AVC: How did you brace yourself for the controversy that would come with the Before Watchmen announcement?
DC: I didn’t, really. I knew there would be a certain amount of it. In all honesty, I didn’t expect, “Poor Alan Moore.” I just didn’t expect that. So that sort of took me by surprise. I certainly expected people to have an opinion about whether this beloved material should be explored any further, and I believe that that’s a question, but it’s also a challenge that I’m happy to meet. All the stuff with Alan, I didn’t count on that or really give it much thought. It’s now an incredibly large issue. So, it is what it is. I guess the most important thing for me, and it’s funny because I have some friends in the business who I have an incredible amount of respect for, and they completely disagree with me on this thing. However, we all realize that we’re disagreeing about a comic book. Not about whether or not children should be allowed to eat. Not about whether we should be blocking the sun, so that Muslims don’t get any sun. We’re not burning the Koran. We’re producing a comic book here, and let’s keep it all in perspective.
Sometimes in my more charitable moments I have thought, regarding the team DC brought together for their Before Watchmen project (which includes a few creators, Cooke among them, whose prior work I rate highly), that I could disapprove of the project and obvious cash-grab motives behind it, but I didn’t necessarily have to write off everyone involved. Right?
But with every bit of news that trickled out through the comics hype machine, I found myself more and more ambivalent. I dropped the two series by Brian Azzarello that I was reading a few months ago, and the release of The Score, Cooke’s latest adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, stopped being something I was looking forward to. I hugely enjoyed Cooke’s last two Parker adaptions, and now there was something in the way. Their other work had become problematic for me purely through their involvement in Before Watchmen, because even if I avoided those comics, buying their other work would be a tacit endorsement of people who had chosen to work on it and justified DC’s decision in public.
The form that justification takes deserves a closer look. DC’s main PR strategy with Before Watchmen has been to brazen it out, restrict its PR releases to the slavishly uncritical comics “news” sites. The other thread of the strategy has been for those involved to not-so-subtly denigrate and patronise Alan Moore, to paint him as the cranky old man that he has become to so many fanboy types when he refused to automatically enthuse over everything the modern comics industry produced.
It still enrages to see it laid out so openly, with the scare/sneer-quotes around “poor Alan Moore”. As if people supporting a creator’s objections to what is done with his work are being unreasonable. As if the obscenely profitable DC Entertainment, which got rich on the backs of artists whom it denied basic restitution for their creations, is the real victim.
Compare and contrast with this in-depth interview Cooke gave to promote the publication of The Score. Read it, and take in his obvious respect for the creator of the work he’s adapting. And try, as I did, to reconcile it with the quote at the top of this entry.
Suddenly, my ambivalence becomes much less of an issue. There’s no feeling of righteousness here; more a deep sense of dejection. I won’t lose that much keeping The Score off my shelf. Cooke has made his choice, and that in turn makes it easier to make mine.
Comixtime: Gives Me FEELINGS Special Edition
Basically, Moore is in the right here. I don’t know how anyone can say otherwise, unless they straight out say “screw Alan Moore, I want more Rorschach beating up criminals”. That would at least be honest.
American superhero comics is a medium based on taking others’ ideas and running with them. And there have been many instances of creators not getting the credit they deserve; see Siegel and Shuster and Jack Kirby. So why is this different? Well, it isn’t - which is precisely why it’s so depressing. Why are the rights of creators still in such a shitty state? The 2011 Kirby lawsuit judgement has gone down as a breaking point for a number of people. It’s confirmation that these companies that have made millions off other people’s ideas can’t make even a token acknowledgement of that fact.
And while Superman and Batman in their original incarnations were meant as serial stories - you have the set-up (super-strong alien or wealthy vigilante) to apply to any new plot - Watchmen was ALWAYS intended to be a single self-contained story. From the first to the final image, there’s not a single panel that needs to be added to explain or clarify anything. DC’s intellectual bankruptcy to the extent that they need a 6-month sales bump off a 26-year-old limited series is … depressing. And I find the insistence of the creators that they’ve in fact found things that must be added to the story specious at best, and insulting at worst.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, meanwhile, created Watchmen under the impression that the rights would be returned them eventually. Within a year after it was concluded, in fact. That’s not my opinion. That’s a fact. It’s public knowledge. Due to the nature of the deal that had been agreed upon by Moore, Gibbons and DC Comics, it was widely discussed. It was a genuine victory for creators’ rights.
But then the book was kept in print forever, and the rights to Watchmen never reverted back to Moore and Gibbons.
And people wonder why Alan Moore felt betrayed.
A company having the legal right to exploit someone’s work does not translate to a moral right. It doesn’t translate to the certainty (or even the possibility) of good art. I enjoy Darwyn Cooke and Brian Azzarello’s work, but I wouldn’t put them on par with Moore. And this is before you get into the company-man bullshit-shovelling and passive-aggressive denigration of the guy who actually created the work that this brains trust is going to play around with.
There is a curious phenomenon at work here; creators who feel a need to attack Alan Moore, even though he’s never addressed them himself. The team behind Watchmen 2: The Legend Of Nixon’s Gold may be perfectly at ease with profiting off Moore’s characters and story, but there’s something odd with the way the interviews contain a pre-emptive lashing out.
I don’t begrudge anyone buying or enjoying the Watchmen prequel comics. I’d much rather not have to worry about the moral consequences of my tastes in my entertainment. But Marvel could have acknowledged the debt they owe to Kirby within his lifetime, and compensated him accordingly. They could have admitted to his family that they made a mistake, and awarded them something by way of recompense. DC could have done the same for Siegel and Shuster, and they could have left Watchmen alone as a stand-alone work and reliable bestseller.
Instead, we’re seeing the worst aspects of modern comics culture. And it’s the fact that they work towards the corporate-led status quo that makes stuff like this possible. If you have fans that side with corporations over creators, and creators working for these corporations that will throw their predecessors under the bus for a chance to play with the toys, the whole thing will play out just as before, right down to Visionary Director(tm) Zak Snyder bringing Watchmen Babies to the big screen, and Rorschach action figures all the way down…
…And I don’t want any part of it.