Alan Moore: Could it be magic?

Hollywood may love Alan Moore, but the cult graphic novelist sets his artistic sights higher. Roz Kaveney talks to him about Kabbala, comics and consciousness

Moore has changed the face of graphic novels, so that we hardly talk about "comics" any more, but that, luckily, does not make him a celebrity. "It means nothing if a million people know your name," he says. "I didn't sign up for that." One of the many themes which have permeated his work since he first started to be noticed for his issues of DC Comics Swamp Thing in the early 1980s is his distaste for the way the mass media turn sometimes quite ordinary people into celebrities, "fuel rods for the Murdoch empire", then spit them out as drug-addicted or merely boring, only to rediscover them years later as ironic icons. The work is what is important: if Moore's name is something that the industry uses to shift product, that is because Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and all the rest are outstanding, inventive pieces of work.

His house is just one of a long brick terrace; inside, it is blue and starry. His bath is on a Hollywood scale: a friend who works in fibre-glass got on the wrong side of the local heavies, and Moore settled his debt and took it out in trade. This is the house of a working writer; cases of editions of his work litter the office floor. It is also the home of a working magician, decorated with ritual wands from the Golden Dawn, falcon masks and the haunting art of the occultist Austin Osman Spare. This makes for an appropriately strange setting for the recluse whom Iain Sinclair has described as "the last sane man in England".

"Magic and Art are the same," he affirms. "Which is why Magic is referred to as The Great Art. They are both technologies of Will, both about pulling rabbits out of hats and creating something where there was nothing." Moore and the artist J H Williams have just published the fifth and final volume of Promethea (America's Best Comics/Titan, £24.99), which is partly a superhero comic about a young woman coming into mystic power at the end of the second millennium, and partly a course of instruction in magic and the occult. It is funny and exciting, and somehow you don't feel quite the same after reading it; it's a book that leaves you with a sense of the connectedness of things. A bestselling piece of commercial art, Promethea is also as much Moore's grimoire as the two CDs of his ritual performances, The Highbury Working and Snakes and Ladders.

"Books of magic are always written in high metaphor," he explains. "They are about our relationship to consciousness and how we construe it." Consciousness is the hole in rationalism. You cannot reproduce it in a laboratory, which is why some rationalist philosophers like Dan Dennett try to deny the shared experience of knowing that there is a "how" to how we feel. For Moore, magic is a way of breaking the paradigm, of making sense of our lives as we live them.

He is distrustful of many things about magic and the occult: "When I talk about Kabbala, it is a coherent system for organising our understanding of things and the connections between them, not wearing a red string on your wrist or drinking expensive bottled water." One of the most beautiful sections of Promethea is a prolonged wander through the Sephirothim, the realms of reality described by the Kabbala, which are cognate with the planets of non-predictive astrology and with the effects of colour on our moods. Thus, one issue is largely green and discusses that oceanic feeling of belonging and being nurtured that is associated with Venus; it is also Williams's tribute to the swirly softness of Alphonse Mucha and much Underground art of the 1960s.

Promethea was also about setting himself and Williams challenges. After the episode in which they had presented the history of the world as a tarot deck, it had to be a matter of ever-escalating virtuoso explorations of different styles of comics and of occult art. The last issue, for example, in which everything we have learned about magic is recapitulated, is designed both page by page, and to fold out as two large posters of Promethea.

"One of the problems with the occult is the vested interest of most occultists in obfuscation," says Moore. "They sell the possibilities of magic short and lose touch with reality." In Promethea, partly because it is also a high-octane story about the misunderstood Sophie Bangs (whom the FBI are chasing for fear that she will destroy the world), Moore is free to talk more or less clearly about what, for example, the end of the world means. As Promethea, Sophie does, in a sense, end the world; she makes everyone see things in a new light: "It was always going to be a book about Apocalypse. Then issue 17, which had as its teaser for the next issue Panic in Manhattan, Hell on Earth, appeared in mid- September 2001."

Promethea is only one, though perhaps the most interesting, of the projects Moore has been doing for his imprint America's Best Comics. There is Tom Strong, with its deliberate evocation of a more innocent era of chunky, brilliant heroes who make peace with menaces as often as they fight them. There is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a piece of cynical Victoriana in which Alan Quartermain, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, Mr Hyde and the Invisible Man join forces against Chinese warlords and Martian invaders, and there is the sardonic anthology series, Terrific Tales.

My personal favourite is Top Ten and its just-published prequel The 49ers, which are smart, humane and funny, but also a nuanced meditation on the "heroic" part of the concept of the superhero. They are, effectively, a version of The Bill or Hill Street Blues set in Neopolis, where everyone is a superhero, a robot, a vampire or a god. "I had been thinking about why superhero team-up comics almost never work," says Moore, "and I think it is because you have to set your team against ever-escalating menaces. And I had been thinking about the ensemble in cop shows."

This is, quite possibly, one of Alan Moore's swansongs in the traditional comics industry. Gerald Jonas in his book Men of Tomorrow documented the way that the creators of comics' most enduring icons - Superman and Batman - were cheated by businessmen who had a more than passing association with the Mafia. Things may have changed, but not enough. "Proper grown-up writers have a moral right to their work - it says so right there on the page," says Moore.

Specifically, he hates the way that many of his colleagues get excited when a wonderful comic book gets turned into a worthless movie franchise. He is in the process of severing his links with DC as a result of a press release which said that he was enthusiastic about the forthcoming film of V for Vendetta. On the contrary, "I have made it clear that I want nothing to do with films of my work. I don't want my name on them and I insist that the money go to other creators."

In 2006, Moore and his partner Melinda Gebbie will be publishing Lost Girls, a graphic novel that explores the erotic and the pornographic; it is startling and innovative, and the artwork is quite remarkably beautiful.

In the summer of 1914, at a spa in Austria, three women of varying ages meet, and talk about their sexual awakenings. Since the three women in question are Alice, Wendy and Dorothy - the protagonists of three of the most metaphor-rich children's books of literary history - their conversations stray into some weird and wonderful territory. "Why can't a pornographic graphic novel be as fine as anything in the field, and still be sexy?" Moore asks. For all his disillusion with the actual industry, Alan Moore is as in love as ever with the wonderful possibilities of hybrid comics to do things that no other art form can manage.

Biography

Alan Moore was born in 1953 in Northampton, where he still lives. In the 1970s he co-founded an underground magazine, Embryo. He came to prominence as a comics writer with the dystopian V for Vendetta (1982). Working for DC Comics in the 1980s, he created Swamp Thing and Watchmen. In 1988, Watchmen became the first graphic work to win a Hugo science-fiction award. He also contributed influential new stories for Batman and Superman. After 1988, Moore worked for small companies, producing graphic novels such as From Hell. Moore now has his own imprint, America's Best Comics, a vehicle for series such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea, the final volume of which has just appeared. Adaptations of his work include the films of From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with a film of V for Vendetta due next year. In 2006, Moore and his partner, Melinda Gebbie, will publish their erotic graphic novel, Lost Girls.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor