The Last War in Albion Interview
Why the title “The Last War in Albion”?
First, to be perfectly honest, because I like how it sounds. I knew I wanted to treat the Moore/Morrison rivalry as an occult war, partially for the obvious sensationalism, but also because I liked the idea of treating their beliefs in magic entirely seriously. And I liked the word “Albion” because it gave the whole thing a kind of mythic flavor – a sense that what they’re fighting over isn’t quite a real place at all – while still stressing the Britishness of the project.
And once you have that, the “last war” just feels appropriate. Like its a closed-off piece of history that one can write a dispassionate account of. Which, of course, I’m not actually doing, but which remains the underlying illusion or structure. In reality I suspect that this is Albion’s last war in the same way that World War I ended all wars, but I think the eschatological lens sharpens everything in a useful way.
Why write this much about this topic?
There are a lot of reasons, really. I think it can support that kind of work, first and foremost. I think you have an extraordinarily gifted generation of talent that came out of the UK in a particular period, and that had a huge influence on art and culture despite working in what is, in fact, a pretty marginal field. And I think that’s an interesting story that’s worth telling in detail. But you’ve also got, in Moore and Morrison, a really interesting division. I think underlying their mutual dislike is a really interesting philosophical and aesthetic difference, and that you can trace the ramifications of that difference out, using a really big canvas to get a sort of epic history. And that seems interesting. Literary criticism and biography as epic history isn’t something that’s been done a lot.
I was also interested in the question of influence. So much of the feud between Moore and Morrison comes down to arguing over who ripped off from who, which always struck me as a rather banal way to talk about influence. So I wanted to treat the question of influence seriously, trying to show how any attempt to follow a thread of influence back results inevitably in finding more influences than you expect, and that any claim to have come up with an idea first is always murky at best. And, perhaps more importantly, trying to show how something can wear its influences on its sleeve while still being a very new and interesting idea. And that requires a wide lens and a willingness to spend a lot of time in the historical trenches, so to speak.
But perhaps most importantly, because I love so much of the material in question. There are loads of things I’m beyond excited to get to reread and to write about, from major works like Promethea, From Hell, The Invisibles, Sandman, and Transmetropolitan to idiosyncratic picks like Angel Passage, Brought to Light, The Filth, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Planetary. These are some of my favorite authors, and while there are some I love more than others, this is a project that over and over again serves up fantastic opportunities to write about cool things.
How many books do you expect there to be in The Last War in Albion?
I don’t know, honestly – I’ve not outlined out that strictly. Based on how far the first five got me… fifteen or so is probably a safe guess?
I think Last War on Albion looks very interesting, but I haven’t read many comics. Do you think someone can enjoy it having only read Watchmen or is a more complete reading necessary?
I am told there are people enjoying it who have read essentially none of the comics. Certainly I write it with that possibility in mind. I figure given the extremely digressive style of it, I assume everything covered is new to someone. Certainly there are things that will be enriched by knowing the comics – most of them wry and understated jokes that refer to future events of the War. There’s a joke I do periodically where I use a terribly obscure example for the sole reason that it winks at something down the road – I think I worked in a reference to Robert Mayer’s Superfolks once that’s absolutely absurd as an illustration of the point I was making.
And there’s the Blake stuff, which I kind of pointedly drop a little bit of context on, because I want that to always feel like a story already in progress. I don’t know that I ever want to actually explain why Blake makes an appearance in every chapter. I just sort of want to let him do his thing in the narrative in the hopes that eventually that thread will speak for itself. Though at some point I’ll have to deal with the question of what the previous Wars in Albion were, and certainly Blake is involved with one of those, though in some ways less as a combatant and more as a battleground.
But for the most part, yes, it is written to be intelligible and enjoyable even if you’ve read just a small amount of the material in question. I suspect there are few people who have read none of the material at all who would enjoy it, but that’s more because I have trouble imagining that someone predisposed to liking Last War in Albion wouldn’t have had Sandman or Watchmen or V for Vendetta shoved in their face at some point in their lives.
Do you ever plan to do anything as gonzo as, say, TARDIS Eruditorum’s Interference post on the scale of a single post for Last War in Albion, or will the bonkers-ness be long-term?
The bonkers-ness kind of has to be long term for The Last War in Albion, just because the structure requires a certain degree of consistency. So it’ll be things like the long parenthesis, the structure of the Watchmen book… there’s a six word phrase coming up in part five of the Captain Britain chapter that’s, in its own right, as gonzo as anything I’ve ever done.
To be honest, I think the purely structural games can get tired, and that the Interference post took one approach to its limit. I’ve done some other structural games in Eruditorum because they’re part of its form and approach at this point, but I think it’s time to put that tool away for a bit so that it doesn’t become a crutch.
Will the War get multiple posts a week once the Eruditorium is finished?
It’ll probably move to twice weekly, yeah.
It seems like a lot of the figures in this War are white blokes. Aren’t there any British comics writers with interests in the occult from a wider variety of ethnicities or gender identities?
None of the five principals of the War constitute a massive blow for diversity, I fear – the wave of British creators who jumped over to the US all ultimately came out of the “Boys Magazine” tradition of Battle Picture Weekly and 2000 AD and the like. Largely as a result of that, it is unfortunately a very white male project, unfortunately.
That’s not to say that minority concerns (of various sorts) aren’t a big part of it. The issue of feminism is going to be a recurring one, queer issues will play a huge part… race will certainly pop up, though of the three is probably the one that will get the least direct coverage. But the white straight maleness of the protagonists is not going to be ignored, and is in fact going to be a major part of the next chapter, on Swamp Thing.
But ultimately, yes, this is the story of a bunch of white guys.
Could Moore and Morrison ever have been friends?
Yes, though they’d always have had significant differences. But then, so did Alan and Steve Moore. Ultimately, I think what soured all possibility of friendship was Morrison’s decision to design his public persona in opposition to Moore, particularly in the early 90s, a move that Moore took understandable umbrage over. And I think given that, the differences, and for that matter the similarities between them made their rivalry heat up considerably. But ultimately, I think Morrison’s decision to embrace the role of the enfant terrible and spend interviews saying provocative things, including numerous jabs at Moore was the key event without which there wouldn’t have been a rivalry.
How do you think Alan Moore would react to finding out about the War (this would presumably happen once it went to print (if at all) due to his attitude towards the internet)?
I hope that as projects linking Grant Morrison to him go, he’d at least not hate it and denounce me as a charlatan, but you don’t embark on a sprawling work of criticism about Alan Moore without taking a deep breath and acknowledging the very real possibility that if he gets wind of it you’re going to get the experience of having one of your heroes and idols angrily denounce you in the most cuttingly savage way possible.
I’m trying to write something that, while I don’t think any of the principals will agree with entirely, all of them would at least look at and go “OK, that’s legitimate and reasonable criticism.” But, I mean, a critic who spends too much time with their eye on what the artists are going to think is a critic with real problems.
How do you envisage the current Marvelman reprints affecting the war and the telling of it?
I think it’s interesting that Miracleman’s not really selling that well, although who knows if that’s baked into the design to an extent. It’s a very expensive way to republish it, certainly, given that one assumes the real goal is having some trades out when Gaiman starts doing new comics. Hopefully on a better production schedule than Sandman: Overture. I’ve got one eye on the reprint series as my ability to avoid doing Marvelman dwindles, although I’m still pretty committed to holding that back until Volume 2 as much as possible. I will say, I’m probably the one person who’s glad that they cram every issue with crappy Mick Anglo reprints, since those suckers were impossible to find.
You’re obviously much more focused on the Alan Moore side of this war, both in content and in prejudice. What would you say to Morrison’s side that would make it worth their while to read TLWiA?
I do personally like Moore more than Morrison as a figure, but I’m trying to remain scrupulously fair in the telling of the War. It’s just that Moore did start it – he had a several year period where he was the only game in town. You’ve got Morrison’s juvenilia from 1979-80 or so, and I covered that first in part to avoid giving the impression that this was mostly about Moore. But for the first half of the decade… I mean, in February of 1985, which might be the busiest month of Moore’s career in terms of publication, you have him starting doing backup stories in American Flagg, starting Book Two of the Ballad of Halo Jones, writing some of his most acclaimed Swamp Thing stuff (he wraps The Nukeface Papers and introduces John Constantine the next month), publishing stuff in three other DC titles, and he’s still got an installment of V for Vendetta that comes out in the last issue of Warrior.
The same month, Grant Morrison publishes one installment of The Liberators, also in the last issue of Warrior, which is thus his first and last work for that publisher. He doesn’t get another significant byline for over a year.
So when you’re telling that part of the story, it’s hard not to focus heavily on Moore, because Moore was busy blazing the professional trail that Morrison and Gaiman would shortly be following. (And I mean professional – this isn’t stylistic, this is “what magazines do you choose to write for.”)
But when Morrison becomes a major figure again, I’m going to be as sympathetic to him as it’s possible to be while remaining fair. Everybody gets the most redemptive reading I can muster for their actions. Which I think will work – I understand why people like Morrison. Hell, I like Morrison, just not quite as much as some of the other writers I’m dealing with. I can give a very good description of the pleasures of Morrison’s work, and I will do so. Just, you know, not until we get to the point in the timeline where he’s writing some.
Thanks to deathchrist2000, unnoun, What Happened to Robbie, timber-munkui, and jane for submitting questions.
May 13, 2014 @ 1:57 am
Have you drawn timelines or anything similar to help keep track of who is doing what when?
May 13, 2014 @ 4:27 am
The Ocean at the End of the Lane! I just finished that one. Seems like a story that's been around forever.
May 13, 2014 @ 5:44 am
In reality I suspect that this is Albion's last war in the same way that World War I ended all wars, but I think the eschatological lens sharpens everything in a useful way.
Huh. I had always just assumed "last" meant "most recent," like "last Thursday," not "final," because obviously any war with survivors cannot possibly be the final one.
And I hear you about structural games. I'm still playing them from time to time, but less often–only one in the entirety of The Very Soil, and one in my "Magical Mystery Cure" post that was apparently subtle enough that no one noticed. And in both cases it was more-or-less compelled by the episode in question playing structural games.
I don't know that I'll ever completely abandon them–as I have said a few times on Twitter, I really enjoy playing jokes on my readers that no one but me finds funny–but I definitely do find myself going to that well less and less often. Especially because, while early on I would just go ahead with them, the last year or so I've been stopping first to think, "Has Phil done this one? If so, can I do something different with it?" And if the answer to the first question is "yes" and the second "no," I don't do it.
I really need to get around to reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane at some point, I keep hearing good things about it.
May 13, 2014 @ 6:04 am
I'm glad you posted this. I read the other interview you linked to, and having been initially skeptical about the idea, I think I'm now sufficiently informed to get fully on board.
Especially now that I recognize some of the works that were being created as I was coming of age in my comic reading career, I'm finding these posts quite enjoyable.
May 13, 2014 @ 6:35 am
But the white straight maleness of the protagonists is not going to be ignored, and is in fact going to be a major part of the next chapter, on Swamp Thing.
Oh, good. I love Swamp Thing, really, and Alan Moore is definitely on the side of the angels, but… well. The Werewolf issue dealing with sexism is clearly meant well, but it's just so heavy-handed. Like he's read The Female Eunuch and decided 'OK, I'll do this in the comic', and it's good that he tried that but the whole thing just doesn't quite work. And similarly with the Zombie issue dealing with slavery (hurr hurr the liberal white guy is the real racist).
I still liked those issues, mind, and his run overall. And, I mean, I suppose it's a little bit petty to go 'waah it's not absolutely perfect', when he was definitely trying to do the right thing — and mostly succeeding, actually.
Of course, the most damning 'straight white man' thing to do with Moore isn't actually in Swamp Thing, as far as I remember. But I'm sure you'll deal with his rape/averted rape fixation, since it's the only major problem I have with his work.
May 13, 2014 @ 8:17 am
Fun fact (if you're me) – the werewolf issue came in for a lengthy critique by Mindy Newell, then-writer of Wonder Woman, who Karen Berger (who initially hired her, calling her back just four days after she sent in her portfolio) brought back again to co-write with George Perez. She had a short but impressive comics career before returning to her main job as a nurse. And is married to John Higgins.
And a longer paragraph saying basically that will be appearing shortly after the discussion of the werewolf issue, also looking at her critique and Moore's response to it.
May 13, 2014 @ 10:26 am
I know I say this every time it comes up, but if there's a situation in your life where reading audiobooks is feasible (I have a lengthy work commute), it would be worth your while to have Neil Gaiman read it to you. I probably would still have loved it regardless, but his voice doing that first-person narration, half-fooling me it might be a true story…incredible.
May 13, 2014 @ 12:07 pm
How are you going to deal with Swamp Thing? As a whole or arc-by-arc? I presume the latter, as you stated with Sandman. But yeah, there's definitely a lot of stuff to get your teeth into, 'issues'-wise (oh dear Alan Moore, no that's not what autism is).
I've been loving The Last War in Albion so far, though I've only read a smattering of what you've covered (Alan Moore's Future Shocks… and that's it really). I'm really looking forward to you getting into the stuff that I have read (especially Halo Jones, just because that's one of my favourite stories evar!).
May 13, 2014 @ 2:23 pm
I find audiobooks and radio dramas generally difficult to listen to, honestly. My attention wanders and I lose the thread. I have recently discovered, thanks to Mark Reads, that even just a face to focus on is enough to be able to pay attention, but without at least that, I am quickly lost.
May 13, 2014 @ 3:52 pm
I said the same thing before I started listening to a lot of podcasts, and even then I didn't think I'd get into audiobooks until I tried this one. But I know what you mean; thanks to a childhood spent reading far too much, I'm far better with words on a page than words in my ears, as a general rule. By all means read it whichever way works for you; it's not to be missed if you like Gaiman at all.