The creator’s position viewed through the lens of Alan Moore

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Photo by Jose Villarubia

I wanted to finish up a few things on Before Watchmen and then, hopefully I’ll wrap this up. I finished Monday’s post while I was hopped up on Benadryl and that is not something I recommend for anyone. I was not able to articulate my name the main reason why Before Watchmen (BeWa) can be viewed as a depressing reality for the comics industry.

I’ll start with reprinting one of my comments on the previous thread:

The contract that Moore and Gibbons signed is actually pretty standard in publishing — the rights revert when it goes out of print. Pretty common.

Where it differs is in this: In the book publishing world, in general, when an author such as Alan Moore writes a worldwide smash that is quickly enshrined as a future classic….you try to keep that person working for you so you can make even more money off their future works.

DC, for reasons probably buried in their DNA from Jack Liebowitz, proceeded to alienate Moore by chintzing him on merchandise monies, and then subsequently alienating him by making him change The Cobweb stories and trashing an entire print run of LoeG.

Is Moore a high maintenance creator? Absolutely.

But you’ll note that the main reason Diane Nelson, DC’s current president, was given reign over the company is because she was so good at handling another very high maintenance creator, J.K. Rowling.

Would WB treat Rowling the way DC treated Moore?

I don’t think so.


In one of his searing posts on the matter, David Brothers presented a timeline:

1. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is an enormously successful comic book, on creative, critical, and commercial levels
2. Moore and Gibbons both signed a contract that gave DC the rights to Watchmen until the book went out of print for a year (I believe), at which point they’d receive the rights back
3. Watchmen was an unheralded success, and the book has yet to go out of print. As a result, Moore and Gibbons never got their rights back.
4. DC promised to share revenue from Watchmen-related merchandise, and then went ahead and produced merchandise and classified it as promotional and didn’t give M&G anything
5. These shenanigans, along with a coming ratings system that Moore disagreed with, led Moore to cut ties with DC entirely
6. DC brought Wildstorm, which came along with America’s Best Comics. Moore felt that leaving DC again would screw his artists over, so he stuck around
7. DC continued screwing with Moore over the years, from pulping his comics to either sabotaging (or botching to such an extent that it might as well be sabotage) the release of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
8. Moore cut ties again, and has consistently refused DC’s money, overtures, and renegotiations.
9. Before Watchmen is a series of prequels to Watchmen, some thirty-five issues that will shed light on characters from the book
10. Alan Moore gives grumpy, hyperbolic interviews, but his basic point is that he’d prefer it not happen (and not because he wants money [he doesn’t, by his own word] but because it’s shameless and ugly).
11. For all his faults, Paul Levitz refused to let Before Watchmen happen on his watch. As soon as he left, it was on.
12. Before Watchmen has an economic motivation, not an artistic one. No one said “Boy, I have this great Nite Owl story.” Dan Didio said, “Hey, we need to make more money, and Watchmen is just sitting there. Who do we have who wants to sign on for fat cash?”


I’m sure there are many addenda and different opinions on this timeline, but let’s use it as a working model. And where people really need to expand it is item 7, because the whole DC/Wildstorm/Alan Moore history is where things really got snarled in all of this.

Moore had signed up to do his ABC line for Wildstorm BEFORE it was purchased by DC in 1999. And when that purchase become public, Moore had to be promised that he wouldn’t be messed with on the books. Which he AGREED TO.

But then things happened.

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The Watchmen Toys that were not to be.

Despite Moore’s current stance—and what I’m writing is based on my memories, and not citations because it seems to have occurred when the Internet is not the Glinda’s Big Book that it is now—there actually was a detente between Moore/Gibbons and DC in 2000 leading up to some events for Watchmen’s 15th anniversary. There were going to be toys, and a new recolored edition of the book, and Moore and Gibbons had actually given their blessing for it.

M&G were so on board with the idea that a DC film crew went and interviewed them for HOURS about Watchmen. These interviews were edited down into an hour long version which lopped continuously at the DC booth at San Diego in 2000. I was working for DC at the time, and every time I was in the booth that film would be playing. Miracles could happen, everyone thought. There was talk of new back matter.

It was like the ping pong team going to China. It was a tiny crack, but for the first time, it looked like maybe there was a way for Moore and DC to get along.

And then TOMORROW STORIES #8 happened. Moore had written a Cobweb story which contained statements about L. Ron Hubbard that DC legal thought might be litigious. Although they had already published a version of it in a previous Big Book. Moore and DC legal actually went over the story, and agreed to changes…but after going through the whole process the story was still pulled.

And Alan Moore became angry. And Gibbons sided with him in solidarity.

And there would be no 15th Anniversary edition and no toys (until the movie). And no Alan Moore cooperating with DC ever again. Moore discussed this in an interview with Newsarama from August 2000 called “Moore Leaves The Watchmen 15th Anniversary Plans,” according to Wikipedia, but sadly the story was scrubbed in some Newsarama clean-up.
UPDATE: Thanks to Rodrigo Baeza for find the story. Here’s the relevant portion although the whole thing is a must-read:

The current disagreement between Moore and DC involves the long-delayed Tomorrow Stories #8, which, according to Moore, contains a story that is in the public domain, and involves characters who are dead. “We did the story in good faith and it is completely non-actionable,” Moore says. “It was a true story. All the people in it are dead, but apparently Paul Levitz felt it was too risky to print it. I went through DC’s legal department, and the DC lawyers seem to be very sane, practical people. As a creator, I’ve heard for a long time what ‘lawyers’ are like, but actually speaking to Lillian Laserson, she was practical, sane, responsible, professional and logical. We went through it for an hour, taking about this six-page story, and the reference book that I’d taken most of the story from, how it’s all in the public domain and is all over the Internet, and it’s been in two or three magazines and a book. This is stuff that there’s no possible threat of litigation, which I think Lillian pretty much agreed with, and then Paul Levitz apparently said, even so, he didn’t want it to go out, which I think was the case all along. I think Lillian was a bit perplexed as to why an hour of her and my time had been wasted going through the legal ramifications of this thing when they were never very important in the first place.”

There was also the pulping of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN #5 due to an actual real vintage ad for a product called the Marvel Douche was included in the back pages. But the damage had been done.

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I point this out to show that Moore has not ALWAYS been The Great Wall of No. Maybe the things that happened aren’t what you or I would revolt over, but it’s Moore decision to make. And he made his ground rules clear going in.

DC Comics with Alan Moore is kind of like the guy who gets all tongue tied and clumsy around the cute girl. Marvel is the same. They keep doing these little bumbling things (or big honking insulting things) that proved to Moore that he was right all along. For instance, when Moore was busy renouncing all his movie money, including the V for Vendetta film, I interviewed him. He had just received the new hardcover edition of the book. And on the back instead of saying “Have a pleasant day” — one of the book’s memes– it only said “Have a pleasant.” (I will never forget Moore’s voice as he told me this.) Marvel did a similar dumbass thing with a copyright line.

Oops.

Again I ask:

Would WB treat J.K. Rowling the way DC treated Alan Moore?

Because in all these comments about Moore the hypocrite, Moore this, Moore that…I mean…this is the man who changed the face of comics writing. Neil Gaiman got his “in” for writing comics because he was a friend of Alan Moore. And after that, nothing was the same.

And yet, the subtext we often hear is not “Wow, this is a creator who has written lasting works, is an intellect, one of the most unique voices the medium has ever seen” — it’s “Alan Moore the comics writer should be grateful someone gave him a chance, and published his books. He needs us more than we need him.”

I got news for you, bub. Moore was a successful writer in England before DC came calling for Swamp Thing. And if they hadn’t, I suspect he wouldn’t have written Watchmen but he would have written other things. And he night have gotten screwed by one publisher but he’d have kept writing. And we’d have a whole different row of masterpieces sitting on our shelves.

And in our own reality Alan Moore’s books have been turned into FIVE movies, become “canon,” influenced countless other creators, and continue to sell and sell and sell. Besides Watchmen, LoeG, V for Vendetta and The Killing Joke are best sellers for DC year after year after year. Those new editions of his Swamp Thing issues are selling just fine. And will continue to sell and be read and move people.

As we are all well aware, there is a certain equation that dictates diminishing returns for the crankiness vs usefulness ratio. Hollywood provides the clearest examples of this. For instance, screenwriter Joe Ezsterhas was known to be difficult, but people worked with him because his movies made money. At some point his movies didn’t make as much money, and being difficult was the biggest thing anyone could remember about him. And he wasn’t all THAT difficult…just someone who spoke his mind.

I know of several novelists I won’t name who are known to be difficult nutters. But their books keep getting published. By the same publishers. Because these nutters make money for those publishers.

So, you adjust. A happy Alan Moore would have made more money for DC than an unhappy one. (The unhappy one has made a ton.) Think about the value of a happy Jim Lee, a happy Geoff Johns, a happy JMS. JMS was happy at Marvel…until he was unhappy. And SUPERMAN EARTH ONE made a lot of money for DC.

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BeWa makes me sad because what we really, really need in comics is NEW successful ideas. A new book by Darwyn Cooke, a new book by Brian Azzarello, a new book by Adam Hughes. Amanda Conner telling DC “Here is my new project I want you to publish,” should be cause for excitement and high fives.

But it isn’t.
Did you know that when SPACEMAN, the new book by Azzarello and Eduardo Risso came out last fall, in the middle of the New 52 firestorm, only a single preview was published anywhere on the internet? One week before the book came out, Io9 put out a five page preview. I know because I had been looking for preview pages to run to promote it and there weren’t any.

You know, the new book by the team behind 100 Bullets. 100 Bullets, one of the most acclaimed comics of the previous decade.

The series won the 2002 Harvey Awards for Best Writer, Best Artist and Best Continuing Series, and the 2003 Harvey Award for Best Artist, as well as the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story, and the 2002 and 2004 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.


In terms of prestige, this is like the new movie by Alexander Payne. The new book by Junot Diaz. The new TV show by J. Michael Straczynski.

In a world where creators were the story, a new project by an award winning team should be just as big as The New 52. It should be greeted with huzzahs and champagne.

What it did get: a $1 #1 issue and a five page preview on i09.

In todays market that’s actually really good. But it’s not what the company owned projects get.

And I get that. I understand the economics of it. It’s not in Marvel or DC’s DNA to put the creator first. Go read Gerard JonesMen of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book The men who created the US comics industry were often glorified gangsters, one step up from the porn industry. They were interested in page counts not creators. They needed men (and women) who could fill the newsprint with fantasies and larger than life characters. When one passed out, he was pulled off the oar and another one was put in his place. It’s an attitude that came all the way down to the 70s when Siegel and Shuster fought for a stipend and credit for the character they created, Superman.

And then, as the direct sales market emerged and the faceless newsstand faded—ironically as fan tastes for favored creators began to really take hold—the idea that the creator was important and more than a cog in the machine began to make some headway.

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Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz and Dick Giordano made some strides at DC, Jim Shooter and Archie Goodwin did some things at Marvel. Vertigo came along and tried even more. There were royalties and copyrights. I’d like to quote one more comment from yesterday, this one from Ed Brubaker:

The main problem I have with this whole thing, is that the summer Watchmen was announced was the same summer that pros and fans rallied around Jack Kirby, it was the beginning of the “creators bill of rights” and many other things. And in that summer, DC touted Watchmen as a victory for creators rights.

They proclaimed that the creators would own it and have control, that this was a new era, not like what happened to Siegel and Shuster, to Kirby, to countless comics creators that came before. They were saying DC was better than the other publishers by giving this great deal to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Now it turns out, that’s not the case, and it’s just like all the others that came before, and they’re acting like they never said that.

I don’t care what’s in the contract, I don’t have any animosity for my friends and peers working on these books. And I totally understand why DC is doing it, and that they have the right to.

But I was there when they announced it, and I remember how they talked about it then, and say whatever you want about Marvel and Kirby, etc. But no one ever held up the Avengers as a victory for creators rights.

Watchmen came out in a time where creators were driving sales, not editorial retreats. And like Brubaker, I was there, and that’s how I remember it, too. At the time, Marvel and Jim Shooter were engaged in a war with the pros and fan press over not returning Jack Kirby’s artwork. Kirby was alive, and he was a cranky old man, but people rallied behind him like crazy. Good thing there was no internet because in 1986 if fans had been posting that Jack Kirby was greedy everywhere Roz Kirby would have destroyed them.

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Charles Lippincott, Harlan Ellison and JMS in 1989. via

And now my memory is very hazy on this…there was once a radio show in LA called Hour 25, that had been hosted by a guy named Mike Hodel. But he died and sf writer Harlan Ellison took over as host. Although SF focused, Ellison was a big comics fan and once in a while had comics guests on. (I used to listen to it at midnight every Friday and then wake up at 7 am when my clock radio went off with some weird noise music show on that was fucking awesome.) I’m pretty sure Ellison had a show about the Kirby controversy with (possibly?) Marv Wolfman and Len Wein as guests. Something like that. Probably Mark Evanier. And you can believe that Harlan would rant about how Kirby deserved his artwork back and all the credit in the world and all the rest.

After a couple of years, Ellison left the show. And do you know who took over? J. Michael Straczynski. Did he ever do a show about Kirby getting his art back? That I don’t recall. It wouldn’t have been surprising, though, because it was such a strong issue for pros in the LA area. Not supporting Kirby would have been a very unpopular stance. My memory of JMS the radio host was that he wasn’t quite the rabble rouser Harlan was, but it wasn’t like Bill O’Reilly suddenly took over for Jon Stewart.

So yeah, there was a different mood all that time back when Watchmen was created. Vertigo and Image and the Legends line at Dark Horse, and the Bravura (!) line at Malibu and Tundra and many other things—some that failed horribly, some that made it—were all testament to the idea that by giving creators some freedom and equity and treating them like stars you would make great comics and sell lots of them. Marvel was out of it at that point due to the horrible Perelman years. And that led to the distributor wars, and the implosion and the crash and since then every penny has been counted. And storing up your IP and squeezing it for every drop of revenue and then squeezing it some more is the modus operandi for most publishers. Creators are useful for enlivening that IP and relaunching it, and crossing it over and sitting in retreats and figuring out how to eventize it. You couldn’t do any of that without creators, in fact. But luckily for the publishers, there are editors to make sure the creators color inside the lines and stay on target and keep that legacy IP flowing. And a long line of eager new replacement creators who want to be given the chance to go to that retreat. And retailers who know that their customers will only order something they know, and readers going into stores who only want to relive their nostalgia, and before you know it, an entire system based on retreading old ideas is in place.

And before you know it, you have a pre-sold hit like Before Watchmen.

And that’s where we are today.

I’ve spoken to quite a few of the people working on the Before Watchmen books. And they are all proud of their work. I’m not going to gainsay their pride. And I’m not going to call them sellouts or other names. I’ve said a few things here and elsewhere but I will no longer question their motives. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

And also…can you imagine what the message boards are going to be like when these books come out, no matter how well made they are? That’s going to be punishment enough.

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I very much like Tom Spurgeon’s “Before Before Watchmen There Was Spain Rodriguez” campaign. Rodriguez is one the of great, lively cartoonists of the last 40 years who should be enjoying comfortable golden years based on his body of work. And he’s still working, turning out good work. He has a new book out called, improbably, Cruisin’ With the Hound: The Life and Times of Fred Toote Go buy a copy.

I’m not going to boycott Before Watchmen news. Or Avengers news. It’s news. Like a new Tom Hart book or a new Alison Bechdel book. I definitely prefer that kind of news, however. And if you don’t like that, go read another website.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a quote from Image publisher Eric Stephenson’s latest credo.

It’s such a simple deal – the creator owns 100% of the work – and you don’t have to be a superstar to get it, you just have to be good. It’s a deal extended to everyone we publish at Image, be it a first-time writer, a fan-favorite artist, or someone in-between. As long as there are writers and artists eager to create their own characters and tell their own stories, Image Comics exists so they can do just that, secure in the knowledge that they will retain complete control over their work.


Stephenson is very much positioning Image as the anti-Before Watchmen. It’s a strong move for the times we live in. In the history outlined above, we’ve seen many well intentioned things go awry. Tundra, funded with Kevin Eastman’s vast piles of Teenage Mutant ninja Turtles money, was one of the best intentioned ideas ever. And one of the worst publishers, as Eastman would later admit. The heartache and human toll was staggering.

So it doesn’t always work out.

But we should try. Image is trying. They are offering a different model. A model that does not spring from the cold heart of Jack Liebowitz. As an industry we need to try to let creators create and let new ideas flourish. And support a market that supports new ideas. Some would say there isn’t the money going around for that. Maybe. But we should try.

And now I’m done.