In the Presence of the Great Beard

Yesterday, I went into London for a signing by Alan Moore at London’s Gosh Comics on Great Russell Street- one of the few events that would get me to shell out £16.50 for the train ticket, and then £49.99 for the relevant book- his and artist Melinda Gebbie’s work of pornography, Lost Girls. Gebbie was supposed to be there but was ill, so it was just Moore- and it was one of those experiences that clicks me into ‘quiet mode’. Part of this was simply having to queue outside Gosh Comics for nearly two and a half hours, and anyone who was outside yesterday afternoon will testify to exactly how cold it was. I have actually interviewed Moore over the phone- it was for an article on From Hell that was supposed to be in a Borders customer magazine years and years ago… and instead ended up being published in a DVD magazine about an issue before it folded- and he’s a genuinely lovely bloke, but also very easy to get talking for a very, very long time. An hour and a half after the signing had begun, they announced they were having to speed things up a bit as there was still a gigantic queue, so it was really reduced to a “Hello”, getting the books signed (A copy of Lost Girls (at least, Volume 1 of the a three volume set), and my copy of Absolute Watchmen) and an enthusiastic farewell, but he was still wonderfully polite, very friendly, and still sporting one of the most spectacular beards in modern history.

He’s a writer who’s had a gigantic influence on me– and I think I can tie most of it down to reading the early stories he wrote for the horror comic Swamp Thing. I’d already read plenty of his stuff, which was why I was reading Swamp Thing, but it was the sudden realisation of what he was doing – that he was taking a setup which was, frankly, ludicrous (scientist gets blown up and transformed into a walking sludge/plant monster, seeks to reclaim his humanity) and turning it into something scary, profound and often jaw-droppingly beautiful. The issue ‘Rite of Spring’- where the long simmering relationship between Abigail Arcane and the creature who thinks he’s Alec Holland flowers into something else is one of the best things Moore has ever done- it’s tender and beautiful and touching and funny, and could have been absolutely bloody awful in the wrong hands. There are works of his I love more than others (Miracleman, for example, I find rather hard work), but I always respect the way he took on stories and made them feel real by treating them right. It’s that kind of emotional reality I try to get in my writing – I’m never sure if I get there, but Alan Moore is definitely one of the reasons I’m trying so hard.

I’m most of the way through Lost Girls now, as well- and it’s an amazing piece of work. It’s sexy and sensuous as well as being surreal, powerful and sometimes very unsettling (there are very few taboos that don’t get dealt with somewhere in the book), and it certainly succeeds in its mission of being a serious piece of pornography. It’s certainly not for everyone (the hefty price tag kind of guarentees that), but there’s something fascinating and adventurous in the way it’s tackling questions a lot of people would rather not ask. Not something I’m going to be reading regularly- but it’s definitely something I’m glad I’ve gotten.

Edit: As a p.s., there was a guy in front of me in the queue who was possibly the most interestingly attired figure I’d seen in a while. Imagine the actor Chiwetel Ejiofor dressed in smart trousers, smart shirt with an Edwardian collar, polka-dot cravat, bright blue blazer festooned with medals and badges (including a golliwog) and a top hat, and you’d be pretty close to the guy in front of me. He was with two others, his name was Marcus (although he’d adopted the nickname “King of London”, preferrably in a cockney accent), and I simply didn’t have the gumption (mainly thanks to the cold) to ask him why exactly he was dressed like that- whether it was his ‘look’, or if he was going somewhere after the signing. He was simply one of those characters who wanders into your life, and wanders out again, but for the brief period he was there, he was an absolute hoot and made the process of queuing a hell of a lot more entertaining.

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