Twisted Times:

My Part in Alan Moore’s “Last Interview”

We are told that Alan Moore doesn’t use email, and rarely goes online. By contrast, I’ve been online – on and off – for twenty years now. I started using the internet when it was so slow, you had to have a book to read while web pages loaded. I’ve been part of a lot of online discussions, and discussion groups, and arguments, and debates.

For years, I used to approach online arguments in a certain way. If I felt threatened or attacked, I would craft lengthy, detailed, vitriolic responses, out of proportion to the original criticism. I sought to textually destroy my opponents. On one level, it was ‘good writing’. It wasn’t generous writing, but it was scathing, barbed, precisely targeted.  It made me feel clever, and it made a lot of people online think I was clever: not nice, perhaps, but clever. I enjoyed that reputation for a while.

That I still have any friends from that period of my life is testament to their generosity and patience – and maybe to the fact that they recognised it as a persona, an online armour designed to protect something insecure underneath. I can see now that my behaviour hurt other people – sure, it was anonymous, but there were real people behind the pseudonyms and avatars – and with hindsight, it also really took it out of me. It drained and stressed me. I was always on the defensive, always guard-up, always feeling paranoid and persecuted. Overall, it was not a good way to handle debate and disagreement.

And that’s one reason why I’ve been reluctant to offer a ‘response’ to Alan Moore’s ‘Final Interview’, which involves me in various ways and also engages with and criticises me, though not by name. Some people have told me I’m obliged to reply to Moore in specific detail. I don’t agree. Some have told me that my reputation will plummet, in their eyes at least, if I don’t address his points. That’s something I can deal with. I simply don’t want to get into that level of petty, vindictive argument. I don’t think it’s good for anyone involved.

There are other reasons. Alan Moore remains a great writer. He was an absolutely astonishing writer, and whatever he’s doing and saying now, he’s made an incredible contribution to the field of comic books. He can’t destroy his own legacy, even if he now wants to.

I don’t like or agree with much of what Moore has said recently. But I grew up on his work, and it still means a lot to me. I’ve been reading Alan Moore’s comic books for thirty years now. Since The Ballad of Halo Jones began in 2000AD, sometimes running alongside D.R. and Quinch. I bought, and still own, the trade paperbacks; I wore a Halo Jones t-shirt until it fell apart. I drew pictures of D.R. and Quinch in school exercise books, copying Alan Davis’ art.

When I was sixteen, a really cool, beatnik guy at a writing course in central London told me about Watchmen. We went to Forbidden Planet together in the lunch break to buy it. I’d been reading comics since the early 1970s, but this immediately felt like something different and special. I bought the individual issues, then had the graphic novel signed by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons at Café Munchen. I bought The Killing Joke and had it signed by Moore and Bolland. I asked Moore a question about Rorschach which he couldn’t (or couldn’t be bothered to) answer, and he boomed ‘you’re too clever for me!’ – an incredibly generous response to a shy but smart-ass seventeen year old.

I wore a smiley face badge on the black coat I’d bought to look a bit more like the cool beatnik guy. On my first day at university, a second-year came up to me and said ‘you don’t know me, but you like Watchmen, don’t you?’ We became good friends. He lent me the collected Miracleman and Swamp Thing. Back in London, I went to see the theatrical adaptation of Halo Jones. Moore was hanging around the lobby, signing copies of his books. He talked to me for the best part of an hour, answering questions and discussing individual panels and captions from Watchmen. At home, I wrote down everything he’d said, as well as I could remember it. I felt like I’d had a conversation with a guru, a genius, a god.

I grew older with Alan Moore. I bought V For Vendetta when it was re-released and completed by DC. I bought the first two issues of Big Numbers. I bought each monthly issue of 1963. I caught up with Moore’s Captain Britain, with his work for DC – his Superman stories, his tales of the Green Lanterns – and his work for 2000AD, such as Skizz. I bought Lost Girls on its first release; I bought From Hell, A Small Killing, and later, Top Ten and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The last Alan Moore comic I read was Nemo: Heart of Ice. I’m not going to make any melodramatic claims about it being my last.

Obviously, Alan Moore owes me nothing. He barely seems to remember meeting Grant Morrison, so of course I don’t expect him to remember meeting me. But I’m still grateful for his work – particularly his comics of the 1980s, which I often re-read – for the small generosities he once showed me in person, and for the way he transformed a genre (superheroes) and a medium (comic books) that I still very much enjoy.

So that’s another important reason why I don’t want to argue with Alan Moore. There are other reasons.

Two fundamental issues raised in the ‘last interview’ centre around the depiction of rape and sexual assault on women, and racial stereotypes, specifically the ‘Golliwog’. On the whole, while I don’t think it’s impossible or invalid for me to talk about those issues – as evidenced below – I don’t think I’m the best person to do it.  Laura Sneddon and Pam Noles have written intelligently and extensively about Moore’s depiction of rape, and about his use of the ‘Golliwog’, on their own websites, from a position not just of informed research but from their lived experience. I’m happy to speak out and support where I can, but I think ideally those discussions should be led by women and by Black writers, and Laura and Pam are much better placed than me.

There’s at least one other reason, and it’s due to the strange way this ‘interview’ came about. I explained some of the back story to Klint Finley, with Pam and Laura’s approval and permission, because he told me on Twitter that people were questioning whether any prior discussion had taken place. His article offers my explanation in a box at the bottom of the page. That’s a shorter version, very well-edited by Klint (with my approval) because my original was too long. I’ll offer a longer version here, with more detail. I’m deliberately not quoting anybody else’s words but my own, as I’m not speaking for anyone else here. This is my own interpretation, although I hope it remains neutral, factual and fair.

Magic Words: An Evening With Alan Moore was an event at the Prince Charles Cinema, London, on the evening of Tuesday 26 November. I attended, as did Moore’s recent biographer Lance Parkin (who chaired the discussion), Kevin O’Neill, Melinda Gebbie and Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

What began as a very positive and enjoyable event became increasingly uncomfortable for me – I believe I was very much in the minority –and I left before the end. I tweeted several comments about my disappointment, which essentially focused on three issues: the on-stage defence of the Golliwog character in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the representation of women and sexualised violence in Moore’s film Act of Faith, and Moore’s brief comments about Gordon Brown’s physical and emotional disabilities.

The tweets were sent while I was walking from the cinema to the station, and so inevitably they were shorthand, immediate reactions rather than any kind of in-depth reflection. Some discussion followed from my tweets that evening, which led me to talk online and by email to Pam Noles, whose website And We Shall March had already engaged critically with the ‘Golliwog’ character. I also entered into discussion about the evening on the Facebook Alan Moore fan page, and from there I began talking to Laura Sneddon, who had expressed some reservations in an earlier review about Moore’s depiction of rape in Necronomicon.

Pam, Laura and I agreed that it would be interesting to hold a roundtable discussion by email about the issues we found problematic in some of Moore’s work, and Laura approached Heidi MacDonald of The Beat with the idea of developing an article from it. Pádraig Ó Méalóid was approached and invited to join the discussion as someone who remained an unequivocal fan and friend of Moore and his work.

I opened the email roundtable on 2nd December with an extensive account of my reflections about An Evening With Alan Moore, going into much more depth and detail about the ‘Golliwog’ discussion, Act of Faith and finally, the remarks about disability. I went first because, of course, I’d been the one to raise criticisms about the event. Laura and Pam weren’t there, and Pádraig was there but had no problem with what was said, so it made sense for me to expand on my experience and explain my issues with what I’d seen and heard.

As it happened, we only managed to engage with the first topic, about the Golliwog, before the discussion, which had begun very cordially and pleasantly, became much more troubled. Pádraig and Pam, in particular, disagreed with each other, and my impression is that Pádraig felt that both he and Alan Moore were being unfairly criticised. I think it’s fair to say that there were strong feelings on various sides of the discussion.

Pádraig announced that he was going to approach Moore for a separate interview and ask him questions related to the roundtable. There was resistance to this idea. After a further brief exchange, Pádraig decided he could no longer be part of this discussion, and withdrew. This happened on 9th December. As the email exchanges wound down, Pam, Laura and I requested that the transcript of our discussion should not be shown to anyone else, and that our contributions should not be quoted elsewhere – because it was unpublished, draft work that we wanted to revise before it reached a more public platform. I wrote, on 10th December:

For my part, I would ask everyone to ensure that my contributions to the discussion so far are not circulated elsewhere or passed to anyone outside this group of four people, because I see them as unfinished. They were written as part of dialogue and I plan to go over my own sections once more before publication.

So, for the record I’d like to have none of my words circulated further anywhere before I’ve looked them over again and approved them. I’d also prefer they weren’t paraphrased elsewhere. They are still a work in progress.

It was always going to be a debate but again, I am sorry the debate angered and hurt people. Padraig and everyone else, thank you for taking part.

Heidi agreed to read over the roundtable discussion so far and try to propose what could be done with it: it was now 22,000 words long. Pam, Laura and I agreed to hold off on the project until the New Year, after Heidi had read the document and made her editorial suggestions.

The next development was when Heidi emailed the three of us on January 9th, 2014. She felt that the opening exchanges in the roundtable could have been run, pretty much intact, on The Beat, except that there had been a new development. Pádraig had gone ahead with his Alan Moore interview and received a document of 22,000 words. That document went online the same day, January 9th.

So that’s another reason why I was reluctant to ‘reply’ to Alan Moore. I’d already extensively discussed those issues, before Moore’s recent statements.

That discussion was never published, because it had stalled when Pádraig left, and because we’d all agreed not to take it further or make it public.

To publish it at this point, after the ‘final interview’, would position it as a response to his 9th January document on Pádraig’s blog, but that would be a misreading of the chronology. Our discussion wouldn’t respond specifically to anything Moore had said: it couldn’t, because it had come first, in December 2013, prompted by the event on November 26th and by Moore’s previous work in general.

Our email roundtable remained in limbo, like a character out of continuity.

But like a character out of continuity, it seemed to return, ghostlike, in various forms, on the margins of other stories.

I hope it’s clear from the quotation above that I specified I didn’t want my part in the roundtable circulated to anyone else, and why I made that request. I know that Pam explicitly expressed the same thing. Laura also assumed there was a shared understanding along those lines, and stated in a later email that she would see circulation of the transcript, without all parties’ permission, as a breach of confidentiality and indication of intent.

Pádraig’s blog introduction mentions my tweets from November 26th as a catalyst for the whole debate. I hope it seems reasonable for me to quote that passage here.

The evening seemed to be a great success – at least, I was there, and it seemed so to me, and to anyone else I talked to – but one of the attendees was not happy, and took to Twitter to say so. He Tweeted ‘Really wish An Evening with Alan Moore hadn’t involved four white people on stage defending the “golliwog” as a “strong black character” – Followed by a short film about a young woman stripping, dressing in “slutty clothes” and killing herself on screen – Followed by Moore insulting Gordon Brown based on mental and physical disability – I then left the venue. Much Internet conversation ensued, and much condemnation was poured on the heads of Moore and his associates, both for the fact that they did what they supposedly did, and that nobody had taken them to task for it. The Twitterer also didn’t take them to task for any of it, mind you, although he had originally intended to ask a question: ‘I was going to tell Moore I found Killing Joke very problematic in its representation of Barbara Gordon (shooting, sex assault) and ask if he could go back in time, if he would have written TKJ differently in that respect. But after the applause that greeted his (to me) gratuitous, exploitative, slut-shaming, disturbingly graphic short film about a woman’s suicide, I didn’t think it was the right time,’ presumably fearing he’d be lynched by the baying hordes of Moore fanatics.

Tweets are, unfortunately and inevitably, limited in their scope and nuance. I wrote the initial responses during a walk of about ten minutes, from the cinema to Charing Cross. They express dismay, perhaps anger and frustration, immediately after an event that had left me feeling disappointed and troubled, as a fan of Alan Moore who now had to reconcile that fan admiration with some unpalatable opinions and positions.

My tweets don’t have a great deal of subtlety, and they even contain factual errors, because it isn’t strictly true to say that four white people on-stage defended the Golliwog character, or that Faith commits suicide – she dies accidentally as the result of a fake suicide, a fantasy from which she believes she’ll be rescued. The email discussion is more accurate in this respect.

I also explained at length in the email discussion why I didn’t ask about Barbara Gordon, and why I didn’t call out anyone for the issues I found problematic, during the event itself. You can see all this at the end of the article, where I reproduce my email correspondence.

Pádraig of course knew all this, because he read and was part of the email discussion. In fact, he asked me why I didn’t speak out at the time, and I wrote a lengthy response to his question. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t claim it was because I feared I’d be lynched by the baying hordes of Moore fanatics; in fact, I took him up on his word ‘lynched’. Pádraig replied to me saying my answer was fantastic, exactly what he’d been hoping for, and thanked me very much for it.

So Pádraig knew all this, but he said nothing of it in his introduction. I imagine that he was respecting my wish for confidentiality by solely discussing my tweets, in isolation, and mentioning nothing of who I was, his own exchanges with me or the details and reflections I’d offered in our correspondence.

I assumed, then, that Alan Moore was responding only to my public tweets. I assumed he would not have seen them unless he was shown them – because, as noted, he doesn’t use the internet and, as he says, does not have ‘a great deal of interest in online comment’ – but I think it’s fair if Pádraig set them before him. They are not great writing or the best representation of my opinions, but I wrote them and put them out in public.

In Moore’s words:

As I understand the course of events unfolding after the launch, there had been someone in the audience, whose name escapes me but who is evidently pleased to identify himself as a Batman scholar, who had been offended by Act of Faith and, as people in this branch of scholarship presumably do, he had advertised this fact on social media. In a message that I was shown, his objections to the film became more obvious when he described and summarised it as film about a woman who dresses in ‘slutty clothes’ and then commits suicide.

So I think we can assume that Pádraig showed Moore what he rather sweetly calls a ‘message’ – one of my tweets from 26th November. We could imagine that Moore had genuinely forgotten my name despite apparently remembering a direct quotation from the tweet – the very nature of tweets is that they have a name attached – or that he was generously pretending to forget, to spare me the more personal criticism he reserved for Laura Sneddon and Grant Morrison. He does something similar with Pam Noles:

I’m not sure at which point the person who is apparently an American photographer joined the debate, and again must apologise for being unfamiliar with her name. The only thing that I’d previously heard concerning this person was Kevin’s brief account of someone he’d apparently encountered at an American signing for The Black Dossier, an African-American woman (if that is still an acceptable U.S. term) who had seemed upset by our inclusion of the Golliwog/Galley-Wag.

There is an inconsistency to this account somewhere, though, as neither my tweets about An Evening With Alan Moore nor my Twitter profile say anything about being a ‘Batman scholar’. My profile mentions a book called Hunting the Dark Knight, along with various other details such as Cinema Journal, Kingston University and My So-Called Secret Identity. But I’m not sure that an isolated tweet, glimpsed so briefly that the name was forgotten, would yield him the information that I am by any stretch a ‘Batman scholar’.

I don’t need to discuss whether I think it’s valuable for a writer of superhero comics to ridicule the idea of studying comics, as Julian Darius has generously – over-generously, even – addressed the point in his own recent article.

In a way, I think Moore’s comments about me are quite funny. They’re funny on at least two levels; he’s enjoying himself – or at least, I hope he is – and taking his idea about the ‘Batman scholar’ apart with gleeful venom.  It might not be nice writing, but it’s good writing, in a way.

The comments are also funny to me because this construction of the scholar reads like a Bizarro version of myself. I am, as noted, still very fond of Alan Moore’s superhero comics. That he has effectively written me as a ridiculous supervillain on an alternate earth is fascinating and faintly flattering; at any rate, it’s hard to be offended by an attack on a persona you barely recognise.

Is it unthinkable that such a person might attempt to assuage his hurt feelings by pretending that he is in fact angry about other issues, issues such as sexual violence or misogyny, which are genuinely important matters and might be expected to arouse more condemnation than an affront to one’s favourite imaginary costumed vigilante?

I genuinely hope that this is not the case, and that I have as seriously misconstrued this person’s motives as he has misconstrued mine. I genuinely hope that he is simply a poor scholar whose limited field of enquiry has resulted in him being unable to understand adult situations, or at least those which do not involve a rather simplistic revenge-motivated and bat-themed crime-fighter.

I mean, come on. It’s kind of brilliant, isn’t it? It’s absolutely absurd, but it’s weirdly brilliant.

So I don’t have anything much to say about Moore’s personal attacks on me, except that they’re both clever and ridiculous, and if his claim to have forgotten my name is meant as another insult, it’s also cleverly done. It’s not nice, but it’s clever.

With regard to our disagreement about Act of Faith, if Moore was responding solely to my brief tweets, then I’m not surprised he felt my views lacked nuance. The bottom line is that we clearly interpret the same film differently. Some may feel that the author, or co-creator, is the source of ultimate meaning, and that Moore’s intended meaning is the only correct one. I disagree, but that’s a larger argument that’s been going for many decades: Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author’ is probably the most famous and accessible example.

While I think it’s absolutely fine and inevitable that different people – whether author or audience member – will interpret the same text in different ways, I’d certainly consider expanding on my own interpretation of Act of Faith, in future and in more detail, based on a closer analysis of the film. For now, I will include my extended account of my first viewing, below, and perhaps it can be seen as engaging textually with Moore’s defence, even though it was written beforehand. It’s not that I have no disagreement with him about Act of Faith; more that I feel discussion about popular culture is an ongoing process, and that a counter-response from me isn’t immediately urgent.

However, I do think it’s worth considering a little further, at this point, what exactly Alan Moore was shown, because this is a broader issue beyond the personal, and it impacts directly on why I’m writing this now, and why I’ve included my email correspondence below.

Look again at Moore’s first mention of Pam Noles.

I’m not sure at which point the person who is apparently an American photographer joined the debate, and again must apologise for being unfamiliar with her name. The only thing that I’d previously heard concerning this person was Kevin’s brief account of someone he’d apparently encountered at an American signing for The Black Dossier, an African-American woman (if that is still an acceptable U.S. term) who had seemed upset by our inclusion of the Golliwog/Galley-Wag.

‘I’m not sure at which point the person… joined the debate.’ What does he mean? I spoke to Pam on Twitter initially, but she appears there as @BGFCentral, with no mention of her photography, so I don’t expect Moore is referring to a Twitter debate in public; not least because, as we know, he has no interest in Twitter and doesn’t engage with it.

But in the email discussion, first I offer my piece, then Pádraig, and then Pam. So in that sense, this is where she ‘joined the debate’ – if you were reading a transcript of the confidential email correspondence.

Moore goes on:

Moving on to someone whose name I recognise and whom I have at least spoken to over the phone on one solitary and never-to-be-repeated occasion, I note that one of the more vociferous complainants in this borderline-remedial debate is the alleged journalist Laura Sneddon.

‘Moving on’? Moving on from what? Pádraig’s last question, 5294 words earlier (I counted) was this:

ÓM: one characteristic of your work that gets singled out in online debate quite a lot is the prevalence of sexual violence towards women, with a number of instances of rape or attempted rape in your stories. Why is this something you feel you need to put into your stories? Does it worry you may be alienating some of your audience by doing this?

Moore isn’t moving on to another aspect of Pádraig’s question. Is he moving on through a Twitter debate? Laura wasn’t a ‘vociferous complainant’ in the conversations started by my tweets, even if we assume, which seems unlikely, that Moore has access to and is looking through the online exchanges from 26th November.

However, Laura does speak next in that confidential email discussion, and ‘moving on’ would make perfect sense in that context, if we imagine him reading through a transcript.

Moore continues:

I think it not unlikely that she has attached herself to our Batman scholar’s very public ostensible disgust at Act of Faith as a particularly slimy way of settling whatever she imagines to be the score; once more, it would appear, with no evident forethought on the subject of potential repercussions. (Not being personally familiar with online discussions I’m clearly taking a shot in the dark here, but is there something about the nature of internet discourse that encourages this actually reckless sense of impunity in persons who might otherwise be reluctant regarding more immediate and direct confrontations? As I say, this is only a guess.)

There is much that could be said about Moore’s characterisation of Laura – as there is more that could be said about his snarky reference to ‘an African-American woman’, and his description of the discussion as ‘borderline-remedial’. But if we focus not on those aspects, but on what Moore is actually referring to – what he’s looking at, or being shown, as he writes – it seems fairly likely that he is reading from either the email discussion, or an extremely detailed summary of it. There is, to my mind, no other plausible explanation as to why he’d pick out those three individuals – me, Pam and Laura – and see us as part of a ‘debate’, in which one person speaks, then another – from the chaos of voices that constituted Twitter on the evening of 26th November 2013.

We can imagine that someone who doesn’t use email, says of himself that he doesn’t ‘want to be connected to that all-pervasive type of cyber culture’, refers to tweets as ‘messages’ on ‘social media’, and is ‘practically Amish when it comes down to it’, singled out from Twitter the three people who were part of the email discussion with his interviewer, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, without remembering their names for the most part but somehow having a idea about their careers and background, and moved through them in the same order that they appear in the email discussion. Or we can try to imagine an alternative scenario.

I believed that the confidentiality agreement, however informal, would be respected. However, another post on another internet site, from 15th January, makes it clear that the document has been ‘leaked’. The post is from Richard Johns.

I have a copy [of the transcript]. I know the route mine came from, and it wasn’t from O Mealoid. If Brooker didn’t leak it, that leaves two suspects, doesn’t it? It’s a little over 24,000 words.

It happened. It starts:

“Laura Sneddon: Hi everyone, This is just a quick introductory e-mail so that everyone knows the basic outline of what’s happening, and when everyone can start. Preliminary starting date after consulting our conflicting schedules is this Thursday. In short, this will be a four-way discussion about some problematic issues that most recently came to light at a book launch in London where Alan Moore (and Kevin O’Neill I think?) were interviewed on stage. The issues namely being around white dudes ‘reclaiming’ a racist stereotype, casual ableism, and misogynistic or violent portrayals of women. With it being about Alan Moore you can generally expect the internet to explode.”

It carries on like that for 58 pages. And, yes, as Alan Moore directly quotes from it, he’s seen it.

So, the ‘confidential’ email discussion has been made at least semi-public.  I don’t know who has done that. The post above states that it didn’t reach Richard Johns through Pádraig, but I equally I can’t imagine why Laura, Heidi or Pam would want to circulate it.

But whatever route it took, the discussion is out there, and that’s why I am copying my contributions to that discussion here: because they’ve already been seen, despite what I explicitly requested.

I include dates, and I do not include other people’s contributions. I have not added anything. I’ve cut my ‘admin’ emails that don’t add to the discussion and deleted any obvious typos, and I’ve redacted a racist ‘joke’ that appeared in context (a relic from 1977) but which it’s not necessary to repeat here. Otherwise, these are the emails I sent during December 2013.

I am deliberately not including the other participants’ correspondence, and respecting their confidentiality — even though I believe that agreement has already been broken by some other party. My own words remain my copyrighted material, and are mine to reproduce here.

This is not a polished document, and it represents my thoughts in progress, as part of an informal online conversation, rather than a finished and completed argument; but it gives a fuller version of my thoughts than the public tweets, and if some people have seen it without my knowledge, it seems fair that others should be able to read it with my permission.

I think what happened with this discussion is a shame and a disappointment. It started promisingly, and it ended sourly. I think what seems to have happened with Alan Moore is a shame and a disappointment. It’s harder for me to admire Alan Moore now – not because of what he’s said about me personally, but because of his comments about Pam and particularly Laura – though I still enjoy much of his work, especially those incredible creations of the 1980s.

But reading his ‘final interview’, it sometimes seems to me that the Alan Moore I admired went somewhere else, some time ago.

* * *

Emails from Will Brooker to Pam Noles, Laura Sneddon and Pádraig Ó Méalóid:

3rd December, 2013

On a personal level, I’ve very much admired Alan Moore’s work from 2000ADMiracleman and Swamp Thing onwards. His comics have meant a lot to me, particularly in the 1980s, and he’s always been very generous and patient when I’ve met him: he spent a lot of time discussing Watchmen with me in 1988, and he had no reason to do so.

So for me, the story about Alan Moore starts a long time ago, when I first encountered his work, and carries on for decades. But this particular story took place on Tuesday 26th November, at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, at An Evening With Alan Moore, an event based partly around Moore’s 60th birthday and partly around the launch of Lance Parkin’s book Magic Words.

I had been working outside London all day and came back specially for this event. I met a number of fellow fans from the Facebook Alan Moore group outside the cinema, and was allowed in early, to find Moore circulating and chatting openly downstairs. It was great to hang out with people from a like-minded internet group, to have artists like Kevin O’Neill standing next to me — I’d never seen him before — and to feel I was witnessing an important event in the life and career of a major comic book creator. The atmosphere was convivial and positive. There was a good vibe; we were all among friends. I talked to the people in the neighbouring seats, who I’d never met before, about our favourite Moore comics, then settled in for a pleasant evening.

Moore began the interview on great form: self-deprecating, dry and funny, enjoying his role as curmudgeonly grump against Lance Parkin’s amenable straight man. After half an hour, the two men were joined on stage by Melinda Gebbie and Kevin O’Neill. In the middle of a discussion about what it was like to work with Moore, O’Neill volunteered:

‘I don’t think on League, we’ve ever disagreed… we brought a character into League that I think only we like, Golliwog, to kind of, um…’ — and here even on the handheld, phone video of the event, you can hear chuckles — ‘reintroduce this… actually, incredibly powerful black character back into our world, who was completely misunderstood. Now, I think most people just take it as the Robertson’s Jam Golliwog or something… I don’t quite see it that way. But we never argued about it…’

Moore then chimes in, but to talk more generally about disagreements and discussions with his artists, rather than this specific character. Parkin follows up with Gebbie, who tells an anecdote about how Oscar Zarate pointed out a weak panel in Lost Girls: she does a broad impression of his Argentinian accent. Moore playfully scolds, ‘no, you can’t do the voice. He’s right here!’

Parkin sums up, ‘you can talk about Golliwogs, but you cannot do that voice.’

‘I’m terrible, I offend a lot of people,’ Gebbie confesses, and with more laughter from the audience, the conversation moves on.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like much. After that moment, though, the vibe of the whole event, the whole gathering, subtly changed for me. There was a sudden, very subtle shift from feeling at home, among friends, to a sense of discomfort. It’s hard for me to identify any particularly glaring or offensive aspect in the brief exchange, but my overriding feeling was that I was no longer sharing the same vibe as Moore and O’Neill, and by extension, maybe I was no longer in tune with the way things were going in general.

It wasn’t anything specific that any individual said, but the fact that the (to me, immediately controversial) concept of white people reclaiming the Golliwog as a ‘powerful black character’ was passed over so blithely, without any challenge; with laughter and chatty anecdotes. O’Neill brought it up as an example of himself and Moore agreeing. Moore didn’t even see it as worth commenting on. Gebbie moved on to tell another funny story. Parkin, though his tone was mildly sardonic and I don’t doubt his integrity and good intentions, seemed to genuinely be summing up the consensus: ‘you can talk about Golliwogs’, but an impression of an Argentinean accent would be met with disapproval, if that person was in the room.

It was never said explicitly, of course — nothing overtly racist was ever said explicitly, that I could easily put my finger on as a white person, at least — but the subtle implication seemed to be that it was OK to talk, and maybe joke, and chuckle a little, about Golliwogs, as long as those people weren’t in the room.

I think it was that feeling, so hard to articulate even now, that made me the most uncomfortable. The implication that we were all in agreement that a Golliwog was something to mention off-hand and leave unchallenged. The implication that everyone in the room was fine with it. Maybe because there wasn’t anyone black on-stage, or in the front row of the audience. So four white people chatted about it on their microphones, and everyone laughed a little, and we moved on as if it was just another funny story.

I’m going to stop there, cause it’s late and that is quite a big issue to deal with (in my opinion) — perhaps we could even tackle one ‘issue’ at a time?

4th December, 2013

OK, here are my thoughts about ‘Act of Faith’ to throw into the mix.

I didn’t know much about ‘Act of Faith’ or the broader Jimmy’s End cycle prior to the event, except for reading some newspaper articles about Moore’s forays into filmmaking, and absorbing the general idea that his work was a bit ‘Lynchian’, with dark circus elements. This is an interpretation Moore addressed with dry humour at the event, noting that Lynch did not feature clowns in his own work, that the main similarity people identified seemed to be ‘curtains’, and that all films except perhaps One Million Years BC tended to include curtains.

He was joined onstage before the screening by Mitch Jenkins, Siobhan Hewlett (sole actor in ‘Act of Faith’) and Robert Goodman (from ‘Jimmy’s End’). There was some joking between Goodman and Moore.

‘I actually wrote the part around you, Bob… it’s a really, really unpleasant character… I mean, I’m not saying that Bob is an unpleasant character, but I kind of wrote the lines that I knew you could deliver, Bob.’

‘We have banter between us,’ Goodman observes, ‘as you’ll see.’

This joshing between friends, this banter, only seems relevant with hindsight, in that it seems to give the sense of a group of buddies for whom this is all a bit of a game. The characters offer intellectual interest and amusement, as figures in a situation or pieces on a board, but there isn’t much suggestion here of emotional investment.

Of course, that’s a lot to read into a short discussion in a public venue, and of course, a lot of what Moore says, and how he says it, in these contexts is persona, a playful front. But nevertheless, he’s chosen that persona, and he’s chosen to adopt that particular position of wry detachment, so I think it’s valid to explore the impression his choices give.

It may also seem too far a step to suggest that jokey banter between men on a stage, prior to a film about a woman stripping and killing herself, confirms a sense of detached privilege and objectification. It didn’t particularly strike me at the time, but again, with hindsight, it adds, in whatever subtle and small way, to the context surrounding the screening of ‘Act of Faith’.

Siobhan Hewlett then takes the mic, and explains that she knew Moore through The Killing Joke, which was ‘one of the first comics I ever read’, when she was 6 or 7 years old. Moore jokily apologises for corrupting her with it at an early age. ‘Forgiven… it’s still one of my favourites.’

She goes on to contrast working on ‘Act of Faith’ with most film productions, where ‘you have no control whatsoever… and it doesn’t feel so much of a collaboration…so one of the main things, which was the biggest draw, was we were gonna do this as a collaboration. Together. And be free to do our own things.’

Hewlett is asked about what judgements she made in the performance, and how much of that was in the script, rather than raised through discussion. ‘We did discuss it,’ she begins, ‘… we did… but very much from Alan’s writing, I was very clear in my mind how Faith was… and I hope it tallied with….’

Jenkins takes over: ‘No, it did. I think Alan’s scene descriptions and character descriptions are just so in depth…everything that Alan provided was so in depth. You actually get a greater understanding of the character before you get in front of the character, and at that point you bring it alive.’

Again, am I making too much of the fact that the only woman on stage, the only actor in ‘Act of Faith’, was interrupted by and spoke less than the three men, and that her contribution was framed so much by their voices? Maybe I am. The fact that Hewlett’s performance, rather than a comic book character drawn by O’Neill or Gibbons for example, is central to the film — and that she praises the collaborative process — does of course complicate any discussion of ‘Act of Faith’ as a work solely by Alan Moore and a (male) artist. To find fault with the film is surely also to criticise Hewlett’s part in helping to create it, which is a more complex matter than just blaming a 60 year-old man with a history of writing problematic scenes of sexual violence.

On the other hand, despite the celebration of collaboration, isn’t the overriding impression from that exchange, above, that Moore’s script was so full and detailed that there wasn’t a lot of room for input from the actors?

Without the screenplay, and more knowledge about the production, I wouldn’t pursue that line any further. I was very much prepared to enjoy the film.

I didn’t enjoy the film.

As noted, I don’t know much more about the context of the Jimmy’s End cycle, so I can only discuss ‘Act of Faith’ in isolation. It could be said that this can only give me a partial, or an incorrect, understanding. I’d suggest though that we quite often read reviews of a single issue of a comic, or the first instalment of a film trilogy, or the pilot episode of a TV show, and that those critics aren’t pulled up because they didn’t wait for the whole thing. A chapter of a larger work should surely stand up to examination on its own.

My memory of the film is that it concerned Faith, a young woman working in journalism, investigating some form of corruption. Her dad (on an answerphone message) disapproves of what she’s doing. She ignores his message and instead returns one from her female friends, turning down a night out with them. She calls ‘House of Fun’, a costume shop, and asks if a paramedic costume has been collected.

Faith then strips to underwear, puts on stockings and a suspender belt, chooses a sparkly, party dress and redoes her make-up, pouting at herself in the mirror.

She calls an unknown man with whom she’s presumably in an intimate relationship, asking ‘is that the paramedics?’

She then has a conversation with him — which we assume is part of a pre-arranged fantasy — about how she’s vulnerable, a lone woman, dressed up in her ‘sluttiest’ clothes and ashamed of ‘whoring’ herself — to the point where she’s going to commit suicide.

The trailer features some of her dialogue. ‘Listen, I am… I don’t have anyone else I can turn to. I’m a young woman, and I live here all on my own. I’m very… vulnerable. I’m so lonely that I [whisper]… I just dress myself up in these slutty clothes. I’m so ashamed that I’m gonna end it all.’

Faith takes out a pair of handcuffs, pushing the cellophane wrapper into her mouth; she fastens the handcuffs around her wrists, puts her head through a noose already hanging in her wardrobe, and seems to be aroused by the auto-asphyxiation. The ‘twist’ is that her lover leaves a message while she’s hanging there, telling her to stop if she hasn’t started yet, because he’s had an accident, and he’s coming as fast as he can, but he might not be there on time.

Faith’s stockinged feet slip on the floor, she struggles, gasping and choking, and we watch her die.

That’s a fairly dispassionate account of the film, as I recall it from one screening, a week ago. I’m sure I could be wrong about some of the detail, and I’ll welcome corrections on that.

As I watched it, my responses went on a kind of journey. Firstly, the same reaction I always have when watching an indie film – relief that it isn’t embarrassingly bad, and that it’s at least competently made, without acting I’m going to have to suffer and squirm through. I enjoyed the soundtrack. I was enjoying the movie.

I began to notice what seemed like auteurist traits from Moore – his style from comics shaping his script, coming through strongly despite the collaboration with actors and director. There are repeated close-ups of objects while we hear voice-over dialogue for instance, and inventive angles. The way the camera breaks up and reassembles the space of Faith’s apartment could easily be compared to a page of Watchmen, Swamp Thing or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The rhythm and pacing of shots were very similar to the arrangement of panels throughout Moore’s work — or at least, to how I read those typical 9-panel grids.

The sequence of Faith undressing to her underwear also struck me as immediately ‘very Moore’ in its breakdown of the longer action into smaller movements and details. At this point, it also struck me whether we really needed to see Faith undress at such length, and with the camera lingering quite so much on her body. We know she’s taking off her clothes: we don’t need to see every action, from so many angles.

When Faith puts on her stockings and suspender belt we actually get a very human moment that stands out from the cold, polished surrounding scenes. Hewlett huffs in frustration, trying to attach them, and can’t get it right first time. This was the stand-out detail for me, and if it was Hewlett’s addition as a performer, then it adds a warmth and plausibility to Faith that’s absent from the rest of the film.

By the time Faith is pouting at her reflection, I felt a sense of seen-it-before. I don’t know whether it’s in Lynch specifically or just a range of music videos and woman-getting-ready sequences in mainstream cinema, but I feel we’ve seen enough shots of a woman putting on lipstick in close-up in front of a mirror and making seductive faces. I don’t feel it tells us anything new or gives us anything distinct about the character. Faith, again, had retreated into a cliche. I didn’t feel her speech about ‘sluttiest clothes’ and being ashamed of ‘whoring herself’ rang as particularly convincing: maybe it was meant to be that cold and detached, like reading a corny script.

The attempted-suicide sequence was inevitable by that point, but again, the camera lingered in far more detail than I expected. We understand what she’s doing, and that it’s part of a fantasy. I didn’t feel we needed to watch every second of the process, with her holding a plastic bag in her mouth, unveiling the noose, clicking the cuffs. I wondered who it was all meant for, and what effect it was supposed to have on what kind of viewer.

And after the ‘twist’ — the accident, the desperate phone call, the fake suicide turning into a real one — I was hoping for another twist, that this wasn’t going to be all the film was about. We spend the last minute or so watching a woman die, in painful and this time, I think quite plausible detail. That’s it. That’s the plot. Faith turns down family and friends, she goes through a detailed and clichéd stripping and sexy dress-up sequence, she describes herself as a whore, she enjoys ‘slutty’ clothes and engages in a risky fantasy, then she genuinely dies, at length, in front of the camera, and it comes across almost as if this is a fitting punishment. It’s almost presented as a moral tale.

When ‘END’ came up on screen, I heard myself exclaiming ‘for fuck’s sake.’ I couldn’t believe that was it; that was what we’d been offered.

Then the applause.

I didn’t clap. I didn’t feel like clapping. It’s a very minor form of resistance, in the dark at the back of a theatre. but there was no way I was going to applaud that film.

5th December, 2013

This has already been a very interesting and informative exchange for me. One thing that comes across from the Independent interview, Laura, is how NICE, warm, funny and generous Moore tends to be, which is what makes this complicated (again, for me) — if we were talking about someone whose work I didn’t admire greatly and on a long-term basis, and who comes across as a nasty, selfish and bitter piece of work, this would all be more straightforward. I still feel conflicted about the artist and his art, in this case.

Just to finish off my introductory contributions about my experience of An Evening with Alan Moore.

After the screening of ‘Act of Faith’, Lance Parkin invited questions from the audience. I had started constructing a question in my head during the film, along the lines of ‘if you could go back in time to the mid-1980s — regardless of how you feel about that period in terms of your relationship with DC Comics  — would you, knowing the consequences, still have Joker shoot Barbara Gordon?’

I was mentally streamlining it, redrafting it and refining it while Parkin took the first few questions. I had my hand up throughout like a keen schoolkid, but sitting at the back, I wasn’t noticed.

The questions to Moore were not quite along the lines of ‘do you agree you’re the most important comic book writer of all time’, but they weren’t that far off. There was one about what advice he’d give to other writers, one about his magic practices, one about Northampton. They were softball questions, no doubt representative of a fan audience.

After he’d answered the third question, I put my hand down. I didn’t feel this would be the right place or time for asking about the representation of women in The Killing Joke; I sensed that it wouldn’t get a great reaction from Moore, perhaps, but more importantly, that it wouldn’t go down well with this audience. It wasn’t exactly a curveball question, but it was a little more challenging than the ones he was getting, and I started to feel it would be a bit of a party-pooper… somehow in slightly bad taste to even gently query his judgement, when everyone was having such a good time and enjoying the warm, easy-going exchanges.

Next question: ‘Alan, one of the wonderful things about Lance’s book is that he really looks at your sense of humour… overlooked by many people in the past.’ Moore replied with stories about his appearances alongside professional comedians like Josie Lawrence and Stuart Lee, and performed a little song. Laughter and applause. By this point, I knew it wasn’t the right situation for asking whether he’d made a mistake in the depiction of Barbara Gordon.

As an aside: in terms of cultural privilege, I score very highly. I tick most of the boxes of the majority, dominant groups in our society. I kind of earn a living by talking, and when I’m not talking, I’m selling my views in written form. I had just come to this event from an ITV production I’d been filming for as a guest expert. I was wearing one of my favourite suits. I was not in a position where I felt underconfident or intimidated. I am getting better at shutting up and listening to other people, but I don’t usually feel the need to hold my tongue in a room predominantly full (and this is an assumption but a fair one, I think) of white, cissexual, heterosexual men.

So if I felt uncomfortable with even offering gentle criticism of Moore in this setting, I am not surprised that nobody else spoke up. I understand what both Laura and Pam have said about there being a time and a place for challenging problematic representations, and that it’s not always possible — not least because we are all generally conditioned to be polite and respectful, to judge the mood sensitively and not ruin things for other people. It isn’t always easy to be the party-pooper, the awkward squad, the ‘difficult’ one: so sometimes we might be protesting internally, but not say a word out loud.

Then a question: whether Alan Moore would accept a knighthood or other honour. Padraig had, Moore replied, told him about a petition along those lines sent to Gordon Brown, and asked if he would take the award if offered.  ’No, of course not,’ was Moore’s answer. ’And certainly not from a bipolar cyclops.’

Roars of laughter.

‘Which is the kind of thing that means you’re definitely not gonna be…’ Moore tailed off, then announced ‘And that was from a Labour government!’ Laughter.

He went on, more seriously. ‘I certainly could never take awards from this particular government. Now, this is old-fashioned, it’s one of those kind of 60s beliefs, you know, but I kind of think that culling the disabled is wrong. No, I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it. To accept an award like that… you’re condoning the behaviour of the people giving you the award…you’re saying that’s alright. No… that isn’t the way I was brought up.’

Even now, I’m not sure how to make sense of what seems a baffling contradiction within a couple of sentences. The throwaway, gratuitous and arguably quite vicious attack on Gordon Brown, not for his policies but for his physical and perceived mental disabilities, followed immediately by playing to the crowd on an entirely different note, with the mock-humble stance against ableism: ’this is old-fashioned…it’s crazy isn’t it… ‘ and finally, the firm, homespun morality of ‘that isn’t the way I was brought up.’

Why go from a ridiculing of disabilities straight into a claim for moral high ground against ‘culling the disabled’? We all wander down unpredictable paths when speaking live without a script, but it is hard to imagine Moore’s train of thought here.

I really don’t feel qualified in any way to try to analyse Alan Moore’s beliefs. He is a better writer than me, more intelligent than me, more articulate than me. He could well be nicer and funnier than me, too. But I wonder if that odd moment captures something about his thinking, his attitudes, and the contradictions within them.

The Alan Moore work I grew up with included Halo Jones, a wonderful saga about a normal woman that appeared regularly in a comic largely full of macho action. I read Moore’s introduction to Halo Jones, in which he explicitly resists female stereotypes and speaks of trying to portray an alternative, in the same light as feminist science fiction by Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy and Ursula LeGuin. He is, in some ways, clearly ‘progressive’ in his beliefs; not only do I share those ideas, but his work actually helped to shape my own views in that direction.

And yet… watching ‘Act of Faith’, one of my most disappointing observations was that this was, very clearly, the work of Alan Moore. This was entirely in keeping with the scenes of sexualised violence in many of his comics from the last twenty-five years. Rather than an exception, it seemed to confirm a trend.

I can only assume that Moore does hold these different attitudes at the same time, just as he is genuinely incensed by ‘culling the disabled’ but thinks it’s OK to insult a man for bipolar depression and an eye injury. And perhaps that’s something to do with the decade he so clearly cherishes and celebrates, the 1960s. Wasn’t that decade also progressive in many ways, yet reactionary in others — liberating for women in some respects, but nevertheless continuing to perpetuate objectification and misogyny? Progressive, alternative movements can reproduce the power structures of mainstream society; their broader aims can be laudable, but their internal politics still problematic.

I wonder if that’s the issue with Alan Moore – as captured so vividly in Century 1969, and suggested also by the insipid, inaccurate portrayal of the 21st century in the sequel, 2009 — he’s a man of the 1960s, in both its good and its bad aspects.

7th December, 2013

ADMIN STUFF: everything I’ve quoted in my emails so far is from that Bleeding Cool video, and faithfully transcribed. So I believe it is absolutely accurate.

FOR POSTING ON THE BEAT:

With regard to Pádraig’s suggestion about ‘circumstantial’ material that suggests Kevin O’Neill may have been more into the idea of the Golliwog than Moore, I think it raises a significant broader point.

Intellectually, I admire Pádraig’s argument and his marshalling of evidence. But I think to consider this on a purely intellectual level is a privilege of white people discussing issues of race. I don’t of course mean that Pam’s argument isn’t equally “intellectual”. What I mean is that when a privileged group discusses issues that don’t affect them directly, it’s can feel like an abstract mental exercise compared to wrestling with something bigger and more important, something inherent to lived experience.

The exchange about the Golliwog at the Prince Charles Cinema nudged me, certainly: it set me back, it surprised me and made me feel uncomfortable. But I suspect that if I was black, it would have pushed, punched or stabbed me in a more fundamental and deeper way.

As a white person, I have the privilege of detaching myself from discussions about race. I think if this was a discussion about an issue that affects me more directly and personally on a daily basis, I wouldn’t be drawing any distinctions between Moore and O’Neill on this. I would see that as a pointless conceit, a derailing.

The last thing I would want to do here is speak for Pam, and of course this is speculation itself on my part. I hope what I’ve said makes some sense to everyone.

I do also feel that ‘Galley Wag’ is a bit of a conceit. The creators don’t seem to use that term in interviews, and it seems like a way of trying to distance themselves from the racism of the Golliwog figure. You might as well create a dark, alien character and call it something that sounds very much like the n-word but spelled with a bunch of apostrophes in a Lovecraftian style, and pretend it’s something distinct from the vocabulary and culture of real-life, historical and present-day racism.

8th December, 2013

It’s been interesting to learn that some people simply had no idea about the racial connotations of the Golliwog. Pádraig has said something along these lines but he is far from the only one.  I grew up in the 1970s, in South East London, and I was well aware of the ‘Golly’ — that was, I think, the most frequently-used term — on jam jars and in Enid Blyton books.

I was also well aware that some kids in school used ‘golly’ — and ‘chocolate drop’, and in fact ‘jam jar’ — as a term for my black classmates, and that it hurt and confused them. I think for a while I must also have been confused, because after all, how could something be on a jam jar, which was part of the accepted adult world of shopping, and in Enid Blyton books, which our deputy head read us all in school, and still be a bad word? I do remember reading an Enid Blyton story which was otherwise, really really good, except that it had a bad Golliwog in it, and feeling a vague sense that the character was being picked on unfairly.

But it wasn’t until I was around seven years old, and tried to tell my Dad a racist joke I’d heard at school, that (as far as I remember) I first explicitly learned about racism. I can recall my Dad’s pained face as he listened to the joke. In between the question and the punchline, he told me ‘I don’t think I’m going to like this joke, but go ahead’, and afterwards he explained, as best he could, why it wasn’t funny or good to say.

I remember the moment vividly because I knew it wasn’t that I’d said anything deliberately wrong — not that I’d been intentionally bad; I was quite often intentionally bad, and that was different — but that I’d repeated something that genuinely pained and embarrassed him, something that was part of the bigger world beyond my back garden.

Within the next three years, the National Front were marching regularly through my area, leaving their stickers and logos on every lamppost, and we were sent home early from primary school with an explanation that, well, ‘some people don’t like black people.’ Another vivid and terrible memory: I had a black friend in that class, and he turned to me personally, with a genuinely fearful expression: ‘You like black people, don’t you?’

Have I said or done anything racist since? Yes. I’m very far from perfect in that respect. But I think my Dad really had the right idea when I was seven, even though it was clearly not an easy conversation for him to have. He wasn’t telling me, his seven year-old son, that I was a racist: he was telling me that I’d said a racist thing, and why it wasn’t a good thing to say.

I’ve said and done many bad things. I’ve published sentences in my own work which I now see as sexist and homophobic, and which I would change if I could. I’ve also used words casually, and been told that they were offensive, and recently, at least, I’ve tried to change my vocabulary accordingly. (I used to use ‘lame’ freely, for instance, and now don’t, because it was pointed out to me that it makes disability into an insult; I am trying to do the same with words like ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’). Some words, of course, change over time. I used to say ‘tranny’ in the 1990s. All the trans people I knew used ‘tranny’ in the 1990s. I don’t use it now, because it’s largely seen as derogatory. And so on.

The best analogy I’ve heard is that if someone points out you’ve said something racist (or sexist, or homophobic, and so forth) they’re not calling you a racist — it’s like they’re saying you have something dangling from your nose. So the natural response would be to thank them and wipe it off. They’re not saying you are made of snot. They just thought you’d like to know that something nasty was showing, because they assumed you’d want to get rid of it.

So I’m not against Alan Moore, or anyone else in this discussion. I don’t think Kevin O’Neill is a racist any more than I think Pádraig is a racist. I do think we can all say, write, draw and think, things that are offensive and wrong, and that one way to respond to that is to thank the people who call you out on it, and change the things you’re saying in future, because I’m sure I’m right in saying that none of us, and probably nobody we know and admire, actually wants to say racist things.

That’s the conclusion of my inadequate thoughts on the issue of race, for now. On the question of why I didn’t challenge it at the time, at the Prince Charles Cinema.

Firstly, a couple of very small points in Pádraig’s account. I didn’t mean, I think, to suggest that O’Neill alone was chuckling at the thought of a Golliwog. It’s obviously very hard to tell where laughter comes from on a recording. What I meant to suggest was that there’s a general ripple of — what? embarrassment, amusement, of entering risky territory, naughty crossing of taboos — in the room, when he says the word. The word gets an immediate response, and it’s hard to put my finger on it but I don’t think it would have got that response if the audience wasn’t predominantly white.

On Gebbie doing Zarate’s accent, I didn’t mean to suggest that this was culturally offensive in itself. Of course, people do impressions of their friends and it’s all in fun. It was more to provide context, without which the concluding remark about ‘you can talk about the Golliwog but you can’t do that voice’ wouldn’t have made any sense.

Who did I want to challenge it? My obvious answer, if I had to pick an individual, would be Lance Parkin. You give the reason, which is very fair, that he was on stage with someone he’d been writing about for three years, and had only just met, and wasn’t ‘going to go down that road at that event.’

I absolutely understand that. I really can’t say for certain that I would have done any differently, if I were in his place at the time. One of the reasons is that, as I said in my first account of the situation, it was hard (for a white person, or for this white person anyway) to pinpoint what exactly was ‘wrong’ or offensive about the exchange. I’ve indicated that for me, it was the sense of something problematic being brought up, and just passed on with chuckles and friendly humour, by people whom the word doesn’t actually affect. It felt as if it was being tacitly judged OK, even amusing, for a white person to say Golliwog on stage, and defend the figure as a ‘strong black character’, without any comeback.

Would I, if I were in Lance Parkin’s seat at the time, have said ‘well, come on now Kevin, let’s go back to something you just raised… a strong black character? Who are you to make that claim about a figure many people feel is simply, and still, a racist caricature?’

I can only say possibly. I might have done. I’m no great role model and I’m as fallible as anyone. But I might have done. Maybe he was weighing up in his head what he could possibly say, and then the conversation moved on too far, and the moment was lost. I am really not going to judge him for that.

Why didn’t I challenge it in the audience Q&A? Well, as I said, I did have my hand straight up, shot up at the first possible opportunity, for the first three question slots. I actually thought I had a pretty good chance of being picked, because Lance had told me outside he admired my Batman work, and I thought it might give me an advantage! But for whatever reason, it didn’t. He picked people far closer to the stage, and I assumed it was because he couldn’t see the back rows so well.

As noted, I was preparing another question, about Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke. I wanted to ask that one for selfish reasons really, because I’m personally very interested in the story and in Batgirl, and because I’m writing a chapter for a book about it early next year, so I wanted to know what Moore would say.

So, why we don’t do things involves a whole matrix of reasons, which I could quite easily list here. I assumed I wasn’t being seen after the first three questions. I was prioritising something that I was more personally and academically invested in. Those are the first two.

As I mentioned, I also started to feel that it wasn’t the time and the place for any kind of contentious questions. You’re right, no harm would have come to me if I’d asked a difficult question. It’s interesting that you say I wouldn’t have been lynched, because well, precisely — there are other situations  where black people have faced violent consequences for speaking up and challenging white culture, and I will never be in that situation. The worst that would have happened to me is a bad-tempered response and the crowd thinking I was being rude to Alan at a celebration of his work.

But yes, on a trivial level, I think we do tend to try to avoid being rude. It’s pathetic and regrettable perhaps but we are often governed by social norms and conventions, and sometimes they do override what would be the ‘right’ ethical response. As we’ve agreed, there was a ‘good vibe’. Alan Moore was in a good mood. Everyone was enjoying themselves, or so it seemed. There really is, I think, a lot of pressure not to ‘ruin’ things for everyone by being ‘difficult’. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or an excuse for me, but it factors heavily into the matrix of reasons why I didn’t make more effort to ask a question about Barbara Gordon, let alone the Golliwog.

Could I have challenged the Golliwog exchange during the Q&A? I genuinely don’t know if I was being seen at the back. I could have stood up and raised my voice, or disrupted the people around me by moving closer to the front and waving my hand where Lance would see it.

I could feasibly have done those things during the initial discussion — interrupted the conversation on stage and shouted that this wasn’t acceptable.

Obviously, I didn’t. Would I do that if the whole situation replayed again? I would be curious to see how it went down, if I’d been sitting the front row and had made that choice, either during the discussion or in the Q&A. Thinking it through, I can’t honestly imagine the more disruptive move would have got me very far. Lance was, as you noted yourself, being suitably pleasant and hospitable to the special guests. I would be surprised if he’d allowed someone to heckle Kevin O’Neill and let it open up a discussion of any kind, rather than saying ‘let’s wait for the Q&A.’

During the Q&A, O’Neill wasn’t on stage, so I would have been partially addressing someone in the audience: but yes, it could have got an interesting response from Moore, and yes, perhaps I should have tried harder to ask that question.

But I don’t think it really dilutes my criticism. There are a myriad of reasons why we don’t do things at the time, and I’ve tried to outline some of them. I accept that I could have done more, certainly. But what I did was voice my disquiet to 1600 people on Twitter after leaving the theatre, in comments that were retweeted many times and must have reached many thousands of people. I think that’s still a valid way of expressing concerns. I think it was also valid that I expressed the same concerns on the Alan Moore Facebook Group — I was hardly doing it behind anyone’s back, by speaking on social media. And we’re discussing it now. It could be said that by taking the more weary and perhaps more cowardly route of not confronting the problem at the time, the debate has reached a broader and more useful platform.

— AFTER THIS I THINK IT WOULD BE GOOD FOR ME TO NOT REPLY FURTHER ON THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE! –

10th December 2013

Hi everyone

Sorry it’s come to this. I haven’t intervened in the previous more heated discussion because I didn’t feel my contribution would help in any way.

Padraig, I am sorry you are leaving the roundtable though I can see where you are coming from.

For my part, I would ask everyone to ensure that my contributions to the discussion so far are not circulated elsewhere or passed to anyone outside this group of four people, because I see them as unfinished. They were written as part of dialogue and I plan to go over my own sections once more before publication.

So, for the record I’d like to have none of my words circulated further anywhere before I’ve looked them over again and approved them. I’d also prefer they weren’t paraphrased elsewhere. They are still a work in progress.

It was always going to be a debate but again, I am sorry the debate angered and hurt people. Padraig and everyone else, thank you for taking part.

Best,
Will

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Brooker is Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University, London. His PhD at Cardiff University earned him the unofficial title ‘Dr Batman’, and the subsequent book Batman Unmasked led him to international conferences, a TED talk and numerous media appearances, including a TV interview alongside Adam West. His most recent monograph is Hunting the Dark Knight, and he is currently editor of Cinema Journal.

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69 Comments

  1. Mark Cutter says:

    A few points worth reflecting on
    ——————————————

    (1) “There is an inconsistency to this account somewhere, though, as neither my tweets about An Evening With Alan Moore nor my Twitter profile say anything about being a ‘Batman scholar’” — Your profile doesn’t, but just to point out on a Sep 3 tweet you say “new book FAN PHENOMENA, BATMAN: ‘Featuring ten essays by Batman experts, as well as a foreword from leading Bamtan scholar Will Brooker’” so it’s in the ether.

    (2)”The comments are also funny to me because this construction of the scholar reads like a Bizarro version of myself.” — You seem to be happy to be known as “Dr. Batman” — http://mysocalledsecretidentity.com/creators

    (3) “It wasn’t anything specific that any individual said, but the fact that the (to me, immediately controversial) concept of white people reclaiming the Golliwog as a ‘powerful black character’ was passed over so blithely, without any challenge” — This issue has been discussed to death since 2008, really, you clearly aren’t keeping up with the man’s interviews and the online debate, maybe everyone else in the room is just a bit more clued in than you?

    (4) “but the subtle implication seemed to be that it was OK to talk, and maybe joke, and chuckle a little, about Golliwogs, as long as those people weren’t in the room.” — That’s your impression, and I know you are entitled to it, but it’s a flithy, nasty impression that is accusing EVERYONE in the room of being a closet racist, if this is your idea of scholarship, God help us.

    (5) ” if we were talking about someone whose work I didn’t admire greatly and on a long-term basis, and who comes across as a nasty, selfish and bitter piece of work,” — You really should have redacted this bit.

    (6) “it was a little more challenging than the ones he was getting…in terms of cultural privilege, I score very highly” — wow, getting over yourself much?

    (7) ” in a room predominantly full (and this is an assumption but a fair one, I think) of white, cissexual, heterosexual men.” — I don’t think so, how do you know Alan Moore’s audiences aren’t full of people who feel alienated by mainstream society, and the room might have been full of non-cissexual non-heterosexual for all you know. How in any way is this a fair assumption? You have no idea what types of people love Alan Moore’s work.

    (8) “This was entirely in keeping with the scenes of sexualised violence in many of his comics from the last twenty-five years. Rather than an exception, it seemed to confirm a trend.” — Which as he explains is very common in real life and something he has experience with.

    (9) ” But I suspect that if I was black, it would have pushed, punched or stabbed me in a more fundamental and deeper way.” — But you have no real idea, as you said in terms of cultural privilege, you score very highly.

    (10) “As a white person, I have the privilege of detaching myself from discussions about race.” — Why, aren’t you part of a race?

    (11) ” I don’t think Kevin O’Neill is a racist any more than I think Pádraig is a racist” — Were you accusing Pádraig of something?

    • Will Brooker says:

      ——————————————

      (1) “There is an inconsistency to this account somewhere, though, as neither my tweets about An Evening With Alan Moore nor my Twitter profile say anything about being a ‘Batman scholar’” — Your profile doesn’t, but just to point out on a Sep 3 tweet you say “new book FAN PHENOMENA, BATMAN: ‘Featuring ten essays by Batman experts, as well as a foreword from leading Batman scholar Will Brooker’” so it’s in the ether.

      It’s in the ether, but do you really think Alan Moore would have gone back to a tweet even I’d forgotten, from Sept 3rd, and be getting ‘Batman scholar’ from that? It is possible someone else was thinking of that tweet, but this tends to reinforce my impression that someone else was feeding him selective information.

      (2)”The comments are also funny to me because this construction of the scholar reads like a Bizarro version of myself.” — You seem to be happy to be known as “Dr. Batman” — http://mysocalledsecretidentity.com/creators

      Sure, I think that is a funny and flattering title, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance in my mind to the caricature that Moore was apparently constructing of me in the interview.

      (3) “It wasn’t anything specific that any individual said, but the fact that the (to me, immediately controversial) concept of white people reclaiming the Golliwog as a ‘powerful black character’ was passed over so blithely, without any challenge” — This issue has been discussed to death since 2008, really, you clearly aren’t keeping up with the man’s interviews and the online debate, maybe everyone else in the room is just a bit more clued in than you?

      I’ve seen people, including Moore, claim that nobody complained about the Golliwog at the time, and are bringing it up now. It can’t be the case that both people didn’t make a fuss then, so shouldn’t do it now, *and* that the debate has been thoroughly investigated and done to death. I don’t think a debate around a racist stereotype has a time limit. Perhaps you think the issue was settled and over with, and something of the past. I don’t. I doubt Pam Noles does either.

      (4) “but the subtle implication seemed to be that it was OK to talk, and maybe joke, and chuckle a little, about Golliwogs, as long as those people weren’t in the room.” — That’s your impression, and I know you are entitled to it, but it’s a flithy, nasty impression that is accusing EVERYONE in the room of being a closet racist, if this is your idea of scholarship, God help us.

      Well, this wasn’t an example of scholarship exactly. It was a fairly informal email discussion, not what I would really call ‘my idea of scholarship.’ I don’t think the comment you quote implies that I thought everyone in the room was a closet racist, and I feel you’re exaggerating here.

      (5) ” if we were talking about someone whose work I didn’t admire greatly and on a long-term basis, and who comes across as a nasty, selfish and bitter piece of work,” — You really should have redacted this bit.

      I think you may have misread it, although it’s possible I was simply not clear. Why do you think it should be redacted? I was saying that Alan Moore is *not* someone who comes across as a ‘nasty, selfish and bitter piece of work’, but someone I admire on a long term basis. The point being made was that if Moore was someone who came across as bitter and nasty, it would be easier to criticise him. I was commenting on how ‘nice’ he came across in his earlier interview with Laura.

      (6) “it was a little more challenging than the ones he was getting…in terms of cultural privilege, I score very highly” — wow, getting over yourself much?

      I think you may have misunderstood this. To recognise your own social privilege is not a form of vanity. It’s an acknowledgement that some people have an easier time of it in a white patriarchy. Like white men.

      (7) ” in a room predominantly full (and this is an assumption but a fair one, I think) of white, cissexual, heterosexual men.” — I don’t think so, how do you know Alan Moore’s audiences aren’t full of people who feel alienated by mainstream society, and the room might have been full of non-cissexual non-heterosexual for all you know. How in any way is this a fair assumption? You have no idea what types of people love Alan Moore’s work.

      I suppose you’re right that the room could have been full of bi and gay trans or non-gender conforming men.

      (8) “This was entirely in keeping with the scenes of sexualised violence in many of his comics from the last twenty-five years. Rather than an exception, it seemed to confirm a trend.” — Which as he explains is very common in real life and something he has experience with.

      He does say something along those lines, but I don’t agree with everything, or even most of, what Alan Moore says in those responses. I don’t feel his arguments are especially strong.

      (9) ” But I suspect that if I was black, it would have pushed, punched or stabbed me in a more fundamental and deeper way.” — But you have no real idea, as you said in terms of cultural privilege, you score very highly.

      I suppose that’s why I said ‘I suspect’ rather than ‘I know’.

      (10) “As a white person, I have the privilege of detaching myself from discussions about race.” — Why, aren’t you part of a race?

      I think discussions about race play differently for white people and that they have the privilege of being more detached and objective, because they don’t experience racism.

      (11) ” I don’t think Kevin O’Neill is a racist any more than I think Pádraig is a racist” — Were you accusing Pádraig of something?

      Did I seem to be? Look at the emails. I don’t see why you would have to invent something that isn’t there.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        (1). “It’s in the ether, but do you really think Alan Moore would have gone back to a tweet even I’d forgotten, from Sept 3rd, and be getting ‘Batman scholar’ from that? It is possible someone else was thinking of that tweet, but this tends to reinforce my impression that someone else was feeding him selective information.”

        I’m sure we could write 10 dissertations speculating on what is and isn’t possible Alan Moore did and didn’t do, but it is possible someone printed out a list of your tweets, and having seen the Sept 3 tweet where you self-identify, Alan Moore refers to you as such.

        (2). “Sure, I think that is a funny and flattering title, but it doesn’t bear much resemblance in my mind to the caricature that Moore was apparently constructing of me in the interview.”

        My point is that this is the significant complexity of constructed cyberidentities, let me put it a different way have you ever spoken to someone on the phone for a few months before you met them, and then when you meet them think “Gosh, that not what I thought they were like at all”, it’s difficult for anyone to know what you are projecting into your cyberidentity, particular when you have added these anchors to your identity such as “Dr. Batman”, but we know for certain that people online are often markedly distinct from their real identities, and don’t realise it. Clearly your tweets about the event came from a place of anger, you know your personal context for that you, and you know that you are generally a nice person, but for someone who only knows you from some angry tweets and other elements of your constructed cyberidentity, they aren’t constructing a caricature, that’s all they know of you.

        (3). “I’ve seen people, including Moore, claim that nobody complained about the Golliwog at the time, and are bringing it up now. It can’t be the case that both people didn’t make a fuss then, so shouldn’t do it now, *and* that the debate has been thoroughly investigated and done to death. I don’t think a debate around a racist stereotype has a time limit. Perhaps you think the issue was settled and over with, and something of the past. I don’t. I doubt Pam Noles does either.”

        I agree with you 100%, I have no problem with the debate, per se, it’s just the sensationalism of the issues by some people, including yourself, which aren’t really contributing to a consensus or a rather debate, it is rather regrettably exacerbating the divide on something that could be a really significant discussion, and I feel your voice would be one that could contribute importantly to a debate featuring all parties. Also many of the comments I’ve seen on various discussions as so jejune it’s not worth getting into.

        (4). “Well, this wasn’t an example of scholarship exactly. It was a fairly informal email discussion, not what I would really call ‘my idea of scholarship.’ I don’t think the comment you quote implies that I thought everyone in the room was a closet racist, and I feel you’re exaggerating here.”

        You say ” in the room” so I interpreted it to mean “in the room”. Maybe you can spell it out a bit more so, are implicating everyone on the stage (including the moderator)?

        (5). “I think you may have misread it, although it’s possible I was simply not clear. Why do you think it should be redacted? I was saying that Alan Moore is *not* someone who comes across as a ‘nasty, selfish and bitter piece of work’, but someone I admire on a long term basis. The point being made was that if Moore was someone who came across as bitter and nasty, it would be easier to criticise him. I was commenting on how ‘nice’ he came across in his earlier interview with Laura.”

        Sorry I totally misread that, apologies.

        (6). “I think you may have misunderstood this. To recognise your own social privilege is not a form of vanity. It’s an acknowledgement that some people have an easier time of it in a white patriarchy. Like white men.”

        I was attempting a juxtaposition of your social privilege with the implication in the earlier part of the quote, that the rest of the audience were either too dumb or too fannish (or both is the vibe I get from reading it) to ask Moore a hard-ish question, whereas it would have been a snap for you. It comes around as a bit unfortunate, I think.

        (7). ”I suppose you’re right that the room could have been full of bi and gay trans or non-gender conforming men.”

        I don’t know if you have had any followup on this, but from two sources I have been informed that (1) there were women at the event (2) Many gay couples self-identified while getting books signed to Moore (3) There was at least two trans couples there who again self-identified while getting books signed to Moore.

        (8). “He does say something along those lines, but I don’t agree with everything, or even most of, what Alan Moore says in those responses. I don’t feel his arguments are especially strong.”

        You are entitled to you opinion in terms of the relative strength of his arguments, if you want to mention the weakness of them I’m happy to discuss it, but if you are making comments like this one in the future (at least academically) it’s only fair if you present the opposing view also.

        (9) ” I suppose that’s why I said ‘I suspect’ rather than ‘I know’.”

        Agreed

        (10) “I think discussions about race play differently for white people and that they have the privilege of being more detached and objective, because they don’t experience racism.”

        I can only hope you mean “English” and not “white” because if you think there are no white people who experience racism you are obviously wrong. I agree that the race issues play differently, you clearly aren’t thinking of Jewish people here, but I have a few Irish friends, and they do not feel that they the privilege of being more detached and objective about the racism issue, and after a few pints they’ll let you know all about it…I don’t really think I have to elaborate here.

        (11) ” Did I seem to be? Look at the emails. I don’t see why you would have to invent something that isn’t there.”

        Yes, in that statement, you absolutely seems to be saying something about Pádraig, otherwise of all the people in the world you could have chosen to be an exemplar of non-racist (Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, etc.) why choose him? Why not say “I don’t think Kevin O’Neill is a racist any more than I think Albert Schweitzer was a racist” Maybe I’m misreading this, apologies if it seemed like I was making something up, it was a genuine concern.

      • Mark wrote that this “could be a really significant discussion, and I feel your voice would be one that could contribute importantly to a debate featuring all parties.”

        This made me smile. It is perhaps the most hopeful thing to come out of this!

  2. I don’t have anything brilliant to add here besides saying that this is a wonderfully helpful addition to this discussion. It’s detailed, candid, thoughtful, measured, and seems (at least to me) non-inflammatory. Thanks so much for writing it out.

    • For the sake of clarification: my comment above is in reference to Will’s article.

      • Will Brooker says:

        Not sure if I’m working out the ‘reply’ structure here correctly, but this is a response to Mark.

        “(1). I’m sure we could write 10 dissertations speculating on what is and isn’t possible Alan Moore did and didn’t do, but it is possible someone printed out a list of your tweets, and having seen the Sept 3 tweet where you self-identify, Alan Moore refers to you as such.”

        It is possible. I can’t deny that.

        “(2) My point is that this is the significant complexity of constructed cyberidentities, let me put it a different way have you ever spoken to someone on the phone for a few months before you met them, and then when you meet them think “Gosh, that not what I thought they were like at all”, it’s difficult for anyone to know what you are projecting into your cyberidentity, particular when you have added these anchors to your identity such as “Dr. Batman”, but we know for certain that people online are often markedly distinct from their real identities, and don’t realise it. Clearly your tweets about the event came from a place of anger, you know your personal context for that you, and you know that you are generally a nice person, but for someone who only knows you from some angry tweets and other elements of your constructed cyberidentity, they aren’t constructing a caricature, that’s all they know of you.”

        This is true, but I think if Moore had actually looked at or been shown the texts that make up that ‘cyberidentity’ (Dr Batman) he wouldn’t have characterised me as he did in the interview.

        There is a lot to mock about the idea of ‘Dr Batman’. Someone who wrote a PhD on Batman, calls himself ‘Dr Batman’ (announced that he was now Professor Batman!), writes books about Batman… how ludicrous is that, to someone who wants to ridicule it? What has the university system come to?

        But Moore didn’t take that approach. He assumed I was some sort of Batman obsessive who was offended by his recent comments about superhero comics and was latching onto a discourse about misogyny and racism because I was hurt that Moore said Batman was rubbish.

        I genuinely don’t think he was attacking the ‘cyberidentity’ you refer to. There is a lot of much richer, more accurate and more original stuff about me to build a strawman from, but he was creating something I barely recognised.

        (3). “I agree with you 100%, I have no problem with the debate, per se, it’s just the sensationalism of the issues by some people, including yourself, which aren’t really contributing to a consensus or a rather debate, it is rather regrettably exacerbating the divide on something that could be a really significant discussion, and I feel your voice would be one that could contribute importantly to a debate featuring all parties. Also many of the comments I’ve seen on various discussions as so jejune it’s not worth getting into.”

        That’s a fair comment. But we tried to have an even-handed, detailed discussion about it, and tempers flared within a few days, with someone dropping out and taking what now seems quite drastic action. It seems difficult to discuss racial stereotypes without people believing they (or someone else) are being accused of racism, or ‘being a racist’. Of course, it’s an important subject, and I’d welcome a nuanced debate about it, but it’s proven very difficult.

        (4).”You say ” in the room” so I interpreted it to mean “in the room”. Maybe you can spell it out a bit more so, are implicating everyone on the stage (including the moderator)?”

        I said ‘“but the subtle implication seemed to be that it was OK to talk, and maybe joke, and chuckle a little, about Golliwogs, as long as those people weren’t in the room.” I don’t think I am saying everyone in the cinema was racist. What I am trying to say there is that I got the (vague) feeling from the discussion that it was OK to say certain things, as long as people who might be offended were not there (as Zarate was there).
        The distinction is between doing a comedy ‘foreign’ accent when the person you’re mocking is in the front row, and talking about Golliwogs when, apparently, there is nobody there to be directly offended by the mention.

        (6). “I was attempting a juxtaposition of your social privilege with the implication in the earlier part of the quote, that the rest of the audience were either too dumb or too fannish (or both is the vibe I get from reading it) to ask Moore a hard-ish question, whereas it would have been a snap for you. It comes around as a bit unfortunate, I think.”

        Well, that’s possible. It’s more than possible that some of the things I wrote have an unfortunate implication. I didn’t even proofread them — they were written as emails to a small group and I was trying to capture my impressions of an evening which was then a week ago, and express feelings which seemed complex and hard to grapple with, so they’re not especially rigorous.

        I do think the questions asked were pretty fannish, yes, but not stupid.

        (7). “I don’t know if you have had any followup on this, but from two sources I have been informed that (1) there were women at the event (2) Many gay couples self-identified while getting books signed to Moore (3) There was at least two trans couples there who again self-identified while getting books signed to Moore.”

        Well… ‘sources’. There are sources I could link you to that claim Laura Sneddon and I orchestrated a ‘planned flounce’ to disrupt Moore’s birthday event WITH HIS WIFE. Seriously, I have just read those arguments on CBR.

        The published source that is Padraig’s introduction to his interview with Moore does not seem entirely accurate or complete to me. The published source that is Moore’s replies is not entirely accurate in many ways.

        If it’s true that many people went up to Moore during the book signing and said something like ‘could you make it out to Tony, please… I’m gay by the way’ then that’s good.
        Sorry to sound flippant but I am not sure how to imagine all these people coming up to him and self-identifying as gay or trans.

        If the bottom line is that there were a number of gay or trans people at the event, good. I think I said the audience was predominantly cis and heterosexual. That could still be statistically true. To be honest, I don’t think we will know for sure and I don’t think it matters a lot. If it comes to it, I’m happy to admit I was wrong and that the room was not predominately straight or cissexual.

        (8). “You are entitled to you opinion in terms of the relative strength of his arguments, if you want to mention the weakness of them I’m happy to discuss it, but if you are making comments like this one in the future (at least academically) it’s only fair if you present the opposing view also.”

        I think the opposing view has been adequately presented elsewhere in this case.

        (9) “I can only hope you mean “English” and not “white” because if you think there are no white people who experience racism you are obviously wrong. I agree that the race issues play differently, you clearly aren’t thinking of Jewish people here, but I have a few Irish friends, and they do not feel that they the privilege of being more detached and objective about the racism issue, and after a few pints they’ll let you know all about it…I don’t really think I have to elaborate here.”

        These are larger debates. I have certainly seen and heard black people saying that for white Irish people to claim experience of racism is false and misleading. I expect it’s most fair to say there are degrees of such experience of prejudice.

        (11) ”Yes, in that statement, you absolutely seems to be saying something about Pádraig, otherwise of all the people in the world you could have chosen to be an exemplar of non-racist (Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, etc.) why choose him? Why not say “I don’t think Kevin O’Neill is a racist any more than I think Albert Schweitzer was a racist” Maybe I’m misreading this, apologies if it seemed like I was making something up, it was a genuine concern.”

        As you know, I’ve not included the other emails that surrounded mine, but I believe I was saying ‘I am not saying Alan Moore is racist any more than I’m saying Padraig is racist’ to point out how far I am from calling Moore a racist — by comparing it to something ludicrous which obviously isn’t true.

        It was probably because I was replying directly to Padraig, and he was probably offering a defence of Moore and O’Neill.

      • Will wrote: “we tried to have an even-handed, detailed discussion about it, and tempers flared within a few days, with someone dropping out and taking what now seems quite drastic action. It seems difficult to discuss racial stereotypes without people believing they (or someone else) are being accused of racism, or ‘being a racist’. Of course, it’s an important subject, and I’d welcome a nuanced debate about it, but it’s proven very difficult.”

        I think that’s one reason why I tend towards the cautious “this is racially problematic” approach, which I’ve generally found in literary studies. There’s something about being called a racist, or inferring the same (which is more frequent), that really sets people off. And I think this was visible in Alan Moore’s interview too, which could read as an incensed defense that he was being called a racist or a sexist. But then, I’m also aware that this kind of polite approach is convenient for me, as a white guy.

        Of course, the flip side is that it’s also incumbent on us to try not to hear “so I’m a racist?” when what’s really being said is “there’s an issue here with your language or this depiction of yours.” A lot of times, that’s what I don’t get about some of the popular backlash, which is always about someone being called a racist, or their beloved comics being labelled sexist — when what’s actually being said (like about the New 52) is mostly pretty cautious and responsible. There’s got to be some room carved out to have these discussions.

  3. Mark Cutter says:

    On re-reading your article I notice that you have removed your racist joke “why are black people black?” and looking on twitter it is clear why. I find it remarkable that someone with such incredible acuity about race according to yourself, you were the only one in the crowd whose spidey-sense tingled regarding the Golliwog remarks, that at the same time you could not see that typing in a racist joke, irrespective of the context, irrespective of the age your were at the time, etc. might still be problematic.

    I can’t believe that as you were typing it in you didn’t think “Gosh, if my university hears that I told a racist joke online (even within this context) I might get suspended pending an investigation”. And in fact I think the only way to explain this whole thing is via a Freudian reading. Clearly you felt you had to recount the joke because it was the first time you struck a blow in terms of your independence from your father, and the fact the racist element of the story is secondary to the Freudian elements, it merely provided the wedge. What a perfect symmetry it is that you tell us how impactful Alan Moore was in your formative years, and no doubt on your choice of profession, an honest academic reading of this is that Alan Moore became a father-figure to you also, and you are striking a blow of independence from him in the same way using racism as the wedge.

    It is clear that at best based on your inclusion and removal of this joke … your views on race are problematic.

    • I’m glad this joke was brought to Will’s attention and to Sequart’s. Speaking only for myself, I decided that the joke wasn’t necessary to recount — it had a context, about how Will learned to be less racist and to identify racism. But it was not necessary, and it could be hurtful, so after examining the issue I supported removing it, and it was gone within an hour or so after it was brought to my attention (a decision which Will agreed with wholeheartedly).

      I come from a university background, and I can assure you that no university with which I’m familiar would suspend someone or investigate someone over a joke (unless, perhaps, it was directly targeted at students), especially in the context of recounting past experiences with racism and learning to be more racially sensitive. For a university to do so would, in fact, damage that university’s reputation terribly, and I would personally not associate with any university that would do so. It would actually be profoundly unethical for a university to do.

      I’m an American. Our notion of free speech allows the KKK to continue its racist nonsense — as long as they’re not endorsing violence. That is protected speech. It is also disgusting and racist, which I hope anyone I know would not associate with. Of course, its continued freedom ensures that everyone else’s unpopular opinions are also protected.

      There is a categorical difference between this kind of speech and speech that does endorse violence — or, in an academic context, that plagiarizes or is factually incorrect.

      The first category of speech is ugly but not illegal. It deserves to be called out. And one hopes that people will act accordingly — and, for example, determine that a racist joke (even repeated in a context, such as “racist stuff I encountered growing up”) isn’t necessary and in good taste ought to be taken out (as has happened here). This is behaving in a sensitive way.

      This is entirely different from issues such as plagiarism, or harassment, or other breaches of professional ethics which would be grounds to initiate a professional investigation. This is a matter of professional ethics.

      We can think of these two categories as “what’s sensitive or in good taste” and “what’s against the rules.” It’s important to be sensitive, and there are certainly plenty of breaches of sensitivity that would cause me to disassociate from someone. But it’s a different category — and must be.

      That’s my stance. I know we’re living in an era of “trigger warnings” and “free speech zones.” And I should add that, of course, a publisher or employer has a right to terminate someone for insensitive speech — you have a right to say it, but not to remaining on you cable channel / keep writing Superman / etc. after you do. But I stick by the difference between these two categories.

      (I am aware of the fact that certain other nations have different conceptions; France and Germany, for example, prohibit expressions of Nazism, even in fiction, and France has a pretty aggressive law prohibiting language that might spread hate. Those laws are anti-intellectual, in my opinion, as well as anti-art, although I understand the good intentions behind them and the historical context. In any case, I am an American, and I’ll continue to operate here without taking into account these exceptions — which are exceptions to more or less the same division between insensitive vs. factually incorrect or even illegal speech.)

      Keeping these two categories of speech separate is essential for intellectual freedom. Because lots of people might find something offensive, and the entire point of free speech is to protect offensive speech. In short, when someone says that something’s offensive or hurtful, they are not alleging an inaccuracy, or a breach of professional ethics. Of course, we expect authors and publishers to address these matters, and to make determinations as to whether something is needlessly hurtful, or whether what’s hurtful is intrinsic to a legitimate argument. In the former case, we expect people to do their best to remove what’s needlessly hurtful, as has happened here. In the latter case, we expect an author or a publisher to stand by their argument, and failure to do so is actually a case of intellectual dishonesty.

      For example, someone might include a racist cartoon when discussing it in historical context. Someone might be offended by its inclusion. But if it is important to illustrate the argument, it indeed ought to be included, and failure to do so would be an act of intellectual cowardice.

      Similarly, a study of single mothers might yield conclusions which single mothers liked but other conclusions which they didn’t, or which some even found offensive. If those conclusions are expressed in a needlessly offensive way, that’s something we’d want to be fixed. But the conclusions themselves, regardless of what someone feels about them, are essential to the piece.

      What I’m trying to illustrate here is that pointing out that something is hurtful is of an entirely different category from pointing out that it is inaccurate, or a breach of professional ethics. And it’s important that we don’t confuse these two categories.

      Of course, people have the freedom to criticize something as hurtful, or to disagree with the determination as to whether it’s important to a piece, or with its inclusion in the first place. In this case, my own belief was that this joke, although a part of the original email and thus a sort of “historical document,” was not necessary, and the joke was removed. This is precisely how this process should work, in my opinion. You’re free to criticize why it was there at all, even as part of a sort of “historical document” and in a context in which it was cited as the author’s first experience with racism, which he was plainly condemning.

      I believe you are wrong, however, to blur the line between these two categories (by suggesting university investigation), or to imply that no racist joke should ever be quoted no matter the context, or to imply that “hurtful” is the standard which, by itself, ought to determine whether something should be removed or published in the first place.

      Incidentally, this is why “do you think this is OK?” is, in my opinion, manipulative language. Is it OK to include a racist caricature, for example, as part of a discussion of the same? Yes, of course. But this doesn’t mean that caricature isn’t racist. It is, however, OK to include. In fact, it must be included in some contexts. But it would be very easy for someone to ask, “why does this author / publisher think racist cartoons are OK?” In this case, it so happened that this joke was not necessary, and responsible action was taken. But the point can’t be that there’s no context in which this is “OK,” and framing it that way is troubling. (Not accusing you of doing this; just further illustrating my little point.)

      I don’t ask that you stop criticizing; I personally don’t like the tone here, but I think you’re within bounds. I just felt compelled to chime in, on this one little point.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        Thanks for removing the racist joke. I appreciate the long and well thought out answer you’ve given. I feel you are a wonderful representative of a good-thinking academic and this site is a credit to you.

        I guess because the author of this article includes the name of their university on their profile is why I mentioned the university stuff. I like what you are saying about American universities but I’m not sure if it stands up to real scrutiny, a university’s concern over not wanting to appear to be associated with racism, I believe, would far outweigh any considerations of academic freedom, particularly with non-academic managers and there are plenty of examples I can cite, for example, the cases of Mark Wattier at Kentucky’s Murray State University, Shannon Gibney at the Minneapolis Community, Technical College, William Penn at Michigan State University, Allen Zaruba at Towson University, etc.

        David Spondike was a High School teacher at Firestone High School whose case is not dissimilar to this one.

        Anyway as you said, freedom of speech is protected in the US, but that is not the case here in the UK, we do not guarantee freedom of speech, and have had any number incidents in the last few years concerning online incitement to hatred crimes, e.g. Reece Messer, where the police have become involved.

        I understand the context that the racist joke was told, we both agree it was an example from the category of needlessly hurtful, and I think it reflects very poorly on the author that he felt it was OK to include it in this posting, as I said before, there was no need to include it, it could have been referred to without recrudescencing it, the goal it seems was to show how far the author has moved on, but that desire superseded his concern for others. I think it also reflects a little poorly on you and Sequart that you didn’t moderate or at least review this article before it was published.

        I really get what you are saying re:racist caricatures, but my feeling is that we are on a very public forum here, anybody from any country, of any racial background, and of any age could read this. If you feel you need to show a racist caricature as part of a discussion, set up a private forum somewhere so that you know who has access to it, otherwise people get offended, and next thing you know Norwegian and Danish embassies get burned down. I know that was a very disproportionate response on behalf of a very small few, but I think we both agree this joke was needlessly offensive, and I think the author should apologize on this site.

      • Thanks for your comment.

        You’re right that some universities have gone too far on this. However, I would expect that (especially if a professor had tenure, and especially if the joke were in a context), the professor would win a pretty huge settlement. A lot of times, universities ditch someone who’s gotten bad press knowing they’ll have to pay him off.

        That said, even if a university did this and got away with it, it’s still wrong.

        The problem with a professor even belonging to the KKK — while disgusting — is not that he’s not allowed to do so. It’s that he’s likely to have some very dubious “scholarship,” if he would possibly belong to such a group. And usually, after a problem like this, university committees intending to get rid of the person will scour their writing looking for other problems — which will then be used as the official justification for the firing.

        Anyway, I get what you’re saying about U.K. law. I doubt that such a joke, in this context, could possibly be read as online incitement to a hate crime. (Seriously, a regime that would do that would be an invalid regime, in my book.)

        I agree there was no need to include it, as does Will. I’m confident that what happened here was that Will didn’t read over all the emails carefully enough before attaching them. I was personally the one to format this for publication — blame where blame’s due — and I was trying to get this out ASAP, which I told Will I’d do. I skimmed most of the emails, paying more attention to formatting. I didn’t read the joke before publication. And you’re right that this reflects a little poorly on me and Sequart. Fair point.

        Let me formally apologize. I should have read it, and I’m sorry it got through.

        Personally, I disagree about racist caricatures; they’re part of American history, certainly, and I don’t think they need to only be accessible on private forums. I personally believe the burning of embassies, in response to those cartoons, was the crime, not producing or publishing the cartoon. Personally, had I discussed those cartoon, I would hope I would have had the courage to reproduce them, so readers knew what we were talking about. (It was weird, reading those descriptions in newspapers, and not being able to picture the cartoon at all.) I believe this very passionately, not only on free speech grounds but also on intellectual grounds.

        Incidentally, there’s a statue of Mohammad on the Supreme Court building. I would be appalled if someone said, “cover that up, someone might be offended!” Nope, freedom doesn’t work that way.

        Freedom of speech means the freedom to offend. It means that even if you’re against pornography, you don’t get to stop others from having it. People are offended all the time. Absolutely nothing follows from someone being offended. It is not an argument. It does not impinge whatsoever on anyone else’s rights.

        Having said that, there’s no reason to needlessly offend. Hence my opinion about that racist joke.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        “The problem with a professor even belonging to the KKK — while disgusting — is not that he’s not allowed to do so. It’s that he’s likely to have some very dubious “scholarship,” if he would possibly belong to such a group.”

        100% agree with you on this, but as an entirely academic discussion, if this professor was teaching, let’s say, electrical engineering, where social commentary wasn’t necessarily a regular feature of their scholarship and they wrote a lot, but never expressed an KKK stuff in their writings, do you think their work would still be tainted by their KKK membership (personally, I kinda do). ??

      • I don’t know that a scientist’s work would be tainted by his KKK membership. But I strongly suspect whatever was wrong with him that spurred him to join the KKK would also wind up expressing itself in his work in some way…

    • Will Brooker says:

      Julian has addressed this very fully. You seem to be saying that both including the 1970s ‘joke’ and removing it reflect badly on me.

      I agree entirely that it didn’t need to be included, to make the point. That’s why, as soon as I was able, I mailed Julian to ask him to remove it. Because of timezone differences, he had already redacted it.

      I believe the quotation is clearly in context, as Julian has suggested, but I also agree that it doesn’t need to be repeated.

      I’ve said in the emails that I don’t think I’m anything close to infallible, especially when it comes to issues of race. I think every white person is implicated in racist systems and structures. I benefit from being white all the time, in a racist white society. So yes, I think there are problems, and I’m part of them.

    • Will Brooker says:

      I think the Freudian comments are silly and some of your other comments above are a misrepresentation or misreading of what I said, but you are right, to include the joke was problematic and unnecessary.

      If I think about it, the reason I included it in the email was that I was struck by the fact that I remembered it, word-for-word, and in fact remembered every painful detail of that conversation. What I was trying to convey, I think, was the way that exchange from 36 years ago stuck in my head so vividly. However, that wasn’t justification for including the joke. Whenever I say joke here, I wish I could put it in quotation marks, as it’s obviously horrible and not funny.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        Agreed on Freudian comments — utterly ridiculous, and coming from a bad place, apologies.

        I think it was amazingly brave of you to recount that incident around the joke and it shows real integrity, regrettably it was also wrong, but please don’t think my discussion of the joke and its removal prevents me from seeing the courage it took to discuss the matter. When I read your post the first time it didn’t even strike me that there was much of an issue with the joke, I remember that Cadbury’s ad also from my youth so it kinda passed me by, but on second reading of your post and I was rereading the bit about National Front stickers (and thinking “crikey, that’s scarey”), the removal of it seemed just too much of a strong contrast to the implication of that you alone were able to detect an undercurrent of racism in a room full of Alan Moore fans (and maybe dullards??) that I had to probe it a little, and I suppose to imply that your racism radar was a bit off, and it’s certainly led to a really good discussion with Julian, who I really believe is one of those people who would lay down their lives for Freedom of Speech.

      • Yeah, freedom of speech is one of those things that really gets me going.

        The odd thing is that I still don’t understand the Cadbury’s thing. I mean, I get that it’s racist and ugly. But I don’t know the ad. To me, it’s some gibberish that I know has to be an ugly racist joke, and I get the gist, but even the language is hard for me to decipher.

        I don’t mention this because I want it explained — I really, really don’t. I’m just pointing this out because it makes even discussing charged language or references even more difficult!

      • I love how you can apologize like this, Mark. It’s big of you.

    • Will Brooker says:

      Again, replying to Mark’s most recent comment here. I’m glad we can both step down and admit mistakes and foolish reactions.

      “I think it was amazingly brave of you to recount that incident around the joke and it shows real integrity, regrettably it was also wrong, but please don’t think my discussion of the joke and its removal prevents me from seeing the courage it took to discuss the matter. When I read your post the first time it didn’t even strike me that there was much of an issue with the joke, I remember that Cadbury’s ad also from my youth so it kinda passed me by, but on second reading of your post and I was rereading the bit about National Front stickers (and thinking “crikey, that’s scarey”), the removal of it seemed just too much of a strong contrast to the implication of that you alone were able to detect an undercurrent of racism in a room full of Alan Moore fans (and maybe dullards??) that I had to probe it a little, and I suppose to imply that your racism radar was a bit off, and it’s certainly led to a really good discussion with Julian, who I really believe is one of those people who would lay down their lives for Freedom of Speech.”

      I’m very happy to admit that my ‘racism radar’ is not perfect at all. I think I say more than once during the emails that I’m very happy to admit my fallibility. This whole business with the inclusion and the deletion of the joke is a great example of how people (like me) should continue to be checked and called out, and be told when they make mistakes.

  4. Mark Cutter says:

    How would you tweet this I wonder to keep the essential facts ?
    “A privileged white man thinks its OK to post a racist joke onto his white man buddy’s website to illustrate a point” ???
    “Two white men attempt to defend used of racist joke because of context, and everyone else is uncomfortable with it”???

    • Just below, you wrote that “any time anyone tells a racist joke in any context it represents a recrudescence of that joke, a promotion of that joke.”

      Of course there are contexts in which a racist joke may be quoted. An academic study of racist jokes, for example. Or in a transcript of a wiretap. Or in publishing someone’s letters. Recounting one’s experiences with racism, which was the context here, is a perfectly valid context.

      In this case, my own evaluation came down to two questions: (1) Was the joke necessary to illustrate the point? Was its usefulness outweighed by its offense? (2) Was it relevant that these emails were a sort of historical document, presented basically as-is, which if true argues that they shouldn’t be changed?

      My own conclusions were that (1) the joke’s usefulness was minimal; in fact, it was actually distracting from the point. And (2) while these emails are presented as a historical document, with minimal changes, they didn’t need to be presented perfectly as-is, and this joke was not relevant to these documents’ historical value.

      But yes, those were my questions. They are precisely the responsible questions I should have asked.

      I assure you that my sole question was not simply, “Is this a racist joke? Is this offensive?”

      To even suggest that would have been appropriate of me — or a sufficient question to ask — is incredibly offensive and contrary to the most basic rules of intellectualism. It is not okay.

      The joke was removed. Will and I were both sensitive to this, and acted quickly. But you go too far here.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        Agree with you completely on this: “I don’t need to reply to this, but to simplify this to “two white men attempt to defend used [sic] of racist joke because of context” is obviously appalling and anti-intellectual. Sorry, but that’s true.”

        If you are the fair-minded and sincere man I believe you to be, will you please agree with me that the tweet I was attempting to parody “Really wish an Evening with Alan Moore hadn’t involved four white people on stage defending the “golliwog” as a “strong black character”" was also appalling and anti-intellectual ???

      • Sorry, you’re right that this was in my reply, which I was editing as you were typing this response. But what you’re quoting was originally in there.

        I think I went into my comment to fix a typo and realized it worked better as a response to your quote below, rather than your suggested tweet here.

        I do think that suggested tweet is appalling, because I think it’s designed to mislead — to make it seem like what’s going on is two white guys defending a racist joke “because of context,” which sounds like it’s an afterthought. In fact, the context is everything, and it was part of my own hesitation in immediately taking it down. (I had to ask the two questions I reported in another comment.) So I think that tweet, while narrowly accurate, is designed to upset people and misrepresents the situation. I don’t like it for that reason.

        On that tweet you quote from Will Brooker, yeah, it’s wrong too. And actually on two counts — (1) it’s factually inaccurate, as Will himself has said (it wasn’t four white people). (2) Will’s said he tweeted it when he left and was mad, and that it was simplistic — not really an argument. Obviously, that tweet’s effect has been to upset people. I don’t know that this tweet is “appalling and anti-intellectual” because I don’t know what went on on that stage (I’ve read reports but I don’t know), whereas I know what’s going on in this piece. So I don’t want to say they’re the same. However, I will say I believe that tweet to be factually inaccurate (precisely as Will has said) and that its effect was to upset people, in part because it was a simplistic description (as Will’s also said).

        I didn’t get that your suggested tweet was a parody of this tweet from Will — totally passed me by. I tend to get parody, but I didn’t here. Sorry.

      • I should say that just because I’d defend, in some contexts, including a racist joke or caricature doesn’t mean I don’t care about someone who’s hurt, even if I believe (as I don’t in this case) that said material was… well, material to the argument. In fact, I care deeply, and I hate hurting people. Which is part of why I’ve been so upset over this interview, and my own role in its coverage.

        Also, even if it’s important to say something or include something that hurts someone, while I’m willing to defend it being said or included, I also think it’s fair to discuss this hurt, and that this discussion can lead to productive dialogue.

        I feel the need to say this. I’m passionate about the First Amendment and about academic freedom, and I tend to get fired up about it, and in the process I forget to say that of course these other things are true too. I regret if anyone thought otherwise.

      • If I went too far in “appalling and anti-intellectual,” I’m sorry. I felt like the suggested tweet was meant to start a fight, and I didn’t get that it was parody. Just wanted to say I’m sorry, because I may have gone too far there.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        I’m kinda disappointed in you that you removed a section of your reply, but it’s understandable, if you wish to remove my reply and this message also, please do.

      • If I’d seen your response, I wouldn’t have edited mine. I was actually doing so while you were responding, and I can’t get back to the original version. Sorry!

      • Mark Cutter says:

        I agree with you completely that there are contexts in which a racist joke may be quoted, but that doesn’t mean the quoting of the joke still doesn’t represent a recrudescence and promotion of that joke. Tell me more…

      • Mark Cutter says:

        Oh come on, I was just writing a post on what “false” means and looking at Popper’s views, and you cut the “false” sentence out of your reply. This is way too asymmetrical for my liking, I can’t edit my posts once they are published, my ideas are out there, but you have done it twice now. This isn’t equal at all.

      • Sorry! You’re right, and I wouldn’t edit anything while I knew someone was or had replied to it.

      • Go ahead any reply to what I said, in any revision, and I’m glad to reply to it.

      • I’m just super used to editing my own comments… I hit submit too fast a lot of times, then tweak. Bad habit, I’m sure.

        If you want a comment edited or deleted, I’m glad to do so. But again, I’m not editing anything now.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        That’s fine. Sorry I have to go now, but thanks for this.

      • Thanks for talking. Sorry about the mix-ups. I’m a compulsive editor, and I feel bad that I did so in comments while you were replying. I’m glad to correspond further.

    • Will Brooker says:

      If you said that, I think it would be misleading, but then as I’ve admitted, some of my initial tweets were misleading, so your parody has some validity.

      If you tweeted that, then went back and expanded far more on what you’d said, noting that your original tweets were not always accurate, that they were simplistic and rushed, then that would be comparable to what I’ve done here.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        Yes, you’re right, but if I had gone back and explained how my original tweet suggestions were inaccurate, it wouldn’t be much of a parody, I’d just be copying you exactly :-) Obviously it was a parody with purpose, the goal was to highlight the complexities of issues like racism, and the problems with the ambiguity of the English language in expressing that complexity particularly when using an abbreviated series of statements.

  5. Mark Cutter says:

    Nice justifications below, but any time anyone tells a racist joke in any context it represents a recrudescence of that joke, a promotion of that joke. There was no need to tell the joke, you could have said “When I was 7 I told a racist joke and my father said…”, but the fact that you thought it was OK to retell the joke is bewildering in an article accusing others of suspect racial art, you must have felt it was implicitly justified in some way.
    ==================================================
    Julian Darius ‏@JulianDarius
    @John_Sugden123 If you look at the context, @willbrooker is quoting the joke, which he _calls_ racist, as part of explaining how he…

    Julian Darius ‏@JulianDarius
    @John_Sugden123 …learned about racial sensitivity and how to accept criticism that something you’ve done is racist. @willbrooker
    ==================================================
    will brooker ‏@willbrooker
    @John_Sugden123 it was a “joke” I foolishly repeated at age 7, as the article says. But you are right it shouldn’t have been included.:
    ==================================================

    • Will Brooker says:

      There was no need to tell the joke, you could have said “When I was 7 I told a racist joke and my father said…”,

      That is what I’ve re-edited that paragraph to read (pretty much). I suppose I did think it was justified to include it, and I was wrong.

  6. Will Brooker says:

    You raise some good points, Mark. I agree with some but not all of them.

    You clearly read my tweets, so I’d be happy to talk to you about this further on twitter. I don’t really want to get into a debate in the comments here, I’m afraid.

  7. mad hunter says:

    Padraig O Mealoid is a friend of Alan Moore , who else could have leaked e=mails to Alan Moore? Who else has access to Moore?. Padraig O Mealoid got upset during the email roundtable and thought he was doing Moore a favor.

  8. pallas p says:

    As an aspiring indie cartoonist, is there a way I can have my comics ideologically vetted for correctness by Mr. Brooker’s 1000 or so twitter pen pales ahead of publication? I wouldn’t want @anotherangrywoman to say something mean about me! She sounds very reasonable.

    I’m of course ready to burn my books at a moments notice (as Mr. Brooker edited this post at the suggestion of his twitter friends that it contained ideological incorrectness) but what happens when two feminists disagree on an issue? I guess when all else fails, burn them?

    • Will Brooker says:

      Not sure if I would call Mark Cutter, above, my ‘twitter friend’. I edited the post at his suggestion, and at the suggestion of someone else on twitter, who may be a different person (who knows) but who isn’t a friend of mine either.

      I don’t think it’s a bad thing to listen to criticism, accept when you have made a mistake and change what you’ve written.

      • pallas p says:

        Hi Will that response is fair enough. I assumed there was a lot of peer pressure on twitter to conform to certain group expectations… as you yourself said twitter is generally not a place for nuanced arguments, but I admit I’m no expert on twitter debates and I take you at your word that changing this post was the result of an organic discussion between two or three people rather than some sort of peer pressure thing. I completely concede the point.

    • I think I get what you mean. I’ve experienced some of the extremes of political correctness, and I don’t tolerate that kind of censoring, “free speech zone” kind of stuff.

      But I don’t think what going on here is a kind of vetting, as you put it. I think it’s discussing these issues. And surely, there must be a place for that.

      No one’s burning Alan Moore in effigy. Or saying he’s a racist and a sexist who shouldn’t be read. Rather, what’s happening is some people, who seem perfectly fair-minded as far as I can tell, are saying that they were troubled by this particular event, by a few of Moore’s characters, and by some aspects of his plots. True, they’re issues of racial or gendered depiction, but the goal isn’t to purge Alan Moore from the canon or something. It’s to talk about this and try to understand what’s going on in these works. To get closer to the truth. That sounds pretty awesome to me.

      • pallas p says:

        Hi Julian,

        Yeah, I’m mainly reacting to certain tweets, hence what I said about twitter. I do think the discussion here in a longer venue has been more reasonable. It’s just when you do it in 144 characters it’s more likely to be not be very thoughtful.

        By the way, since the question of whether Moore regretted the Barbara Gordon scene in the Killing Joke was mentioned in the post above, he did say this in a Wizard interview:

        “I asked DC if they had any problems with me crippling Barbara Gordon–who was Batgirl at the time–and if I remember correctly, I spoke to Len Wein, who was our editor on the project, and he said ‘Hold on to the phone, I’m just going to walk down the hall and I’m going to ask [former DC Executive Editorial Director] Dick Giordano if it’s alright,’ and there was a brief period where I was put on hold and then, as I remember it, Len got back onto the phone and said ‘Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch.’ It was probably one of the areas where they should’ve reined me in, but they didn’t.””

        That could be read as suggesting he regrets the treatment of Barbara Gordon, but possibly not for the reasons Will may prefer… I can imagine him agreeing with Will or not agreeing with Will about that book. It’s open to interpretation.

      • Good quote, pallas p! I’ve read that before, but didn’t think of it. Besides shedding light on how Moore now might look back on Killing Joke, it’s a fascinating insight into DC in those days.

    • Will Brooker says:

      I’ve read that quote too, and quoted it myself! I don’t think it’s especially recent (I may be wrong) but I’d like to know what Moore would say right now about it.

      He does say, I think, in the ‘final interview’, that TKJ is one of the works he is least proud of.

      As noted, I am writing a chapter that involves discussion of TKJ, so I wanted to know for that reason.

  9. mad hunter says:

    I do not understand why A.M. feels the Golly is a “heroic” figure. In the original story(The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg) the Golly is described as ‘ a horrid sight!

    The blackest gnome’ and scares them. When they find him friendly, he is called a ‘jolly dog’. After the Golly convinces the dutch dolls to go on a walk,they blame the Golly when they fall down and throw snowballs at him. He throws snowballs back saying “Vengeance!” After that one doll is playing with his strange hair and later the Golly falls in a lake and gets soaked for comedic effect. TheGolly is wearing minstrel clothes as is the sambo that sings a tune. Read it for yourself. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16770/16770-h/16770-h.htm

  10. Brent Holmes says:

    Will Brooker, thank you for keeping this discussion reasoned and academic. Is there any forum, Sequart or otherwise where you, Pam Noles, Laura Sneddon and Pádraig Ó Méalóid might discuss your initial concerns? Participants could be excluded (or added) as they wished; civilized debate on words and pictures is certainly a hallmark of this site.

    • Will Brooker says:

      To be honest, I think there is a great deal of hurt and anger between the participants of the original roundtable. We tried to have a calm debate — most of us didn’t even know each other at the start, so we were cordial strangers, emailing each other in the weeks before Christmas, and the tone began very warmly.

      Within days, it broke down. What happened with the Moore interview has caused a lot of upset, and I really wouldn’t be surprised if the people involved weren’t very reluctant to engage with each other in any way again.

  11. As an observer of this whole debate, I see a whole lot of troubled discussion, both informed and reactionary, initiated by an ill-judged and non-journalistic article on a blog.

    Everyone has been treating the so called interview at face value, but it should never have been posted in the form it was. Much more context should have been represented in the blog posting, and if the direct personal attacks were to be printed then there should have been at very least a right to reply extended to the targets, preferably before the article was posted.

    The blog post is the butterfly that caused the storm, not the tweets or the e-mail discussion. They provide valuable context now, but it’s context that should have been provided in the article. It highlights why people actually study journalism, and why there are journalistic editors, and why people get upset at how journalism is being eroded in an internet age.

    • Will Brooker says:

      There is more context in the rest of the email discussion — it sheds further light on this situation, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to include other people’s correspondence.

      • Don’t get me wrong, this article is an interesting piece of background reading, I just wish Padraig had actually solicited some of these comments before publishing. And personally I feel you and your fellow targets are owed an apology if not a retraction of the whole piece.

    • Will Brooker says:

      I’d have to check the correspondence, but I believe what happened is that Padraig announced he was planning to approach Moore with questions arising from the roundtable, and there were various responses from a more gentle ‘maybe this would be better at a later stage’ to a firm ‘this is a horrible idea and I’m absolutely against it.’

      Obviously it happened anyway.

      • But, the point remains, the timeline doesn’t include a moment of reflection.
        Let’s contrast for example how the tabloid press would have handled it.
        Having received an incendiary set of answers to their questions they would have contacted you and asked you for a quote before running the article.
        In a backhanded way they would be granting you a right to reply.
        Even that would have been more gracious than just throwing the article up.
        He hasn’t even posted a follow-up article linking to the various replies. He should at least, out of fairness, and possibly legal obligation, link to Laura Sneddon’s reply.

  12. mad hunter says:

    If anyone is to ‘blame’ for this , it is Padraig O Mealoid. Heidi (Beat) wouldn’t even publish it as it was. The roundtable people were PRIVATELY discussing AM ‘s work as ART. Padraig O Mealoid escalated it by getting AM pissed and then publishing his “interview/rant’. I would love to see more from Pam Noles, but considering that she got DEATH THREATS years ago for her blogs about The Black D, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wanted a low profile. Yet another horrible chapter of the “comic community”.

  13. mad hunter says:

    Pallas P, thanks for reading the story and commenting. Yes they all become friends and the other dolls even rescue the G from drowning. When I pointed this out to my black friends in the early 90′s (usa) ,they said the story was used to get children to not be scared of their slaves and that it was inherently racist because of the blackface and minstrel clothes. Different readings .I think it basically boils down to black people don’t like it and some other people don’t see the problem. Because of all my previous discussions about the G(pre Black D) I see it more from their perspective. I have too much empathy to use racially offensive characters but support Moore’s freedom to do so . I do not think Moore had any bad intentions using the G, but it doesn’t look good when you say you are reclaiming the G and then later deny you were doing that. Or give the Golly a large manhood. If they changed the look of the Golly from blackface to more of an alien, we would not be taking about it . As far as I can tell,no one called Moore a racist and strangely the only person to mention book burning was Moore himself . Moore seems to have over reacted to people discussing his work. Also interestingly Pam Noles never said white people shouldn’t use the G and even suggests some possible uses on her website.

  14. mad hunter says:

    Oh yeah, pallas thanks for the jolly dog bit,its good to know.

  15. For anyone interested in the event in question, there’s an audio recording of the event here: http://popculturehound.net/episode-66-the-magic-words-of-alan-moore-lance-parkin/

    • Thank you for providing this link, Julian. Having listened to the audio, I’m still not certain what to make of it all, but to have another layer of nuance added to this discussion (particularly for those of us who would otherwise have no direct access to the event in question) is invaluable. And, as is often the case, hearing the words from the participants themselves brings us more in tune with the context of the discussion far more than a transcription is able. It seems the next best thing to having been there, and for that reason (among others) this is much appreciated.

  16. Hi Will,

    You seem to be a reasonable person and genuine in your concerns, and so I think it is unfortunate that you were mischaracterised in that regard by Moore (I think his characterisation was fair enough given the information he had, but I still think it is unfortunately erroneous). In that spirit, please consider the following observations/opinions with an open mind.

    I completely understand why you didn’t raise your concerns at An Evening with Alan Moore. You’re right, certain social contexts can prevent us from doing what we feel is right-but-rude, and I am by no means immune so I certainly won’t cast a stone at you for this.

    Having said that, I don’t see why you couldn’t have raised your concerns to Alan personally at another time or venue, rather than ‘behind his back’ (and, really, anywhere on the internet — whether it be twitter or an email forum — are ‘behind his back’). You say that he has always been open to chatting with you, so perhaps you could have caught him after the event, or at another event, or even tried writing him a letter in the same tone of respect that you write about him now?

    Given the seriousness of the allegations, don’t you feel like you could have at least tried to get his thoughts on the subject before making assumptions and accusations? I get that you felt rude bringing up your concerns to him at that particular event, but I don’t see why this automatically entails that you don’t try to bring them to him personally at some other opportunity before drawing (or at least sharing) conclusions about him.

    I do note that you are somewhat conciliatory about how you hurriedly and rashly raised the issues on Twitter (which perhaps underscores Alan’s point that people feel more latitude on the internet than in real-life; after all, you didn’t want to be rude in real life but I think you’ll agree you did something of the sort afterwards on Twitter), but what I’m saying applies to your online discussion as well.

    Even if you didn’t try to elicit Moore’s response personally, you could have at least tried to find his thoughts on the subjects from the last time he discussed them. Everyone seems to be in agreement now that Moore had addressed concerns about the Galley-Wag when The Black Dossier first saw print; it might have been nice to at least consider trying to find those opinions before impugning Moore’s morals to Laura, or Pam, or Padraig, or anyone else for that matter.

    It might also have allayed your original concerns. You say that everything changed in the room for you when you realised that “the concept of white people reclaiming the Golliwog as a ‘powerful black character’ was passed over so blithely, without any challenge.” If you had read Moore’s previous thoughts on the subject, you would have found that this is simply a false assertion: it wasn’t passed over blithely and there were certainly challenges. It’s just that all that had long since passed by the time you walked into the room.

    (Perhaps you think that it should be discussed every time the Galley-Wag character is mentioned, but I think Moore has a point (in his so-called ‘rant’) that that doesn’t serve much purpose; not unless new challenges or concerns are raised. At the least, a failure to repeat one’s serious thoughts on a serious subject are not fairly characterised as a ‘blithe ignorance.’)

    As I say, I think Moore’s understanding of your general scholarly standards are inaccurate, but I think his appraisal of your scholarly attitude in this instance is correct. You could have found his thoughts on the issue if you had done a little research; and that you (apparently) didn’t do so is a point of connection, I think, between you and the ‘Batman Scholar’ you didn’t recognise in Moore’s interview.

    As to how Moore got his impression of you as this humourous ‘Batman Scholar,’ and how he came to have other information that he responds to in his interview, you seem to be suggesting some improper conduct from Padraig. But I don’t see why we should assume Padraig gave anything more to Moore than what Moore responds to — clearly (to me, at least), Padraig told Moore of the tweet where you display your title as a ‘Batman Scholar’ (which tickled Alan); and he also told Moore about the general concerns raised in the email discussion, and who partook in that email discussion. Padraig put those concerns, and the names of those who raised them, to Moore, so that Moore could (in a move you denied him) respond.

    Why do you think that Moore read the exact transcripts, or anything other than a general paraphrase of the allegations made about him? Is it because he says he’s ‘not sure’ when Pam Noles ‘entered the debate’? Well, it seems to be an eminently fair assumption that he’s not sure because he hasn’t read the debate; he’s just heard (from Padraig) that this ‘photographer’ took part in it.

    Your other piece of evidence for Moore seeing the transcript is that, after discussing Pam Noles, Moore ‘moves on’ to Laura Sneddon, and you can’t possibly imagine why he’d move in this direction if not because Sneddon spoke next in your email conversation. To me it seems clear that he’s building up the bile — he starts with someone whom he merely disagrees with, then moves onto someone he has a personal distaste for, and finally ends with someone he absolutely loathes (Morrison). It’s a logical progression, and I don’t see why you load so much into it.

    It seems that part of why you load so much into it is because you think Moore can’t possibly be ‘moving on’ from Padraig’s last question, as that was thousands of words ago. But I think that’s exactly what the personal attacks are — a ‘moving on’ from Padraig’s last question. Moore states as much. He feels that, if other people are allowed to impugn his motives and morals without him being allowed recourse in the same forum, why shouldn’t he be allowed to do so as well? I actually thought he was rather clear about what he was doing.

    And isn’t he entitled to? In light of my comments above, how do you feel about your conduct now? Do you see how it might be less-than-admirable for you to make serious accusations about an individual (to the world or to that individual’s friend) without making at least some small effort to solicit that individual’s opinion on the matter first or even do the scholarly thing and do a little bit of research? Do you have any sympathy for the idea that exceptional claims require exceptional evidence, and you didn’t even seek to find any evidence other than your own thoughts? Doesn’t this seem lazy and disingenuous and perhaps even reprehensible?

    My question, then, is do you feel like in this instance you took the scholarly approach that you’re (apparently) noted for, or did you act like the Batman Scholar Moore so mercilessly mocks? You nobly admit that you are not infallible with regards to how you handle race; do you also admit that you are not infallible in other areas, too, and that this might in fact be one of those cases?

    Do you, in short, feel that you treated Moore in a fair, decent and scholarly way; or is his anger towards you perhaps justified?

    Thanks for your time and consideration, Will,

    Matthew.

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