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Alan Moore: why I turned my back on Hollywood

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Rachel Dearth
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« on: December 20, 2012, 05:20:42 pm »

In the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, Belgium, one of Moore's old computer keyboards sits on permanent display. This would have seemed an unlikely outcome, in 1969, when he was hauled out of an art class at Northampton School for Boys by the deputy headmaster.

His hair newly grown out, long enough to hit a first kink and to look like "a strip of guttering" above each ear, the 16-year-old was taken to the headmaster's office to meet a detective constable from the local drugs squad. Their subsequent chat could only have been tenser if Moore had not discreetly emptied his pockets of low-grade marijuana en route. "I thought I handled myself fairly well," he recalls. "Obviously they thought otherwise."

Telling his parents that he'd been expelled "felt like the end of the world". His family lived in a part of west Northampton called the Boroughs, a poor neighbourhood that was generally avoided, Moore says, by others in town. He was unusually bright. "Growing up in the Boroughs I thought I must be the cleverest boy in the world, an illusion that I was able to maintain until I got to the grammar school." One of about 10 working-class boys enrolled there, he found himself in a minority that hadn't been to prep school and couldn't already decline Latin. "My position in the class plummeted."

American comic books were "a welcome escape hatch, a doorway into unbridled imagination". Moore started writing and drawing his own strips, inventing an early superhero called Ray Gun (secret identity: Raymond Gunn) and loaning his efforts to friends for a small fee. Profits went to Unicef, or Save the Children. He can't remember. "I thought it would look kind of noble. How could anyone resist, a badly drawn children's comic in aid of charity?"

After his expulsion at 16, which he attributes to "the 1960s happening, a euphoric and expansive time", Moore thought about applying for art school but soon started pitching comic strips. Cartooning ran in the family. His paternal great-grandfather, a legendary Northampton rake called Ginger Vernon, used to trade caricatures for pints in the pub. (He was, adds Moore, a ferocious alcoholic.) Moore started writing and drawing a regular strip for the local newspaper, then another for the music magazine Sounds. By the time he'd found work on a line of British-made Doctor Who titles, Moore had given up drawing ("I couldn't do it fast enough, or well enough") to focus on writing.

He was by then married, and lived with his wife Phyllis and their daughter Leah on an estate on the edge of town. By the time second daughter Amber was born, they were in a run-down council house closer to the centre, and here Moore worked in the bedroom, his long body folded over a typewriter propped on a stool. "Writing V for Vendetta I knew I was doing good stuff. But it wasn't until I was headhunted by American comics that there was a major change in my circumstances."

Moore was asked to work on the US title Swamp Thing, which told of a superhero who was also a human vegetable. It was ideal territory, schlocky and idiosyncratic and hardly a flagship title for its publishers, meaning Moore could get away with introducing darker notes. "I didn't realise that incest and necrophilia were still frowned on socially over here," Moore said, deadpan, to an American interviewer in 1985, after he'd been criticised for his controversial plots.

By this point his V for Vendetta series was being published, and Moore was crafting Watchmen, an unusual fusion of genres that told of a group of retired crime fighters under threat from a serial killer. On the surface Watchmen was superhero fiction – powers, cloaks, chins – but it was set in something more like the real world, noir-like and patently intended for grownups. It was groundbreaking, still imitated to this day.

Moore went on to write the historical horror story From Hell (turned into an unsatisfying Johnny Depp film in 2001) and a raucous adventure series called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which became a cinematic flop for Sean Connery in 2003). In the 1990s he started work on Lost Girls, a pornographic comic conceived with the American artist Melinda Gebbie. By the time it was fully published in 2006, Moore had separated from his first wife and he and Gebbie were a couple. They married in 2007, wearing outfits of "iridescent blue and green" that made them look, in the words of Moore's eldest daughter, like a pair of bluebottles.

Nothing in his varied output has ever quite eclipsed Watchmen (listed by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the modern era) but Moore, in 2012, won't keep a copy of it in the house. He has long been at odds with its co-creator, Gibbons, about whether to allow publishers to revive the series for a line of prequels, and whether to endorse a tie-in computer game, and Moore has said the pair even bickered over Watchmen on his wedding day. Anyway a comics series called Before Watchmen has since gone on sale, and there will doubtless be more movies to come.
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