Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 01/05/2005
Joel Meadows Interviews Michael Moorcock
Our London based pal, Joel Meadows, is our guest writer for today's Baker's Dozen. Joel has written about comics, genre, film and TV since 1992, firstly as editor of the award-winning TRIPWIRE magazine but also in publications like The Guardian, SFX, Independent on Saturday and Broadcast. He has also worked for The Times, NME, Total Film, Time Out and Screen International.
Michael Moorcock on six decades in fantasy, returning to Elric and more...
A writer for more than six decades now, Moorcock is one of the most respected and infleuntial sci fi and fantasy writers of the last fifty years. His influence has extended far beyond the field he is best known for working in.
"London still plays an important part in my imagination. My next literary novel will have a lot of scenes set there," the writer admits from his base in the South West United States.
If Science Fiction/Fantasy has an elder statesman these days, you could make a good case for Michael Moorcock fitting that bill. Turning 65 this year, the man who started his writing career back in 1950, putting fanzines together, has had a diverse career, contributing to everything from Tarzan Adventures in the fifties to acting as editor of the seminal magazine New Worlds from 1964 to 1971. For Moorcock, the appeal of sci-fi and fantasy had always been clear: "Like rock 'n' roll, it was something you could make your own. There were no magazines or academics interested in it. It was marginal fiction in the way that rock 'n' roll was marginal music at the time."
Although he admits that it may not have been as enticing if he was starting his career nowadays: "I doubt I'd be attracted to it today, though maybe gaming or something like that would attract me."
Moorcock has always been very self-motivated, as observers have remarked: "Someone recently said that, like Bob Dylan, I was the sort of person who walked out of the door at 16 knowing exactly what I wanted to do."
From a very young age, the writer had already build up an impressive CV when he took the reins of New Worlds: "What gave me the authority when I took over was mostly the working magazine experience I'd had."
It wasn't just sci-fi and fantasy either that Moorcock knew inside out, as he reminisced: "I'd edited a variety of publications before I took over NW - Tarzan Adventures, Sexton Blake Library and the Liberal Party policy magazine Current Topics! [JG] Ballard and I had discussed the kind of magazine we wanted to see and, of course, Ballard then became my lead writer. I was then able to encourage many other writers to write what they had been wanting to do for some time but had no market for until NW came along."
New Worlds was the beginning of a movement but one that Moorcock sees as a contrast to what was being published at the same time in the USA: "At that time, the movement was actually in direct contradiction to American fiction, which we had thought had become conventionalised and moribund."
The genesis of the magazine was an interesting one: "Ballard, [Brian] Aldiss and myself, although admiring certain American writers, were essentially determined to produce a thoroughly British kind of fiction. The English New Worlds and the American New Wave are very different animals."
Moorcock is probably best known for his Elric books and apparently he based aspects of his most famous creation on himself: "As I've said in my introduction to Monsieur Zenith: The Albino, the Anthony Skenes character was a huge influence. For the rest of the character, his ambiguities in particular, I based him on myself at the age I was when I created Elric, which was 20, while the soul-sucking sword was, as far as I know, pure inspiration!"
But he also admits that he dipped into a number of other sources for the genesis of the Prince of Melnibone: "The conflict between Law and Chaos was developed from various Renaissance notions, as well as Poul Anderson's 1956 tale Three Hearts and Three Lions. Anderson's The Broken Sword, which was published before The Lord of The Rings, was another influence. As a result of reading that, I was very disappointed by Lord of The Rings and still haven't managed to read every word of it, though Tolkien, whom I met as a teenager was very nice to me, as was C.S. Lewis. I suspect that I just missed the window for their work. I was also unhappy with the American school as exemplified by Howard (Conan) and was determined to write something different. Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast) was another great influence on Elric."
Moorcock also saw Elric as a very literary and cerebral creation: "It had a strong intellectual base, with a determination to echo myth as much as possible by making sure the tragic elements were emphasised. It also drew a lot on the work of Freud and Jung, as I understood them, so there was a knowing quality about the fantasy which I'm not sure had been done before."
The literary parallels don't end there: "It examined the impulse to read and write fantasy, even as I wrote it, just as Conrad's Lord Jim (and I'm not making any other comparison here!) examined an individual's inclination to romance."
Moorcock has played with the idea of the same figure occupying a similar position in different, alternate worlds a number of times. The writer sees this device as being extremely useful: "It's a literary idea - putting the same characters in different contexts and seeing how they will react according to context. That's also the way I write the Jerry Cornelius stories," he tells me. "It gives me the ability to look at a question from all sides. 'The Eternal Champion' was the first story I wrote of that kind, although it wasn't the first to be published. I think it appeared in 1962 in magazine form. I tried to describe my own intellectual journey from being fairly politically naïve as a young teenager to gradually becoming aware as an older teenager, that the newspapers and media weren't exactly telling the whole truth."
Moorcock used this method to explore his own feelings about the real world: "Erekose's discovery that the good guys were actually the bad guys was really the story of my discovery that the British Empire wasn't entirely made up of a bunch of idealists bringing enlightenment to the countries they conquered. Gradually the method became more and more sophisticated as I developed as a writer."
In fact, this is something that the author has thought about a lot: "It's called 'intervention' in literary terms," he explains. "It's where you take a form which is 'saying' one thing and make the form do something else. There's a very good essay, which I think is on the Fantastic Metropolis website, which shows how Warlord of The Air was an intervention into Edwardian fiction of the kind Conrad, Wells and others wrote - it takes the assumptions of the form itself and reverses them, or at least examines them in a way they haven't been examined before."
Moorcock has always felt comfortable writing in whatever medium will have him. This year sees him returning to comics (his Swords of Heaven, Flowers of Hell was adapted by artist Howard Chaykin back in 1979 as a graphic novel) with Elric: The Making of A Sorceror, published by DC Comics, which looks at the origin of the White Prince. For the writer, comics has so much to offer: "To me, there's no difference in quality between a good graphic story, a movie story or a literary story. In comics, there is hardly any editorial interference and any you get is pretty much always positive. So it's freeing as a medium for writing fiction. Also, the feedback you get from working with a great graphic artist is amazing."
It's evident that he feels privileged at the calibre of comic illustrators he's collaborated with: "I've worked with some of the best from the beginning - Don Lawrence, the Embletons, Howard Chaykin, Mike Mignola and now Walter Simonson. I've always tended to work to the skill of the artist, which is why I've always been able to be ambitious."
In fact, the artist on DC's Elric series, which is a four part 48 page series that started this month, Walter Simonson, was handpicked by Moorcock: "Walter is one of the best in the business. He's also someone I get on with very well indeed, just as I used to get on with Chaykin. If I can, when I write comic projects, I'll only work with him. We somehow spark each other off."
The publisher also appealed to him: "I like working with DC. I know that some people have beefs with them but personally I've had nothing but good relations with DC."
The comic isn't the only thing he has on his plate. He's finishing off what will chronologically speaking be the final Elric novel: "The reason why I've decided to do it this year is because this is the year that I turn 65 and it seems a good time to retire and get my bus pass!" he says with a slight laugh and continues: "I want more time to myself and want to write less."
But even in the later part of his life, he still has ambitions as a writer: "I still have some literary books I want to do and I've been working on a new novel, on and off, called The Rules, which is the most autobiographical thing I've ever written. It's not that I don't want to write more fantasy, it's that I have to prioritise!"
With a high profile four part prestige format comic series, a new novel and the long-awaited Elric movie (from the Weitz Brothers), it's unlikely that Moorcock will simply fade into old age: "Writers don't really retire. To retire is to die, I suspect, for a writer."
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