|Alan Moore (on the right) and his brother Mike, 1963 or 1964.|
Picture from The extraordinary works of Alan Moore.
From Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman, pp. 95-99
In the following you can read a fictional tale of young Alan Moore written by well-known Irish writer Darren Shan. The piece - one of my favorite contributions to the book - is full of references to Moore's works and characters. If you can't catch them all, you can read some useful notes here.
Posted on this blog with the author's permission.
Young Alan Moore in “Saga of The Vile Thing”
Young Alan Moore in “Saga of The Vile Thing”
November 18th, 1963. In America, president John F Kennedy is four days away from a decisively deadly date with destiny. In Britain, a young band of mop-tops from Liverpool are about to release their second album (it will hit stores in Britain on the same day that a “rubber bullet” hits president Kennedy) and will soon go on to conquer pop charts across the globe. The world stands on the brink of great social, cultural and technological changes. By the end of the decade everything will have altered, faster than previously imagined possible. It is a time of upheaval and revision. We could throw our gauntlet down in any corner of this brave new world and find individuals of wondrous imagination and courage, heralds of the age of evolution. We could alight in Moscow, New York, Berlin, London. But the metropolises of the world have been exhaustively documented. Let us instead set our sights on a grey, cold town in middle England, and one of its younger, more anarchic inhabitants. The town is Northampton, scene of two apparently unconnected, but preternaturally linked, petty crimes. And our focal spirit is ten year old Alan Moore, perpetrator of the humbly heinous acts. Let us observe …
“Who the hell would steal Santa’s beard?” constable Constantine asked rhetorically.
“I dunno,” the unfortunately named Curt Vile muttered. “The bleeder hit me over the back of me head while I wasn’t looking. Mugging a poor old guy like me in a Santa suit — he must be the spawn of Satan!”
Curt was lying across the pavement, redolent in a baggy red costume. He had black boots, the crimson suit, a white fur rimmed hat. All he lacked was the beard to complete the perfect yuletide picture.
“What you doing in that get-up anyway?” constable Constantine asked. “Christmas is miles off.”
“Thought I’d get in early on the act this year,” Curt said. “Another couple of weeks and you won’t be able to move for street Santas. Figured I’d beat them to the punch and make a bit of cash before the rush starts.”
“Begging, eh?” constable Constantine exclaimed, ever quick to pounce on the subtlest of clues. “You’re nicked, mate!”
Curt rubbed his bare chin and grimaced. “So much for the spirit of Christmas!”
Meanwhile, several streets away, Roscoe Moscow (as he was known to the local kids) was carrying out an emergency stock inventory. Roscoe sold and repaired bicycles from a small side-street shop. The shop had been burgled many times since opening day. He’d learnt a long time ago not to leave any money in the till, and to only keep tired old bikes in the shop (the good ones he kept in the spare rooms of his home). Thieves still pestered him, making off with equipment and the battered old bikes, or smashing up the contents of the shop for pure, bitter fun. But this was the strangest break-in yet.
“I don’t get it,” Roscoe sighed, inventory completed. “Who’d go to all the trouble of breaking in just to take a single can of black spray paint?”
“Yo-ho-Huxley,” Alan Moore grunted, studying his reflection in a broken shard of mirror. He was wearing the long, shaggy Santa Claus beard, sprayed a delicious shade of midnight black. The paint can rested on the waste ground behind him. His fingers were smudged from the paint, but he’d been careful not to get it on his clothes — his mother would have his guts for garters if she found out about this!
“Not bad,” Alan said, admiring his reflection. Even at that tender age there was something supernaturally piercing in his gaze. His grandmother said he had the eyes of an old man who’d seen much of the world, and worlds beyond. (“Aye,” his Dad had deadpanned. “And I bet the old fart was glad to get rid of ’em.”)
“That’s decided then,” Alan said, removing the beard and laying it down next to the paint can. “I’ll grow me own as soon as I can.” The beard suited him. He should have been born with one. Thinking about it, he wondered if he had — maybe his grandmother had shaved it off. He smiled at the image of a baby with a beard. He imagined his mother’s reaction: “Ernest! Help! Me fanny’s coming away on the baby’s head!” Maybe he’d write a story about it … But no. He doubted his parents would see the funny side of that. Genitalia were unacceptable in his work at this moment in time. A few months ago he’d written a story about a lizard with both a penis and vagina (he’d called it “A hypersexual lizard”) — when his father stumbled across it, it had been like a replay of the wrath God visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
Alan turned his back on the painted beard (“One day …”) and went exploring the warren of the Northampton back streets. Today was his tenth birthday, a special time in a boy’s life, the start of his ascent towards adulthood. Alan knew he had a lot of growing yet to do, but he had moved beyond the boundaries of basic childhood, and from today there could be no going back. He’d reached double fig-ures — he was into big numbers now.
He should have been in school, but how could he waste a magical day like this on lessons? If he was to have children, and they were to ask him how he’d celebrated his tenth birthday, how was he to respond? “Oh, I went to school like normal and got caned for knowing more than the teachers.” No. Better to be able to say he’d marked the occasion with a statement of his individuality and freedom of spirit. Some would have called his avoidance of school truancy — but Alan regarded it as valid, liberating, soul-enhancing rebellion.
Trudging around Northampton, careful not to be seen by anybody who might know him, keeping to the shadows, elusive, hidden. Many children would have felt lonely, bored, scared in his position. But not Alan. With his imagination for company, he was never alone. He sought amusement in it while he walked, the hours passing swiftly, far swifter than they ever did in school.
He was a super-hero, Batman, fighting the Joker. No, better than that, he was his own super-hero, a character of his own invention. He was Jimmy Muscles … No, something even sturdier … Tommy Strong! Born in the tropics, possessor of incredible strength (not too sure how he came by his powers, but that wasn’t important), married to a beautiful, resourceful woman, guardian of mankind.
In his head he fought a dozen battles, in the present, the future and the past. All zones were accessible to Tommy Strong. He could follow his enemies to the ends of the earth and through the torrid, twisted, tunnels of time itself.
But even super heroes have to stop for lunch. Alan made a seat of a wooden crate next to a deserted factory and made quick work of his sandwich and apple. He was thirsty. A bottle of coke would have been perfect, but he lacked the funds, so he settled for some cool clear water from a rain barrel. A bunch of teddy boys passed as he was drinking from his cupped hands. They laughed at him and threatened to dunk him in the barrel. Alan said nothing while they passed – he’d been dunked before, so he didn’t doubt the seriousness of the threat – but once they were out of earshot he cursed them vilely, ending with a thumping snort of “Fashion beasts!”
As he was leaving, in the opposite direction to the teddy boys, he noticed a watchman inside the factory, standing by one of the windows, bored out of his brain, idly watching the skyline. Alan studied the watchman for a while. The glass of the window was badly stained, and if Alan shifted slightly from foot to foot, the stains appeared to spread across the watchman’s face, altering his appearance. Alan wondered if anyone else was watching the watchman — glancing around at the grey neighbouring buildings, he didn’t think so.
Eventually the watchman retreated, perhaps to view the town from a different window. Alan moved on, becoming Tommy Strong again. He fought space monsters, Nazis, and giant spiders. He had the idea for a creature half human and half spider — “Cobweb,” he called it. Cobweb was a man to begin with, but then Alan imagined it as a woman, alluring and sensual, destroying and devouring those she loved.
In his mind, Cobweb proved too much of a threat for Tommy Strong — he was rendered helpless by his love for her. But not to fear — Alan simply invented a team of friends for Tommy, super heroes of all sorts, with a variety of powers. Jack Quickly, the Number One American, Greycoat — courageous, capable, loyal allies, one and all. But he needed a name for the team, something catchy. How about the Association of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Hmm … He liked it, but he sensed he could do better. He’d have to sleep on this one …
After a series of taxing, life-threatening adventures, Alan wound up by the gates of his school, ten minutes before classes finished for the day. This way he could take the ordinary route home and not raise any suspicions if he was spotted by his neighbours.
On the stroke of three o’clock, the pupils came streaming out, chattering, yelling, laughing, excited by their freedom. Alan kept to the shadows of the houses opposite the school gates, waiting for the crowd to pass, so he could follow just behind them. As he waited he spotted Hilary Jones, a girl from his class. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in school, but Alan had a warm spot for her. She had a lovely smile which gave him butterflies in his stomach every time he saw it. In his mind’s eye Hilary was no mere human girl — she was an angel, with a hidden glowing halo, sent to brighten up the lives of mere mortal men. He was not worthy of her, and would never be her boyfriend or husband, but perhaps he could write a poem in honour of her one day — or a ballad.
When most of the children had passed – and all the teachers – Alan slipped out of hiding, fell in behind the stragglers, and made his way home, adopting the most innocent expression his mischievous little gargoylian face could manage.
Alan spent much of the afternoon ensconced in his bedroom, reading. On his bed lay a thick edition of Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus (Alan had underlined the word “Prometheus” on the inside cover — he quite liked the sound of it), which Alan was enjoying immensely. There were also several Jack the Ripper tomes stacked in one corner of the room, which he dipped into at frequent intervals. Alan was intrigued by the Ripper, and thought he knew who the killer might have been, but he wasn’t prepared to make a claim just yet, not until he’d done a bit more research.
Most of the time, though, he read comics. Comics were his first and abiding love. He boasted a collection of ageing, tattered, dog-eared, but golden treasures. Batman, Superman, Captain Britain, Marvelman — fantastic stuff! He liked to draw his own comics – he’d have a go at a Tommy Strong story soon – but he feared his lack of artistic ability might work against him in the long run. Perhaps he’d just write stories when he grew up, and get other people to draw them. Not as much fun as drawing them himself, but better than not working in the medium at all.
When he wasn’t reading, Alan was scribbling in either his ABC or Top Ten notebooks. Alan loved to make lists and play with words. In the Top Ten pad he’d compose lists of his favourite comics, songs, TV shows, movies, as well as his top ten diseases, scourges, implements of torture, and so on. In the ABC book, Alan would jot down all the letters of the alphabet, meditate a while to blank his mind, then gaze at the letters and write down whatever words occurred to him, starting at A and rapidly working his way through to Z. He had hundreds of ABC lists, compiled in several bulging paper folders which his mother – a printer – had been able to procure for him.
Alan was nearing the end of his latest list – “R for rorschach, S for supreme, T for time travel, U for UFO, V for vendetta” – when his mother called him down for supper. He quickly complete the list – “W for watchmen, X for x-ray (again!), Y for young blood, Z for zzzzzzz” – then raced for the kitchen.
His mother had offered to throw a party for him, but Alan didn’t believe in making a big deal out of birthdays, even one as important as his tenth. So apart from a small cake and a slightly nicer dinner than normal, it was a typical meal. Alan had opened his presents that morning – books and comics for the most part, as well as some clothes – but his mother had held a few surprises back for him, which provided some excitement after dinner. The presents were nothing extra special – another book, a game of Snakes and Ladders, a small magician’s set of tricks (he’d received the same set the year before, and had mastered the tricks within a couple of days, but Alan was a diplomatic boy and said nothing of this minor faux pas).
He played a few games of Snakes and Ladders with his parents, then spent some time playing with the cat on the kitchen floor. The cat’s name was Maxwell. An elderly, straggly mongrel, missing half an ear, nicked and scratched in many places — a real cat. Alan liked Maxwell — he felt they were kindred spirits. He told the cat of his day and how he’d celebrated his birthday, safe in the knowledge that the cat wouldn’t betray his confidence. He started to tell Maxwell a story about a modern day kidnapper-cum-ripper who abducted young ladies – “Lost Girls” became the title, once Alan had worked out where the story was heading – but then a neighbour arrived and Maxwell bolted — the cat wasn’t fond of company.
Alan strolled through to the living room to see which of the neighbours had come a-calling. He discovered one of the Bojeffries clan, sitting chatting with his mother. The Bojeffries woman – there were so many of them, Alan never bothered to remember their names – had a baby with her, and was showing what looked like some kind of parchment to Alan’s mother.
“A birth caul,” she said. “Covered her head like a wee cap. We thought Glory – that’s what we’s called her – we thought she was deformed to begin with, but it was only the caul.”
Alan was interested in the birth caul – he hadn’t seen one before – but his mother shooed him away before he could examine it properly. She didn’t like him poking his nose into “women’s stuff”. Her son was a bit too curious for her liking. There were certain things which men – and boys, certainly! – had no business knowing about.
Muttering blackly to himself, Alan went to sit beside the fire. (He had no interest in television, though a new programme, due to start five days later, sounded like it might be worth his while — according to the grapevine, it was all about a time-travelling doctor.) He stared into the flames for a while, then cocked his head sideways. His grandmother had told him you could hear people talking if you listened closely to the flames. She hadn’t said whether the speakers were spirits, or if the flames served as some sort of telephonic system for the living. Alan listened intently for a long time, but there was no voice in this fire, and eventually he abandoned his post and returned to his room, to read and scribble some more.
Later that night, tiring of his notebooks and well-thumbed comics, Alan turned his hand towards writing some stories of his own. He wasn’t sure how writers wrote comic stories – did they draw a rough version of each page and write in the dialogue, or did they just describe the contents of the page? – so he’d experimented with several methods. Tonight he wrote a Tommy Strong story as straightforward prose, figuring he could adapt it at a later stage if he liked the feel of it.
Alan had a good feeling about Tommy Strong. He was on to a winner with this one. It might take him a while to truly capture the character, develop his world and bring him to light, but he was sure, when he did, that the Tommy Strong comic would sell like hot cakes — he’d make a small killing!
After the Tommy Strong adventure, he tried to think of some new characters, to use in other stories. He jotted down a series of names, but none really grabbed him. He took a break about nine o’clock and returned to the kitchen. His throat was exceedingly dry and he needed something to quench the thirst. As he stood in the kitchen, gulping down water, he played around with the word “quench”. A nice word, possibly one he could adapt for a character …
Back in his room, he wrote the word down, replaced the “e” with an “i” (for no good reason other than it pleased him), then tried to find another name to go with it — “Quinch” sounded to him like one half of a partnership. Perhaps a doctor. Dr so-and-so and Quinch. Not bad, except he couldn’t find the right name for the doctor, no matter how hard he tried. In the end he left it as “Dr and Quinch” and resolved to work on it again in the morning.
Some more doodling, a bit more reading, then Alan was ready for bed. He undressed, checked his underpants for skizz marks (his grandmother’s phrase), visited the bathroom, said goodnight to his parents, then tucked himself in.
“So,” he thought in the darkness, staring at the cloudy night sky through a crack in the curtains. “Ten years old. Not a bad day. A bit on the quiet side, but what can you expect in Northampton! I’m sure, when I’m bigger, I’ll live somewhere big and fabulous. That’ll be much more exciting. Who knows — for my fiftieth, maybe I’ll be celebrating my birthday on the moon!”
As Alan lay in bed, slowly drifting into the realm of slumber, he ran a few more story lines through his head. He often thought of good ideas late at night, on the verge of sleep, and sometimes he wouldn’t nod off until one or two in the morning. But not tonight. Ideas weren’t coming to him easily, and he didn’t want to work too hard on his birthday. He could chase ideas the next day. “Tomorrow,” he muttered, making a comfortable space for his head in the exact middle of the pillow. “Lots of time for stories tomorrow … write all the stories I want … tomorrow … stories …”
And with that, young Alan Moore twitched, scratched his chin, then surrendered to the forces of Lord Morpheus, to dream of beards … and wonders.
© Darren Shan
© Darren Shan