Illustration by Lee Moyer
The legendary comics author Alan Moore has written a million-word novel, tribute to every eternal speck in his universe
by Tim Martin
(Tim Martin is a books and arts writer based in London. He writes reviews, interviews and features for The Daily Telegraph and The Times, and The Alphabet Library, a weekly column about forgotten classics.)
Alan Moore is waiting when I get off the train in Northampton, a majestically bearded figure in a hoodie, scanning the crowd that pushes through the turnstiles with a look of fearsome intent. When I wave, the glare becomes a beaming smile. ‘How are you, mate?’ he booms. ‘Splendid, splendid. I thought we’d go for a bit of a walk, so I can show you around and we can work up an appetite.’
Off we go up the hill. Moore swings his stick – a wooden snake coiled around the handle to symbolise his enthusiastic worship of Glycon, a second-century Macedonian snake god – and keeps up a constant flow of arcane local chatter. This station car park, he tells me, used to be King John’s castle, where the First Crusade began. That charmless glass-and-steel building was once a Saxon banqueting hall. Over there was a pub where, ‘if you’d come along here on a Sunday afternoon in the 1920s or ’30s, you’d have found a zebra tied up outside it.’
Before long, tramping through the riverside mud under a railway bridge, we’ve moved on to grander concerns. Moore has embarked on a potted summary of eternalism, the philosophical concept of time that ran through Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), played a part in his own revolutionary superhero comic Watchmen (1986-87), and is the central conceit behind ‘Jerusalem’, the million-word mega-novel the first draft of which he has now, after more than a decade, shepherded to its conclusion.
In essence, eternalism proposes that space-time forms a block – ‘imagine it as a big glass football’, Moore suggests – where past and future are endlessly, immutably fixed, and where human lives are ‘like tiny filaments, embedded in that gigantic vast egg’. He gestures around him at the rubbish-strewn path, his patriarch’s beard waving in the wind. ‘What it’s saying is, everything is eternal,’ he tells me. ‘Every person, every dog turd, every flattened beer can – there’s usually some hypodermics and condoms and a couple of ripped-open handbags along here as well – nothing is lost. No person, no speck or molecule is lost. No event. It’s all there for ever. And if everywhere is eternal, then even the most benighted slum neighbourhood is the eternal city, isn’t it? William Blake’s eternal fourfold city. All of these damned and deprived areas, they are Jerusalem, and everybody in them is an eternal being, worthy of respect.’
If this mixture of local history, cosmological speculation and messianic mysticism sounds bewildering, then perhaps you haven’t been reading enough Alan Moore lately. For many, his fame still rests on the comics work he produced more than two decades ago: as a writer for Warrior and 2000AD magazines and later as part of the so-called British Invasion of US comics, he wrote sprawling long-form works that, when published between covers and sold as graphic novels, transformed the way in which adult readers thought about the medium.
Watchmen, his intricate, noirish deconstruction of the superhero myth, appeared on Time magazine’s list of the top novels of the 20th century, and has not been out of print in a quarter-century. V for Vendetta (1982-89), an anti-Thatcherite fable about anarchy and terrorism, rose to prominence again in the late 2000s when the smirking Guy Fawkes mask of its protagonist was adopted by the Anonymous movement in the wake of a film adaptation. ‘Nobody was more surprised than I was,’ says Moore when I mention this. ‘But I’ve always felt that the interface between art and reality is porous.’
Since those days, Moore has been pursuing his muse down more esoteric avenues. His League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, begun in the late 1990s and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill, has morphed from a witty mash-up of Edwardian pulp literature into an episodic record of his engagement with the pop culture of the 20th century. Early storylines imagined Mina Harker, Allan Quatermain and the Invisible Man teaming up to take on Fu Manchu; more recent ones leap merrily from pastiches of Brecht and Weill to deft piss-takes of the Harry Potter series, Citizen Kane, Donald Cammell’s film Performance (1970) and even – in a story entitled ‘What Ho, Gods of the Abyss’ – P G Wodehouse…