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Trouble with Comics

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

 

Let It Be

I reject utterly the premise and substance of “The Rare Case Against Creator-Owned Comics,” posted on the Newsarama blog. If anything, Alan Moore’s veto of a reprinting of the 1963 project is a good argument for creator-owned comics. Moore’s writing was the prime appeal of 1963, and speaking as someone who bought it new on the stands, and not disregarding the wonderful artwork by Steve Bissette, Dave Gibbons and Rick Veitch, I can tell you I bought it primarily — if not solely, because of the writing of Alan Moore, and the clever way in which he invoked the tone of Silver Age Marvel Comics. Could the artists have done it without Moore? Not with the same level of quality and creative ingenuity. Certainly not without the enormous number of copies sold. Could Moore have done it without the particular artists who illustrated his ideas? Of course he could have.  

Which isn’t to say I don’t sympathize with the artists. I do, completely. But I place more importance on Moore’s right to say “no,” and I totally sympathize with Moore’s desire to distance himself from the larger segment of the comics industry. Comics as a whole — readers and publishers — have treated him with contempt and ethical shenanigans for nearly as long as he’s been writing them. I can’t blame him at all for wanting to move on. I wish the 1963 partners could have reached an accord and would have loved to see the 1963 Annual back in the days when it was supposed to be published, but those days are over, and near so far as I can tell, as disappointing as it might be to the other creators, Moore is well within his rights to say “no.” If only his rights and desires had been respected a little more often over the last 30 years or so, he might be a little more magnanimous now in what he is willing to cooperate with, or at least tolerate.

Alan Moore has, in my over thirty years of reading his writing, earned my respect, my admiration, and my trust. I know he has higher-than-average expectations and standards when it comes to friendship and relationships, and I know there are good and decent people who have, for reasons I am not privileged to know, somehow found themselves fallen out of Moore’s good graces. I’m sure that’s unpleasant, even painful.

But Moore, as an individual and as a comics creator, has more than earned the right to associate with, both personally and professionally, only those he chooses to associate with. He should not be forced into business contracts or personal relationships he does not wish to be a part of, and we should respect that. He’s earned the right to work on the projects he chooses to do, and not a goddamned thing more. Frankly, he’s earned the right to be left in peace. Comics has taken enough from the man. He’s given enough of himself. Steve Bissette, as a former creative partner, has the right to say what he wishes about 1963, as does anyone else who was involved in the project. Everyone else is just blowing so much hot air.

Alan David Doane 

On the DC Petition

As one of the signees of my buddy Alan David Doane’s petition asking DC Comics to come to an accord with the creators of Watchmen or, failing that, scuttle plans for Watchmen prequels/sequels/spinoffs, I wrestled with the rationale of it for a little bit. I’m probably as temperamental as Alan, but not so anti-corporate, and by and large I come down on the side of the law. And as it seems to be legal for DC to go forth with exploiting what appears to be their property, as rights never reverted back to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, I was basically okay with their legal right to do so, though not interested in the results.

But I have come to realize a couple things. First, laws obviously change. What was accepted practice fifty or thirty or even ten years ago can be disputed and reversed now. But more importantly, this is an ethical issue. Although Alan’s artwork below is over-the-top, the petition itself is evenhanded. No one is calling for Occupy DC or a boycott or anything like that. It basically just asks DC to do the right thing. Obviously, not everyone has the same ethics and values, and DC is made up of many people of differing ethics and values who have to balance them with the need to make money. To me, and I have to point out I had no involvement in the creation of this petition and am only stating my own desires for the outcome, it’s not so much about if or how DC reacts to it as that it hopefully starts some sort of dialogue, plants a seed in people’s minds about the importance of the artist and how one should always make the attempt to respect the author’s wishes. It’s not unheard of but rare in the world of film (2010, the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho) for filmmakers to try to follow another filmmaker’s visionary work, but comics publishers seem to have little regard for most creators, nor shame in endlessly regurgitating old ideas. As with the New 52, it’s pretty transparent that spinning off Watchmen with different creators is shortsighted and gimmicky and not likely to produce anything approaching the longevity and merit of the original work, but admittedly, that’s not really the point here. A kickass, mind-expanding Owlman story-for-the-ages, or a turd on the scale of The L.A.W., either result is still a kick in the teeth to Messrs. Moore & Gibbons and their singular work. 

I just think it’s worth starting the discussion, both intellectually and spiritually. What benefit to one’s soul is there in championing those who reap their rewards based on someone else’s hard work and mental agility, who exploit legal loopholes that hurt others? I’m no saint and make plenty of my own questionable choices, but I don’t take pride in them, nor am I going to rally to the defense of others who do these things at the expense of others. Yes, there are more important things in the world and Change.org is involved with those things, too, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Do you want to stand up, even in this mild way, for the Artist, or just keep lining up for more and more of the same crap? Even at one’s most selfish, it’s just common sense that the company who does right by its people is going to produce better work, more often. 

—Christopher Allen