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Saturday, 2 June 2012

Who Watches the Watchmen’s Watchers?

Noah Berlatsky over at SLATE reports that Alan Moore is angry about DC Comics’ Watchmen prequels.  And adds that “He’s right.” The article is worth reading even if we know Alan Moore is always angry at companies:


You see, Moore made a very big mistake.  Whichever way you look at it he took the DC $ for Watchmen but, writes Berlatsky:

“Moore’s relationship with DC has soured, to put it mildly. Among (many) other things, Moore became increasingly angry with the company over the handling of the rights to Watchmen itself. In the original contract, DC had written a provision stating that the comic and the characters would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the series went out of print. Moore had assumed that, as with all comics in those pre-“graphic novel” days, this would happen within a few years. Instead, of course, Watchmen was a massive hit—so massive that the trade paperback collection of Watchmen has been in constant publication, and probably always will be.”

Now this means that Moore made that fateful mistake of trusting a big corporation. You get, as a creator, to deal with the smoothies. The nice, “very sincere” guys who are on your side until the boss orders them to turn on you.

With Fantagraphic Books in 1990 I made sure I had a contract that gave them, as Eros Comix, first print rights in the English language so that they would need to re-negotiate if the series I wrote was successful (though I did not think it would be).  I discovered by accident  that the series was printed a second, third and fourth time and it was only because someone in Forbidden Planet said to me one day “Hey, I like the trade edition of your comic” that I discovered Fantagraphics had printed a trade which they did not have the rights to do.  And I have French (from France and one from Canada) and Spanish editions of the books and the publishers all state “printed under licence” from Fantagraphics, which at least three of the publishers confirmed to me. I have seen but been unable to get hold of other Foreign language editions.  Fantagraphics ignored the contract (no internet at the time but now we can find out the truth).

So, if Moore seriously thought that DC were going to publish Watchmen and then let it go he was very, very foolish.  He should have, if he was that serious, had it written into the contract that DC Comics had first printing rights only and that the rights revert to him after this.  DC would probably have signed that contract as they could not predict a huge success.

Think about this: Jack Kirby is creator, along with Stan Lee in some cases and Joe Simon in one case, of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk. Neither Kirby’s family, nor Simon’s (though people seem to ignore Joe Simon!) will get a red cent from the $1 billion (and increasing) revenue from Avengers Assemble.  Will Stan Lee get no money? Another point, in interviews available on You Tube I note certain “Kirby was ripped off do not support Marvel!” advocates have the collected Marvel Essential books reprinting Kirby work…?

Moore refuses money from any film based on one of his comics (yes, comics BEFORE they became “graphic novels”) and criticises those films “sight unseen” so I cannot really lose sleep for him there.  He should have blocked movie developments or insisted on writing the screenplay but no.

I love Moore’s work but he does seem to almost orchestrate fallings out with companies he works with.  Maybe he ought to launch his own comics?  Hang on -is he definitely out of comics for good this week?  I have a lot of Moore series/books in my collection.

photo:Wikipedia -fimb

But it brings us back to these Before Watchmen series. Some good artists involved but this is just desperation to screw more money out of comic ‘fans’ who should know better -they don’t really care because ‘fans’ will say “how awful” but miss buying a new comic? Nah. Creators rights do not affect fan boys.

Moore can scream in the middle of Dudley high street and tear his hair out and who’ll care? Will big Alan Moore fan Jonathan Ross refuse to buy these comics in support of Moore? If he didn’t…who would care?

When it comes down to it creators -that includes me- are fodder for companies.  They can afford to ignore you knowing that you cannot afford legal representation (some creators do not rock the boat so keep quiet about things).  I had a contract with Fleetway/Egmont but ended up being owed over £5000 for work approved/accepted. The run around soon tires solicitors out.

I can remember a certain slimey ****** at a UK company who, when I tried to get a decent answer from him about why two people I worked with were not paid for reprints in Europe, responded:”Did they have a contract? No. We don’t do contracts. Even if we did who’s going to say ‘hey, we might sell the print rights to Europe’?”  Pressed on the point that this was unfair on creators who were not earning much the American gentleman replied: “F*** ‘em -this is business not charity!”

So, I agree that the new “prequels” are pointless and a rip off but they will sell because of all the anti publicity they are being given…and fanboys.  Watchmen dealt with all the background to the characters and I doubt these series will do anything more than make DCs money-men drool. But Moore has to take the blame -claiming to be innocent about such things while also claiming to be worldly wise and knowing how business will screw the little man does not work.

It doesn’t help that Moore seems to annoy publishers (yes, I can hear the “hark whose talking” comments but I know DC and Marvel would never employ me!).   I can understand the anger of any creator in this situation but why should Moore be treated any differently to Kirby or Simon..or anyone else screwed by DC and Marvel?
I would love to see Moore right a good old fashioned fun action/adventure/super hero strip based in the UK but published by himself -Steve Ditko does this (Ditko is another “hard done by” creator who simply refuses to take money from Spider-man movies because he wants all creative credit, which he should not have.  As Lee points out (in writing to boot); he and Ditko co-created Spiderman).

As I wrote, Moore is either in comics or out.  If out then his comments don’t mean much (however, hard done by) because he is not in comics.  If in then he needs to start producing comics and I’d support that every inch of the way. He writes good comics.

I own all my characters and no one gets hold of them to use.  Which is probably why I’m not rich!

DC and Marvel are big corporate businesses who do not give a shit about creators rights despite what they declared years ago (under whoever owned them then!).  Alan Moore: write more comics (please) but simply do not sign away your rights!

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