‘I’M BACK,” Alan Moore announces, throwing his wiry mane of hair out of his face and then carefully stroking it into place with ring-encrusted fingers.
“I haven’t gone… I’m back,” he reiterates with a gleeful smile that lights up the room.
He is explaining that his recent retirement from churning out hit comic scripts, does not mean that the Alan Moore who has won countless awards and a legion of fans for his writing is going to vanish from view.
But he has finally severed himself from the “mainstream” and the lumbering media corporations that have clumsily pursued him throughout his career.
It is amazing how a face that was clearly designed for grim foreboding and haunted dreaming has been transformed. A burden has been lifted.
“People are going to see more of me, not less. I am going to have time for things that I haven’t been able to do for years. I don’t feel like I’m leaving anything, I’m coming back,” says Mr Moore, who was born in Spring Boroughs and now lives in the Abington area of Northampton.
Part of the problem has been the way Mr Moore writes. There are easy ways and there are hard ways to script comic books. Some authors will supply artists with a bit of bare bones’ dialogue and let them get on with it.
Moore goes the opposite route, describing everything for the artist in meticulous detail, producing reams of poetic text that will never be read by anyone except the person creating the images it inspires.
He works by his fireside in tattered notebooks and then transcribes it, typing two-fingered at an ageing computer screen.
It is a process that has produced a small library of classic stories: Watchmen; From Hell; V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are among his many award-winning creations.
It is such a laborious endeavour, it’s only natural Moore would want to feel that the publisher benefiting was a deserving one, a company that respects the material and the creative teams behind it.
But the comics industry is notorious for having the opposite attitude. The original creators of some of western culture’s most potent icons have struggled to get credit, let alone a share of the millions that movies and merchandising are now generating from their ideas.
When Moore realised that DC Comics would, in effect, always own the rights to a sizable chunk of his early stories, he promised himself he would never work for them again.
He sought out small independent publishers for his work. But DC Comics, determined to have Moore on their talent roster, started trying to buy out the companies he was talking to.
Eventually they caught him, having committed himself to a number of projects for Wildstorm, including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
DC made Wildstorm an offer that a small independent comics’ company could not refuse, and reluctantly Moore was back in the yoke for DC, although he had managed to impose conditions about the nature of the relationship.
Moore recalls: “The chief editor came over specially to break the news in person.
“I think they were expecting me to storm out. It put me in an interesting position. On the one hand I had promised I would never work for DC again, on the other hand I had promised work for all these artists and told them they would not have to worry about putting bread on the table for the next couple of years because there was going to be this work around.
“Either way I did it, I was going back upon my word, either to myself or to these people. I decided that the former was easier than the latter.
“We did some fantastic books over the past six years. We did everything that I wanted to do with this line of comics.”
“I had hoped to finish by my 50th birthday, which was 18 months ago, but it turned out it took me a bit longer.”
He has also taken the opportunity to wrap up another complex sub-plot in his life: his deteriorating relationship with Hollywood.
He says: “I have never been a huge fan of film adaptations. I went to lunch with Terry Gilliam (Monty Python’s animator] back in the 1980s when he was being touted as the director of the Watchmen movie.
“He asked me how I would turn Watchmen into a film and I said ‘frankly, I wouldn’t because it’s not really designed to be turned into a film’ and I think he came to agree with me.
“My attitude to films has always been ambivalent at best. Back then I was thinking none of these things seem to get made. I thought it would be all right to take the option money (which they give you whether they make it or not), the films wouldn’t get made and I would have the money and that would be a result. This was working fine until From Hell actually got made as a film.”
Time Warner, having bought DC Comics, had been plundering the publisher’s back catalogue for movie ideas.
And while From Hell worked as a vehicle for Johnny Depp, it fell far short of the original epic study of Jack the Ripper that had won Moore critical and commercial success.
“It is probably not even fair for me to watch these things,” he says, “because even if it had been a good film, which I don’t think it was, I would have been the last person to be able to see that.
“I thought at the time I can take the money for this, maintain my distance, I can make it clear that it is loosely adapted from my book nothing more.
“I think that was a bit optimistic because people tend to watch films rather than read the book, so if they have seen the film they think they have pretty much got the entire experience.”
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen followed and made it worse. The film starred Sean Connery but introduced different characters, a different storyline and a wannabe Hollywood scriptwriter, who accused Moore of plagiarism.
“This was completely ridiculous but I could not really take it humorously because I am pretty much one of the most respected persons in my own field.
“I don’t have a great regard for the standards of Hollywood script writing and I strongly object to anybody suggesting I get my ideas from a second-rate Hollywood scriptwriter,” says Mr Moore.
A court case was begun in Hollywood but soon evaporated. However by this time, Moore, utterly sick and tired of the movie industry, was determined that his name would no longer be associated in any way with film adaptations of his work.
To convince Hollywood he was serious he started turning down cheques for tens of thousands of dollars, asking them to be paid to the artists who collaborated on the original books.
This worked for the Keannu Reeves’ Constantine movie which came out earlier in the year.
However the forthcoming treatment of V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman, has been claiming to have Moore’s full support in its pre-publicity. Moore told DC Comics they should get their parent company to make a retraction.
He says: “I told DC Comics I’ve got 18 pages to write which will be done in a couple of weeks. Unless this is put right with Warners, that will be the end of our association. I didn’t want the world in terms of putting it right, what I wanted was a modest retraction, correction and apology.
“They were initially saying ‘this is not our fault, you cannot blame us if a Hollywood producer, an independent Hollywood producer, says the wrong thing’.
“I said ‘well he’s not that independent, this is the same Hollywood producer you have been sucking up to for the last 20 years to my certain knowledge. You have got to choose: a third-rate Hollywood producer, who happens to be one of your bosses, or the person who is perhaps the most prized writer you have had in the last 20 years’.”
DC offered to put a corrective statement on their website but Moore was not impressed and informed them that future editions of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would switch to a small company called Knockabout publishing.
His relationship with mainstream comics was over.
Since the beginning of Mr Moore’s ‘retirement’, plenty has been happening. He has proposed to his long-time artist girlfriend, Melinda Gebbie, and is keen to take her to Great Yarmouth because, as a former native of San Francisco, she has no idea what a traditional British seaside holiday is all about.
He is also delving into the history of Spring Boroughs, in Northampton, looking at material for a major new project which he can, for once, afford to take his time over.
First published in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo