Alan Moore, the king of comics, is at his home in Northampton, England. He’s been working on a new story called “Lost Girls.” Actually he’s been working on it for the last 16 years, but now it’s done and due out this summer as a graphic novel, illustrated by his fiancee, the artist Melinda Gebbe. It’s a wild tale, even by the 52-year-old Moore’s standards: Three heroines of classic children’s literature — Alice from “Alice in Wonderland,” Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” and Wendy from “Peter Pan” — meet up in London in 1913 and realize that their respective stories are actually metaphors for sexual awakening. Very erotic. Or, as Moore prefers to think of it, very pornographic.
The sex-filled “Lost Girls” may be a little too scary for Hollywood, which has heretofore adored Moore’s work and turned three of his creations (the graphic novels “From Hell” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” as well as the supernatural investigator John Constantine) into very bad movies. Moore’s densely complex 1987 graphic novel, “Watchmen” (illustrated by Dave Gibbons), has been banging around Hollywood for years (director Terry Gilliam was once attached to it), but has yet to be made. “V for Vendetta,” however, the ’80s series he did with artist David Lloyd, has — and Moore is not happy about it. He read the script and hated it and, as is now his customary practice, he’s had his name taken off the movie and directed that all profits he might be due from the film be given to Lloyd instead.
Alan Moore very rarely gives interviews, but MTV News’ Jennifer Vineyard spoke to him at length by phone recently about “V for Vendetta,” about his Hollywood problem, about the perils of working with Johnny Depp and Sean Connery, and about his latest project.
MTV: Could you see “Lost Girls” being made into a film?
Alan Moore: I don’t see how adapting it to another medium makes any sense at all. But that’s me. I am a little cranky sometimes. And it wouldn’t be fair of me to say no if Melinda [Gebbe] did want to see “Lost Girls” made into a film. My position is, I don’t want my name on it and I don’t want the money. But also, how would they get actors of any quality to appear in a hard-core sex film? We’d need Judi Dench for it, and I don’t think she’d do it. But I really doubt that any of my comics can be [successfully] made into films, because that’s not how I write them.
MTV: But you do have a very cinematic style.
Moore: In comics the reader is in complete control of the experience. They can read it at their own pace, and if there’s a piece of dialogue that seems to echo something a few pages back, they can flip back and check it out, whereas the audience for a film is being dragged through the experience at the speed of 24 frames per second. So even for a director like Terry Gilliam, who delights in cramming background details into his movies, there’s no way he’d be able to duplicate what Dave Gibbons was able to do in “Watchmen.” We could place almost subliminal details in every panel, and we knew that the reader could take the time to spot everything. There’s no way you could do that in a film.
I met Terry Gilliam, and he asked me, “How would you make a film of ‘Watchmen’?” And I said, “Don’t.” I think he eventually came to agree with me that it was a film better unmade. In Hollywood you’re going to have the producers and the backers putting in their … well, I don’t want to dignify them by calling them ideas, but … having their input, shall we say. You’re going to get actors who’ll say they don’t want to say this line or play this character like that. I mean the police inspector in “From Hell,” Fred Abberline, was based on real life: He was an unassuming man in middle age who was not a heavy drinker and who, as far as I know, remained faithful to his wife throughout his entire life. Johnny Depp saw fit to play this character as an absinthe-swilling, opium-den-frequenting dandy with a haircut that, in the Metropolitan Police force in 1888, would have gotten him beaten up by the other officers.
On the other hand when I have got an opium-addicted character, in Allan Quatermain [in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”], this was true to the [original] character — he showed a fondness for drugs on several occasions. But Sean Connery didn’t want to play him as a drug-addled individual. So the main part of Quatermain’s character was thrown out the window on the whim of an actor. I don’t have these problems in comics.
MTV: So why sell the film rights in the first place?
Moore: My position used to be: If the film is a masterpiece, that has nothing to do with my book. If the film is a disaster, that has nothing to do with my book. They’re two separate entities, and people will understand that. This was very naive because most people are not bothered with whether it’s adapted from a book or not. And if they do know, they assume it was a faithful adaptation. There’s no need to read the book if you’ve seen the film, right? And how many of the audience who went to see “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” thought, “Hmmm, I’ve really got to go read ‘The Odyssey’ “?
When you’re talking about things like “V for Vendetta” or “Watchmen,” I don’t have a choice. Those were works which DC Comics kind of tricked me out of, so they own all that stuff and it’s up to them whether the film gets made or not. All I can do is say, “I want my name taken off of it and I don’t want any of the money.” I’d rather the money be distributed amongst the artists. But even though [the filmmakers] were aware that I’d asked that my name be taken off “V for Vendetta” and had already signed my money away to the artist, they issued a press release saying I was really excited about the film. Which was a lie. I asked for a retraction, but they weren’t prepared to do that. So I announced I wouldn’t be working with DC Comics anymore. I just couldn’t bear to have any contact with DC Comics, Warner Bros. or any of this shark pool ever again.
One of the things I don’t like about film is its incredible immersive quality. It’s kind of bullying — it’s very big, it’s very flashy, it’s got a lot of weight and it throws it around almost to the detriment of the rest of our culture.And I have gotten tired of lazy critics who, when they want to insult a film, they’ll say it has “comic book characters” or a “comic book plot” — using “comic book” as code for “illiterate.”
MTV: They’ve probably never read a comic book.
Moore: That’s it. I’m not going to claim all comic books are literate — there’s a lot of rubbish out there. But there have been some very literate comic books done over the last 20 years, some marvelous ones. And to actually read a comic, you do have to be able to read, which is not something you can say about watching a film. So as for which medium is literate, give me comics any day.
MTV: There is one possible solution, something that Neil Gaiman is now doing with his “Death: The High Cost of Living” and Frank Miller has done with “Sin City”: Why not direct the films yourself?
Moore: I don’t have any interest in directing films of my work. If something worked perfectly in one genre, why is there any reason to assume it’s going to work as well or better in another genre that it wasn’t designed for? I’ve not seen “Ghost World,” but I’ve been told it’s very good. I’ve not been told that it’s better than the comic.
MTV: What about something that is true to the spirit of the original work, like “The Lord of the Rings”?
Moore: CGI makes me spit vitriol and bile and venom. When it comes to films, give me someone like [surrealist filmmaker] Jean Cocteau. When he wants to have somebody reaching into a mirror, he spends all of about five dollars on the special effect: He gets a tray, fills it with mercury and then turns the camera on its side. That is poetry. That is magic.
I have a theory, which has not let me down so far, that there is an inverse relationship between imagination and money. Because the more money and technology that is available to [create] a work, the less imagination there will be in it. My favorite films are those that were made on a shoestring. And they weren’t adaptations of some other work, they were original pieces of cinema. All right, [Cocteau’s] “La Belle Et La BÔø?te” is an adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” — but it was made into something very different. And I mean, John Waters, his early films, they’re terrific! Because he was making them with some friends of his from Baltimore, with whatever cheap film stock he could borrow or steal. George Romero, in “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” all the rest of them, he ingeniously used the fact that he had almost no budget to his advantage — claustrophobic sets, everyone’s trapped in the cellar and the zombies are trying to dig their way in. Very inexpensive, incredibly powerful. That is where cinema really works for me.
If you give me a typewriter and I’m having a good day, I can write a scene that will astonish its readers. That will perhaps make them laugh, perhaps make them cry — that will have some emotional clout to it. It doesn’t cost much to do that. But if you said, “Astonish the audience,” and you gave me a quarter of a million — well, my auntie could astonish an audience if she got that much money! Real art and the things that actually change our culture tend to happen on the margins. They don’t happen in the middle of a big marquee.
MTV: But couldn’t there ever be an exception? And since you haven’t seen it, couldn’t “V for Vendetta” be that exception?
Moore: I’ve read the screenplay, so I know exactly what they’re doing with it, and I’m not going to be going to see it. When I wrote “V,” politics were taking a serious turn for the worse over here. We’d had [Conservative Party Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher in for two or three years, we’d had anti-Thatcher riots, we’d got the National Front and the right wing making serious advances. “V for Vendetta” was specifically about things like fascism and anarchy.
Those words, “fascism” and “anarchy,” occur nowhere in the film. It’s been turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country. In my original story there had been a limited nuclear war, which had isolated Britain, caused a lot of chaos and a collapse of government, and a fascist totalitarian dictatorship had sprung up. Now, in the film, you’ve got a sinister group of right-wing figures — not fascists, but you know that they’re bad guys — and what they have done is manufactured a bio-terror weapon in secret, so that they can fake a massive terrorist incident to get everybody on their side, so that they can pursue their right-wing agenda. It’s a thwarted and frustrated and perhaps largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values [standing up] against a state run by neo-conservatives — which is not what “V for Vendetta” was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about [England]. The intent of the film is nothing like the intent of the book as I wrote it. And if the Wachowski brothers had felt moved to protest the way things were going in America, then wouldn’t it have been more direct to do what I’d done and set a risky political narrative sometime in the near future that was obviously talking about the things going on today?
George Clooney’s being attacked for making [“Good Night, and Good Luck”], but he still had the nerve to make it. Presumably it’s not illegal — not yet anyway — to express dissenting opinions in the land of free? So perhaps it would have been better for everybody if the Wachowski brothers had done something set in America, and instead of a hero who dresses up as Guy Fawkes, they could have had him dressed as Paul Revere. It could have worked.