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Opening the Black Dossier: The Alan Moore Interview, Part One
By Kurt Amacker
November 07, 2007
© Alan Moore
After over a year of delays, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier will hit comic shops next Wednesday, November 14th. The Black Dossier has been the source of controversy and speculation since Moore announced his departure from DC Comics – and its imprint, Wildstorm – in June of 2005. After producer Joel Silver falsely announced the author’s involvement with the V for Vendetta film, Moore demanded a retraction and an apology. While Warner Brothers removed his name from the film’s website, no apology or public retraction came. Moore announced his intentions to leave DC and take The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with him to Top Shelf Productions. With an announced third volume planned at Top Shelf, all seemed right with the world. But, Moore and O’Neill owed DC The Black Dossier – a volume that sits neatly in between 2002’s Volume II and the forthcoming Volume III. It’s comic book math, really. Moore and O’Neill continued to work on the book, only to find it mired in delays and controversy within DC and in the larger the comics press. And, though the details remain vague, Wildstorm editor Scott Dunbier recently departed DC, reportedly in connection with the trouble surrounding The Black Dossier. I recently passed a pleasant afternoon on the phone with Mr. Moore, who explained, in great detail, the history of the book, the controversy surrounding it, and Mr. O’Neill’s and his plans for the forthcoming Volume III of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The first part appears below, with the second to follow next week.
Kurt Amacker: There’s been so much controversy and anticipation surrounding The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. The book has been delayed repeatedly since your departure from DC, there’s been confusion over which edition would come out first, and Scott Dunbier departed Wildstorm, reportedly under circumstances connected to the book. I would like if, in your own words, you could tell our readers about The Black Dossier and the history of its creation leading up to its publication on November 14th.
Alan Moore: The Black Dossier was a project that had its origins at the very end of volume two of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I can remember that Kevin was just tying up the end pages and final bits of work for that second volume. And I spoke to him on the phone, laughing about the fact that he was now technically out of work, because we weren’t planning to launch volume three until some time in the future. Now after I put the phone down, just the thought of Kevin having to turn up at the job center to learn new skills was so distressing that I wondered if there was something that I could put together that would give him something to do, and which hopefully wouldn’t be a lot of work. That was the beginning of my delusional thinking, because anything having to do with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen always entails an incredible amount of work. But, the idea was to do something that had started life as a sourcebook. After five minutes, I realized it wouldn’t work because sourcebooks are always rubbish. They’re boring, and part of the reason for that is that they have no narrative content. They’re just a list of trivial facts about the characters. So, we thought that perhaps a way of getting around that would be to somehow include the sourcebook material within a surrounding narrative that dealt with the theft of a dossier from military intelligence in England – one that had lots of information about the various incarnations of the League. This, essentially, would be the Black Dossier itself, which would include the narrative comic strip story of the attempt to steal the document and the ensuing chase across Britain.
Now, the idea kind of grew from there and became increasingly elaborate. We very quickly realized that we’d got quite a potentially fascinating concept upon our hands. If we realized it in the way that we were hoping to, it would have so many different elements in it that it would no longer be a comic book. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a piece of text. We were planning to include various items like a seven-inch vinyl single, a 3-D section, and a separately packaged Tijuana Bible as imagined by the Pornography Department of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. Now, we were talking to Wildstorm, who at that time I was perfectly happy to allow to continue publishing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, even though the rest of my commitments to the ABC books had concluded. Now, they were very excited about the book, and Kevin was told that the book would not be solicited until he had finished the last page. That is only sensible, because Kevin has possibly done some of the very best artwork of his life on this book, as he has upon the entire series thus far. And, there would be little point in rushing him upon any of this material for the sake of a fairly arbitrary deadline and to the detriment of the work, which is going to be around for a long time. This work is built to last, and it would’ve been ridiculous to make it anything less than what it is for the sake of a publisher’s whim. So, that was the understanding under which Kevin launched on the project. Now, right towards the end of my writing of The Black Dossier, the needless controversy and fury erupted over the V for Vendetta film.
KA: When Joel Silver claimed you were affiliated with the film?
AM: Yes. Now at this point, I was still taking the position with DC that, although I didn’t want to work for them, I had been happy with the way that Wildstorm had published the two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volumes. And, unless there was anything to remind me that these were being published by DC, I would be happy for me and Kevin to continue allowing it to be published by Wildstorm. Now, when this stuff erupted regarding the V for Vendetta film, I considered this a reminder that I was still connected to DC Comics. I gave an awful lot of opportunities for them to sort it out that would not have been terribly demanding. And, eventually, they did at least take my name off of the film. Unfortunately, no kind of apologies or anything like that was forthcoming. So, I said, “Okay, we shall finish The Black Dossier and then we will be moving on to another publisher – we’ll be moving to Top Shelf.”
Now, it was around this time that DC began to apparently take a different attitude regarding The Black Dossier. Kevin started to get phone calls from people in the marketing department, which is a bit strange, because never in all my years of working for DC – and the same goes for Kevin – have we ever been marketed. There has never been any publicity of anything like that, apart from a couple of in-house ads. But, apparently these people were phoning up Kevin and making some very snippy remarks about his slowness in finishing the work, which all the time had been done on the understanding that there was no pressure – that there would be no solicitation of the work until the final pages were done. But there was suddenly pressure being applied to Kevin, and some strange silences when he asked questions about how the rest of the work was coming along – the production work, specifically in regards to the 3-D section, which Kevin had finished before he’d gone back and tackled a couple of sections that he’d missed out from the innards of the book. The 3-D section is the conclusion of the book. But, Kevin had got that done early, because since it was such a sophisticated approach to 3-D that we were demanding, it could only conceivably be handled by somebody of the expertise of Ray Zone, and that it would take a while to actually get this done. So, he’d got that in early. Now when he asked how that was progressing, he was met with a number of baffling silences. And, it eventually turned out that, apparently, it had been decided that it would be much better to do this 3-D work more cheaply, in-house. This is despite the fact that Ray Zone had already excitedly agreed to do the work. Apparently, after looking at the actual script – which, as we had said, calls for some very demanding and unusual uses of the 3-D process that only Ray Zone would have a chance of realizing – they concluded that they weren’t actually equipped to handle the 3-D process, so it had better go back to Ray Zone. Now, this has delayed things, so it turns out that even if Kevin had gotten the work in on this unreasonable schedule that they’d demanded, it wouldn’t have been ready to print.
Kevin got the work finished in January of last year. The book was pretty much ready to go to the printers then. But, it was suddenly decided by DC that it was “more of a Christmas book.” I don’t know how they’d concluded this – whether they’d noticed the snow and sprigs of holly on the title lettering or something like that – but, they’d decided it was now a Christmas book, which meant that the publication would be delayed for several months. We couldn’t quite understand what this was about, but we had little choice other than to go along with it. Kevin began work upon the third volume of the League for Top Shelf – which is coming along nicely; I’ve already written the first two chapters out of three – and, as we understood it, there had been some minor quibbles from the legal department about such subjects as the inclusion of Billy Bunter – a popular British schoolboy character from the early 20th century through to the 1950s. Kevin had told them at the time that, actually, Billy Bunter was owned by the Amalgamated Press, who were bought out by Fleetway Publications, who were bought out by the comic division of IPC Media, who were bought out by Warner Brothers, who are the owners of DC Comics. So, Kevin had explained to them that this was, at best, an interdepartmental problem. Eventually, after about a further six months of anxieties about Billy Bunter, they eventually realized this for themselves. Now, there were a couple of other things which we addressed. Even though we thought they were fairly minor quibbles, we sorted them out. It was then due to go to the printers sometime in early September of last year. And, two weeks before it went to the printers, Kevin suddenly got a lot of urgent communications stating that DC’s legal department had taken a look at the book and was very concerned about some of the characters that appeared in there. Now, we’d been told that the legal department had signed off on the book a couple of months before. So, we could only assume that somebody – for some reason – decided just to take another look at the book to see if there was anything there that could, in some way, impede the book’s progress or sabotage it in some minor, petty respect. Now, this was very irritating. Kevin was told out of the blue to make changes to the artwork or the coloring. There was, for example, a character at the back of a party scene – very, very small – that was the Lone Ranger, wearing 3-D goggles instead of a mask. Now, they were saying that it’s a copyrighted character and they couldn’t possibly allow this. We were saying, “Well, actually, the Lone Ranger in 3-D goggles is just a cowboy in 3-D goggles.” But, we had to change the color of his costume. This wasn’t a very important thing, but it was a trivial and irritating thing. And there were numerous such things, including the announcement that, unless we were prepared to actually take out the names of key characters from one section – or substitute other names – that it would not be publishable in Great Britain. This was all rather sudden and after the fact. And, it did seem to us as if, in all probability, this was only due to almost unbelievable incompetence or unbelievable pettiness and malice, purely over the fact that we were now going to take the series that we owned and have it published at Top Shelf. It is a free country, and, as I understand it, that is the right if you actually own the property.
I also remembered a previous occasion, when there was a Cobweb story that me and Melinda Gebbie had done that covered material about the occultist and rocket scientist Jack Parsons, including his relationship with Lafayette Ron Hubbard. Now, at the time, DC had subjected me to a few hours on the phone with their legal department, going over every element in this six-page story, with me informing them that, yes, Elizabeth I’s court magician, John Dee, was now dead, and that they needn’t worry about a lawsuit from that direction. We went through it meticulously, and the legal department, to their credit, said there was absolutely no problem with this, at which DC publisher Paul Levitz stepped in and said that he still didn’t feel that, despite the advice of his own legal department, he could, in his heart of hearts, publish this story.
With The Black Dossier, it struck us that that this was probably more of the same – that it was a lot of petty rigmarole, and at the end of the day it wouldn’t make any difference how the book was published or where it was published. So, we made a couple of changes to The Black Dossier – reluctantly, because they were unnecessary. But, it will be coming out on November the 14th, as you point out. It will be coming out everywhere, but England.
KA: Wasn’t there some issue related to the copyright connected to Scott Dunbier’s departure from Wildstorm?
AM: I don’t really know what happened to Scott Dunbier. I mean, I was feeling that me and Kevin were being misinformed over various matters. We heard that Scott had been bought out of his contract, but it was difficult to get a straight story about this, and by that point I was so disenfranchised from DC and Wildstorm that it didn’t really register very deeply, truth be told. I don’t know quite what happened, but one thing that I would say is that I suspect that, although I have my doubts about how Scott was in his behavior with me and Kevin, I would say that it would seem to me that he has been made a scapegoat, and that a lot of the things that he was apparently blamed for were very probably not his fault.
Now, it almost looked, at one point, as if DC’s legal department were trying to say that they had only just realized – two books before the book was to go to the printer – that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a work full of literary and cultural allusion, which after having published the thing for two previous volumes, I would have thought that they would have figured that out by then. Like I said, this does suggest either an almost unbelievable level of illiteracy and incompetence or a certain degree of pettiness and malice. In either event, it has certainly decided me upon my course of action for the future, which is that if I want to do works of the complexity of The Black Dossier – which I certainly do – then I really don’t think that the mainstream American comics industry should be allowed anywhere near them. I don’t really think they are competent to publish works of this level.
I should say that, obviously, all of the foregoing has cast a certain cloud over The Black Dossier, which I suspect was the purpose of the all the foregoing. But, on the other hand, it is one of the most intricate, beautiful, and intelligent things that me or Kevin has ever done. Despite the pernickety little changes, it is going to be, for those people in America that get to read it, one of the most wonderful things that they have ever seen, at least in the comic book medium – if the book is, indeed, still part of the comic book medium. Like I said, to me it feels like a new form – like it’s mutated into something else. Now, I should point out that the way in which the book will be published on November 14th is as a regular-sized, hardback edition, which will not contain the seven-inch vinyl single. Now, this was announced shortly after we’d said that we didn’t want future volumes of The League to be published by Wildstorm. We were told that they probably wouldn’t be including the single – that they would be bringing out a smaller hardback first, and perhaps a year later, they would bring out the Absolute edition containing the single. That was not the way that the book had been envisaged, and didn’t really seem to make much sense. I mean, in regular publishing – in grown-up publishing – it’s usual to bring out the lavish edition and then to bring out the cheaper edition. That’s pretty much publishing common sense, I would’ve thought. But, they decided they were going to change the plans on this and bring out the cheaper edition first. When it was realized that we were quite cross about all of this, there was a belated and ridiculous attempt to appease us by suggesting they would bring out the Absolute edition with the vinyl single at the same time as the smaller edition, which made no sense it all. So, we just said, no, just leave it. Let this one come out first, and then bring out the Absolute edition with the vinyl in the spring sometime next year. So, the readership will have to wait to hear my mellifluous tones on the double-A side, or perhaps double-b side, that is included in that bigger edition.
Like I said, I’m kind of conflicted in my feelings about this book. It’s going to be coming out in an edition that is less than we originally imagined and were told that was how it was going to be published. That inevitably takes a little of the shine off it. But with that said, this is a phenomenal piece of work. Speaking just for Kevin, the amount of different art styles he has apparently moved through in the course of this book is simply breathtaking. He’s moving from pastiches of great 18th century political cartoonists to 19th century illustrators like the Marquis Von Bayros, and a whole plethora of other illustration styles – and, it’s always unmistakably Kevin, but just the breadth of ability that he’s brought to this book is astonishing. And, I’m quite pleased about the literary side of this book, as well. I mean, we are both rather showing off in the course of The Black Dossier. The story that wraps around the Black Dossier section is, in itself, incredibly compelling and ties up an awful lot of the fictional threads in the 1950s fictional landscape in Britain and America – and to some degree, the 1960s landscape that is to come. But, the various parts of The Black Dossier – when I say that it’s a sourcebook, that doesn’t really convey what the various parts that we’ve included are really all about – I mean, there’s an unpublished Shakespeare plan, there’s a Jeeves and Wooster novella by P.G. Wodehouse, and there’s a continuation of Fanny Hill, called Being The Further Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, which will be published, hopefully, with the edges of the pages uncut, in the style of old Victorian books, where the readers will have to cut the edges of the pages themselves. And, I think I’m proudest of all of a piece that is a pastiche of Jack Kerouac – a pseudo-beat novel, complete with an exploitational pulp cover that has very little to do with the inside, that Kevin has done. It’s called The Crazy Wide Forever, and I’m pretty pleased with that as a piece of writing. And, there’s tons of other stuff. Like I said, it’s about everything that the reader might ever have wondered about the League, realized in a dazzling manner. We’ve got a 24-page life of Orlando, that’s told in the style of one of the classic British boys’ comics, where we have beautiful painted artwork in the style of people like Don Morris or Frank Bellamy. And, it tells the story of the life of Orlando from his birth in ancient Thebes in the 12th century, B.C., through to the Second World War, and, in doing so, provides a detailed timeline for the entirety of our fictional world – in much the same way that we gave a fairly detailed map of the fictional world in our almanac in the second volume. So, there are all of these astonishing things crammed into a couple of hundred pages. It’s roughly the length of a collected volume. And, I think the amount of stuff that we’ve got crammed in there – much too much to actually list here – is pretty remarkable. I think that this is probably, in many ways, a whole new level. We seem to have stepped up into new territory with The Black Dossier, which we are going to continue to build upon in the forthcoming volume three from Top Shelf.
Next Week: My interview with Alan Moore continues, as he expounds upon the merits of a unified fictional world and explains his intentions with the forthcoming third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The Spinner Rack
By Ben Johnson and Kurt Amacker
DARK HORSE COMICS
Buffy The Vampire Slayer #1 Final Ver $2.99
Buffy The Vampire Slayer #2 Final Ver $2.99
Buffy The Vampire Slayer #3 Final Ver $2.99
Buffy The Vampire Slayer #4 Final Ver $2.99
Ben: WTF! Have I been reading the rough draft this whole time?
Kurt: Yes. Look for the Ultimate Edition next month.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer #8 $2.99
Ben: I suggest you stay away from this one and wait for the Final Version in a few months.
Kurt: After that, you can pick up the Gold Deluxe Platinum Anniversary Director’s Cut. See what DVD has done to other media?
Eden Vol 9 It’s An Endless World TP (MR) $12.95
Emily The Strange Vol 2 The Fake Issue #2 $3.50
Kurt: All right, Emily’s cute and everything, but this is not worth $3.50.
Grendel Art Of Matt Wagners Grendel HC $39.95
Groo Hell On Earth #1 (Of 4) $2.99
Ben: I am always amazed that this is still getting printed.
Hellboy Darkness Calls #6 (Of 6) $2.99
Kurt: “Six of six! The number of the book!” I never get tired of talking about Iron Maiden.
Lobster Johnson The Iron Prometheus #3 (Of 5) $2.99
Ben: Much improved over the original title: The Tissue Hermes.
Kurt: But neither of them have anything on you-know-who.
Star Wars Knights Of The Old Republic #22 $2.99
Star Wars Legacy #17 $2.99
All New Atom #17 $2.99
Batman Archives Vol 7 HC $49.99
Cairo Hardcover (MR) $24.99
Countdown Search For Ray Palmer Red Rain #1 $2.99
Kurt: Hopefully, Dracula – from Batman: Red Rain – shows up and kills this series.
Countdown Special Jimmy Olsen 80 Page Giant $4.99
Countdown To Final Crisis 25 $2.99
Kurt: Dear Goth, I have to write some kind of a “halfway through” column for this, don’t I? Oh well, two weeks of an interview ought to make me forget all about it.
Exterminators #23 (MR) $2.99
Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash Ash Cover #1 (Of 6) (MR) $2.99
Ben: For those not in the know, this is an adaptation of the screenplay for the ill-fated sequel to Freddy Vs. Jason. The movie was cancelled after the realization that the sheer force of awesome created by Ash fighting Freddy and Jason would most likely create a second big-bang, ending life as we know it and re-booting the universe, now made up entirely of cool.
Kurt: I agree. Seriously, I bet the Vatican blocked this screenplay and keeps the original version in its archives, right next to Veronica’s Veil, the True Cross, and the Shroud of Turin. If the world were ever to see such a film, it would circumvent the events of Revelation and recreate the world as we know it in a state of pure, undying awesomeness.
Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash Freddy Cover #1 (Of 6) (MR) $2.99
Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash Jason Cover #1 (Of 6) $2.99
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Green Lantern Corps A Darker Shade Of Green TP $12.99
Kurt: That’s what happens when you forget your Depends on those long trips through space.
Heroes HC Alex Ross Cover $29.99
Ben: I hate it when Alex Ross does covers because I get all excited for super-cool interior work and it’s so blah compared to the cover.
Heroes HC Alex Ross Cover (O/A) $29.99
Heroes HC Jim Lee Cover $29.99
Ben: Not the same feeling for this guy’s work.
Heroes HC Jim Lee Cover (O/A) $29.99
Infinity Inc #3 $2.99
Jonah Hex #25 $2.99
Justice League Unlimited #39 $2.25
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Kurt: Is this book about Dethklok?
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Robin #168 (Ghul) $2.99
Robin Teenage Wasteland TP $17.99
Ben: Son of a bitch! It’s called Baba O’Riley, not Teenage Wasteland!
Robin Var Ed #168 (Ghul) $2.99
Scalped #11 (MR) $2.99
Ben: Still one of the most amazing titles I’ve ever read.
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Supergirl Var Ed #23 $2.99
Superman #670 $3.99
Ben: Super Woman!! How lame!!!
Kurt: Wha-huh? I think I missed an issue.
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Ben: Talk about anti-climatic.
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Ben: Dig that stuff up!
Kurt: I declare this book the most awesome thing in the history of awesome.
Wildstorm Fine Arts Spotlight The Authority $3.50
Y The Last Man #59 (MR) $2.99
Ben: I’ve never read this, but with it almost over I think I might give it a marathon read.
Kurt: Dude, when this book ends, it’s getting an entire column.
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Frank Frazettas Death Dealer B&W Sp Ed #1 (MR) $2.99
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Steve Niles Strange Cases #2 $2.50
Kurt: After you take on a strange case…
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Kurt: …come get a strange hug…
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Kurt: …hopefully from Witchblade!
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Kurt: This wraps the second arc of this series by man-god Ed Brubaker.
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Ben: I’m super stoked for this.
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Iron Man Enter The Mandarin #3 (Of 6) $2.99
Ben: Marvel enters the seedy world of fruit porn (get it? Seedy? Pun totally intended).
Kurt: Aren’t you a minister or something? Do you get a pass?
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #33 $2.99
Marvel Legacy 1960s To 1990s Handbook TP $19.99
Marvel Two-In-One #5 $4.99
Ben: Speaking of porn.
Kurt: Dude, God called. Bad news.
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Mystic Arcana Sister Grimm $2.99
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New Avengers Vol 6 Revolution TP $14.99
Omega Flight Alpha To Omega TP $13.99
Omega Unknown #2 (Of 10) $2.99
Ben: The first one was very cool.
Shanna She-Devil Survival Of The Fittest #4 (Of 4) $2.99
Ben: If they’re speaking of “fittest” in the Brit sense of the word Shanna wins hands down.
Silver Surfer In Thy Name #1 (Of 4) $2.99
Ben: If it’s on par with Requiem it should be amazing.
Spider-Man Peter Parker Back In Black HC $34.99
Super Villain Team Up Modoks 11 #5 (Of 5) $2.99
The Order #4 CWI $2.99
Ben: Just a coke. All I want is a coke.
Kurt: Hey Ben, I changed the word “some” to “a” in your joke. It looked better that way. Dude, get help.
Thor 1-3 Rebirth $4.99
Ben: In case you want to re-purchase and re-read it.
Kurt: I think I’ll buy a tin of cinnamon rolls instead. Everybody likes cinnamon rolls.
Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol 4 HC $29.99
Uncanny X-Men #492 MC $2.99
Kurt: Messiah Complex gets underway, as Marvel forces everyone to buy something from every X-Men title. But, I’m not doing it. Sorry, but I’ll wait for the trade and then continue with Brubaker’s run on Uncanny.
Uncanny X-Men Silvestri Var #492 MC $2.99
Ben: SWEET!!! It’s not a zombie variant!!
World War Hulk Gamma Corps #4 (Of 4) WWH $2.99
Kurt: Ben, the World War Hulk column is all yours after the Alan Moore interview wraps next week. I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.
Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.