“I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying,” Moore told me during an hour-long phone call from his home in England. “It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The ‘Watchmen’ film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I for one am sick of worms. Can’t we get something else? Perhaps some takeout? Even Chinese worms would be a nice change.”
Moore is often described as a recluse but, really, I think it’s more precise to say he is simply too busy at his writing desk. “Yes, perhaps I should get out more,” he said with a chuckle. In conversation, the 54-year-old iconoclast is everything his longtime readers would expect — articulate, witty, obstinate and selectively enigmatic. Far from grouchy, he only gets an edge in his voice when he talks about the effect of Hollywood on the comics medium that he so memorably energized in the 1980s with “Saga of the Swamp Thing,” “V for Vendetta,” “Marvelman” and, of course, “Watchmen,” his 1986 masterpiece. The Warner Bros. film version of “Watchmen” is due in theaters in March although the project has encountered some turbulence with a lawsuit filed by 20th Century Fox over who has the rights to the property. Moore has no intention of seeing the film and, in fact, he hints that he has put a magical curse on the entire endeavor.
“Will the film even be coming out? There are these legal problems now, which I find wonderfully ironic. Perhaps it’s been cursed from afar, from England. And I can tell you that I will also be spitting venom all over it for months to come.”
Moore said all that with more mischievous glee than true malice, but I know it will still pain “Watchmen” director Zack Snyder when he reads it. The director of “300” absolutely adores the work of Moore and has been laboring intensely to bring “Watchmen” to the screen with faithful sophistication. But I don’t think there’s any way to win Moore over, he simply detests Hollywood. Moore said he has never watched any of the film adaptations of his comics creations (which have included “V for Vendetta,” “From Hell,” “Constantine” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen“) and that he believes “Watchmen” is “inherently unfilmable.” He also rues the effect of Hollywood’s siren call on the contemporary comics scene.
“There are three or four companies now that exist for the sole purpose of creating not comics, but storyboards for films. It may be true that the only reason the comic book industry now exists is for this purpose, to create characters for movies, board games and other types of merchandise. Comics are just a sort of pumpkin patch growing franchises that might be profitable for the ailing movie industry.”
There is one film that Moore is supporting right now. It’s the new DVD release entitled “The Mindscape of Alan Moore” and it’s an artfully executed documentary that is built entirely around Moore sitting in his somewhat spooky living room and ruminating about art, storytelling, magic and culture. The movie was made by Dez Vylenz, who was still a student at the London International Film School when he sent Moore a letter expressing interest in creating a documentary film on the writer as his senior project.
That project went well and, several years ago, the filmmaker and the author decided to do it again for a film that would be released to the public. Vylenz has intercut images and used visual effects that give the film a psychedelic swirl and shamanistic textures (it reminded me a bit of the sensibilities of a Godfrey Reggio film, such as “Koyaanisqatsi,” but on a far, far smaller scale production-wise).
“It was very enjoyable to sit there in a chair and talking and talking and talking because, as anyone who knows me for even an hour will tell you, that is my second nature. The idea of it — just me talking — sounded incredibly boring to me but Dez Vylenz is very talented and if there is anything about the film that is not a success, I would blame the flaws of its central character.” The film was made in 2003 but is just now reaching stores, with a Sept. 30 on-sale date as a two-disc DVD from Shadowsnake Films.
In the film, Moore makes it clear that he believes magic and storytelling are clearly linked and that, upon closer examination, the definitions of what is real and what is imagined are far more slippery than generally considered. This documentary is not the compelling success that “Crumb” was but, like that 1994 film by Terry Zwigoff, this one will leave casual viewers with the impression that some of the more peculiar geniuses of our day tend to gravitate to comics.
Moore sometimes wears metallic talons, describes himself as an anarchist and, in the past, has told interviewers that he worships an ancient Roman snake god. But what’s really unusual about him is that he seems to be the very last creator in comics who would hang up on Hollywood anytime it calls.
“I got into comics because I thought it was a good and useful medium that had not been explored to its fullest potential,” Moore told me.
He went on to explain that it was the late Will Eisner who brought a cinematic approach to comics in the 1940s after watching “Citizen Kane” dozens of times and transferring its visual style and approach to transitions to the pages of “The Spirit.” “As much as I admire Eisner, I think maintaining that approach in recent history has done more harm than good. If you approach comics as a poor relation to film, you are left with a movie that does not move, has no soundtrack and lacks the benefit of having a recognizable movie star in the lead role.”
Moore said that with “Watchmen,” he told the epic tale of a large number of characters over decades of history with “a range of techniques” that cannot be translated to the movie screen, among them the “book within a book” technique, which took readers through a second, interior story as well as documents and the writings of characters. He also said he was offended by the amount of money and resources that go into the Hollywood projects. “They take an idea, bowdlerize it, blow it up, make it infantile and spend $100 million to give people a brief escape from their boring and often demeaning lives at work. It’s obscene and it’s offensive. This is not the culture I signed up for. I’m sure I sound like Bobby Fischer talking about chess “
Moore said he is now working on new installments in his marvelous comics series “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” which is far more nuanced and daring than the forgettable film of the same title. The new stories take the narrative to the moon where there is a war underway between the giant insects (inspired by the H.G. Wells 1901 book “The First Men in the Moon“) and nude lunar amazons. “The idea, it pretty much sells itself, doesn’t it?”
He is also at work on a massive, 750,000-word novel. “It’s the grown-up kind, with no pictures at all,” he said. “Although modern binding technology may be overwhelmed by the size of it. It’s a huge mad fantasy called ‘Jerusalem.’ “
The story is partially a history of his native Northampton that dates back to its Saxon settlement days in AD 700, but it is also a “demented children’s story” that features Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Cromwell and “an explanation of the afterlife that conforms to all known laws of physics.”
There’s also a huge sort of reference book of magic that he is toiling on with contributions from notable artists and writing peers. It delves into Kabbalah, astral projection, seance, tarot, practical applications of magic and deep research into the origins of magic history, such as the true beginnings of the Faust tales. Talking about the book, the skeptical shaman of comics sounded positively giddy, especially for a parchment wizard trapped in a crass digital age.
“Magic is a state of mind. It is often portrayed as very black and gothic and that is because certain practitioners played that up for a sense of power and prestige. That is a disservice. Magic is very colorful. Of this, I am sure.”
— Geoff Boucher
Photo of Alan Moore, circa 2001, in Northampton, England, shot by Graham Barclay for the Los Angeles Times.
Images from “Watchmen” courtesy of Warner Bros.
Cover image from “The Mindscape of Alan Moore,” courtesy of Shadowsnake Films.
Artwork of Rorschach from “Watchmen” graphic novel, drawn by Dave Gibbons, courtesy of DC Comics.