This month Louie Stowell shares Halo Jones: written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Ian Gibson

Many writers have influenced and inspired me over the years. Richmal Crompton, for her Just William series, containing some of the pithiest summaries of politics and human society I’ve read anywhere in books for adults or children. John Christopher’s science fiction. Tolkien, for his landscapes, worldbuilding and wars. Ursula le Guin for both science fiction and magic. Her worlds are weird and vast. It’s almost impossible to pick just one.

So I’m picking two. It’s not cheating, though, because these are the co-authors of a comic series, originally published in 2000AD, but collected into a number of volumes. Alan Moore did the words. Ian Gibson did the art, and both left a lasting impression on me as a child.

The world of Halo Jones mirrored the real world of the 1980s – poverty, cruel leadership, as well as showy wealth and shoulder pads. Halo Jones lives on the Hoop – a kind of vast floating council estate. She decides she wants to get out and find a new life, and the story follows her into space and through wars. What I find inspiring about her story – and the art and words that shape it – is the idea that anyone can be a hero. Not because they’re special, but because they choose to do something unexpected.

The idea of choice – moral choice especially – is something I really enjoy exploring in my writing. I write funny books for children, but when it comes down to it, I’m always obsessed with what it means to do the right thing. In my Kit the Wizard series (I didn’t call it that but Amazon does so it’s a handy way to describe two books) the main character is a bit of a blunderer. She’s always messing up and making the wrong choices. But, hopefully, she learns a bit along the way.

1980s sci fi epic, The Ballad of Halo Jones, made me realise that ordinary people can have incredible adventures. Well, that and Lord of the Rings

I realise as I write that I’m not talking about the authors as my inspirations. That’s because they’re not. I’m always much more inspired by fictional worlds than real authors. I love Alan and Ian’s work, and it shaped my childhood – the tusked army commander, the Rat King, even the hologram soap operas that Halo’s friends watch in their dystopian future apartment. But it’s all about the work, not the creators.

It took me a long time as a child to realise that stories don’t just EXIST in the world. They have to be made. That’s partly because stories feel so real to me. When I write, once I’ve written something, the story isn’t mine any more. It belongs to the world and to readers.

Perhaps that’s why I often enjoy stories that tend towards myth. The Ballad of Halo Jones is framed as the study of a mythical figure, Halo Jones, from the perspective of the far future. (Or, for us, the far, far future, considering HJ is already set in the future.) It’s a funny story, but one with huge scope – she travels from planet to planet, and through the dark of space. There’s also a robot dog. You can never go wrong with a robot dog.

One element of Halo Jones in particular seeped into my writing: the Rat King. Not in its original form, but translated into a different universe. Also, the idea of a very average, very ordinary girl being thrust into the realm of the extraordinary. Kit has magic powers, so in that way she’s not ordinary. But in every other way, she’s not a super special chosen one.

Another aspect of the story that’s stuck with me: a hero and her friends. Also a trope in Buffy, which I hope someone will ask me to write about as an inspiration some time…

Halo is in many ways a solitary figure, but the joy that Alan Moore and Ian Gibson put into creating her friends – a kind of surrogate family – is powerful. That stuck with me.

Also, one day I really want to write a book set in a space war.

In terms of the creators themselves, I’ve always been fascinated by co-creation. In comics in particular, but also wherever it arises. For example, my favourite Neil Gaiman book is Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Writing The Dragon in the Library and The Monster in the Lake was also a process of co-creation – with my wife, as we talked through ideas on dog walks; with my editor, as he helped shape Kit’s journey; and with Davide Ortu, my illustrator. Bringing a story into the visual dimension can take it to places you never expected, giving new details that you didn’t imagine – or imagined quite differently. It’s a letting go, and an enriching of your created world. It’s beautiful.

Inspiration is a funny word. Doesn’t it mean breathing in? I know I breathed in and hoovered up comics all my young (and now less young) life, and the medium has influenced my writing. (My WIP is partly a comic actually.) Alan Moore and Ian Gibson have been there in the back of my mind, with Halo Jones and her vast, ordinary adventures. You breathe in books and breathe out new stories. Sometimes, though, I feel like all stories are part of the same vast web. Thank you, Alan and Ian, for making that web richer and more complex.

*all images courtesy of Louie Stowell

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully-researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science but eventually lapsed into just making stuff up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. She lives in London with her wife Karen, her dog Buffy and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. 

Twitter: @louiestowell

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