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Alan Moore on ‘Game of Thrones’: ‘Like ‘The Sopranos’ set in 5th century Dorset’

Talking to Alan Moore, the magical mind behind iconic comic books including From Hell, Watchmen and The Killing Joke, is like being in an alternate universe. First of all there is the landline. “I prefer to stay in the 20th Century without a smart phone or Internet connection, because that is where I am the most comfortable,” the 69-year-old author said from home in Northampton, UK, “sitting in my usual chair, by my usual window in my usual town.”

After the gigantic 1,266-page novel, Jerusalem, Moore felt he needed to do something different and that is how the short story collection, Illuminations (Bloomsbury), was born. The decision to put together a collection of short stories, Moore says was made a couple of years ago. “I had not done very many of them as I was distracted by the comics industry ( laughs).

In short

The short story, Moore believes is the best way for anyone to learn their craft. “In it you have to do all the things that you would do in a massive, sprawling novel, in a restricted space. You have to create the situation, all of your characters, make them credible, develop those characters and situations and then bring them to a hopefully satisfying or surprising conclusion.”

One can experiment with the short story in a way that one cannot in a novel. “The experiments or effects that you are thinking of might not be enough to sustain a novel. You can be playful and take chances with a short story. It is exhilarating to get your teeth into an idea and complete it in a couple of weeks.”

Smorgasbord of styles, themes

Moore says he tried to make the collection as diverse as possible. “I was trying to play around with different styles, presentations, and subject matter to show that I do have a certain amount of range. And I do like to show off!”

Each of the nine stories in Illuminations is startling different. From an alarming little revenge love-story, ‘Hypothetical Lizard’, a straightforward ghost story, ‘Cold Reading’ and an apocalyptic battle in ‘Location Location Location’, to the 242-page takedown of the comics industry, ‘What Can We Know About Thunderman’.

“It took me by surprise. I thought I might have something to say about the comics industry. I started it as a short story. When I found out how much I have got to say about the comics industry and realised that for the last 40 years I’ve been sizzling with resentments, the story just kept getting longer and longer till it was a novel.”

Moore says he has no idea where the cavalcade of ridiculous character names in ‘What Can We Know About Thunderman’ came from. “There must just be some particular part of my brain that is entirely involved with coming up with stupid names!”

Remembering right

With ‘Illuminations’, the titular short story, Moore says he wanted to talk of the corrosive nature of nostalgia. “I had been thinking about doing something like that, since about 2005 when I went on a disastrously stupid holiday that was attempting to recreate the summer holidays that I’d had on the seaside when I was a child. I realized that it had been nostalgia that prompted it in the first place.”

Thinking about the holiday, Moore realised that while he was disappointed the place of his childhood holidays was not like he remembered, it would have been worse if it had. “That would be terribly unnatural.”

A lot of the political problems that the world seems to be going through at the moment, Moore says, are based on a false nostalgia. “That longing for a time that never happened is the platform fascist members of the Far Right tend to run on. They make people nostalgic for this imaginary time. Nostalgia is used to build a lot of misogyny and racism.”

About time

Time is something that Moore remains fascinated by and in the story, ‘Not Even Legends’, there is a character who experiences time backwards. “It enabled me to do some cute storytelling tricks. Albert Einstein spoke of a universe with at least four dimensions and we are familiar with three.”

Time, Moore says is not the fourth dimension. “It is the way we perceive the fourth dimension. There is a solid block of space time and our consciousness is moving through that along the time axis. It is a bit like the beam of a projector through a strip of film where neither the images nor the film is moving. It is our consciousness that moves those frames. We get the illusion of movement, motive and morality, all of the things that make up the world as we know it.”

This reading has got an awful lot of implications including that everything in that block of space-time is unchanging and eternal and that physical death is pretty much an optical illusion. “That is a perspective which could be helpful to many people.”

‘American Light: An Appreciation’ was born out of Moore’s fondness for the Beat movement. “I thought it might be technically interesting to try and invent a Beat poet who has written a career-defining poem when everybody thought he was a spent force. It was a complex job but I enjoyed it.”

Wonder on every page

Coming down heavily on what he describes as “The Lord of the Rings” brand of fantasy — pseudo-medieval and replete with magical creatures, Moore says, “To me that isn’t fantasy. It is a very tired sub-genre. Fantasy should be something you have never read or imagined before, astounding on every page. It should stretch the human imagination into places that it has never been before.”

Moore says he was once asked whether he had watched Game of Thrones. “I watched one episode and it seemed like The Sopranos set in fifth century Dorset. It was modern attitudes and ideas transplanted to an imaginary past that obviously never happened.” There is a nostalgia for the medieval period, which was pretty much an unending Hieronymus Bosch landscape of violence, plague, starvation and misery.”

Insisting he would rather read real history, Moore comments, “I read that George RR Martin based much of Game of Thrones on the War of the Roses. I happen to live in a place where all of Britain’s internal wars ended up.” Telling the story of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, Moore says, “I find this story more interesting than dragons. It is real and happened just down the road in my town.”

Comic, not graphic

Moore famously dislikes the term graphic novel. “Comic book is what the medium was called from its inception. My problem with the term graphic novels is it was invented by somebody in a marketing department in the late 1980s as a way to sell reconstructed children’s comics from the last 50 years to a new audience of middle-class adults.”

Comics were originally created, Moore suggests, as an art form to serve the working classes. “It was based on the assumption that the working classes are a bit stupid and child-like and probably need pictures to help them follow the story. It was a patronising view of the working class. Most of the early creators, like Jack Kirby, who created almost every Marvel Comics superhero character that you’ve ever heard of, were from the working class.”

This working class industry suddenly realised that middleclass adults will turn up in their hundreds and thousands at the box office for a new superhero movie, Moore says. “The comic book industry understood that middle-class people aren’t going to want something with as cheap a reputation as comic books. So they have to give them a new name that makes them sound sophisticated and grown up though the content will still be the same ridiculous Batman stories that we’ve been doing for the past 40 years.”

Rough and ready

It is the equivalent, Moore says, of the gentrification of a working class neighborhood. “When I was first getting into the medium, it struck me as one that is quick, barely civilised and going out to people who don’t necessarily have very much money.

It was a brilliant way, Moore says, of disseminating radical ideas to a large section of the population. “It was a marvelously democratic medium. If you look at the price of these graphic novels, it is fairly obvious that they are not intended for poor people or the working classes anymore.”

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