On Writing: A Cool Story


Anyone who’s been interested in comics for more than about fifteen minutes is aware of Alan Moore, the first superstar writer (with the exception of Stan Lee). Moore has long been one of the most innovative writers in comics, and it was his immense success in America at DC that opened up the door for British writers and artists to have careers in the US comics business.
Like so many people, I first became aware of Moore through Warrior magazine, an independent B&W comics magazine publish by Quality Comics (aka Editor and Entrepreneur Dez Skinn). Moore wrote Marvelman and V for Vendetta for Warrior, the sheer quality of which led me to his work for the short-lived Daredevil magazine from Marvel UK, in which he had transformed Captain Britain.
Those who only know the post-Moore comics field have no idea of the impact Northampton’s most famous writer had on comics. He had the ability to see characters and situations in considerably more dimensions than other writers and to bring out implications and interpretations that seemed obvious once Moore had written them, but which could not have been conceived by other writers.
To some extent it was the different perspective that Moore could bring from being British, from being removed from a culture that was instinctively ingrained within US fans, who were providing the majority of writers and artists. Mainly, it was his breadth of vision, his search for deeper meanings and understandings.
Alright, he was not the world’s greatest or most original plotter (Marv Wolfman was quoted as saying that if Moore could plot as well as he writes, the rest of them would have to kill him), but basically, who gave a damn?
I first met him, fan to writer, at the first Convention I attended, at the NEC in Birmingham. Moore had not long since started the surreal and very funny Bojeffries Saga in Warrior, one of which characters being Raoul, a werewolf wearing a red and white striped football scarf. The Bojeffries Saga was set in the Midlands so, whilst he was signing my copy, I asked him who the scarf was for: Stoke City or Nottingham Forest?
It was a joke, a throwaway question, but Moore immediately replied that it was neither, that it was actually a Manchester United scarf, because the thing about Raoul was that he wants desperately to be accepted as English, so he tries to surround himself with as many aspects of Englishness as possible, and he favours Manchester United because they’re the most famous English team (this when we were down in the dumps of the Eighties, being carried by the perpetually injured Bryan Robson).
I was stunned at the depth of detail Moore went into, the extent to which he’d thought about his character and the seriousness with which he took a joke figure, and his eagerness to go into such things with a total stranger.
It was not long after that he was asked to take over DC’s Swamp Thing, where he was given the freedom to do extraordinary, transformatory things, not just with Swampy, but even with Superman. Indeed, when the time came to wrap up the continuity of the original Superman, prior to his being revised for the first time after Crisis on Infinite Earths it was Moore who wrote the sweetest, most emotional and perceptive of stories to do so, a story that made me care enough to miss a character that had become out-moded and absurd.
If this sounds like an advanced case of hero-worship, I plead guilty, and bring into mitigation all the comics that Moore wrote to evidence the fact that he was just that good.
One of his best stories, in my eyes, was “Down Among the Dead Man” in Swamp Thing Annual 2. It was an immediate sequel to a three part story in the monthly series, in which the newly-transformed Swampy had, for the first time, stood against his old enemy Anton Arcane, itself a creepy, horrifying affair, during which Arcane had killed his niece, Abby Arcane, and sent her soul to Hell.
In the Annual, Swampy followed Abby to Hell, to rescue her and return her soul to her body. On his journey, he crossed the entirety of all of DC’s underworlds, meeting all their ‘dead’ characters. It was more than a travelogue, because the story wove these previously disparate and unconnected characters into a comprehensible system, in which everyone had a logical and appropriate place or level.
It was a brilliant story, and I said so in a long review in the next FA. The following issue featured a very long letter from Bernard Leak, a new name. It robustly attacked my opinion, before going on to make some trenchant observations about comics as a whole, which were reprinted in the most influential US magazine, The Comics Journal.
I responded in kind, next issue, heartily defending my opinions (and got a very lengthy rebuttal by private letter, written in one continuous flow on a roll of computer paper which, when unrolled, was longer than I was!)
Sadly, Bernard was a flash in the pan, dropping out of fandom almost as quickly as he’d arrived, which was a damned shame because he was very interesting, and a refreshing commentator.
This took place through the spring and early summer, and in September I was off to London for the main UK Comics Convention, at the Westminster Hall. There were guests galore, and I carefully packed the comics I wanted to get signed, among them Swamp Thing Annual 2. I was lucky to meet Alan Moore fairly early on the Saturday, after registering, and I immediately got out the issues I’d brought with me, which he duly autographed. As he wrote his name on the Annual, I commented that I had to bring that one, after all the controversy the review had caused.
At this point, I can only assume that we abruptly passed into Earth-2, or more likely Earth-3, a parallel world whose values were an inverted version of our own.
Because Moore looked up at me, his face lighting. “Are you Martin Crookall?” he asked. Surprised that he even knew my name, I admitted it. “Put her there!” he said, enthusiastically sticking out his hand and taking mine in an enveloping grip. “I’ve been wanting to meet you.”
Even now, almost thirty years later, I cannot really believe he said that. The Universe was upside down, there was something fundamentally wrong with the fabric of existence. The Alan Moores of this world were not eager to meet me, the proper order of things was the other way round. My then girlfriend wouldn’t hear a word of it: it was obvious to her that Moore should want to meet me, which was sweet of her, but it still didn’t change my conviction that there was something pretty fundamentally wrong with this.
But it tells you an awful lot about what kind of guy Alan Moore was in those days, and probably still is now, though I’ve not had the chance of speaking to him in over two decades.
No, really, it’s the fans like me who are glad to meet the creatives. Not the other way round.

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