What can I say? If you don’t know who Alan Moore is, you need to fucking visit Wikipedia, post-haste. Or look at the faces of the fed-up youth of Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks, which they lifted from Moore’s V For Vendetta. Or look at the mallrats and geeks, who watched the cult film adaptation of Moore’s epochal Watchmen. He’s writing a book longer than the Bible, for Christ’s sake!
I never pass up a chance to pick his deep, destabilizing brain. I think this makes the fourth time that Alan and have shot the cross-continental breeze by phone, although this is certainly the longest we’ve ever talked. As Neil Gaiman once told me about Alan, the first thing you have to understand is that he’s a genius. Just toss him a few smart questions, and he’ll show you. No problem.
Sure, we talked about his psychedelic new installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969, wherein Mick Jagger threatens to become a literal Dark Lord and Moore’s metatemporal detective, Dracula‘s Mina Murray, must battle evil on the astral plane. And of course, we talked about how superheroes have thoroughly repopulated pop culture in our time of apocalypse. But we also talked about all kinds of other things, for nearly two hours. And it’s all up on Wired, for your cerebral pleasure. Click on, read up, trip out.
Visionary comics writer Alan Moore has largely migrated beyond the madness of the faltering comics industry, which is being overshadowed by film and television at Comic-Con International. But, lucky for us, not entirely.
During the annual San Diego convention this week, Top Shelf Productions will show off the psychedelic majesty of Moore and longtime artistic collaborator Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969, due in August and previewed in the gallery above.
The pop overload of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969 is shaping up to part the seas this year, at least when it comes to comics. It’s easily one of the best of the year, from its acid-trip showdowns on the astral plane to its head-nods to The Beatles (er, I mean, The Rutles), Mick Jagger’s literal satanic majesty, and the monochrome comedown of punk rock’s nihilistic birth in the ensuing ’70s.
No matter how much Moore tries to escape comics, we just keep pulling him back in, although he said “the League is my only expression in the comics field, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.”
This in no way suggests Moore is slacking off. In fact, he has been quite busy on a variety of fronts, from transforming his indie print magazine Dodgem Logic into an exclusively online publication to fomenting science-magic escapades with physics geeks like professor Bryan Cox and finishing off his long-awaited literary tome, Jerusalem. Which, if you must know, just so happens to be longer than the Bible.
“There has been a suggestion that I print it on Bible paper,” Moore laughed. “I’m hoping that in the future, in whatever format we put it out, that Jerusalem will become known as the Really Good Book.”
I interviewed Moore at length by phone, talking about the promise and face-plants of the well-intentioned ’60s in comics and reality, the League’s technocultural exploits in 2009 (and maybe 2109), the rise and fall of the comics industry, metatemporal detectives, psychedelic derangement, why The Prisoner ruled and Lost choked. Read about those things and much more in the spirited interview below.
Pop-Culture Referential Overload, Imminent!
Let’s talk about 1969, the comic and the year. Both were quite a head-trip.
Alan Moore: Well, thank you very much, Scott. Kevin and I hoped that it would have some of the authentic flavor of those years. We wanted it to feel like the fictional equivalent of those times and their drugged extremities. It’s probably the first era in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s chronology for which we actually have memories. Yeah, we did the League in 1958, but I was five, so I wasn’t really taking a great deal of notice of the unfolding culture around me. But 1969 is a bit closer to our time, so we tried to be authentic in the way we imagined the ’60s.
Much of the fun reading the League comes from mapping the intersecting coordinates of popular and literary culture and history. And 1969 has so many great ones, especially in regards to the death of The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones ushering in an era of satanic supremacy, with Mick Jagger as its literal Dark Lord.
Moore: Kevin and I have an incredible amount of fun. At this point, I should make it clear at this point that Kevin is responsible for half of the obscure references. I was doing an interview recently and was forwarded a question from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen annotator Jess Nevins asking if 1969 was an attempt to kill him. And I fielded the question saying that it might be an attempt to kill him, but that Kevin was probably more responsible for his ultimate demise. I’m trying to pass the blame to my collaborator, you see.
But however many suggestions I include in my scripts, there are always going to be some characters in the background when I get the artwork that I’m going to be on the phone to Kevin asking, “Who’s that guy? He looks kind of familiar.” And Kevin will always tell me, although I’m sure there are some that I haven’t spotted. So the readership should be heartened if there are some references they are not spotting.
But hopefully the story is strong enough, even if you don’t get all the references. That’s the way we tried to make it. But it is an incredible amount of fun not so much referring to these things, which anyone can do, but also tying them all together. The way that a rough edge on one story from maybe a film or television can me made to fit almost perfectly with a rough edge from another. You can get some surprising and amusing juxtapositions as a result, which is always a huge part of the fun. Especially in 1969 as well as the forthcoming 2009, of which I’ve seen about a quarter of the artwork and which is even better than 1969 . Kevin just continues to improve, like a fine wine.
Dropping Acid for the Astral Showdown
O’Neill’s art really is stunning, especially in that acid-trip showdown in the astral plane during the Stones’ post-Jones concert in Hyde Park. That was something else.
Moore: As background for that scene, it should be remembered that this writer had actually experienced psychedelic derangement at the Hyde Park festivals, although not the Stones concert. I was actually at the Canned Heat concert, which followed after the Stones a couple weeks later. But Kevin, on the other hand and to the best of my knowledge, has never imbibed any form of drug in his entire life. Which makes one sort of worry when you see what he’s actually done in 1969.
All right, yeah, I was kind of providing suggestions for the melted-looking layout and echoing speech bubbles. But when I saw what Kevin had done with it, that wonderful double-page spread with the statue of Hyde, and reality forming into a tunnel around the edge of the pages, it was just fantastic.
‘Kevin, on the other hand and to the best of my knowledge, has never imbibed any form of drug in his entire life.’
Kevin was also responsible for one of the most poignant images in the book, which was one that I hadn’t thought of. The section right at the end of the aforementioned Hyde Park festival when we see the previously established Jacob Epstein statue of Mr. Hyde from above, and there is a leftover balloon from the festival with the word Love on it floating up to the sky. Beneath us, the statue of Hyde is reaching up with his hands, as if to capture this escaped balloon, which is a perfectly lovely image for the end of both that sequence in the comic as well as the ’60s themselves. That was something that I didn’t ask him to do, but he picked up on it. There are an awful lot of those little moments.
But yeah, I did particularly enjoy the trip sequences and the astral battle, all set to the background of contemporary pop music. It was quite a heavy scene, although it was very colorful, bright and fluorescent in places. Which of course sets you up for the last three pages that take place in punk’s ’70s, which are a bit of comedown or a bum trip, as we used to say. So it worked in all sorts of ways. I couldn’t be more pleased with the job Kevin has done.