This week, I’ll be posting an interview I did with Alan Moore. This is one of the very last things I did when writing my biography of Moore, Magic Words.
I interviewed Alan Moore twice via telephone, on July 9th and July 24th 2013. He had read the manuscript of my book, and he wanted to work through the book and offer a number of clarifications and corrections in the first call, then we had a more conventional interview in the second session. Each call lasted a little under two hours.
A lot of the first interview involved matters of detail – the name of the caravan site where the Moore family stayed when he was a child, that kind of thing. There were places in the manuscript where I wasn’t sure about something and I’d said things like ‘perhaps Moore hoped’ or ‘Moore probably thought’, and Moore was able to clarify many of those.
This is an edited transcript that splices the two interviews together by subject matter. I’ve omitted a lot of the nitpicky stuff from the first interview. Some of the material that doesn’t appear here is in the biography itself, either because it’s suitably juicy or (more often) because without the context of the book it would mean very little.
I’d read a lot of interviews with Moore as I was researching and writing my book. As with the other people I interviewed, I was keen not to ask things he’d already been asked a hundred times. I was also keen to get names and dates, and to dig into some of the details. As a result of that, some of the following is a little wonkish, but I think it covers some ground that’s not been discussed before. And, obviously, if you want the full and rounded picture, then there’s Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, available in all good bookshops, and possibly even some lousy ones.
We start with me fumbling incompetently with my Skype Recorder …
-ot sure it’s recording … er … yes, OK. On. Recording.
[Moore:] Shall we steam into my long list of complaints? OK, the first thing is David Lloyd’s view of anarchy. [when I’d interviewed him for the book, David Lloyd – co-creator of V for Vendetta – had expressed some scepticism about the practicalities of anarchism] Fair enough: his views aren’t mine, but there is a point I felt compelled to answer. He said ‘when was the last time something like anarchy worked?’ That would be the Paris Commune, which worked fine until they sent the troops in. Before that, there were the Spitalfields Huguenots. They had a completely self-contained system that worked fine, which didn’t really sit well with the British government. So they put a crippling tax on lace and ribbon, which were the two Huguenot staples. When the Huguenots went out onto the streets in protest, they sent the troops in.
You’re a distant descendant of those Huguenots, aren’t you?
It turns out that there is a Huguenot that made it into the family, in the seventeenth century. So that may be when they were dispersed from Spitalfields. Anarchy has worked, and worked well on occasions, and on those occasions it’s been ruthlessly suppressed.
The other point [again, he’s quoting Lloyd]: ‘the earliest form of society is tribes, who leads tribes? Somebody.’ This isn’t actually accurate as far as I know. In the New Scientist over the last six months or something, there has been an informative article about the earliest human societies, the Paleolithic and Neolithic, so thousands of years, where the biggest taboo was status, anyone seeking to acquire a larger cut of the pie or higher status than the other members of the tribe – anyone bigging themselves up – would be ridiculed and persistent offenders ostracised. Once status and authority enter a situation, society will become unstable and you’ll get resentments that will destabilise these fairly precarious social groups. This was the prevalent mode for thousands of years.
If it worked so well, why don’t we still have it? There were other forms of culture that were hierarchical, and they were unstable and those who were cast out would join a non-hierarchical group and destablise it. This is the latest theory: anarchy, far from being the unnatural and unworkable state that it is assumed to be, may conceivably be our natural state of being.
As I understand it, when a situation is disastrous, or it’s disastrous in an economic sense, when people have nothing, that is the place where human society starts to cohere and people genuinely start looking out for each other. A terrible cliché, but in the Boroughs, you didn’t have to lock your doors because no one had anything worth stealing, so that removed a lot of social tensions.
[Moore is from the Spring Boroughs area of Northampton, once of the most socially-deprived areas of the UK. The town had traditionally been known for shoemaking, but even by the time Moore was born in 1953, the industry was in decline. For the book, I contacted Jeremy Seabrook, who has a long career writing about the global issues around poverty, but who started with The Unprivileged, a 1967 book about Northampton].
Oh … this is one of the things I thought was one of the best bits: you got in touch with Jeremy Seabrook. I quoted him in Voice of the Fire, he was my first year French teacher. I really like his quote: ‘The shoe people were generally narrow, suspicious, mean, self-reliant, pig-headed, but generally honourable and as good as their word.’ I don’t think I’m narrow or mean financially … but everything else is spot on.
So coming from the background you did, what did your parents make of you, do you think?
I was regarded almost from the outset as unusual, but this was within a family tradition where unusual people were not actually that unusual. There had been previous people in the family line, mostly on my father’s side, who were quirky, talented and, in certain instances, certifiable. Generally my parents seemed to be very impressed that I could draw a picture and string words together, sometimes in rhyme, in a way that they did not feel competent to.
As I started to realise some of these idle teenage ambitions, it was … I don’t think they quite believed it at first. At least to start with they thought it was probably going to end in disappointment and it would prove to be impossible. But they didn’t discourage me, they just looked on anxiously. It started to work out. My father was very impressed when he saw me on television for the first time. That meant a lot. He never read my work, he used to read pulp novels and books about anthropology, but didn’t have any time for airy-fairy fantasy stuff. But he thought it was good if you appeared on television and people said nice things about you.
My mother read a volume of Swamp Thing and she said she enjoyed it, she thought she wouldn’t. My mother listened to the first Moon and Serpent CD and that seemed to really affect her. She was saying ‘ooh, I could have gone’. Gone into the music, something like that, gone into the words. The odd thing was that when I announced I was a magician, it didn’t faze my family at all. My mother really, really liked the picture of Glycon I gave her.
And my devoutly Christian Aunt Hilda, her sister, who had a little shrine of religious items in the corner of her living room, she asked if she could have a copy to put on this shrine, a picture of a snake with long hair and surrounded by all sort of strange magical symbols … I think they recognised that this was something benign. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t want a copy of the Asmodeus picture
in the house, because she recognised that was something that wasn’t benign. But they didn’t have any problems at all with the fact I’d just announced something ridiculous and, to rational examination, impossible – that didn’t seem to bother them at.
My parents and my family accepted me as, in my mum’s phrase, ‘a funny wonder’. That was an all-embracing phrase that included an awful lot of things. It was something that was slightly wonderful, but funny in the peculiar sense. Such people were not unknown in the bloodline. ‘Oh, we get one of these every hundred years or so.’ I always had an odd relationship with my family, because turning out to be someone like me did sometimes bring problems with it. It sometimes changes things. Luckily with my close family I don’t think it has at all.
I don’t see them as much as I used to, largely due to the pressures of my work and my lifestyle. We get together at funerals and weddings. I’ve started to even find funerals quite pleasant experiences. That seems a bit odd, but you get to see a lot of people that you’ve not seen since the last funeral, and you find you’re having a good time seeing everyone again. It connects up the family fabric, in a way which is probably necessary after part of it has suddenly become missing.
One of those problems was you being expelled from school for dealing LSD, and you said last year that the police were involved. Were you charged with anything, or fined?
No, no, no, no. The expulsion was technically groundless. I was searched, but there was absolutely nothing on me and the only thing that they had was the hearsay evidence of a number of my school friends who had named me – we were young then and easily intimidated by the police – and that wasn’t conclusive proof. I was expelled from school, but there were no charges brought. I have a clean record, but I did have a headmaster who tried to prevent me from … my first thoughts were “I don’t want to get a job”, so I applied to Northampton Arts School and had somebody there make me sit through a lecture that in substance was quite like that PJ and Duncan anti-drugs rap before telling me I couldn’t have a place at his school. Ironically, a couple of years ago the same institution offered me an honourary degree. I told them I turn down all that kind of thing on principle, but in this instance, no, I particularly still associate it with being expelled from school. A bad time.
Talking of turning down honours: Grant Morrison has an MBE. Mark Millar has an MBE. A fair few comics’ fans have speculated that, um, if they’re working down a list of prominent comics creators …
Mark Millar has an MBE? Well … I was approached during Gordon Brown’s premiership. I think some people had raised a petition, which I wasn’t involved with of course, that said I should be given some sort of honour for being a national treasure or something, and they had received a message from Gordon Brown’s office saying they were considering giving me an award. Something like that. Immediately after that, I did an interview with Padraig O Méalóid, and he asked me if I’d accept any kind of award, and I’d said of course not, because to accept is to give tacit approval to the government involved, and institutions like the British Empire and monarchy and things like that. So, I told them that I couldn’t take anything like that.
When I heard that Grant Morrison had received an MBE, I could only assume it was the MBE you get for not unleashing a horde of thousands of masked anarchists on the global political stage, which I’ll admit he’s always been better at than I am. But whether you accept an MBE or not is entirely up to you. I told Padraig I hoped no one offered me one, because I didn’t want to ostentatiously turn one down, because that’s pretty tacky. I’m happy how things turned out.
[Part Two will be posted here tomorrow]