Famous names from the comics world are converging on Glasgow forthe 1990 UK Comic Art Convention. which takes place at the City Chambers on 31 March and 1 April. Below, Alastair Mabbott quizzes legendary writer Alan Moore (whose aversion to adulation has stopped him going to conventions), about his new 12-part graphic novel Big Numbers, and flicks through some of the latest publications.
8 The List 23 March — 5 April 1990
The biggest star ofcomics in the 19805, ‘though most ofthe time I‘m recognised for being other people. like Billy Connolly or Roy Wood‘. Alan Moore is disappointed at how little progress has been made in his chosen field since the renaissance of five years ago. in which he was singled out as a writer ofuncommon sOphistication — the name to drop for the discerning comics reader. ‘You got a slew ofvery interesting books all coming out at once.‘ he sighs. ‘and there have been some very good ones since. But all the major companies seem to have done in the last four or five years is recapitulate Watchmen and Dark Knight. We‘ve just had this stream ofprogressively grim and more pretentious superheroes.‘
His own new 12-part graphic novel. Big Numbers. strips away all of that, aligning itself more with soap opera than adventure fiction. and focusing on a cast of forty characters living in the semi-fictional town of Hampton in England.
‘We‘ve kicked away everything that we‘ve previously depended on for our audience,’ he says, ‘and we‘ve done it deliberately. We‘ve put it in a different format, we‘ve got rid of all the severer science fiction and fantasy trappings that dominate nearly 100 per cent ofthe mainstream comics marketplace.‘
If the advance orders are telling the full story, the ‘incredibly risky‘ undertaking. the second project on Moore‘s own Mad Love imprint. may turnout to be the biggest-selling independent black-and-white comic ever produced in Britain. But the initial element of risk is conspicuous: a marked lack ofguys in long underwear.
‘It felt important to me to build upon the sort of breakthrough that existed five years ago, to try and come up with a mainstream for comics; 8 real mainstream rather than the DC and Marvel mainstream. A mainstream in the sense ofmainstream fiction or mainstream cinema. not a genre. Not detectives or cowboys or supermen or spacemen. All the books I‘m doing now are an attempt to establish that sort of mainstream; the erotic novel. the speculative history. . .they are all about genuine. human people.‘
Genre work. though, has done well for him in the past ten years. After distinguishing himself on the seminal V for Vendetta and M irac/eman. Moore was ‘sucked up as part of the brain drain‘ by DC Comics in the United States. and set to work on Swamp Thing. a series with an already-established reputation for quality. Moore rose to the challenge. reinventing the character and taking it to new heights.
Watchmen followed. the graphic novel which. along with Frank Miller's Batman book The Dark Knight Returns. signalled the breakthrough of comics into the ‘respectable‘ world. If you can pinpoint a moment when it became hip to read comics in public. it was when that bloodstaincd yellow smiley face began staring out from
Alan Moon: and am Slenklowlcz
the shelves. By the time he had finished it. Moore had lost the last trace of nostalgic affection for 'that perfect Nietzschean vision‘ suggested by Superman 50 years earlier.
However. it was the final issue of Miracleman, which appeared this year, that proved Moore‘s real kiss-off to the superhero.
‘We wanted to take the idea ofthe superhero to its logical conclusion. when the superheroes decide to make everything perfect forever. We wanted to have that perfect world described vividly. and then have that small element of tiny. unimportant, nagging doubt to set against it, which is the most important thing in the entire series. What ifwe got to Utopia and people didn't like it'."
While Watchmen was being written. relations with DC came to a head. Moore quit and set up his own company, Mad Love. but in between. he wrote one piece ofwork that showed clearly his intentions for the medium: Brought to Light. an expose in comic strip form of the dirty tricks undertaken by the CIA since the end of World War II. The subject was tackled by Bill Sienkiewicz. the most left-field of American comics artists. in suitably nightmarish fashion. and was about as far as you could get from caped heroics. It was followed by the anti-Clause 28 AARGH.’ (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia). the first Mad Love publication. and now. Big .N'umhers.
Big .N'umbers is set in Hampton. a
town identical to Moore‘s home. rendered by the (‘onnecticut-based Sienkiewiez, who receives minutely-detailed scripts (‘lt‘s a sickness with me. really,‘ says Moore, well-known for turning out the longest. fussiest scripts in the business) plus at least a dozen photographs for each scene. ‘But the amount ofdetail,‘ he groans. ‘Everything‘s different. You have a breakfast scene. you have to send over the Alpen box.‘
Considering that Big Numbers scrutinises a community. the fact that it is based on his doorstep must hold some kind ofsignificance for him. But what?
‘Obviously I know my hometown best. The other reason for choosing Northampton as the model for the fictional community of Hampton was that in many ways Northampton is the almost perfect median small town. It‘s right in the middle of the country geographically. and it‘s right in the middle of the country economically. It is the North-South Divide. to all intents and purposes. And also by writing about something very specific. I‘m hoping that there‘ll be a chance to do something that‘s almost universal.‘
Moore was once quoted as saying that something very important and dramatic was happening to the people of this country. but neither he nor we could make out exactly what it was. Has writing Big Numbers helped?
‘Doing it is bringing me into focus. The concepts of fractal maths are——J