Watchmen author Alan Moore discusses the ramifications of superhero movies, the graphic nature of his own work, and the curtailing of his public life.
Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.
The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” – to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.
“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”
The award-winning Moore used the interview to address criticism over his inclusion of the Galley-Wag character – based on Florence Upton’s 1895 Golliwogg creation – in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, saying that “it was our belief that the character could be handled in such a way as to return to him the sterling qualities of Upton’s creation, while stripping him of the racial connotations that had been grafted onto the Golliwog figure by those who had misappropriated and wilfully misinterpreted her work”.
And he rebutted the suggestion that it was “not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg”, telling Ó Méalóid that this idea “would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves”.
“Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race – and specifically to black people and white people – then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes … If this restriction were universally adopted, we would have had no authors from middle-class backgrounds who were able to write about the situation of the lower classes, which would have effectively ruled out almost all authors since William Shakespeare.”
Moore also defended himself against the claim that his work was characterised by “the prevalence of sexual violence towards women, with a number of instances of rape or attempted rape in [his] stories”, saying that “there is a far greater prevalence of consensual and relatively joyous sexual relationships in my work than there are instances of sexual violence”, and that “there is clearly a lot more non-sexual violence in my work that there is violence of the sexual variety”.
His thinking, he said, was that “sexual violence, including rape and domestic abuse, should also feature in my work where necessary or appropriate to a given narrative, the alternative being to imply that these things did not exist, or weren’t happening. This, given the scale upon which such events occur, would have seemed tantamount to the denial of a sexual holocaust, happening annually.”
In the real world there are, Moore tells his interviewer, “relatively few murders in relation to the staggering number of rapes and other crimes of sexual or gender-related violence”, but this is “almost a complete reversal of the way that the world is represented in its movies, television shows, literature or comic-book material”.
“Why should murder be so over-represented in our popular fiction, and crimes of a sexual nature so under-represented?” he asks. “Surely it cannot be because rape is worse than murder, and is thus deserving of a special unmentionable status. Surely, the last people to suggest that rape was worse than murder were the sensitively reared classes of the Victorian era … And yet, while it is perfectly acceptable (not to say almost mandatory) to depict violent and lethal incidents in lurid and gloating high-definition detail, this is somehow regarded as healthy and perfectly normal, and it is the considered depiction of sexual crimes that will inevitably attract uproars of the current variety.”
Moore ended by telling Ó Méalóid that his lengthy responses to questions, written over Christmas, should indicate to fans that he has no intention of “doing this or anything remotely like it ever again”.
“While many of you have been justifiably relaxing with your families or loved ones, I have been answering allegations about my obsession with rape, and re-answering several-year-old questions with regard to my perceived racism,” he said. “If my comments or opinions are going to provoke such storms of upset, then considering that I myself am looking to severely constrain the amount of time I spend with interviews and my already very occasional appearances, it would logically be better for everyone concerned, not least myself, if I were to stop issuing those comments and opinions. Better that I let my work speak for me, which is all I’ve truthfully ever wanted or expected, both as a writer and as a reader of other authors’ work.”
After completing his current commitments, Moore said he will “more or less curtail speaking engagements and non-performance appearances”.
“I suppose what I’m saying here is that as I enter the seventh decade of my life, I no longer wish that life to be a public one to the same extent that it has been,” he said. “I myself will be able to get on with my work without interruption, which I think is something that I’m entitled to do after all these years, and indeed part of the length of this response might be likened to someone taking their time about unwrapping a long-postponed and very special birthday present to themselves. The truth may or may not set us free, but I’m hoping that blanket excommunication and utter indifference will go some considerable way to doing the trick.”