a brainiac like Alan Moore, I’m not sure I want to enter 2010. According to the legendary mind behind Watchmen, V For Vendetta and much more, this year is going to be the start of something truly weird: A journey into the unknown frontier of post-civilization. I explored the dystopian life to come with Moore for Wired on New Year’s Eve.
Alan Moore, the influential comics visionary who wrote Watchmen and V for Vendetta, has taken up a new mission for our age of global depression: Bringing back the underground fanzine.
The first issue of Moore’s print zine Dodgem Logic, released last month in the United Kingdom, is an engaging, educational and often hilarious read. The new publication is stuffed with subcultural snark as well as post-civilization how-tos on guerrilla gardening, Dumpster diving and surviving the econopocalypse.
Perhaps most promising, Dodgem Logic’s spirit of triumphant creative individualism celebrates Moore’s individualist philosophy, delivering a perfectly timed message for a world filled with failing states and superpowers.
“This might be the time in which big, centralized authorities prove that they are no longer capable of running the show, or even pretending to run the show,” the always eloquent Moore told Wired.com by phone from his home in Northampton, England. “Increasingly, it is going to be up to us if our culture gets through these next couple of decades in any shape at all.”
Moore recruited local Northampton talent to contribute to his zine, and added selections from artists outside his neighborhood. Dodgem Logic’s modest sales already have allowed Moore and crew to hand out food parcels to Northampton’s financially depressed elderly and buy the local basketball team cool uniforms. It’s the type of immediate reward Moore finds lacking in most mainstream cultural and sociopolitical production, and an antidote to the type of pure escapism haunting politics, cinema, celebrity, music and especially comics.
“I have largely, completely given up on the comics industry,” Moore said. “I really don’t believe it is going to do anything to address the modern world.” Moore held forth on that graphic letdown and much more, including the rumored opera with Gorillaz (not happening), print media (not dead yet), the perils of post-civilization (not fun) and his Pynchonian tome Jerusalem (not short), in my extensive interview below.
You explain in Dodgem Logic’s first issue that the publication is neither global or local, but lobal.
Alan Moore: Everywhere is both local and also global. It’s that kind of world. We’re hooked up in a way we were not hooked up previously. The world has changed. Now, we all have an individual neighborhood and locale, but we are also bombarded by information from every other neighborhood and locale in the world. We’re connected in a different way. I wanted to deal with what is basically my neighborhood, the area which I was born in, and treat it exactly the same as other people’s neighborhoods. Yes, the neighborhood I grew up in is still a particularly distressed neighborhood, but there’s one in every town in every country, I’m sure. There is a wrong side of the tracks.
How is it going so far?
Moore: Well, one of the best things about Dodgem Logic is that we’ve been able to use the sales of the first issue to give out food parcels for Christmas to all of the old people in sheltered housing in that particular neighborhood. We’re also sponsoring a local basketball team, to get them some really cool, beautifully designed vests to kit them out nicely.
Sounds like a great way to make a local impact.
Moore: That’s the kind of thing we’re interested in. We don’t need to make a huge amount of profit on the magazine; that’s not what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to make enough to plow it back into our local area, and hopefully if other areas take up the idea, then they can do the same with their own areas. It’s not particularly sophisticated, but it seems to be working out OK so far.
Starting a print magazine in a global economic depression seems crazy, but it also makes sense to band one’s community together around a set of common artistic and social goals and put them into print.
Moore: Absolutely. I’m sure there have been a lot of underground magazines and things like that on the net. But I think there is much to be said from having an artifact that you can hold in your hands. That is perhaps a mark of the generation that I grew up in, but I believe it’s true. In an increasingly virtual world, artifacts, beautifully made things, are at a premium. We wanted to be able to bring out a magazine that wasn’t so ephemeral and transient, that people would want to keep.
We enjoyed the idea of having little free gifts with each issue. We’ve got the CD in the first issue, which I was very pleased with. And we’ve got an eight-page mini-comic coming up in the second issue, which is the first comic that I have done completely myself – ever. So that should have a certain collector’s value, I’m sure. And we’re still doing all of this for 2 pounds 50. But it’s all working out fine. As long as we’re not going for ridiculous profits, we can pay all our contributors, put some money back into the community, and have fun while we’re doing it. It seems to be a reasonable agenda.
That spirit of fun is certainly there in the first issue. But there also seems to be a collective purpose in downsizing the kind of hyperconsumption we’ve had in the last few decades.
Moore: Well, yes. I think there has been a growth in awareness that individuals do have a say in how their lives go. What we’re interested in doing is empowering people by whatever means we can. We’ve got articles coming up about the squatters movement in Britain. If you are homeless and there is a vacant property just standing empty, as long as you’re willing to pay rent you have a right to squat on that property. There are hundreds of people being made homeless every day in this town. And with the current credit nightmare and financial plunge into the abyss that we’re all going through, it’s becoming particularly difficult for a lot of people. So we want to address that.
We’ve got an excellent article coming up in the second issue by Magpie, Margaret Killjoy, who was formerly an editor for the excellent Steampunk Magazine. She also helped bring out The Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse, which was very useful. It included, and I think she designed it herself, a design for a desalination unit based upon a completely new principle, which was effective and easy to put together.
She’s moved on from that to the post-civilization movement, which is arguing that increasingly it is not becoming a matter of if civilization breaks down, it’s becoming a matter of when civilization breaks. She’s saying that when that happens, we’re probably going to have to do a lot of work to get things going again. She suggests that perhaps it will be a good idea to start doing this work before civilization has broken down, so that we still have some resources [laughs]!
It’s just new ways of thinking about the human situation. Like the guerrilla gardening column, which suggests ways for people to reclaim the environment around them. It is being neglected and misused by the people who govern us, who very often haven’t got any real concern whether a little grass verge remains a yellowed and neglected strip, or whether it becomes a thriving vegetable garden. It’s just that there is a certain way they’ve always done things, and they’re resistant to change. But if enough people simply take things into their own hands and do things that are obviously beneficial, then in our current time of crisis I somehow think our leaders are going to have bigger problems on their hands than people growing potatoes or carrots on a motorway roundabout. On the one hand, we want to give people the kind of information they need in this current climate, and on the other hand we want to cheer them up and entertain them. Kick their spirits up in this new era.
What else do you have on tap for the second issue?
Moore: We’ve got a lead article that Melinda Gebbie is writing about the new burlesque, comparing it with her memories of the old, unreconstructed burlesque that she saw back in San Francisco. We’ve also got Mitch Jenkins, an absolutely marvelous photographer who is world-class but happens to live just around the corner from us, who has done a wonderful photo shoot accompanying Melinda’s article featuring enigmatic, beautiful pictures of strange women in sort of exotic costumes. Because everybody likes that; it sort of lifts people’s hearts during these lean times.
That type of artistry is usually nascent in eras like these, where economic, political and psychological depression is rampant.
Moore: Well, it has to be always remembered that it was during the ’30s that Snow White was released, which I think was at the time the highest-grossing picture in history. Because no matter if people were starving on bread lines, they wanted to be able to escape from that for an hour or two. It’s always been that way. There is a particular line I remember from The Sopranos where I think Tony Soprano says, “There are only two businesses that are recession-proof. There are certain elements of the entertainment industry, and this thing of ours” [laughs].
I believe that it’s largely the fantastical elements of the entertainment industry that, when people are absolutely sick of this world, they are looking to escape into in their heads. I’m not a fan of pure escapism, because that doesn’t really help us to do with the problems that are besetting us at the moment. But it does us all a bit of good to have a break from reality just for a while, in a positive way that leaves us refreshed and ready to face to the world again.
How do you think comics should interrogate the post-civilization world, as you see it?
Moore: I have largely, completely given up on the comics industry. I really don’t believe it is going to do anything to address the modern world. Perhaps that’s a very pessimistic view; there are some great comics out there still. But for the large part I don’t think the comics industry has got any new ideas. I don’t think it’s had any new ideas for 20 or 30 years.
It seems now to be more about the type of pure escapism you mentioned earlier.
Moore: That’s basically it. It’s so mannered these days. There are so few original voices, and it all seems to be stylistically the same stuff. It’s comfort reading. People are going to be getting the same stuff every month, and that’s why they like it. If you go out for a Big Mac, it’s going to taste exactly the way it did last month. It’s hamburger reading. I think the comics medium could play a big part in addressing our problems. It’s such a wonderful medium. You can talk about anything, and talk about it in a very powerful and informative way. I’d like to see comics become a medium in which new ideas could be expressed in new, compelling forms, but I don’t really see that coming from the industry.
Are there particular movements in comics that you still find relevant?
Moore: Where comics are starting to score heavily is in the documentary approach. People are starting to tell coherent stories that are autobiographical or documentary comics dealing with a particular situation. There has been a heartening surge of those, and they are largely coming from outside the comics industry. The comics industry, meanwhile, seems to be going down the tubes, as far as I can see. And it’s largely their own fault, that they did not embrace change heartily enough, that they didn’t have any new ideas, that they didn’t have a clue.
It seems like it should be the other way around, given advances in technology and distribution.
Moore: I would like to think that in our present time, not just in comics but in almost every form of the arts, I think that creative expression is within the reach of more people that it ever has been. Now, that is not to say that there are more people with something to say than there ever have been before. But I would like to see a situation where people finally got fed up with celebrity culture. Where people started this great democratic process in the arts where more and more people were just producing individually according to their own wants or needs.
It is possible in this day and age to make very low-budget films, using technology that the pioneers of cinema would have killed for that is relatively cheaply available down at your local electronics store. The means of making music or art are more in the hands of the people than they ever have been before. I think it would be great to see an end to the big entertainment companies in whatever industry, whether it be music, cinema or comic books.
I’d like to see people actually get angry about the quality of the material that they are having shoved down their throats. It can’t be good for us. And I would like to see people responding to that by basically following the old maxim that if you want a job done right you do it yourself.
And this could not apply only to the arts but also politics. In the 21st century, if you see some situation you are not happy with, it’s probably not the best idea to vote for somebody who tells you that they are going to do something about that situation if elected, because frankly they’re not. Historically, they never do. If there is something that genuinely upsets you, don’t vote for somebody who tells you that they are going to fix it. Try and fix it yourself; that’s the only way it is going to get fixed.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s on the other side of the world. This, I think, is the face of politics in the 21st century. And the face of art, and probably of spirituality and everything: It is down to the individual. If individuals do not like the world that we happen to be living in – and who could blame them? – then I suggest it is up to them to change it.
That message resonates throughout much of your work.
Moore: It was the message of V for Vendetta, and in fact most of my comic books from those early days. I think Watchmen ended with the line, “I leave it entirely in your hands,” which is pretty much the way I feel about it. I think that this might be the time in which big, centralized authorities prove that they are no longer capable of running the show, or even pretending to run the show. Increasingly, it is going to be up to us if our culture gets through these next couple of decades in any shape at all. It is going to be down to us.