The extraordinary gentleman
Alan Moore was the poster boy of comics. Then the 'V for Vendetta' and 'Watchmen' creator walked away in disgust. Now, still shunning the mainstream, he is back with a new instalment of 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'
Alan Moore, the world-building comic creator, magician and anarchist, always had problems with authority. "I was kicked out of the Northampton grammar school aged 16," he says, in his deep voice. "My headmaster disliked me so much he took it upon himself to write to prospective employers warning them not to hire me."
Nowadays, everyone wants to hire the creator of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but he doesn't want to be hired. He has had his name removed from film versions of his comics and has refused payment for them. He also now refuses to write for the comic giants Marvel and DC Comics, though the latter has recently fudged the issue by producing weak prequels to Watchmen without Moore's involvement.
"I really don't want anything to do with comics any more," he says. "Comics had me as a spokesman for a long time. During the 1980s most of the great [ coverage] comics were getting was a review of my work or an interview with me. I was the poster boy. These days I don't want to talk about comics or to be associated with them. Frankly, the way the field has turned out I find a bit embarrassing. This wasn't what I wanted."
Moore seldom leaves Northampton but is no recluse. He has had a cameo appearance in The Simpsons, for example (the production company had to come to Northampton, 100km north of London, to record the dialogue), and has appeared on news programmes discussing the Occupy movement (which has used imagery from V from Vendetta). He chats easily and in great detail about his career and the people who have inspired him.
His love of comics started early. In the 1950s he encountered the slipper-defying delinquents of the Beano, the Dandy and the Beezer. "Those comics were just something you had if you were working class. A bit like rickets," he says.
But it was American superhero titles that really inspired him. "Superman and Batman, I thought they were wonderful. Batman certainly wasn't a dark avenger. He was a big guy who looked like your uncle. He was always smiling and had a dog that wore a mask, presumably so the other dogs didn't recognise him. I fell in love with the medium."
He drew his first comics at the age of 11 with a multicoloured Biro, on a Woolworths jotting pad. He lent them for a penny a time.
"We gave the money to something like Unicef, a whole 13 shillings and four pence. So I really can't understand why the Third World is in the state it's in. There was a dopey superhero team called the Crime Busters, a name we resurrected for Watchmen, and a superhero called Raygun who had a ray gun and whose alter ego was Raymond Gunn."
Five years later he was expelled from school. "There were issues for some time, but the acid dealing probably didn't help."
He joined Northampton Arts Lab, where he got involved in alternative publications and musical performances. He went on to draw newspaper strips about anthropomorphic pandas and drunken detectives before writing brilliant science-fiction stories about delinquent aliens (in a strip called DR & Quinch) and future poverty (Halo Jones) for Britain's greatest sci-fi weekly, 2000AD.
Soon he was writing the ground-breaking strips V for Vendetta, set in a fascist, Thatcherite Britain (later published by DC Comics), and Marvelman, a deconstructionist superhero series. DC Comics took note and hired him to work on its failing horror title Swamp Thing. "One of the first things I asked was, 'Which swamp is he the thing of?' And nobody knew. I realised nothing had been established."