Film script finds new life as comic book
British graphic novelist Alan Moore's latest work took 28 years to morph from a film script into a comic book, writes Stuart Kelly
There is a certain swagger as Alan Moore enters the rather sterile Waterstones office where this interview is taking place. The jut of his beard, the ringed fingers, the walking stick he can use as a wand or a cudgel: he looks like Hagrid's wayward brother or Gandalf's louche cousin.
The Briton is here to promote Fashion Beast, an unusual project even in terms of a career that has been exceptionally idiosyncratic. An idea initiated by late punk legend Malcolm McLaren, Fashion Beast was to have been a film. It is now - 28 years later - a comic book.
The story charts the relationship between a reclusive fashion designer, Celestine, an apprentice, Jonni Tare, and their favourite model, Doll. As one might expect from the author of comic series V for Vendetta, Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it combines satiric wit and furious philippic, the politically radical with the sexually ambiguous. Perhaps strangest of all, Moore can barely remember writing it.
Moore has been outspoken in the past about his disdain for the films based on his comics, so it's a change that a would-be film has become a comic book. He makes a sound between a laugh and a harrumph: "It was certainly more agreeable from my point of view," he says.
"I don't like the adaptation process, and I particularly don't like the modern way of comic book-film adaptations, where, essentially, the central characters are franchises that can be worked endlessly to no apparent point. In most cases, the original comic books were far superior to the film.
"With this, it started out as my first-ever film script or attempt at one. I was pleased with the results and I think Malcolm was quite pleased with the results, but through circumstances quite unconnected to either of us the film never got made. So it was kind of existing in a weird hinterland of my memory."
He adds: "It was probably never going to be realised. I didn't know whether it would work but it sounded very handy in that I wouldn't have to do any labour at all. That was what attracted me to the project. But then when the material started to come in, it was very unusual.
"For one thing, the adaptation had been really smooth. And when I started to see what Facundo Percio had done with the artwork, it was a fantastic experience because I'd completely forgotten everything to do with Fashion Beast. It really was like reading something that was by somebody else, and I was quietly impressed with myself." He beams.
For a story conceived in 1985, Fashion Beast both foreshadows his later works and seems eerily as if it were written with foreknowledge of what would transpire in the world in the intervening years. "1985? Blimey!" he bellows, a startled look in his eyes. "Was it that early? I hadn't remembered it was 1985, but I had accepted it was probably late '80s and I was surprised because there is a lot of the politics that would be expanded on in other works, the sexual politics certainly. There are also some precursors to my magical thinking; we're talking about fashion as an almost shamanistic activity, so I was very surprised to find I'd been thinking about all these things back then."
McLaren, Moore says, had pitched the film as "a mash-up of [fairy tale] Beauty and the Beast and the life of Christian Dior. Malcolm had other elements as well - a bit like Chinatown and a bit like Flashdance - which I was bowled over by. I think he was expecting me to bring political depth and sexual politics to the mix."
McLaren also suggested "the main characters be a boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy and vice versa. What was strange was that in 1985 this was nobody's vision of the fashion industry," Moore says.
"Since then, fashion and fascism have crept closer: you've John Galliano doing his promotional bits for the Third Reich, you've Alexander McQueen topping himself, you've Versace and that horrible, violent stalker coming for him. Since it was written, almost all of it has come true apart from the nuclear winter, but I think we're working on that.
"The actual society that the story happens in is much more like the society we have now than the culture in 1985."
McLaren, who died in 2010, was famously described as a "couturier situationniste", and Moore says he has a great deal of sympathy with the movement: "Situationism is one of the roots of psychogeography. I like Jacques Derrida, I think he's funny. I like my philosophy with a few jokes and puns. ['It is forbidden to forbid', 'Be rational: demand the impossible', 'A mental disease has swept the planet: banalisation'] That offends other philosophers; they think he's not taking things seriously, but he comes up with some marvellous puns. Why shouldn't you have a bit of fun while dealing with the deepest issues of the mind? The situationists, I like their style, I like their attitude, I like the 'below the street the beach'. I like that it was basically a more intellectual [and] artistic take on anarchist principles. Malcolm was a situationist: the last time I was talking to him, he was trying to make music with some people out of Game Boy chips. It sounded like it might be rubbish, but I liked the spirit he brought to everything. He was fiery, he was subversive and I think he meant it."
One underestimates Moore at one's peril: yes, he wrote Swamp Thing, but he did so while reading continental philosophy. Fashion Beast is about oedipal influences - who can inhabit and subvert the master's voice? Several writers have acknowledged Moore as a key influence: fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman says Moore has made a whole generation possible.
Fashion Beast is about masters and apprentices, pupils and teachers. How does he feel about this? "I don't generally read very much at all. I've got no problem with people taking certain inspirations or perhaps being interested in one of my ideas, but it's important they make it their own voice, not my voice or an echo of my voice. If being influenced by my work is part of a process leading them to develop their own proper voices, then I'm glad," he says.
"I believe China Mieville gets a lot of respect; I've not read his stuff, but I've heard he's done that. Grant Morrison has [said that he] made a tactic of not only basing some of his narratives on my style or my work but also trying to make himself more famous by slagging me off at every opportunity. I have nothing to do with him."
Having seen comics turned into movies, and film scripts turned into comics, Moore is most concerned with Jerusalem, his fiction novel. "I'm on the last official chapter, which I am doing somewhat in the style of [US novelist and artist John] Dos Passos," he says. "I don't know if anyone else will like it at all."
The style he and the likes of Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock have pioneered has become central to literary culture, I say. He sighs, shaking the walls: "Oh God, have we? Oh no, we're the mainstream!"
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