It Lives

We've got two new posts on the site this morning: Katie Haegele interviewing illustrator/cartoonist Eliza Frye, and the latest episode of TCJ Talkies, in which Mike Dawson talks to Renée French about everything from changing community standards in the comics community to her pseudonymous second career in children's books.

Elsewhere on the internet, tributes to Moebius continue to appear. There's no way we will be able to link to all of them, but frequent Journal contributor Matthias Wivel has written a great one focusing in on the artist's late works. Charles Hatfield is also worth reading, I believe we forgot to link to Matt Seneca's reaction from the weekend.

Seneca has also just posted a short interview with the jaw-droppingly prolific Michael DeForge.

In the wake of John Carter box-office reports, Evan Dorkin turns his mind to comics, and wonders what the biggest money-losing bomb in this medium has been? Most of the speculation so far has revolved around series, but my guess is that it's more likely one of the books signed to big contracts in the brief recent period in which big publishers decided to make a big push into graphic novels.

Gary Panter have a talk to MOCAD last week, and video is now online.

Tom Spurgeon has a nice solid interview with IDW's Scott Dunbier about their seemingly quite successful Artist's Edition series, and their decision to reprint the Wally Wood volume.

And somehow on Monday I neglected to link to Sarah Glidden's translation of Lewis Trondheim proposal for changes to the Angoulême festival.

As always, it seems, the biggest story working the comics internet right now is a new interview with Alan Moore, this time conducted by Kurt Amacker for Seraphemera Books. It's a typically sprawling thing, most of which covers ground that will be very familiar to regular Moore interview-dissectors, though it's also probably the most comprehensive source for his thoughts on Watchmen and DC's interactions with him that has appeared in years. Robot 6, which is generally a quite good comic news blog that I would recommend to anyone interested in the more "mainstreamy" side of alternative comics, has an annoying habit of trolling its dimmer readers by pulling out the most pointed and insulting excerpts from Moore interviews. This time may be their trolliest post yet, and their commenters don't disappoint, if you're into savoring reading-comprehension problems. It looks to me like most of these commenters prove Moore's point quite well, and he's right that he's better off without them reading his work.

There are a few more interesting parts of the interview worth pulling out, though. Here he is on one of the key reasons he thinks Before Watchmen is a stupid idea:

You see, 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. Like I've said, this was the one book that elevated the comics medium, the comics industry, above the point where it had previously been languishing. And where, when I had entered the American industry in the early '80s, it was close to death. They were going down the tubes, and they desperately needed the shot in the arm that all of the hype surrounding Watchmen provided for 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."

And here's part of his defense against the accusation that he has used many other artist' characters in his own books:

Other people's characters, right. Yeah, I've heard that. Now, what needs explaining is that you're talking about two or three different things, there. With The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, you're talking about a literary phenomenon that has nothing to do with comics. I can get to that in a moment. But, in terms of comics, when I entered the comics industry, I was given characters that the company owned, which were on their last legs--ones which were so lame that they were practically on the verge of cancellation.

Swamp Thing had been, I suppose, created by Len Wein (although in retrospect it really wasn't much more than a regurgitation of Hillman Comics' The Heap with a bit of Rod Serling purple prose wrapped around it). When I took over that character at Len Wein's suggestion, I did my best to make it an original character that didn't owe a huge debt to previously existing swamp monsters. And when I finished doing that book, yes, of course I understood that other people were going to take it over. That went for characters that I had created, like John Constantine. I understood that when I had finished with that character that it would just be absorbed into the general DC stockpile and I believe that I've expressed my admiration. I think that Brian Azzarello's editor had heard that I quite liked the job that he did with Richard Corben on Hellblazer and he phoned up asking me for a quote. I don't know if they ever used it, but I gave them a fulsome one.

This is because those were characters the company owned and I understood that. And I understood that whether I had created the characters like John Constantine, or whether I'd simply recreated them beyond all recognition like Swamp Thing, that these would just go into the general comic company's stockpiles. I've never objected to that. I mean, I don't think it is necessarily the fairest thing, but I've not objected to that.

And how he feels about creator's rights:

My position on all of this has hardened over the years. And, to say this is just what happens in comics--that this is just the tradition in comics--characters get passed from one creator to another and that's just how it is--why is it like that? And, where did these characters come from in the first place? Did they all spring from the brow of Zeus, fully-formed? Or, was there somebody who created them at some point? Was there a sort of Jerry Robinson or Bill Finger? Or, was there a Siegel and Schuster? Or a Martin Nodell or a Gardener Fox [sic] who got robbed? And then, of course the attitude--and I probably shared in this when I first started working for American comics--the attitude now is that 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.

21 Responses to It Lives

  1. Paul Slade says:

    I assume you guys have got a standing request in with Moore for a major Journal interview any time he’s ready to do one? I’d love to see an extended conversation between him and Groth which pressed him a little harder than the fans’ interviews he restricts himself to these days.

    What lesson does he draw from the fact that he’s fallen out with so many of his old friends and collaborators – Gibbons, Lloyd, Totleben – over the years? Does he ever think he might have wiser to accept every Hollywood dollar coming to him and direct it to a good cause?

    It’s only the Journal that’s ever likely to ask those questions and persist with them long enough to get a proper reply, but Moore seems to have no interest in a more challenging discussion like that these days. A pity.

  2. Man, I love Alan Moore’s writing: Watchmen and Swamp Thing. But his relationship to and view of his own work and powers as a storyteller is obnoxious I find. It makes it hard for me to root for him. Did he believe Watchmen was a seminal work that would change the face of comic books forever, delivering the medium to literary heights when he signed the contract with DC? If so, then why would he ever think it would be out of print? Or has his feeling toward the book – him comparing Watchmen to the likes of Moby Dick – developed over time since its publication, as the Watchmen legend and importance grew? And did his bitterness grow as well? I seem to remember him citing Raymond Chandler in an interview, feeling apathetic toward DC’s treatment of his creations when the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out (but I could be wrong). And surely Dave Gibbons’ masterful draftsmanship and comic-book abilities must be given some credit for Watchmen’s success, for in the hands of a lesser artist the book’s nuance could’ve been mishandled. His opinion of the work’s treatment should be considered nearly as equal to Moore’s? But I guess he’s not talking as much or has as many juicy things to say. Still, I can’t defend DC. But it seems like an argument between a colossal egomaniac and cruel corporation. Observing this whole thing, it’s kind of coloring my experience and memory of the Watchmen story itself. Will I still be able to enjoy reading the story without thinking of all the bickering? But maybe Moore would be happy if that were the resulting effect.

  3. AJA says:

    Watchmen’s greatness is carried by the writing. Even with mediocre art, Watchmen would be ahead of most superhero comics.

    “But his relationship to and view of his own work and powers as a storyteller is obnoxious I find.”

    Is it a wonder that he is an “egomaniac” when he receives heaps of praise from the comics intelligentsia? I mean, it is the only comic that is on that Time list.

  4. Stuart says:

    Definitely time for a TCJ interview Alan.

    TCJ really should be making more of this rather than just having it be a piece in a news bulletin. Bigger article to follow I hope. Or has this been done to death?

    I definitely think DC were disgraceful in their dealings with Moore, and I will not be supporting Before Watchmen, but I do have to admit, that his use of other people’s characters in Lost Girls + LOEG is a contradiction that needs to be explored and resolved by a big blether with Gary Groth?

    I would love to see a round table on the issue of Before Watchmen.

    Moore’s answers in this interview, I felt didn’t really even address the question.

  5. His work absolutely merits all the praise it’s generated over the years, there is absolutely zero doubt. I just think he himself has received the praise without much modesty or grace or elan. From my perspective when I read his expression about his work, he just seems to believe in his own hype too much.

  6. Briany Najar says:

    It’s no contradiction.
    And he did address the question, maybe not exhaustively though.
    One of the key differences (for me) between Moore’s appropriations and anything that the Big 2 do with “properties” is that LOEG (f’rinstance) is not marketed as a sequel to any of the works it borrows from. It’s a unique proposition, as a work. The “world” that Moore and O’Neill have created is not the “world” of Stoker, Rider-Haggard, or anyone else. The work is not sold as being continuous with the work of other creators. It’s not a franchise. You read it to see what Moore and O’Neill have done with a bunch of characters from completely disparate fictional origins, not what happens next to Jekyll and Nemo in the officially branded continuity-verse that they “inhabit.” No-one is being fooled. Nothing is being sullied. None of the originators have been insulted, harangued, coerced, or ignored.
    For Alan Moore, I get the sense that it’s as much about how DC has conducted itself, in terms of decency, morality, etc, in its attempts to exploit their relationship to the work, and how irritating it is to see them benefit from it without any obligation to reign in their craven fuckry – as well as the disappointment of seeing them mess up all the nice things he’s made.

  7. Briany Najar says:

    (sorry, I changed tense from singular to plural halfway thru that last sentence)

  8. Scott Grammel says:

    I’d been rather blase about the Before Watchmen brouhaha in the beginning, figuring the comics, like most of DC’s output, would be so utterly forgettable that their coming and going would leave Moore and Gibbon’s Watchmen virtually unscathed. But, ironically and uncomfortably, after seeing the fairly impressive array of talent involved (Cooke, Hughes, Conner,, the Kuberts. etc.), I started to fret just that little bit more about possible contact contamination of sorts. I’ll certainly be looking at the above named creators work when it comes out, with an idea to read their efforts. And the pirate comic? I want to read a pirate comic.

    And for anyone who doesn’t think Gibbons didn’t bring all that much to the Watchmen table, the new hardback of Moore-written DC universe stories that just came out features him with a few solid second-tier artists (like Swan, Perez, and Gibbons) and lots of third-rate talents, and the difference is painfully apparent. Oh, and there’s also a short origin of the Phantom Stranger illustrated (hi, James!) by Joe Orlando that is so rich with invention and graphic wit and sophistication that you will bemoan his long years away from the drawing board (when, it seems, he’d finally got good at it).

  9. Ian Harker says:

    Believing in continuity is like believing in Santa Claus. “Before Watchmen” is authorized fan-fiction. Thinking that it has any real relationship to the original work is just suspension of reason. It’s “Jaws 2”, who gives a shit.

  10. Daniel Jose Mata says:

    Whaaa–? I’ll give you George Perez, but Curt Swan and Dave Gibbons are second tier? That’s pretty damn crazy. Every cartoonist needs to study their clean, direct, sturdy cartooning. They knew exactly how to tell a rock solid story without any distracting fluff. If you haven’t checked out Dave Gibbons work on 2000AD’s Ro-Busters, you’re really missing out some energetic, creative drawing

  11. Daniel Jose Mata says:

    Just because someone thinks something they made is special doesn’t mean they think it’ll be around forever. Comics back that were rarely ever collected, and if they were, they had only one print run. The times generally dictated that belief, or so I’ve been told.

  12. Daniel Jose Mata says:

    Moore has always said “we” in regards to the creation of his comics. He hasn’t discredited of any of his collaborators’ talents, giving them nothing but praise. He even said that those that worked with him on his (criminally underrated and seemingly, sadly forgotten) America’s Best Comics imprint could continue working on the characters if they’d like to because 1) they co-created them, and 2) that’s the intended purpose of those superhero action comics. Zander Cannon, Chris Sprouse, and Gene Ha all did.

    Its just that fandom as well as the mainstream press consider the writer the one in charge, and the cartoonist is just following orders. For example, a few days ago there was an article on Comics Alliance about Marvel’s new online comics initiative where Waid himself has said that he was giving Stuart Immonen free range on how to interpret his outline and would be listed with co-writer credit, and yet there was a comment by a guy on how much he trusts Waid because, based on his current Daredevil work, he is such a visual writer even though Waid just plainly described the opposite! Ng Suat Tong (I think that’s his name) from the Hooded Utilitarian did a fantastic rundown on how Pia Guerra properly embellished Brian K. Vaughn’s bare bones scripts. Yet, who is in demand? What is the real reason people are so excited about Saga?

    In any case, Moore’s old and is tired of answering the same questions, so he spit out a little more bile this time around. He’s been writing and reading and writing and reading for longer than I have been alive. What’s wrong with him believing in his own talent when it’s so apparent that its there? He knows how to make a good story.

  13. “Comics back that were rarely ever collected, and if they were, they had only one print run.”

    Yeah, that’s a good point.

    “What’s wrong with him believing in his own talent when it’s so apparent that its there?”

    Nothing wrong with believing in ones own talent. The way he expresses his belief in his talent, I guess, just doesn’t jive with me. It’s a personal thing. I don’t really dig on artists who really are in love there own stuff and then talk about it the way he does.

  14. Scott Grammel says:

    Just for once I’d like to be surprised and see my most interesting comments remarked on, instead of my least. But not this time.

    Note I wrote “second-tier” and not “second-rate.” There’s a difference. Considering that Kirby, Kurtzman, and Krigstein (just to stick to the K’s) would naturally be in any sane persons first tier, it seems fair to place even such a solid craftsman as Swan below them.

  15. Allen Smith says:

    Agreed. Clearly, Swan wasn’t second rate, but second tier, yes. IMHO.

  16. Briany Najar says:

    It’s what keeps the-big-2 going:
    brand loyalty;
    the further adventures of logos.
    Emanations keep dribbling out.
    And there are so many who pay tribute to the Demiurge.
    Their priest claims his lineage stems from saints, long-silent martyrs.
    The flock lugubriously sips draught after draught of pulp-wash in exchange for whatever money they can get.
    Production is reliable, unceasing, routine.
    An unbroken stream of phatic responses to the horde’s dismal, chanted question,
    “And then what?”

  17. Kim Thompson says:

    If Curt Swan and Dave Gibbons are top-tier cartoonists, the “top tier cartoonists” category numbers in the thousands and is essentially meaningless. It’s a little like when people were seriously arguing that Dan DeCarlo was on the same level as Hergé. Well, no, he wasn’t. It’s not even worth discussing.

    I think WATCHMEN is a masterpiece and I also think Gibbons’s art is clumsy and stiff (I’ve never had the slightest interest in reading anything else drawn by Gibbons, although admittedly the beyond-ghastly GIVE ME LIBERTY worked as powerful aversion therapy for reasons that have little to do with Gibbons) and I think paradoxically that its failings may actually contribute to WATCHMEN’s strengths (and hightlight the quality of Moore’s concept, which is not quite the same thing), in the same way that the blank and bovine Kim Novak somehow makes VERTIGO a greater movie.

  18. patrick ford says:

    I don’t “get” what people see in Gibbon’s either. If anything he’s a lesser artist than someone line Paul Reinman, or Tony Tallarico. He’s much more similar to George Perez or John Byrne.
    Onm the other hand I don’t “get” Alan Moore either. Moore to me is little different from someone like Don McGregor, reading his stuff is like walking in knee deep snow. I tried his Swamp Thing in the ’80s when there was a lot of buzz and read about ten issues, and never had the interest to read anything by him again, but finally caved in to the feeling I should give The Watchmen a try. I don’t know, I just don’t see what other people like about the thing.
    I’m completely sympathetic to Moore’s point of view regarding his dealings with DC and Dave Gibbons. Moore basically gave Gibbons a huge gift, and said, “Just don’t involve me in anything to do with The Watchmen or DC,” and Gibbons for some reason wouldn’t honor that simple request. I don’t think Moore is paranoid at all in his assumptions about the “coded” messages DC was using Gibbons to deliver, and I don’t think there is any doubt DC was being cruelly manipulative.

  19. Kit says:

    I think WATCHMEN is a masterpiece and I also think Gibbons’s art is clumsy and stiff (I’ve never had the slightest interest in reading anything else drawn by Gibbons

    Gibbons was very appropriately Elder-ish in his support of Moore’s scripts on Chrono-cops and the one about the succession of iterations of the time-machine-inventing professor popping back to alternately warn himself against and encourage himself to go ahead and invent his device. Some of his other early 2000AD strips, eg Rogue Trooper, are really well-suited to his detail-oriented approach. And he makes the first issue, maybe two issues of Give Me Liberty thoroughly readable by creating a detailed physical world and “acting” an empathetic lead character within it.

    It really is a 2-decade-plus wasteland since then, though.

  20. Kit says:

    His work absolutely merits all the praise it’s generated over the years, there is absolutely zero doubt. I just think he himself has received the praise without much modesty or grace or elan. From my perspective when I read his expression about his work, he just seems to believe in his own hype too much

    Normally when bignoting himself, he does so in a very explicitly self-mocking way – ie he knows it sounds up oneself to think so highly of one’s own work, but hey, it’s just one guy’s opinion, you don’t have to agree – and his spoken tone of voice helps put this across a lot better. But here, he’s talking about the level at which DC must value the work, in order to keep rehashing and rewringing and ripping off, in lieu of creating five books a year as successful and valuable as his 25-year-old one.

    It’s not “I’m hot shit, why don’t they bow before me,” it’s “by their constant actions and sales figures, they obviously think my work is the hottest of shits ever laid. In light of this, it is frustrating that they actively and aggressively treat the creator of said work like a cold, clammy smear of dogturd in the treads of their shoe.”

  21. Allen Smith says:

    Pat, don’t go overboard. Gibbons is not worse than Tony Tallarico or Paul Reinman, although early in his career Reinman did have a little bit of talent, and I’ve grown to like Tallarico’s art in all it’s clumsy and goofy charm. Gibbons’ art has it’s own gritty appeal, appropriate for some things, inappropriate for some other things.

    Allen Smith

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