The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen / comics / Voice of the Fire

By Barry Kavanagh, 17 October 2000

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is that a more lighthearted thing, then?


I haven’t seen it at all.

Oh well, the collected book’s coming out sometime in the next month or two.

Is that a by-product of your researches into Victorian – ?

– Not really, I was just sort of thinking I’d like to do some stuff in the mainstream, because if you do stuff out on the margins it actually makes no difference whatsoever to the broad sweep of comic book culture. Like, Maus is never going to make any impact at all upon mainstream comics, because it was done outside the mainstream, it was in the margins. I just thought I’d like to do some cool stuff in the mainstream that is still progressive and forward-looking enough to actually be valid and worthwhile material but do it in the mainstream so that it can have an impact and hopefully can in some small measure go towards regenerating the currently dismal medium. So, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it was just I’d been thinking about superheroes, superhero groups and I was thinking well, it’d be nice to actually kind of run the tape back to a point before all of the superhero clichés started to come into being. Take it back before Action Comics #1 and the invention of Superman. And if you do that, then you’ve got the pulp adventure stuff from the ’30s and there is the fantastic literature of the late 19th Century, which was a big source of inspiration for an awful lot of comic book characters. The Hulk, for example, is just Jekyll and Hyde. All the invisible characters in comics do owe an awful lot to Wells’ Invisible Man, so I just thought perhaps if I could assemble a group of interesting characters. Round about the second issue, I suddenly thought “Hey, what if I did this so that any character that’s mentioned by name had got to be a real character from fiction?” I thought “That could be funny.”

A “real” character from fiction?

Well, a genuine character from fiction, someone that has existed in other people’s work. And I think that it was when, possibly in the first issue, where I suddenly got to a bit where I realized that I’d got Emile Zola’s Nana being killed on the Rue Morgue by Mister Hyde, I thought, well, “This is great! This is going somewhere!” And then when I started to bring in characters from Victorian pornography, like the Pearl, in the second issue. It sort of built up from there. We’ve even got walk-ons by presumably the Victorian ancestors of characters from Eastenders in issue #6. It’s a lot of fun.

Well, I look forward to reading it.

Yeah, the full collection should be out within a month, within a few

Are there any comics by your contemporaries that you’re particularly fond of? I mean, would you have a fondness for

Sandman, or whatever?

Sandman, there were some very good issues of Sandman that Neil [Gaiman] did that I thought were absolutely brilliant. There’s lots of people who do really good stuff. I don’t know… I like Chris Ware’s stuff. The Hernandez brothers still do good stuff. Neil’s not really in comics any more. Frank’s very good at what he does, Frank Miller.

Sin City.

But he kind of – I don’t know, this is purely a matter of taste, it’s not a dismissal of Frank’s work or anything – Frank tends to stick to kind of one area.

Hard boiled.

Hard boiled, even if it’s taking place – like his recent 300 series, which took place in Sparta, it’s still kind of hard boiled! It’s hard boiled Spartans. Frank’s very good at what he does, I just sometimes would like to see him do a story that wasn’t about guys being tough. That’s not a criticism of Frank, he’s very good at what he does and obviously his tastes are different to mine.

You’d have a wide taste?

Well, my tastes tend to be fairly eclectic. I like to see people show a bit of range. One of the things I’m proudest of in myself is my range. I can do a lot of different shit, I can do almost anything and I can do it fairly well.

I haven’t read [the prose book] Voice of the Fire

– Very few people have –

– Although Mark Pilkington from Fortean Times, he says it’s
fantastic, so I’d like to pick it up.

Well, if you should find a copy somewhere, then good luck getting through the first chapter. The first chapter, I actually tried my best to write it in an approximation of what I thought Neolithic thought-patterns might be like. So I’ve done it all in this completely boiled-down English, where I think there’s a vocabulary of about four hundred words in the first story, I mean it’s sixty pages long, it’s very long and very dense but I think I only use about four hundred words and when you think that the average vocabulary of the average Sun reader is about ten thousand words, it’s… it was an experiment.

Sounds kind of exciting, though.

Well, it’s almost unreadable. [Laughs]. I loved it but people have pointed out to me since that if I was going to be doing my first novel and the first chapter of my first novel, then perhaps it might not have been a bad idea to do it in English but ah, what the hell.

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