The Mindscape of Alan Moore

The Mindscape of Alan Moore movie poster


DeZ Vylenz’s feature-length doc­u­men­tary about the life and work of writer Alan Moore was made in 2003 but not released until 2008. The delay might be eas­ily explained as that of an inde­pen­dent production’s typ­i­cal strug­gle for fund­ing, but it’s hard not to guess the tim­ing of this par­tic­u­lar film’s lav­ish release as a deluxe double-disc DVD may have some­thing to do with Moore’s cur­rently ele­vated pro­file. The long-awaited the­atri­cal adap­ta­tion of Moore and Dave Gib­bons’ sem­i­nal graphic novel Watch­men finally hits the­aters on March 6 2009, after almost 2 decades of fits and starts in Hol­ly­wood limbo.

The Mind­scape of Alan Moore is essen­tially an extended sit-down inter­view with Moore, inter­cut with evoca­tive imagery evok­ing God­frey Reggio’s Koy­aanisqatsi: Life Out of Bal­ance. It moves too quickly to focus on any one aspect of Moore’s long career, and it’s pos­si­ble to glean more insight into the man just by read­ing one or two inter­views. But it’s appar­ent that Vylenz’s true inter­est lies less in Moore’s comics work than in his prac­tice of magic. More on that later.

Alan Moore in The Mindscape of Alan MooreThe charmer from Northhampton

Let’s be frank; Alan Moore is a weird cat. As more than one per­son has described him, he’s a truly great writer that has cho­sen to work in “The Gut­ter” (as it amuses Neil Gaiman to call it): comics. Which is to over­sim­plify; some of his other work includes sev­eral per­for­mance art pieces and the stun­ning prose novel Voice of the Fire. All this has left Moore a cult fig­ure, under­es­ti­mated even by many fans. He is prob­a­bly one of comics’ best-known names, but while his friend Gaiman fre­quently tours the globe like a rock star, he’s happy to stay at home in North­hamp­ton. Like Stan­ley Kubrick, he has an unfair rep­u­ta­tion as a kind of eccen­tric recluse, but report­edly the actual truth is that he is a warm and friendly per­son who sim­ply wishes to enjoy life in his home town and prac­tice his art.

Moore began writ­ing comics in the 1980s Reagan/Thatcher Cold War era, which informed the para­noid and apoc­a­lyp­tic air of V for Vendetta and Watch­men. One par­tic­u­lar fic­tional night­mare of Moore’s that he per­versely enjoys to point out is V For Vendetta’s accu­rate pre­dic­tion that CCTV sur­veil­lance would blan­ket Eng­land by the late 1990s. But fur­ther on the topic of polit­i­cal oppres­sion, Moore affirms that while con­spir­acy the­o­ries are every­where you look (the act of look­ing cre­ates them, one might say), in fact there are no con­spir­a­cies. If the world is rud­der­less and chaotic, con­spir­acy the­o­ries are mere comforts.

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Against his inten­tions, his dark take on the super­hero and sci­ence fic­tion gen­res was rad­i­cally influ­en­tial in the wrong way. Fans and cre­ators who didn’t grasp the deeper themes behind Watch­men for­ever steered comics into grim and gritty stu­pid­ity, mim­ic­k­ing the super­flu­ous sex and vio­lence with­out the sub­text and lit­er­ary merit that Moore snuck in the back door. On its sim­plest level, Watch­men could be described as what the world would be like if there actu­ally were such a thing as super­heroes. The answer being: totally dif­fer­ent and yet exactly the same. But look­ing deeper, Watch­men is actu­ally about the dan­ger of those that pre­sume to the power to change the world. It’s impos­si­ble to read Watch­men now, two decades after its cre­ation, and not to com­pare the book’s true vil­lain (whom it would be a cruel spoiler for me to name here) with George W. Bush’s mis­ad­ven­tures in the Mid­dle East. Bush and Watchmen’s vil­lain both man­u­fac­tured wars with the pre­sump­tive belief that they were des­tined to save the world.

Moore believes that while a knowl­edge and appre­ci­a­tion of how cin­ema works can inform comics, there are things that only comics can do. If comics cre­ators only work with movies in mind, their comics will be like “movies that don’t move.” So, as a result, most of his work was essen­tially “designed to be unfilmable.” This Dork Reporter wor­ries that the forth­com­ing adap­ta­tion of Watch­men will carry on the tra­di­tion of miss­ing Moore’s point, and will sim­ply be a dark, nasty, and depress­ing story of vio­lence, sex, and deprav­ity star­ring super­heroes in sexy tights.

Rorschach in The Mindscape of Alan MooreRorschach’s cameo appearance

Moore declared to friends and fam­ily on his 40th birth­day that he was a magi­cian. That’s not “magic” as in the pulling of rab­bits out of prover­bial hats, but as in the explo­ration of areas out­side the realm of sci­ence. Magic is the explo­ration of what sci­ence does not cover, but some­times sci­ence describes the world in ways that might sound like magic. Col­lab­o­ra­tor Dave Gib­bons points out the Heisen­berg Uncer­tainty Prin­ci­ple, in which the more we learn what makes up mat­ter and the mate­r­ial world, the less sub­stan­tial it all seems. We can’t observe or mea­sure it; there’s noth­ing there.

Moore defines magic as “The Art,” and if art is the manip­u­la­tion of words and images to alter con­scious­ness, then art is magic, and a writer is a magi­cian. As Moore says in an inter­view with Daniel Whis­ton, his best gri­moire (or book of spells) is actu­ally a dic­tio­nary. Moore believes writ­ing is a “trans­for­ma­tive force than can change soci­ety” but by the 21st Cen­tury, writ­ing is seen as a mere enter­tain­ment. Whereas once, in less ratio­nal or sci­en­tif­i­cally enlight­ened times, writ­ers were feared. A witch could curse your crops or your health, but a writer could afflict you with a satire that could cause an entire com­mu­nity to laugh at you, and worse, for pos­ter­ity to con­tinue to laugh at you gen­er­a­tions after you die! Now, the power of magic is not only under­es­ti­mated, but abused. Adver­tis­ers work magic every day by manip­u­lat­ing and anes­thetiz­ing peo­ple en masse.

The Mindscape of Alan MooreDoc­tor Man­hat­tan as Da Vinci’s Vit­ru­vian Man

Moore posits the exis­tence of what he calls “Idea­space,” the land­scape of the mind and spirit. The var­i­ous sys­tems of magic, like the Tarot and the Kab­balah, are maps to Idea­space. He describes how writ­ers and musi­cians some­times feel like they are tap­ping in to some­thing beyond them, as if merely tak­ing dic­ta­tion. I myself once felt a faint, pathetic lit­tle echo of I think what Moore is talk­ing about. A high school friend and I used to com­pose and record instru­men­tal music for gui­tar and key­board. Our com­po­si­tions were of vary­ing degrees of seri­ous­ness, many just silly fun, but some fairly ambi­tious. While jam­ming around one of our sil­li­est tunes, I still swear I heard a melody in the music that nei­ther of us had played yet. My friend couldn’t hear it even when I fig­ured it out on the gui­tar and played it over the back­ing tracks we had already recorded. Per­haps I was just hear­ing musi­cal over­tones that were lit­er­ally present in the sound waves, but I remain con­vinced that, as silly as that par­tic­u­lar song was, I very briefly con­nected into some kind of world of music. I don’t feel like it was a piece of music that I wrote, more like some­thing that was already there, wait­ing, and I just had to hear it and play it back onto tape.

But if Idea­space is real place full of “infor­ma­tion” (non­ma­te­r­ial ideas and inven­tions), humans are accu­mu­lat­ing infor­ma­tion at an expo­nen­tially increas­ing rate, and Moore pre­dicts an apoc­a­lypse of sorts. If it con­tin­ues at this rate, the accu­mu­la­tion of infor­ma­tion will accel­er­ate to a point where it will effec­tively approach infin­ity around 2015. He doesn’t know what will hap­pen, but poet­i­cally describes the event as soci­ety reach­ing a boil­ing point and “becom­ing steam.” Moore’s ideas here are sim­i­lar to Ray Kurzweil’s notion of the com­ing Sin­gu­lar­ity, the point at which com­put­ers become so advanced that they can act of their own accord, and improve them­selves, and in effect become con­scious. What Moore has to say here is both fas­ci­nat­ing and fright­en­ing, but the film falls down by lit­er­ally illus­trat­ing his big ideas with overly lit­eral spe­cial effects sequences show­ing North­hamp­ton burning.

Other filmed sequences reen­act scenes from Watch­men, V for Vendetta, and John Con­stan­tine: Hell­blazer (a series ini­tially writ­ten by Jamie Delano, but star­ring the char­ac­ter Moore cre­ated for Swamp Thing). It prob­a­bly seemed extremely unlikely in 2003 that any of these prop­er­ties would become big-budget Hol­ly­wood films, and yet they now all have. In par­tic­u­lar, the two sequences from Watch­men and V for Vendetta almost surely didn’t make Warner Bros. (who owns the rights to the works) happy, but they seem to have allowed Vylenz’ film to be released nevertheless.

A bonus DVD includes lengthy inter­views with many of Moore’s col­lab­o­ra­tors, dis­cussing their own work as well as their col­lab­o­ra­tions with Moore. Moore’s wife Melinda Geb­bie, an Amer­i­can expat and illus­tra­tor of the porno­graphic novel Lost Girls, is more… well, nor­mal than I would have expected. She’s extremely intel­li­gent, with pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics, mak­ing her an obvi­ous part­ner for Moore, but to be hon­est, I expected more of a freak. Also, Dave Gib­bons does a wicked impres­sion of Moore.

Offi­cial movie site:

Maybe read: Frac­tal­mat­ter review

Maybe read: CHUD review

Must read: The Craft, by Daniel Whis­ton. An extended inter­view with Moore on the craft of writing.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta movie poster


For all the neg­a­tive buzz regard­ing Alan Moore’s total dis­avowal of the adap­ta­tion, I was sur­prised to find the film kept far closer to the book than I expected. Closer, in fact, than the two other trav­es­ties of Moore’s comics, League of Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­men and From Hell. Per­haps not coin­ci­den­tally, it’s bet­ter than both, if by itself still not very good.

It’s impos­si­ble for me to imag­ine how I would have reacted had I not read the book sev­eral times, but I sus­pect I would have had very mixed feel­ings either way. When if comes to movies based on comics, it’s the pre­rog­a­tive of every fan­boy to obsess over “what they changed.” So let me point out a few changes I feel illus­trate how the film­mak­ers either mis­un­der­stood or delib­er­ately warped some key themes that make the book what it is.

First, Evey’s life (and the future Great Britain, for that mat­ter) as seen in the film is in a far less des­per­ate state than in the book. The book opens with her at the absolute end of hope, her par­ents dead and her­self alone, black­listed and unable to sur­vive. She makes a mis­guided and pathetic attempt to pros­ti­tute her­self, runs afoul of the cor­rupt police, and is “saved” (in more ways than one) by V. Her sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to V’s seduc­tion is much more plau­si­ble if she her­self is already a vic­tim of the state. In the film, she’s a rather happy per­son with a reg­u­lar job, and her encounter with V is moti­vated by a redun­dant invented char­ac­ter called Deitrich. Every theme Deitrich rep­re­sents is already cov­ered by the char­ac­ter Valerie (which is, inci­den­tally, lifted almost unal­tered from the book).

But per­haps the biggest devi­a­tion is the very nature of the fas­cist state Great Britain has become. In the book, it’s some­thing that just hap­pens; a form of order that arises out of the chaos fol­low­ing a nuclear world war. In the film, the great soci­etal dis­rup­tion is a con­spir­acy machi­nated by a cabal of shad­owy old white men, who then step in and profit from the recon­struc­tion. Of course, the film­mak­ers are obvi­ously reach­ing for an anal­ogy to the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion, Car­lyle Group, Hal­libur­ton, etc. While that may make the story of the film rel­e­vant to today, it obscures a more pow­er­ful point of the book: it’s far more scary when fas­cism arises out of the com­mon con­sent of the peo­ple, as it did with Nazi Germany.