Alan Moore interview - Mustard comedy magazine
Alan Moore caricature

Mustard interview

Alan Moore

The acclaimed author of Watchmen and From Hell discusses
comics, comedy, movies and magic over copious amounts of tea.

~ 14,800 words ~

Originally published in Mustard #04

Mustard #04 page 01Mustard #04 page 16Mustard #04 page 17
Mustard #04 page 18Mustard #04 page 19Mustard #04 page 20Mustard #04 page 21
Mustard #04 page 22Mustard #04 page 23Mustard #04 page 24Mustard #04 page 25Mustard #04 page 26Mustard #04 page 27
Mustard #04 page 28Mustard #04 page 29Mustard #04 page 30Mustard #04 page 31Mustard #04 page 32Mustard #04 page 36
Alan Moore photo by Gavin Wallace/Hoax

Alan Moore in his living room. Photo: Gavin Wallace/Hoax

Part I: Comedy in comic books

Alan Moore sinks into a chair behind the coffee table in his home, an unassuming terraced house in Northampton. Bookshelves, tables and parts of the floor overflow with impressive looking volumes and occult paraphernalia. Comparatively, the kitchen – into which we follow him, tape recorder in hand, at several points during the afternoon – is like any you would come across in Midlands suburbia. Moore himself is a similar contradiction: he cuts an imposing Rasputin-like figure, impressive of hair and beard, with snake walking cane and skull-ringed fingers. But his manner is extremely warm and his Northampton accent belies a massive intellect. And boy, can he talk...

Do you see humour primarily as a tool for developing character, as comic relief, or simply for its own sake?

I see it as an invaluable tool, as all of them are. It's one of the notes on the piano that I've got to play on. If you've had a really horrific scene, then to strike a note of humour at exactly the right point without diffusing the horror can give it an entirely new contrast. I mean, some things I like to do just because I think they're funny.

Jack B Quick is the thing which, since Bojeffries, made me laugh the most when I was writing it. There's a story called I, Robert where he comes up with an artificial intelligence which is just a scarecrow, a tape recorder and some junk in a wheelbarrow. But it passes the Turing test authentically, so these things are mass-produced all over the world and eventually they take over. Even though they're just a scarecrow. So eventually Jack comes up with the solution as to how to overthrow the robots – the ‘Roberts' – which is: if we just stop pushing the wheelbarrows... they'll be helpless (laughs). When I wrote it I thought, actually I've just said something profound there. Probably the answer to all mankind's technological problems; if we just stop pushing the wheelbarrows, they'll be helpless.

Jack B Quick

Jack B Quick art by Kevin Nolan
© America's Best Comics LLC

So in some instances I just want to do comedy for its own sake, but comedy can also make people think about ideas in a different way. Most things benefit from a little touch of comedy here or there. Except perhaps funerals. Wait, no! I went and did the reading at my great friend Tom Hall's funeral. One of the finest musicians Northampton's ever produced. The best funeral I've ever been to at the time, and I got some great jokes into my reading. There was another guy I knew that ran a local heating company, The Dimmer Brothers. At the end of his funeral his brother said, “Trevor chose this piece of music because he wanted to be remembered for his contributions to the plumbing and heating industry”. And as they went out the church, they were playing Rawhide. Because he was a cowboy. Everybody was walking out of the church laughing and weeping. That's gotta work. Everything benefits from a bit of humour.

I mean, this is probably a bad thing to say to someone from a comedy magazine, but I don't like genre. I think that genre was something made up by some spotty clerk in WH Smiths in the 1920s to make his worthless fucking job a little bit easier for him: “it'd be easier if these books said what they were about on the spine”. My experience of life is that it is not divided up into genres; it's a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel. You know, with a bit of pornography if you're lucky.

Life isn't divided into genres. It's a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel.

In my new novel, Jerusalem, there's an awful lot of funny stuff, and there's supernatural stuff; there's stuff in the prologue that as good as Stephen King and it's just a description of my brother walking through a block of flats. It's horror. And there's social history, there's political stuff. Why not mix it all together? Because that's what life is actually like. We laugh, we cry, you know, we buy the t-shirt.

Humour is greatly aided by the occasional touch of horror. Otherwise Jam, or a great deal of Chris Morris' other stuff, wouldn't have been as effective. Juxtaposing these elements makes each shine all the brighter.

People often focus on the depressing, horrible stuff I've written, but I actually started with humour strips, like Maxwell the Magic Cat in Sounds, or a lot of the Future Shocks for 2000AD. There's always been a strong dark element in my writing, but also a strong comedy element.

Dodgem Logic

Dodgem Logic magazine

I found your editorials at the start of Dodgem Logic very funny.

I'm glad! I had chuckle over a few of them myself. I tell you what, the indicias, were where I did most of my best comedy writing on Dodgem Logic. But it was too small for anyone to read, which is the nature of indicias I suppose.

Yeah, I loved those. In Mustard we do something similar, with little running gags in the page footers, although few people notice them.

But it's worth it isn't it?


Dodgem Logic was a lot of fun, because I could do anything that I wanted with those articles. Astro Dick was very liberating. When everyone's taking you very seriously, I advise doing a comic strip about a penis in a space helmet. It kind of presses the restart button of your prestige.

I'm friends with several comedians, like Stewart Lee and Robin Ince. I was talking to Stew recently, asking him if he was going to spend the rest of his career using lazy pun-based titles for his shows. “When will it end? ‘Alice Stew The Looking Glass'? ‘A Room With A Stew'?” And he said “Ooh, ‘A room With A Stew' – I like that. Because it is a room with me in it.” So now he's lowered himself to using my intentionally sardonic title for his new show. And I can do nothing about it.


Part II: Comics and movie adaptations

Which of your works do you actually have the rights to?

Kevin O'Neill and I own League, which is why I was able to take it away from DC with such a flourish when they offended me over the V for Vendetta film. For the other ABC titles we still get royalties, but we don't own them, because when I made that non-creator-owned deal it was with Jim Lee, who's an officer and a gentleman. And then Jim got bought out by DC.

There's a brilliant book that I'd advise you to get called Men Of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones. Rick Veitch turned me on to it, saying, “this explains why everybody at DC acted so fucking weird when we worked there in the mid 80s.” I'd always known that Harry Donenfeld, the man who put DC together, was a confederate and a close associate of gangsters. But which gangsters was a surprise, because it was Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel!

You know, I love the comic medium. It is one that I shall never abandon. But the industry – in fact, increasingly all forms of industry – it's dark satanic mills. And in all my experiences of them, these people are gangsters by any other name. They might not be Meyer Lansky or Bugsy Siegel, but they are gangsters and I don't see why we put up with them, why we don't just take them out and shoot them. Is that a bit extreme?

I love the comic medium. It is one that I shall never abandon. But the industry, increasingly all forms of industry; it's dark satanic mills.

Several of your comics have been dumbed-down for movie versions. There seems to be a kind of dumb feedback loop in cinema; most films have so little depth that people lose the ability to watch anything more complex...

I agree, except that I would probably have a bleaker view; that it has already been going on for a couple of decades, and is now so entrenched that there does not appear to be any possible hope of a cultural recovery. It's an extreme view, it's cranky and it is kind of born of my problems with the movie industry that led to me quitting DC comics in a snit forever – which was great, very liberating and I feel fantastic about it – but which also really got me thinking about films.

Back at the start of my career, I met with Terry Gilliam to talk about the Watchmen film, and he said “How would you make a film of Watchmen?” And I said, “Well, frankly, if anybody had bothered to consult me, I would have said ‘I wouldn't'.” And I think he eventually came to agree.

I'd written Watchmen expressly because, on one level, I was a bit tired of this easy analogy between comics and movies that some of the most intelligent people in my medium still trot out without really thinking about. I mean, undoubtedly, someone who understands cinematic storytelling is going to be a better comic writer or artist than somebody who doesn't; Will Eisner went to see Citizen Kane 30 times, that's all fine.

The problem is that if comics are always seen in terms of cinema, then ultimately they can only be a film that doesn't move and doesn't have a soundtrack. With Watchmen I wanted to find those things which were unfilmable, that could only be done in a comic. So, for example, we had split-level narratives with a little kid reading a comic book, a news vendor going into a right-wing rant next to him and something else going on in the background in captions, all at the same time and interrelated.

These are things which you can do in a comic, but not even the greatest director in the world could manage, not even if they cram the backgrounds with sight gags, like Terry Gilliam, who would in many ways have been the best director for Watchmen. It's not the same as reading a comic, where you can flip back a few pages and look at a detail that Dave Gibbons put into the background to see if it really connects up with that image that you remember from a chapter or so back.

Whenever I read a film review where the critic has exhausted their repertoire of things that are nasty to say about a film, they'll accuse it of having a 'comic book plot', or 'comic book dialogue', and I think “by that, do you mean illiterate? Is that the subtext there?”. Because you need to be quite literate to read most of the comics that I write, or that I'm interested in. Whereas, actually, you don't need to be literate to watch a film.

This is not to say that there haven't been wonderful films made. What was it that was on the other day? Orphée – one of my favourites, Jean Cocteau. Now, there's special effects. He wants to have somebody walking into a mirror, so instead of throwing a million dollars at CGI, he fills a tray with mercury and turns the camera on its side. It must have cost him about five quid! I adore that. That's magic, the magic of cinema.

So, I started to think about films and why don't I really enjoy very many of them. One thing is, I think that the medium has had certain flaws since its inception. Not the industry, the medium. Cinema is technologically, and therefore financially, intensive. So inevitably you end up with accountants making the decisions rather than creators. Sure, occasionally a good film will slip through the net, but that still leaves you with a medium where 99% of the product – particularly in these Hollywood-governed times – is shit.

My daughter was saying the other day, “Yes, Dad, but 99% of everything is shit. It's Sturgeon's Law.” And I quite agree. There are plenty of shit comic books, novels and record albums – but they don't cost 100 million dollars to make. And when you're talking about sums like that, which is probably, what, the food or education budget for an emerging Third World nation? That's where it starts to cross over a line from being a little bit distasteful, to actually being evil.

I also don't like the immersive quality of film. In nearly every other medium, the audience is in control of the way in which they experience the work. At an art gallery, you can just glance at a painting, or stand there for a quarter of an hour, or come back to it. If you read a book and you're feeling a bit tired, you can put it to one side, you can read at your own pace. But with a film, you're dragged through the experience at an unvarying 24 frames a second.

Everything is being done for you: there's no space for the imagination. In a book, you have to create the smells, the sounds, the people's faces, their voices, the whole ambience, all from the code of printed words on a page. That's wonderful: you're having to do a little bit of work. And I think that the little bit of work is what most of us, in truth, genuinely enjoy about good art. But now we have this spoon-fed culture, which movies have got to take an awful lot of the blame for.

Watchmen wasn't about a bunch of a slightly dark superheroes in a dark version of our modern world. It was about the storytelling techniques.

Can I play Devil's advocate and ask if there's any upside to the Watchmen movie?

Dr Manhatten in Watchmen, art by Dave Gibbons

Dr Manhatten in Watchmen,
art by Dave Gibbons
© DC Comics

Well, Warner Brothers behaved, in my opinion, appallingly badly, even by their standards, by putting pressure on me indirectly via my late friend Steve Moore, a man to whom I owe my entire career and who was at the time coping with a terminally-ill brother. They'd offered Steve the job of writing the Watchmen film novelisation; he'd done a great adaptation of V for Vendetta and they knew he was the only person that I'd give the okay to. This looked like a ray of light in a very dark time for Steve, as he hadn't worked for years.

Then they announced they were going to bring out Tales of the Black Freighter as a full comic, a facsimile of the one the kid reads in Watchmen. I didn't think it was a very good idea, as it's a bit like taking all the counterpoint out of Mozart and releasing it on its own record. But Dave Gibbons wanted to do it, and he's a lovely man who I have a lot of respect for, and I know he'd got a completely different approach to this film than I had. So I said it was fine and Dave said, 'yeah, DC Comics said you'd be quietly compliant'. And I said, 'why did they say that? Have they forgotten who I am?' (laughs) He said he didn't know, that it was a cryptic comment to him.

I said it was fine, as long as my name's not on it. Dave said 'don't worry, they're going to use the fictional author's name from the book'. Then I thought, hang on, if nobody's name's on it, how will anyone know who wrote it? I said to Dave, can they put a note on the inside cover saying 'Alan Moore is not participating in this project?'. He said that sounded reasonable.

I heard shortly thereafter that it wouldn't be going ahead. Then Steve Moore heard out of the blue from Warner Bros that they weren't going to do the novelisation, he wouldn't be getting the work, and I realised what they meant by 'quietly compliant'.

As you can imagine, I was quite cross. I wouldn't put my name to their wretched little side project, so they took it out on my oldest and best friend.

At that point I spoke to Dave Gibbons and said that, previously, I'd been quite prepared for this wretched film to come and go because they had at least taken my name off it. But in their treatment of Steve, I feel that all bets are off, and I'm at liberty to say what I actually think about it.

It's a completely pointless idea, because Watchmen, at least in my mind, wasn't about a bunch of slightly dark superheroes in a slightly dark version of our modern world. It was about the storytelling techniques, and the way that me and Dave were altering the range of what it was possible to do in comics; this new way that we'd stumbled upon of telling a comic book story.

The plot was more or less incidental. All of its elements were properly considered, but it's not the fact that Watchmen told a dark story about a few superheroes that makes it a book that is still read and remembered today. It's the way that it's told and how it made ingenious use of the comic strip medium.

From everything I've heard, the director belatedly realised that, no, he couldn't handle the Black Freighter narrative in the film, because that's an example of me doing something that can only be done in a comic. He also realised he couldn't include the back-up material. So they ended up releasing animations of The Black Freighter and Under the Hood separately. Now, I'm sure that's terribly clever, but I can't help think that me and Dave were able to make this as one coherent package, 25 years ago, using eight sheets of folded paper and some ink. It was a completely thought through, coherent package in its most perfect realisable form.

Sure, I've heard it's great seeing Dave Gibbons' images reproduced on the big screen; “they're exactly the same as in the comic, but they're bigger, moving and making noise!” Well, putting it cruelly, I guess it's good that there's a children's version for those who couldn't manage to follow a superhero comic from the 1980s.

It's the same with Will Eisner's The Spirit, surely one of the greatest comic strips of all time, which was butchered and made into a ridiculous film by Frank Miller, where he fell back on similar visual techniques of Sin City, as if that's all he knows. He produced a film about a character that doesn't look like The Spirit, doesn't occupy a world that's recognisable as Eisner's, has none of the charm of Eisner's story, and which seems to think the whole point is a story about a crime-fighter who lives in a cemetery. The whole point of The Spirit was the way Eisner told the story in the comic book form.

So, when that business with Steve Moore happened, I cursed the film and pretty much everything to do with it. And I use the word 'curse' in a very professional sense.

About a week later I heard about the lawsuit between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros over the rights to make the film. On Christmas Eve, as a special present just to me, the judge awarded the case to Fox and now Warners will have to give them a chunk of the money. Apparently, it will now have to do as well as The Dark Knight for Warners just to break even.

And the ruling has also suddenly opened up the whole chain of ownership issue. Comic creators who had their work made into film or TV series may well bring lawsuits against the film makers and comic companies. And it serves them right. They've all been making money out of the work of people who weren't credited and who never got more than their page rate for creating these characters. Comic book films are based upon a theft. Hollywood may regret basing such a lucrative industry on such a shaky premise.

In a nutshell, that's how I feel about the Watchmen movie. I don't think any good will come of it. I wouldn't like to claim that my curse brought any of this about, but it gives one a warm glow to think my diabolical powers may have triumphed. (chuckles)

Alan Moore collage by AM - see desktop wallpaper page for full artist credits


Part III: Drugs as a writing tool

What effect have drugs had on your writing?

I started smoking dope around the age of 15 and acid around 16. Had a biiig year of taking acid a couple of times each week. I'd done about a hundred trips, and this was when acid was acid, let me tell you – this was 500 mikes, 1,000 mikes a tab. I've never really taken acid since. I've confined myself to an enormous amount of hash, which I do 24/7. It doesn't seem to turn me into a shambling pothead, either. I use it to work, always have done, it gives me kind of an edge.

There was a physicist who was accepting the Noble Prize for Physics some years ago – I think it was for molecular biology. During his acceptance speech he thanked Mum, Dad, all the rest, but also said: “I feel that I should mention the enormous contribution that psilocybin has made to my research. I'd be sitting down there on molecules, watching the particles go by and understanding the way that they fitted together. And psilocybin gave me that ability.” I've also heard another scientist comment that “caffeine science is very different from marijuana science”.

So, yeah, I still take mushrooms. I haven't done so for several years now, and even then, always as part of a magic ritual. I don't take anything purely for entertainment's sake, which I think is perhaps my saving grace. We are certainly not the first culture to use drugs, but we may well be one of the first to have a drug problem. I think there is a place for drugs in society, but it's a shamanic space that we don't really have anymore.

Robert Graves noted that a lot of cultures' names for mushrooms are 'snots' or 'shits', things like that. He says it's like telling a child 'kaka – poison', sort of dirty, because the mushroom is taboo, which is not the same as just being dirty. Taboo is, yes, profane but it's also sacred. The mushrooms were sacred at one point, which meant you weren't supposed to eat them unless you were properly initiated in a tradition; you'd done your Eleusinian Mysteries or whatever.

And that's part of the problem: in our current society, the only context we have to take drugs in is a leisure context. Which a lot of the time is disastrous. Something I noticed when I was about 16 was the difference between drawings inspired by LSD and drawings attempted while under the effects of LSD.

With a lot of those Promethea issues, especially that kabbalistic run, I was doing magical rituals that often – not always, but often – involved drugs, in order to put myself in those spaces so I could write about them. I think it was issue 23 – the one that was the second sphere of the Kabbalah, the grey, sort of pearly place – I'd had Steve Moore up, we'd had this incredible magical experience, then he went home. I was still sitting down here, buzzing with the mushrooms, and I suddenly thought, right, Promethea: I know exactly how I'm going to do this next issue that I'm gonna start tomorrow, I know that the series is going to last until issue 32, because 32 is a good number – this has just been revealed to me. I know that the last issue is going to be some kind of incredibly weird comic book that somehow unfolds into a marvellous psychedelic poster, and great, well that's the rest of Promethea sorted out, so I'll go to bed now.

The next day I laid out the entirety of issue #23 in four hours, every page. It just came in this incredible burst of energy. It then took me 15 hours to write, lay out, dialogue and type the entire issue. And then two years later I finally got around to issue #32 with the giant poster thing.

So, yeah, those are instances where I didn't try writing anything in the surge of the drug rush, but the next day I'd got all the information there. It's important to have a channel, I think. If I was just taking this stuff purely for entertainment, then I wouldn't have anything to do with that energy. And it is an energy, which I can direct. I can ground it in this huge variety of works that I'm doing at any one time.

It works great for me; I think I've probably been more creative – my output's certainly been higher – since I formally took up magic. And that was one of the big proving points of it: I'd said to people, if I become less productive or if the work turns to shit, then pull me out, because I might not know. But that hasn't happened, in fact generally quite the opposite.

Mushrooms are the only psychedelic drugs that I take, and I don't take them very often. But I would trust them. Once you've done them a few times it's very easy to feel a sense of entity. You can feel that there is a characteristic in this level of consciousness which almost seems... playful? Or aware, or sometimes a bit spooky. I know that is probably something which I am imposing, or that other people have imposed upon the experience, but you get the impression that they're probably called magic mushrooms for a reason. And given that these have been the shamanic drug of preference since Neolithic times, Paleolithic times, then we've got quite a good history of a relationship with mushrooms that goes back quite a long way, and they seem to treat us alright.

I want my work to be acting like a drug, as near as I can manage. If you put the words in the right order with the pictures you can create a psychedelic state, a fugue state.

Have you ever considered a work detailing your insights into drug use?

Well, probably not, because I actually tend to think of drugs as an implement and a tool, rather than a thing that is interesting in itself. I'm reminded of that wonderful Spacemen 3 song: Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. Which is a pretty good description of my working methods. I'm kind of taking drugs to write comics to take drugs to. Most of the psychedelia, I want it to be there on the page in the writing. I want my work to be acting like a drug as near as I can manage. I'd like to think that if you put the words in the right order with the pictures, you can create a psychedelic state, a fugue state.

With my performances, I have a dense monologue going on: complicated music at the same time as a film show or fire breather or ballet dancer, so that you're overloading the audience. It's a technique people have used since time immemorial; the Catholic Church has its stained glass window light show, incense, incantations, sonorous music, beautiful architecture – trying to push people into this peak aesthetic experience, which I think is very close to the psychedelic state, which is very close to the magical state.

One of the best letters from a fan I ever got – which I lost and wish that I could write back, so if she's reading this, get in touch! – was about what Watchmen had meant to her when she'd read it at 13. She said she was just coming to the conclusion that the world wasn't as straightforward and linear as she'd been told, when she'd discovered Watchmen.

She was with a load of girls playing softball, in New York in the late 80s. She'd been sent as an outfielder, where you don't get much to do, right at the edge of the park, near a little old guy on a bench watching them play. She glanced over at him and realised he was masturbating, watching all the 13-year-old girls playing softball. She was standing there thinking “What?!” when he looked up at her, this old man with his cock in his hand, he looked up with a wretched expression, and said, “Fuck off and leave me alone! Everybody's been here before me!” And at that moment the softball hit her on the back of the head.

And I thought... “everybody's been here before me”, it's like 'everybody's been me'. Everybody's been a lonely old man masturbating on a bench at a softball game. 'You've all been me – stop pretending that I'm outside the human circle'. Something like that.

Are you still using drugs in your work?

I haven't done any of the hard-core ritual stuff for some years now. I had one experience early on with my magic stuff where, just for a few seconds, I was a boy of about 17 and I was dying in a trench just outside Ypres. It was the small hours of the morning – that grey bit just before dawn when the birds are singing. I was lying on my left side up against the side of the trench, because my right foot was infected with maggots. It didn't hurt, but it itched. Unbelievably. And there were other kids, teenagers, slumped up against the other side of the trench and some of them were asleep, I knew, and some of them weren't. And I'd never had sex with a woman in my life. The woman I had the closest relationship with emotionally was my sister – I don't really have a sister – who I was missing profoundly, and wishing I could see her one more time.

Me and Melinda were doing the working together, both on drugs. She'd seen me lay back and close my eyes, and noticed that my eye sockets were full of cobwebs and there was blood and worms in my hair. And she thought, “Eurgh, that's horrible. I wonder if I should wake him up and tell him? No, I don't want to impose my bad vision.” At that point I sat up, said “Jesus Christ!” and burst into tears. I'm normally not terribly emotional, but I couldn't get myself under control for about three-quarters of an hour. I couldn't stop crying, because I'd just suddenly realised that the First World War had happened.

And my immediate feeling was, 'Was that me? Was that a previous life I'd had, like Shirley MacLaine tells us?' And I thought no, I'm not convinced of that. The feeling that I have is more, 'Was everybody everybody?' Which again ties back to 'everybody's sat here before me'. Is there some huge commonality? Are we all the same person? Is this all God talking to itself?

Back in the early stretches of my magical career, the first few years, that side of magic was much more important and necessary to me. I needed the spectacular experiences to convince me that there was anything of worth in magic. These days, my magical practice is more about trying to make sense of the intense information that was contained in those early experiences.

Working on The Book Of Magic has been mine and Steve's only magical practice for some years. But that was certainly more than enough.

Crowley said that there isn't a lot more to magic than writing about it. Which isn't quite true, but I know what he meant. And certainly disseminating these ideas, polishing them, presenting them in a form acceptable for an audience, took quite a bit of work. To explain what we mean by magic exactly, to put it into a historical context, and provide practical information so as to tell the reader how they might approach the same subject.

That has been a lot more demanding than taking a bunch of drugs and having a psychedelic rollercoaster experience for five or six hours. It's taken years of sustained work. There's deeper issues that need investigating. So it definitely changes.

From Hell From Hell

From Hell art by Eddie Campbell. © Moore & Campbell


Part IV: Magic and the occult

What was the reaction to From Hell in occult circles?

Foolishly, I'd gone to some kind of occult forum. I'm interested in the subject, but not the scene. Some of those people creep me out. This guy came over and said “I've psychically confirmed that the things that you said in From Hell were what happened”, and I said: “well, that's lovely, but I made it up”.

I've had people ask me if the pentacle over London is real. Well, you know, those points are in those places, and you can draw lines through them to make this kind of wonky pentacle. But then, with a city that has a concentration of historical stuff like London, a small enough map and a thick enough magic marker, any three points are in a line. You know, you shouldn't get fixated on all the DaVinci Code stuff. It's easy to make meaningful patterns from a field of noise. It's one of our great human talents that we can look at a Rorschach blot and we can see something in it. But don't mistake that sort of tendency for genuine insight.

The Birth Caul performance is your only autobiographical work. How did you decide on this subject?

Dave Jay, from Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, and Tim Perkins came over and we did some magic mushrooms. We asked, 'what should our next performance be about?'. Which is one of the great uses for magic: you don't even have to think up the ideas yourself. And we then had an experience where for the whole evening, instead of talking about angels and demons and all the stuff that had been on the previous CD, we found ourselves talking about our childhoods – me in particular, I was just spewing out all of this stuff. So we thought, right, so this is about childhood.

Then me Mum died and, going through her effects, we found the birth caul, which I've still got over there somewhere.

We were trying to set up the performance in Newcastle. They said, “Where do you want to put this event on?” I said, “How about an old infants' school?” They couldn't find one, but they did have a lovely old Victorian magistrate's building, which we loved as a venue, even if it hadn't got anything to do with our subject.

So I wrote the whole thing and we did the event, then afterwards I found out that it wasn't only sailors that used to prize the birth caul, it was lawyers as well – in fact, it's the origin of the barristers' wig: they used to wear a birth caul on their head to denote wisdom. On the first page of David Copperfield, his birth caul is advertised for sale and it's bought by a solicitor. So when we'd done the performance in the courtroom, it'd been perfect all the time.

What advice would you give to someone who's starting out in magic?

Hrrrrmm... alright. Fill your head with any old shit that you come across and then rely upon developing a sense of discrimination, so that eventually you'll be able to sort out the stuff that is rubbish – which is a lot of it – from the stuff that makes some sort of sense to you.

Look at the lives of people like Aleister Crowley and Austin Spare, read two or three biographies of these people. Especially Crowley. Opinions tend to vary. Ask yourself if you really think there is anything in all this. Ask yourself how you think it works.

I approach magic the same way that I approach writing – no one taught me how to do it, I just thought: let's take a look at this from outside, see if I can figure it out and come up with my own approach from there. Y'know, magic is an art, so I approached it the same way I would any art.

I mean, for me, the whole turning-point in my thinking about magic was when I realised that the only place this has to happen is inside your head. And that doesn't mean it isn't real. I think we have a problem in that we live in a materialist society – I don't mean “everybody's a bread-head, man”, I mean that we believe that the material world is the only one that's important, the only one that exists. Despite the fact that believing that requires thinking, and science can't actually explain how we think. It's the ghost in the machine, forever outside the province of science. You can't reproduce a thought in an empirical laboratory experiment, so you cannot properly talk about thought. Thought is a supernatural event which we all experience every minute of the day.

The world of ideas is much more important than the material one. I mean, what's more important, the reality of a chair or the idea of a chair? I'd say it looks like the physical world is actually predicated upon the intangible world of ideas and the mind. It looks like that's the more important territory. Okay, so let's treat it literally as a territory. There might be ways to explore it, ways since time immemorial that people have used to explore it. Drugs. Meditation. Some unpleasant ones like scourging and fasting, which never sound like much fun to me. Lots of ways that people have found over the years to get themselves deeper into this mental space.

There's also books written by people who have been there before you. Kabbalah could be seen as one of the maps of this imaginary posited space that you can explore with your mind, and which does appear to be inhabited. The Enochian system of John Dee is another map of an imaginary space, one that has some correspondence with Kabbalah but seems to be a completely different universe.

And then the best way is experiment. Carefully. Realise that most magicians end up mad, or dead, or worse in some way. That doesn't mean that all of them have to. It means that most of them do. Ask yourself how much you really want to know. It sounds very good doesn't it, conjuring demons, or stuff like that? It sounds kind of cool, a bit X-Files and very romantic. Do you really want that? Make up your mind before you go in the door, because that's the thing about magic being something to do with language; you have to be very careful what you say. All words are magic words, and you can find them coming back to haunt you. And in my experience, magic always gives you exactly what you ask for.

In practical terms, I'd say my chosen methods, obviously, are drugs, and creative work itself. If it's drugs, it should be a drug that you're comfortable with, that's not addictive and that won't send you mad. Something like psilocybin. In whatever dose you're comfortable with, and then something to focus your mind, a ritual. Make it up yourself, or borrow it from a book. Doesn't really matter, but frame your intention in a little ritual. Burn a certain sort of incense that you associate with the subject of your enquiry. Have a certain colour around that you associate with it. This is where Kabbalah is quite useful, because it's a huge chart of correspondences, so you can theme your rituals with a nice book on Kabbalah.

And may I please stress that when I say the word 'Kabbalah' it means something very, very different to when Guy Ritchie's ex-missus talks about it. You will notice I don't have any bits of fucking red string and I just drink water out of the tap... it's good enough for me.

One of the books you're going to use the most is Aleister Crowley's 777, which has got tables. You don't have to read all the essays, you won't understand them and he was slightly mad anyway. There are simple tables that tell you all you need to know about the Kabbalah. Get yourself a good tarot deck or some other divinatory tool – they're quite good as a way of getting into magic. I'd recommend the Thoth tarot deck; other people prefer Waite. Whichever works best for you. And then try it out, play around with it and you'll start to notice that it's changing the way you think, it's giving you a different language of symbols to work with. And having a different language is the same as having a different consciousness. It's a linguistic phenomenon.

And the first time one of these things sits up and answers you, don't freak out. You're not going mad, they're not that scary, really. Respect them. Treat them as you would anybody. Don't go 'aaaaargh' when you see them, because that would offend anybody. Just treat them as you would any sort of imaginary entity from ancient Persia that you happen to find yourself talking to and you'll be fine.

It doesn't matter if they are only some sort of externalized part of your own personality, as long as they give you accurate information. That is the key criterion. If they tell you all the stuff that they apparently tell David Icke, you should perhaps ask yourself whether this is a decent source of information. If it seems to be morally and intellectually and emotionally true, then I'd say that, even if it is a hallucination, it's as good a source of information as any.


Part V: Question Tag

As is Mustard tradition, here's a few questions from some other interviewees:

Matt Berry caricature Matt Berry: Who do you think Jack the Ripper really was?

As we said in From Hell's second appendix, Dance of the Gull Catchers, we'll never know who the entity called 'Jack the Ripper' actually was. When we were doing the book, Eddie Campbell said it was probably “the lunatic nearest the asylum door when it was left open”. I'd say that's the most likely explanation. Something chaotic and unknowable.

He was a creature created out of those times. Even the name is a construct: it came from the letters signed “yours truly, Jack the Ripper”, which were almost certainly actually written by a journalist called Best.

And you can see how a century of Ripperologists have kind of added to this accreted myth until it's about Freemasons, royalty, a Jewish conspiracy, Red Indians, whatever we choose to attach to it. It's got very little to do with whoever it was that killed those women in Whitechapel all those years ago.

I genuinely do believe that Jack the Ripper is best considered as a superposition in the quantum sense. He's not William Gull or Montague Druitt or George Chapman, or any of the other suggested murderers. He's somehow all of them until we focus upon one position. People fixate upon one individual, just as a physicist focusing on a superposition will collapse that down to whatever particle he ends up observing.

For example, a guy called John Morrison become convinced that the murders were the work of an escaped lunatic called Jimmy Kelly. With some money that I think he got from Mickey Rourke, who had just filmed A Prayer for the Dying at the Leytonstone Cemetery, he had a gravestone put up for Mary Kelly's previously unmarked gravesite, referring to her as the 'prima donna of Spitalfields', which is odd phraseology. It was later taken down and I heard from Iain Sinclair that Morrison now keeps the fragments of the stone cross under his bed.

In our local paper there was a report about a man called Mallard who believed that Jack the Ripper was a member of his family from the Doddridge Church area of Northampton. His somewhat slender grounds for this theory were that a father in the family had committed suicide and one of the sons then moved down to London and was working in a slaughterhouse in the Whitechapel area during the time of the murders.

Not the most convincing theory, but I was quite taken with this story because my mother's maiden name was Mallard and her family lived around the Doddridge Church area. So in answer to Matt's question, I'd say that after all of my researches, it turns out that Jack the Ripper was probably my granddad. It's funny how these things work out, but what can you do?

Graham Linehan caricature Graham Linehan: What are the good and bad aspects of having a wizard's beard?

Had I known that I'd be taking up the profession of wizard when I grew my beard I'd have probably thought twice, because it's a bit obvious, isn't it?

Actually, even saying that I grew my beard is probably putting it too strongly. I stopped shaving or going to the barbers as much out of laziness as anything else.

It's been there since I was about 23, and when I became a magician at the age of 40, I genuinely hadn't given the beard a second thought.

So no, there aren't really any advantages. There are quite a lot of disadvantages in that apparently people without beards – a sweeping generalisation – are unable to distinguish between anybody who has long hair and a beard. Apparently we all look the same. I've been compared to, let me see: Jesus, God, Charles Manson, Billy Connolly, Rasputin and, on one memorable occasion, Crystal Tips from the 70s cartoon Crystal Tips and Alistair. All of this is like me saying that anybody who has short hair and no beard looks the same; that Graham looks like Brad Pitt or Lord Charles the ventriloquist's dummy.

There are also other drawbacks to a beard of this size. If you're not very careful with the grooming, you can find you've got a precise log of your last five meals in there. You do sometimes get things trapped in it. I once, and this is absolutely true, had a live moth caught in my beard for at least 20 minutes. It was camouflaged and it was quite surprising when that flew out of there. Along with a baby cow.

Sam Bain caricature Sam Bain: When you signed my copy of The Killing Joke in 1988 you told me it would be your last ever superhero comic. Why wasn't it?

Well at that time I was about leave DC Comics for good, I'd said that I wouldn't work for the other big publisher, Marvel, and I was just about to move onto a whole range of projects that didn't involve superheroes – Big Numbers, Lost Girls, A Small Killing, From Hell and Voice of the Fire.

All of these took an incredible amount of time to produce and because the market was superhero obsessed, they did not bring in a large huge amount of money.

Big Numbers did very well for a comic book about fractal maths and shopping, but the artist ran screaming into the night. From Hell, which took 10 years to complete, had got a readership, in its serial form, of about 17,000. Lost Girls took 16 years to complete and most of that time I was paying for Melinda to do the work because we had two or three publishers collapse under us.

Then round about 1993 I had an offer to work for Image Comics, which had been set up in opposition to Marvel and DC and seemed, at the time, quite a rebellious venture. So for them, I thought I could do some superheroes that weren't going along with all of the rather dreary post-Watchmen stuff.

I decided that what I actually liked about superheroes was the sheer invention and fun that they represented to me when I was seven. So I indulged in the 1963 series, which was meant as a reminder of what comic's values had once been. And I started working on Supreme, which I had quite a bit of fun with. And certainly the money was very welcome, in that it helped us support the other ongoing projects.

Then their publishers, Awesome Comics, went under. By this time I'd been working with quite a raft of artists who I felt responsible for. So I moved a new line of titles – the ABC line – to Wildstorm, run by Jim Lee, who'd been one of the Image publishers and who I had a certain amount of respect for.

The ABC line could be seen as superhero comics, but I was trying to run the tape of the superhero line backwards to an earlier point and then imagine how it could have played forward differently.

Tom Strong is based on pre-superhero pulp characters such as Doc Savage, even Tarzan. Promethea also has roots in the fantasy adventures from pulp magazines and comic strips.

I realised that most of the superheroes had their origins in the fantastical literature of the late 19th/early 20th Century. Hulk, if you ran him back far enough, was Jekyll and Hyde. All of the invisible characters in comics probably went back to HG Wells' The Invisible Man and you could probably trace a lot of the superfast characters back to Wells' little known tale The New Accelerator.

Probably one of the earliest examples of someone convening a group of superheroes, if you want to call it that, was Jason and the Argonauts. The story of the Golden Fleece was apparently a kind of Bronze Age ad campaign for a new trade route that had lots of fleeces on offer; they cobbled a tale together to publicise the route, involving lots of mythological heroes like Hercules.

Anyway, I'd signed a contract with Wildstorm, and then they were bought out by DC Comics, who had previously tried to buy out Awesome Comics on the understanding that they'd get me as part of the deal. Which meant that I was now working for DC again with a raft of largely superhero titles.

Since then, I've probably moved even further away from superheroes. I tend to think that they're become compensatory fantasies for a kind of cowardice. The people who produce these comics are creating stories of incredibly brave men and women who are always on the side of the oppressed and never shirk from their duty, and yet at the same time they're knowingly working in an industry that has always oppressed the people working for it.

The genre was incredibly influential on my childhood, with the qualities of imagination and creativity and sheer fun that it represented. But my position on superheroes at the moment is pretty remote. That's not to say that I might not, at some point in the future, find them a suitable thing to play around with again, to try and find some unexplored, unbroken ground.

So in answer to Sam's question, at that time, in 1988, I was very much intent on putting as much distance between me and superheroes as possible.

Batman in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke

The Killing Joke art by Brian Bolland
© DC Comics

Actually, I think I remember Sam at that comics signing – I assume he was the one with a camera mounted on his head and a microphone broadcasting his self-conscious inner thoughts to all the people in Gosh Comics' basement.

Now that I've linked him up with this early purchase of The Killing Joke I'm going to have to carefully watch Peep Show to see if they're working up to a denouement where Mark and Jeremy realise that they're essentially psychological reflections of each other; that there's just one bad day separating Mark from Jeremy and they're locked into an ultimately fatal relationship that will end with a violent confrontation in a hall of mirrors. If so, they'll be hearing from my lawyers. Who do not exist.


Part VI: Jerusalem

{We talked to Alan about his new novel on three occasions over nine years. Here's the first time, in late 2005:}

What can you tell us about Jerusalem, the new novel you've started?

Voice of the Fire

Voice of the Fire © Alan Moore.
Cover by José Villarrubia

I decided that my first novel, Voice of the Fire, which was purely set in the town of Northampton, was much too far-reaching and cosmopolitan, and I really ought to stick to what I know. So the next one, which is going to be a much bigger novel by the looks of it, is going to be about the few blocks that I grew up on. The novel after that is going to be about my living room, or this armchair (laughs).

Jerusalem all came to me in a rush. Having turned 50, the odd thought of mortality does occur to you. Realistically, you've got about 25 years, you know? That's half what you've had already, and you know how quick that went. So, there's nothing to be scared of, I don't think, but it might do to examine some of these thoughts rather than shut them out. To say, okay: what do I really think about life and death and all of this stuff that we seem to be involved in?

Einstein and Hawking seem to agree that this is a four-dimensional universe, with the fourth spatial dimension being what we perceive as time. So, it's not that the fourth dimension is time, it's more like time is the shadow of the fourth dimension and it's only our perception that we're moving through it.

I realised I've touched upon this, seemingly, throughout my entire writing career. I've got stories about this sort of notion in 2000AD, there's Dr Manhattan's view of time in Watchmen and all the stuff in From Hell.

C Howard Hinton, one of the Victorian mathematicians who first proposed a mathematical fourth dimension, said you'd have to suppose that it's only our awareness that we're moving through time. That nothing is actually changing; the universe is a four-dimensional solid, like a great big egg with the Big Bang at one end, the Big Crunch at the other end, and every moment that has ever or will ever exist, suspended, forever, in between.

So if this is the case, you'd have to think of a human life as being a fourth-dimensional shape which is about 6 foot by 3 foot by 2 foot deep, by about 70 years long. So I imagine it'd look a bit like a centipede. Something like that, with Muybridge arms, the multiple arms and legs. But these things would be little filaments in the giant egg of space-time and they'd be suspended there forever.

So your birth and your death are no more meaningful than the soles of your shoes and the top of your head. I don't exist 6 foot 4 above sea level. That is not a great cause for concern to me. If you start to see birth and death as things in a physical geography where time is ignored, then, does that mean that – forget reincarnation and heaven and everything like that – we just have our lives over and over and over again? That this is not the first time we've been here having this conversation? That in some senses we've already been dead for centuries, and in another sense our most remote ancestors have not yet been born?

It would also mean that we don't have free will and would explain things like déjà vu and premonitions. It would also suggest that we are already outside the third dimension; we're reading this, reviewing it. If you think of our lives as a book, a narrative, when you finish the last page of the book, 'The End', and close it, the book doesn't self-destruct. It's still there, all the characters and the events of their lives are still there, in one entity, in one thing. And I wonder if it might be something like that.

[Finishing the tea he's been making] Now, what was the sugars arrangement again? Help yourself to the milk.

My first novel, Voice of the Fire, was set entirely in Northampton. I've now decided this was much too far-reaching and cosmopolitan.

So, Schopenhauer said that it wasn't just space that exploded out of the primal particle – it was space-time. He said God does not create the universe in the transitive sense but in the immanent sense, which means that God didn't create the Universe 10 billion years ago and then just walk off and do something else, but God, or this notion of 'God', creates the Universe nanosecond by nanosecond. Every instant. Which is a lovely, mind-boggling idea.

Anyway, this thinking was just for the purposes of fiction. I don't know if that really is what happens, but since I've had the idea it's been eerily difficult to disprove.

So for Jerusalem, my idea was: what if we were already dead and our third-dimensional lives were almost like a book or a drama that we could review from outside time, in whatever existence we may have there? That this life might just be a third-dimensional facet of a fourth-dimensional structure. We might be like little barnacles or something, growing on the outside of space-time.

And if this is true, then everything is fourth-dimensional: me, everybody I know. This matchbox has a fourth-dimensional equivalent that I can't perceive. This room, this house, this street, this neighbourhood, every neighbourhood, every town – are there fourth dimensional towns unfolded above these? Sort of timeless, where everything is there forever?

So I began to think of this in light of the few miserable blocks where I grew up, 'the Boroughs', a square mile of dirt, a horrible area. It's the red light district, there's a prostitute who gets beaten and raped – it's reported every month, it happens every week. There was a Somali guy threatening to kill himself under armed police siege. My sister-in-law's cousin strangled his wife in a block of flats there. It's been the poorest area of the town for the last few hundred years and it's a fucking hellhole. Nothing good ever happens there.

If you start looking back beyond the 1500s, that area was the whole town, it was Northampton. Which means Shakespeare's King John opens at the end of our street, where he had his castle. This was where three of the Crusades were raised by Richard the Lionheart; where the first ever poll tax was raised, which lead to Wat Tyler's revolt in the 1380s; where the first ever parliament in the world was raised.

And now it's the station where the sex workers arrive from Milton Keynes and Rugby – there's an overnight truck park at the other end of Andrews Road, rich pickings for the vice girls. So you've got these crack-head prostitutes in the area where Thomas à Becket was condemned; he ducked out, got on a horse, rode down Andrew's Road and eventually got to France for the next three years, before returning and getting killed in the Abbey.

Charlie Chaplin did his first ever stage performance at the New Variety theatre on the corner of the Burroughs, the junction with Horseshoe Street and Gold Street. Y'know, this starts to get a bit suspicious. Philip Doddridge was the man who basically introduced Non-Conformism into English religion and totally changed the face of the Church of England – he did it all from the Castle Hill Ministry, which is right in this square mile of dirt.

Oliver Cromwell rode out with Fairfax from the Boroughs, from Marefair, just up from the station, when he went to finish the English Civil War up at Naseby. The War of the Roses concluded in Cow Meadow, just at the fringe of the Boroughs, that was where the king was captured. Henry the Sixth, I think. This is a tiny insignificant area – it's worse than insignificant, it's a black hole. It's ASBO land, you know? One of the chapters of Jerusalem is going to be called ASBOs of Desire.

And I also thought, my family came from this place for about three generations. Let's have a look at my family history. Of course, once you open those kinds of closets... there's not just skeletons, I've got entire ossuaries. You could reassemble tyrannosauruses from what I've got in my closet. We found madness, incest... deep, tragic things that, if they'd happened to kings or queens in antiquity, would have been the subject of classic tragedy. But they didn't, they happened to working class scumbags in this forgotten area that nobody cared about. And this is the way it goes with history – we only ever get the history of Church and State. Because none of the rest of us matter. Yet there is this fantastic history, the history in people's families, in people's neighbourhoods.

So all of these ideas kind of churned up together, and blossomed into this book that's got hold of me called Jerusalem. I've written the first chapter in 10 days, it's 30 pages, something like that. The first chapter of Voice Of The Fire was 60 pages long and took me six months. This is just pouring out.

I don't usually rewrite. The only thing I rewrote with Voice Of The Fire was the last chapter, because I'd written it in a bit of a hurry as I thought the deadline was looming sooner than it was. Then it turned out that I'd got an extra couple of months, so I rewrote it and it was much better. With this one, I've written it and printed it out, and now I'm going back and painstakingly polishing it. I figure that's how I'll do it: write each chapter in a rush and polish it before moving on to the next one. It's got a building feeling to it: each chapter is like a little brick, and I've got this three-part architectural construction that I'm starting to plan out, and if I make each of the bricks perfect then it will be a real cathedral of a book.

I've also been drawing the cover, which is a four dimensional view of a block of flats, twisting up towards the reader.

[Pulling tobacco and papers from his pocket] Sorry, is it all right if I smoke by the way? I'm having a little bit of tobacco withdrawal.

{Now on to part two, in 2009:}

How's the book been coming on since we spoke four years ago?

A Small Killing

A Small Killing
art by Oscar Zarate © Moore & Zarate

Jerusalem is the biggest project I'm doing, the one that obsesses me the most. Immediately after we last spoke, I decided it was insane to work on the cover of what was going to be a 35-chapter book, so I'd better stop. I'm really glad that I did, because a cover for what the book was going to be about then wouldn't have been appropriate to what the book has developed into. I've still got that partially drawn cover and I'm waiting until the book's written, then I'll go back and finish it.

The idea of carefully polishing each chapter as soon as I finished it also went out the window. I got into the momentum of the novel and started turning out chapters, planning to go back and check them later. Round about this time, I started to employ my great friend and mentor Steve Moore, as an editor. I was determined not to have a publishing house editor near this book, but I wanted someone to pick up my spelling and grammatical errors, or the bits where I'd been unclear or done something stylistically embarrassing. On that level, Steve's one of the best editors in the business. He learned how to edit old school through the various children's comics he worked on in the 60s. I had Steve editing the various chapters of the first book – Jerusalem divides into three parts, there are 11 chapters in each part, a prologue and an epilogue. When I got to the end of the first book, I went back and revised the previous 12 chapters according to Steve's revisions, but as the book has progressed, and I've realised what a huge and complex thing it is. I've told him to hold off until I've got the whole thing finished. We'll have to do a huge editing job and a final revision before it's ready for publication.

As for the actual writing of the book, I'm on chapter 26 of 35, exactly at the three-quarter mark. I'm only just starting to realise the scale of the thing and how it's all going to come together. I've had the blueprint of how to do it from the very beginning. When I spoke to you I had about 35 chapter titles – smartarse titles like ASBOs of Desire. I'd written a couple of lines of notes under each title suggesting what they might be about and arranged them into a sensible order, into three books, three parts of the same narrative. Not like Lord of the Rings, it's not a trilogy, it's one book of enormous length.

I realised, when I was a few chapters in, that if I kept on at that sort of rate the finished novel would be somewhere between half and three-quarters of a million words. Which is the biggest thing I've ever written. When I got to the opening chapters of this third and final part of Jerusalem I was starting to feel the burn and realise what an enormous task I set myself. I also thought “I don't have to do this”. It was arbitrary – I just came up with 35 titles. If I hadn't made the book this long, I wouldn't have hit this initially worrying stretch when I thought “can I keep up the energy for these last 10 or so chapters?”. And the answer is: it's up to me. The way to sustain a narrative over that incredible length is pretty obviously to crank up the energy. So I'm making these final chapters the most sparkly and experimental in the book.

The one I'm doing at the moment is based upon Lucia Joyce, James Joyce's daughter, who spent the last 30 years of her life in St Andrews Hospital, the mental institution next door to the school I used to attend. I've got this story about Lucia wandering through the madhouse grounds. She's also coming unstuck in space and time a little bit. She's wandering in her own mind. I decided to write this in an approximation of her Dad's language.

It was doing that, and being quite pleased with how it turned out, that made me resolve that each of the final chapters of this book should be just as ambitious. One will be in the form of a Samuel Beckett play, which is relevant because Beckett used to come to Northampton to visit Lucia – he was very fond of her, even if he didn't love her like she wanted him to. They were certainly close friends, and I believe he used to come and visit her grave after she died. And he once played cricket against Northampton, he's got an entry in Wisden. That night his cricketing colleagues went out drinking and whoring, and he went round all these gothic churches he'd heard about in Northampton. So that chapter is partly about Samuel Beckett on his church crawl, written in Beckett's style.

I hope these final chapters will be experimental enough to push this novel over the finishing line. To resolve the multitude of themes and ideas that have developed in the course of this book. It's turning into a huge beast, but I'm really excited about it.

There seem to be recurring elements: Jerusalem and Century both come in three parts with chapters written in different genre styles; Century features Jack the Ripper, as did From Hell...

He also turns up in the section I'm writing for Jerusalem right now! It's part of Lucia Joyce's wander in the madhouse woods. She's just had an encounter with John Clare and has now bumped into the unpleasant shade of JK Stephen, who was a misogynist poet (not a very good one) and briefly, a Ripper suspect. He died in St Andrew's Hospital, as did John Clare. I've just been in Joycean language writing the exchange between him and Lucia, in which I've managed to encode, into this casual conversation, the names of all five canonical Ripper victims, in order, and the addresses where they met their end. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

There are also references to Alice in Wonderland, almost like a reprise to Lost Girls. But that's because James Joyce identified his daughter with Lewis Carroll's Alice – Lucia is almost an anagram of Alice.

There are certainly scenes that have been recurring in my work since the earliest days. Things in some of those early 2000AD Future Shocks are connected with things I'm doing in Jerusalem. We all have obsessions that haunt us and that recur, that we're probably trying to figure out, in one form or another, all the way through our careers or our lives.

Jerusalem looks to be the most ambitious thing I've ever attempted and, at the moment, I feel it's probably the best thing I've ever done. This is the work I'll want to be remembered for – just because it's something I'm doing completely on my own, unlike the things I've done before, which have mostly been collaborations. I'm very proud of Voice of the Fire but this is more ambitious, although inevitably it picks up on a few of the same themes as it's set in a smaller version of the same area.

It's very exciting. The whole middle section of the book is like a demented children's story. It's a completely different style to the chapters of the first part of Jerusalem. We're suddenly following a gang of dead children as they tunnel about through time in a kind of fourth-dimensional afterlife, where they watch a couple of angels having a punch up, or visit Oliver Cromwell sleeping restlessly in Northampton just before the Battle of Naseby. All of these things, real or mythical, are a part of the landscape of the book. And the third part is different again. It's several books in one, but I hope it fits together in an ingenious fashion so it won't be too much of a disorienting experience for the reader. This is the only chapter that's in a made-up language and it's not the first one, like in Voice of the Fire. So people will have a chance to get used to the book before hitting the 'hard' chapter.

I'd say, other than this final section, it's probably more accessible writing than I can remember doing before. There are a number of interwoven, difficult concepts, so I decided to express this stuff in as clear a language as possible, to be accessible to readers and not put them off. I'm having a bit of a lapse with this James Joyce chapter (laughs), but by and large it is a very accessible book.

It's been a fantastic experience and I'm learning a lot about myself as a writer. In about a year I hope to get the first draft finished. Maybe in another couple of years it'll be ready for publication. That's the plan.

{Now part three, in December 2014:}

It's been another five years (laughs), how's the book coming on?

Well, the James Joyce chapter, 26, kind of exhausted me. I realised I really needed a break, otherwise that exhaustion would carry across into the prose, and be part of the novel forever.

So I decided to do Dodgem Logic, which was a wonderful experience that lasted about 18 months. It was financially depleting, but that worked out over time, and at the end of the day I've got a magazine that I'm very proud of.

Then I returned to Jerusalem reinvigorated, and carried on to chapter 35, the epilogue – or the 'afterlude', as we're calling it.

It's been reported that it's more than a million words, which it isn't. I think my daughter Leah, who was touchingly proud when I told her that I'd finished the first draft, must have thought that I'd said it was a million, but no, it's a pathetic 615,000. So it's little more than a pamphlet, really.

At some point I'd spoken to Steve Jones, the biologist, and he said, “you do realise that that's longer than the Bible?” I've since found out that it isn't, so Steve must have been reading an abridged version (chuckles). But it's longer than War and Peace, and I think if I'd done one more chapter, it would have been as long as the complete works of Shakespeare. But it's exactly the length that it needs to be, give or take 100 words or so in editing.

How near is it to being finished?

I've just finished the first draft. A couple of the people who are editing the book are reading through the first eleven chapters. After they've read the whole book and I've incorporated their suggestions, it will go to some other editors, who'll be looking at it as a whole rather than chapter by chapter. It's close to completion, but I don't want to rush anything, particularly as it's been nine years since we first spoke, when I'd just started it.

I've had a lot of very generous offers from publishers, but I can't really deal with that until it's finished; there's still a lot of work to be done. But I'm very proud of it. At least I think I am. It's a bit soon, and it's such an enormous book that it's difficult to encompass it all in your head at any one time. But looking back at the early chapters, they're affecting, they seem to hold up. It may be published some time in late 2015, but your guess is as good as mine, Alex.


Part VII: Moore on Moore

Alan's thoughts on some of his classic works.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
art by Kevin O'Neill. © Moore & O'Neill

League has such a good central idea. The only danger to its continuing existence is my and Kevin's increasing level of obsession with the series; the amount of detail and obscure references that we can work into a single panel must surely reach a point of overload at some juncture. Until then, it's a fantastic literary and intellectual game. The readers seem to be having as much fun as we are.

The Almanac in the second book and the 3,000-year life of Orlando in The Black Dossier gave a timeline to the League's fictional world. We're now trying to progress that into the future; there's possibilities of League stories that take place in the year 30000.

Or we could do stories about a particular League character or the League's earlier incarnations. The possibilities are fairly endless, and I imagine we'll be carrying on with this one until we drop.

After River of Ghosts, the third part of the Janni Nemo trilogy, we've got a brilliant idea for League Volume IV. It won't necessarily be the final League story, but it will tie up an awful lot of the threads that have run all the way through, all very neatly and dramatically, whilst still leaving the way open for endless future adventures.”

Alan on The Bojeffries Saga

The Bojeffries Saga

The Bojeffries Saga art by Steve Parkhouse.
© Moore & Parkhouse

“Most comic book comedy is based on Harvey Kurtzmann's style of cramming a thousand gags into every panel in Mad, which was brilliant and led to all the Leslie Nielsen comedies. I love Bojeffries because it was about doing everything really slowly, about timing and these long slow sequences.

I also love it because it's a working class comedy. A lot of the things that are behind the humour in Bojeffries are things I personally find very sad about the working class. You know, a lot of them are a bunch of racists, a bunch of idiots. They're in these awful social traps that they can't get out of. They blunder through life. I don't think I'm one of those crying-on-the-inside clowns so much as sort of sniggering-on-the-inside tragedian. My favourite comedies are ones that have an edge of tragedy. My favourite tragedies are the ones where you almost find yourself laughing; it's too awful, and you're taken to that edge.

And the other thing I loved was Steve Parkhouse's excellent visuals. He knew exactly where I was coming from. Yeah, Bojeffries is in some ways the comedy version of Jerusalem. In some ways.

It's the comedy piece that I was proudest of. Especially the new 24 page story at the end of the collected edition, bringing it all up to date. Steve did a brilliant job on that final story. It was one of the funniest things I've done for a long while.”

Alan on Halo Jones

Halo Jones

Halo Jones art by Ian Gibson.
© 2000AD/Rebellion

Halo Jones is something I enjoyed tremendously at the time. We wanted to do something with a female element in it that wasn't purely for prurient purposes. At the time all the girls' comics like Bunty had been cancelled. 2000AD was one of the only comics that had a strong female minority to its readership so we did a story about an ordinary girl in an abnormal situation in the distant future. We got a lot of response from female readers which was gratifying, and male readers liked it as well. Probably because Ian Gibson did some beautiful women, a range of different body shapes and faces – a really compelling job.

Unfortunately, as with a lot of other works, it is one I don't own. That has made a difference to the way I feel about it. It casts a shadow. I'm proud of the work me and the artists did on all the books, but the fact that I don't have the moral right to declare myself owner of the work rankles to such a point that it's quite painful to think about.

I don't even know if I've got a copy of Watchmen in the house, or V for Vendetta. I've not got any copies of Swamp Thing. They're all works that I feel that me and artists did fantastic jobs on at the time and to a degree I still remain proud of them in an abstract sense, but I don't think about them very much. Luckily I've done some work that I'm really proud of that I do own. So don't cry for me Argentina, I'm doing fine.”

Alan on Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta art by David Lloyd.
© DC comics

Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing art by John Totleben.
© DC comics

I probably shouldn't ask you about V for Vendetta or Swamp Thing then...

“Well, again, it was great work. I was proud of both those things. Proud of the way we handled stories with unusual themes and concepts. When we were doing Swamp Thing, there wasn't a murmur in the media about the environment. It was entirely the province of left-wing cranks and communists. Certainly it wasn't a popular subject for debate, so I'm proud of Swamp Thing in that regard. As well as for a lot of the other brilliant storytelling and experimental poetry we brought to it.

I really cut my teeth on those projects. You can look at them and see me learning. The first chapter of V for Vendetta has what are, in retrospect, clumsy captions that dropped by the second chapter. I was learning as I went along, and it was a great lesson. But it's the stuff that I own, and that the artists own, which remains dearest to my heart. ”

From Hell

From Hell art by Eddie Campbell.
© Moore & Campbell

Alan on From Hell

From Hell is a work that I am immensely proud of. It helped take me into magic with some of the issues it was raising, the concepts and ideas that propelled me to take up magic as a serious field of study. The job Eddie did on it was stupefying. Wonderful. I realised just how much density, how much scale you could fit into a narrative. Definitely one of my all-time favourite works.”

Alan on The Birth Caul

The Birth Caul

The Birth Caul art by Eddie Campbell.
© Moore & Campbell

“The job that Eddie did on the comic strip version was incredible. I haven't listened to it for a while but I suspect, as with a lot of the other magical performances, it was so much of its time that my reaction to listening to it would probably be, 'Jesus Christ where was I'? That sudden immersion in a mindset from 10, 14 years ago.

The Birth Caul was the first really coherent and structured piece I'd attempted, in terms of poetry and performance. Maybe when Jerusalem's finished I might see what the possibilities are for doing something quite big and extended, something ambitious as a poet.”

Alan on Promethea


Promethea art by J.H. Williams III.
© America's Best Comics LLC

“I was immensely proud of Promethea. Until we bring out The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic in a couple of years time, that's the nearest you'll see to a popular grimoire of what magic's about, in a beautifully illustrated and lucid form. Some of the pieces we did, the Tarot and the final issue that unfolded into the beautiful psychedelic poster, they were a tour de force. As were a lot of the other ABC books.

But we don't own them. I've got enough of the other stuff to keep me happy and, meaning no disrespect to any of the artists who worked on those books, there's an emotional distance. It's necessary. If I cared about it much more it would be painful, so I maintain a protective emotional distance.”

Alan on Lost Girls

Lost Girls

Lost Girls art by Melinda Gebbie
© Moore & Gebbie

“Melinda's sensibilities inform so much of it. I was able to bring some structural ideas and ways we could make the concept work, but it was Melinda's input and artwork that make that book what it is.

As far as I know it's the first time anyone's attempted a book like that. It's certainly the first major work of pornography that actually has compassion. Maybe it has its failings, but, for my money, nobody can fault its ambition. It took us a long time, but that's because we knew exactly what we wanted it to be like; perfect, or our idea of it.

The response has been really heart-warming. We got a wonderful review in The Guardian comparing me to John Berger, and Melinda to William Blake – which I'm incredibly jealous of. Probably not grounds for divorce, but...

There's a gratifying number of women who are very fond of Lost Girls, which is a good, important thing. We hope it will continue to spread its message of an enlightened and liberated sexual imagination across the globe. Lost Girls is one of my very favourite works. You'll notice I didn't marry any of my previous collaborators. That should tell you how I felt about this one.”


Part VIII: Steve Moore &
The Moon and Serpent Book of Magic

I just wanted to say I was very sad to hear about Steve Moore passing.

Yeah, that has been a huge thing for me this year. And it's still ongoing. I was the chief executor of Steve's will, and that's a long process.

The week that we found out Steve was dead, I was supposed to be going down to work with him to conclude our preparatory notes for the final essay of The Moon & Serpent Bumper Book of Magic. One more session would have done it. So obviously Steve's death put a considerable delay into that process. But, last night, I finally finished it.

Steve is still very much a presence in my life, and I suspect always will be. I have his portrait of Selene residing upstairs, in a special doll's house that Melinda bought and painted to hold the entourage of animals that Steve had bought her.

It was an unusual time around his death. Obviously it was quite a shock, but there were some quite luminous moments in amongst all that. I particularly remember the scattering ceremony. Steve had insisted that his ashes be scattered on the Bronze Age burial mound at the bottom of his road, by the light of a full moon. Which was harder to organise than you might think.

The first full moon that wasn't at some ridiculous hour of the morning was an August weekend at the tail-end of Hurricane Bertha. But it was also a super moon, when a full moon occurs at the moon's closest approach to Earth. We woke up that morning to thunder and lightning. But by the time we got there, the storm had blown every trace of cloud out of the sky. It was a beautiful evening and the moon was more gigantic than I'd ever seen it.

It was a very lovely little ceremony. Even though I did manage to get a lot of Steve all over me, Big Lebowski style, after a minor accident getting him into the scattering tube.

The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic

The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic
© Moore & Moore

What's the plan now for The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic?

Me and Steve were concentrating on getting the writing done, but we've planned lots of extra pieces by many different artists, so it will hopefully only take them a few months.

There'll be a Kabbalah board game, in which the winner is the first to achieve enlightenment. As long as they don't make a big deal out of it. We just need to find somebody who can design the actual board.

There'll also be a set of Moon Serpent tarot cards, which I'm doing with José Villarrubia. We already got most of them designed, but I had some qualms and wondered whether they might need revisiting. Our criterion is that it has to be at least as good as Alastair Crowley's deck, or there's no point doing it – we're setting ourselves quite a high standard! They'll be included in the book and probably also made available as a separate deck.

There's going to be a pop-up temple that Melinda will design for today's Magus on the move – a portable shrine. And a combination memory Renaissance theatre as well. There are rainy-day activity pages, suggesting practical experiments with magic.

There's a continuing text occult story that runs at intervals throughout the book and a series of one-page Believe-It-Or-Not style features called Old Moore's Laws of the Great Enchanters which tells the entire story of magic, something I don't think anyone's ever done before. We found new information about Dr John Dee, who we agree is the greatest magician of all time. In his Angel Language he, or Edward Kelly, seemed to be influenced by Paracelsus, the father of modern medicine who created the concept of anaesthetic and the idea that disease came from outside the body.

It will be beautifully illustrated by a whole range of wonderful artists, and we hope it's going to be a clear account of what magic is, how to use it, how not to use it. It's history, romance, colour, humour and beauty. And occasional spookiness, but that's just life.

It's every different kind of grimoire all at once. A grimoire can be a history of magic, a book of practical magical instruction, theory, or even fiction if it has genuine occult knowledge in it. Steve and I were weaving these all together in the style of a glorious imaginary Victorian-to-1930s children's annual.

To my knowledge, it will be the first grimoire created for mass public consumption rather than for occultists. We don't believe magic is about secrecy or hiding information. Hopefully it will be a very transparent volume, where people can read it and make up their own minds about whether there's anything to it. We're being as fair and open as we can. It's also the first grimoire, I think, that has said that magic is, of necessity, political. That it should get out there and engage with culture upon every level; artistically, politically, scientifically, societally.

It also suggests a potential way out of the current human cultural impasse. It all sounds terribly ambitious saying it out loud, (laughs) but we do suggest a blueprint for culture, which seems logical, and would probably work.

We were thinking, 'can we really say this? Although it seems to be true?' That concluding essay worked out at 32 pages, single spaced, but then I suppose it would do (chuckles). We think we've done a very thorough job on this book. I'd like to show it to Robin Ince before we publish. Robin's a rationalist, but with a flexibility of mind that you don't always find. I'd like to see if he thinks we've presented a rational argument about this most irrational of subjects.

Because that was our intention. We wanted to present a view of magic that isn't really contentious. Quite radical, but where it doesn't require anybody to believe anything weird. Or indeed anything at all.

We're just presenting it as a system which people can utilise however they see fit and for whatever reason. If they just want to explore their capabilities as an artist or writer or comedian, there should be ideas that they might find helpful. So, I'll rationalist-proof it by letting Robin have a swing at it before it goes to press.


Part IX: Upcoming projects

What else is coming up – more League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

Kevin and I have been working on League for a long time. I've had other projects, but Kevin's been living solely with Mina Harker for 15 years – although there are worse fates! (laughs) So we wanted a bit of a palette cleanser. We're working on something else, something very different from League, which explores quite a few things we're interested in. It's quite experimental and modernist. I don't want to say more yet. You should be hearing more about it by middle of 2015.

I'm in for the long haul with all these projects. It will be worth the wait when they finally creep out into the daylight.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore interviewed by Alex Musson
in 2005, 2009 and 2014 (2005 with AO)


More interviews »

The Complete Mustard

Mustard comedy magazine compendium
Mustard comedy magazine

Get the Mustard  Compendium: 
PDF  ·  Paperback

The complete 336-page collection of all 9¼ issues,
featuring new and updated funny stuff, plus expanded interviews.


Myth Management

Out now: Mustard's first spin-off novel

Myth Management: a Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel by Alex Musson
Myth Management: a Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel by Alex Musson

Paperback  £8.99  ·

Kindle  £2.99  ·