Interview with Leah Moore! – Physical Vs. Digital, Breaking in to the industry, and the future of comics.

ML: What got you into writing comics?

LM: I’ve always been surrounded by comics, always read comics since I was little , and I kind of grew up just making comics myself anyway. So, you know, you sort of say to kids, ‘go and occupy yourself, do a picture or go and play with something’. I’d always end up being shooed off, and I’d say ‘Oh! I’m going to make a comic about this!’ and ‘Oh, yes that’s a great idea. Go and do a comic’. So I’ve got folders and folders of these bonkers little comics that I used to do. To be honest, the push to doing it as a job was, quite literally my dad. Like, I came out of university with a decent 2:1, and I thought ‘Great! This is it, my career will be launched.’ And then, ended up doing bar and box office work at a small theatre, in town just because I needed money. So I ended up sat there in the box office. My dad said to me ‘Have you ever thought about, you know, writing comics?’ just dead casually, how you do. And I was like, ‘no, I hadn’t really’, and he said ‘Oh, why don’t you have a try and see if you like it. Get a script together and see what you can do.’ So I had a try, and I sat there in the box office, slyly, and wrote a little 8 page story, and he said ‘why don’t you submit it to WildStorm? Submit it and see if they except it.’ So, I submitted it anonymously because I was really paranoid, and I thought, if they just think ‘Oh great! It’s Alan Moore’s daughter!’ then they might just accept it anyway, and that would be really weird.

I got my then boyfriend, which, I then married, to send it under his weird Hotmail account, which he still used for years as his business email. Don’t do that kids! If you’re going to go for a career, don’t use the email address of a child, so don’t do that. So, I sent it in, they accepted it, and I thought ‘well, if they liked that one, and they payed me for it, most importantly’, I thought, ‘if I could actually get payed for just sitting, making up comics’. At that point, it seemed like easy money, compared to like, long shifts behind a bar, you know, like filling a glass, machine and everything. I thought, this will be the life of Riley, little did I realise then. But, you know. Yeah, I just thought because I used to draw a lot when I was a teenager, and a kid, I used to love drawing, but I could not for the life of me. You have to draw the same people over and over again, the same scenes over and over again, it’s all has to look sharp and professional, and so being a comic writer kind of let me get all the lovely things I could imagine on to the page, but by bossing somebody else about and telling them how to do it, exactly what I wanted. It sort of fulfilled my creativity and bossing people about. So, yeah. It’s a win, win.

ML: It must have been really stressful, obviously you’ve got your father, it’s the worry of ‘what if they are only hiring you, because you are your father’s daughter?’ that must have been stressful?

LM: It’s like I’ve got a weird phobia, it’s when I meet people and they say ‘what do you do?’, ‘I just write a few more comics’, and they go.. If people bring it up, I’ll talk about it, I’m sort of, I don’t want to be, kind of. It just makes me cringe, the idea of the comparison thing, like, ‘oh my goodness! Is she going to do the next Watchmen!? Is it going to be this amazing thing?’ And, I’m like, that’s no pressure at all then! That’s fine.. I very much try and make sure that everybody’s, just kind of. They want me to write them a story because they think I’m alright at it, kind of thing. Bit of a paranoia thing.

The most gratifying thing is when someone says, I really enjoyed that, or I really enjoyed this. You know, I’m working with them on something, and they go, ‘Oh, I never realised.’ Or even better than that is when people don’t know who he is at all. These a few of them about there. But, no he’s a, you know what, he’s really helped over the years. It is handy to ring him up and say ‘I’m completely stuck on this’ and he’s kind of, I mean, to be honest, his advice is almost kind of skewed towards his own experience slightly, he’s like ‘Oh, what you want to do is come up with like, epically amazing popular things that everyone will remember for decades to come’. And I’m like, ‘ok, I’ll get on with that.’ [laughter] ‘No problem at all.’ But no, he’s a good egg.

ML: There’s always been this prevalent feeling that comics are less so than books, what is your opinion on that? I mean, I’m very much of the opinion that literature can come in any form, but there are still quite a few people out there that will say ‘why would you want to read a comic when you can read a book?’

LM: Yes, there is, it’s kind of looked down upon, it’s weird as well because comics kind of does itself no favours. Constantly doing, well. Journalism about comics is always kind of “BIFF! POW! Comics grow up!”, there not just like the Beano. There not just for kids, you know, all the Superman, Batman and stuff used to be read by people in the army, and all that. EC Comics, they weren’t ever for children, but I think it’s that kind of tone that makes it seem trivial, kind of a silly thing, ‘Oh look it’s got pictures, like an illustrated book, it’s like it’s for people who can’t read really’. It you think about, say political cartooning from like, the seventeenth and eighteenth century’s, they were kind of covering these massive things, to do with wars, the monarchy and politicians, and poverty, all these kind of subjects, and the most direct and easily digested way of doing that, was to do it in a satirical cartoon. They would poke fun at and satirise this complex, you know, situation, but really directly and in a single image, and everyone would automatically go ‘Oh look, he’s saying this about the king’ or ‘there saying that about’, you know, ‘this country.’ You can sort of personify really, enormous thigs. Over the years, you can take a single panel thing like that, to Sunday Funnies pages with Little Nemo, and American things. And I think as comics have grown, I think there isn’t anything that it can’t do, that same, perfectly encapsulating a subject or an idea it’s something really digestible. It’s not just easier to understand, it’s immediate because you’re seeing it and reading it at the same time, and I think, it kind of.. The comics I really enjoy are ones that are about real stuff, I don’t read a lot of, kind of , fantasy, superhero type comics, I tend to read biographies or, I really enjoy ones like, like March. You know, about the civil rights movement, or, all kinds of things. You don’t sit down and read a whole non-fiction, paperback book, about, you know, I could if it was for a project, but I wouldn’t sit down for pleasure and go ‘Oh come on, lets read 300 pages about the holocaust’, but I’d happily read Maus, over and over again. Because it’s a piece of art, so I think, maybe comics kind of, I think, it’s not a lesser form of writing, I think it’s a really important and unique form, because it’s not like film, or photography, when your trying to capture something, you have total control.

You can pace it yourself, and you can give the reader exactly your, kind of, idea literally right there and then, and each stage of it, you can control ever bit of it. It’s kind of uniquely perfect for conveying stories and information, and ideas, and I think, you know, I did look at early forms of writing, like you know, sort of, you know, not just Egyptian Hieroglyphics, but the sort of Kanji pictograms, there sort of, things like the Chinese language, drawings of a thing, and the drawing itself would then become the letter or the word that means that thing. SO, I think that comics is kind of more like that, where you just kind of ‘oh, that’s that’, it kind of goes in at that deep level. So, I’d say it was a higher art form than everything else! [Laughter] It completely wins.

ML: I must say, I completely agree. I think one, I read something recently that’s actually about 20 years old now, and it was, Bryan Talbot’s The Tale of One Bad Rat.

LM: Oh! That!

ML: I’ve read studies on that subject, but nothing made me cry as much as reading that.

LM: No, honest to god, that made me weep buckets, but, in the best way ever. You’re just reading it and your like, this is incredible, and I can’t stop crying. But, I now have to read it again, and it’s amazing. It’s profound and, kind of, the art affects you as well as the words, and the combination of them, and sort of, the layering of symbolism, and the kind of, it is, it’s profound stuff. And I think that’s what comics fans, what keeps them buying, because it’s immersive, but also, it depends on how fast you read it. It’s not like going to the pictures, where your kind of, you sit down and then, the control is taken away and you’ve got to try and hope you can keep up with it. With comics, because you control it, you’re much more relaxed, and receptive, you can kind of go back and check if you’ve got something right, or, you know what I mean? You can pause and reflect on it as you are going through it. And I think, it’s so beautiful, you know, the artists that do these kind of things. One Bad Rat is astonishing, with artists like Bryan Talbot or, say Al Davidson, his, there artwork is so flawless that it’s sort of music for your eyes. It really is. Definitely.

ML: So, when you read, do you prefer to read digitally or with a physical book?

LM: I think if.. It changes. I think, because I do an awful lot of screen time with everything, so I’m writing, doing all of my business, all of my work on the screen, and then with the kids, they’ve got Minecraft on the screen, and then were watching a film, and , I tend to, if I’m in my down time. I tend to do sort of, things in the real world, so I don’t so much read comics online. I do if I’m secretly reading comics. Like if I’m supposed to be working, and I’m, or I’m sitting on a train, I think ‘I’m going to type this script on the train’, of course, I find that I actually need to get up to date on like, 3 web comics, and ‘Oh, I downloaded that graphic novel’, and I just read that as well, so, yeah. I think that having digital versions of things make it beautifully easy to sneakily have a read of them, when you really shouldn’t be. But, I think I really enjoy, the really strange ones, and innovative. I never stop banging on about Phallaina, which is by, oh my god, what’s her name? I knew it until I said it. Hang on a second. No, I’ll have to come back to that. [Laughter] No, nope, Brain just says no. Phallaina is a fantastic side scrolling digital comic that has, it’s got beautiful artwork, her artwork is amazing and, it’s got very simple techniques to do with, just kind of parallax. So there’s bits of the art moving at different speeds behind each other. Things don’t sort of dynamically animate, it’s just elements of the artwork drift across and move, and it has, but it’s a continuous side scrolling comic. So, you scroll, and you keep scrolling, basically you have to come out of it, almost a map of the of the comic, and you find which chapter of the comic you’re on, along this timeline, and then go back into it. The thing that makes it so exciting is the scrolling is completely smooth everything, she has no panel boarders, she has no, the artwork itself forms the kind of, the edge of the previous image, or sometimes they bleed into each other, and you just.. Because it’s half out of shot, and then, your into the next one. So it’s this lovely, organic, really kind of, intuitive kind of reading experience. And it has this really amazing soundtrack, which is not kind of incidental music, it’s more kind of, like an ambient score, that changes depending on where you are in the comic, so if you go into a sequence where it’s getting claustrophobic and she’s getting kind of panicky, and everything is a bit out of control, then you find that the music is suddenly, it’s a bit faster, it’s got kind of screechy violins coming into it. It physically, I was reading it on a train, as I do when I’m trying to type my scripts up. And I was reading it, and the soundtrack, I was sat there, I was properly panicking because it was so immersive, it was really over whelming, and really quite claustrophobic, and then all of a sudden, that sequence finishes, and the music gradually fades out and your left thinking, ‘oh my goodness!’

I’ve never known, it’s the most successful marriage of, Marietta Ren! That’s her name. Marietta Ren! [Laughter] Sorry Marietta, I adore her work, her name just flew out of my mind. So, yeah, she, It’s about the most successful marrying of comics and sound that I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of people do, kind of, you know, some music with it, or spot sound effects, some kind of, there’s one were, there walking through snow and you can hear crunchy footsteps in the snow, it wasn’t trying to do that, it wasn’t trying to make it into an animation. She used the sound just like she uses the light and shade, or the, it’s more like another dimension. So, yeah, I really enjoy, If I read digitally it’s either, just kind of, give me all of your web comic into my eyes thing, or, kind of, interesting exciting digital comics.

ML: Definitely going to have to look that one up now.

LM: It’s amazing! Yes, headphones, I recommend headphones, but don’t do it in a crowded place, because you might be screeching.

ML: I may have to use that as an example in the essay now. [Laughter]

LM: Yeah, definitely, no really. It’s wonderful. She won a prize for it, I can’t remember what prize it is because I’m a bad person. But she won a prize for it, and they printed it. It’s like the Bayeux tapestry, like a big long comic, and they put it all the way around the edges of a convention centre. So that you could walk along the whole thing and read it as you went along. Do check it out, it’s fantastic. I think you can get it for your phone, but I would recommend getting it on your iPad or something bigger.

ML: Definitely going to have to check that out now.

LM: Gorgeous artwork.

ML: You’ve published both physically and digitally, do you find that when your embarking on a project, you have to plan a little differently? For example, digitally, you do have access to sound, and breaking panels. Do you find you do have to approach it differently?

LM: Yes, definitely. I think, the key difference to all of it, like, I’ve been trying to plan a project recently that’s a comic in VR, which, We’re kind of working through the beginning, separate to Electricomics, it’s something I’m doing with some people. The thing I realised is that with a printed page, you’ve always got that page size and shape, and the number of pages is your baseline unit of measurement for the length of your story, or the length of the scene, or how many cuts you want to do. How many panels fit on it and how it dictates every element of your whole project, where is with digital comics, then you have to kind of, put those constraints on yourself, you have to say, ‘I want the story to be experienced, either on an iPad like we did with Electricomics, where we had to think, Ok, where constrained by reading it on a flat screen, but you can tilt the screen, or you can swipe it, scroll it, you have to kind of, you have to find how constraints define what you’re doing. Some of the people that we worked with on Electricomics, like Garth Ennis, who just did the comic that he would have done for paper, and then we did it as a continuous scroll, like an up/down scroll, and it worked beautifully for that. The artwork worked beautifully. But then, like the Big Nemo one that my dad did, he made it so that every single tap coursed multiple elements on the page to change places, or move about. Every single thing, he wanted it all. So, his constraints were very different to Franks, to Garths, and then mine, you ended up tipping it to make it move, so, but you still kind of. Even with that you still have to think about, what size the screen is going to be, are you going to be able to zoom in and out? Is there going to be, it’s a different set of constraints and it means, because you don’t have the print costs involved, you can be a bit more flexible with, do you just want to show one panel at a time? And then pull back and show half the page, or the whole page, or it’s very different. You can focus on the story, you know all of those kind of details in advance.

You just say, I’ve got to write a 16 page comic, Immediately, that’s, you know, you can crack on with the story. I think with digital there is, at the moment, because there haven’t been masses and masses of different types of digital comics yet, were still, there’s only a few sorts, I think were still kind of, you still have all those choices, really kind of consciously at the start. Are were going to have it so that it’s a static page, but you can flip it? Really, obviously doing this thing for VR then, there isn’t a page, there isn’t a flat screen, there’s a 3D environment that your head is in, and you’ve got to kind of work out how does that constitute, how do you make a comic behave. How do you make that environment behave like a comic? How do you make it readable like a comic? How do you get the same, that same lovely feeling that I was describing, about how a comic is so immediate and easily understood, easily read, gets the information across really well, how do you translate that into a 3 dimensional space, and that’s at the moment, I’ve got a lot of idea, it’s proving hard to combine them all into a single, perfect thing, but I think, I need to do some experimentation, and see how it goes. But yeah, as a writer and, obviously, as an artist, if you say to someone, I’d like you to draw 16 pages of comic, then you’ve got an idea of how long that’s going to take, and what they’re going to do for it. If you say to them, can you just create me a VR space that’s [Laughter], they may be like, well I can do but it would take my whole life. There’s a lot more variables. I think people assume, I remember years ago, I used to do drawings on this online art forum, called Wet Canvas, it was like a proper old school message board community, and we’d all go on and give each other feedback and critique stuff on it, and anybody that came on and did digital art, they’d paint stuff digitally, and there was always this, Oh digital is it? So the computer does all the work for you? That is so far from the truth, you know, getting anything to look even remotely presentable on a computer is, really, really, really, hard. I think, that’s kind of, I think digital comics can possibly suffer a little bit from that. We think, oh computer colour, it’s all so bland and gradients, and people have, they switch over. The difference between paper and digital colour is that it feels handmade, somebody really had to put effort in, there isn’t just a button you press and it goes “create comic” [Laughter]. We all know that couldn’t be further from the truth, but there is that, yeah.

ML: Digital comics have been around for a while, do you feel they have impacted the industry, or do you feel there’s still going to be something big on the horizon that’s going to make people rally look at them?

LM: I think, they’ve definitely impacted the industry in as much as with the big companies, either they have their own digital versions for sale, or they use somebody like Comixology or Sequential, or somebody to sell them. Basically it’s, an instant revenue stream, so any of the, all of the big companies are putting out all of their back catalogue on those digital files, and there’s all kinds of bundles or, you know, like Marvel Unlimited, you know, you pay so much and you get access to all these books. There’s, I think revenue, the companies and creators are thinking , they think, oh wow, somebody can buy my comic, instantly on their device, and not have to.. I think, that avoids the hell of the pull list that somebody doesn’t collect or the, you know, what I mean? I think the comics companies kind of see that as, that’s their main motivation for getting into it, I think there’s a few people doing stuff creatively with it, where their trying to think of ways to change how comics behave, the way we read them, or how you access them, that kind of thing. I think, for it to really shake things up, it’s definitely not causing any damage to the print comic market. We did some research, we did a lot of primary research were we asked people their reading habits and we got some great statistics from that, saying that people read digital for very different reasons. They read them, because they are portable, they can share them with their friends, you know, it’s like having a long box over one shoulder. But, you know, they read the single issues and then buy the hard covers as a physical copy, people find that having a digital version and a paper version, they are useful for different purposes. We also did a lot of secondary research were we, basically, the print sales have risen, they’ve grown since. The digital market has grown and grown and grown. In 2001 it was like $1 million and, in 2015 it was about $100 million so it’s grown and grown. It’s rapidly rising, but everyone assumed the print market would shrink at the same rate. There’s only so many comics you can sell, there’s a limited number of people to sell them to, surely it’s going to have this huge negative impact. What we found is, people are buying digital comics the same way they buy other digital content, the same way you might get a game for your phone just because you’re bored and you might listen to an album, and then buy it because you liked it. It’s bringing in an awful lot of new readers, it’s actually causing the print market to grow. I think basically the thing that will change it massively is if we can get people reading comics on, there’s already, which one is doing it? Where you can read comics on your T.V. through your Amazon, you know, your Xbox, our something, I can’t remember.

ML: I think Amazon just got a stake in Comixology so I think they are doing that through their Prime App.

LM: Yes! That’s it, through Amazon Prime, yes. Amazon own Comixology so yeah. So, I think, making it easier for people to get hold of comics, making it as easy as something like Netflix and the YouTube app on there, there will probably be a Comixology or a Sequential, or just a sort of, do you want to read some comics? We do that with games without thinking about it, you know, I’ll just go on my Xbox and get a load of whatever, all different games I think that will be the thing. Whoever can make it so comics are something that are as easily browse able as games and films, or T.V. boxsets. I think that will be the thing that cracks it. If there’s demand, there’s already a lot of content there, comics that are already there, ready. They don’t need to be translated like a novel, they don’t need to be turned into something. But, I think comics people are quite chilled. There’s an enormous amount of back catalogues for people to put up there and enjoy, but I think, if creators are thinking about the next level. How do you make a comic, how do people read it. I think if people in the industry start thinking about these things, we might end up in a great situation where there is easy access and stuff people can read is really different and exciting. I think that would be, it’s not much of a prediction but if people, if they demand for better ways of distributing stuff. There’s the money side of it, will probably always lead to the growth of the creative side, because people are always like, we want fresh content, and we want to publish and make it relevant, and get people excited about it. I hope that in the ease of distribution means that a lot of comic people are going, ‘quick we need some excellent new digital content!’ I wonder who could write that? Maybe that Leah person, she seems pretty good! [Laughter] I don’t know. Obviously, I’m slightly biased. [Laughter]

ML: Final Question. Do you have a favourite book?

LM: Comic book or any book?

ML: Any book, any comic book. Anything.

LM: Anything at all. Oh my goodness. Quite broad then. Well… [Laughter] Well, my favourite, I think. One of my favourite books is Quicksilver by Neil Stevenson. Because it’s enormous and epic, and covers the entire birth of science and currency, and computer programming, all this stuff to do with language and everything. It’s amazing. And I really, really love Catch-22, which is Joseph Heller, it’s about the second world war and it’s the most nonsense, wonderful book. I don’t know if you’ve read it, if you haven’t, have a go. I think, it’s sort of got a reputation as being sort of a blokes book, because it’s about war, and about guys off in war, but I loved it. It’s like a satire of war. Mechanics of the army and the hierarchies of command, and it’s hilariously funny, it’s savagely sad and tragic. It’s really a beautiful book it really is. And comics wise, favourite ever comic.. my god. That’s a killer. [Laugher]

I would say early Love & Rockets, I don’t think I could choose between any of those books, but yes, all of those. All of the early Love & Rockets. Really, that’s probably my favourite recent comic, I think, although.. I have too many! I’m looking at my shelves and it’s not helping at all. I’m thinking ‘no, no,, I love that one!’ Halo Jones is my favourite one by my dad, because it’s so wonderful and amazing, and she escapes everything and goes off.

ML: I’m half way through Halo Jones actually, I need to finish it.

LM: It’s so, so, good. She’s my, Halo Jones is like squad goals for girls everywhere. It should be on the syllabus as required reading for all women, no matter what they study. Definitely. You should just set your sights ludicrously high and then just go and do that anyway, I think. It’s an awesome message to give to someone.


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