Before Watchmen….

Published On February 4, 2012 | By Richard Bruton | Comics

You’re probably aware of this:

The Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created Watchmen, released in ’86-’87, 12 issues and a collection that’s never been out of print, and sold in its millions.

And unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’re probably aware that DC have now decided it’s time to do these:

Seven mini-series (Crimson Corsair is the back-up feature in each mini), 34 issues in all plus a single issue Before Watchmen: Epilogue. Happening this summer in the same with a new issue out each week.

And in announcing these comics, DC have done what many thought was unthinkable, diluting the story of a self-contained, high-point of comics. It now joins other famous works with modern sequels/prequels – Gone With The Wind had its Scarlett, Peter Pan had Peter Pan In Scarlet.

On a purely “what does that do to the original” basis, the answer is simple. NOTHING. Will they really add anything to the creative genius of Watchmen? We can’t say yet, but really, it’s very probable that they’ll add nothing at all. Read them, don’t read them. Has no effect on the original self-contained start, middle and end of Watchmen.

You may also know of the problems regarding the book, with a difference of opinions between writer and artist, and DC Comics. Whilst Dave Gibbons seems happy to support DC when it came to the film and these prequels, Alan Moore has dissociated himself from the company completely.

It all boils down, with Watchmen to the comic industry in the 80’s being completely different. Comics sold as comics, there was no graphic novel industry, no market, and no comic had ever remained perpetually in print before. So when DC offered Moore and Gibbons a deal that essentially said the rights would revert to them once the comic series and a possible collection went out of print, all seemed well, a victory for creators rights etc etc. (See this by Leigh Walton, quoting from the UKCAC 86 panel where Moore and Gibbons set out the deal.)

But Watchmen never went out of print. And Moore at least felt cheated and deceived by DC. The resulting fallouts have been well documented, and not something we’ll go into here.

Basically we’re into the realms of ethical right and wrong vs commercial/corporation hunt for profits. Yes, DC absolutely have every legal right to publish these prequels, and do a second movie, and lunchboxes, action figures, duvets… the whole Star Wars merchandising thing. And yes, people have made the argument that all of the writers and artists on Before Watchmen are doing essentially what a generation of comic creators did, including Moore and Gibbons – working on other people’s creations, other people who had terrible contracts, awful rights issues and were generally screwed by the big corporate company who had no real need to be so unfeeling.

BUT, the crucial difference here is that Moore and Gibbons went into this with their eyes open. They negotiated the contracts so their creations would come back to them after a series, a possible collection and a year off.

I don’t really buy the argument I’ve seen around recently that Moore and Gibbons should have glimpsed the future, realised that Watchmen was going to do something no comic had done before and remeain in print indefinitely in collection form. Moore became a magician at 50, he wasn’t a bloody psychic in the 80s. And DC initially did the right thing, agreeing a contract that was beneficial to all. If they’d have carried that on, as soon as it became obvious that there was going to be no point any time soon that the book was going out of print, then they should have renegotiated.

(And don’t tell me that would be bad business. Think longterm – it would probably have made them MORE money. A DC that had creator’s interests totally at heart would probably be making money even now off everything comic related that Moore and Gaiman created in the last 20/30 years.)

That they didn’t renegotiate, that they didn’t do the right thing is hardly a surprise, but it does make the situation of Moore and Gibbons different from those that went before. DC decided to leave the contracts as they were, the contracts, that, through a completely unforeseen shift in the comic industry, were essentially meaningless.

Fair? No. I don’t think so, and it doesn’t take much wandering around the Internet to find similar views:

Padraig O’Mealoid at The Comic Buzz:

“So, while DC had promised them that they’d get their creation back once DC was finished with it, they decided instead to keep it in print, and forever keep it from them. This may have been the word of the contract, but it was never the spirit of it. And I know that there are lots of people who are saying that they should have read their contract more carefully, but this is, to be plain about it, a bullshit argument – the graphic novel format didn’t exist as we know it, and nobody foresaw it, so how could there have been a clause in the contract about it. So, I feel that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have had their great work, which most people who have an opinion on these things regard as the greatest achievement in comics, kept away from them by the greed of a huge American corporation. It’s as apt an analogy for what’s wrong with the world as you could possibly wish for.”

Todd Allen at The Comic Beat:

Finally, we double back to Len Wein, who says to Wired:

“I think reboots are almost mandatory in an industry that has existed for over three-fourths of a century now. The need to inject new blood, new ideas, new approaches, is the only thing that keeps our readers coming back for more.”

My first reaction on reading this was a belly laugh.  Yes, reboot the old characters to inject new blood.  That’s very nearly an oxymoron.   Then it occurred to me, Alan Moore makes an almost annual flustered denouncement that DC is still clinging to his old standards after all these years.  Now it’s a sad comment that DC has to do reboots because they’ve seemingly lost the ability to successfully launch a new character.  The New 52?  All relaunches and revamps.  What is Before Watchmen?  It’s DC going back to an old well one more time.

Heidi at The Comics Beat:

“For all the talk of staying “relevant”, you might substitute the word “solvent.” Just as The New 52 was the Hail Mary pass/adrenaline to the heart that DC desperately needed to prop up a failing direct market, WATCHMEN 2 is the other guaranteed cash grab. It’s DC’s Eros Comix. While we may find the idea of WATCHMEN prequels repugnant on some level, the level of talent attached is guaranteed to “Make us look!” even if the idea itself is still so unnecessary.”

Chris Mautner at Robot 6:

“If we care at all about the comics industry, if we care about comics as an art form, if we want it to be taken seriously, if we want to see talented people produce quality material, then we need to start caring about the way those people are treated in this industry. We need to start valuing creators rights over our own greedy need for more third-rate pulp. We need to stop making shameless, defensive rationalizations and questioning people’s motives when the basic motive underlying those outbursts is “me wanty.” We need to stop acting like petulant, entitled children. And we need to speak out when creators whose work we claim to value and enjoy are given short shrift in the name of the Almighty dollar.”

In case you’re wondering, one of the highest profile pro pieces I could find championing Before Watchmen was this by Lukas Siegal at Newsarama:

“Some will point to Alan Moore’s lack of “approval” or involvement as a bad thing, but that’s one of the best parts in my eyes. It’s good to see new creators taking on these characters. it’s good to have fresh voices reaching into these characters. If a character is compelling, there should always be more stories to tell. Moore’s assessment that DC is relying on his “ideas from 25 years ago” is ludicrous and insulting to the talented people working on these books. He didn’t write prequels, they’re writing them. It’s like saying all of his use of public domain characters is him relying on other peoples’ ideas from 100 years ago: he can’t have it both ways.”

And if you’re sitting there slack jawed at the idea of a creator’s disapproval being “one of the best parts“, don’t worry, head over here where David Brothers doesn’t so much take the argument apart as dissect it:

“I don’t even understand how Lucas can be in a position to know things about comics, which isn’t hard to begin with, and actually say “Some will point to Alan Moore’s lack of ‘approval’ or involvement as a bad thing, but that’s one of the best parts in my eyes.” and mean it. The comics industry is built on exploitation, your favorite artists from the ’60s and ’70s were almost definitely screwed out of their creations, and editors and managers today apparently believe that having a book on the shelves is a higher calling than having a good book on the shelves. The history of comics isn’t even hard to find out. Alan Moore has been vocal about his experiences, Dwayne McDuffie spoke out, every month there’s a new fund raiser for some old artist who drew some incredibly ill and classic comics but doesn’t have health insurance… this is basic.

In the end, it’s up to you. Sure, some of the creative teams are good. Darwyn Cooke in particular will no doubt do a good job. But even knowing that, the whole thing puts a nasty taste in my mouth. And I’m not alone.

But what do you think? Ignore it? Pick it up out of interest? Looking forward to it?

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

8 Responses to Before Watchmen….

  1. chris walsh says:

    Define renegotiate. All the people who propose that panacea are for Mr. Moore’s creative rights. He’s the only one complaining. Every movie or project. Meanwhile he prophecizes the death of comics. He was offered money for this, he was offered creative input. In his own words he doesn’t want the money, what he wants is for this project not to happen. What renegotiation solves that without DC losing money as all the Moore purists say “oh, that won’t happen.”

    • Richard says:

      I may not have made it clear. The renegotiation possibility has long since past. It was something that could have / should have happened soon after it was obvious that Watchmen was going to be in print far, far longer than the spirit of the original contract/agreement between Moore & Gibbons and DC could ever have imagined. If it would have happened then, who knows what might have happened.

      It would probably have made DC far more money in the long term. Renegotiate the Watchmen deal in the 80s and have Moore stay at DC to create more and more series for them. If even one of them would have been as popular as Watchmen DC would be up on any deal they would have made.

      But DC’s shortsightedness was shown a while back, when Gaiman approached them with an idea for a new Sandman story. He wanted to negotiate a contract based on his status as a bestselling author, and a Newberry and Carnegie medal winner. But DC simply said no. They turned down something that was practically a license to make money.

      Now is far too late of course for Moore and DC. Moore has burned his bridges long ago. We’ll not know the precise events leading up to Before Watchmen in the last couple of years, but given all that’s gone on with Moore and DC, that he hasn’t gone back to them shouldn’t be a surprise. Likewise, that he doesn’t want money or creative input to this project was surely not a surprise. And as the original writer, and co-creator, he’s surely allowed to say he doesn’t want this to happen?

  2. Basically I would prefer that these books don’t come out and Alan’s wishes be respected. However, one part of all this seems especially interesting. This part, which I’ve seen mentioned on a few other places too:

    “It’s like saying all of his use of public domain characters is him relying on other peoples’ ideas from 100 years ago: he can’t have it both ways.”

    Or in another place: “Does anyone want to guess how the original authors of those stories might feel about Mr. Moore creating a comic depicting those kids having explicit sex constantly in a comic book? They might be as angry as Mr. Moore is about his comic getting prequels.”

    To make it clear: I’m not siding with these comments, I’m just mentioning them as something that starting me thinking. What I’m genuinely curious about is what Alan, or anyone here, might say in answer to that point.

  3. Kenny says:

    Watchmen was – when becoming a trade – in effect becoming a book. Almost every book printed will have a reversion clause and that will be if the work goes out of print. It hasn’t here – it probably never did with Catcher in the Rye – just the way it works. they should have got a lawyer had they wanted different. I have sympathy to some extent with Alan but in truth DC have rights and they are excercising them. Isn’t that just the way it goes?

  4. Joe says:

    Creator’s rights and wishes aside another question here that interests me is simply will they sell and be successful? Will fans, many still complaining, feel too curious not to have a look? Or will they vote with their feet and stay away from them? Obviously we can all speculate on that (very important business-wise) aspect of this project but really we won’t know until they hit the racks and we see what the uptake is (and if people buy the second issues as well after that)

  5. We know DC is in the business of making comics and will exploit, in myriad existing forms and others yet to be devised, all the intellectual property that it owns. That’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about intent.

    Alan Moore is not saying that his characters are so utterly special and uniquely precious that he doesn’t want anyone else to touch them. He is not saying Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel ever written or making any other grandiose claims for it. That is all nonsense. He says one thing and he says it very clearly: Watchmen is complete, as it was meant to be, and does not need extensions, adaptations, sequels or prequels. Therefore he will never write any and he will not give his consent for anyone else to do so either.

    That’s it.

    He has no power to stop projects based on Watchmen from happening but he is not obliged to be polite about the situation. He is entitled to say what he thinks.

    The superhero comics industry has worked quite hard to portray Alan Moore as an over-entitled pigheaded loony who thinks he’s better than everyone else. And as we can see, that portrayal has largely worked as far as fans are concerned, because all they care about is getting more of That Thing They Like.

    I think a comparison between Alan Moore and Bill Watterson is instructive, because the only difference between their situations is that Watterson cannot be coerced into allowing more Calvin and Hobbes strips to be created, no matter how much fans or Universal Press Syndicate still want it. He decided he’d done enough and he stopped. His creative rights are more important to him than any amount of cash and Universal Press Syndicate must accept his wishes. You may think he’s crazy to turn down millions of dollars in licensing fees. But it’s his choice. He has enough money and he doesn’t have to compromise.

    As for Moore being a hypocrite because he’s used characters that are in the public domain? Come on. Seriously. Their creators have been dead almost a century. Their rights and wishes were respected while they were alive and now those characters belong to everyone. That’s what ‘public domain’ means. He can use them just like you or I can.

    Anyway. I’m sure I will at least look at the artwork Darwin Cooke produces, but I won’t be buying any of it.

  6. Matt Badham says:

    Well said, Woodrow.

  7. Ossie says:

    Bravo Woodrow. Simple and to the point. “That Thing That I Like”.


    The Captcha thingy below just says BERK.