Alan Moore on V for Vendetta

Friday, March 17th, 2006

Alan Moore has written a number of excellent, cerebral graphic novels that have been turned into awful, mindless movies:

In Hollywood you’re going to have the producers and the backers putting in their … well, I don’t want to dignify them by calling them ideas, but … having their input, shall we say. You’re going to get actors who’ll say they don’t want to say this line or play this character like that. I mean the police inspector in From Hell, Fred Abberline, was based on real life: He was an unassuming man in middle age who was not a heavy drinker and who, as far as I know, remained faithful to his wife throughout his entire life. Johnny Depp saw fit to play this character as an absinthe-swilling, opium-den-frequenting dandy with a haircut that, in the Metropolitan Police force in 1888, would have gotten him beaten up by the other officers.

On the other hand when I have got an opium-addicted character, in Allan Quatermain [in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen], this was true to the [original] character — he showed a fondness for drugs on several occasions. But Sean Connery didn’t want to play him as a drug-addled individual. So the main part of Quatermain’s character was thrown out the window on the whim of an actor. I don’t have these problems in comics.

Naturally, he’s not happy with V for Vendetta:

I’ve read the screenplay, so I know exactly what they’re doing with it, and I’m not going to be going to see it. When I wrote “V,” politics were taking a serious turn for the worse over here. We’d had [Conservative Party Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher in for two or three years, we’d had anti-Thatcher riots, we’d got the National Front and the right wing making serious advances. “V for Vendetta” was specifically about things like fascism and anarchy.

Those words, “fascism” and “anarchy,” occur nowhere in the film. It’s been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country. In my original story there had been a limited nuclear war, which had isolated Britain, caused a lot of chaos and a collapse of government, and a fascist totalitarian dictatorship had sprung up. Now, in the film, you’ve got a sinister group of right-wing figures — not fascists, but you know that they’re bad guys — and what they have done is manufactured a bio-terror weapon in secret, so that they can fake a massive terrorist incident to get everybody on their side, so that they can pursue their right-wing agenda. It’s a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values [standing up] against a state run by neo-conservatives — which is not what V for Vendetta was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about [England]. The intent of the film is nothing like the intent of the book as I wrote it. And if the Wachowski brothers had felt moved to protest the way things were going in America, then wouldn’t it have been more direct to do what I’d done and set a risky political narrative sometime in the near future that was obviously talking about the things going on today?

Top 20 Geek Novels

Monday, November 21st, 2005

The Guardian did a small on-line survey to discover the top 20 geek novels:

1. The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams 85% (102)
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four — George Orwell 79% (92)
3. Brave New World — Aldous Huxley 69% (77)
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — Philip Dick 64% (67)
5. Neuromancer — William Gibson 59% (66)
6. Dune — Frank Herbert 53% (54)
7. I, Robot — Isaac Asimov 52% (54)
8. Foundation — Isaac Asimov 47% (47)
9. The Colour of Magic — Terry Pratchett 46% (46)
10. Microserfs — Douglas Coupland 43% (44)
11. Snow Crash — Neal Stephenson 37% (37)
12. Watchmen — Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons 38% (37)
13. Cryptonomicon — Neal Stephenson 36% (36)
14. Consider Phlebas — Iain M Banks 34% (35)
15. Stranger in a Strange Land — Robert Heinlein 33% (33)
16. The Man in the High Castle — Philip K Dick 34% (32)
17. American Gods — Neil Gaiman 31% (29)
18. The Diamond Age — Neal Stephenson 27% (27)
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy — Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson 23% (21)
20. Trouble with Lichen – John Wyndham 21% (19)

I can maintain some geek cred by noting that I’ve read more than half the list — but I certainly lose some points by not having read any Philip K. Dick (yet).

The man who invented the future

Thursday, July 22nd, 2004

In The man who invented the future, Scott Thill interviews Alan Moore, “who reinvented the comic book as the cutting-edge literary medium of our day.” The interview, unfortunately, starts with a prolonged — and surprisingly simplistic — leftist diatribe on the war in Iraq, the Bush dynasty, etc. Eventually it moves on to Moore’s take on literature and the literary establishment — which, while I may agree with it, certainly has a “sour grapes” taste to it:

Over here, the literary establishment is still running, as back in the days of Jane Austen, on the novel of manners, which she more or less invented. And, of course, they’re about the social intricacies of the middle class, who were also the only people at the time who could read or afford to buy the books. They were also the people who made up the book critics. And I think that, around this time, critics were so delighted by this new form of literature mirroring their own social interactions that they decided that not only was this true literature, but this was the only thing really that could be considered true literature. So all genre fiction, anything that really wasn’t a novel of manners in one form or another, was excluded from that definition.
[...]
I recently saw a program about the history of the novel on TV over here — it was a short series and it was ridiculous. I predicted before the thing was actually shown that there would be nobody representing any form of genre fiction whatsoever — and I was, for the most part, right. They managed to get through the 18th and 19th centuries without a mention of, say, the gothic novel. Fair enough, perhaps the gothic novels weren’t as extraordinary as literature, but they also didn’t mention Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which is an incredibly important book for all sorts of reasons. But I guess it has become what they would term genre fiction, so it is amongst the literary damned. My only mistake was that I said I didn’t think there would be a mention of H.G. Wells, but my girlfriend told me they did mention “The History of Mr. Polly,” which is one of the few works by Wells that I have not been able to get through. To completely ignore “The War of the Worlds,” “The Time Machine,” “The Invisible Man” and all his other work shows you the way that the literary critical establishment tends to regard even people in so-called lower literary genres. So if you are working in comics, which is considered a whole lower medium, well, let’s just say that I’m not anticipating being given the Booker Prize anytime soon — and I’m immensely glad of that.

Not Funnies

Monday, July 12th, 2004

Not Funnies suggests that the comic book may be the new novel:

You can’t pinpoint it exactly, but there was a moment when people more or less stopped reading poetry and turned instead to novels, which just a few generations earlier had been considered entertainment suitable only for idle ladies of uncertain morals. The change had surely taken hold by the heyday of Dickens and Tennyson, which was the last time a poet and a novelist went head to head on the best-seller list. Someday the novel, too, will go into decline — if it hasn’t already — and will become, like poetry, a genre treasured and created by just a relative few. This won’t happen in our lifetime, but it’s not too soon to wonder what the next new thing, the new literary form, might be.

It might be comic books. Seriously.

The article dwells on literary, underground “comix” by obsessed outcasts before moving on to “smart” but (more) mainstream comics:

One solution to the drudgery of cartooning is to get others to do it for you. Companies like Marvel and D.C. essentially produce comics on an assembly line: one person thinks up the story, someone else draws it, another inks it, yet another colors it and so on. Most graphic novelists tend to be dismissive of such products, but a couple of people have emerged from the factory system and attained something like auteur status — as writers whose comics are worth paying attention to no matter who draws them. Neil Gaiman, creator of the enormously successful ”Sandman” series, is one such figure; another is Alan Moore, creator of ”Watchmen,” ”From Hell” (a story about Jack the Ripper) and ”The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”

Moore is an extraordinary gentleman:

Moore, who is 50, looks like a comic-book character. He has a long beard, shoulder-length hair and likes to dress in black. He also dabbles a little in the occult. Moore lives alone in Northampton, England, where he was born and grew up, and is a famous recluse. ”I’m a stranger to the other end of the living room,” he likes to say. Moore actually draws perfectly well. (His early strips, like ”Roscoe Moscow,” a detective parody, are more than passable Crumb knockoffs.) But in the early 80′s, when he was a young man struggling to support himself, a wife and a baby, he realized that he couldn’t draw fast enough to keep up with his deadlines. He decided to become a writer instead and began sending out scripts on spec.

Moore doesn’t just write; he researches:

Moore is a tireless researcher; when he took over the moribund ”Swamp Thing” series from D.C. in the early 80′s, he read botany books, listened to Cajun music and studied the geography and ecology of the Louisiana bayous. Of all the graphic novelists, in fact, Moore may have the purest and most inventive literary imagination. He also writes poetry and has published a novel (the old-fashioned kind, without pictures). His ”League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which is far more interesting than you would ever guess from the movie, is an extremely clever literary pastiche of Victorian England in which all the characters (even the prime minister, Plantagenet Palliser) are taken from other Victorian novels — Bram Stoker’s ”Dracula,” H.G. Wells’s ”Invisible Man,” Stevenson’s ”Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Jules Verne’s ”20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” to name just the most obvious. Right now, he is working on a pornographic graphic novel, ”Lost Girls,” in which the main characters are the Alice of ”Through the Looking Glass,” now known as Lady Fairchild and a laudanum-addicted lesbian; the slightly repressed Mrs. Harold Potter, nee Wendy Darling, from ”Peter Pan”; and the randy Dorothy Gale, from ”The Wizard of Oz.”

I’m not at all surprised by this:

Moore was kicked out of school at 17 for using and selling LSD. ”It was a fair cop,” he says now, meaning that he deserved to be expelled. ”The headmaster called me a moral health hazard, and he was probably right.” But the headmaster also took steps to make sure he couldn’t get into any other school, and Moore, who says he is still ”embittered by the entire educational system,” became a fierce and ambitious autodidact.

Part of his education was comic books, at first black-and-white English ones (which he says ”were just something we had, like rickets”) until, in the early 60′s, at an open-air market, he came across full-color American comics. ”I related to them very strongly,” he says. ”They were about America, which seemed to me to be like the future, like science fiction. Even without those fantastic characters, the whole country seemed to me an exotic landscape, like the Emerald City, and those comics lifted me right out of the streets I grew up in.”

He added: ”We all live, you know, on a kind of fictional planet — the place we have with us ever since we started listening to stories. We spend a lot of time in these imaginary worlds, and we get to know them better than the real locations we pass on the street every day. I think they play a more important part in our shaping of the world than we realize. Hitler, for example — we know he read a lot of Bulwer-Lytton. Osama bin Laden used to read quite a lot of Western science fiction. That’s why comics feel important to me. They’re immense fun as a game, but there’s also something more serious going on.”

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Bloggers?

Friday, February 13th, 2004

In Quis Custodiet Ipsos Bloggers?, Julian Sanchez comments on Alan Moore’s Watchmen:

The comics you liked as a kid typically seem preposterous a few years later — unless, of course, you liked Alan Moore comics. Jim Henley looks at what emerges on rereading Moore’s justly venerated Watchmen in a fine short essay.

An excerpt from that essay:

The core question of the superhero story might be phrased as What do we owe other people? The problem is that comics have typically answered the question before they’ve barely asked it: “With great power must come great responsibility!” Really? Are you sure about that? And how much is “great,” anyway? What part of my life can I keep back for myself?

You may have noticed that these questions are salient whether you wear tights or not. They apply to you. Because most of us, certainly most of us in the developed world, have more power, wealth or wherewithal than somebody. Certainly almost everybody reading this blog item could, in principle, quit their present jobs and work pro bono for an African AIDS clinic while subsisting on donated food, or maintain a couple of homeless people instead of taking vacation, or — join the Volunteer Fire Department. Depending on your politics, you may believe that people like yourself or people like Bill Gates really do owe some non-trivial portion of time, wealth, influence or attention to — something or someone. The poor, the ill, the frightened, alienated, the “doomed, damned and despised” as Jesse Jackson once put it.

And having had the thought, you’ve got more problems. Which will it be, first of all — the poor, the ill or the frightened? Just how should you help them? And when, if ever, do you get off-duty?