The Secrets Of Alan’s Brain

Above: a dream from RARE BIT FIENDS. Below: an introduction I recently wrote to an Italian reissue of Alan Moore’s WRITING FOR COMICS.

The Secrets Of Alan’s Brain
By Rick Veitch

Let’s face it. The odds are vanishingly small that you, or anyone else picking up this book, needs any kind of introduction to Alan Moore. It’s a foregone conclusion that you’ve already devoured every comic of Alan’s that you could get your mitts on and probably had your life changed by more than a few. You’ve been spellbound by his prose novel, mesmerized by his spoken word cd’s and busted a gut to see him on the Simpsons. And you’ve no doubt groaned your way through the ham fisted hatchet jobs Hollywood has made of some of his best work.
What you’re probably far more interested in is how the mind that conceived Marvelman, Swamp Thing, Watchmen, From Hell, Promethia, Lost Girls and all those other masterpieces, actually operates. You might very well have picked up this essential volume, in which Alan shares his approach to comic book writing, looking for some clues to what really makes him tick. Having had the good fortune to collaborate with the guy for 25 years, I get the question from comic book fans all the time. As a result of the constant requests, I’ve developed a pet theory on that very subject, most of which boils down to the fact that Alan Moore’s mind simply doesn’t work like most other people’s.

I’m convinced that, after many more creative and productive decades, when Alan finally gives up the flesh and joins the transmigration of souls into idea space, a careful study of his remains will reveal that certain areas of the Moore brain, especially those parts associated with imagination, intuition, memory and language, to be far larger than one might expect in the normal human. Perhaps scientists will discover extra arteries pumping an enhanced blood flow to those cranial regions or some enzyme that promotes rich neuron growth. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they come upon some sort of new and bizarre mutation in the formation of the lobes.
This isn’t as flip as it sounds; at least when talking of a highly developed creative mind like Alan’s. Mozart, thought to have musical and mathematical brain functions that bordered on autism, provided the world with some of the most sublime music ever created. And, after death, Albert Einstein’s brain was doled out in slices to scientists seeking a link between those analytical and intuitive centers that gave us the theory of relativity.
I include Alan in this august group with some degree of certainty based on a couple decades worth of phone conversations. Alan likes to talk, and he makes a point of connecting personally with the artists he collaborates with. ( I also suspect he really hates the phone, but finds it to be such a useful way to delve into the memories, dreams and reflections of the artists who draw his scripts that he puts up with its constant demands and interruptions. )
Alan and I have had any number of freewheeling and creative phone sessions, many of them downright bladder bursting in their epic length, breadth and scope. Since most of these chats were meant to assist Alan the writer in gathering his thoughts about whatever upcoming story we were working on, I was able to witness the extraordinary manner he would sometimes receive ideas from his imagination.
Now I’m a writer, too, so I’m familiar with the process most creative people struggle through to get their initial inspirations to a finished state. It usually (often) takes a fair amount of drafting and editing before a good idea is crafted into a solid piece of writing.
Not with Alan. His mind is capable of plucking ideas from the imagination fully formed and realized. Countless times, while kicking around possibilities for a story, he has startled me by saying “I got it” and proceeded to unspool complete scenes, including panel descriptions and finished dialogue. He calls them his “bits” and he appears to use them as the foundation blocks for his scripts. I believe he expects them to be waiting for him, ripening on the tree of knowledge, whenever he is on the creative hunt. Like every other comic book writer in the world, I could only sigh when Alan mentioned in a recent interview that pretty much every comic book script he has written has been a first and only draft.
A powerful imagination is a good talent for a writer but perhaps not proof positive of my mutant brain theory. There is another aspect of Alan which reminds me of those hyper-active children who are given amphetamine to quiet them down. Philip K. Dick is a good historical example of this sort; a person who’s wiring is so different from the norm they respond to stimulants as if they were depressants. Now, Alan’s anything but nervous and I doubt he’d touch any horrible industrial chemical concoction with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school by mentioning a certain well-known fondness for cannabis. The reason I bring it up is that, thanks to a misspent youth, I have had some *ahem* small experience of my own with various forms of marijuana and I know many creative people who use it regularly. And it seems to me that one of its best known effects is to cause a confusion in the user’s normal linear thought patterns. Not an unpleasant confusion to be certain, but one in which the mind begins to wander and the tongue trips over itself, and words take on a fuzzy, surreal quality. For me, and just about everyone else I know who uses pot, to be stoned is to be kind of, well, out of it.
Not Alan. If, in the course of our working on a story, I caught him before he had a chance to imbibe in one of his famous spliffs, I’d find him strangely slow and off the mark. He would be uncharacteristically at a loss for words. But a taste of the buddha stick and Alan would transform, suddenly speaking lucidly in grammatically perfect sentences, expounding on complex ideas and weighty concepts in complete paragraphs. Far from being out of it, the stoned Moore mind is a powerful reasoning machine, capable of shaping flawless oratory on the fly to make his point. Next time you read one of Alan’s extensive interviews in print or on-line, and are marveling at the fact he is speaking off the cuff like Herman Melville wrote novels on a good day, you can probably be certain the interview was conducted under the influence of enough wacky tobbacky to put Cheech and Chong under the table.
And then there’s that memory. Alan Moore has the uncanny ability to remember every tiny detail of any comic he reads. And not just the best and brightest comics, or even the mediocre stuff. He’s got a complete run of ROM: SPACE KNIGHT in there, along with every other bit of trash-pop pulp that has passed before his eyes through the last half century. When asked, he can produce the names of all the main and secondary characters, their powers, their quests, their foibles. He knows the trophies in their secret headquarters. He can recite their dialogue and even describe the colors in the panels.
When Alan dips into his memory, there is a distinct pause while he searches his data banks. Its hard to evaluate how this process works, especially over a phone line, but the sense I get is that he’s waiting for a visual image to pop up and that once its loaded he just kind of reads directly from it.

So, you see, the Moore mind is just not standard operating issue. Whether that is a product of extra blood flow, a genetic mutation, some strange form of Attention Deficit Disorder, or he was bitten by a radio-active hemp-spider, we probably won’t know until a careful study of his pickled brain is undertaken in some far future laboratory.
In the meantime we’ll just have to remain content being the principle benefactors of Alan Moore’s heightened ability to process memory, language, logic, intuition and imagination into fascinating art. The comics he has given us are among the most profound and entertaining ever accomplished.

Rick Veitch
September 2007

Note to new visitors: this blog is mostly visually oriented, with daily doses of art from all across the spectrum of my comics work. There’s quite a few pieces that were done in collaboration with Alan, including a big batch of never seen character sketches for stuff we were working on or planning. Unfortunately when I posted it I didn’t really know what I was doing and failed to tag them all “Alan Moore”. So to find it you’ll have to make like the dream Alan hunting river demons. Hopefully, some will knock you on your ass!

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