t’s raining in Northampton and Faith Harrington has Friday evening ahead of her, her favourite outfit and her favourite face, her top tunes shimmering on the CD player: “When the lamp burns low on the bureau, even though I’m far from you…”
In a curtain-raiser prelude to their forthcoming short film Jimmy’s End, Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins, with Siobhan Hewlett, introduce us to a world of unfamiliar atmospheres, precarious entertainments, and insidious detail.
Act of Faith unveils an isolated corner of the modern night, where carrion crows become the only comforters and it’s a quarter to eternity…
The recently published graphic novel, Cleveland, by the late Harvey Pekar and illustrator Joseph Remnant, is a flat-out masterpiece of the form. One (hefty) part “biography” of a city, Pekar being Pekar, Cleveland is also another piece (and a key piece at that) of the grand tapestry recording the life of one of the city’s most notable residents, and certainly the man who will forever be known as Cleveland’s unofficial poet laureate.
In Cleveland, Pekar, who famously said “Life is a war of attrition,” tells his own story (as is his wont, of course) alongside that of the city he loved so much. It’s a broadly sweeping narrative for a writer usually so invested with the minutiae of life, but the Pekaresque observations are no less potent as the author takes an aerial view of over 200 years of the rise and fall of what was once one of America’s greatest cities and placing the events of his own 70 years living there in the larger context of Cleveland’s role in the American experiment itself. This is not the “day to day” life, little—yet potently illuminating—observations we’ve come to expect from Pekar, but in the beautifully-rendered pages of Cleveland, Harvey’s take on a slice of American history that he witnessed first hand (well, about a third of it, let’s say) is no less rewarding.
Cleveland is so beautiful and so heartfelt that it brought tears to my eyes several times (reading it, as I did, mostly in a dental office). I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you hail from Cleveland (or anywhere near it) the book is a must-read, but I’d say the same to anyone who simply wants to be dazzled by a great American writer at the very tip top of his game and working with one of the best visual interpreters of his long career. Cleveland is a masterpiece, a modern American masterpiece.
I sent Dangerous Minds pal Jeff Newelt, who edited Cleveland (Newelt is also behind Smith magazine’s delightful online “Pekar Project”) a few questions about the process of bringing a work like Cleveland to fruition and keeping the flame alive of one of America’s most distinctive literary voices.
In what kind of shape was the project in when Harvey Pekar died?
When Harvey died, the script was totally done, and Joseph had already drawn 18 pages. Harvey had seen those pages and was pleased to say the least. He was thrilled and it wasn’t easy to thrill Harvey!
Joseph Remnant’s artwork in Cleveland is just stunning, he’s clearly one of Pekar’s most inspired collaborators. What kind of research went into the panels?
Joseph was the clear and only choice to illustrate Cleveland. He was already working with Harvey and myself on The Pekar Project webcomics, and after he did such an incredible job on the story “Muncie, Indiana,” that clinched it. Because half of the book is literally a history of Cleveland, Joseph did TONS of online research searching for images, and also took out piles of books from the library. Regarding Harvey himself, luckily we were blessed in that we spent a nice chunk of time with “our man in person. The whole Pekar Project crew flew to Cleveland for Harvey’s 70th Birthday Party in 2009, and we had a wonderful weekend, him giving us a guided tour of his favorite spots. Priceless experience.
As an editor, how did you approach the material?
Cleveland was originally developed with Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin, who did the initial heavy conceptual lifting of what the book should be. Then the powers that be at DC couldn’t be bothered to look at this incredible script, so on behalf of Harvey, I brought in Josh Frankel/ZIP Comics to publish the book, and brought in Top Shelf Comix to co-publish. So with Cleveland, the toughest editing was done, and I just copy-edited/ cleaned up some inconsistencies here and there. With short webcomics he wrote for The Pekar Project, Harvey would call me up and read me each story over the phone, then we’d jam on it for a few minutes and choose which artist to give it to.
I love the fact that the book is a parallel biography/autobiography of the city and one of its most notable and emblematic lifelong residents. It just works so brilliantly.
Cleveland was always so prominent in Harvey’s work as to almost be a character, so it was inevitable that he’d one day do a book with the city as the focus. I think Harvey identified with the perma-under-doggedness of the city.
Cleveland is such an unabashed love letter to what most people would consider a drab, horrible city, but Pekar’s magical voice and pithy, erudite historical observations and Joseph Remnant’s wonderful illustrations really evoke the city’s heyday, its rise and fall and fall in such a vivid, vivid way. It’s an extremely moving historical/dramatic arc that is unique in American literature.
It’s all about the love. The appreciation. The key to understanding Harvey’s work, IMHO is realizing how much of an “appreciator” Harvey was. Too many words are wasted on the Harvey-as-curmudgeon labeling, reinforced by the excellent-yet-ultimately one-dimensional performance by Paul Giamatti in the American Splendor film. All the little mundane moments in his many classic autobiographical stories come down to Harvey noticing, appreciating and wanting to share a special something he overheard, or a magic-yet-mundane moment he witnessed. Also so many of Harvey’s stories are appreciations of underheralded jazz musicians, klezmer artists, Russian novelists, etc. So it’s the same with his city. He was frustrated with Cleveland but he LOVED it nonetheless, so that love charges a jazzy poetry in his narration.
How did Alan Moore come to be involved with Cleveland? He not only wrote the introduction, he also generously helped you raise money to defray the cost of publishing, too, right?
I passed a galley to Alan through comics scholar Paul Gravett a longtime pal of Alan’s who I hung out with for 10 days at the Rio Comicon along with Melinda Gebbie (Alan’s wife and artist of Lost Girls) and Kevin O’Neill (artist for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Alan Moore was always a huge Pekar fan. He even drew a one-page American Splendor story. Plus, Alan was a character in Pekar story because Joyce, Harvey and Danielle visited Alan and Melinda in England on the movie tour. Harvey Pekar was to Cleveland what Alan Moore is to Northampton. When we were thinking whom we should get to do the intro, he was my only choice. Then Alan helped raise money for the Harvey Pekar Memorial Statue on Kickstarter by offering a 2hr live webcam chat as a reward!
What else is still to come from Harvey Pekar?
Over at the Pekar Project the next installment of the epic Harvey Pekar / Douglas Rushkoff teamup, illustrated by Sean Pryor, is coming soon. Also, released next week is Not The Israel My Parents Promised, illustrated by JT Waldman. This is my blurb on the back of that book: “Pekar peppers accounts of perpetual persecution with poignant autobiographical anecdotes in this concise compelling and sure-to-be-controversial graphic history of the Jewish people and state of Israel. Waldman’s art, juxtaposing realism with ancient styles, rocking exquisite mosaics and elaborate medieval and middle eastern design flourishes, is nothing less than a majestic tour de Schwartz.”
HARDTalk is an in-depth interview program from BBC News, something akin to Larry King Live with a sit down, face-to-face, half hour format (perhaps there’s a better reference point here, but my knowledge of American news broadcasters is limited.) In this edition, which aired last week, host Stephen Sackur talks to Alan Moore, who may be a hero to many but is still a fringe presence in this kind of mainstream news setting.
Moore has nothing in particular to promote, so this isn’t a kiss-ass puff piece, and being a “serious” show there is no talk of magic and mysticism. Instead, Sackur picks issue with Moore’s characterisation of the comics industry as gangsters, and has pertinent questions to ask him about the subjects of his works Lost Girls and V For Vendetta. Moore responds very well to being taken this seriously, answering with an unusual frankness and striking honesty:
HARDTalk with Alan Moore (part 1)
HARDTalk with Alan Moore (part 2) is after the jump…
In this fascinating but (far too) short clip, Alan Moore gives an introduction to the work of artist Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956), who he describes as “one of the most over-looked figures in British art history”. The obituaries for Spare’s death remarked “England had lost one of its best ever nude study artist.” Nearly sixty years after his death, little is known about the artist outside of knowledgeable and specialist circles.
But Spare wasn’t only an incredible artist, as Moore points out, he was also “possibly the greatest English magician of the twentieth century.”
“I think that Magic offers the artist a new way of looking at their consciousness, and of looking at where they get their ideas from.”
Spare was an artistic prodigy, who was the youngest exhibitor at the Royal Academy, London. At the same time, he was developing his own esoteric beliefs, which brought him into contact with Aleister Crowley, and a relationship of sorts began, with Spare contributing illustrations to Crowley’s magazine Equinox. However, the friendship foundered and Spare alluded to Crowley in his book The Book of Pleasure:
“Others praise ceremonial Magic, and are supposed to suffer much Ecstasy! Our asylums are crowded, the stage is over-run! Is it by symbolising we become the symbolised? Were I to crown myself King, should I be King? Rather should I be an object of disgust or pity. These Magicians, whose insincerity is their safety, are but the unemployed dandies of the Brothels.”
Yet Spare did not give up on magic completely, rather he began his own particular mix of “repressed magic”, which fed directly into his art work. Spare became known for his “automatic drawing” - allowing himself to act as a medium to spirits to guide his pencil, creating inter-twined images of figures and faces on a page.
There are many different stories (some more incredible than others) about Spare and his involvement with magic and the spirit world. He was said to have the power of divination and premonition, and could accurately predict events long before they took place. He was also know for his dialog with “spirits” and “demons”, and after a fire at his studio, he fell under a mysterious ailment which left him unable to paint for 5 years.
Spare’s work had some odd admirers, in particular Adolf Hitler, who asked him to paint his portrait. Spare refused believing Hitler to be evil, and if he were a Superman, Spare was claimed to have said in reply, then he would prefer to live as an animal.
Buttonholed by Alan Moore, as he presents Don’t Let Me Die in Black and White, a fascinating personal travelogue (part history, part politics, part autobiography) of his home town, Northampton, from 1993.
Starting outside the railway station, at the “smoldering, steaming belly” of the town, Moore delivers a series of enjoyable pieces-to-camera, which take in his childhood, and youthful ambition to be a superhero; through to the stories of respected local figures, such as the 18th century radical politician, Charles Bradlaugh; then on to why Moore believes anti-semitism started in Northampton’s Gold Street; to finally arrive at how the present day town’s streets and precincts (which are protected by a mystical pentangle of the same logos, the same names, the same products) are creating a parallel universe, a wallpaper society, which is endlessly repeating itself.
Though Moore hasn’t traveled much in his life (“because the world moves fast enough, anyway”), he believes that by understanding Northampton (“home of the lager lout and the credit consumer”), he will have a better understanding of the wider world.
Don’t Let Me Die in Black and White was originally made for Channel 4 in 1993.
In one of the best interviews with him I’ve read in some time, comics mage Alan Moore offers his views on the future of publishing, Occupy Wall Street and that sad tosser Frank Miller. He also comes up with an extremely appealing idea for wresting control back from the bankers and plutocrats: Change the currency!
Mull that over for a second, won’t you?
What do you think needs to change in our political system?
Everything. I believe that what’s needed is a radical solution, by which I mean from the roots upwards. Our entire political thinking seems to me to be based upon medieval precepts. These things, they didn’t work particularly well five or six hundred years ago. Their slightly modified forms are not adequate at all for the rapidly changing territory of the 21st Century.
We need to overhaul the way that we think about money, we need to overhaul the way that we think about who’s running the show. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people, to the people whose lives this is actually affecting. It’s no longer good enough to have a group of people who are controlling our destinies. The only reason they have the power is because they control the currency. They have no moral authority and, indeed, they show the opposite of moral authority.
In the sixth issue of Dodgem Logic, I remember doing an article and I was trying to think of possible ways in which our society might be altered for the better. I’m not saying that any of these ways would necessarily be practical but it’s important that we try to think these things through. It’s probably more important now than it ever has been. There is a sense that we don’t have an infinite amount of time to get these things right.
With politics at the moment seemingly determined to keep ploughing on their same destructive course because they can’t think of anything other to do, when we’re facing the possibility of an economic apocalypse, of potentially an environmental apocalypse, we don’t necessarily have an infinite amount of time. I think that since our leaders are not going to address any of these problems then we really have no choice than to attempt to wrest the steering wheel from them. If they’re aiming at the precipice with the accelerator pedal flat to the floor, then we don’t have any other choices left. Do it now, in this generation, because we don’t how many more there’s going to be.
The economic problem is a strange one…
Economics is always strange. You’re not talking about anything that’s actually real. Researching a chapter for Jerusalem, I read a couple of books on economics to see if I could get my head around the facts of the situation. I was astonished when I found out the value of derivative bonds, in 2008. These are bonds that have a value in themselves that were once connected to a real thing, there might have been a bond made for the sale of a herd of sheep, but that can be sold on and they gain in value. The notional value of the world’s derivative bonds was in the region of sixty trillion. Exactly ten times the economic output of the entire planet, which is around six trillion. That means that the gap between what economists and what the world’s economic forces and the banks thought they had to play with and what actually existed was fifty-four trillion. That would seem to me the depth of the hole we are in.
So something has to be done about that. I would suggest beheading the bankers, but while it would be very satisfying and would cheer us up, it probably wouldn’t do anything practical to alter the situation. Behead the currency. Change the currency, why not? It would disempower all the people who had bought into that currency but it would pretty much empower the rest of us, the other ninety-nine percent.
Mustard Mag has delightful and downloadable PDFs of DIY papercraft dolls featuring all your favorite Britcom celebrities, including this week’s talkshow guests Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher from Snuff Box.
I love the Stewart Lee doll. Captures him well, I think. Not that he’s a blockhead or anything…
A couple of months ago Damon Albarn premiered his new work Dr Dee: An English Opera as part of the Manchester International Festival. As the name would suggest, Dr Dee concerns the life of the Elizabethan mathematician, cartographer and magician John Dee, with original music composed by Albarn (singing and conducting a chamber group live on stage throughout the show). Well, maybe it was because I was so blown away by Bjork’s magical Biophilia show a few days earlier at the festival, but I found the opera to be a massive let down. You can read more of my thoughts on Dr Dee An English Operahere.
One of the main complaints levelled at Albarn’s production was that its oblique nature did nothing to explain the fascinating story of John Dee to an audience unfamiliar with the man. I was lucky enough to have some knowledge in advance and was able to spot some of the key moments in Dee’s life - but even then the narrative felt scrambled and made little use of some incredible source material (namely the man’s incredible life story). That’s despite this promising write up in the MIF’s program:
There was once an Englishman so influential that he defined how we measure years, so quintessential that he lives on in Shakespeare’s words; yet so shrouded in mystery that he’s fallen from the very pages of history itself.
That man was Dr Dee – astrologer, courtier, alchemist, and spy.
Queen Elizabeth’s Magician - John Dee is a 2002 television show produced by the UK’s Channel 4 for their Masters of Darkness series, and tells the man’s incredible story in a much more accessible way. While perhaps not revealing anything that the more avid Dee student wouldn’t already know, the show is informative and entertaining (if slightly cheesy) and serves as a good introduction to the man and his legacy. It’s also a good watch for fans of Alan Moore, who appears throughout the show and talks of Dee’s magical practices and their influence - and the three-note “spooky” sax motif is more memorable than anything in Albarn’s opera:
Aylett’s new film Lint: The Movie documents the life and perplexing work of Jeff Lint with participation from the likes of Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Robin Ince, D.Harlan Wilson, Jeff Vandermeer, Leila Johnston, Andrew O’Neill,and enigmatically creative literary/comics genius, Aylett himself.
Featuring clips from Lint’s books, cartoons, music, comics and films, plus interviews with fans & critics, the movie follows Lint’s life from the days of vintage pulp, through his adoption by the psychedelic counterculture and disastrous scripts for ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Patton’; to his status as an enigmatic cult figure. Never-before-seen archive footage and recordings of Lint himself, and commentary by those who knew and read him, results in a compelling portrait of the creator of Clowns & Insects, Jelly Result, The Stupid Conversation, The Riding On Luggage Show, the CATERER comic, and Catty and the Major, the scariest kids’ cartoon ever aired.
Lint’s was a career haunted by death, including the undetected death of his agent, the suspicious death of his rival Herzog, and the unshakable ‘Lint is dead’ rumours, which persisted even after his death. Like his contemporary Philip K. Dick, he was blithely ahead of his time.
What I find amazing is that a talent like Tim Burton fucks around with unnecessarily remaking Planet of the Apes and Alice in Wonderland when he could be making one of Aylett’s multi-level works into a truly modern 21st century film. Aylett’s work is terrific source material for Hollywood (and if not, then certainly for Adult Swim!), but they just haven’t realized it yet. Burton’s oeuvre has needed a shot of new energy for years (if you ask me) and Steve Aylett would make a fantastic collaborator for him. How amazing would it be if Tim Burton directed The Caterer, huh? Just saying…
Fantastic portrait of comics magus Alan Moore by Frank Quitely. If you click here, you can see a much larger version of the piece and you’ll notice that Quitely did a “Hirschfeld” and wove titles from Moore’s oeuvre into his beard.
Below, an amusing segment with Moore from Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle as they discuss the truth about Winston Churchill…
One of the things that can certainly be said for Alan Moore’s various projects over the years, is that they tend to be beautifully packaged and published products. Although often pricey, his dedicated fan base clearly appreciate the effort, as these beautiful objects tend to sell out rather quickly.
Dig Unearthing, his latest, a collaboration with noted photographer, Mitch Jenkins: Lex Records produced the package, which includes two deluxe 180g vinyl records of Unearthing, a deluxe 180g white vinyl record Instrumental EP, three CDs, a poster, a portrait of Moore by Jenkins and a printed transcript.
Unearthing is an audio and visual project uniting legendary comic book writer Alan Moore award-winning photographer Mitch Jenkins and a cast of high- caliber musicians. A story written and narrated by Moore with a mesmerising score from Crook&Flail, Stuart Braithwaite, Zach Hill, Justin Broadrick, Mike Patton and more.
Bleep are proud to be the first retailer to present this deluxe, limited edition box set via Lex Records including the full 2-hour audio reading of Unearthing on CD and heavyweight vinyl, a separate EP of instrumental highlights from the score, a dot-matrix printed transcript, photo portrait of Alan by Mitch Jenkins.
Personally, I think he ought to throw in one of those huge “Camberwell Carrot” joints he’s so famous for, as seen in the photo below:
Alan Moore‘s bi-monthly ‘zine, Dodgem Logic, launches this month and you can read a typically engrossing interview with Moore (yes, Watchmen and Vendetta, but Tom Strong, too!) here. Hoping to “resurrect a spirit of the ‘60s underground papers,” Dodgem Logic is just one of the new projects on Moore’s always-crowded plate (see also this).
Living up to his ‘zine’s tagline, “colliding ideas to see what happens,” Moore’s also composing the libretto for the currently untitled opera masterminded by the Gorillaz’ Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewitt. Those two, incidentally, “curate” a few pages in Dodgem Logic #2. Moore’s ‘zine will soon be available for sale in the US via Top Shelf comix. Some animation from the prior Albarn-Hewitt opera, Monkey: Journey To The West, follows below:
Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s gigantic pornographic comic Lost Girls has just been published in one affordable hardback for $45. Nice.
I just finished it. It’s up there in the Moore canon, but shows so much of the collaborative process with his wife that you’ll be hard pressed to detect his voice. The book follows the erotic lives of three Lost Girls?
With each new technological advance, pornography has proliferated and degraded in quality. Today, porn is everywhere, but where is it art? 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom surveys the history of pornography and argues that the success and vibrancy of a society relates to its permissiveness in sexual matters.
This history of erotic art brings together some of the most provocative illustrations ever published, showcasing the evolution of pornography over diverse cultures from prehistoric to modern times. Beginning with the Venus of Willendorf, created between 24,000-22,000 bce, and book-ended by contemporary photography, it also contains a timeline covering major erotic works in several cultures. 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom ably captures the ancient and insuppressible creative drive of the sexual spirit, making this book a treatise on erotic art.
Sexually progressive cultures gave us literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust.
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction.