Jan 23, 2020

On Bissette, Totleben and Swamp Thing

Original art by S. Bissette and J. Totleben from Saga of the Swamp Thing n.22, page 11 (DC, 1984).
Excerpt from "SOPHISTICATED SCRIPTWRITING Part.3", an interview by Paul Duncan from Arken Sword n.13/14 (double issue), May 1985.
Paul Duncan: Steve Bissette and John Totleben draw Swamp Thing from your scripts. Do you get much cross-pollination of ideas from them since they live a couple of thousand miles away?
Alan Moore: Steve and John are some of the nicest and most straightforward people that I've ever worked with. Unlikely as it sounds, they are a lot closer, as people, to the sort of person that I am than a number of artists over here. We all clicked together on the book straight away, and since then we've been throwing ideas backwards and forwards with wild abandon, the end result being what you see in Swamp Thing each month. A good example of how this curious and haphazard process actually works would be the way by which we arrived at the two-part underwater vampire story that's coming up in Swamp Thing issues 38 and 39. John Totleben had an urge to draw some sort of primeval water-deity, and he mentioned it to me in a letter. I'd already been thinking along the lines of doing an underwater vampire story, and it struck me that there may be a way in which the two could combine effectively to make one really good story. We tossed this idea back and forth between the three of us in the various multi-page letters that we write from time to time, and finally got to thrash the whole thing out in full while sitting out in the woods of Vermont during my visit over there last year. Steve, a soul finely attuned to all the most slimy and repulsive aspects of nature, suggested that the underwater vampires should spawn like salmon, laying lots of eggs. I suggested that, like real salmon, they should start to rot and fall apart immediately after spawning. Between the three of us, using the Hypothesis that Richard Matheson gave for a scientific explanation of vampirism in 'I am Legend' as our starting point, we worked out exactly how this could be explained in credible terms. Then, somebody suggested that the spawning vampires would lay hundreds of eggs, although we really only wanted one creature in our story. Steve, bless his badly disturbed soul, came up with the concept of the hundreds of tiny little hatchings, once birthed, all starting to eat each other in a terrible demonstration of the principle of survival of the fittest, until only one was left; a huge and bloated thing that incorporated John's original design for his underwater horror-elemental and which had a valid reason for being in the story.
Once all the basic information concerning this foul and unnatural reproductive cycle had been finalised between us it only remained for us to work it all into some sort of coherent story that involved Swamp Thing and which had some sort of point to it other than just scaring our audience shitless with a string of unspeakable ideas and disturbing concepts. Another good example would be the werewolf story that is featured in issue 40. This grew out of a comment that Steve made to me about the way that in Jamaica there still exists a strong taboo amongst Rastafarian men against the idea of having contact with a woman while she is menstruating. This inspired an exchange of information between us on the subject, both of us raking up lots of other tribal traditions that suggested the same sort of idea: i.e., that a menstruating woman is the receptacle for a terrible and destructive form of magic, and that she should be isolated completely from any contact with the community during that time of the month. This finally led to me realising that there might be some mileage in considering the possible connection between the menstrual cycle of women and the lunar cycle of the werewolf. Once I'd mentioned this idea, lots of people started slinging in associated concepts. Nancy, Steve's wife, told me some stories about the adolescent women that she works with at the school for autistic children, including one about how she'd been ferociously attacked by a snarling naked woman who's period seemed to have triggered an unusually violent fit of aggression. Cindy, Rick Veitch's girlfriend, chimed in by sending me a book about ancient women's mysteries that included a vast amount upon the menstrual taboos practised by various old tribes, and which I was able to refer to extensively in coming up with the story. As I see it, it's my job as writer to sit back and absorb everything that's thrown at me and then try to rationalise it into a coherent story that will make it's point in the most direct and powerful way. If that material is something that the artists have suggested to me then it means there's more chance that my story will be something they're interested in drawing, thus turning in a more inspired job as a result.
To answer your question, I love working with Steve and John on the book, and I'm really happy at the way in which we've sorted out a nice, easy-going way of assimilating all our ideas on the book so that we get a good end result without any unnecessary ego clashes or crap of that nature. Two thousand miles away isn't that great a distance since the introduction of an efficient postal service and the telephone, and while it would be nice to actually see the pair of them in the flesh a bit more often, just because we like each other as friends, this doesn't present any problems in getting the work done to our satisfaction.

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