Before you scroll down and skim this article, can you guess who the writer in question is?
It is not Stephen King.
Do you have your answer firmly in your mind?
Alright … say it out loud, and scroll.
I can't hear your answer because I'm writing this in the past. I'll assume that, without hesitation, you guessed Alan Moore—and you are correct! Alan Moore (author of Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, Jerusalem and more) has a reputation for being an oddity. This reputation might be exaggerated, but not by much.
During the recent news coverage of creepy clowns appearing across the United States and the world, it seemed to me that people forgot that the United Kingdom had its own bout of The Clowning, and Alan Moore found himself near the centre of it!
The Clown Appears
We return to the year 2013. The town is Northampton. On September 13th (a Friday, of course) photos of The Northampton Clown were posted online.
This was thought to be documentation of the clown's first appearance, and in a sense, it was. There were further sightings within the following days. People took to Twitter to discuss the clown, and a few Facbook pages were created, run by people claiming to be the clown. One of these pages was genuine. It was entitled "Spot Northampton's Clown," and it featured photos as well as clues as to where the clown could next be spotted. The clown mostly stood on the sidewalk while waving at passersby, and didn't do much else. Understandably, people were wigged out! Posts online about the clown expressed fear, anger, amusement and suspicion. After local law enforcement initially released a warning of suspicious behavior, Chief Constable Adrian Lee eventually had this to say:
Why Drag Alan into All This?
This clown wasn't the only famous, unusual entity walking the streets of Northampton. The town was already home to an imposing magician with wild hair, shining rings, and many accolades to his name. Alan Moore was born in Northampton, has lived there throughout his life, and his fellow Northants are aware of him. It wasn't only that Alan is an eccentric figure, it was the shape of his eccentricities that drew suspicion. Although he is known for writing comic books, Moore has other creative outlets. He is a performance artist; his productions include The Birth Caul and Snakes & Ladders, among other works that address themes such as magic, life and death. To Alan, these are like his books, short films, music and all art: they are "workings" of a magical nature. He has been rather open about this.
This reputation is enough to make people wonder about Alan's motives and what behavior to expect. Some speculated that things had gone a bit "Fight Club," perhaps inspired by the story that Alan claims to have encountered John Constantine—one of his fictional creations—while in a sandwich bar. Moore dressing himself or a friend up as a clown, to wander the streets for some mysterious purpose, was a reasonable suspicion.
Further Clown Spottings
The Northampton Clown continued to appear around the town, and even earned a costumed adversary(?) in Boris, the "official clown catcher." Meanwhile, news of the clown spread across borders, and was reported on by the likes of The Wire, The Huffington Post, BBC America, and IGN. The Northampton Clown was infamous. I bet you can guess what followed.
Yes! The Clowning spread, as it would once again in late 2016. Even after Northampton's ceased activities, clowns were reported in Doncaster, Bradford, Mansfield, and elsewhere. But before all that, Alan Moore spoke to the media.
The Interview with Alan Moore
On September 19th, 2013, the Northampton Herald & Post published Steve Scoles's interview with Alan Moore. When asked about the clown, Moore said that it was not him. Adding that he found the events fitting because a recent project of his featured a clown in one of its episodes, and addressed the notion that sometimes things cross over from a dream time under Northampton. (That project would become the Jimmy's End Saga, a series of short films he was creating with Mitch Jenkins.)
Moore continued, telling the story of his encounter with a mysterious van, on September the 13th. He claimed that he and Mitch Jenkins planned to take advantage of the publicity the clown had generated. And it was noted that one of the early photos of the Northampton Clown was apparently taken on the same street that Moore lives on. Overall, this interview may have inspired further suspicion from some readers.
The Secret of Magic
The Northampton Clown began this clowning 27 years after Stephen King's IT was published in September of 1986. 27 years is how long Pennywise, the shapeshifting killer clown in the novel, hibernates. Although the novel is set between 1984 and 1985, this anniversary probably encouraged whoever was under the the makeup.
When speaking of his magic, Alan Moore has called it a "science of language." I'll let you decide how scientific his approach is, if you want to investigate. But he's describing how we're affected not only by the language used to present an idea, but by the medium in which an idea is communicated; he's also describing how changing our language can inspire different ideas. This isn't very "mad," is it? But when he uses terms like "Magician" and "workings" without this context, people give him funny (or funnier looks.) Moore's perspective on art matters—in my opinion—because this article is about more than that one clowning in the U.K.
Before reaching the conclusion of this tale, ask yourself, is Alan Moore responsible for the "masked anarchists" on the political scene? When Alan referenced Anonymous adopting the Guy Fawkes mask, he probably wasn't aware of the reasons why it was chosen to be the face of their movement. Earlier this year, Greg Housh told Coast to Coast a story behind the choice. In short, they needed an identifiable mask that was available to people all around the world. When the V for Vendetta film was released, these masks were produced as a tie-in, and piled up in comics shops. Anonymous researched what was available while organizing their protest against Scientology, then chose the now synonymous symbol. It was fortunate that the spirit of the protest was somewhat similar to the themes of the Wachowski's adaptation of Alan Moore's comic.
I Owe You The Clown's Identity Now, Yes? Yes I Do.
In place of what you have read so far, I could have written "Alan Moore, the dude who wrote Watchmen and V for Vendetta, he was accused of being a creepy clown. It happened in 2013, when there was a clown in Moore's hometown of Northampton. Alan is a performance artist as well as a writer, and he calls himself a magician, so people expect him to do weird stuff like that." But the way I presented the pieces of this story, in this medium, changed what the article was about and how it relates to you in 2016. There would be no room for addressing Alan's philosophies if I had written that version of this article; there is no room for considering the motives of the clowns, and no room for acknowledging the forgotten California Clowning of 2014 (see below.) But now we enter the finale, and I have a confession to make to you.
I have been keeping another piece of this story from you. It was something that happened months before the first clown sighting, before the story began. Some people became aware of it during the series of sightings, and Steve Scoles wrote of it in the Northampton Herald & Post. A short film was posted online. It is about a lonely clown that appears to live in Northampton, and the character in the film seems to be wearing the same outfit as The Northampton Clown. It was created by neither Moore nor Jenkins. As Scoles pointed out, there is a blue garage door featured that may be the same one that is in the background of the first clown photo! You can watch the video if you want but I would finish reading this article first. I understand if you don't trust me at this point, and want to confirm that there actually is a video, but I don't think the film is worth a detour. My apologies to the writer/director, Alex Powell.
Alex Powell initially denied that he was the clown, even after the video was discovered. And Steve Scoles was denied the opportunity to unmask the Northampton Clown in a "Scooby-Doo" fashion. The Sunday People caught Alex Powell in the act, nearly. When confronted on his doorstep—and shown pictures of himself and friends entering an apartment, and The Northampton Clown later emerging from it—Powell confessed. He agreed to an interview and told his story of why he chose to be the clown.
Powell's parents claimed that their son was not the clown, despite his confession. In the interview Powell said he would continue on as the clown despite being discovered. There were indeed further sightings but most people lost interest. It wasn't the last Clowning, of course: as I said earlier, other clowns continued to be spotted sporadically.
Weapon-wielding Clowns in 2014
And then there came the reports of clowns frightening children and adults alike, in the streets around San Joaquin Valley, California. They were reported to the police as being armed with blades, bats and guns. Roughly 20 clowns were reported, and one 14-year-old was caught by police. Why did this begin? These clowns, whether they were actually armed or only reported to be, were not performance artists: they were mischief-makers who were intentionally unnerving others. (There is a difference, I think.) Why did they do this, what was the inspiration this time? Artists. A wife and husband who had begun posting to an Instagram account for a Wasco Clown on October 1st. This was cited as inspiration by the arrested teen, and was the earliest initiating occurrence of this Clowning. The couple might have been inspired by the stories of Northampton and the copyclowns. Or maybe they took their cue from similar source material, like Stephen King's IT, which continues to creep people out with a character who is already inspired by people's fears, and the ambiguity surrounding clowns.
The Clowning: 2016
There have been other sightings between 2013 and now. But our current history says that the 2016 Clowning kicked off in August. I remember finding "Killer Clowns" trending on Facebook, and within hours hearing it talked about on the radio. There was some debate over how many clowns were actually sighted, if this was an organized effort, and how many people's imaginations were getting the best of them. But it didn't matter much: once the story began trending, and once the trend was reported on along with the incidents themselves, more people were inspired. This Clowning is taking place in a different cultural environment, one that has been modified partly by the new reports and rumours of criminal activity. And although the aforementioned clown stories trended, they did not trend in the same way that 2016's clowns did.
For good or for ill, the events of the past few months gave me reason to tell the tale of Alan Moore and the Northampton Clown. This time, I am sharing it with a larger audience than the friends I told it to before—and you didn't have to hear my terrible (i.e. amazing) Alan Moore impression! Clowns are still on our collective minds but the novelty might be wearing off. This may have been helped in no small part by the stories of people beating the Hell out of clowns that they perceived to be dangerous. In one comedic turn, I was recently told of a local clown whose routine involves being unexpectedly casual and non-threatening! We have Halloween in our sights, and we'll see how that goes.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYBODY!!!
Enjoy catching digital monsters!
P.S., writing this article has helped me choose my costume: I'm going to be John Constantine.