Ian Rankin interviews Aidan Moffat about comics

  • The List
  • 1 November 2007
Aidan Moffat

A love of comics unites Ian Rankin and musician Aidan Moffat. Here Rankin, who is currently working on a graphic novel for DC Comics, quizzes Moffat about his passion

Rankin When did you start reading comics? Were you a DC Thomson lad (Bimbo, Dandy, Beano, Victor, Hotspur)?

Moffat I was definitely a Beano boy because it always seemed more edgy than the Dandy, but I insisted I got the Dandy as a sort of light reading accessory. I was a fully paid-up member of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club, but only because I wanted that cool, hairy Gnasher badge. But I expect my earliest passion for comics was for Star Wars Weekly – I’ve still got the first few issues and I was only four in 1977.

Rankin What about Oor Wullie and The Broons? What do they say about us Scots compared to the USA with its Batmans and Supermans?

Moffat Like many Scots, my Grandma always gave me The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals at Christmas and this lasted well into my 20s, although I suspect I’ll rediscover them in later life. In Britain, we have a long history of folk tales, myths and legends, but the USA is such a young nation that they’re still creating their own, and I think the superhero is part of their ever-evolving mythology.

Rankin Any favourite American comics from your younger days?

Moffat I’ve been obsessed with Batman from a young age. There’s a particular issue from the early 80s called ‘When Slays The Savage Skull’ about a hideously deformed ex-cop who stalks Gotham and murders his ex-fellow officers in some insane revenge frenzy. I was ten years old and had only experienced Batman through endless repeats of the 60s TV series (which I loved), weekend cartoons and the odd annual. But then I read this gruesome story and became hooked on the Batman character and mythos of Gotham City and still am to this day, although I’m quite fussy about my Batman and there’s so many different interpretations of the character that it can be difficult to find a version that fits my strict criteria.

Rankin I got the feeling that I was supposed to ‘grow out’ of comics: by the age of 13/14, boys around me were getting interested in girls, but I found comics a lot less scary. Did you continue reading them through your teens? And did you ever try drawing your own?

Moffat I stopped reading comics in the early 90s because there wasn’t a great deal that interested me. After the surge in quality in the 80s, there was a bit of a coming down period and everything became stale and predictable. It was Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher that reignited my interest. Of course I’d love to write comics but the list of things I’d like to do is very long and this will probably remain fantasy.

Rankin I used to do my own mini-sized versions of the Victor and suchlike, with wee comic strips themed on war, football, spies and cops. But I started getting into ‘proper’ books instead. Thank God 2000AD came along when I was in my mid-teens. Were/are you a fan of 2000AD?

Moffat I vaguely remember having the first issue of 2000 AD with the free frisbee attached. I wish I’d held onto that! To be honest, though, I was never a fan of the format: four or five-page episodes of several different stories each issue. I actually picked it up again recently and I still find it quite frustrating.

Rankin When we met in New York you told me I had to get hold of the new Alan Moore (Lost Girls). Having hauled it all the way home I found it a middle-aged man’s sustained wank fantasy. And like all porn/erotica, after a while it becomes repetitive and tedious.

Moffat I respect and admire Lost Girls more than I actually like it, although I must admit it did arouse one or two shameful physical reactions. Alan Moore was perfectly clear about it though and happily admitted that it was nothing more than base porn. I think Melinda Gebbie’s art is beautiful too, and she’s very good at emulating other artists’ styles to suit the mood and sense of time, like the Aubrey Beardsley section for instance. And producing a book about the sexual awakening of characters from children’s classics, in a medium that’s still considered by many to be a preserve of childhood is pretty bold in today’s paedophelia-obsessed climate, no? Anyway, I’m glad you took my advice – it’s still banned in the UK.

Rankin The comic – or ‘graphic novel’ – is supposed to be all grown-up now. Is that a good thing, do you think?

Moffat Like any art-form, they can be both. I like listening to Can but I’m also partial to Kylie; I like David Lynch films but I enjoy the odd rom-com. I think there’s a stigma attached to reading comics and it will always be there. As Neil Gaiman said, literature and art are very respected, but the combination of the two seems to have less value for some reason. Attitudes have changed a little, but guys like you and I are still considered to be in denial of adulthood or stereotyped as friendless, socially inept geeks. Perhaps that will change now that respected literary authors are becoming more involved.

Rankin Any current favourites? I remain hooked on Hellblazer, and like both Fables and The Boys. Another recent hit with me has been The Losers.

Moffat I’m not really a fan of Superman at all but I’ve enjoyed Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman so far. I’m loving the last few episodes of Y: The Last Man by Brian K Vaughan, and I really liked his Pride Of Baghdad. I like Sammy Harkham’s stuff but there’s not much of it and, although it’s not exactly recent, I think Black Hole by Charles Burns is a masterpiece.

Rankin Film adaptations: your favourite and your stinker, please?

Moffat Batman Begins, no contest. It’s not exactly perfect but it’s pretty great. The first two X-Men and Spider-Man films are great too. The movies that work are always the ones that focus on characters rather than action and Chris Nolan and Sam Raimi clearly understood the attraction of Batman and Spider-Man – they’re real people in extraordinary circumstances. As for the stinker – just about anything else. I think Alan Moore gets the worst deal: League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta were abysmal, but it was From Hell that disappointed me the most. It’s arguably Moore’s finest work, and the filmmakers completely misunderstood it. And I can’t stand 300 or Sin City either.

Rankin Is Frank Miller a god or a mere mortal with a talent for a story?

Moffat Miller wrote my favourite comic in the superhero genre, Batman: Year One, so I’ll always respect him, but he has written some dreadful comics recently. He’s overrated.

Rankin You have travelled the world as a musician – have you found other comic forms you’ve found interesting?

Moffat There’s a much more respectful and mature attitude to comics in Europe, but unfortunately not a great deal of European material gets translated into English. I did buy a couple of Manga books that look beautiful, but I don’t even know what they’re called!

Rankin Which comic book character do you wish you could be? And which is the closest to you? Any you can envisage writing a song about?

Moffat As you can probably guess – Batman, although I don’t really fancy the ‘witnessing your parents’ murder at the age of eight’ part. I’m probably more like Bat-Mite, the irritating little rotund nuisance from the 60s. If I ever did write a song about being a superhero, I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be heard by anyone else.

Rankin Are you a collector? I tried to collect the complete series one of Faust, but the prices got scary. I do have the early Alan Moore Swamp Things though. But, gallingly, during various house-moves, a couple of boxes of comics have got lost, never to be seen again.

Moffat I’m more of a hoarder but I do go through phases of searching on ebay. I don’t have anything of great monetary value but I take great care of the comics I love. I’ve got a few early Batman and Detective comics that may be worth a few hundred quid but I’d never dream of selling them. I just did a move recently myself and the comic boxes were never out of sight; I watched the removal men load them very, very carefully.

Rankin Favourite current artist and writer?

Moffat It’s difficult to think of particular favourites. Probably my favourite partnership is the aforementioned Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely – they have a clear understanding of each other’s strengths and talent, the best example so far being We3.

Rankin And which is the most important to you, the artwork or the writing?

Moffat I suppose the correct thing to say is that they’re both of equal importance but I think that the artwork is what will turn me off a comic no matter how good the writing is. If I can’t engage with the visuals, I have a difficult time becoming involved in the story.

Ian Rankin

Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin OBE is best known as the creator of John Rebus, an Edinburgh-based detective who has been fighting crime his own way since 1987, with a bit of help from Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox. Rankin is other the author of a play, a graphic novel and numerous short stories. He's won the…