Alan Moore

On a quiet English street filled with middle-class row houses, one door is adorned with two large wooden snakes. Behind the door is Alan Moore, a man who holds worlds inside his head. He knows the hidden architecture of the past and the shortcuts to other dimensions and the secrets of how the universe can collapse in on itself. But despite his ability to warp time with his gifts as a writer and a magician, it stubbornly remains a Tuesday morning in June 2006.

The door is also adorned with a plate dubbing the house “Seaview,” even though we’re in Northampton, hundreds of miles from the nearest coast. Then it opens to reveal the looming figure of Moore, six-foot-two. His hands are covered with ornate rings, his long face with an imposing beard that has turned a grayish shade of auburn. He grins affably and invites me in for a cup of tea. As he pours hot water from a battered kettle, I ask about “Seaview.” He explains that it’s a prediction: eventually climate change will bring the Atlantic Ocean to the middle of England.

Moore is a Northampton native, born in 1953. In 1979, he started selling cartoons and illustrations to the British music weeklies; a few years later, he decided he was faster and better as a writer than he was as an artist. He soon became the most prolific man in British comics, doing everything from superheroes to comic suburban vampires to V for Vendetta – the tale of a debonair masked terrorist, with interludes of cabaret music. In 1984, DC recruited him to rejuvenate their failing title Swamp Thing. In Moore’s hands, Swamp Thing blended deep ecology with Gothic horror. He became DC’s superstar writer and his scripts quickly became legendary: dozens of pages of single-spaced description of every possible detail and nuance an artist might cram into each panel.

Then, with artist Dave Gibbons, Moore made the extraordinary Watchmen. The series wasn’t just a clever deconstruction of superhero archetypes in a world hurtling towards nuclear war—it was a dense multilayered narrative that took full advantage of the medium, sometimes alternating panels between two entirely different plotlines, overlapping flashback images with ironic present-day dialogue, or hiding important details in plain sight, to be noticed on a second reading, or a twelfth. Watchmen revealed that superheroes were just screwed-up vigilantes, an insight that would become the dominant theme of comic books over the next two decades, as nearly every costumed hero seemed to get recast as an underwear pervert.

Moore began to wrestle with DC over issues ranging from royalties to warning labels. He suggested that instead of a “Suggested for Mature Readers” tag, they might try “Full of Tits and Innards.” Moore was principled, confrontational, and inflexible, a combination almost guaranteed to lose in a battle against a large corporation. (A few years later, Neil Gaiman took Moore’s seat as DC’s resident British genius and, being polite but persistent, won many of the battles Moore had lost.) Moore does well when he can convince the world to believe the visions in his head, but founders when reality doesn’t conform with his beliefs.

Moore quit DC, swearing he would never work for them again. He declared that he would be devoting his life to magic; while he figured out what that entailed, he went on to make some more comics masterpieces, most notably the dense, knotty From Hell (his retelling of the tale of Jack the Ripper with artist Eddie Campbell). Also set in the late nineteenth century, but lighter in tone, was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which assembled an all-star team of the era’s popular fiction: Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll, etc. League was part of Moore’s 1999 return to superhero comics: he had an entire line of charming monthly titles (America’s Best Comics), including Top 10 (a police station in a city full of superheroes) and Promethea (a guided tour through the world of magic).

Moore lives only three miles from the house where he grew up (without an indoor toilet), and he rarely leaves the city of Northampton—citing the Sex Pistols lyric “a holiday in other people’s misery,” he says he’s a misery on other people’s holidays. His first novel, Voice of the Fire, spans six thousand years (the first forty pages are in a grunting Neolithic argot), but is all set in the Northampton area. The morning that he invites me in for a three-hour chat, he is busy working on his next novel, Jerusalem, set in a somewhat smaller area of Northampton. He says he is about a third of the way through its 700 pages and expects to be done in two years; the book will ultimately run 1,280 pages and not be published for another decade.

Asked if he could afford to take the time he needed to finish it, he rumbles, “Well, I don’t know yet. That can’t be a consideration. It never has been.” Moore lights a match; it flips out of his hand and into his beard. He quickly slaps his face to extinguish it, and keeps talking. “I’m sure something will turn up.”

Moore has two daughters, the product of his first marriage; he and his wife Phyllis lived for years with their mutual lover, Deborah. (When the marriage split up, not long after Moore left DC, Phyllis and Deborah ended up together.) In 1989, he began working with California artist Melinda Gebbie on a work of pornographic comics starring mature versions of Wendy (of Peter Pan’s Neverland), Alice (of Wonderland), and Dorothy (of Oz). Originally intended as an eight-page vignette, Lost Girls expanded into three volumes totaling 240 pages—finally published in 2006.

“It spilled completely out of control,” says Gebbie, who wanders in and out of the living room while we chat. “And as we were working on the book, we were falling in love.” Gebbie and Moore, recently engaged, have been discussing what music will play during their wedding ceremony—which will end up happening in May 2007. “Alan’s thinking about a Leonard Cohen song about St. Joan marrying the flames,” says Gebbie, “and I’m a bit squeamish about that.”

While we talk, Moore cheerfully sits on his lumpy blue armchair embroidered with the symbols of the Zodiac. He has become a hermit in many ways, but he has always lived more intensely in his own head than in the real world. When Moore used to venture outside Northampton, he had a reputation as an affable pot-smoker, a hippie with a withering wit, and somebody who cultivated eccentricity—or perhaps, just a genuinely weird individual. Many writers today, even talented ones, seem to be on a sensible career path that ends with a university teaching position. Moore is a throwback: he makes writing seem like a bizarre, disreputable way to spend one’s life.

I’ve heard you worship a snake. Did you choose the snake or did the snake choose you?

I feel like the snake chose me. I was at my friend Steve Moore’s house, telling him that I’d committed to being a magician but I had no idea how you go about doing that. I’ve always admired Steve because for the last 15 years, he had a very intimate relationship with Selene, the Greek moon goddess. And there seemed to be a warmth in this imaginary relationship that I found quite intriguing and inspiring. So I was casting around for a god of my own, and Steve happened to show me this book of Roman antiquity that had got a statue of the second-century snake god Glycon.

It looked awesome—it had a wonderful self-satisfied look of celestial smugness on its face. You’ve got this creature that has a semi-humanoid head with these sleepy eyes, long blonde tresses, and this whip-thin body. It’s like a second-century Paris Hilton in many respects, but with a much sweeter disposition.

Christians saw these ancient civilizations as idolators because they appeared to worship statues. What they were in fact doing was meditating upon images of the gods so that they could become more like them and take on their attributes. I saw some things in Glycon that I recognized and responded to—probably the smugness and the hair.

For perhaps the first month, my relationship with Glycon was largely hypothetical. It was just a god figure that I was interested in. Then on January 7th, 1994, I was again with Steve Moore and we had an experience which seemed to be direct contact with this nonexistent, imaginary friend. That was the first magical experience I’d ever had; I was in a dazed state for months after that.

In American comic-book terms, Promethea was about the most complete expression of the magical thing that I can imagine. But there’s other stuff planned for the future: down the line, I’ll probably check round to doing a grimoire that tells everybody how to do it. Because remarkably, it takes a very small step in consciousness: accepting that the things that happen inside your head are every bit as real as things that happen outside your head. It’s just a different sort of reality. You’ve got the chair and you’ve got the idea of a chair. The idea of the chair is probably more important than the physical chair.

And yet this room is filled with physical totems of magic.

Magic gives you great interior décor. These are all gold-adorned magic wands of various sorts around the wall. That’s an Austin Spare right there, a pastel drawing by him. There’s another one on the other side. He had a stroke that paralyzed him down one side when he was caught in the Blitz. He trained himself to draw using the other hand—and then he got all the abilities back from the side of his body that had been paralyzed and could draw equally well with both hands. And he lived in a stinking hovel surrounded by cats.

Right behind you, those are the Enochian tables of Dr. John Dee. He was Queen Elizabeth I’s court magician. He was a scientist of such stature that if he hadn’t done his work, Isaac Newton wouldn’t have been able to have done his. Many books simply did not exist outside Dee’s library—the fact that he had these books is responsible for most of European and American culture. And he went to see Elizabeth I, and said “I have heard of a legend that Druids took an expedition of Celts from Wales all the way to America long before any of the other powers explored that area. I think Your Majesty could legitimately find that America was therefore an English colony. And furthermore I think that we could establish such colonies around the world and then Your Majesty would rule over what I suppose you could call a kind of British Empire.” He invented the British Empire—it was a mind-fuck of planetary scale that would affect history for hundreds and hundreds of years after his death.

He literally wrote the book on navigation during the 15th century—that was one of the reasons why England was always such a great sea power. And in the latter half of his life he spent a couple of decades transcribing what he referred to as the language of angels. He had to refer to them as angels because frankly, if they weren’t angels they would be devils and it wouldn’t do to be consorting with devils. Dee and his assistant, Edward Kelley, spent all of their time staring into a stained glass or a crystal ball where these entities were appearing to them, and, using a pointer and a series of tablets, were dictating their language backwards. Now, if Edward Kelley invented the Enochian language, as critics have obviously suggested, he not only created a consistent, functioning language, but he created it backwards.
Dee was one of the people who got me into magic. It started around the time I was researching From Hell. I thought, “He sounds cleverer than I am and I don’t feel qualified to dismiss him as an idiot.” So that was one of the things that led me to look at magic in a different light. Previously I’d looked at people going into occult shops and thought they probably had some yawning emotional vacuum somewhere within them that they needed to cloak with feelings of secret knowledge. It seemed a bit tragic.

Does being a magician mean that you have an altered perspective or just that you do various rituals?

Back when I started working with magic, I had a great need to convince myself that there was something there. I probably spent the first year or two of my magical career doing as many kind of explosive rituals and having as many outlandish experiences as I could. There was one when I seemed to encounter something that at least said it was a demon. It was a hallucination, but it was a different order of hallucination than any I’ve experienced previously in that others could experience it too.

I remember that at one point during the evening I realized that this was perhaps what was referred to as a demon, at which point I was plunged into an abyss of self-loathing. Every bad feeling I’d ever had about myself during my entire life returned all at once, magnified massively. I knew that I was a wretched idiot who was only posturing as a magician. And then I suddenly thought, “Hang on, this is not me thinking this.” I struggled physically with the demon to remove it to a safe distance, at which point it was a green and red fog hanging in the air above the bed where I was lying. I pushed my hand into the middle—it felt like cold spaghetti. I remember winding it around my hand in the way that you would a fork. I then pushed this awful, cold, writhing spaghetti through some sort of veil and it was out of our dimension.

Please be aware that I know how mad this sounds.

Then I felt, no, it’s not actually gone. It’s too far away to do any harm but it might be close enough to talk to. And that’s the point where the experience became much more interesting. I said, “You’re a fine and strange creature. What manner of being might you be?”

A voice in my head—a very deep, rich voice—said, “I am one of the nine dukes.” I’d never heard that phrase before, but I thought it might be one of the nine dukes of Hell.

I said, “Which one are you?”

And the voice said, “Have a guess.”

I ran through the names of demons that I could remember. I said, “Is it one of the ones beginning with B? Is it you, Belial?” And I got a vision of a toad made out of diamonds, with seven eyes in a ring on its forehead and a look of inscrutability. I said, “No, that isn’t the quality of the energy that I’m talking to. The personality is wrong.”

“Is it you, Beelzebub?” I got a vision of a wall of pinkish-gray hamburger-like flesh that went on forever. There were white bristles growing out of the wall, and set into that wall were thousands of glaring, hate-filled human eyes.

Did the eyes blink?

Occasionally. Mostly they just glared. It was the ugliest thing that I have ever seen in this world or any other. Again, it didn’t seem to be the entity that I was talking to. I thought, “Well, it’s not one of the ones beginning with B—is it one of the ones beginning with A?” And then I said, “Is it you, Asmodé?” And the voice said “Yes.” And I said, “No, it’s Asmodeus, isn’t it? The ‘us’ is just the suffix.”

So I said, “Can you show me what you look like?” And I got this incredible vision. It was like a tessellated web of spiders at different scales, which would turn itself inside out into an Escher-like lattice pattern. There was a wavering peacock in the background and it was turning itself inside out. I said, “It’s showing off. It’s telling me that it’s got an extra dimension and that it knows much more about mathematics than I do.”

The next day I did some checking up in the real world about the nature of this obvious hallucination. And I found that Asmodeus, according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, is the demon of mathematics and handicrafts. There is also something called “Asmodeus flight,” which is referred to in Shakespeare. Apparently, you can ask the demon Asmodeus to take you into the sky so you can look down upon your neighborhood, but all the roofs will have gone so that you can see your neighbors.

Well, that is not a description of being higher up in this dimension. I would suggest that it sounds very much like being lifted up to a higher dimension: the roofs wouldn’t be gone, but you’d be able to look around them, the same way that if you drew a box around a two-dimensional creature on a piece of paper, the creature would be enclosed but you as a three-dimensional creature could look down through the top of the box.

Yes, like in Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland.

Absolutely. So I drew a picture of what this thing looked like, because I like the magic to be for something. If nothing else, it’s a valuable source of inspiration. I showed it to Dave Gibbons, my erstwhile Watchmen collaborator, when he was up here. We were talking about a project at the time, which since fell through, that would have had some stuff relating to the fourth dimension. And Dave had got a very scholarly mathematical tome about the fourth dimension in strictly mathematical terms. And in the last chapter, the author allowed himself a little bit of frivolity: he’s been asked, “What would a four-dimensional being look like?” And he said his best guess was that it would be a latticework consisting of multiple copies of itself at different scales. Dave said he read that and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

Hallucinatory experience or not, it has given me a lot of interesting things to think about. As far as I’m concerned, if a hallucination is able to give you genuine and useful information, it’s a different category of hallucination and deserves to be treated as such. I got the impression that the entity was both part of me and outside of me. I’m not sure exactly what I mean by that, but the subjective is the objective. That’s a thought I’m working on.

The nature of magic changes. It becomes less a strange alien planet that you’re visiting once or twice a week and more about human experiences. I remember saying to Melinda that if this was a human being, I’d like to go for a drink with him. And it struck me that there was something here in the way that we deal with other people and I realized what the word “demonize” actually means. When I first approached it, I was full of horror, loathing, revulsion, and hatred, and it was horrible, loathsome, revolting, and hateful. When I approached it with respect, it was respectful.

It struck me that angels probably existed in a perfect universe where everybody was angelic. And they wouldn’t be able to see any of the flaws. And how do demons see things? Well, the demons think that the angels are up to something, because they would be.

As you go through your day, how aware are you of your thought processes?

Probably twice a week I’m aware of my own thought processes. I think very ponderously. I go over everything in an obsessive way until it feels right. When I’m sitting at the typewriter typing, I’ll do a couple of sentences and then I’ll sit for ten minutes and then I’ll do another sentence. During that time I’m very aware of this constant revision: does this word get the wrong sound at the end of the sentence compared to this other one? It’s labyrinthine and complicated—it’s like embroidery.

Do you remember your first trip to London?

I think so. It was in a hired mini-bus with my uncle and my parents and my cousins and my brother. It was in the very early ’60s and there were milk bars everywhere, which we thought terribly exotic.

I’ve heard of milk bars, but I’ve never seen one outside of A Clockwork Orange. Did they literally serve milk, or were they ice-cream shops?

I’m not even sure. I think it was a kind of café with coffee, tea, and milk. It seems strange looking back now—they can’t have served just milk. It was very bohemian in London in the ’60s. I presume they just didn’t serve alcohol and there was presumably a pretty fast trade in pep pills going on instead. I remember going to the London Zoo and finding that a bit unnerving—I didn’t like seeing animals in cages—except when there was an elephant that evacuated its bowels all over one of its keepers spectacularly. I shall never forget that.

That was when I was six or seven. I didn’t go to London again until I was a teenager and starting to get involved with the early part of comics fandom. I could never live there—it’s a bit of a nightmare—but it’s a fascinating city. I still go down about once a month.

You referred earlier to Promethea as an American comic book—do you think of your projects as having a national identity?

Well, my relationship with America and American comics has changed quite a lot. When I started out, there was an English comics industry and there was this glittering, colorful American comics industry over the sea. I’d grown up reading the British comics but I’d also grown up reading a huge amount of American comics: they were in color and there were more of them. I was really excited when, in my mid-20s, I was brain-drained and I went to work for America. Since then, I’ve seen the English comics scene more or less atrophy because most of the big talents went overseas.

I have a much more jaded image of the American comics industry now. In fact, at this point I would say that the mainstream American comics industry is the single thing that poses the biggest threat to the comics medium. The American comics industry thinks of creators as fuel cells that are to be used and then thrown away, which is done with every major creator that has ever graced its halls. It has grown up and made concessions only when it absolutely has to—and if it had the chance, it’d claw those concessions back.

I have a huge number of friends in America and they are wonderful people, but America as an entity is the ugliest I’ve ever seen it. It’s come to me to feel as if the policies of the comic-book industry are pretty much American foreign policy, but writ small. It’s the same mixture of greed and deceit and gladhanding. I have started thinking that perhaps it would be good to distance myself from the big American companies because I don’t want to end up like Hergé; I don’t want to be remembered for having made a fantastic contribution to graphic literature but too bad he was a Nazi collaborator. I don’t want to be a Vichy comics writer.

Did you name America’s Best Comics yourself?

Yeah, just because it sounded corny and archetypal. I wanted something that sounded like it had been around since the ’40s. They’re a lot more knowing than something like Watchmen—there’s an ironic distance in the storytelling.

Was the motivation for doing those comics, like Tom Strong and Top 10, that you wanted to expiate for the imitators of Watchmen?

Yes, I wanted to at least leave the American comics industry in the state that I found it, as you would any hotel room. With all this dark stuff, I felt that it had, through no fault of my own, had an influence on the mainstream industry that I didn’t like. It seemed to have removed a lot of the joy and imagination that attracted me to comics in the first place in favor of a relentlessly dark, pessimistic sort of phony cynicism—a knee-jerk cynicism that I didn’t think that the innocent characters of American comics had really been designed to carry. It was an experiment: I wanted to reinvest the mainstream with some of those elements that I felt had been thrown out with the bathwater back in the ’80s.

I feel like they succeeded on their own terms, as art. Do you think they pushed the industry in the direction you were hoping for?

I think they probably have an influence in terms of other writers and artists seeing them, but I don’t know. I didn’t see anywhere as much influence for the ABC books. At the moment, I have more or less disowned all the work that I did in comics except the pitifully few things that I happen to own, such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If I don’t have the rights to own these books, then surely I do have the right to disown them. And I haven’t wanted to be part of that insulting arrangement since the late ’80s, which was the first point that I swore that I would never work with DC Comics again. Unfortunately, they bought the company that I had just signed contracts with.

Did you and David Lloyd ever discuss your different points of view on the V for Vendetta film?

Me and David haven’t really been in contact for a long while. DC gave me all the paperwork that I would need to sign my money over to David on the understanding that they would take my name off the film. Then they said, “Well, actually, we’ve decided that we won’t take your name off,” so I had a whole year of wrangling. Eventually, they did take my name off, but only after a year of quite abusive stuff. It poisoned me upon the movie industry to a greater extent than I had been before but certainly upon the American comics industry and DC Comics in particular.

I didn’t hear from David during any of this. I didn’t get a postcard saying “Thanks for the money,” you know? Which I was a bit surprised by. Obviously, I’ve got no objection to David wanting his name on the film; I’ve got no objection to David having his own opinion on the film, whatever that might be. I’m certainly not demanding that everybody have the same opinion that I do. It was just that I didn’t feel a reciprocal respect of my opinions. Apparently everybody thought that I was being very, very difficult for no reason at all.

I would have been happy to let the film go out without making any comment on it if they hadn’t insisted upon saying that I was connected with it and my name was going on it, and that I was really excited about it—which made me look like a liar because I previously stated quite widely and volubly that I didn’t want anything to do with the film. So there is no chance of me working for the American comics industry again. I think it’s finally out of my system.

Having had the pleasure of rereading a big chunk of your work in the last couple of weeks, I feel like you don’t get much credit for being a funny writer.

A lot of the humor is quite deadpan. Jack B. Quick is obviously funny. But there’s even a lot of humor in From Hell. I’d love to think that I’m a well-rounded human being. We don’t compartmentalize our experience into genres: we can be laughing one minute, we can be frightened the next, we can be aroused the next. Well, that sounds like a particularly wild Friday night.

In the most grim moments of our lives, there are moments of transcendent humor. I remember when my mother had terminal cancer, we had some incredible laughs—partly because of the awful grimness of the situation. The light that it cast things in, the perspective that it gave, made some things incredibly funny.

As a medium, what do you think comics are good at and bad at?

At the moment, they are showing themselves to be very good at political reportage and documentary. Joe Sacco is fantastic. Marjane Satrapi is a really talented newcomer. Slice-of-life stuff, there’s the wonderful Harvey Pekar, or Eddie Campbell.

Other than these wonderful exceptions and others that I haven’t mentioned, comics feels kind of dead to me. This perhaps just a result of my particular disillusionment and estrangement. But in the center ring of comics, with a lot of big names it seems to be mainly about style. At the same time, you see the rest of the world collapsing into the same superhero infatuation that the comic industry has. I suppose most people haven’t seen these characters or these ideas before, so they’re new and still exciting.

There’s something about superheroic characters—it’s too overstated. Human beings are much more strange and much more wonderful. You don’t really need people coming here from the planet Krypton or another dimension in order to make them fascinating. Superheroes are a chest emblem and an arrangement of powers, and they don’t have an awful lot beyond that. Maybe they will have one psychological trait: revenge or a kind of guilt or whatever. But most human beings have the full set. And that’s the territory that I’m most looking forward to.

Was there something about superheroes that made you particularly well-suited to write them as a young man, or if the dominant commercial paradigm had been nurse narratives, could you have done that instead?

Oh, I would’ve more than happily done nurse narratives. But superheroes have been dominant ever since I’ve been a child, so I’ve got it hardwired into me, with the addition of a British sensibility. Superheroes and pornography are both despised areas where serious artists never tread, which means all the more material for me.

Speaking of pornography, I interviewed you about the ill-fated Big Numbers back in 1989, when you were starting work on Lost Girls. So here we are 17 years later—

I had been thinking about producing an erotic comic book for some time, but hadn’t really got any idea of how to go about that. I’d got this half-assed idea that you could maybe make something of the fact that there’s lots of flying in Peter Pan and Freud said dreams of flying were an expression of sensuality. But I couldn’t say it went anywhere apart from a smutty parody of Peter Pan, of which there have been a few already and that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Meeting with Melinda really galvanized the whole thing—Neil Gaiman put us in touch and we hit upon the idea of collaborating. I tossed my half-assed Peter Pan idea into the mix; Melinda said that she’d always enjoyed doing stories that have a dynamic involving three women. I suppose that was where the idea really took root: I thought if Wendy from Peter Pan was one of the three women, who would the other two be?

Of course, the names Dorothy and Alice pop up very quickly after that. We started to construct a rough chronology that would tell us how old they were, and that gave us three very different characters in terms of their ages, with Alice as the oldest, Dorothy as the youngest, and Wendy somewhere in between. It also gave us three characters from very different class backgrounds.

We needed a time window when Alice would not be too old and Dorothy would not be too young and this seemed to suggest around 1913, 1914. And that immediately suggested a whole lot of other things. We realized that 1913 was the first performance of The Rite of Spring, which was attended by a riot and culture shock. Europe’s harp strings must have been at a pretty intense pitch. And it hardly looks surprising that the First World War broke out within a year.

Melinda was struck by what an interesting period it was culturally, in terms of costume and the arts. You’ve got the tail end of art nouveau and you’ve got the beginnings of modernism. A fantastic period and also a really significant one in that those years defined the rest of the 20th century, since Europe never recovered from the cataclysm of the First World War.

This suggested the grand theme of Lost Girls, because we wanted to do pornography that had themes and meaning and fancy things like metaphors and all these things that you’d expect if you were reading a serious piece of literature. And the juxtaposition of this beautiful sexuality juxtaposed against the ominous shadow of the war, that seemed very powerful.

Lost Girls isn’t about sex, it’s about the sexual imagination. The three protagonists are possibly the most famous imaginary figures of all time. I suppose at the end of the day we are saying make love, not war. If we had bought ourselves a button-making machine 15 years ago we could’ve saved ourselves a lot of trouble.

Did it change along the way?

No, it only got more lustrous. With the artwork, we wanted to produce a form of pornography that would be accessible to not only heterosexual men but to women and to people of other sexualities. It’s not difficult to do pornography that’s acceptable to men. You could probably do it on a toilet bowl with a Biro. Most pornography is in very seedy surroundings, always lit as though for brain surgery, with glaring strip lights that reveal every pore. Melinda built up these characters into real people, built up this environment—through meticulous layer upon layer of crayon drawings, for the most part.

One of the things I found fascinating was that it wasn’t just hot, sexy sections framed by a literary structure. The most intense things in the book spring directly out of the sexuality.

It became obvious that if we’re talking about the sexual imagination, we’re going to have to talk about it fairly inclusively—and the sexual imagination does have some very dark corners. We wanted to be encyclopedic, and we wanted to be realistic. Neil Gaiman has written that most pornography takes place in a world entirely without consequence. Whereas Lost Girls doesn’t.

An incest fantasy is no small thing.

According to Sigmund Freud—and I must make it clear that I don’t agree with him and that I am longing for someone to come up with a paradigm that will overturn Freud’s rather limited view of human sexuality—all human sexuality is in fact sublimated incest. We explored that notion, mainly in the Dorothy chapter. And we felt that we did in a way that didn’t make it brutal and coercing, but also didn’t make it idyllic and utopian in the way that incest is generally treated in Victorian and Edwardian pornography.

Are you worried about the stigma of being a pornographer?

One reporter, her opening question to us was “If even one pedophile were to molest a child because of this book, what would your reaction be?” I said that my reaction would be one of incredible surprise, because as far as I understood, pedophiles and sex criminals are guided by their own psychopathologies rather than by pieces of literature they happen to have read. And in fact, the opposite is true: in countries where pornography is widely available, like Holland, Denmark, and Spain, these countries all have a much lower incidence of sex crimes than either Britain or the United States.

In the real world, there are children being blown up, abused, killed, imprisoned, mutilated—often as a direct result of the actions that our cultures have taken over the last little while. I don’t see that some drawings in a comic are very important at all. And why is there any problem with this when during all the time I was working on From Hell I never had anybody ask me, “If even one person eviscerated prostitutes after reading From Hell, how would you feel?” Given that most violence is illegal and most sex is legal, why should there be this huge discrepancy to how people react to depictions of them?

Did you find it arousing to work on?

Well, if it’s going to work on the reader, it has to work on you. We are not completely polymorphous, but we had to try to find things that we were potentially arousing about all these things. We wanted it to be successful as pornography, to arouse people, and we wanted it to be successful as art. And I’m sure that it won’t work for a lot of people. To get that balance right between it being too intellectual and too visceral, for even a few people, is quite a trick. [Moore starts rolling a joint.]

That’s an awfully big lump of hash.

One of many. I get through an astonishing amount—there’s no way that I would ever be able to convince anybody that this was for my personal use. It’s my one vice.

I am in many ways an incredible drug puritan. The first time I was ever in California, I was at some party at the San Diego convention. I thought, “This is a wonderful, sunny place. It seems like it hardly ever rains. Why does everybody have a cold?” Just a trifle naïve. Then I went to one of the washrooms and I got it. I thought, “These are the city people that Ma and Pa told me about.”

I’ve just kept to this since I was fifteen, with occasional excursions—there were the acid years. Now the only strong psychedelic I’ll take is psilocybin, mushrooms. One of the things that I treasure happened when we started doing CDs of our magic performances. The second one, The Birth Caul—Ken Viola, a tour manager for a lot of big bands, is an intimate of Owsley Stanley [the Grateful Dead’s “acid cooker”] and he dragged him into this room and made him listen to The Birth Caul. He tried to get out of the room, but this guy dragged him back and made him listen to all of it. I freaked out Owsley Stanley! A boyhood dream.

I was thrown out of school for dealing LSD. I long said, what a tragic move, what a great loss to the education system. But they were within their rights to expel me. I actually was selling mind-altering drugs.

What would you like on your tombstone?

I’m not sure. You’d like to give people a laugh. Am I right in thinking that W. C. Fields’ tombstone says “on the whole I’d rather be in Pittsburgh?”

There’s a lovely little cemetery just outside Northampton—we went there the other day because Lucia Joyce is buried there, James Joyce’s daughter. She spent most of her time in the mental hospital next to the school that I was expelled from, alongside people like Dusty Springfield. Part of her delusion was that she believed that Samuel Beckett, the young apprentice writer that her father had replaced her with, was infatuated with her. Beckett remained a really firm friend of Lucia Joyce; he came to visit her in the asylum and visited her grave several times. Three graves away from where Lucia Joyce is buried, there’s the grave of a Mr. Finnegan.

The only other time Beckett came to Northampton was when he played at the cricket grounds for Cambridge against Northampton. Apparently, on that night the rest of his teammates were going off to sample Northampton’s other famous treasures, which included prostitutes and drink. He decided to go on a weird night crawl around all of Northampton’s churches because we’ve got some of the oldest and strangest churches in the country.

Have you read Finnegans Wake?

Has anybody? I’m in awe of Joyce, but the reason why it’s the greatest book in the English language is because it’s beyond criticism because nobody’s ever read it. I’ve read passages from it, but I don’t know anybody who even claims to have finished it.

Some of the bits that I’ve read of Finnegans Wake, it’s like he’s disrupting language and allowing prophetic visions to creep in. There’s one very strange bit where he’s talking about atomic fission. That’s not unusual because he did keep up-to-date on scientific papers, even if this wouldn’t have been heard of in the 1920s. But he’s talking about all this stuff with atomic power and then he starts talking about somewhere that would be called “nogeysokey.” And you think, “Did he just say Nagasaki?”

Burroughs used to have a similar theory that if you disrupt the meaning of language, it’s possible for other meanings to leak through.

Was that part of the inspiration behind the first chapter of Voice of the Fire?

No, what happened there was I wanted all the chapters to be first-person narratives and I wanted all of them to be from a character in the period that I was talking about. Now when it came to, say, the Romans, we’ve got records. We know the kinds of concepts and words that people had; we can deduce their thought processes to a certain extent. When you’re talking about Neolithic times when they didn’t even have writing as such, it’s very difficult to imagine the kind of thinking or language they might have had.

So as scientifically as I could, I looked at aboriginal languages and found out they have a limited vocabulary and only one tense. I tried to keep the actual vocabulary down to something ridiculous like 500 words. And then I just let the story write itself, which was very ponderous. It took me ages to say even the simplest things in a way that they could be understood.

People have asked me why, in the first chapter of my first novel, I decided to write it in some form of sub-English that readers would certainly find off-putting. The best answer is that I wrote it that way to keep out the scum. I just wanted to signal that I was not looking to be popular or to write the kinds of books that people might have expected me to write.

As a comics writer, I didn’t want to do anything that was within genre. It’s natural that comics writers will gravitate to science fiction or fantasy or horror. And that’s fine, but I wanted to signal that I was going for different territory. I’m very proud of Voice of the Fire and I hope that Jerusalem will touch it. Jerusalem is deeper; it’s about a smaller area of Northampton. It makes Voice of the Fire look really cosmopolitan.

So your third novel can be set in your backyard.

Yeah, or one end of the living room. The thing about Voice of the Fire is that it stamps a certain kind of perception on Northampton. The railway station you arrived at today, it isn’t a particularly attractive station, but the ground that it’s standing on? That’s where Simon de Senlis had his castle—that’s why it’s called Castle Station. It’s mentioned in the first scene of Shakespeare’s King John because it used to be bad King John’s castle. As such, it was where Richard the Lionheart raised the first couple of Crusades, leading to the first contact of any stature with Islam and look how that ended up. The first poll tax was raised there in the 1300s, which started Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt. The Western world’s first parliament was raised there also in the 1300s. Oliver Cromwell rode over the bridge there to settle the Battle of Naseby in the British civil war, which led to the execution of the king. And the civil war mostly happened here in Northampton—it must have been absolutely hellish here. There must have been heads on poles. That was what led Benjamin Franklin’s and George Washington’s families to get while the getting was good. Franklin’s parents and Washington’s grandparents emigrated from Northamptonshire to America. Northampton was pretty much the capital for a century, at least unofficially. Richard III was born here, Mary Queen of Scots was executed here, Princess Diana is buried just up the road. She was a Northampton girl—probably why she caused so much trouble for the royal family.

What do you think people get wrong about you?

I don’t pay much attention to what people say about me. I mean, not being on the Internet, I don’t have much idea how I’m seen. I refuse to be a celebrity. Neither am I some superhuman being of limitless potential or extraordinary intellect. I am somebody from a very humble background who never had an education or any real intellectual stimulation. I’d like to say that people don’t realize how normal I am, but I can’t say that with a straight face, can I? [long wheezing laughter] I think me and Mr. Normal parted company a considerable distance back.

Interview by Gavin Edwards. Originally commissioned by Rolling Stone in 2006 and ultimately printed in Volume 1 of Full Bleed (published by IDW) in 2018.