Thursday, 31 July 2008

Alan Moore interview [4]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto (N. 60, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) and Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

Alan Moore interview [1]

Alan Moore interview [2]
Alan Moore interview [3]

13. Obviously [with Lost Girls] you were dealing with a sort of touchy subject, as you said, pornography. Given the vast exposure that your work would receive, was there any conscious attempt to be controversial?
Not at all. You have to remember we started this in 1989, when it was a very different social and sexual climate. Now, back then, for one thing there wasn’t the kind of paedophile panic that has seized Europe and America so brightly in the last decade. Obviously, we were aware of these issues, but there was not the wave of internet paedophilia, which is largely what has caused the sort of semi-hysterical response in some parts of the tabloids press. It was a different time. And also, we weren’t under a George W. Bush presidency: there wasn’t the same leeway given to the religious right, who are notoriously antipathetic to sexual expression or pornography or anything like that. So, we were aware that if we were going to follow this material to what seemed to be its logical end, and if we were going to be honest in our presentation of the work, if we were going to approach it seriously, that of course we would possibly offend various people. That was possible. For example, back when we started, probably the biggest voices raised against pornography were from the feminist camp. Now, we were reading feminine critiques of pornography, because at least they were rational, even if we didn’t agree with them. And we were trying to design Lost Girls to answer a lot of the questions raised by feminism.

14. Therefore, there was an effort to raise a debate about what is really pornographic and obscene…
Absolutely. I mean, we couldn’t really take on the Christian anti-pornographic debate, because that is not rational. With the greatest of respect to Christians and the respect to anybody to believe in what they want to believe in, you can’t base a rational argument upon your supposition of what the creator of the universe likes or doesn’t like: that is simply not rational. But the feminist argument was rational, and so we thought about that very deeply and we tried to raise the level of the debate by answering some of those feminist critiques, by making sure that the women that we had as the main characters, they weren’t merely facets, and that the book was not written from a strict perspective of heterosexual men, but it was written for women as much as it was written for men, and it was written for homosexuals as much as it was written for heterosexuals. We were trying our best to make this as beautiful and as bulletproof as possible. We wanted something that was not rigorously politically correct, still a genuine work of pornography (or erotica), but we wanted something that would be just so beautifully drawn and so beautifully written that it would transcend all of the obvious questions about the subject matter. When it came a little closer to the time of the book being published, when we got the work finished and we realised that it would be coming out in 2006 (at least in America), then we started to have a little bit more of an idea as to what sort of reaction we might expect. It was coming out under a George Bush administration, it was coming out in a time which might be seen as particularly risky for a book like Lost Girls: we thought that we might be getting a sort of hysterical tabloid reaction to it, although that has proven not to be the case.

15. Did you devise any strategy to respond to these possible critiques?
We had been through all of the possible questions that we could be asked quite a lot over the past eighteen years, and I think that we could have defended Lost Girls as well as anybody. There was nothing in Lost Girls that I would not have been happy to defend to my last breath. I thought that our motives in doing Lost Girls were unimpeachable, but I was still prepared for encountering people who might not agree with that assessment. Indeed, there were some quite worrying issues: for example, there was the fact that the laws in Canada specifically forbid any drawings of imaginary underage people having sex and class them as child pornography, so we thought that we might very well have problems with Canada. So, what Chris Staros, our publisher did, was to compile a dossier with quotes from prestigious American and British journals talking about Lost Girls, there was a letter of intent from me and Melinda, where we explained our motives, and we got back a wonderful letter from the Canadian Customs Authority, basically saying that, even though there were scenes that were tantamount to bestiality or incest, this could in no way be consider obscene, and even though it did appear that there were underage people taking part in some of the sex scenes, this could in no way be considered as child pornography, and that it was a work of great social and artistic benefit. This is pretty much what the British Customs said: I mean, we didn’t know how they would respond to it, but eventually they gave us the all clear to import it, saying that on artistic grounds, it is seen as a work of art, and therefore exempt from the debate upon pornography. Even in fundamentalist America there have been no copies of Lost Girls seized, even though most much more innocuous books have been seized from shops, especially in the Southern States. But no seizures of Lost Girls. I think that in some ways it’s surprising, but I wonder if in some ways it’s a response to the fact that we called this pornography from the start. I think that the surprising lack of a hostile response that we received for Lost Girls may have something to do with the fact that from the very beginning we have insisted upon calling this a work of pornography. I think if we had come out and said: “This is a work of art”, then the instinctive reflex reaction from its critics would have been to have said: “No, this is a work of pornography”. It seems that by coming out and saying: “This is a work of pornography”, then, most of the people who have read it, who would potentially have been our critics, have been wrong-footed in some way so that they had to respond: “No, this is a work of art” (laughs). I am not entirely sure why this has happened, but I am very glad it has, and I think that also me and Melinda were both pleased that, although we couldn’t have known that (the book) would be coming out in 2006, it has done. Because if it had come out say seven or eight years earlier, then it would have come out during a Clinton administration, which was significantly more liberal than the Bush administration, and the world, although by no means free of war, was a lot less war-toned than this at present. And one of the most important things in Lost Girls, as well as its pro-sexuality message, is its anti-war message.

16. Is this the reason why you chose to set the book in 1913?
Well, we originally chose to set it then because those were the dates suggested by the three characters. When we decided upon those three characters, we tried to work out imaginary chronologies for them, based upon the publication dates of the three books, and we realised that if we wanted to tell a story in which Dorothy was not too young nor Alice too old, then we were pretty much restricted to this kind of window around about the 1913 to 1915 period. And that immediately suggested all sorts of things, the First World War, the debut of the Rite of Spring at the Paris Opera, the resulting riot. It seemed such a wonderful backdrop against which to set our story, because that particular period was the juncture of lots of different things: in terms of politics, the world was changing, and it would never be exactly the same again, but the world of art was also reaching a point of change and crisis. You have got the remnants of a more romantic art nouveau sensibility, but you have also got the birth of modernism, at around the same time.

17. Did you try to convey this, in terms of visual imagery, into the book?
That’s right. You know, it provided a sort of stark contrast, everything to the way the characters were dressed, and all of this made a beautiful and stark setting, a backdrop against which to place our fairly delicate emotional sexual fantasies that were going on in the foreground. And yes, we were glad it had come out, somehow, in 2006, because, if it (the book) had come out eight years earlier, in a less war-toned, a more liberal American administration, it might not have been so relevant. The contrast that it struck might not have seemed quite so stark or so pointed. So, I think we are both very glad that it’s coming out when it is, because I think that if ever the world actually needed a book like this, it’s probably around now, that it seems that this rather simplistic hippie message, perhaps, of “make love, not war”, it seems that we need that restating, every once in a while, and I think that the current period that we are moving through, is one of those periods in which that message does need to be restated, because we appear to have forgotten it.

18. How many times have you been asked if you were trying to redeem the pornographic genre? Do you find it annoying? No, because it’s a straightforward question, and of course, yes, I was trying to redeem the genre. I mean, one of the things that I like that I have noticed a pattern in the way that I tend to work is, I look for areas of culture that are neglected, and which I feel have got potentially a great deal of importance. That would apply to comic books, back when I entered the field, it would apply to pornography, and it would apply to magic. All of these are areas that are of potentially tremendous importance and tremendous value, but they are completely neglected. I find that kind of territory very fertile, and it’s something that I enjoy doing, especially if nobody has done it before, which was very definitely the case with Lost Girls. I mean, not just in comics, but actually in the much broader world of erotic art and writing, there has never been anything of the scale and ambition of Lost Girls, even if it took us a long time to do it.
I am not saying there never will another work (like that), but you’re going to at least have to wait for another eighteen years before it appears.

19. In this respect, although there is no doubt about the high value of Lost Girls, did you get exposed to “low-class pornography”? How did you re-work that kind of material and how do you relate to the porn industry?
When I did Watchmen, yes, I was bringing in values from outside comics, but Watchmen was a result of reading an awful lot of crappy American superhero comics. I had to absorb all of the tropes and the traditions of the genre in order to be able to write it properly, or to write a newer version of it. That was true of pornography. I’ve not got really any time for most modern pornography. My interest in pornography does tend to evaporate around about the Edwardian period. I mean, there are some exceptions to that: there are some of the Olympia Press novels and things of the 50’s that were very, very good, and the early 60’s, but I tend to find that, to some degree, the Golden Age of pornography was probably the Victorian-Edwardian era. That’s not to say that the stuff was without problems, or either that it was terribly good, but there were some good things about it. In my by no means extensive readings, I kind of isolated a few things that I thought were good about that Victorian-Edwardian pornography, and I tried to import them into Lost Girls. I think it was the same, to some degree, for Melinda with the artwork. She was looking at illustrators and artists that she actually found some resonance in, in that kind of material, and she was kind of trying to bring those values to the artwork. You got to be aware of what the other material is, out there, although really that’s not to say that we have ever bothered with looking at any pornographic movies or pornographic internet sites or anything like that (laughs). I mean, we don’t have an internet connection, and that stuff doesn’t really interest us. We are print media people, and we wanted this to be something that reflected the values of literature and art in a period when those things still had high standards and values.

Alan Moore interview [5]

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