"I sometimes throw tantrums just to keep people in line."

Alan Moore is back this month with a new chapter of his ongoing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.

Nemo River of Ghosts (Knockabout, £9.99) is a metafictional romp that takes in dinosaurs, H Rider Haggard, large-breasted Nazi robots in bikinis and dinosaurs.

In other words it's a glorious excuse to let artist Kevin O'Neill show off his wild talents. The result is minor Moore but then he's given us major Moore so often now he's allowed to just have fun now and then.

To mark the occasion we thought we'd dip into the Herald archive this week for Graphic Content. Below is an interview with the writer published in The Herald Magazine back in 2001 ahead of the film release of For Hell. If nothing else, it's a reminder of how endlessly quotable Mr Moore is.

Hell Raiser

Words Teddy Jamieson, The Herald Magazine, 24 Nov 2001

After all that hair, it is the rings that catch your attention. Intricate, dangerous-looking things - some in the shape of scorpions, complete with little metal legs and tails that look as if they'd scuttle away up his arms given the chance - that stretch the whole length of his fingers. They glitter and sparkle in the dingy, low- lit front room of Alan Moore's terraced house in Northampton as he uses them to part the curtain of hair that veils his face.

The rings add to the sense of menace that some have perceived surrounds the man once dubbed the "Orson Welles of comics". Add the fact that he's over 6ft tall, says he is a practising magician, is apt to quote Aleister Crowley at regular intervals and has spent the best part of a decade writing a graphic novel about Jack the Ripper and you could be forgiven for thinking "scary bugger". Certainly some of his editors are inclined to see him that way. He has something of a reputation, he admits. "I don't get much pressure from editors because I'm a bit eccentric and unpredictable. I sometimes throw tantrums - not very often, I'm not Elton John - just to keep people in line."

Yet as soon as he opens his mouth it is hard to take his threatening demeanour seriously. It's that Black Country accent. You just have to smile when you hear it. And if you spend any time in his presence it is soon obvious that Moore is less Charles Manson, more Neil from The Young Ones. When he starts to skin up, it becomes all too obvious. Moore is just a great big harmless hippy.

His house seals it. The chairs are worn, the carpets, where there are any, are threadbare. Piles of books and comics litter every available corner. The only colour is provided by the mystical paraphernalia on the walls - the Kabbalistic stained glass window alongside the double-headed, serpent-topped cane. Alan Moore is 48. His home has the look of a student flat gone to seed.

If your idea of success is an open-plan loft straight out of the pages of World of Interiors, Moore's property isn't going to cut it. But make no mistake, he is a success. He has spent the last 20 years writing some of the world's most successful and critically acclaimed comic books, including Watchmen and V for Vendetta and he has been courted assiduously if unsuccessfully by the movie business for much of the last two decades. He's even been the subject of a minor pop hit by eighties band Pop Will Eat Itself ("Alan Moore knows the score"). And now he's about to be nudged a little further into the mainstream when his take on Jack the Ripper, From Hell, becomes the first big film of next year.

The 500-page epic illustrated by Scottish expat Eddie Campbell - which is worthy of a Booker nomination according to some critics - takes in everything from the poetry of William Blake to the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor and treads similar ground to writers such as Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair. Whether Hollywood, in the shape of film- makers the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents), Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline and Robbie Coltrane can match the tone of Moore's dark and sometimes shocking story remains to be seen. The American reviews have been mixed.

Moore has not seen the film and unless his daughters drag him along to the British premiere he is in no hurry to. "I'm fairly divorced from the film so it's not going to be a big emotional event for me," he says.

Inevitably, Hollywood has simplified and reduced his quasi- mystical take on Victorian culture which is something, he says, he always understood would happen. "And the bits that would be excised would be the bits I was most personally interested in - the long, droning rants on architecture and occultism and things like that which are not going to play in Peoria."

Or possibly even Northampton. Certainly it requires a conscious leap of the imagination to imagine Moore's murky den could be the launching pad for a Hollywood blockbuster. But then conscious leaps of the imagination have been Moore's stock in trade since he first started writing for 2000AD in the early eighties.

Equally his conversation tends to range far and wide from any given starting point. Moore is a garrulous host. When arranging the interview he asks how long I'll need. I suggest an hour and a half, hoping for an hour. Yet three hours after we meet he's still babbling away and I'm starting to worry about missed trains.

You don't so much ask Moore questions as vaguely point him in a particular direction and let him loose. In the space of an afternoon he tells me, among many other things, about the history of Northampton (Samuel Beckett, Buffalo Bill, the man who helped decode DNA, and Mary Queen of Scots have all been seen in the vicinity. "In Northampton we started persecuting Jews before everybody else and stopped burning witches after everyone else. That gives you some idea of the character of the place."), the influence comic strips had on the making of Citizen Kane, and how much contemporary science owes to the world of magic.

Magic, he claims, is now a central part of his life. You would think being a comicbook writer would be marginalisation enough, but on his fortieth birthday Moore opted to eschew a midlife crisis in favour of something truly spectacular. "I think a boy's got to have a hobby. And with magic you get some really good toys. And it's really good for your interior decor," he says. Laurence Llewelyn Bowen has some competition, it seems.

"It was very easy to dismiss magic because of the people you met in occult shops. Then I started to look at people I couldn't dismiss so easily. People like John Dee. This was the guy who largely invented the concept of the British Empire. He wrote the book on navigation. He was the classic Renaissance man, difficult to dismiss as a credulous idiot. Yet he spent half his life conversing with angels. The more I got into it the more I realised everything came out of magic. It was very difficult to find a musician, an artist, a scientist or a politician who wasn't in some way guided by some kind of occult order, some vision or some sort of esoteric thinking."

At this point I'm mentally scrambling for names to challenge him with. P G Wodehouse? Cole Porter? But he's already moved on to deconstruct the importance of magic to Sir Isaac Newton. "Newton said there were seven colours in a rainbow. But there are only six. There's no indigo. Mood indigo doesn't exist. The reason Newton put it there was because he was an alchemist and of course seven is a mystical number. Indigo was purely included for occult reasons."

It's difficult for those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool materialists to take this all too seriously. (My eyes begin to glaze over at the point where he tells me the gods of writing and magic are one and the same.) But Moore speaks with the eye-shining certainty of the converted.

"I've judged it purely by results. I don't have time to indulge in something that isn't going to reward me. And I wasn't even writing this much stuff when I was 25 and full of piss and vinegar." Perhaps so, but since his current output is dominated by a tranche of superhero comics, albeit well-written ones, that doesn't seem quite the claim it might be.

Alan Moore was born in the oldest and at the time poorest area of Northampton, The Boroughs. After passing his 11 plus he became one of the few working-class boys at the local grammar school, at the mercy of a headmaster who wasn't fond of the ones who were. "The headmaster had it in for me," Moore suggests. "I'm sure I was a nightmarish, sociopathic teenager but he wrote to a lot of the art schools and colleges and universities telling them not to take me for the sake of their other pupils, which I think is a little harsh. I'm sure I was evil but at the same time was 17." Moore's crime was dealing acid. ("I wasn't really making any profit out of it.") Expelled from school and with no qualifications to fall back on, he was reduced to a series of menial jobs at the local skinning yards and as a toilet cleaner in one of Northampton's hotels.

It was while he was working as a clerk for the gas board that he decided to make an effort to pursue his interest in comics for fear that he would be stuck in the same office when he was 40. The day after he handed in his notice his wife phoned him to report that a pregnancy test had proved positive. For a while he lived at the"tender mercies" of the social security system, before selling a cartoon strip to the rock weekly Sounds. He then progressed to 2000AD and an adult comic Warrior, his work for which earned him a string of Eagle Awards. "The Americans are very awards conscious and they didn't realise it was just 30 tragic blokes in anoraks that voted for the Eagles. And they headhunted me."

Moore began to work for DC, home of Superman and Batman and by the mid-eighties helped prompt a mini fad for comic books in the style mags courtesy of V for Vendetta, his vision of a future Britain (circa 1997) under the jackboot of fascism (this was the Thatcher era after all) and Watchmen, his take on what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. The detailed, intricate, novelistic layering of story and symbolism in Watchmen prompted the Orson Welles comparisons (overblown as they were) and Moore became a minor celebrity, interviewed in the broadsheets and on the tube (and indeed on The Tube). At the height of his fame he had one of his "Bette Davies-style tantrums" with his publisher and stormed off to reshape the comic book art form off his own bat. "So started the Alan Moore wilderness years," he grins.

If Watchmen was his Citizen Kane then his next major project, Big Numbers, could be seen as his Magnificent Ambersons - an ambitious 12- part exploration of life in a town not unlike Northampton a world away from the inbuilt adolescence of the superhero genre. And like Welles, Moore was unable to bring it off. Two issues appeared, only for it to end abruptly when not one but two artists went awol.

It didn't help that Moore's marriage was also in trouble. It had already mutated when Moore and his wife allowed her girlfriend to move in with them. "It worked for three years," he says now. "It was a statement as much as anything else. We were totally open. It wasn't some drunken threesome after a party." As a relationship, however, it was not sustainable. "It's a pretty f*****g emotional situation and it ended explosively as you might expect."

These days Moore shares his life and work, though not his house, with former Californian underground artist Melinda Gibbie. "We've got this whole other room. We've got a collaborative space. I'd recommend it."

The duo are currently putting the finishing touches to Lost Girls. "That's the one I will be burned at the stake for," Moore claims. "It's pornography. Ten or 12 years ago it struck me that there's something odd that very few of us make our living as cowboys, private eyes or vampire hunters. Yet all of us have some kind of thoughts about sex. Yet the only kind of artform that deals with this is this shabby, despised art form where there are no standards. Pornography is sordid, ugly, and offensive. But is that because it is necessarily like that or because that's what we get? A collaboration between a man and a woman seemed at a stroke to solve the potential problems. I can't imagine doing Lost Girls with a man because there would be an inevitable locker-room mentality. Hopefully what would come out of this is something both men and women find sexy."

Lost Girls explores the sexual experiences of three women who meet in Austria in 1913, around the time of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. "It sets intimate sexual narratives against a dark, imposing background," Moore says, though it sounds as if it can be summed up in that familiar hippy mantra, "Make love not war." How very sixties. As I said, just a great big hippy.

It's getting dark outside now and Moore is calling me a cab to take me back to the train station. We've not had time to discuss his attempts to be a musician or his career as a performance artist, or even his one shot at being a "proper" novelist (which amounted to one book, Voice of the Fire, the first chapter of which was written in an invented Neolithic language - not the wisest commercial move) but then I don't want to miss Christmas.

On the way back to the train station the cab driver tells me Northampton is the centre of England, halfway between London and Birmingham. At the centre, perhaps, but not at the heart. It's a marginal place. Which makes it perfect for Moore. Performance art, pornography, comic books, magic rituals - he's a man at the margins himself.

Alan Moore's Greatest Hits

Watchmen (1986) Responsible for the mid- eighties vogue for graphic novels, Watchmen removed superheroes from the world of fantasy and placed them in the real world of political corruption and the ever-present threat of nuclear armageddon.

V for Vendetta (1988) Moore's response to Thatcherism imagined the establishment of a fascist state in Britain. How, he wondered, could he signal this to his readers? "I know I'll put a security camera on every corner. That will chill their blood. And here we are."

Brought to Light (1989) An account of the CIA's history of dirty tricks. A vicious satire of the secret state, it led, Moore claims, to his house being watched.

Big Numbers (1989) The great "what if?" in Moore's career. "The artist Bill Sienkiewicz had some kind of psychological block. After two chapters we weren't getting any more art from him," Moore recalls. Al Columbia took over and reportedly drew a third chapter but Moore never saw it. "I heard all sorts of insane stories. One of them was that he destroyed the artwork. Another was that he ran away with it and was hunted by the police. When two artists run screaming into the night you ask yourself 'Is it me?'"

From Hell (1998) Moore's magnum opus is thankfully not the work of a murder groupie. He betrays no adolescent adoration of serial killers. "They are very banal human beings. They're just some twat with a bad perm like Peter Sutcliffe. They are not Hannibal Lecter. They're not listening to the Goldberg Variations while enjoying some particularly exquisite truffles."

America's Best Comics (1999) Moore's latest work and more superheroes. It has resulted in one gem, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which a group of Victorian heroes including Allan Quartermain and Captain Nemo take on Fu Manchu in a very funny tribute cum parody.