Editor Eric Berlatsky on Alan Moore: Conversations, Part 2

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The anthology editor’s job is one of the most demanding, grueling and—when done properly—invisible jobs in publishing. Sure, their name gets top billing in bibliographies, catalog listings, etc., and many loyal readers do follow the work of certain preferred anthologists. Still, it’s typically the contents, rather than the editorial eye used to assemble it all, which is the star of any collection.

But that doesn’t mean that editors don’t derive their own special rewards for doing their work. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Eric Berlatsky explains in the conclusion of our discussion covering the recently released interview anthology, Alan Moore: Conversations, he edited for the University Press of Mississippi.

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What surprises did you encounter while putting this project together?

I guess the first big surprise was that I never managed to get to talk to Alan Moore. Many of the books in the series have “new interviews” with the author, and considering how many interviews Alan has done over the years, I figured it couldn’t be that hard.

I pursued the possibility with Chris Staros, at Top Shelf Productions, who is Alan’s U.S. representative, but from the beginning Alan didn’t seem interested in talking to me—not that I ever talked to him to confirm that. I may have shot myself in the foot by telling Chris I really wasn’t that interested in a promotional interview that would just focus on whatever Alan’s newest project was. Basically, I figured that whatever I talked to Alan about would probably be out, and perhaps old news, by the time the book came to press, so it seemed wiser to focus on more general things, and to ask questions about things that were not covered in most, or all, of the interviews I had read. I had some good questions in mind, and would have written up some more, and delivered the best damn Moore interview ever…or at least that’s what I hoped to do.

It never happened, though, even though some contributors—and almost-contributors—said they talked to Alan about clearing reprints with him and he was supportive about the project to them. So…he knew about it, or at least I think he did and he wasn’t opposed to it. He just didn’t want to talk to me. Chris Staros said he was too busy to do an interview at the moment, and that’s probably all there was to it. But then, I would read an interview on Newsarama or something and take it personally. I’m mostly over it now, though.

The second surprise was just how nice and accommodating everyone involved was, including you, Bill. Virtually everyone I asked for permission to reprint granted that permission gladly, and most even refused the paltry payment we were able to offer. There were a few exceptions, of course, and I lost some sleep over one eventual non-contributor who basically accused me of ripping him and Alan Moore both off, but for the most part, I was just delighted to get such a friendly and accepting reaction, and to carry on some lengthy email conversations with some luminaries in the comics firmament.

I had a nice email chat with David Lloyd and with Eddie Campbell. Dave Sim called me in my office, to my surprise. I guess I learned that comics is a pretty small world, but Lloyd and Campbell? These are some of my favorite creators, and I certainly didn’t expect them to be so pleasant and accommodating to a nobody like me. Lesser-known folks were equally wonderful, but less fun to name drop.

The whole experience almost made me believe in the essential goodness of human nature… so I’m glad a few people were less easy to deal with. It confirms my essential pessimism.

What would you like the reader to get from the book?

For the most part, it seems unlikely that people who aren’t already interested in Moore—or related to me—will read the book. So, obviously, the main goal is to enrich the reading experience for Moore readers and/or to provide a resource for Moore scholars and critics.

I could see the book being a useful resource for students as well. Many college courses include Watchmen or other Moore work on their syllabi, and it’s nice to think that students may read Sharrett’s interview about Watchmen, or read the sections about Watchmen in the Daniel Whiston interview or the Tasha Robinson interview and gain some insight into the text. Moore is very articulate about his own creative practices and the themes, philosophies, and politics behind his work. Having these discussions of those things all in one place is a good resource for students, I think.

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I also can imagine comics creators reading the book for what they can glean of Moore’s practices and how it might influence or impact their own. Moore goes into great detail in terms of how he writes a comic, how he scripts at various moments in his career, how he decides how much dialogue to stick into a specific balloon, for instance. Whiston’s interview, “The Craft,” asks all kinds of questions about “how do you write a comic” and the answers are pretty fascinating.

Moore wrote Lost Girls with very different methods than he wrote Watchmen; and Tom Strong, for instance, has very different methods from either of the other two. For Moore fans and readers, I think it’s interesting to see the creative mind at work, explaining the process of creation.

How about Alan? What do you hope that this volume contributes something to the literature about the man and his chosen medium?

In some sense, everything here existed in the world before…except for my introduction…so in some sense it doesn’t contribute anything that wasn’t already there. Still, there’s so much material out there, and much of it isn’t so easy to get a hold of, that just collecting material in one place serves a useful purpose.

Myself, I've always liked a good collection of interviews, or a good collection of essays. Ideally, a good collection of essays says, “Here’s an overview of the criticism on this author. These are some of the best essays out there and if you read this book, you’ll have a good sense of how people approach this text or author.” The same is true of a collection of interviews.

Essentially, I read around 150 Alan Moore interviews so that other people don’t have to. I read all the repetition, and the ones where Moore was less engaged, or the less interesting ones, or whatever. Now you don’t have to sift through all of that. My job is to find the cream of the crop and to present it all in one reasonably inviting package.

I also provide a brief bibliography of the best interviews to supplement the ones in the book. So, Gary Groth wouldn’t give permission for Comics Journal interviews, but he still conducted some of the best Moore conversations out there. I’m not too proud to direct people to those interviews after they’re done reading the ones in my book. My goal is to say, “If you read these ten interviews and maybe a handful more, which I’ll point out to you, you’ll have a great overview of Moore’s views over the years—and therefore some insight into most of his important work.”

I think that’s an important contribution. Especially in the Internet age, we’re all glutted with a surplus of information. The editor’s job, obviously, is to select and narrow down the choices, giving people what they really want, even if they don’t know it yet. Hopefully, that’s what I’ve done here.

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And what about you? What do you get from doing all the heavy lifting and sweating over the details that a venture of this sort entails?

There’s a good question. In the academic book market, one thing you don’t tend to get is money. I guess it might be possible that we’ll sell enough copies that I’ll see a check at some point, but that’s definitely not the overarching or driving force behind the project.

The tangible reward for academic publishing is usually I get to keep my job—otherwise known as tenure—and maybe a promotion at some point. Editing a book of interviews wouldn’t really be enough to accomplish those things on its own, but it contributes to my general publication portfolio, so I won’t “perish” come tenure time.

Actually, though, I received tenure during the working up of this project, so there isn’t a whole lot in the way of tangible reward that this book brings me.

The truth is, it’s fun work if you can get it. I like to read interviews with my favorite authors anyway, and this gave me an excuse to do that for many hours a day for awhile. I like to read and think about art of various kinds, and comics are one of my favorite arts since I was a kid. It’s fun to see one’s name on the cover of a book and on Amazon and all of those things, and I feel like this really is a genuine contribution to Moore scholarship, to Comics Studies, and even to a more general readership.

So most of what I get out of it is pretty intangible, but that’s okay. My kids get excited about it for a few minutes too.

What would you say to a reader out there who’s intrigued, but not convinced that s/he should check this book out themselves?

Basically, if you like Moore’s work, you’ll like the book, period. If you’re interested in writing comics, Moore’s a great source of information and advice. If you’re interested in reading comics, the book gives some insight into the creative processes behind them. If you’re not interested in Moore, or comics, it’s a tough sell, but for people who do like those things, it’s tailor-made.

Moore is such an interesting talker and his interests are so wide-ranging that there’s something in there to interest almost anyone.

Quantum physics? Yep, it’s in there. Wizardry and the occult? Yep, it’s in there. Cold war politics? Yep. Discussion of pornography? Yep. Drug usage and hallucinations? Yep. I had a graduate student with no interest in Moore help me with the index and she was fascinated by the end. Or she lied to me. One or the other.

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Given what you said about not being able to include everything you would have liked to, will there be a follow-up volume? Or is it just too early to say at this point?

You know, when I realized that the book was just not going to include everything I would have liked, I immediately thought, “Volume 2,” and maybe that will happen someday, but at the moment, I’m just as happy to move forward. The wrangling for permissions, though rewarding in many cases, is also just a bunch of paperwork, and chasing people by email…and then, even when you get permissions, you sometimes have to tell people, “Well, we’re not going to include it after all,” as you know from personal experience, Bill…and it’s a lot of busy work as much as it is intellectual labor.

In addition, the Press has been known to do “Vol. 2’s” with some big name writers or filmmakers, but not yet with comics creators. Maybe they would be interested, but maybe they wouldn’t. For the moment, I’m content with the book.

The only thing that would really make me want to revisit the project would be if Moore consented to talk to me. At that point, I would love to publish a second edition that included the interview, but which was otherwise the same book. That’s probably just a pipe dream, though, to be honest. I don’t know if the Press would want to do that. I don’t know if Moore would want to do that. I’m not even sure I would want to look backward in that way. I might be content to just publish a new interview in some other forum if the opportunity presented itself.

Well, what’s next for both you and the book?

Well, the book is out there in the world now and if anyone wants to fly me somewhere to sign books—or I’ll drive to you free of charge if you’re in South Florida—let me know. I feel a bit odd signing books as if I really wrote it. Most of the words in there are Alan Moore’s, after all, and the truth is, most people would much rather have his autograph on it than mine. Even to do a reading from the book would be weird, since I’d be reading somebody else’s interviews. I tried to arrange a signing or something like that with a local comics shop, but it hasn’t happened yet. I was pointing toward a November 1 release date, but the book came a little early.

I’m just hoping that people read it, I get some reviews, and there’s interest in the book enough so that people know it’s out there waiting for them.

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As for me, I’m working on a critical book on Moore, hopefully, eventually from Ohio State University Press—they published my first book. I’ve done a bit of critical writing on Moore these last few years, and I’m working on an essay on the relationship of time and free will in Watchmen, with some reference to other texts. It’s slated to appear in a book about Henri Bergson, the philosopher, at some point, probably not for another year or more. Much of the legwork for the interviews book will hopefully come into play in the writing of the critical study.

I’ve also got an essay about Hanif Kureishi in the works, to return to my real life as a critic of contemporary fiction…and I’m writing some entries for the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Comics Through Time.

Other than that, I just continue to teach some classes, do some administrative grunt work, and play with my wife and kids. All in all, it’s a pretty boring life I’m leading, but I prefer it that way.

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