A Coffee with… LEAH MOORE!

CA - LM - Electricomics ASPE Seeing that Leah Moore was at 2015’s LBF I was hoping she might have time for a coffee after the Comics Go Digital panel. Fortunately she did; less fortunately those outrageous slings and arrows one faces when launching a website can set things back and, with the great stuff we talked about, this was one casual interview I wanted to give proper time to. Besides which what we talked then is no less relevant now, so we’re pleased now, belatedly, finally, to present A Coffee with Leah Moore.


Leah’s a professional comic writer but, when we spoke, Leah’s main thing was Electricomics, a research and development project of which she’s the Editor and Project Manager.

I’d read a little, heard some more just then in the panel she’d been in: its basic aim, amongst others, is providing an open source platform for everyone from amateurs to pros to create their own comics. They’d charged themselves with the task of developing new digital-native storytelling techniques and tools which to be made freely available to everyone – it’s very much about enablement and empowerment. They’re also providing a forum for the ‘next generation of digital creatives’ to support one another in a community.

Electricomics is the brainchild of Leah’s father who (in case you weren’t aware) is Mr Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, V for Vendetta and many, many more. It came about from THE SHOW, a film collaboration with Mitch Jenkins, where he imagined kids reading digital comics on a Spindle. His further imaginings as to what might be on the Spindle, conceiving something fantastical and potentially bringing it into the real world, is the kernel of what became Electricomics. CA - LM - Alan Moore

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Another great concept then from Alan Moore then – or, as we’d heard from Leah in the panel to no little amusement: ‘Me Dad having another one of his big ideas.’ (‘Stop having ideas!’ she later pantomimed to more mirth which conjures the most lovely image of the Moores around a table about to eat when Alan speaks up innocently: ‘I was just thinking…’ to groans and the rolling of eyes leaving the big man looking sheepish and apologetic).

CA - LM - The Thrill Electric In no respect is this Leah’s first foray into digital comics, and we talk The Thrill Electric which predates the concept of Electricomics a little. This was something, as Leah tells me, that came to her fully formed, a Victorian-era story of internet telegraphers which ended up being (refreshingly) set in Manchester rather than London. She created it with husband and frequent collaborator John Reppion and Hat Trick Digital and they released it online and for free.

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Each edition incorporated different techniques: layers, a diorama… It became an original ‘enhanced comic’ – characters walking along the animated panels – rather than a print adapted sub-par motion comic. We talk more on the uniqueness of digital comics she’s experienced in the creation of tghe Thrill Electric and since, of the complications of page versus panel size, but the opportunities in depth and working with layers. It’s something she’s justifiably very proud of, the animated panels as well as the characters, and the experience would have made her an ideal candidate to project manage Electricomics.

As Project Manager Leah was working full time Electricomics and squeezing her scripting around it, her comic work at the time being an event at Dynamite who, Leah professes, are brilliant at acquiring properties. It’s under the direction of Gail Simone and called Swords of Sorrow (“The feminist comics event of the summer” – The Mary Sue) and is a crossover between the host of pulp female characters Dynamite had acquired. Gail handpicked Leah for the 3 issue team-up of Irene Adler (Sherlock Holmes’s the woman) and Dejah Thoris from the Barsoom (John Carter) novels with Sergio Davila on art duties – Leah’s having a lot of fun with it. CA - LM - Swords of Sorrow Dejah Thoris & Irene Adler #3

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CA - LM - Swords of Sorrow CG - TT - Apr - Brit-Cit Noir CA - LM - Complete Alice in Wonderland Swords of Sorrow has – as of February 2016 – just been released in collected form and her and John’s work on 2000 AD’s / Judge Dredd’s Brit-Cit is coming as a collection in April, along with their adaptation of Alice in Wonderland with artist Erica Awano from Dynamite the same month.
(Covers link to Forbidden Planet UK)

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I ask Leah about walking the cliff edge of necessary research and writing output or, as Leah puts it, the danger of ‘falling into research rabbit holes’. As an established writer for Leah it’s a ‘nice problem to have’ and, like any of us with an interest in writing Steampunk, one that’s particularly nice and problematic with Victoriana. But it’s also the ‘place’ in which she tries and finds a voice for her characters, a safe place between concept and script perhaps where characters start speaking.

But back to Electricomics. The project was funded by Nesta, a charity funding innovation in a number of areas, including the digital arts, and Electricomics partnered Ocasta studios and on the Technical side to obtain funding, with Daniel Merlin Goodrey heading the Research team. The Creative Team is made up of writers (Alan Moore, Leah / John Reppion, Pete Hogan and Garth Ennis) and the artists (Nicola Scott, Paul Davidson, Frank Victoria), one colorist (Jose Villarrubia) and 2 letterers (Erica Schultz and Simon Bowland).

In March 2015 they were at the pipeline production stage: figuring out a path from the working practices of the entire creative / comics team to the technical team as a whole. In April came the fourth of six milestones, funding being released at each one, when they moved into beta testing, naturally experimenting with the application themselves and releasing example work of what could be achieved. The next were in June and September, the latter bringing the final instalment of funding – then the doors close and it’s all down to them.
CA - LM - Nemo CA - LM - Sway
CA - LM - Cabaret Amygdala CA - LM - Red Horse
With the launch of Electricomics in September 2015 not only was the application made available to enable everyone to create comics but, as part of the remit, the Open Source code was released under a general public license. And four digital comics from the core creative team were released: Big Nemo by Alan Moore and Colleen Doran, Sway by Leah, John and Nicola Scott, Cabaret Amygdala by Peter Hogan and Paul Davidson, and Red Horse by Garth Ennis and Frank Victoria.

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We move on to the comic form, both in print and digital, but Leah and Electricomics’ investigation into the latter has identified a new box to think outside of: understanding how consumers engage with sequential product. In the classic print comic a degree of control is handed over to the form, though not nearly so much as in film and, more immediate in communication than prose, it lends itself entirely to the flicking back and forth, browsing, rewinding, checking back… In fact they’d filmed volunteers reading comics, asking them to vocalise their stream of thought as they did, paying attention to their faces – presumably where their eyes went within that. Digital comics are rather different, being controlled by a scroll bar, but this subject of pacing leads back to something that came up on the panel and in other discussions which is what can comics do especially well.

CA - LM - Lighter than my Shadow Well one of them is conveying harder subject matter, and Leah notes Katie Green’s Lighter Than My Shadow (Jonathan Cape 2013) as an example, being a ‘graphic memoir of eating disorders, abuse and recovery.’ In fact I’d just interviewed Karrie Fransman who’d been chosen by the Red Cross to tell the (heartbreaking) story of an immigrant for National Refugee Week and discussed the very same. They key here is the swiftness of communication next to prose in combination with the control the reader has next to the medium of film, added to which the comic has the added benefit of being less uninviting on such difficult topics. The reader knows the experience will be quicker and they can step away at any point and return if they choose: all the more likelihood they’ll start reading in the first place, and continue through to the end.

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One thing I wanted to do in these more casual interviews is to find out what social issues are particularly on someone’s radar. Leah thinks for a moment and has two. CA - LM - #EverydaySexism
The first, as uniquely highlighted through Twitter (which Leah approves of as a ‘great thing’) is #EverydaySexism. Not the gross instances of gender-prejudice and aggression that anyone with half a brain-slash-conscience would disapprove of but, as Leah puts it, small things that happen to women of every age and shape and in every country all the time: the hashtag (and a 240k follower-strong account) makes the issue visible to the whole world. She also follows Occupy and is particularly interested in how they (and others) film the police. By doing so their behaviour is time-stamped – it makes them accountable. It’s something Leah finds interesting, partly because she’s not sure where this is headed, but it’s another example of where media technology is improving the world.

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In a sense it’s all part of a broader DIY culture of collective awareness raising, which is very much what her Dad has promoted and, in turn, very much why there’s this here Carabas in the first place. As such I’m minded that this is a Coffee with Leah – but Leah is candid and the answers to questions I might have asked of her father come about straightforwardly in conversation.

Since the 1980’s Alan has made some of the biggest contributions to the medium of anyone in the world. More recently, from matters he’s been vocal about he’s garnered a reputation as being a curmudgeon. Leah knows it, and Alan knows it. Of course he knows it: I’m surprised anyone would think otherwise. At the same time I’m surprised why anyone would be surprised as to his frustrations.

CPP - PABC V for Vendetta Having been so well known for his work with the big publishers Alan wanted to write and publish comics with a degree of independence, so he went to independent studios, created new lines of his own comics with and for them – and then they got bought out by the bigger publishers he was trying to get away from.
And now we’re experiencing a boom of comic-film adaptations and Alan has scripted some of the biggest comics of all time. Fans, studios and publishers wanted them on the big screen. Alan didn’t because he scripted them for the comic form and feels they should be experienced that way. He didn’t have a choice in the matter – I don’t recall him saying he did. Creators have feelings about their work and what is done with it. And when he’s asked his opinion by the media he’s given it. Watchmen logo 1600x1202 (2)

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Well it strikes me as being straightforwardly daft to be down on a creator simply because you disagree with the feelings they’re perfectly entitled to. But Alan then has reporters asking him the same question again: What do you feel about the film of Watchmen / V for Vendetta / From Hell [/ that other film that was too awful for us to even acknowledge]. They ask him the same question even when they already know the answer.

He tries to be non-committal, but that doesn’t seem to work either. He’s had even the most reputable promising they’re not going to ask him the question – and then they phrase a question that elicits a response on the same subject matter. Why? Well as Leah explains it’s because they want something emotive to write about.

Not long back I’d interviewed urban fantasy master Jim Butcher. Jim has a massive following though expresses caution about passing comment on anything controversial. In these days of social media people want opinion. But give it on anything people have strong feelings about and risk the backlash. I understand Neil Gaiman feels similarly: to him the consequences of making a statement are like a lead ball on a rubber street.

Anyway as Leah put it Alan feels he’s invited the world in for a cup of tea and a biscuit and it behaves like this. That’s a picture that really makes sense to me. A friend saw ‘that comic writer’ on a TV programme and warmed immediately to him from his words to the effect that he might well be writing about far-off wildly imaginative places in this world or on others but ‘I’m actually writing about [his home town of] Northampton’.

Think global act local. Or think local write universal perhaps. In any event where other writers, and this is perfectly right and normal, are serving up entertainment for your consumption, Alan has always had a sense of promoting positive change and empower the comics medium and people generally.

So if the world has the fortune to be let in for a cup of tea and a biscuit by Leah’s Dad, especially after it’s invited itself round in the first place, it could at least have the common courtesy to not complain about the biscuits (they’re Jammie Dodgers or Jaffa Cakes in my mind for what it’s worth) especially when you already know which ones he keeps in.

And for the sake of basic common sense don’t call the guy a curmudgeon when you do that and he gets annoyed; That’s not curmudgeonous: That’s normal.

 

CA - LM - EC Challenge 1*
CA - LM - EC Challenge 2
But from challenges of the world online to challenges completed and new ones made: Electricomics is up and out there. It had its Fest/Con debut at the much-loved Thought Bubble and, unsurprisingly, it’s grabbed no little accolade: The Guardian picked it as one of the best iPhone/iPad apps of 2015 and it was awarded Digital Comics App of the Year by Pipedream Comics.
And Leah is setting challenges for its growing community. The first was Halloween themed to get things moving (won by Shayna Marie Pond’s Monster, Shayna also being a runner up with Rob Vollmar in challenge 2). The second, set by Alan, was for the New Year and asked creators to express their hopes and wishes for 2016 through the Electricomics generator: the standard was so high Leah had to seek additional judges to help her decide a winner (#CharlieHebdomeros by Tompte).
The latest, ‘Keyhole Comics’, engages with technology format and (if I understand correctly) regards producing a comic optimised for screen sizes smaller than an IPad (Electricomics standard) so for phones and even the Apple Smartwatch. As of end of February the submissions are all in and we’ll be watching with interest for the results. CA - LM - EC Challenge 3

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What’s lovely about doing these interviews is that you never know quite what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to be putting the final touches on it so many months later, but I guess that’s another thing to be filed under challenges, off or online. Still, with Electricomics still recently launched with all the empowerment it still has to bring, ongoing awareness raising through social media, the relevance of comics in communicating difficult subject matter, and everything else I chatted with Leah over a coffee is no less relevant now than then, and very much what I hoped Carabas might be about.

 

So here’s to hopes and wishes for 2016, to all involved with Electricomics, to empowerment and awareness raising, and to whatever Leah has for us next. Here’s also to the LBF, 2016’s now being just round the corner.

Time to order another coffee.

Tim Bayley

@TimBayley1

On Carabas

More:

CA - LM - Electricomics
Leah on Twitter
Electricomics on Twitter
Electricomics Website

 

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