When it comes to comic book legends, few loom as large as Alan Moore. The author of Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentleman and the upcoming Lost Girls, his work takes pulp conventions and turns them into multi-leveled philosophical inquiries and has inspired not only comics creators but musicians and filmmakers for the past 25 years. Watchmen was recently named one of Time's Top 100 novels since 1923, and called the Citizen Kane of comics by Entertainment Weekly.
Moore is also a legendary eccentric. A self-professed anarchist who practices magic, he remains something of a recluse in the Northampton, U.K., home he shares with fiancee/collaborator Melinda Gebbie. In recent months, he's made no secret of his ongoing feud with DC Comics and producer Joel Silver over the V for Vendetta movie, which Silver is producing. After the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film turned out to be less than stellar, Moore demanded to have his name taken off all the films based on his work and refused to take any money for them. Silver's statements to the press that Moore was happy with the Vendetta adaptation got back to the writer, annoying him even further.
A recent conversation with Moore showed that things are no better: he now wants his name taken off all of his published work that he doesn't own, including V for Vendetta.
While admitting that his stance is extreme, Moore feels strongly about it, to put it mildly. "It got to the point where I'd become very, very distanced emotionally from a lot of the work which I didn't own. If I don't actually have the moral right to declare myself the author of the work, does that mean that I should have the moral right to declare myself not the author of the work?"
Vendetta remains a particular sore point for Moore. Originally created for Warrior, a British comics magazine, he and artist David Lloyd owned it when it began. When Warrior went out of business, V was left without a home. Moore was writing various projects for DC Comics at the time, and it was suggested they pick it up. However, in 1985, creator ownership in comics was not a common practice. Moore and Lloyd signed the copyright over to DC with the stipulation that it would revert to them when the comics had been out of print for 18 months—which in those days seemed a simple thing.
"I was completely convinced by this, they seemed to be nice people who were treating me well and were offering what seemed to be a wonderful deal," Moore recalls. "I actually said to Dave Lloyd, 'I trust these people now, Dave. As soon as they stop publishing it, it will be ours.' And this was a time that no comic book had remained in print for more than 18 months."
Ironically, it was work like Moore's that led the way to collections staying in print. But then, "Nobody knew," says Moore, while noting that he had been keenly aware of the situation of such creators of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster and Jack Kirby, who had fought for years to get back the rights to their characters.
"I was a very aware young man," says Moore. "I'd been reading the fanzines. I knew that Jack Kirby had been screwed. However, at the time when I was getting into the industry, they were talking the language of progress—a mile a minute." Although in hindsight, Moore wishes his anarchist gut feeling had taken over, he says there were also many people who had good intentions.
Flash forward to 2005, and Moore has been locked in a battle for the past few months to get his name taken off the movie V for Vendetta. He recently received copies of the new edition of the book and was distressed to see a sticker saying "Soon to be a major motion picture," on the front, as well as a typo on the back cover. The combination put him into what he calls a black rage. For him, it's pride.
"Obviously it's going to vary, but I try to be passionate about everything I write—in some cases I succeed. V for Vendetta was one of those cases. For 20 years since then, it's been a kind of a dull ache that the regular paychecks of our cut of the money don't do an awful lot of assuage." In fact the money is not a priority for Moore—he famously has signed away every penny from any movies made from his work to artistic collaborators like Dave Gibbon and Rick Veitch.
But taking his name off the work? Isn't that like throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Moore has a ready answer. "I don't own the baby anymore. The baby is one I put a great deal of love into, a great deal of passion and then during a drunken night it turned out I'd sold it to the gypsies and they had turned out my baby into a life of prostitution. Occasionally they would send me increasingly glossy and well-produced pictures of my child as she now was, and they would very kindly send me a part of the earnings. This may sound melodramatic, but I've been writing for 25 years, and I think that the passion with which I write is probably evident—it's not faked. I really do feel intensely passionate about nearly everything I write. I could sit back, of course, and say all right, just let anything happen, and take the money, but I don't think that would be very honest. It wouldn't feel honest to me, and at the end of the day, I'm the only person I'm concerned about. That is selfish, I know, but at the end of the day, it's whether I'm waking up at four in the morning in a boiling rage or not, and there is no amount of money that can compensate for that. "
On a much happier note, Moore is working on a new novel, which he is "in love with. It is marvelous. It's a book about a subject that is not next to my heart, it is my heart—it's right from the very core of me and what I'm all about. It's the best thing I've ever written. I don't care if it sells or not. At the end of it, I will own this. "
Moore has no idea who is going to publish it and eschews getting an agent. He wants to finish it—a task he estimates will take the next 18-24 months—and then perhaps have a small publisher put it out. He's aware that he could probably get a modest bidding war going if he went the typical route, but it just doesn't interest him. "When I get it finished and I know how good it is—rather than merely suspect— I'll see what I want to do with it."
In the meantime, Moore lives a fairly quiet life—he doesn't go to the movies much, and tends to spend most of his time reading and writing. He follows comics to some degree, and has some typically colorful observations on its current state. "There is some fantastic stuff, but it is marginalized. I don't know, it's probably just my tastes. At one end, it seems adolescent in its brutality and in its kind of inexperienced adolescent approach to violence and sex. And at the other end, at the other supposedly intellectual end, I see an awful lot of angst and adolescent breast-beating. This is not a complete blanket condemnation, by any means. There are people like Joe Sacco and other people who do wonderful work that is not mainly concerned with them, and their fears of mortality or feelings of emptiness."
Despite his ongoing struggle with corporate American comics and the entertainment industry, Moore remains good-humored for the most part. Asked if he feels prescient given V for Vendetta's story about terrorist bombings throughout London, he says, "I wouldn't like to claim I was being prescient, but that said, it is pretty clear I have a direct line to God and I know every moment of the future before it happens."
He also points out that America's current preoccupation with terrorism is nothing new for Brits. If Americans are more worried about dying in an Islamic jihad than a nuclear winter, "no offense, but that is perhaps more of an American perception than a global one. You have to remember that over here there were teenagers being taken out of cellar bars in separate carrier bags all through the '70s and '80s because of the war in Northern Ireland. In that case, the IRA were largely being supported by donations from America. That was why I was a bit worried when George Bush said he was going to attack people who supported terrorism, I thought, oh my god, Chicago is going to be declared a rogue state and they'll hunt down Teddy Kennedy."