Page 45 Review by Stephen
What did school do for you, then? We've one hell of a lot of teachers signed up to the Page 45 Mailshot - several of them personal friends - and I wish to God I'd been taught by them. But school as an institution - our education system itself...? I think Alan pretty much nails it:
"The flow of vital youth along school corridors like sheep towards a shearing. Frisking, unaware. The real curriculum is punctuality, obedience and the acceptance of monotony... those skills we shall require later in life. Oblique aversion therapy to cure us of our thirst for information and condition us so that thereafter we forge an association between indolence and pleasure. We confuse rebellion with a hairstyle."
"A disease of language" was Aleister Crowley's personal description of magic, an act of which has somehow allowed my original review of The Birth Caul, long lost, to resurface in time for this new softcover printing.
From the creative team of FROM HELL, then, this collects Eddie Campbell's interpretations of Alan Moore's classic stand-up performances, The Birth Caul and Snakes And Ladders, along with the enormously entertaining interview that originally appeared in EGOMANIA plus a new sketchbook.
The Birth Caul was staged at the Old County Court in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on 18th November 1995, Alan reading to music written especially for the event by Tim Perkins and David J of Bauhaus. Now we too have access to the performance, for one of the most remarkable aspects of Eddie's work here is the context - the degree to which one feels oneself part of the original audience sitting in that Courthouse with the bearded shaman looming out of the darkness from the judicial throne, delivering his judgement. The balance between these atmospheric anchors and Eddie's own visual interpretation of the words is perfect. The structure of each page is fresh and varied, with spots of photography amongst the grey wash well-chosen for relevant impact, and the whole thing charges ahead with a dynamism I could never have anticipated. Alan springs from personal reflections thrown up by his mother's death, to ruminations on the various phases of an appallingly ordered and preordained cradle-to-grave experience, identifying those individual checkpoints with startling accuracy, then (with the aid Campbell's familiar flair for humanity - for visual clue, cue and association) evoking them with a tenderness and poetry which brings both immediate recognition and empathy. Superb use of a child's thought-language towards the end.
Meanwhile of Snakes And Ladders, my mate David Hart wrote this:
"Like the earlier collaboration, The Birth Caul, the roots of this book lie in a one-off performance given by Alan Moore, this time at Conway Hall on the subject of 'Real Magic'. Covering a vaguely similar postcode at times as PROMETHEA, the book circles easily around the established compass of Moore's poetic - the interinanimation of history and geography; the primacy of the symbol over the deed; the fact that snakes are really cool - before settling into an essay on the transformative and redemptive power of the imagination, loosely grounded in the life of early 20th Century fantastical writer Arthur Machen. Like The Birth Caul, the genesis of the book in a public performance helps lend a propulsive rhythm to the words, one that's carefully choreographed and marshalled by Eddie Campbell. If anything, Campbell's work here is better than ever before. Pages and sequences are built up by layer, collage grooved next to watercolour, photographs and sampled art tessellated with ink caricatures. At the centre of the book is a four page sequence of a woman dancing with a snake. The art here is possibly the best figure work Campbell's ever done, and successfully fails to bring to mind Britney Spears at the MTV Music Awards. Where the book is most winning is when Moore leavens his essentially Romantic vision with historical and personal detail, earthing his flights of fancy. The space between Oliver Cromwell and Dante Rossetti, Windsor McCay and James Watson, a Westminster sandwich bar and Machen's Baghdad, is broached to reveal previously hidden comparisons. While Moore's language sparkles and binds as much ever, the book really comes alive when he focuses in on the brushstrokes rather than the picture, and more of this would be welcome. If the destination is one that's been visited before, the interest of the book lies in the journey. Although perhaps neither quite as ambitious or as successful as The Birth Caul, Snakes And Ladders still provokes and prods in all the right places. As a primer to the mind of Northampton's Greatest Ever Comic Book Writer, Snakes And Ladders rolls a six. I thank yew."
In addition, this is what I made of the interview during a month which saw us flooded with more Alan than we thought possible:
None of these books, magazines or CDs were scheduled to appear at the same time, but since becoming a magician Alan Moore appears to have become one big nexus of serendipity as detailed here in the vast, faxed interview by Eddie Campbell. Having adapted two of Alan's stage performances as well as working with him on FROM HELL, Eddie is particularly interested in discussing the former as they relate to Moore's personal journey into magic, and the account their construction - or should I say, evolution - is as fascinating as you'd expect.
An eloquent communicator of even the most complex metaphysical concepts, Moore elucidates on his notion of a shared Ideaspace and its topography of hot-linked associated thoughts, as explored in PROMETHEA and which he convincingly offers as a possible explanation not only for telepathy, but for ghosts and the otherwise inexplicably synchronous arrival of thoughts or inventions in ostensibly unconnected minds like steam propulsion. Staying with the PROMETHEA title, Moore also details how #12 came together, where the history of existence and humanity is mapped onto the major Arcana of the Tarot whilst simultaneously having Aleister Crowley tell a joke beginning in his infancy and ending in old age, and - improbably - finding twenty-two anagrams from the word 'Promethea' pertinent to each particular page:
"I'd have to say that if someone were to put a gun to my head (Americans: note that this is a figure of speech and not an example of acceptable social behaviour) and demand to know what I thought was my single cleverest piece of work, I'd have to say PROMETHEA #12. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my exaggerated sense of self-satisfaction with everyone else."
And in case you'd been thinking that this whole discussion was way too dry for you, Alan is similarly mischievous and entertaining throughout, as demonstrated when discussing stage magician James Randi's desperate attempts to discredit Uri Geller:
"Having failed to do this by his preferred strictly rational means, Randi switched to the scientifically unusual tactic of branding Geller a paedophile for which, I understand, he was subsequently successfully sued by the psychic. And probably got his cutlery drawer thoroughly twatted into the bargain."
Moore also displays a cheeky glee in knocking those for whom he has the greatest affection. On the subject of the Angel Passage performance/CD:
"I think Tim wanted to do something more epic and musically structured for the Blake piece, probably because he'd been mortally stung by a review of The Highbury Working that referred to his contribution as "fizzy '80s electropop." And if I'm honest, I probably didn't help by constantly taunting him about it and saying that we should change our name to The Northampton Yazoo and become a tribute band, with me as the bulky yet somehow sultry Alison Moyet figure and Tim as the possibly-gay fizzy '80s electropop keyboard wizard Vince Clarke type. So, in embittered revenge, he goes into the studio and concocts this fucking five-storey Jacobean wedding cake of a thing that I'm expected to put words to. No wonder Alison Moyet went solo."