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Trouble with Comics

Which is More Important, Creator Rights or Health Care?

One might be a more pressing issue, especially in the United States, but I think they both matter.

Today in his Bloggy Thing, longtime comics writer and writer-about-comics Tony Isabella talks about Watchmen 2. His own feelings seem to be that the creative lineup for the prequels will almost certainly guarantee that they are not in line with his vision of what superhero comics should be. That’s a point I can get behind. But then Tony quotes a reader named Joe Caramanga, who says:

“Just imagine if people cared half as much about health care and poverty in America as they do about preserving the integrity of WATCHMEN…” 

That’s one of those facile pithy comments that really grates on me. And here’s why.

As someone who’s been quite vocal about social and cultural issues, be it health care, peak oil, equal marriage rights, abuse of police power, the corporate destruction of the nation and many others for years, I personally take a smidgen of offense at the implication by Joe Caramanga that those issues are worth caring about, but Alan Moore’s rights as the writer of Watchmen are not. Further, it’s not the “integrity of Watchmen” that I care about, it’s DC’s repeated and increasingly punitive and public abuse and humiliation of Alan Moore as a comics creator and as a human being that fills me with disgust and outrage. I have no horse at all in the race that is the expansion of the “Watchmen universe” as a creative playground for other comics creators — I’m fine with it, as long as ALL THREE of the original signers of the Watchmen contracts are in complete agreement about it and all parties feel they are being treated and compensated equally. Until that happens, I believe it’s morally and ethically wrong for DC to proceed with its plans for Watchmen 2, and will continue to speak out on the issue. And on the catastrophic state of health care in America, and the financial inequity and iniquities so rampant here in Los Estados Unidos

Alan David Doane 

Not Fair and Not Right: Rob Vollmar Responds to Watchmen 2

When the recent confirmation of Watchmen Part Deux hit the internet, I could barely manage disappointment. Despite DC Comics best efforts to keep their hands off of this blood-soaked property they rightfully own for 25 years now, it really was just a matter of time.

DC Comics, as a small subsidiary of Time-Warner, is a business and, like all businesses, whether they sell beans or computers or a sense of well-being, their real business is making money. If they make money, they win. If they lose money, they fail. Simple stuff.

I’ve been reading DC Comics since I learned to read. I was a DC kid. We moved around a lot during my childhood and so, in a real way, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern were more constant as “friends” in my life than people with whom I went to school. Like the weather, no matter where I went, there they were.

I was reading a lot of DC Comics when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen came out but I wasn’t interested in it. It didn’t have any of the characters I liked or had ever even heard of and, back in that particular day, that meant a lot. Like most unsuspecting Superman fans, I was emotionally scarred by Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and, for a number of years following, I refused to read any comics by this “Al Moore” fellow because [SPOILER WARNING] he killed Krypto and it made me cry. Fool me once…

But the time did come when I did start reading Alan Moore’s comics and what a time it was. Alan Moore made me want to write comics and, in time, that’s exactly what I did. I cherish his comics, his spoken word performances, his novels, his underground magazines…everything. As an author, he has earned my unconditional positive regard. Though I have never met the man, I have feelings regarding him and his work. Irrational? Probably but then most feelings are.

DC Comics’ position on Watchmen has made me uncomfortable for as long as I’ve understood the details. Yes, he signed a contract giving them certain rights (including apparently the right to create sequels or prequels or whatever) but, as has been well-documented, there was no reasonable expectation that these rights would extend unto perpetuity such as they have. Yes, what they are doing is legal. No, it is not fair and, in my judgment, it is also not right.

This cognitive dissonance between my favorite superhero comic publisher and my favorite writer of comics has simmered uneasily in my conscience for years but, honestly, my love for the material kept it from ever coming to a head as it has now. It was wrong of them to retain the rights but they continued to pay him the monies he was due and, as long as Moore was getting paid, that made it OK-er than it might have been.

It is no longer OK.

The problem with having allegiances to a business is that a business is not a person. You can’t reason with it. You can’t appeal to its sense of humanity because it hasn’t got one. Publishing and profitting from material based on concepts that someone created under the premise that he or she would own them someday against the expressed wishes of that creator is not OK. It’s shitty. Shittier than killing Krypto.

And so, I won’t be buying any of these Watchmens books.

But it’s also not enough.

Because, like DC, I’ve convinced myself that it was OK to do something odious under the premise that if something was legal even though it wasn’t right, it was excusable. It wasn’t excusable and, by continuing to support a company who would profit from this kind of questionable ethical practices, I’m became complicit in that in excusable behavior. I paid for the lawyers that kept Alan Moore from owning his work.

And so, until the day that some DC Comics’ representative with the legal authority to do so flies over to Northampton and tears up the contract that has kept Moore a hostage to his work, I will never buy a DC Comic again.

Not in print.

Not in book form.

Not digitally.

Nothing.

Ever.

It’s the last, least and only thing I can do.

— Rob Vollmar 

Rob Vollmar is a writer of and about comics and manga. He is the co-author of two graphic novels with artist Pablo G Callejo (
Castaways and Bluesman, both published by NBM) and one with mpMann (Inanna’s Tears, published by Archaia). He has written reviews and analysis for the Comics Journal and is an associate contributing editor for World Literature Today Magazine. He was a founding member of Comic Book Galaxy.

Hitler, Rape, and Watchmen 2

I thought I’d get the hyperbole out of the way right up front. 

Over the past week, the anger and disgust I feel towards DC Comics and the scabs they’re hired to work on Watchmen comics against the intentions and expectations of all the signatories (DC, Moore, Gibbons) of the original contracts that brought the original Watchmen into the world has threatened to get the best of me. I didn’t specifically mention Hitler, but I did point out that Len Wein’s involvement reminds me of Vichy France during World War II. I remember making some comment about DC raping Watchmen’s corpse, and that was probably too over the top, although I think one is entitled to an extreme metaphor or two in circumstances as absolutely and unquestionably wrong as this. That said, I have loved ones in my life that have suffered through the trauma of actual rape, and no, this isn’t quite that horrific an experience. But what is happening here, I do believe, shares common elements with actual rape. Because it’s a more powerful entity asserting its will against the stated, explicit wishes of the victim. Here’s Alan Moore on Watchmen 2:

What I want is for this not to happen.” 

Does that not sound precisely like what a proper English gentlemen or lady might say with dignity just before being violated?

Make no mistake about it, this is a violation. Anyone who knows anything at all about the last 30 years of comics publishing history knows Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were supposed to get the rights to Watchmen back. Moore expected it. Gibbons expected it. DC Comics expected it. It’s only because the work was so visionary and so enormous in its impact on an entire industry that DC was able to deliberately and with increasingly visible malice retain the rights to this singular property all these years. Has DC followed the letter of the contract? Absolutely. But the letter of the contract was written and agreed to by all parties entirely unaware of the paradigm shift that was about to occur. As someone else has pointed out this week, the irony lies in the fact that if Moore and Gibbons had merely turned in the slightly-tweaked Charlton homage DC asked for, paid for and was expecting, Moore and Gibbons would have owned all rights to Watchmen free and clear decades ago. It’s undeniable that the punishment Moore has been subjected to by DC in this and other matters (Gibbons seems far more content to play the company game, as is his right) has been intentional, repeated, and now has been stepped up to the point that it is creating a schism that DC Comics may actually come to regret.

To the best of my knowledge, DC never suffered for trying to weasel out of paying royalties to Moore and Gibbons for selling Watchmen merchandise. No one at DC ever took a sock on the jaw for buying Wildstorm from Jim Lee pretty much solely so they could force Moore to work for them, which he did out of concern for his artistic partners, for years. But I am seeing a lot of thoughtful essays and efforts building in strong opposition to Watchmen 2. (And if you’re wondering why I won’t call it “Before Watchmen,” it’s because DC wants me to. It’s Watchmen 2, and it stinks on ice.)

I am disappointed and sickened by the venality and cheap opportunism of the scab workers brought in to create more Watchmen comics. Azzarello. Bermejo. Cooke. Jones. Straczynski. Hughes. Kubert. Kubert. Wein. Lee. Conner. The only real surprises on the list for me are Len Wein and Darwyn Cooke, whose previous comics work had falsely led me to assume that they were thoughtful and decent human beings. Their public comments on this subject, and their willingness to contribute their gifts to something this despicable, have permanently convinced me otherwise. How can you reconcile Darwyn Cooke’s long commitment to quality and decency with his participation in Watchmen 2? You simply cannot. You can, however, as one blogger has done, point out his hypocrisy in a very public and persuasive manner

I often differentiate between the artform and the industry of comics. Certainly I see them as two very distinct segments of what we all think of as, simply, “comics.” And when I say that I don’t know why comics does this to its best creators, I mean, all of comics

If Watchmen 2 goes forward as planned, we are all to blame. Marvel exploited Jack Kirby for decades while he lived, and continues to do so, and few have done anything about it. By the time DC started repeatedly screwing Alan Moore and even spending untold money to stalk and harass him through the purchase of Wildstorm, many of us were aware enough of the creator’s rights issue to take some note of the wrongness of what went on. But who was strong enough to punish DC for it? Who was outraged enough?

This time, I think it might be different. This time the outrage seems more focused, more mature, and more sustainable. I won’t read Watchmen 2, not even for free, and I suspect many, many others will act similarly. Watchmen 2 is scab comics for scab readers, produced by a corrupt, arrogant management and nothing more. I urge anyone reading this to tell the truth about how DC Comics screwed Alan Moore on Watchmen and other issues for decades, and tell the truth about how enough is enough. You don’t need to mention Hitler, or rape, or even Vichy France. If you tell the plain truth about Alan Moore, DC Comics and Watchmen 2, people will figure it out for themselves. The intelligent and compassionate ones who value human beings over corporate profits won’t support Watchmen 2. The immoral scumbags who are publishing, producing and buying it, frankly, can have it.

If this really is what all of comics is about, letting this happen, then let it happen. But don’t think there won’t be consequences. This might not be the worst thing DC ever did, but it’s certainly the most publicly unethical and obviously wrong. Over the course of this week it has literally made me sick to my stomach. But after all the tweets I’ve written and all the rage I’ve felt, I keep coming back to one small phrase, composed by the most brilliant mind ever to work in comics, who has almost always, by Marvel and DC, and by the “fans” that support them, been treated like nothing more than shit that needs to be scraped off their heels:

What I want is for this not to happen.”  

What each of us chooses to do, after hearing so plain a declaration, will follow all of us for the rest of our time in comics, however much longer we can stand to be a part of it. 

Alan David Doane