x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Tribute band: Alan Moore honours his mentor

How the veteran comics writer showed his appreciation of a friend.

The comics book genius Alan Moore has put together an experimental-rock group to accompany his spoken story on the life of Steve Moore.
The comics book genius Alan Moore has put together an experimental-rock group to accompany his spoken story on the life of Steve Moore.

There are various ways in which writers might pay tribute to those who have inspired them: a shout-out in a novel's acknowledgements, a newspaper article about their hero's legacy, maybe even a dinner out together. Alan Moore, probably the UK's most revered comics writer (five of his books, including, most recently, Watchmen, have been turned into blockbuster films) isn't one to take the well-trodden path.

He has chosen to show his appreciation for fellow writer Steve Moore (no relation) by creating an experimental-rock super group, and having them accompany a two-hour spoken-word story, which he narrates, telling the story of Steve Moore's life. The result is Unearthing: a box set released on July 5, comprising a double CD and double vinyl (both featuring the story), an EP of instrumental highlights from the score, a copy of Alan Moore's original script and a book of images by the photographer Mitch Jenkins.

The musicians who create the accompaniment to the story may not be world famous, but they are titans in their field: Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite was a cornerstone of the 1990s post-rock movement; Zach Hill is an unconventional drummer from California who has worked with dozens of avant-garde musicians on the west coast; Justin Broadrick has blazed trails with the metal bands Napalm Death and Jesu; and the vocalist Mike Patton is best known as the frontman for the alt-metallers Faith No More.

If you'd rather hear the swirling ambient soundtrack these musicians have created together, without the sound of Alan Moore's strong East Midlands accent layered on top of it, the instrumental EP makes for an interesting listen, but it's best as part of the entire package. It shifts from tranquil to stormy and back again on the two-hour-long recording on which Moore tells the story of his hero's bizarre life.

Unearthing began as a long essay for the anthology London: City of Disappearances by Iain Sinclair. Alan Moore picked his old buddy and mentor as a topic because, in his own words (spoken with tongue in cheek), he "taught me everything that I know about comics, about magic, and in many ways ruined my life." Yes, you heard right, magic. As well as a shared love of the combination of stories and pictures, Steve and Alan Moore are magic devotees and are currently collaborating together on a book called The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic.

After the publication of Sinclair's anthology, Alan Moore decided to record a spoken-word version of the story; the label Lex Records got involved, and the band were signed on. Alan Moore describes them as "incredibly gifted contemporary musicians", saying: "We've been quite blessed with the show of talent". Steve Moore's story is inseparable from the story of the early British comic book scene. Born in 1949, Steve Moore created his first sci-fi fanzine, Vega, at the age of 16, and, as described on Unearthing, threw himself into the world of small press magazines. He fell in love with American comics, and after meeting a fellow fan at a sci-fi convention, decided to put together the world's first comics fanzine, Ker-Pow.

Described in the audio as "a jumpy hippy kid, his chestnut hair cautiously inching past his collar", Steve Moore got a job as an office boy at Oddham's Press, a publishing company that eventually became part of IPC magazines. Within three months he was a junior sub-editor on the weekly comic Pow!, where he "hooked up with the evolving backbone of a future comics scene". The narrative is a mixture of straight biography and vivid lyricism. We're told the facts: Steve Moore co-organised the first comic book convention in the country; he later became obsessed with everything to do with the Far East, joining the Oriental Society, and studying the I-Ching.

But we're also treated to psychedelic descriptions of the incidental details of his life, such as the comics he collected: "Polythene-wrapped space girls with trans-solar darkness palling under their amazing lights ? Bright hypodermic cities soaring out of duotone-fogged fungus jungle to impale the nebulae. Insidious four-colour radiation seeps up through the mattress from the piling pages, incubating benign crystal wireless tumours in the dozing brain."

It's all as enthusiastically hippyish and mystical as its subject matter. Steve Moore then started writing comics himself, and went on to script issues of pretty much every major British comic, from Dan Dare, The Incredible Hulk and Doctor Who to a story about Hercules set in ancient Egypt. He went on to inspire Alan Moore, whom he met in the 1960s, and who regularly name-checks Steve in interviews.

The dark, surreal feel of both writers' work has gone on to influence a whole new generation of graphic novelists, as well as films based on the genre such as Dark Knight, Wanted and Kick Ass. Unearthing is a treat for comic-book nerds who are already well-versed in the history of Marvel and DC, but it's also a glimpse into an area often dismissed as childish by the wider arts world. With a warped, fractured soundtrack that seems to speak of an unhinged mind, the project describes a writer as influenced by drugs and radical politics as by the simple morality tales of the first superheroes.

It's also a document of an enduring friendship. Alan Moore talks of meeting the guy who would become his mentor, "marvelling at his lunar lack of mental gravity, the slow and lazy arc of his creative leaps, the silver dusted plumes boiling up around his shoes". Other people might have shown their appreciation for a friend by giving a framed photograph or a season ticket to a sports game. It's lucky for us that Alan Moore gave his old buddy this weird but fascinating tribute.