More Harsh Eloquence From Alan Moore About ‘Before Watchmen’

Before Watchmen

Today, DC revealed that June 6 will be the arrival of the first installment of Before Watchmen, the controversial prequel series to the seminal saga of Watchmen, created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. First, we'll get Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke, and then June 13 brings us Silk Spectre from Cooke and Amanda Conner, June 20 brings Comedian by Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones, and June 27 has Nite Owl from J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert. Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan release dates are as yet undetermined beyond 'later in the summer.'

As we all know by now, Moore hates this idea, and he's been quite vocal about it. Now, a new interview has surfaced where he equates this project as DC wanting to "soil themselves in public," and he not only insults the creators who have taken on this idea, but also any fans who might want to sample these projects – if you do, he'd rather you never buy any of his work again. He also extensively explains the deterioration of his relationship with DC Comics and the "slimy" tactics they used to threaten the livelihoods of his friends in need in order to manipulate him into doing what they wanted, as well as the breaking of his friendship with former collaborators such as Dave Lloyd and Gibbons. Seeing how nastily he and his friends had been treated, one can understand why he might have such vitriol towards people actively participating in what he feels is the desperate dilution of his work. He also has some sarcastic words for the New 52, saying "they attempted to do something radical and new with their existing characters–like, change their costumes a little bit and start all the numbering from one."

Here are quite a few quotes from Moore (in the interview you should really read in its entirety here), because reading his exact words, some of which he admits are "nasty things to say," are much better than any summation we could give them, and taking one-liners out of context feels like doing them a disservice:

That was the understanding upon which we did Watchmen–that they understood that we wanted to actually own the work that we'd done, and that they were a "new DC Comics," who were going to be more responsive to creators.  And, they'd got this new contract worked out which meant that when the work went out of print, then the rights to it would revert to us–which sounded like a really good deal.  I'd got no reason not to trust these people.  They'd all been very, very friendly.  They seemed to be delighted with the amount of extra comics they were selling.  Even on that level, I thought, "Well, they can see that I'm getting them an awful lot of good publicity, and I'm bringing them a great deal of money.  So, if they are even competent business people, they surely won't be going out of their way to screw us in any way."  Now, I've since seen the Watchmen contract, which obviously we didn't read very closely at the time.  It was the first contract that I'd ever seen–and I believe that it was a relatively rare event for a contract to actually exist in the comics business.  Most of the time, people just signed away all their rights on the back of their invoice voucher.  But, I was so pleased with the deal with Watchmen, that I suggested to David Lloyd that we do the same thing on V for Vendetta–which was, again, something that we owned and that we wanted to carry on owning.  The contracts actually are some of the most anti-creator contracts imaginable.  They've got clauses such as, if I refuse to sign for any reason any agreements in the future, DC can appoint an attorney to sign them instead of me.  There was some point before we'd realized that DC was never going to give us Watchmen back that I started to have my doubts.  There were a couple of incidents, like the decision to sell Watchmen merchandise and initially not to give us any cut of the profits, because it was supposed to be "self-financing promotion.


Given the amount of capital and the amount of publicity and everything else that the American comics industry–not just DC–has gotten out of my work, I think it's a bit rich that they should have lied through their teeth and swindled me out of me rights to it, and that now, they should be planning to take that further, presumably out of desperation–because they haven't got anything else that anybody is interested in.


[Gibbons] told me they were planning to do these prequels and sequels, and that he had been offered something in the region of a quarter of a million dollars to oversee the project–that it would be handled by the top talent in the industry, to which I said some quite intemperate things.  I said that, as far as Watchmen was concerned, I didn't really think that there was any talent in the mainstream comics industry.  If there had have been, they presumably, sometime over the past 20 or 25 years, would have perhaps come up with something that was as good as Watchmen–or as notable or as memorable–after they'd already been shown how to do it.  So yeah, I was angry and I said some things which I still stand behind.  And, that was the end of it.  And, that was the end of my friendship with Dave Gibbons: because he hadn't phoned up and thanked me and he had done the one thing that I'd asked him not to.  When I mentioned this in an interview, he phoned me up again to say, "Oh, thanks for that money, Alan."  At that point, I said, "Well, it's a bit late Dave.  Let's call it a day." 


That was an emotional low for me.  Not only had Watchmen itself–a work that I'd been proud of–been, in my opinion, desecrated and subject to tawdry wranglings for most of its existence, but now it had ended a friendship which, at the time, I had genuinely regarded.  But, that was then.  That was when I was most upset.  I've emotionally disconnected myself from Watchmen since then.  So, this latest news wasn't even really a surprise.  I can't imagine that if there was anybody of even average intelligence at DC, that they wouldn't have ever wanted to bring out a load of substandard prequels and sequels.  But, I think that they were probably having enormous pressure placed upon them by Warner Bros. to produce something.  When I originally said that I would not be giving my permission to a raft of prequels, DC immediately announced that they were going to do an exciting relaunch to all of their classic characters–which, I suppose, was their "plan B." They were being pressured, presumably by Warner Bros., to produce something to justify their existence.  The Watchmen thing didn't look like it was going to work, so they attempted to do something radical and new with their existing characters–like, change their costumes a little bit and start all the numbering from one.  I guess that "plan B" can't have worked out that well–or at least, not as well as they were hoping.  So, it's back–reluctantly, I suspect–to "plan A."  They've decided that even though this perhaps looks legally shaky, it might look a bit to the untrained eye like some kind of copyright appropriation–that evidently, they're desperate enough to go for it. 


I don't suspect in 50 or 100 years time (if anyone even remembers our era or its comic books) that this will have put the comics industry back in the spotlight.  Unless it's as good as Watchmen or at least in the same ballpark, then it will end up as a complete travesty.  And, the chances of it being as good as Watchmen or in the same ballpark–well, if there was any chance of that, DC Comics would've presumably produced something that had those qualities over the last quarter of a century.


I don't think that DC are interested in comics anymore.  They're interested in growing franchises, like a pumpkin patch.  Hollywood–now that's where you make the real money, or in computer games, or in any of these franchise spin-offs.  I might be wrong, I don't really know very much about how these corporations work.  But, I think what they're hoping to do with this raft of titles is spin off some new miniseries, television movies, or computer games–merchandising.  That's the only thing that makes it valuable to them.  They don't appear to have noticed that Watchmen is an ensemble piece.  Actually, none of those characters really work on their own.  They work in the context of the story. …. They weren't designed to work like that, and I'm the person who designed them.  They were designed to work in an ensemble piece.  They're in some ways very generic characters–deliberately so.  They were kind of archetypal comic book characters, or were intended as such.  So, no I don't think this can work creatively.  I mean, that does my work for me to a certain degree.  All the nasty comments that I was making when I was angry–about the comics industry not having had an idea of its own in the last 40 years and not having sufficient talent anymore to create new ideas–these are very unkind things to say about an entire industry.  But, it would seem that DC are really going that extra mile in trying to prove me incontrovertibly right.  And, I can only imagine that these prequels are some part of that drive on their part.


This is just purely me, but obviously in regard to any of the–what's the word?  I don't want to use "creators."  I feel that the industry employees who are actually working upon this book–I had only heard of about three of them–but I'm certainly not interested in seeing any of their work.  But, I'm unlikely to because I don't read comics anymore and they're never going to do anything outside of comics.  I think it's a shame.  I can see why the people concerned are involved, having either never created anything original themselves or they did, but it wasn't good enough to get DC out of their current hole.

It strikes me that, yes, I can understand why they took on Before Watchmen.  It will probably be the only opportunity they get in their careers to actually be attached to a project that anybody outside of comics has ever heard of.  So, I can see how that would be a great lure.  I don't think I would have done it, though, because to go down in history as the people who did the lame rewrites and prequels to Watchmen–well, that's not for me.  But, of course everybody has to make their own choices.  So, no, obviously I won't want anything to do with any of the people who are attached to this project at any point in the future, but that isn't a huge loss.


Part of the problem with all this–and the reason why Watchmen was such an extraordinary book during its time–was that it was constructed upon literary lines.  It had a beginning, it had a middle, and it had an end.  It wasn't constructed as an endless soap opera that would run until everybody ran out of interest in it.  It was deliberately meant to show what comics could do if you applied some of those quite ordinary literary values to them. 

What the comics industry has effectively said is, "Yes, this was the only book that made us briefly special and that was because it wasn't like all the other books."  It was something that stood on its own and it had the integrity of a literary work.  What they've decided now is, "So, let's change it to a regular comic that can run indefinitely and have spin-offs." and "Let's make it as unexceptional as possible."  Like I say, they're doing this because they haven't got any other choices left, evidently.


As for the readers, I have to say that if you are a reader that just wanted your favorite characters on tap forever, and never cared about the creators, then actually you're probably not the kind of reader that I was looking for.  I have a huge respect for my audience.  On the occasions when I meet them, they seem, I like to think, to be intelligent and scrupulous people.  If people do want to go out and buy these Watchmen prequels, they would be doing me an enormous favor if they would just stop buying my other books.  When I think of my audience, I like to have good thoughts and think about how lucky I am to have one that is as intelligent as mine and as moral as mine.

So, I wouldn't want to think that my readership were the kind of comic fans who are just addicted to a regular fix of their favorite character and, "Yeah well Jack Kirby he's not as good as he used to be, is he?"  And, "Who cares that he created almost everything that Marvel have built their line upon?"  And note, Jack Kirby, I'm saying, created them.  I'm not even saying "Lee and Kirby."  From my perspective, it looks like Jack did most of the work.

The kind of readers who are prepared to turn a blind eye when the people who create their favorite reading material, their favorite characters, are marginalized or put to the wall–that's not the kind of readers I want.  So, even if it means a huge drop in sales upon my other work, I would prefer it that way.  I mean, there's no way I can police this, of course.  But, I would hope that you wouldn't want to buy a book knowing that its author actually had complete contempt for you.  So, I'm hoping that will be enough.


So, if DC want to soil themselves in public and kill the reputations of a number of otherwise possibly halfway-decent writers and artists, then I'm certainly not going to stop them.  And, I shall take my fun and my pleasure however it comes.


Very strong words from a man not known for producing weak ones, including an invalidation of Stan Lee. He also goes onto explain that while he's fine with his characters like John Constantine being reused by other writers, that was because characters like that were designed for that purpose and understood to be part of the "DC stockpile,' and Watchmen was not.  He also further delineates the difference between what he does on books like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and what's going on here – i.e. stealing characters for other purposes and contexts vs. adaptation – which involves taking the original stories themselves and messing with them, as these prequels will seemingly do.

Really, just read the interview.  Eloquent vitriol is always worth the time, even if you don't entirely agree with it. His scathing indictment of the entire concept of ongoing superhero comics is copious food for thought, even if it's a very bitter taste to swallow.

"It's just toys in the toy box, isn't it?  You get to play with your favorite toys from the DC or Marvel toy box.  Yeah, I don't want to do that anymore.  Those toys were pried out of the fingers of dead men, and were pried from their families and their children.  That's just wrong. Everybody in the industry knows it's wrong and for some reason, nobody says anything about it. It looks to me like spinelessness.  It looks to me like all of these superhero comics are cowardice compensators.  You've got an industry that has never stood up for itself, and where the people who did try and stand up for themselves got fired–like all of DC's competent writers during the '60s like John Broome and Gardener Fox.  They suggested forming a union and at the mere suggestion of it, they were all fired.  And, a generation of fan artists and writers were brought in as kind of scab labor because they would have paid to write Batman.  That has pretty much delivered the kind of comic market that we have today.  Like I say, it's a good industry to be out of."