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Comic legend keeps true to roots

21 March 08 10:30 GMT
By Nic Rigby
BBC News, Northampton

Comic book writer Alan Moore is revered across the world as being one of the most creative forces in the industry.

Books such as Watchmen, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentleman and V for Vendetta show that some comic books must be placed on the high table of literature.

But despite his fame, Moore still lives in his home town of Northampton, in a three-bedroom mid-terrace home similar to the one he grew up in.

As a youngster he quickly became fascinated by stories and books, he explains as part of a Inside Out documentary for BBC One in the East of England.

"I had joined the library by the age of five and I naturally gravitated towards mythology, fairy stories, Arthurian romances and the legends of the Greeks and Romans," he says.

But Moore did not have an easy journey to a literary career. As a teenager he was expelled from the Northampton School for Boys for dealing drugs.

"At the age of 17 I became one of the world's most inept LSD dealers.

"The problem with being an LSD dealer, if you're sampling your own product, is your view of reality will probably become horribly distorted," he says.

"And you may believe you have supernatural powers and you are completely immune to any form of retaliation and prosecution, which is not the case."

So he went through a series of boring dead-end jobs, including working for the gas board and cleaning toilets in a Northampton hotel.

Throughout this dark time, Moore was honing his writing skills.

Excited by the comics scene, he started producing strips for underground magazines, while the Northamptonshire Post paid him £10 a week for the Maxwell the Magic Cat cartoon strip, which he created as an "antidote to Garfield".

But Moore believed his future lay in writing comics rather than drawing them.

"To say that I drew Maxwell the Magic Cat is probably being too kind to my writing ability. I realised I was nowhere near good enough or fast enough to succeed as a cartoonist."

His writing was soon recognised in British comic book circles; he won a clutch of science-fiction awards and had regular ground-breaking stories featuring in magazines such as 2000AD.

He was picked up by DC Comics in the US, revitalising its Swamp Thing character, creating Hellblazer character John Constantine and breathing new life into Batman and Superman stories.

His 1987 graphic novel Watchmen, with artist Dave Gibbons and multi-layered story-telling, was seen by some as redefining what a comic could actually do.

The novel, described by film visionary Terry Gilliam as a "masterpiece" which should be "left alone in its original form", has been turned into a film due for release next year.

Moore is not interested in the adaptation, however, and has insisted his name should not be attached to the movie.

He believes most modern films are not only artistic failures but "probably detrimental to modern culture".

Moore has worked with some of the best comic book artists of the last 50 years on projects such as From Hell (with artist Eddie Campbell), the League of Extraordinary Gentleman (with Kevin O'Neill), V for Vendetta (with David Lloyd) and Lost Girls (with his wife Melinda Gebbie).

His next two major projects are his second novel Jerusalem and the third and probably final book of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Jerusalem is his Northampton novel. As he walks through the town, he displays a vast knowledge of its history and its role in the history of Britain.

"This town has so much history that is really important. The old castle was 'bad' King John's castle when he was held prisoner there before he signed the Magna Carta," he says.

"We had been a stronghold for the New Model Army during the English Civil War and provided the boots for Cromwell and boots for American War of Independence."

The book will spiral between memories and tales from Moore's family history, fantasy elements and historical dramatisations from Northampton's past.

One section of the novel will feature Moore's brother's adventures in the fourth dimension, crossing through the history of the town.

"I've described the middle bit as a savage, hallucinating Enid Blyton," says Moore.

He says it is looking like running to 750,000 words.

"I wanted it to be one volume. I was hoping the technology [to have that many pages in one book] would catch up with my vision," says Moore.

But he concedes: "It will probably end up as three volumes in a slipcase."

The Inside Out programme on Alan Moore will go out on BBC One in the East of England at 1930 GMT on Friday, 21 March. It can also be viewed on the Inside Out website.

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