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The Mindscape of Alan Moore

Alan Moore sits in front of the camera, talks about mysticism, magic, and information overload, and predicts the end of the world in the year 2015.

I could mention Alan Moore’s remarkable contributions to the field, art, and popularity of comic books (and so-called "graphic novels"), but why bother – anyone who wants to sit down and watch a documentary called The Mindscape of Alan Moore already knows who Alan Moore is. You know about Watchmen, Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, From Hell, Lost Girls, Top 10, The Killing Joke, Miracleman, and maybe even "Abelard Snazz" and The Ballad of Halo Jones. For many rabid comic book fans, Alan Moore is a God. He can do any damn thing he wants in comics, and the fans who are convinced of this are the ones who will be sitting down to watch The Mindscape of Alan Moore. And many of those fans will be sorely disappointed.

If you hope to hear him going on at length about Rorschach, John Constantine, Smax, Supreme, or Tom Strong, stop reading now because he makes one mention of Rorschach (using a quote from Watchmen), and doesn’t mention the others at all. On the other hand, if you know about the Alan Moore who enjoys delving into philosophical explorations of art, mysticism, magic, his concept of "the Ideaverse," and those esoteric concepts he revealed with The Birth Caul and Promethea, then you’ll be fascinated and entertained; and you’ll come away doing something that hardcore scientific skeptics are horrified at: you’ll be thinking magically.

Some of the audience watching this won’t be drooling fanboys with Watchmen T-shirts and V for Vendetta masks. These are the ones who’ll enjoy The Mindscape of Alan Moore for what it is: Moore preaching to his audience, rambling about any subject that comes to his mind. He doesn’t interact with anyone, not even the film’s director, DeZ Vylenz (the "Z" is capitalized, suggesting a filmmaker with ambitions of being the next "McG" or "The Wachowski Brothers"); Moore simply sits in front of the camera, against a background of images chosen to support the subject he’s talking about at the moment, with a soundtrack of minimalist electronic music and sounds; and he talks about subjects near and dear to him. He’s a character himself, as anyone who’s seen him before knows: wild, unkempt hair and beard, a long, thin face with staring eyes, and a deep, droll, monotone voice in a thick Northampton accent. American listeners will have trouble understanding his words at first, until they become used to him after a few minutes. Despite the (deliberately) ominous and mysterious look he gives when staring at the camera, Moore’s attitude is actually quite friendly: while he’s lecturing to the audience, we don’t get the impression that he’s talking down to us or treating us with disdain. He’s talking about something that interests him, and he wants us to be interested in what he has to say. Once we get used to his style of speaking, we find that, in the same manner as his comic books, he speaks in a very literate, rather poetic style that is still very easy to understand and digest. And that’s especially pleasing, considering that the subject Moore tackles here is very intellectual and philosophical.

Moore covers each subject in vignettes lasting about five minutes or so, before moving on to the next stage of his piece. After giving a brief synopsis of his employment history before he began writing comic books, Moore delves into the philosophy he developed, and here he gives us a treatise on his belief in "magic" and how it relates to art and creativity. To Moore, making magic has less to do with standing at an altar or bonfire chanting old incantations, than it does with being creative. The point he puts across here is that "magic" – at least the kind that he practices – covers the inexplicable, mystical force that governs our lives, makes us conscious, allows us to experience the physical world, and makes us creative. To him, making magic has a lot to do with writing and creating art: even to the point where an artist is the closest thing the modern era has to what used to be called a "shaman" in the past. In Moore’s mind, you’re making magic when you’re creating something personal, something that you are putting your very soul into creating. His bias is obvious, since he’s a talented writer and that’s where he pours most of his creative energies; by extending this philosophy, one could say that a computer programmer’s magic is in the programs he writes, and a car mechanic is making magic when he takes an old antique wreck and brings it back to working life.

Moore ties a number of his major works into this thesis, by bringing up the now-legendary "sex issue" of Swamp Thing (#34, for those of you who want to rush out and buy it), and saying how it was his first foray into eroticism in comics. This led to the creation of Lost Girls, his epic work of pornography that he states is a solution to the "problem" of erotica: that the only form of literature (or so he says) that deals with sex in a frank manner is a dirty, disrespected, under-the-counter literature that literate folks refuse to treat in a serious manner…and that doesn’t aspire to literary heights, either. (Presumably he considers Lolita to be an obvious exception to the rule; though it’s doubtful there will ever be a graphically illustrated comic book adaptation of Lolita.) He also talks about Brought to Light, the conspiracy-laden history of the CIA that he worked on in the 1980s (and here he makes a point about conspiracy theorists that I can certainly agree with: "Conspiracy theorists love their conspiracies because they are comforted by the idea that a vast conspiracy controls everything. The truth is far more sinister – the truth is that no one is in charge and the world is rudderless"), and also touches on Watchmen and From Hell. These works are interspersed with his theories of magic, all leading up to his underlying idea that ideas themselves, information, and consciousness exist in a realm of existence outside the laws of science – a place that he calls "The Ideaverse."

For justification of his theory, Moore looks to quantum physics, noting how this advanced field of science also postulates that the entire physical universe is nothing more than the by-product of information. Or, as Moore quotes from religion, "…in the Beginning there was the Word." He notes the way that ideas, seemingly non-existent for the course of history until they come into existence, appear to occur in multiple instances at roughly the same time, and the way that the use of language is essentially "magic" – even to the point where it’s immersed in our culture, as a "grimoire" (book) is simply another spelling of "grammar;" and the idea of "casting a spell" is little more than "spelling" a word. In an amusing (though depressing) anecdote, he notes that the most active "magicians" working today are TV commercial writers and producers – they’re not making their magic to help people, but rather to seduce them and make them buy material things.

Considering how closely this discussion of magic, information, and the "Ideaverse" ties in with the Immateria of Moore’s Promethea comic book series (which he had just begun, along with the other ABC titles, at the time this documentary was recorded), it’s surprising that he doesn’t give a single mention of that series here. However, if you want an idea of what Moore’s conception of the end of the world is like, read the final issues of Promethea. According to Moore (although he actually borrows the idea from Robert Anton Wilson), the rate of information produced and gathered by mankind is accelerating at an exponential rate, and he theorizes (without offering any specifics) that it is likely to come to a head around the year 2015. At that time, he says, our society’s oversaturation of information will reach the point where the "fluid" state of human intellect will boil over and turn into "steam." This matches the Apocalypse that Moore gives us at the end of "Promethea" – the world doesn’t end with a bang, but with a whisper, as a new kind of information, imagination, knowledge, and "magic" is introduced to place civilization onto an entirely new level of existence. While it’s certainly unlikely that this transformation will take place on a literal, physical level (and Moore certainly doesn’t suggest this), it is rather suggested that some apotheosis will come when human knowledge and information reaches the saturation point. The Mindscape of Alan Moore concludes with this statement by Moore, and he seems pessimistic as he states this – or maybe it’s just the image he presents, with his shaggy mane of hair and truly British voice.

I can see The Mindscape of Alan Moore being screened at pagan gatherings and festivals like Starwood and Winterstar, because the audience there will appreciate it far more than comic book or science fiction conventions. But don’t worry, comic book fans – this is a two-disc set, and the entire second disc contains interviews with artists who’ve worked with Moore, including Melinda Gebbie (Lost Girls), David Lloyd (V for Vendetta), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), and Jose Villarrubia (Promethea). There’s a lot there for you to enjoy, and even something to appreciate. But this documentary is so arcane and focused to appeal to a narrow audience, I doubt you’ll ever get a chance to see this unless you’re willing to go out and spend $25 on the two-disc DVD set. If you’re a hardcore Alan Moore fan and are already familiar with his delvings into magic, then you’ll find this to be worth every penny. If you’re looking forward to the Watchmen movie just because you want to see Rorschach kicking ass, then The Mindscape of Alan Moore will make you simply fall asleep, spin your head in delirium, or just turn it off. Then again, there were complaints about Promethea as well, from both fans and publishers, suggesting that it was pushing Moore’s "religious" ideas rather than giving slam-bang superhero battles. Moore’s reply was: "…there are 1000 comic books on the shelves that don't contain a philosophy lecture and one that does. Isn't there room for that one?" ("Alan Moore Interviewed by Eddie Campbell," Egomania #2, December 2002: pp1-32). This documentary made me feel as though I know one of my favorite authors on a more personal level, and I like that. Whether or not you believe in magic, that’s a good enough reason to watch this.