There have been 33 feature films based on DC Comics since 1951, yet the Hollywood history of DC has been largely limited to a trio of characters too vivid to exist in the real world: Batman, Superman, and Alan Moore.
The first two everyone knows. The third is a British writer who, while not technically a fictional character, is absolutely a character of the highest order. But in what way does he rank with the caped legends? Four of Moore’s brilliant comic book epics have been adapted by Hollywood: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and From Hell. A fifth film, Constantine, was based on a character he created, and a sixth, Return of the Swamp Thing, was propelled by his landmark three-year work on bog monster’s series.
Those individual movies range from underrated and okay (Watchmen, Constantine) to overcooked and odious (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). But collectively, they put Moore’s bookshelf not far behind Gotham City lore (nine Batman movies plus the stray spinoff Catwoman) and Metropolis mythology (the seventh Superman film is now in theaters, plus Supergirl and Steel, which were as bizarro-stupid as they sound.)
Moore lives in Northampton, England, the same place he was born 59 years ago. Since then, he’s covered a lot of territory, and not just in this dimension. Moore’s interesting look — a bushy prophet beard, a menacing sorcerer’s glare, and metallic talons on his fingers — fit a guy who identified himself as an anarchist and (with a wink) a worshiper of Glycon, the 2nd Century snake god. But even with all that, it was only after Moore refused to cash his Hollywood paychecks that his industry peers began to wonder about his grip.
Moore is no forest hermit despite some past press portrayals, but he does live off the grid if your definition of “basic shelter” includes wi-fi coverage. “I have very few connections with the 21st century, actually,” Moore said last week over the most modern of connections: a landline telephone with a curly cord stretching all the way to the 20th century.
The line was busy the first couple times I dialed, but Moore picked up on my third try and I found (just like the first time I interviewed him, back in 2008) that there was far more mischief in his voice than malice, even when he took shots at DC Comics and Hollywood, which he sees as factories that grind art (and artists) into pulp that can be sold, recycled, and then sold again in new shapes.
The topic is timely: Moore’s name was in Hollywood headlines last week when reports surfaced that Fox has ordered up a League of Extraordinary Gentleman television pilot with hopes that a savvy small-screen take on the material could right the many wrongs made by director Stephen Norrington’s 2003 film (which notoriously drove star Sean Connery into retirement). [Read Owen Gleiberman’s review here.]
That same television do-over approach worked for Fox with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that series had the character’s creator, Joss Whedon, on board to show the way. Moore laughed when asked if he or League artist and co-creator Kevin O’Neill would be involved in any way with the broadcast venture.
“Me and Kevin have been chuckling about that one, we only heard about it the other day,” Moore said. “When [DC Comics] did the recent Watchmen prequel comics I said all of sorts of deeply offensive things about the modern entertainment industry clearly having no ideas of its own and having to go through dust bins and spittoons in the dead of night to recycle things.”
After pausing a beat for emphasis he added: “The announcement that there is a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen television series hasn’t caused me to drastically alter my opinions. Now it seems they are recycling things that have already proven not to work.”
Moore could be attending Comic-Con International this week where top writers like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison will be promoting their upcoming DC projects and cheered by huge crowds – both of those writers got their start at DC in the 1980s in the wake of Moore’s revolutionary work on Swamp Thing, a three-year run of issues that was in many ways more revolutionary than Watchmen. Moore, though, says he can’t work by the rules of mainstream comics.
“If I am going to do something in any medium, then I am certainly temperamental and abrasive enough to insist that it’s going to be done the way that I want to do it,” Moore said. “This is pretty much the way I insist upon working. There really wouldn’t be any point in me doing something that I didn’t want to do. But since that entails not wanting to work for a large company — [due to the] editorial interference that would come with that sort of arrangement — that pretty much only leaves me with unconventional approaches.”
Moore’s unconventional paths in the past included phases where he gobbled LSD or delved into occult ritual. But this time, to fund His Heavy Heart, the fifth and final installment in a short-film series, he’s turning to a truly mysterious force: Kickstarter. It’s major leap of faith for a man who doesn’t know his left foot from a right click.
“I’m pretty Amish in most of my behavior,” Moore said. “It would probably be a good idea for me to be at least familiar with this intriguing new device enabling artists.”
Moore is working with Mitch Jenkins and Lex Projects. His Heavy Heart is part of Jimmy’s End, a cycle of short films written by Moore and directed by Jenkins, that seems to be getting grander in ambition by the week. The fifth short is “the most horrifying and the funniest” of the increasingly surreal mini-films, which meld British pop music traditions with a Terry Gilliam liberation regarding reality.
It was planned originally as one short, then it became the series of vignettes, and now Moore sees it as the workable blueprint for an entire feature film as well as a television series rooted in the same universe. If does reach a television show, Moore says he knows “the final scene, the final bit of dialogue” and pledges he will never follow in the footsteps of shows that turn into a giant game of Jenga at the end because the creators don’t have an exit strategy.
“Not to name names, but shows like Lost,” Moore said, suggesting that a television signal was still part of his household life back in summer of 2010.
He has said Hewlett-Packard was set at one point to fund the project, but sees no contradiction between that and his previous corporate screeds.
Moore is still suspicious of the modern world where people put their hand on a mouse and use Twitter, YouTube, and Google fill their days with flickering distraction. “I’m sure that there are many people who find they are existing almost entirely online,” Moore said.”I think that we may be reaching a point of fatigue with the situation that people may find that these labor-saving technologies actually take such a lot of labor to pay for.”
He added: “Our entire society is driven by our technology; it’s not the other way around. We’re not driving our technology. Things occur to us outside those advances and new devices, new mechanisms all occur to us in their time, and we will enthusiastically adopt them and they will mutate us.”
The sorcerer of story – the man who asked: “Who watches the Watchmen?” — says that the most dangerous magic is the pixel dust that fills computer screens with a facsimile of life. He hears the Kickstarter numbers look great, but he won’t be checking himself, preferring to stay on his side of the firewall.
“If society has decided to launch into a grand experiment with the only culture that we’ve got,” Moore explains, “then I think that it’s wise that at least somebody should remain outside the Petri dish.”