Apr 30, 2012

AM Portrait: Michael T. Gilbert's homage

Art by Micheal T. Gilbert. Opening page from The Riddle of the Recalcitrant Refuse, the Mr. Monster's story written by Alan Moore.
From the sold-out Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman book (2003, Abiogenesis Press, page 23), in the following you can read the piece written by the great Michael T. Gilbert to celebrate Mr. Moore's 50th birthday. It is titled Mea Culpa, Alan Moore!
Posted on this blog with the kind permission of the author. 1 billion thanks to Mr. Gilbert! 

Mea Culpa, Alan Moore!
© Michael T. Gilbert

I did a bad, bad thing. Sorry, Alan, old bean, old chap, old sock.
Sorry world.

It all started in 1985, when I first "met" Alan Moore. Actually it didn't start there really, but I thought it might be a clever way to flashback into some amusing Alan Moore anecdotes for Alan's 50th birthday. Turns out it's not all that clever, but "Oh well, Pip! Pip!" and all that rot. I'm sure you'll forgive me, gentle reader.
Anyway, back in '85 I was churning out Mr. Monster pages in my Berkeley, Cal. studio when my soon-to-be wife Janet rushed in. "Michael! Michael! Alan Moore's on the phone!" Did I mention she was quite excited?
I was pretty excited myself.

A few weeks earlier, I'd sent DC a postcard gushing over their newly revived Swamp Thing series, and Alan's startlingly original take on the character. Which is not to sneeze at the contributions of artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben. Together the three made the series one of my all-time favourites. But this is an Alan Moore tribute, so…
DC passed on my post to Alan and he gave me a ring from Jolly Olde England, (no small deal in the Gilbert household, I assure you!) I was tickled when Alan told me how much he'd loved The Wraith, a funny-animal Spirit knock-off I did back in the mid-70s. For my money, any British bloke who'd even heard of The Wraith was a friend for life! But I'd been impressed with Alan even before his DC stint, with his Marvelman's scripts for Warrior magazine. And I wasn't alone.
For better or worse, Alan was quickly becoming a comic book superstar, though you wouldn't know it to talk to him. On the phone he came off like a regular chap, as indeed he is. Although a highly irregular regular chap, if you know what I mean. Long-story-short, we had great fun chatting about old comics and the like, and I suggested that we collaborate on a Mr. Monster story together.

For those unfamiliar with the character, Mr. Monster's the world greatest monster-fighter. I'd started the character in 1984 as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the pulp heroes of the 30s and 40s. A year later, he got his own series. Bill Loebs and Dave Stevens had already helped me draw Mr. Monster, but I was curious to see what a different writer might do. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Alan offered to write a 10 or 12-page story for our 3rd issue.

Months later I received one of Alan's "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" scripts. Mouth agape, I chugged through his 32 single spaced typewritten pages. For a 16 page story no less! I believe he apologized for making the story a bit longer than he'd intended. Yeah –– like I was really crying!
As I recall, Alan's script began with descriptions of him waking up, tossing the cat aside and putting a page in the typewriter. Real letter-to-a-pal, stream-of-consciousness stuff that was quite entertaining. Alan's story was even more so.

Describe a panel? Forget it! Kid stuff. Alan seduced his collaborators with his vivid word-pictures. Everything the artist needed to know was described, then he'd toss in a few more subtle background details for good measure. These details weren't necessarily art descriptions, but mind-paintings designed to inspire the artists. Whatever it was, it worked. Alan's Kurtzman-esque tale about the environmentalist garbage-monster, Sadie Mutz, was a joy to draw. Which makes me feel even worse about the bad, bad thing I did.

Ah, but we'll get to that…

In the 80s, Alan continued to surpass himself. His brilliant Watchmen series (drawn by artist Dave Gibbons) kept me on the edge of my seat, issue-by-issue. Swamp Thing? That comic just got better and better. Then he wrote a number of one-shot stories for DC, including a classic two-part Superman story that was both touching and inspirational.
In short order, Alan began scooping up Eisner, Kurtzman and Kirby Awards the way ordinary mortals scoop up cheese puffs.

Meanwhile, Alan and I worked out a deal with DC and Eclipse to produce a Mr. Monster/Swamp Thing crossover. This was possibly the first such agreement between a mainstream publisher and one of the small independents. Unfortunately, just as we finished plotting the story (a romp through the horror worlds of various old comic book companies), DC and Alan suffered a rancorous divorce and the project was scrapped.
He vowed never to work for them again, and DC lost one of their most fertile creators.

Luckily, Alan had plenty of other projects to keep him busy. There was Miracleman (formerly Marvelman) for Eclipse, Lost Girls and From Hell for Taboo and Tundra's ill-fated Big Numbers series. Ah yes, Tundra…
I like to think it was Tundra's fault. Yes, indeed. If not for them, I would never have been in England at all. And the bad, bad thing never would have happened. No indeed. So it's their fault, see?

Tundra. In the early 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-magnate Kevin Eastman built his very own comic company. Foolish boy! He brought Alan and Steve Bissette on board –– and Steve smuggled me and Mr. Monster aboard the S. S. Tundra. It was fun while it lasted.
In the year or two I was there, I produced three different Mr. Monster titles, and two book collections. Alan wrote a story for my Mr. Monster spin-off, Kelly, starring MM's sexy gal Friday. Two of his cartoonist pals drew his tale, and I suspect that's why he squeezed it into his schedule.
And say! How could I forget to mention the gory, exquisitely-detailed Mr. Monster pin-up Alan drew for the MM book collection? Yes, he also dabbles in art. Talented boy, that Alan!

Tundra was a good deal all around. We got to create some great comics, and Kevin was able to rid himself of great gobs of excess cash that were cluttering the offices. He got rid of at least a couple of carts of cash when he flew half the Tundra crew to England for UKCAC91. That's the 1991 United Kingdom Comic Art Convention, for those who haven't had the pleasure. I was one of about a dozen cartoonists and god-know-how-many staffers who did, courtesy of the ever-flowing "turtle-money."
Plane tickets, room and board were all on Tundra's tab. Yes indeed, that was but one of many brilliant financial decisions that quickly sank the company.

But I gotta tell you, that was one terrific convention –– maybe my best ever! First class all the way, lads. I got to meet Simon Bisley, Neal Gaiman, Garry Leach and other equally impressive British cartoon luminaries.
Garry illustrated Alan's early Marvelman stories, and later co-edited A-1 magazine with fellow limey Dave Elliott. After the con, Garry gave me a personal tour of London's best comic shops. Or is that "shoppes?" Probably the latter, as some were situated in 400 year-old buildings! Nothing like that in the states, mate!
I still have some of the cheap black-and-white British reprints Garry turned me on to, featuring American comics from the 40s to the 60s. These often had stories from different, long-defunct companies in a single book. Wow!

Oh, yeah–– I also visited Westminster Abbey and similar tourist must-sees. But you don't want to hear about that, now do you? This trip was my first overseas and remains a very, very fond memory.

Unfortunately, the universe has a way of balancing the good with the bad. Hence the bad, bad thing I did to Alan.
Which I will now tell you about.

It began right after the UK convention. I'd hoped to see Alan there, but he was a no-show at the show. I was told he'd recently sworn off cons after experiencing some good-natured stalking by adoring fans. They just loved the guy too much.
We should all have those problems.

We were phone pals, but I'd only met Alan in the flesh once, briefly, at the '86 San Diego Comicon. I say briefly because Alan was running from a crowd of bloodthirsty adoring fans (see above!). As I recall, they were brandishing Alan Moore effigies encased in Mylars® inscribed with the Moore family crest. I also seem to recall flaming torches being brandished, but I won't swear to it. Quite a scene, man!
But that was years earlier. Now that I was in Alan's backyard, I wanted to pay him a slightly longer visit. Little did I know...

I gave him a call after the con and, good-natured bloke that he is, Alan invited me to stay overnight. Good thing too, as the train ride from London seemed to go on for hours! Who knew England was that big? Hell, who knew Europe was that big?
The train eventually stopped at Northampton, a small working-class town in the middle of nowhere. By then I was feeling a bit under the weather. Runny nose, sneezing, that sort of thing. Lack of sleep and germ-infested airplane air was catching up with me. With the convention over, I was happy to start my real vacation. And what better way to begin than a visit with Alan Moore?

As much as I was looking forward to getting together, I was still a bit apprehensive. By 1991, Alan was already quite the media darling and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
First there were all his awards. He'd won with such crushing regularity that the Eisner and Kurtzman committee guys began buying his trophy-labels in bulk, just to save printing costs. Ambitious graphic novels like From Hell, Lost Girls, and Big Numbers oozed like golden honey from his magic fingers.
In his spare time Alan was busy writing novels, screenplays and God-knows-what-else. Then of course there were dark rumours about his arcane experiments with forbidden drugs, strange sex –– and the occult. Brrrr!
Frankly it was all a bit intimidating.

Luckily, my pal Steve Bissette was also staying the night, so I wasn't all that worried. Steve may even have been on the train with me, but it's hard to remember 12 years later. Regardless, I was glad he was joining us. When I arrived at the station, Alan was waiting.
Alan Moore stood roughly eight feet tall. His flowing black beard and intense eyes could have given Rasputin a run for his money. On that forlorn train station in the middle of nowhere, one thought kept running through my disease-ridden head again and again.

"Jeeze, Alan –– shave!!"
Ha. Only kidding, Alan. Kid-ding!

After we arrived at Alan's flat he gave us the grand tour. What a mess! And I mean that in a good way, of course. Glorious chaos is what it was. Alan's studio floor was heaped six feet deep with comics and graphic novels. It's a wonder he could find anything amongst the rubble, but somehow he did. (Did I mention that Alan's also an ace detective?)
I made a mental note to dump my entire comic collection on my floor when I got home. Anything to improve my writing, I say! Later, Alan brewed us a spot of tea and the three of us chatted.
That afternoon I met Alan's charming young daughters. He'd been recently divorced, and the girls were visiting daddy. Later we took a short ride to see Alan's gal-pal, Melinda Gebbie. The two were working on their Lost Girls series, and Melinda's pages were quite striking.

Oddly enough, I'd met Melinda years earlier. In the 70s, we were both members of the "Ground-Under Cartoonists" –– a loosely-knit group of San Francisco-based cartoonists. A dozen of us met every couple of weeks or so, and our ever-changing membership included Roger May, Larry Rippee and Trina Robbins. With one or two exceptions, we were all third-stringers in the underground comix pantheon, but we had fun griping, shooting the bull and drawing.

Melinda probably doesn't remember, but she and I even went on a date once. Back in '76 we grabbed a bite to eat and visited San Francisco's legendary City Lights bookstore, home of the original "beat" poets. I hadn't seen or heard from her for in at least a decade. Now she was in England, dating Alan. Weird!
If I'd imagined I was going to have tons of private time with Alan, reality soon set me straight. He was a comic book super-star, and the phone was constantly ringing. Shortly after I arrived, a couple of German TV guys showed up to interview Alan. Me, Steve, Melinda and Alan arranged to have lunch with them at some nearby Indian restaurant. We walked there in the hot, muggy air.

It seemed about a 100 miles away, but that may have just been the cold-bugs messing with my mind. I tried to pick up some cold pills along the way, but the stores were closed. Many U.S. drugstores are open 24/7, so it's easy to get spoiled. Not here!
The small restaurant had no air conditioning, which seems to be the norm in England. But the food was tasty, and if memory serves, the TV guys even picked up the tab. Cool.
Through it all, Alan in the centre of this storm, answering questions, making witty observations, cooking for the entire restaurant (did I mention Alan's a master chef?). It was exhausting just to watch. Perhaps this level of activity wasn't the norm, but I suspect otherwise.

Back home later that night, Alan passed around a fragrant, oddly overstuffed hand-rolled cigarette. Later, he played a tape featuring a song he and his mates had cut. Say, did I mention that Alan plays music too? Heck, he probably builds rockets in his spare time!
Anyway, we all had a fine time talking until bedtime. The sun wasn't quite up yet, as I recall. I bunked with Steve Bissette, and gabbed some more. They call it "sleep-talking" in England. Or so I'm told.
The next day, my cold was worse than ever. I was sneezing up a storm, and blowing through handkerchiefs at an alarming rate. Finally, Alan took pity on me. The stores were open now, so we stopped at a nearby "chemist." We call 'em drugstores in my part of the world, but I prefer the English version. There's something much more arcane and spooky about getting cold tablets at a "chemist."
I popped a couple of tablets and my sneezing stopped. Even my running nose finally took a rest. Thank you, Mr. Chemist!

From there I headed back to London –– and then back to the states with enough England stories to bore my friends for months! And now, lest I bore you too, gentle reader, I'll bid you adieu.
Hope you enjoyed my little Alan Moore story and…
Eh? What's that, gentle reader? You say I forgot something?

Oh. That's right. I promised to discuss the bad, bad thing I did to Alan, didn't I? OK. Fair enough. Here goes…
Remember that cold? Well, Alan caught it. Must've been in bed for two whole days. During that dark, dark time he didn't finish three screenplays he'd been working on. Gone forever.
A 1700-page sequel to Dante's Divine Comedy (in the original old Italian!), five life-changing graphic novels, and three breakthrough comic book series were never completed. All lost.
He didn't compose his brilliant Grunge Band Harmonica Concerto in D Minor. Or the Shakespearean sonnet, two Madrigals, and 243 perfectly-pitched haikus. Nor did he paint that Botticelli homage.
World hunger persists because Alan, practically at death's door due to my cold bug, was too weak to recite the mystic spell he'd written to cure that particular problem.
And all because I sneezed.

Sorry Alan, old bean, old chap, old sock.
I should've visited Maggie Thatcher!

The End
Michael Terry Gilbert has worked for both mainstream and underground comic book companies. He is best known as the creator of Mr. Monster, which has been published by several comics publishers (Pacific, Eclipse, Dark Horse) since 1984.
He has been a scriptwriter for Disney comics since 1990 and has written or drawn stories for characters such as Superman, Batman, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.

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