A couple of days ago what may well be the last comic related Alan Moore interview went online and to say that it’s caused some controversy is a massive bloody understatement. In the interview Moore answers questions from the comics journalist Pádraig Ó Méalóid ranging from how he uses rape in his work to a pretty astonishingly honest demolition of Grant Morrison. I’m going to go through the interview and add a few observations, some of these observations are going to be first hand as I was either there in one case, or can add a wee bit of insight/context/bias depending where you come from.
Moore starts the interview talking about the Golliwog in the Black Dossier.
In the interview Moore goes into great detail as to why he included the character with this line being important.
This is not to say that issues of ethics or politics were not considered, of course, merely that I had absolutely no misgivings in those areas.
For younger generations a bit of context is needed. For a lot of people over the age of 40 we had a Golliwog when we were children. I had one that looked like this.
When I was about three I loved that thing and the concept of racism was something I was utterly unaware of, and my parents didn’t consider it racist as they didn’t know the history of it, It’s only when in my teens I realised what my beloved Golly was representing, not to mention the offence it obviously raised among Britain’s black community but I also remember (vaguely) that time when it was just a cheerful thing for a child to play with before the reality of what it’d come to represent was known to us when we grew up. I firmly believe Moore here and think his intentions were good ones, but perhaps the execution of it would have been lost to a non-British readership who only saw a deeply racist image in a book by a pair of creators who were clearly not the comic book equivalent of Nick Griffin and Tommy Robinson as some online have painted them to be.
Moore makes his points well here. Perhaps it was unwise in retrospect to use the Golliwog but the idea of Moore and his co-creator Kevin O’Neill being racists is nonsense not only based upon their body of work, but them as people to anyone like myself who’ve met the pair throughout the years.
It’s the next part that proves a bit stickier as Moore answers the accusation of the prevalence of sexual violence towards women. I have to say that some of his uses of rape have been well over the line. The rape of Pollyanna by the Invisible Man in the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an often used example of the problems of Moore’s work, and I have to agree.
There’s also the series Neonomicon that Moore did for Avatar a few years back. It’s a patchy series anyhow, but the prolonged rape scene is something I find troublesome.
I know it’s a horror comic. I know it’s meant to get under your skin and repulse you but the scene which starts with the page above, in my mind, crosses a fine line though I accept Moore’s reasoning here as to why he uses not only sexual violence, but violence in his work generally. It is as Moore say a very lengthy reply, not to mention a well thought out on that’s forced me to perhaps confront some naivety in myself but what would annoy me, as it has annoyed Moore, is for people to call him out on this aspect of his work constantly and when some of that criticism comes from people who are perhaps pushing another agenda behind this particular Trojan Horse. From now on the interview moves from a calm and reasoned response to perhaps the more glorious ‘FUCK YOU’ to a number of Moore’s critics with some of this criticism seeming fair, some being perhaps a tad harsh and some being utterly fucking deserved.
In Moore’s words:
Having paid little or no attention to the utterances of the comic field for some decades, there were obviously more than a few statements by former associates that were something of a surprise and which seemed to me in many instances to be founded upon the distortion or even the wholesale invention of events. There were also, as you know, a number of statements by Grant Morrison – someone whom I have only ever met and spoken with once and have tried my best to avoid all contact with ever since – including his no doubt well-intentioned observation that there is apparently a rape in every single comic series that I have ever written. I imagine that this might have something to do with some of the actually rather important issues which have been demoted to use as ammunition in this presumably not uncommon online ‘controversy’.
While claims such as the above are obviously the equivalent of receiving a gift-wrapped turd through the mail, since Grant Morrison seems to have spent as much or possibly more time discussing me and my work over the years than he has his own, they are not, by this point, entirely unexpected.
The first hints that something bitter was brewing comes here. For the uninitiated Morrison and Moore have had what many online call a feud for many years which seems to have started in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when Morrison started a series of articles in various fan magazines where he made the occasional comedic pop at Moore, though sometimes these pops would be more than that, they’d be sly digs.
It should also be pointed out that I skimmed upon the role of Laura Sneddon as Morrison’s official mouthpiece, so when I read Moore’s comments it made me think of what I wrote a few months back when discussing Morrison’s acceptance of the MBE and his and Sneddon’s dismissal of his critics, so I can see where Moore is coming from in much of the rest of the interview. As for Sneddon I’ll return to her later on.
To make it clear, I do think Moore is perhaps unaware of the influence of Mark Millar upon Morrison (and vice versa) which is a good point to bring up Colin Smith’s superb history of Mark Millar that is essential reading, especially in regards to Millar constructing a persona that was spiky to say the least in order to get not only publicity for his work for Fantasy Advertiser, but for Trident Comics. It’s clear to anyone who knew the pair during the 80’s that there’s a pre-fame Morrison where he’s complementary to people, acknowledges his influences and is funny while taking the piss but there’s no feeling of nastiness, to the post-fame Morrison where he and Millar are interchangeable in their public offensiveness.
Now it’s an easy tactic for someone trying to make a name for themselves to poke the establishment and it’s a very Punk thing to do, but neither Millar or Morrison were Punks in anything but name only as it became clear what was of interest was the fame. This isn’t a problem as a number of people are quite happy becoming celebrities in the comics world; Simon Bisley for example is a prime example of A Celebrity within comics and there are others so wanting to be famous within comics and use it as a stepping stone to film or something else isn’t a new thing.
What was new within the often cosy world of British comics was Millar and Morrison’s willingness to take a pop at fellow creators in public. Slagging off companies, or characters were common but creators were rarely slagged off in public so to see Morrison take aim at Moore was the upstart taking a pop at the established master. Except Morrison is only a few years younger than Moore and even at the time, the thing seemed horribly contrived and some 25 years later it still seems horribly contrived. Making Moore a target got Morrison a lot of publicity easily in those pre-internet days when something called ‘clickbait’ was unimaginable to anyone.
Unfortunately Morrison didn’t stop making the odd wee dig here, there and everywhere towards Moore in the past 25 years, and as Moore says in the interview, he ignored it which isn’t exactly true but I’d imagine if that for 25 or so years you had someone constantly belittle you, accuse you of misogyny, racism and anything else you can throw at him then there’s a point where anyone sane is going to go ‘fuck this’ and again, this is that point in this interview. It also doesn’t help that online fandom is a massive Hive-Mind at times, so Moore’s taken on the persona of a ‘bitter old man’ while Morrison is still considered a vibrant talent because he’s still working (lazily in my opinion) in the superhero genre for DC Comics so they’re on ‘his’ team, while others are on Moore’s ‘team’. In reality Morrison has been a fairly constant niggle in Moore’s side while at the same time still praising Moore for some of his work. As said though, if all you’ve got mainly from one person and his various mouthpieces is a series of digs at him, and at some point you’re going to bite back.
I know Moore has tried to keep Morrison at arms length but his claim he’s only met him once seems patchy to me. I remember the signing at the comic mart at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow that AKA Books and Comics organised because I was part of the AKA crew helping run it. I also remember I think it was John McShane and Steve Montgomery (two of the owners of AKA) who decided to invite Grant to the traditional post-mart curry that was normally only for the creators invited and those staff who came along. Morrison at this point was a struggling writer, but he had The Liberators published in Warrior and if my pickled memory serves me right he had a conversation with Moore about working on Warrior, and warned him about Dez Skinn. There was also some small talk which I’m not going to remember but overall their meeting was fine and pleasant because both men are really fine and pleasant men, or they were at least that day.
Do I think that those saying Moore going over what happened in a restaurant in the 1980’s is going over dead ground have a point, but then again it’s about Moore giving his side of a story, and I’m sure Morrison will be around soon to give his version of events as he’s done with previous interviews with Moore. I’m also sure that’ll be via his mouthpiece in the media, Laura Sneddon, another person who gets totally decimated in Moore’s interview. Do I think that Moore’s being hard on her? Yes, I think he’s close to the line at some point but then again if this had happened to my wife:
Having travelled to Edinburgh as a guest at the Literary Festival only to belatedly realise that she’d be appearing in part of a comics-related subsection of the main event, as she distantly recalled she’d retired to her hotel room in order to avoid as much of the (to her mind) surprise comic convention as she felt she could politely manage without giving offence. Although in a state of some distraction over her unexpected and not entirely welcome immersion in the comic world (despite impeccable and courteous treatment by the Festival organisers), she thought that what had most probably happened next was that she’s been disturbed by the ringing of the room’s phone. Answering, Melinda discovered she was talking to a young woman who announced herself as Laura Sneddon and seemed to think that Melinda may have heard of her, perhaps assuming that there has ever (until now) been a point in my relationship with Melinda where we’ve had nothing more interesting to discuss than the machinations of journalists. When Melinda expressed her unfamiliarity with the name, this reportedly prompted another burst of implausible self-justification and the irrelevant news that Ms. Sneddon was no longer employed by the Independent. There followed a request for an interview on comic-related issues, which Melinda declined, and then a hastily-reformulated request for an interview on supposed feminist topics, from which Melinda also excused herself, perhaps fearing that this appeal to sisterhood may be insincere.
I’d not be too happy, especially after the incident in the Independent Moore details in the interview and as for Sneddon I class her in the same category as Holly Baxter and the Vagenda Team who ride the cusp of controversy or help create a controversy out of nothing to help them progress in the media. I don’t know Sneddon but I know friends who do and she’s a decent person by all accounts, but then again most people think of themselves as ‘decent people’. However, there’s a fine line between a journalist being a conduit for someone and being part of that person’s attempt to shape their own truth. One is an attempt to tell the world something through someone else’s direct quotes, in this case, the interview, and the other is being complicit in that person’s personal agenda. In short, one is journalism and the other is effectively public relations. I do feel Sneddon has acted too much as a PR person for Morrison and her attempts at journalism are thin at best, but neither do I think she deserves some of the vitriol being thrown around social media at her, though threatening legal action towards Moore is somewhat ridiculous.
As for Moore, I hope this squeezing out venom and spite work out for him. I do find some of the points about class to be daft, as Morrison is from a working class background like Moore, and like Moore he’s moved up the social scale from there, though it has to be said Moore hasn’t two houses in California and Scotland. Moore may have an allotment though. I’d love Moore to have an allotment in fact just so he could scare people while growing beans.
Ultimately the reaction to this is the most interesting thing. If you’ve read the interview all the way through and have at least a basic understanding of English then you’ll realise that Moore makes a good, informed argument. You’d also realise that in his comments aimed at the ‘Batman scholar’, Sneddon, Morrison, The Independent, and a number of comic fans that they can fuck right off, but said in a very thoughtful and intelligent way. It’s still someone not giving all the fucks in the world lashing out, and in places, the anger drips from every word and this is why I think it’s sparked a nerve. See, in this day and age, we’re rarely, if ever honest in public. We’re always fronting a persona because really we want people to like us regardless of what we’ve done, so to see someone not caring and settling some things straight in his eyes is a wonder to behold. Hence why the reactions to this range from a lot of thoughtful comments, to the sort of inane nonsense from defenders of corporations and the characters they own, to people taking sides, not to mention a lot of veiled threats, flouncing and general bollocks which not only proves some of Moore’s points (if I honestly see one more fucking cretin who hasn’t read the interview but asks the questions which Moore answers then I shall not be held responsible for my actions) but that there’s a general malaise around comics journalism. This article in The Beat which is the sort of thing that I’m talking about as there are a few dozen talking points Moore raises in this interview but The Beat decides to put out something which even Buzzfeed would think twice about.
What I’m saying is that this interview should be sparking a larger informed debate as well as all the juicy stuff. Instead, we get slagging matches with people puffing out their chests or people playing the martyr and on and on and on. I understand this interview is putting noses out of joint which is why I admire the bravery of Pádraig Ó Méalóid in putting his name to it and accepting the praise and spite that’s flying around the internet because of this.
We have no idea where this is going to end up. I’d expect that when the dust settles we might get a larger idea of the full picture, but with articles from parties mentioned, I’m sure on its way so that dust won’t settle for quite some time yet. The aftershocks of this will rumble for some time yet but there’s definitely more to come which means more to say and undoubtedly more blogs like this one I’ve just written and it’ll go on and on and on…..
The last word on this belongs to Ty Templeton’s quite glorious cartoon on the subject…