Thursday, 2 February 2012

Please, sir, can I have some Mo(o)re?

(This blog post shamelessly repurposed from some musings yesterday on Facebook.)

Honestly, I don't see the fuss over DC's Watchmen prequels.

Alan Moore signed a work-for-hire contract, so DC are free to do with the property as they see fit. Now, I think it is fair comment to note a certain amount of barrel-scraping creatively (given that DC has already managed to spin a major crossover event out of a six-page Green Lantern story Moore wrote nearly 30 years ago).

I say the following as someone who has boundless admiration for his work and deep personal affection for the man himself, having met him a couple of times (albeit many years ago), but… 

I find Moore's stance on copyright perplexing and bordering on the hypocritical. Just once, instead of slagging off, say, 2000AD, I'd like him to say that he appreciates the fact that Steve MacManus gave him a platform from which he went on to become arguably the most successful comic writer in the world, instead of winding up in prison due to being "the world's most inept drug dealer."

(I should point out that this last is actually Alan's own description of a part of his pre-comic-writing life.)

It's true that he and Dave Gibbons would have got the rights to Watchmen back if DC had let it go out of print, but does anyone seriously think that DC would have kept on printing the book if it wasn't selling? I suspect that once every six months a royalty cheque drops through Alan's letterbox that would make the rest of us very happy indeed…

(I also can't help but wonder what Moore's position on the rights to Watchmen would be if Dick Giordano had OKed it when it still used the Charlton characters that were in the original proposal…)

I can see how some of the ABC stuff and the like might make Alan very, very suspicious of the motives of mainstream comic publishers, I can see how the LXG movie lawsuit has left him very wary of the entertainment industry in general, but I don't believe anyone ever forced him to sign a contract at gunpoint, or that any of those contracts were materially worse than anyone else in the industry was getting at the time.

At the same time, though, I don't quite understand how Moore squares his own position on creators' rights with his seeming belief that he can plunder the literary back-catalogue with impunity; or that contracts he signed somehow shouldn't now apply to the work he created under them.

Frankly, it baffles me and I wish Alan would just shut the hell up about it, since this one frustrating, illogical position he insists on banging on about is starting to colour my opinion of a man whose writing genuinely changed my life.

However, I have to undermine my own rant with the following caveat:

Alan Moore doesn't go to conventions; doesn't have an internet connection; doesn't even have an e-mail address. I genuinely believe that Alan has not the least idea (and probably cares even less) how famous he actually still is in the comics industry.

I don't believe for one second that he spends his days in some fever of seething resentment at the iniquities heaped upon him by the comic industry. Rather, I suspect he potters about Northampton opposing the closure of local libraries and gently removing small rodents that have taken to nesting in his beard and gives not the most passing of thought to the state of the comic industry…

Until, of course, Rich Johnston (or whoever) phones him up and presses the "guaranteed to elicit a number of pithy quotes from Alan Moore" button, after which they sit back to enjoy the sounds of gnashing teeth from the serried ranks of comic geekdom and to watch the hit counter on their website spin round so fast it becomes a blur.

It bears repeating that Alan Moore does not have an internet connection. For Alan's opinion to make it onto the internet, someone has to have actively sought it from him. Now, it's perfectly fair and natural for comics news sites to seek his opinion, but it's also important to remember that the man himself is not publishing vitriolic screeds on his blog or issuing the comic book equivalent of fatwahs via Twitter.

In fact, I suspect if Alan really knew how famous he still was in the comics industry that he would bellow at us (in that splendid accent of his): "IT WAS TWENTY-FOIVE YEARS AGOW! MOVE ON!"


  1. Ah go on, admit it, you'd be pissed off if Rebellion commissioned another strip about the reclamation of the East Meg 1 crater from some other bloke... ; )

    Generally agree with you about Moore and contracts, even though he is the creator I venerate above all others. Essentially he's just questioning the way the industry works, and in a painfully honest and honourable way, given just how obscenely rich he could be if he played ball.

    I don't think there's any more to it than genuine bewliderment that all his best ideas are STILL owned and controlled by someone else after a quarter of a century, and they appear to STILL be the best ideas those people have. It's hard not to sympathise with frustration at an industry that treats its greatest creatives like that.

  2. The only thing I'd add to that is that I don't think that plundering from dead people is quite the same as plundering from people that are alive and well and have made it reasonably clear that they'd rather you didn't.

    Other than that, I don't really see a big problem with it either. Nothing will detract from the original Watchmen work and I'm reasonably curious as to how these will turn out- good or bad.

    @Tordelback: ZING! :D

  3. At the risk of wandering still further from the topic, I'd actually have been happier if they'd used the work Kev and I did on the Inspectre as part of Samizdat Squad than I was to have the series seemingly written out of continuity. I would have expected Kev or I to have first refusal on a new Inspectre series in the astronomically unlikely event that Matt Smith had thought it a good idea, but if we had declined then I would completely have understood them offering the strip to a new creative team.

    They bought it off us -- which I understood were the terms when we were commissioned, and when I cashed the cheques…

  4. I can agree with what you're saying - the work was done under a contract, there's no changing that now.

    The issue I have with the Watchmen prequels is that it could be a waste of talent - Watchmen was a pretty enclosed piece, it carried all the backstory that was necessary and gave a lot of detail to the characters. The list of people that are involved in the prequels is really impressive, but the comic book world would benefit more (in my personal opinion) from them working on other projects.

    But that's just my thinking on it :)

  5. TBH, that's pretty much my issue with the Before Watchmen stuff: it seems so entirely redundant. I have no interest in reading any of it, but that's my choice to make.

    I wish DC had chosen to deploy the resources they've expended on this doing something a bit more creative. Adam Hughes drawing a four-issue mini? Great, but I can think of a lot of things I'd rather see him drawing…

  6. "Alan Moore signed a work-for-hire contract, so DC are free to do with the property as they see fit."

    Indeed, the argument comes down to whether they stick to the spirit or word of the contract. As DC shot themselves solidly in the arse over Moore a long time ago I'd imagine they've not got much incentive to play nice.

    In a brighter, shinier parallel universe DC would have never tried a silly move like trying to rip Moore off over Watchmen badges, he'd have not left in a huff but stuck around for a bit longer (he was planning further Watchmen stories while writing the main limited series), DC would have made concessions to keep him onboard like renegotiating the Watchmen deal (as no one at the time could have foreseen its run-away success), which in turn would have helped all creators in the industry (a rising tides raises all boats), he'd have come up with more revolutionary ideas that might even have help the industry avoid the speculator bubble and mid-90s crash (which was largely caused by creative bankruptcy and people deciding the success of Watchmen and DKR was the grim and gritty take on superheroes, something that might not have happened if Moore was still at DC producing groundbreaking work showing the proper way forward) and... oh who am I kidding? In the end it is business and when that meets sensitive creators and/or pushes to maximise short term profits at the cost of long term gains it is never going to work out well.

    "I find Moore's stance on copyright perplexing and bordering on the hypocritical."

    He does often get accused of hypocrisy but his complaints seem largely to be more about creative bankrupcy than copyright, something he has tended to stick to as he has either been working for companies on their IP or using public domain characters (with some obvious accidental exceptions).

    His main concern seems to be that they are just stripmining old ideas for cash, whereas he took existing characters and created something new with them. So in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he didn't just go and write a Captain Nemo or Alan Quatermain sequel or prequel, he took them and sent them off on new and different adventures. A kind of sequential alchemy.

    "I suspect that once every six months a royalty cheque drops through Alan's letterbox that would make the rest of us very happy indeed…"

    I believe he has told DC to send all cheques to the other guys (or just Dave Gibbons?).

  7. It's only movie money that Alan has asked to be given to the artists. I'm pretty sure he collects the royalties on his printed work.

  8. For me -- the fact that the rights were supposed to revert to Moore and Gibbons is the crux of it all. It's easy for us to say NOW that "Oh, of course DC wasn't going to take Watchmen out of print" but at the time, nobody knew how big Watchmen was going to become.

    At the time, Moore and Gibbons had a seemingly reasonable expectation that they would get their properties returned to them. Their deal was seen as a victory for creator rights, even, throughout much of the community.

    Yes--they should have been more careful. But I don't believe that justifies this kind of exploitation. I don't think that just because "Moore should have known better" makes this okay. Legal? Sure. Okay? I don't think so.

    I'm obviously just speaking for myself here--but I won't be supporting DC in this.

  9. When Moore wrote a Superman or Swamp Thing story, he was doing exactly the same thing that he complains others are doing to him - making money of the back off someone else's characters and concepts. Sure, he threw his own contributions into the mix, but doubtless so are the creative teams on the Watchmen prequels.