Smash Pages Q&A: Leah Moore on ‘The Doors: Morrison Hotel’

The versatile writer discusses her latest project: an anthology for Z2 Comics based on the 1970s album by The Doors.

Leah Moore has written and co-written a long list of comics including Conspiracy of Ravens, Sway and Swords of Sorrow; characters like Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes and Dracula; and publications including 2000 AD and Heavy Metal.

Moore’s newest project is The Doors: Morrison Hotel, which looks at the 1970 album by The Doors. It’s more than simply comics adaptations of the album’s tracks; the book attempts to capture a sense of the band  at this moment and the state of the country and the culture unfolding around them as they worked.

The book also manages to show what Moore does so well and makes look so easy. Each chapter of the book is drawn by a different artist – which includes Colleen Doran, Ryan Kelly, Michael Avon Oeming, Marguerite Sauvage, John K. Snyder III and Jill Thompson – which shows not just Moore’s skill at collaborating with and writing for artists, but her masterful touch at balancing tones and approaches and styles, so that the book never feels like an anthology of disparate stories, but a book seeking to capture the music, its creation and the world around it in a striking way.

Moore was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and how she works.

How you were introduced to The Doors?

I think it must have been the Echo and the Bunnymen cover in the soundtrack to The Lost Boys. That film and soundtrack was a gateway for me, as I imagine it was for a lot of people my age, into a whole dark counterculture scene. It was the coolest film I’d ever seen, and firmly cemented “People are Strange” into my psyche. I think after that, the revelation that The Doors had done it first, and arguably best, made me a lifelong Doors fan. Their music hit me at that exact moment you hit the vast unplumbable depths of teenage angst and emotion, the giant cosmic revelations that come from experimenting with substances, the giant rush that you get from combining all these things. I defy anyone to listen to “Riders of the Storm” laying on their bed, a little bit high, and not get lost in it completely.

So how did you get involved with the book?

I had worked with Rantz Hoseley 10 years ago on his incredible Comic Book Tattoo, where he got a pile of talents to translate the songs of Tori Amos into comics. I really enjoyed working like that, with the song as a springboard for imagination, so when Rantz asked if I would be interested, it was a no brainer.

What was the process of researching the book? In the before times did you get to spend time with Robby Krieger and John Densmore and hit them up for stories? 

Not in that way no, but I got to send questions and they gave me access to an incredible archive of pictures and information. Everyone is familiar by now with the iconic photograph shot by Henry Diltz, but I opened an email and it just had link after link to the whole shoot. When someone sends you pictures of The Doors’ earliest gigs, with the boys all so fresh faced and lovely, it’s a weird wonderful feeling. I did pinch myself a few times, I have to say,

How and why did you decide to center the book around the album Morrison Hotel? 

Morrison Hotel had its 50th anniversary in 2020, so we really wanted to mark that, and create a way to look at it afresh, through new eyes a quarter of a century later. The idea for a graphic novel based on the album went through several iterations, where we figured out what approach to take on the stories. Eventually we arrived at what we felt was a great mix of stories and styles. The album is such a stomping return to form for the band, we really wanted to reflect that, and show how it slotted into the turbulent time it was released.  

Was the idea from the start to not just be a book about the album and the band but to place the music in the context of was happening around them?

Yes, very much so. I think that 1969 was an absolute cultural apocalypse in terms of the huge changes that were happening. There was so much upheaval socially, with riots and protests for civil rights, and against the Vietnam War, there were huge leaps technologically, with man setting foot on the moon, and the birth of the internet, and there were so many absolutely mind blowing musicians and writers and artists and film makers. I think that when the Doors talked about opening the Doors of Perception, that is exactly what happened in 1969. Nobody could look at the world the same way after 1969, and I really wanted to show why that was.

Were you always thinking of it as an anthology?

It had to be an anthology because the songs are so varied and differ so much in style. You couldn’t go from the lazy reverie of “Indian Summer” to “Maggie McGill” in the same story and style, it’s not the same vibe at all, it wouldn’t work. There are so many songs that are really stomping rock classics, but there’s also the bouncy funk of “Peace Frog,” or the sinuous vibe of “The Spy.” It had to be an anthology. The anthology format let me write for Colleen Doran, and John K Snyder III and Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma, and Marguerite Sauvage, and Jill Thompson. It’s been amazing.

You have a great lineup of artists, but they’re also very different artists and I’m curious about the process of writing for them. Because some stories are realistic and historical and then you have “Others like Waiting for the Sun” and others which are much less so. 

Yes, matching the song to the artist and the approach was tricky. It was obviously important to make sure the art had the right feel, and that listening to the song with that story would make sense. “Waiting for the Sun” is one of my favorites, because I wanted to keep the urgency of the song, and the hope, but really lean into the drama of it and the wild swooping feel. I made it a journey into Jim’s subconscious, where the first half is philosophy and scholarly interrogation of what it is to be human, to be alive, to be a man, and the second half is the ID, where darker impulses are in control and the philosopher gets side-tracked a little. Michael and Taki absolutely knocked it out of the park. If one story shows what I was trying to do, its that one.

As part of the process, were you also thinking about how the realistic and the less realistic stories and different artists and their styles would interact and sit with each other? And arranging some of the stories in a manner similar to putting together an album of songs?

Well, the order of the songs was dictated by the album already, so we were really tied to the existing peaks and troughs in the album itself. The stories where I wanted to take the reader to a point in history, like the protests in Berkley or the jungle of Vietnam, I tried to make it so there was a change in pace each story, so it felt fresh and bouncy and not too bogged down in one thing. The 60’s were a time of real change and optimism, but 1969 can be seen to be really the year a lot of it came to and end. I wanted to show all of it, at once, so it was tricky balancing it. Rantz chased the best artists for the book, so the incredible mix we have is down to him.

I kept thinking about how so much of your work has been not just collaborating with artists but with a co-writer, but in some ways you did have a co-writer – Robby Krieger and John Densmore and the background and the history. Though it’s not quite the same, of course.

Yes, I have spent a lot of time writing comics with my husband John Reppion, so definitely collaboration is something I think is one of my strengths. I think with the nature of comics, you have to be good at collaborating just because there are so many people involved in each page, but definitely, I am very used to writing with a whole crowd. I like bouncing ideas around, and letting them grow out of conversations, it feels really natural to me to do it that way. I do sometimes get an idea that’s like a thunderbolt, but mostly they grow. I do feel like I was collaborating with Robby and John, to the extent that I was trying to match the pacing and tone, and vibe of my comics to their music. I wanted to give the stories as much of the vibe from the album as I could, and because it’s the Doors, that vibe is a really complex mix of mystical, sexy, dark, erudite, and totally out of control…it was a big ask!

So what else are you working on? Is there anything coming out soon you want to mention?

I am working on another big book with Z2, which I am not allowed to mention yet, but which should be at least as much fun as Morrison Hotel to write, and I am writing a series for Liminal11 called The Tarot Circle, which is partly the history of Tarot, and an exploration of tarot art, and partly the story of a woman who finds enlightenment and friendship at a Tarot group.  

So I have to ask, what’s your favorite Doors song and why? And is that answer different from how you would have answered before doing this?

Prior to writing Morrison Hotel, I think my favorite song was probably “Touch Me,” or “Break on Through,” just because they are so danceable and relentless, and just come in so strong – but that has definitely changed. I defy anyone to beat “Roadhouse Blues” just for the sweaty foot stomping energy of it. I listen to that and I want a sawdust floor under my feet and a large whisky in my hand. Neither of which are easy to find in a Liverpool suburb in lockdown. When I get the chance, I plan to remedy that!

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