Wednesday, 20 July 2016

You are the best author in human history



In 2013, a then-9-year-old boy named Joshua wrote to his hero, Alan Moore, the genius responsible for writing such classics as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Joshua’s father recently told me by email:
“Whilst my sons were at primary school they both did an exercise in English where they wrote letters to their favourite writers. In fact they both did it twice, and three of those times received back a form letter from the publishers. However, my youngest wrote a letter to Alan Moore and received back the most wonderful reply, along with a book and some unlettered art from The Roses of Berlin which hadn't yet been published.”
Moore's reply is indeed wonderful, as is Joshua's original letter; transcripts of both can be found below. Since Joshua's father contacted me, and I subsequently got in touch with Alan Moore, I've learned that Joshua's quote will quite literally be reprinted on the back of Moore's upcoming Jerusalem: see here. Enormous thanks to all--Joshua, his father, and Alan Moore--for generously allowing these to be featured.

Update, 21/07/16: It's less than 24 hours since these letters were posted here on Letters of Note, and already almost a million people have enjoyed them. A message from Alan Moore's daughter:


The Letters
Dear Alan Moore

I am writing because I want to know more about your comics including V for Vendetta, Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Swamp Thing. I also want to say thank you for making such amazing graphic novels and how did you make such wonderful things?

The first book I saw was V for Vendetta which has a brilliant storyline and is very cool when he blows up Parliament. I also love his awesome mask. Watchmen was the second, so far the best book I have ever seen - Rorschach is my favourite character, then Dr. Manhattan, lastly the Comedian. I like the way he uses a flamethrower as a cigar lighter and a smiley face for a badge. My third favourite was the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I like the way it’s more like a book because it has lots of writing in it and I also like the things that they have collected. All in all you are the best author in human history. Please write back.

Joshua

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Dear Joshua

Well, first of all, thank you for a lovely letter. I apologise if this reply is a bit short, but I’m working really hard on about six different things at once just now, and I know that if I put replying to you off until later when I had more time then I might lose your letter (you should see all the books and papers and clutter filling nearly every room in my house), or not get back to you for some other reason. After your kind words about me and my writing I really didn’t want to do that, so here I am in an odd half hour between finishing one piece of work and starting another.

I’m really pleased that you’ve enjoyed so much of my stuff, and especially because most of my readers these days are people almost as old as I am. Of course, I appreciate my audience however old they are, but it’s particularly gratifying to think that I’ve got intelligent and adventurous readers of your own age out there. It’s the kind of thing, when I’m taking my vitamin pills and swilling them down with Lemsip, that makes me feel like I’m still ‘down with the kids’.

Books like Watchmen, V for Vendetta and Swamp Thing were done back when I was just starting my career in the 1980s, when I was in my twenties or thirties. I’m glad they’re still enjoyable today, and as for how I wrote them...well, I suppose I’d have to say that I started out, when I was your age or a little younger, by being simply in love with comics or books that were full of brilliant ideas that set my imagination on fire. From a very young age, I was trying to emulate the people whose stories I was reading by writing little stories or poems or even little comic books drawn in coloured biro on lined jotter paper and then stapled together. I’m not saying that these things were any good, but that I had tremendous fun doing them and that they at least taught me the beginnings of the skills that my writing would need in later life.

As well as writing and drawing, I was also reading as much as I could about the things that interested me...this is why libraries are so important...whether that be in books or comics or any other medium that I could get my hands on. When I was reading things, part of me (probably the biggest part) would just be enjoying the story because it was so exciting, or scary, or funny or whatever, while another part of me would be trying to work out why I’d enjoyed whatever it was so much. I tried to understand what it was that the author had done that had had such a powerful effect upon me. It might be some clever story-telling effect that had tickled my brain, or it might be a powerful use of symbolism that had struck a deep, buried chord inside me, but whatever it was I wanted to understand it because I figured that if I understood these things, I’d probably be a better writer than if I didn’t.

As I got older, while I found I still enjoyed a lot of the books and comics I’d grown up with, I found that I was becoming able to appreciate all sorts of other writings and art that I hadn’t been able to get to grips with before, and I started to apply the lessons that I’d learned from these different sources to my writing. Thus, when I finally entered the comic field in my late twenties, I’d probably got a much wider range of influences than most of the other writers in the field at the time and was able to produce work that was very different to what had been seen before. I liked to experiment with things (I still do, for that matter), and to try and think of a different way that I could write a specific scene or a specific story. I think that one of the most important things for any artist or writer is that they should always be progressing and trying new things, because that is what will keep your work feeling fresh and lively to your readers even after twenty or thirty years. Yes, it means that you have to work harder, and to think harder, and to generally keep pushing yourself and testing your limits, but in my opinion the results are definitely worth it.

Although I’m still very proud of the work that I did on all the books mentioned above, the fact that I no longer own any of those titles (I’m afraid they’re all owned by perhaps-less-than-scrupulous big comic-book companies) means that I’m always most interested in my most recent work, so I was glad that you’d liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which Kevin and I still own and have a great deal of fun doing. I know that a very clever young man named Jess Nevins runs a website at which he picks through all of the volumes of The League and points out all the different books, plays, films and stories that we’re making references to. Although a lot of the books mentioned might be pretty boring until you’re older, there’s a few of them that you might really love, and some of them might help you to enjoy The League a bit more.

Speaking of The League, I’m enclosing a couple of things with this letter, including a copy of the brand new Heart of Ice book. In case you haven’t seen League volume III, Century, (which isn’t out in collected form yet) the main character in Heart of Ice is the original Captain Nemo's daughter, Janni Dakkar, who somewhat reluctantly took over her father’s command of the Nautilus when he died of old age in 1910. Heart of Ice shows Janni attempting to recapture some of her father’s past glories and ending up running into a scenario from the work of American weird tale master, H.P. Lovecraft. As well as this, I’m also including a couple of pages of unlettered art that I’ve received from Kevin for the next book in the series, which is entitled The Roses of Berlin. Nobody except me, Kevin and our publishers have seen these yet, so this is a special preview just for you. Please guard them with your life (not literally, of course), and don’t let them get onto the internet or anywhere...I mean, I’m sure you wouldn’t dream of such a thing, but it’s just that Kevin puts such a lot of work into these pages, and he wants people to see them when they’re properly lettered and coloured and everything, and part of the actual story that they’re intended for. Anyway, I hope you enjoy them.

Well, I’ve just looked at the clock and realised that I’d better get down town (Northampton) if I want to get my wife Melinda a present for our wedding anniversary on Sunday. Thanks again for a great letter, and thanks for calling me the best author in human history, which I don’t necessarily agree is completely true but which I may well end up using as a quote on the back of one of my books someday. Oh, and please give my regards to Naseby. It gets more than a couple of mentions in my forthcoming novel Jerusalem, which I’m about two chapters away from the end of at present.

Take care of yourself, Joshua. You’re obviously a young man of extraordinary good taste and intelligence, and you confirm my suspicion that Northamptonshire is a county touched by the gods.

All the best, your pal —

[Signed ‘Alan Moore’]
(Best Author in Human History. In your face, Shakespeare, Joyce and Cervantes!)