A Few Words on the Alan Moore Thing

Alan Moore

So it looks like the Funnybook Shakespeare is mired in interweb controversy again. I’m a week or two late commenting on this, of course, evidently being only slightly more connected to the wider internet than Alan Moore himself (who, rather famously, doesn’t have an internet connection at all). Or maybe it’s just that I’m not at all connected to message board controversies, because honestly… That’s ultimately what this is. But for those of you even farther out of the loop than I am…

Somewhere on-line where people discuss such things (I don’t remember where, but it’s apparently a rather well-known site), someone called Moore racist and misogynist. Near as I can tell, these accusations were based on the high incidence of rape in Moore’s writing, and on his use of the Gollywog in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The accusations ignited a firestorm, with people weighing in rather heatedly on both sides of the debate, and eventually Pádraig Ó Méalóid contacted Moore himself to ask if he’d like to answer the allegations. Which he did.

Holy crap, did he ever.

In what Ó Méalóid titled “The Last Alan Moore Interview?” Moore very politely but in no uncertain terms invites the internet to piss off. At great length and incredible detail. It’s an amazing piece of writing, at turns impassioned, understanding, and angry. Oh, and funny. So very funny. I laughed all the way through it, even (or maybe especially) at the parts that made me uncomfortable.

You should read it. Seriously. Yes, I know it’s long. But it’s hardly War and Peace. Or even From Hell. It’s about the length of your average Rolling Stone feature article. And it’s a damn fine piece of writing, besides. It’ll fly by. Look, I’ll even put in another link so you don’t have to strain yourself finding the first one:

http://slovobooks.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/last-alan-moore-interview/

Go ahead. Read it. I’ll wait.

(Goes to kitchen. Makes coffee and toast. Retires to easy chair to enjoy said foodstuffs. Naps.)

*snort!*

Ah! You’re back! What’d I tell you? That was awesome, wasn’t it? What? Well, okay…

I can see that some of you don’t share my enthusiasm. Especially you there at the back. You look particularly sour. Sorry. Probably should have warned you. But, come one! It’s a modern-day interview with Alan Moore! It’s kind of a given that he’s gonna say something to piss off the funnybook fans! Surely you should have expected it.

I’m not here to defend Moore, anyway. He does a far, far better job of that than I ever could. I’m here instead to marvel at the stuff he says, and to discuss it. Like (to start with the softball topic), the Grant Morrison feud. As long-time visitors here at the nerd farm know, I’m a big fan of both men. I think they may very well be the two best writers comics have ever seen. So, much as I hate to disappoint the Funnybook Shakespeare, I’m going to continue reading them both, in spite of his request that people like me stop reading his stuff so that he can continue to think of his fans fondly.

Heh. Funny old bastard. Even when he takes a potshot directly at me, it makes me laugh. But, man, that’s good stuff.

If you’d like Morrison’s take on the feud, you could do far worse than to read that piece Moore talked about (the one put together by fellow Moore persona non grata Laura Sneddon), which can be found here:

http://comicsbeat.com/the-strange-case-of-grant-morrison-and-alan-moore-as-told-by-grant-morrison/

I’ll wait for you to read that, too, if you like.

(Picks up last week’s issue of Velvet again, just to admire the beautiful David-Lloyd-esque shading that Steve Epting is suddenly employing to such good effect. Hmm. I could get used to this “wait-blogging” thing…)

Done? Alright. I’ve always found this feud to be a bit unfortunate. I mean, I suppose it’s inevitable that they don’t get along: they’re two writers with shockingly similar interests and shockingly different approaches to life. Both practice magic, but Moore is a hippy while Morrison is a mod and a punk. Moore has proven himself over the years to be a man who doesn’t easily forgive a slight, while Morrison has tended to make peace in the name of career and professionalism. I don’t think this makes Moore unreasonable and Morrison a sell-out, mind you. It’s just different ways of dealing with the world.

As for the feud itself, Morrison has certainly earned Moore’s ire on several occasions. But Moore’s continued attacks on Morrison cross the line for me, especially considering that he apparently hasn’t read the best of Morrison’s work. Of course, on the other hand, Moore has good reason to hate the mainstream comics industry, so it’s unsurprising that he’d assume the worst of someone who’s had so much success in it. Especially someone who’s had so much success at DC, the company that poisoned Moore’s funnybook well in the first place.

I have to wonder if that poisoning isn’t what’s really at the heart of Moore’s general poor impression of modern comics, as well. Has he been done wrong often enough by the mainstream comics industry that he’s decided nothing good can come out of it?

If so… You know… That’s mostly fine by me. The vast majority of mainstream comics actually are crap. Even some of the ones I like. Morrison’s point that the level of writing in those comics is generally better now than it was 30 years ago is a good one, but it’s an open question whether work-for-hire super hero concepts created for kids are better or worse off for it. Certainly, I’ve read and enjoyed stories with those characters that were written for an adult audience, and I’d hate for that sort of thing to go away. But I’d love for there to still be decent funnybooks for kids out there, too. As I’ve said before: Batman for you, Batman for me, Batman for everybody. But that’s not the comics market we have anymore.

(An aside: Morrison’s comment that Supergods has a kabbalistic structure makes me want to go back and re-read it. What I thought was sloppy writing may have been intentional magical thinking. That may not make it a better book, but it may very well make it a more interesting one.)

The funnybook issues are hardly the most interesting thing about “The Last Alan Moore Interview?” however. Those allegations of misogyny and racism are far more serious, and Moore quite rightly addresses them first (I’ve saved them for last because I’m an inherently silly person).

First off, the misogyny thing is patently ridiculous. Yes, Moore has written about rape quite a bit. But never in a salacious or titillating manner, and never with a “she deserved it” sort of attitude. It’s unpleasant subject matter, I’ll agree, and if it’s unsettled or offended some people… good. Rape is offensive and unsettling, and it’s quite clear that Moore intends for the instances of it in his work to be such. But now I’m defending him, and I definitely don’t need to do that. His arguments on this front are far better than my own.

As are his arguments on the racism charges. But in this case, as Moore himself says, people may have a right to be upset. Whether it was originally intended as such or not (and that’s a more arguable point than Moore seems to think), the Gollywog was THE racist caricature of black men for close to a century. You have to expect controversy over any use of it, even one that’s attempting to do something positive. And it’s always seemed clear to me that Moore and O’Neill ARE attempting to do something positive. As Moore also said, though, whether that attempt has succeeded or not is up to the audience, and opinions vary.

For my part, I always thought Moore was undermining racist stereotypes by embracing them. Essentially he’s saying that, yes, the Gollywog has a big dick and likes nothing more than flying around the world in his balloon having wild rapturous sex with two white women. But he’s also saying there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. In fact, there’s a whole lot right with it. The Gollywog is not a destructive cog in the industrial machine like many of the series’ villains, but rather a free creature with his own interests (which, I should add, do extend beyond “sex with white women”). He’s a trusted friend of Prospero, welcome to come and go between Earth and the Blazing World as he sees fit. He’s one of the more unquestionably “good” guys in all the LOEG books.

Unfortunately, though, he still looks like this:

ONeill LOEG GalleyWag So, yeah. I can understand why someone might be upset at first glance. Once you read a bit, though, the above becomes clear (or it does to me, anyway; others apparently don’t think so). I also like that Moore has made the Gollywog an alien, and someone the human characters find a bit odd. It makes all the cartoonish racist bullshit into something weird and unreal, something… other than human. I have a hard time thinking of a better way to describe racist stereotypes than that.

Which I think brings my own long, rambling thoughts on the Alan Moore Thing to an end. “The Last Alan Moore Interview?” hasn’t changed my opinion of him at all. He’s still a literary hero of mine, and still someone I admire as a man of uncompromising principles. He’s only human, of course, and if pissed-off essays written in response to unfounded accusations are any indication of such things (and they may or may not be), he has his flaws, too, ego and mild paranoia among them. But that same pissed-off essay also (for the thousandth time) reveals him to be a very good writer, and in this case, that’s what matters most to me.

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2 comments on “A Few Words on the Alan Moore Thing

  1. Matt Duncan says:

    Thanks for posting the original, and also Morrison’s reply, and your own views. Moore’s funnier than I would have expected, but he’s also way more insidiously bitter and snide. It’s something that is maybe made more palatable by my own stereotypes (“Oh, but he’s British!”) but it’s a little depressing to read, still. Morrison definitely comes off the “bigger man” about things.

    Curious about your take on the more recent LoEG stuff. I’ve read pretty scathing reviews, and have found myself not all that interested in most of the goings-on in (for instance) Century: 1969, etc. Not really an Orlando fan here, in particular. (I can’t really stand Virginia Woolf, anyway. My own grudge.) I also liked the first two volumes of LoEG because they felt like they could be a literary world, but not necessarily the pop culture insanity world that the series evolved into.

    Moore’s take on rape (especially in the context of murder) and the accusations leveled against him is a fascinating and inspiring read. Made me really think about how desensitized we’ve made ourselves.

    Thanks, for sure, for putting all this stuff together in a place where I could get to it readily. If nothing else, there’s just the sheer quality in how Moore sets forth all that bile.

  2. Mark Brett says:

    I continue to enjoy the League books, Century in particular. I liked the 1969 chapter best, I think; there, you got to see Moore both celebrating and critiquing the culture he grew up in, and his intimate familiarity with the period adds something extra. That’s lacking to a large extent in the 2009 volume. I thought the Harry Potter parody could have been sharper in the details, for instance. But I do like the way he positioned the character in the grand scheme of things. Potter as the antichrist of British genre fiction strikes a chord with me, even if I do like the books. And it’s especially fitting for the world of the League, where establishment figures (which Potter definitely is) are always the villains, and we wind up rooting for the outcasts and the psychopaths.

    I like Century for the character work, too, though, especially when taken alongside Black Dossier. Tracking Mina and Allan’s relationship across the decades is fascinating to me, a rare portrait of the ebb and flow of love over time, with the complication of Orlando tossed in for fun. I like Orlando too; hir dissipated arrogant bitchiness would drive me nuts in real life, but in fiction it’s really entertaining, a nice counterpoint to the Victorian formality of the other two. I also love the way Moore develops Mina in Century. She’s never quite able to get past her victimization at the hands of Dracula, always striving to prove herself strong and independent and good. But her victory in 1969 is the victory of the victim: she delays Haddo just long enough to prevent his evil scheme, but is left utterly shattered by the experience.

    So… yes. While I enjoy the “spot the reference” games you can play with the later League volumes, I think too many critics have reduced them to just that. They’re also good stories full of great writing, and sharp cultural critiques to boot.

    As for whether Morrison is the bigger man in the feud… Well, he’s certainly good at appearing to be. But it should be noted that he started it, and I believe he’s also stirred the pot with public comments more often than Moore has (though if I’m wrong on that, I may have to reassess my opinion). To be fair, I think that Morrison genuinely would like to bury the hatchet at this point. But that’s not how Moore works. The two of them were never friends, and so it sounds to me like Moore would rather just put the entire poisonous relationship behind him. This was just his final word on the subject before he does so.

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