Sunday, 28 February 2010

Meeting a Wizard in Bloomsbury

NOTE: This is an older piece I wrote for (believe it or not!) The Kapi-Mana News, the local paper covering the Kapiti Coast and Porirua Basin in New Zealand. It came from an email I sent my Mum. She showed it to the editor of the KM News and he asked if I could develop it into an article and here we are. It acts asa a companion piece to this review I wrote of Black Dossier for the Zone, but with a more autobiographical focus. I quite like it, so here it is!

It was an Alan Moore-ish sort of day from the start. We played in a park on Drury Lane, nearby to the Grand Masonic Lodge that features so heavily in From Hell. We sought out mummified cats in the British Museum, the HQ of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. We encountered a skeleton in the back streets of Covent Garden, like some mystical apparition from any number of Moore's weird and horror comics. And, of course, we met Alan Moore.

We hadn't intended to meet Alan Moore when we embarked on our journey. I take the kids into town for the day once a month or so, to give their mum some space, and to visit the comic shop. At 40 years old I'm still a comics fan, and Alan Moore is one of the main reasons for that. When I was a kid growing up in Titahi Bay, 2000AD – which I used to get each week from Melva Holland's Stationery and Gift Shoppe on Whitehouse Road – was my weekly reason for living. It was a series of particularly clever and Funny Tharg's Future Shock's that made me, for the first time, take a note of the writer's name. It was Alan Moore. I knew some of the artists – Brian Bolland and Carlos Ezquerra were my favourites – but for the first time it occurred to me that someone else had a role in creating these amazing stories.

By the early 80s, Alan Moore was getting work from the big American publishers, Marvel & DC. It was around this time he started working on DC's Swamp Thing, a title that changed the face of comics forever. He was also working on the more grown-up than 2000AD British title, Warrior, where he created Marvel Man and V for Vendetta, recently filmed by the Warchovzkis. In my first year at university, Watchmen was released, one agonising issue at a time over twelve months. It was such a revelation, an extraordinary vision of what super heroes could be and the sorts of story they could tell, what the comics medium could do. I've followed his work ever since, and I've probably read more of his books than any other writer I've ever loved.

So, over a quarter of a century later, every month or so we slog through Covent Garden from Charing Cross Road, up to Gosh Comics for a snoop around the shelves. My boy is quite interested, and vacillates between Batman and Spider-Man, occasionally going for The Justice League. My girl – just two and a half – couldn't really care less, although she did bring the shop to a standstill one time when she spotted Spider-Man and bellowed out a pretty good version of the old Spider-Man theme - “Spider-man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...”

On this visit, the comic shop was a hive of activity, in contrast to the usual air of genial slackerdom. Comic shops are the sort of place where the staff are always ready to chat. Nothing's so important that it can't interrupted for a discussion of the latest travails of Iron-Man or the shenanigans of the Hulk. When I in the sixth form, I discovered VMS Comics in Edwards Street in Wellington, and they were excellent the same, and I remember their easy-going enthusiasm and slightly dusty atmosphere everytime I go to Gosh. In those days, my mother would – insanely – give me a blank cheque every couple of months to pay a visit, and I'd rack up thirty or forty dollars worth, big money in the 80s! When I got my first student overdraft, I immediately blew a hundred dollars on comics. I was crazy for it!

So, I asked the comic shop guy what the story was, and he pointed to a sign. It said, “Alan Moore will be signing copies of Lost Girls, 2nd February 2008.” I couldn't believe it! Alan Moore! Not only an idol of mine, but notoriously publicity shy, never attending cons and certainly never doing anything so vulgar as a signing. But then, never say never, I guess, and events like this sell a lot of books. And let's not forget that the world is full of fans like me dying to shake the hand of our hero! The man's got an obligation!

However, as always, there was a catch. After I'd made our purchases, we had a look outside and there was already a queue forming down the street, with an hour and a half until the appearance of the great man! With two small children in tow, I knew that queuing was not a practical option, so we went off and performed our other missions – lunch with cat mummies, a play in the park near the spooky masons – then returned at three to see what the state of the queue was. It was round the block now, but I dutifully joined it, making the children pledge patience and good behaviour.

Twenty minutes later, with the kids beginning to play chicken in the passing London traffic, and with no movement in the queue, I decided to call it quits. As much as I wanted to meet Alan Moore, I 'd have a hard time justifying a dead child or two to my wife. We went around to the front of the line to see if we could spot him, just so I could say we'd seen him. At the head of the line, though, was a closed black door: people were being shown into Gosh's tiny cellar in groups of ten, and there was no spotting him.

We were about to head home, thwarted, when one of those things happens that, I reckon, only occurs when fans – fans of anything – gather in one place: we were the recipients of a random act of human kindness. The group at the head of the queue looked at the kids, and said that we should go first. I've lived in England long enough that I demurred, with thanks, but they insisted “It's what Alan would want!”

The children got very excited. They didn't have a clue who Alan Moore was, but one of our new friends revealed to then that he is a wizard. While it's debatable whether Moore actually has magical powers, he has made some unusual proclamations about worshipping an ancient Roman snake god, and perhaps “wizard” is a reasonable short-hand for young children for this sort of thing. My two were immediately intrigued!

Presently, the door opened and the next group was admitted down a steep flight of stairs with two small children at the front and myself wielding a baby buggy immediately behind. Behind a desk sat Alan Moore, long hair and beard, dandyish embroidered jacket and patient twinkle in his eye. I explained how we'd been admitted to the front of the queue, and he agreed that it was, indeed, what he would have wanted. The kids were shy, my girl a bit nervous, and I gabbled like a fool, typically. He was affable and avuncular and I shook his hand and thanked him for the pleasure he'd given me over the years.

I didn't get Lost Girls – it's a bit pricey at forty pounds, and Mum's not paying any more – so Alan signed a copy of the latest book in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, Black Dossier, “To Patrick, Louis and Isabella, with love and best wishes, Alan Moore.” Fittingly, the book ends with Prospero, another wizard, and leader of the first League, turning to the reader and saying (in Shakespearean pentameter, of course):

“And more, the very personality
That scrys this epilogue was once unformed
Assembled hastily from borrowed scraps
From traits admired in others, from ideals.
Did fictional examples not prevail?
Holmes' intellect? The might of Hercules?
Our virtues, our intoxicating vice:
While fashioning thyself, were these not clay?”

Maybe that's not true for everybody, but for me, certainly, part of what I am today comes from reading Alan Moore. Books and writers can have a magical effect on us, and in this way I guess Alan Moore is a sort of wizard.

On the way home, though, the kids chattered excitedly about meeting a wizard, and on the train my son asked me, very seriously, “Daddy, if Alan Moore is a wizard, where was his wizard's hat?” We pondered the question, the three of us, and agreed that he probably only wears it when he's actively wizarding.


  1. Now that you've had the good fortune to meet Alan Moore and me, is there any reason why Japanese tourist should mistake me for him?

  2. If any Japanese tourists ever ask me about it, I'll make sure to put them straight with the authority of one who has met both.



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