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Sick as a Dog

Today Charles Hatfield returns with a review of Bernie “The Jam” Mireault’s latest self-published book, To Get Her. An excerpt:

My own knowledge of Mireault dates to his collaboration with Matt Wagner and Joe Matt on Comico’s Grendel, way back in 1987 (an arc later collected as The Devil Inside). That collaboration put Mireault on my radar, and so I dug into his quirky, low-rent superhero pastiche The Jam, a generally lighthearted riff on the genre but laced with semi-autobiographical, underground-flavored elements. The Jam began as a backup serial in the Canadian series New Triumph back in the early mid-’80s, then began to find its own way after 1987 (Comico published a one-shot after the Grendel run that I glommed onto very happily). By the mid-’90s I thought of The Jam as a humorous but soulful alternative to superheroes-as-usual, a project that, despite its fitfulness and its caroming between publishers, promised what Mike Allred’s Madman also seemed to promise at the time: life, energy, and homespun storytelling within the straits of that oh-so-familiar genre. I dug it the way I dug Allred’s work, and Mike Gilbert’s work on Mr. Monster, and the way I still dig Paul Grist’s myriad superhero comics.

Sara Varon continues her week contributing the Cartoonist’s Diary feature.

And we’ve also opened up the archives to bring out a 1986 panel discussion with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons about Watchmen, moderated by Neil Gaiman. Here’s an excerpt:

FROM THE AUDIENCE: Do you actually own Watchmen?

MOORE: My understanding is that when Watchmen is finished and DC have not used the characters for a year, they’re ours.

GIBBONS: They pay us a substantial amount of money. ..

MOORE: … to retain the rights. So basically they’re not ours, but if DC is working with the characters in our interests then they might as well be. On the other hand, if the characters have outlived their natural life span and DC doesn’t want to do anything with them, then after a year we’ve got them and we can do what we want with them, which I’m perfectly happy with.

GIBBONS: What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think that they’d do that. I think because of the unique team they couldn’t get anybody else to take it over to do Watchmen II or anything else like that, and we’ve certainly got no plans to do Watchmen II.

Also, I thought I’d draw attention to one other part of the interview, regarding the comic’s connection to Charlton comics. Moore explains:

I started mapping out a few ideas, and originally it was just a murder mystery, “Who killed the Peacemaker,” and that was it. We sent all this stuff to Dick Giordano and some of it was extreme. We were going to treat the Question as a lot more extreme than he’d been treated before. Dick loved the stuff, but having a paternal affection for these characters from his time at Charlton, he really didn’t want to give his babies to the butchers, and make no mistake about it, that’s what it would have been. He said, “Can you change the characters around and come up with some new ones?” At first I wasn’t sure whether that would work, but when Dave and I got together and started just planning these things out, it all really snapped into place and worked fine. I’m much happier now doing it with original characters. It’s worked out much better than it would have done if we had used Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and all the others, and I’m pleased with it.

Emphasis mine. The whole, depressingly common argument that Watchmen is just a ripoff of Charlton characters, and thus everything is now fair game is risible. The Question and Rorschach are not the same characters. If DC were planning a miniseries featuring characters who were sort of reminiscent of the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan and Sally Jupiter, etc., no one would be batting an eye right now.

Anyway, speaking of which, David Brothers has an enjoyably vicious editorial on the publication of Before Watchmen here. His thesis?:

Buying Before Watchmen is a vote for:

-A comics industry that prizes properties over creators
-A comics industry that will effortlessly use its legal muscle to screw over creators
-A comics industry that strip-mines the past at the expense of the future

Brothers draws attention to a recent USA Today story on the series in which DC co-publisher Dan DiDio offers the following mind-boggling quote: “The strength of what comics are is building on other people’s legacies and enhancing them and making them even stronger properties in their own right.” An inspirational way to start the morning! Maybe it’s best if we moved on to other topics …

—Such as DC’s sales figures, which Marc-Oliver Frisch analyzes here, and more or less convincingly finds (albeit with less than ideal information), that the New 52 initiative gave only a temporary positive push to sales.

—Dept. of Interviews. James Sturm talks to Julie Delporte. Graeme McMillan talks to Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. Ashok Kondabolu (!) talks to Ben Marra. And finally, an interview with the late Harvey Pekar from close to his passing has come to light.

—I don’t think we’ve yet mentioned Tom Spurgeon’s annual head-exploding guide to attending the San Diego Comic-Con, and it’s probably because neither Dan nor I wants to come to terms with the fact that we won’t be there.

—Stephen Bissette reveals the secret cinematic origins of Ben Grimm.

—And if you’ve ever wanted a chance to talk (and buy) comics in person with our Sunday columnist Frank Santoro, this weekend in NYC is the time and place to make your dreams come true.


87 Responses to Sick as a Dog

  1. Stevie B says:

    The one thing I haven’t ever understood about before watchmen is why didn’t they just ask all these creators to try and make these stories work with new characters like Giordano asked Moore and Gibbons to. Cooke talked of saying no and then after a year having a story so perfect come to him that he had to say yes. Why throw it away on this shit? I know Levitz takes some criticism, but at least he had the balls to say no to anything that encroached on the point of Watchmen; that it was complete. I really don’t get these creators at all. If these ideas are so good, why sell them to DC? Why not take them to Image or Dark Horse? The alternatives are that the ideas aren’t that good, or they took the somebody had to do it, might as well be me route. I’m refusing to buy them, and am going to boycott the big two.

  2. Joe McCulloch says:

    The same reason American Psycho 2 wasn’t ‘generic horror film 457x’ – there was a brand to exploit for easier money and ready made sequel/franchising possibilities. It’s hard to sell anything in the comic book format to comic book stores anymore without brand recognition, and this isn’t just about comics; Didio says as much above. It’s about extending the proven Watchmen brand to a point beyond where an Alan Moore can object to cross-platform adaptability. Because while the book has proven to be a perennial, it’s probably cooling in return now that the movie’s gone – and nobody wants to be the one caught sitting on a big, exploitable virgin property. Not in this culture.

  3. Stevie B says:

    Oh I get why it’s being done at at corporate level. I’m questioning the creative side. If you had an idea you thought was gold, would you want that idea to be sold as work for hire or would you want it to be your baby as much as possible? I get that for some creative types there’s an implied challenge here; it’s similar to Morrison and Millar crossing the British picket line on Swamp Thing all those years back. But Cooke’s quote:

    I had actually turned it down simply because I couldn’t see doing anything that would live up to the original. And, it was about a year later, the story idea that I’m working on now sort of came to me and I realized that there was a way to do the project, and I had a story that I thought was exciting enough to tell.

    I can’t help but think, why not take that exciting idea and make it creator owned?

  4. I love that the lofty heights of artistic relevance that DC has set its sights on is American Psycho 2. I wonder how many of these stories will end up like the Will Smith version of I, Robot did, as a completely different script with no real connection to the title save for a few easter eggs and name changes?

  5. Joe says:

    Obviously Darwyn Cooke thinks that the story he wanted to tell was so important that he could ignore the morality of scabbing, that and the enticement of all the money that DC paid him.

  6. Allen Smith says:

    GIBBONS: “What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think that they’d do that.”

    Having “faith” in Marvel or DC is to laugh, unless Gibbons was being ironic.

  7. BVS says:

    I feel like if the Watchmen movie had actually been the huge success it’s backers wanted then this kind of thing would have happened allot sooner. and they would have justified it by saying “well we have 100,000 fans saying no do not do this, but we have a 100 million fans who loved the movie and say they want more! deal with it chumps!

    DC has the big enough marketing dept to know comic book fans really don’t want this, but this isn’t for us. I think this is DC/time warner trying to show the hollywood money that they can turn this franchise around and they are open to the ideas which could to turn watchmen into the media gold mine that for years they’d been saying it was.

  8. Tony says:

    “I think because of the unique team they couldn’t get anybody else to take it over to do Watchmen II or anything else like that”

    Wow. How pathetically Gibbons has changed his tune:

    “I appreciate DC’s reasons for this initiative and the wish of the artists and writers involved to pay tribute to our work. May these new additions have the success they desire.”
    ___________

    I think Gibbons’s and Higgins’s attitude is the most disappointing thing here. Imagine if they both had the same dignity than Moore and got right behind him…

    As it is, having the seal of approval from the artist and the colorist of the book (and even the active collaboration of the latter) is an ace in DC’s hands that sadly undermines Moore’s otherwise unassailable position.

  9. Scott Grammel says:

    Gibbon’s situation reminds me of Roger Daltry’s, who once lamented his own more precarious financial situation as opposed to Pete Townsend’s. Townsend, having bounteous songwriting royalties at his disposal could easily say no to touring as the Who, regardless of the guaranteed big grosses — which Daltry often desperately needed. But even if the touring wasn’t as regular as Daltry’s accountant might’ve liked, what he could get whenever they did tour meant he had to just keep his head down and wait. And, yes, grumble out loud occasionally about it all.

    Moore has Swamp Thing, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Lost Girls, Watchmen,and however many other smaller sources of regular income. Gibbons has Watchmen and not much else. He gets up every day in a house that Watchmen — and thus DC — paid for, drives a car that Watchmen/DC bought, pays his bills thanks to Watchmen/DC, and knows that his retirement will be paid for by Watchmen/DC.

    As for Didio’s comment above being so preposterous, well, as far as mainstream comics go and have gone for many decades (and I consider Marvel and DC to effectively be the mainstream going by the sales rankings in each Previews), he’s right. As it happens that I have finally, in the very last few years, started digging into Weisinger-era Superman comics, which fairly uickly and even astonishingly suggests the wisdom of the approach Didio mentions, I guess my mind was resolutely unboggled by it all.

    Brief politically-incorrect Watchmen comments. Bought my Minutemen #1 copy (looked like very interesting Cooke work with very sharp Phil Noto coloring, so I was aboard), then found myself in the graphic novel section of my local library the next day, a beat copy of Watchmen sitting on the shelf, figured it’d been long enough since I’d read it and so should especially give it a reread now, took it home. There I opened it and, God, that is one garishly colored piece of work, and Gibbons often draws people as if he’d never actually seen one in the flesh. Kinda not-all-that-great to look at generally, though here and there is some very nice work. As for the writing, it may be better than I remember (I hope), but I always thought it was the beginning of the end of my real enjoyment of Moore’s work. Jettisoning his biggest asset, his caption writing, in favor of his weakest, his dialogue, was the first bad sign. The next was turning his gift for elegantly appropriate scene transitions into a mandatory fetish. The third was putting on his biggest Auteur hat and insisting on his panel breakdowns.

    Can you tell I’m already dreading the reread?

  10. Scott Grammel says:

    If you read “uickly” as “quickly” above it’ll make actual sense.

  11. Tim Hodler says:

    I like Weisinger-era Superman as much or more than the next person, but it’s hardly what I’d consider the pinnacle of what can be accomplished in comics. But “enhancing properties” may just lie low on my sense of priorities.

    But on the rest, based on the very non-committal tone of Gibbon’s comments, your Who analogy seems … not implausible.

  12. Kit says:

    Gibbons stresses that people should note the carefully equivocal wording of that statement, and comes verrry close to explicitly refusing to say anything positive about the enterprise, in this interview (about 50 mins in).

  13. Well, he said “the success they desire”, which is a nicer sentiment than saying “the success they deserve”

  14. James says:

    Congratulations Grammel, you are not “politically correct”, rather you celebrate Dan DiDio’s “wisdom” and are “onboard” with the endless regurgitation and exploitation of corporate character/properties by hacks who enrich themselves by feeding off of the ideas of others. Ohhhhh, and to justify your brave gesture of individuality you thriftily borrowed the complete original book from the library and then slagged it.

  15. C. Guzmán Cardona says:

    Not getting the whole panel breakdowns thing is missing a BIG part of Watchmen’s “proposal”. These characters, unlike the “real” superheroes the medium boasts, aren’t exactly all that great. That’s why the most expansive vistas in the whole book, the passages during which the comic seems to open itself up to other possibilities, are those set on Mars, Dr. Manhattan being the only one capable of seeing beyond the gridlike structure of human existence. It may not make the work as readable as you’d like, but who ever said reading had to be a breeze?

  16. ant says:

    And he spelled “Daltrey” incorrectly several times.

  17. Scott Grammel says:

    I actually don’t “like Weisinger-era Superman as much or more than the next person.” Most of the stories are idiotic or cheats or unsatisfying in other ways, Swan is the only artist whose work I’ll buy, and even his work isn’t always as detailed and rich as I’d like, or competently colored. Still, under Weisinger’s editorship of the Superman titles, and by employing so many different writers’ imaginations in addition to his own, he enormously enriched that fictional world. One could convincingly argue that his efforts shaped the character that we know today even more than Siegel and Shuster themselves.

    It was actually in that general industry-wide view that I was agreeing with Didio, though of course he was using it in a defensive manner, I’m assuming, regarding the whole Before Watchmen brouhaha. As far as I’m concerned (and the Watchmen panel discussion posted recently makes this crystal clear), DC took a pretty big creative gamble on the whole endeavor, it paid off big time for everyone involved, and I’ve never heard word one from the creators about their not having received their fairly negotiated royalties over the years, so I guess I’m looking for the harm that proves the foul here. DC may’ve been as happily surprised as Moore was ultimately unhappily surprised to see that the steady sales over the years meant that the book might never go out of print, but I’ll decide if he and Gibbon were screwed when they tell us how much they’ve been paid as a result. I won’t hold my breath.

    Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are canonical; non-Doyle-written Holmes stories, as many as they are, as popular as they may be, simply and finally do not matter, nor do they impact in any real way the lasting legacy of the original stories and Doyle’s work. I know lots of people who worked themselves up into Romberger-worthy sputtering furies over the Downing films’ liberties; I shrugged, enjoyed some of the first one, didn’t see the second. History will shrug, too.

    The whole Before Watchmen controversy? I shrugged.

  18. James says:

    Sputter! Well, you had your fannish opinion but for once you at least didn’t say something like “more later when I have time” and then never get around to it.

  19. Jeet Heer says:

    You know, I was going to respond to Scott Grammel’s earlier comments by agreeing with part of what he wrote (that the original Watchmen is artistically flawed in a number of ways) and disagreeing with other comments (that the Weisenger era Superman should serve as a model for anything) but with his second comment I’m not even sure where he stands anymore. The thrust of the first comment was that Watchmen was flawed in significant ways, that Cooke’s work on Before Watchmen looks interesting, and that in the history of commercial comics it is often fruitful to build on earlier works (the supposed value of Weisenger era Superman comics) — so the logical conclusion is that Before Watchmen could be an improvement on Watchmen. But in his follow-up post Scott makes a completely different argument (that a canonical work — like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Moore’s Watchmen — is ultimately unaffected by later additions by other hands, so there is no harm). Either of Scott’s arguments can be right or they can both be wrong but they both can’t be right. Or to put it another way, if Weisenger’s Superman “shaped the character that we know today even more than Siegel and Shuster themselves” then its possible that Before Watchmen will shape those characters as much as Moore/Gibbon did. And if that’s the case then Moore, as a creator, has serious grounds to object. (Gibbon would also have grounds to object but as Scott himself notes is too financially dependent on DC to be a free agent).

    Part of the problem with Scott’s argument is that he seems to think that all that matters is what is legally right and the money. No one denies that DC has the legal right to publish Before Watchmen and no one denies that Moore/Gibbon have been amply paid for Watchmen. But there’s more to life than legality or money making — there is also the business of morality. To use the Doyle example, he had been well-paid for Holmes and if Holmes had fallen into public domain during Doyle’s lifetime, other people could have legally have done Holmes knock-offs. But if Doyle objected to those Holmes knock-offs it would have been a mean-spirited thing to do.

    There is such a thing as the moral rights of the creator, and I think Moore as long as he’s alive has the standing to object to people doing knock-offs of his characters. A parallel case springs to mind. A few years ago someone did a “sequel” to Lolita — telling the story from Lolita’s point of view. I thought that was fine since Nabokov is dead. But if Nabokov had been alive and objected to the sequel, then I think the author of the sequel would have been a creep to publish his work.

    Again, this has nothing to do with what’s legal or what makes money or what helps create a rich fictional universe for comics readers to enjoy — it has everything to do with treating people with respect and respecting the moral rights of creators.

  20. Dominick Grace says:

    Too bad he didn’t say “success they deserve” rather than desire…..

  21. James says:

    In his act of paying money for Cooke’s comic he supports not only Cooke’s lack of concern with his colleague’s wishes and his ego-driven “urge to create” using other people’s creations to make himself wealthy (Cooke was VERY well paid) but also he supports DC’s lack of concern with anything that is meaningful in the universe I want to inhabit. If you do the same, you also support them. As I have said before, someone who engages in “political correctnesss” is trying NOT to be an asshole. But by all means, go ahead and be one.

  22. Allen Smith says:

    The ship has sailed on criticizing writers and artists for working on comics created by someone else, hasn’t it? That’s what the entire output of the Big 2 consists of, isn’t it?

  23. James says:

    Yeah, Allen, you’re right and I bore myself with my own “sputtering fury”. I don’t need to respond to everyone that I disagree with and DC and Marvel will fly off that lemming cliff with or without my money and participation helping them along. Without. Buh bye.

  24. R. Fiore says:

    My own feeling about this is that if I had a strong desire to read the Before Watchmen comics I probably would, but I’d feel lousy about it in the morning. The flaw in the Weisinger Superman argument is that this is “Before Watchmen”, which means that whatever happens it has to end with the situation as it was in the beginning of Watchmen. In this sense it’s more like those Star Wars comics, where the characters can have all the adventures they are implied to have had between the movies, but nothing in the basic situation can change because the movies are the only “real” events.

    From a pure author’s rights standpoint, however, when you are filling in backstory you really are assuming an original author’s prerogative. This is particularly so in a situation where the author wanted the characters’ backstories to be ambiguous. Rather than leaving the characters’ stories to the reader’s imagination, which I think very likely was the author’s preference, DC as universal and absolute owner of the properties has defined what those stories are.

  25. Kim Thompson says:

    The paradoxical thing about WATCHMEN is, I think if it had been drawn by a better cartoonist (say, Brian Bolland) it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. Gibbons’s flat characterizations and stiff body language somehow sell the whole thing better than more fluid, expressive, actually GOOD artwork would have. There’s a degree of abstraction to WATCHMEN that is served well by Gibbons’s limitations. (If Dr. Manhattan had drawn a comic, this is what it would’ve looked like.)

    I re-read WATCHMEN a few months ago and remain a big fan. Not the Greatest Graphic Novel Ever Created or anything silly like that, and some of the brilliant things Moore did have since solidified into industry-wide tics, but I’m sure I’ll re-read it with pleasure once or twice a decade for the rest of my life.

    I think the only person who should be allowed to whip up a head of moral condemnation about anyone buying whichever BEFORE WATCHMEN issues he pleases would be someone who himself hasn’t bought a comic featuring a corporate-owned character in the last two decades. Drawing the line in the sand for the sake of two creators who were handsomely (and ongoingly) remunerated and credited for their work (one of whom who has in fact endorsed the project, however gingerly), in the context of an industry with a ton of far more egregious crimes against creators over the decades, seems a bit like posturing to me.

    I think it’s fine to not buy these comics as a matter of principle, less fine to bloviate about the moral inferiority of those who do buy them. If any of these comics look interesting to me at my next trip to the comics shop, I’ll buy them, read them, and not feel the slightest bit guilty, and their existence won’t change my memory of or appreciation for the original WATCHMEN one iota.

  26. James says:

    Dave Gibbons has little to complain about, but one would think his allegiance to Moore would be greater than to DC, since it appears that it was Moore who ensured his financial well-being in the deal. At any rate my feelings in these matters are (probably obviously) colored by my own experiences with corporate comics; I’ve been boycotting Marvel for many years but DC has rarely if ever been much better, never mind their recent behavior. If people really want to buy this stuff and watch the movies, of course it’s their money and I’m not an authority on anything.

  27. Jeet Heer says:

    I agree with Kim that in the grand scheme of horrible mistreatment of creators in corporate comics (i.e. the history that runs from Siegel and Shuster to Kirby and beyond ) Before Watchmen is a venial sin compared to some real crimes. But for me the fact that they’ve treated other people much worse than Moore isn’t grounds for ignoring the mistreatment of Moore. And for me the fact that Moore is still alive has some relevance. It’s good and important to help the Kirby estate and the Siegel estate but the cartoonists themselves are gone. Moore is a alive and DC is going out of their way to rub his lack of power compared to them in his face. That’s not pleasant behavior.
    Looking over my bookshelves, by the way, I think I might almost qualify for as someone who “himself hasn’t bought a comic featuring a corporate-owned character in the last two decades” — it looks like I’ve bought less than $30 worth of such material. I have had a few DC comics sent to me for review purposes (Peggy Burns has a few amusing stories about my reluctance to review those comics back in her days as a DC publicist). So my hands aren’t entirely clean.
    But I don’t think its fruitful to morally condemn anyone who buys a Before Watchmen comic or even those who work on a Before Watchmen comics. I think the real moral problem lies with those in a position to make corporate policy at DC, who have decided that because legally they can do what they want with Watchmen, they don’t need to take Alan Moore’s objection into account. And the fact that they’re doing it to a still living and active creator shows that the ethics that made life miserable for Siegel, Shuster, Kirby and so many others are still the dominant ethics of mainstream comics.

  28. Kim Thompson says:

    I agree totally. I don’t think we should ignore Moore’s mistreatment at the hands of DC. I just think excoriating those who buy a comic that DC is publishing perfectly legally using concepts that they bought fair and square from Moore is an overreach of moral indignation (say, James calling anyone who buys a BEFORE WATCHMEN comic an “asshole”) that does little other than give the excoriator a moment of smug superiority, and seems silly given the historical sewer-like ethics of the rest of the mainstream comics industry. It’s like scolding someone for farting in a methane factory. (In fairness, James seems to have cooled off and walked back a bit from his peak fury.)

    The Faustian bargain of working for mainstream comics is that you can make a lot more money than you would otherwise on one hand (you think a Kitchen Sink-published WATCHMEN would’ve made Moore and Gibbons the gazillions the Warner-published one did?), and on the other hand they’re going to try to kick you in the nuts. You can go in there fairly cynically with your eyes open and covering your balls as best you can, understanding and accepting this trade-off — like, say, Dave Gibbons. (Or Neil Gaiman, or Howard Chaykin, or Grant Morrison…) Or you can go in there with your moral antennae up and your defenses down, and get very, very upset when the kick comes, quit and demand all your friends come with you, and get mad when they don’t. (The fact that Moore has far, far more financial resources allowing him to tell DC to go fuck themselves than Gibbons has is not brought up often enough, I think.) I think you can respect Moore’s position and Gibbons’s position as both having some validity, and not have to pick Team Dave or Team Alan and hurl abuse at the other side.

    Peace out.

  29. Eddie campbell says:

    You’re all arguing about the wrong thing. The crime isn’t a moral one, or at least that is not the part worth arguing about. It’s an aesthetic crime. DC failed to realize that Watchmen is a work of art without precedent. (Or they knew it once and then forgot) It is complete and autonomous and perfect in itself and so thoroughly worked out that parts cannot be added or subtracted (you could take out the Black Freighter, for argument’s sake, like the movie did, but then you would no longer have 12 parts of equal length like the hours of the clock, or watch). Its author’s hurt is that he made it for greedy grabbers who cannot tell the difference between it and any other old bit of comic book baloney and are treating it just so. Dave Gibbons is very much a ‘comic book artist’. The equal contribution of a ‘comic book artist’ was necessary for Watchmen but to suggest that Bolland would have a better choice is lacking in insight. A more visionary artist, his work tends to have an underlying mischief about it that could have worked against the masterplan in this instance. But as a comic book artist I’m not sure Dave is able to stand outside of Watchmen and see its value in a larger context. Hence the split. Dave perhaps thinks of it as the best comic book he ever draw, rather than a comic book which takes comics to a different place altogether, which is not an idea that would interest him all that much.

  30. Jeet Heer says:

    Eddie Campbell is of course right (Eddie Campbell is almost always right!) that the aesthetic crime is what grates (although I don’t think that in this case the aesthetic crime inseparable from the moral crime). One of most interesting things about Watchmen, indeed one of the most radical things about Watchmen, is its stand-alone quality. There is no Watchmen universe other than what’s in the book, the book is meant to be a complete in and of itself, and marks a major break from a genre where all stories are implicitly ongoing stories with continuing characters. To introduce finitude into a genre where “to be continued” or “in our next issue” is the norm involved a significant break. What DC is doing is making Watchmen into just another superhero comic. I’m on record as having a lower opinion of Watchmen than most people but I have to say even I think the book deserves more respect than DC is giving it.

  31. James says:

    For the record my comment was really meant more in reference to that the only people I ever hear talking about “political correctness” are usually going out of their way to be “politically INcorrect”, i.e. assholes.

  32. TimR says:

    So now I’m kind of curious if DC will be able to transmute guaranteed aesthetic failure into commercial success.. Will the “property enhancement” Didio lauds work in this case (in the eyes of readers that is) on a property fundamentally resistant to it?

    Does aesthetic crime pay?

  33. R. Fiore says:

    One reason people like Chaykin and Gaiman maintain their particular modus vivendi with DC is they hold out the possibility of doing further new projects for the company in the future. While DC had the possibility of seeing further projects from Moore they didn’t mess with Watchmen; once it became clear that he was never going to do any work for them ever again under any circumstances, I suspect they just said to themselves, fuck him. I suspect Gibbons’ position is that he likes getting money for old rope (or new tie-in products) and he just wants to maintain the flow while keeping as good relations with Moore as possible under the circumstances. The dilemma here is for the people who sympathize with Moore but really like Darwyn Cooke or whoever and want to see whatever he does.

  34. Robert Stanley Martin says:

    I have a hard time accepting that view. What I believe has happened is that DC is now under different management, and this new regime does not feel bound to honor Moore and Gibbons’ moral rights since those weren’t guaranteed in the contract.

    According to Dick Giordano in his interview in TCJ #119, DC’s acquisitions policy required granting the company copyright because at the time he and DC believed–erroneously–that they needed it to exploit the subsidiary rights. Giordano, Jenette Kahn, and Paul Levitz apparently saw DC’s ownership of the copyright as a strictly technical matter; Watchmen and other creator-driven acquisitions were to be treated as if the creators otherwise owned them. This is borne out by DC’s conduct. You have Giordano’s statement in the interview that while DC had the option of doing so, they would likely do nothing further with Watchmen out of respect for the creators. There’s also Kahn’s reported ixnaying of editor-proposed prequel projects back in the ’80s. Most importantly, there were no further Watchmen comics for the entirety of Levitz’s tenure in DC’s management. Levitz was the last of the three to leave DC, and the prequel project was announced pretty much the moment he was out the door. That might be a coincidence, but I doubt it.

    Moore initially quit DC in a huff back in 1987, and the last of his work for them from that period was published in 1989. He didn’t go back until DC purchased Wildstorm a decade later. If the prevailing attitude at DC was screw Alan Moore if he won’t work for us, then there would have been more Watchmen comics during that 10-12 years. There weren’t.

  35. R. Fiore says:

    I have no idea what DC’s actual thinking is, but I take notice that they’re not reneging on their understandings with Neil Gaiman. That is of course an understanding that allowed them to do spinoffs. You bring up the valid point that a main reason to think that DC is now violating a gentleman’s agreement is that they observed it for 15-odd years.

  36. Kim Thompson says:

    I think Bob Fiore is right. Corporations are amoral. The only reason for a corporation to honor a gentleman’s agreement is because it thinks it gains by it. DC honored DC’s gentleman’s agreement for about as long as DC thought DC might have a fighting chance of getting any more profitable work, or at least cooperation, out of Moore. It reached a certain tipping point where the likelihood of that ever happening was so infinitesimal, vs. the likelihood of nice big profits from BEFORE WATCHMEN, the tipping was inevitable.

    I agree with RSM that Levitz’s departure probably was a trigger, but I don’t think Levitz would have been able to stave off the (come on, let’s face it, inevitable) WATCHMEN spin-offs for as long as he did without the phantom of a reconciliation and new work from Moore someday.

    Corporations are not people, my friend.

  37. Allen Smith says:

    True, Kim, which makes it all the more mystifying that people treat corporations like Marvel and DC as if they were people deserving of loyalty. Gotta make sure the next issue of Spidey comes out!

  38. TimR says:

    “nice big profits”

    Why is Watchmen even commercially successful? I used to read superhero comics regularly, so I think I have some idea where their appeal lies for the average reader, and Watchmen is different obviously. Eddie Campbell doesn’t like it for the same reasons people like the Punisher or the X-Men one assumes. What does the average superhero fan get out of it? Do they really appreciate the satirical, aging and dumpy Owl character? Have they just bought into the “greatest graphic novel ever” hype and can accept that designation since it is (sort of) a superhero comic? And also they get something out of the whole making superheroes “grim and gritty” business?

  39. Frank Santoro says:

    Watchmen is a Lutheran reformation text knocking on the door of the Catholic establishment by a devout believer. Or something like that. And why I think scholars of comics don’t really enjoy it because they aren’t superhero fans. The text is an indictment of the form, the laws, by a believer in the form. I don’t know if anyone who wasn’t a “true believer” to start with really “gets” the full impact of the text. It’s like a Muslim saying he doesn’t enjoy the New Testament.

    http://sanseverything.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/a-watchmen-defense/

  40. Scott Grammel says:

    Jeet, I’m confused by your confusion, as my second post above clarified that my agreement with Didio was not in regards to Watchmen specifically, though that obviously was the framework in which he made the remarks.

    And Siegel and Shuster created Superman and the basics of his origin, his alter ego, his work, etc., as well as creating many of his earliest stories. But they obviously did not create a closed novel-like work about him but an open-ended, to-be-continued-ad-nauseum character and world, so adding Supergirl, the Bottle City of Kandor, Bizarro and the Bizarro World, the many colored Kryptonites, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac, and on and on as Weisinger did doesn’t violate anything created prior by the S. and S. team. So, yeah, the relevance to the current Watchmen controversy is limited, I think.

    As for Moore and his “mistreatment” by DC, I have to say I’m somewhat hesitant to take those quotes off. If we think corporations like DC should support artists in risky and unusual artistic gambles such as Watchmen, I don’t see how we can then turn around and demand that they relinquish the rights and financial rewards should such gambles succeed.

  41. Kim Thompson says:

    Actually, DC agreed to relinquish those rights in the first place, didn’t they? They just didn’t do it on paper. Welching on your oral or handshake agreement seems to be more than enough to delete those quotes.

  42. Kim Thompson says:

    (1) This is perhaps counterintuitive, but I think WATCHMEN may be a rare instance of something being successful because it’s really, really good, like Carl Barks, MAUS, Douglas Adams, or the Beatles. It happens.

    (2) Eddie Campbell misread my proposing a “better” artist like Bolland, I think. We actually agree that it is precisely Gibbons’s limitations as an artist and a craftsman that make him perfect for WATCHMEN, and “better” artists would have resulted in a worse book. I wouldn’t want to sit on a panel with Dave and tell him this face to face, though, and I know cartoonists who are sensitive to artwork who just can’t get past Gibbons’s art to enjoy the book.

    (3) TimR’s assumption that super-hero fans are so benighted and limited that they can’t appreciate WATCHMEN on its own level is I think excessively insulting. WATCHMEN may also function as the final step away from super-hero comics by super-hero apostates, though. If you compare the readership of super-hero comics 40 years ago with now, there’s a lot of them!

  43. TimR says:

    I read Watchmen “out of order” – I came to it after I’d already been through Los Bros/Clowes etc so maybe it seemed a little primitive in its approach to “mature” themes.

    I don’t mean to slight superhero fans really, just to me Watchmen doesn’t seem to tap into the primal appeal of superheroes in a way that would account for its commercial success. I do think maybe it’s a big misunderstanding, where superhero fans just get some superficial sense that it’s “grim n gritty” plus “big n complex” plus “does contain superheroes” and then miss that the emperor’s not wearing any clothes (from the point of view of what really brings them to the party at a gut level.)

    If Watchmen “may function as the final step for super-hero apostates” though, that adds to my sense that DC taking it out of the toy-box is completely misguided. How do you make your usual fodder out of these materials? These are satirical, meta-commentary, genre critiquing characters. If you genuinely keep that up, who’s it really going to appeal to except apostates? And how long can an apostate hover in purgatory between superheroes and Something Else? Or, if you turn it into genre material, won’t it be lousy genre material given what it was made to do?

    These may be the aesthetic problems Campbell points out but they seem like they’re also commercial problems to me.

  44. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    I agree completely with your comment 3 Kim, though I would add that his Superman stories for DC from that era, particularly “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, also offered a kind of “exit strategy” for fans of super-heroics who were ready to move on. A more loving farewell to super-heroics than Watchmen to be sure, but a farewell all the same.

  45. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    See, that’s the problem. The apostates understood and moved on. But everyone else, instead of seeing Watchmen as the last word in super-heroics apparently saw it as a starting point.

  46. Kit says:

    One reason people like Chaykin and Gaiman maintain their particular modus vivendi with DC is they hold out the possibility of doing further new projects for the company in the future.

    This doesn’t seem likely in the case of Gaiman. 1994 was the last time he sold them even limited, territory- or format-restricted rights to a new work of his, and since then he’s done three one-off Sandman-related things, years apart, and a two-part Batman story (for the chance to write Batman’s funeral, the way Moore got to write the Last Superman Story)* and 12 pages of Metamorpho (for the chance to write a Sunday-newspaper strip for Michael Allred)**, both in 2009.

    And given that last time he tried to bring them something, a 20th Anniversary Sandman miniseries, they refused to pay him any more than his 1988 Sandman single-issue royalty and he went “well fuck that then,” one doubts he’s feeling desperately hopeful about the possibility of more future work there.

    *nb: this was dire
    **nb: this was ace

  47. Eddie campbell says:

    TimR says:

    “Watchmen is different obviously. Eddie Campbell doesn’t like it”

    I don’t know where you got that idea. Like Kim, I get it out every now and then, usually after I’ve introduced it to one of my kids or somebody else. I’ve enjoyed it as much every time, and hope to do so again. As to its position in the grand scheme, which is a different thing entirely from whether it is liked by you or me (or James, who is always telling us what he doesn’t like), I believe it’s a significant example of the ‘graphic novel,’ integral to the story of the rise of the idea of the ‘graphic novel,’ and a work of art. It is irrelevant to try to qualify that, as folks sometimes do, by reference to its origins, what it was based on or how it came to be, or whether the person in the street has the wherewithal to understand every aspect of it. A work of art is not to be reckoned with on those terms.

  48. James says:

    Thanks for that Eddie, since it has already been stated by the experts that you are always right.

  49. James says:

    For the record, some stuff I like: Hugo Pratt, Paul Pope, Gabrielle Bell, Druillet, Hal Foster, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, B. Krigstein, Art Spiegelman, Boucq, Rich Corben, Rick Griffin, Wally Wood, Spain, George Herriman, Mort Meskin, Alex Toth, Winsor McCay, Katsuhiro Otomo, Harvey Kurtzman, Steranko, Moebius, Adrian Tomine, Chester Brown, John Pham, John Severin, Steve Ditko, Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely, Gene Colan, Marie Severin, Gilbert Hernandez, Lionel Feininger, Dash Shaw, Frank Santoro, Jack Kirby, Jaime Hernandez, Sammy Harkham, Ramona Fradon, Frank Miller/Lynn Varley, Carl Barks, Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons, Jack Cole, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Tony Salmons, Eleanor Davis, Anders Nilsen, Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff, Joost Swarte, Tom Kaczinski, Ben Katchor, C.F., David Mazzucchelli, Kevin Huizenga, Brandon Graham, Salgood Sam, Hayao Miyazaki, Neil Gaiman/P. Craig Russell, Al Columbia….and many more. Oh yeah and I like the crosshatching on From Hell by a guy named Eddie Campbell.

  50. “Eddie Campbell doesn’t like it for the same reasons people like the Punisher or the X-Men one assumes.”
    I think he means you like it, but for different reasons. My reading is that his judgement would be that you like it for “better” reasons than the people who just think Moore’s version of the Question is another bad-ass vigilante. Kind of like the people who appreciate ‘Taxi Driver’ for Scorsese’s directing talents versus those who just enjoy it as a set-up for DeNiro blowing people away at the end.
    But TimR can speak for himself if I’m wrong.

  51. Kim Thompson says:

    No, you’re right. TimR’s sentence was just super ambiguous. I almost wrote my own “where on earth did you get the idea Eddie doesn’t like WATCHMEN??” email before I went back and parsed the sentence more carefully. Should’ve read: “The reasons Eddie Campbell likes it are different from the reasons people like the Punisher or the X-Men, one assumes.”

  52. That’s not ‘out of order’. I had been reading ‘Love & Rockets’, ‘Lloyd Llewellyn’, not to mention ‘RAW’, ‘Yummy Fur’, etc. etc. for years before ‘Watchmen’ was published. They were contemporaries. All that work was produced in the context and with reference to Super-Heroes and other ‘genre’ work. Maybe we live in the era of respectable ‘graphic novels’ now, but that wasn’t the case then.

  53. My biggest problem with Before Watchmen is that they’ve now turned it into a franchise. Sure there were spinoffs like the role playing game and the movie before this but they were few and far between. Those moves seem like baby steps compared to the 30+ issue we’re going to get now. Before Watchmen brings the concept of Watchmen down to the level of X-Men, where we can have as many Watchmen books as DC thinks the marketplace can support.

  54. Kim Thompson says:

    The meta nihilism of WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT was intended at least in part to satirize and kill off the increasingly ingrown super-hero genre, and instead their success cause the eruption of a zillion meta nihilistic derivations and imitations. It was Brian in LIFE OF BRIAN shouting out to hundreds of followers “You must think for yourselves!” and all of them answering back as one, “We must think for ourselves!” It was a thousand punk bands trying to sound exactly like the Sex Pistols, when the whole purpose of the Sex Pistols was to sound like nothing else on earth, and to encourage everyone else to sound like nothing else on earth. The savagery of DARK KNIGHT and WATCHMEN was bracing; the hack savagery of pretty much every goddamn DC and Marvel super-hero comic since then is numbing and depressing.

  55. Stevie B says:

    Just thinking out loud, but is there another possible reason for DC publishing new work in the Watchmen universe. If the reversion clause ever does get activated, would this new stuff muddy the copyright status on the characters? I would guess at best it would allow DC/Warner a chance to litigate to their satisfaction if the reversion ever kicked in?

  56. TimR says:

    Right, that’s what I should have said, sorry for the confusion.

  57. Eddie campbell says:

    Ha! oh well, you got my capsule measure of Watchmen’s greatness by mistake, and the side effect of prodding James into an irascible outburst of positivity.

    Yes, Watchmen is liked by too many people for them all to be liking it for highfalutin reasons.

  58. R. Maheras says:

    And aesthetic crime? Really?

    Sometimes the reboot is a helluva lot better than the original. A good example of that is the film, “The Maltese Falcon.” The original 1931 version wasn’t bad, but it pales in comparison to the much-revered 1941 version — which, scene-wise and script-wise, actually follows much of the 1931 version quite closely.

    But is the 1941 film better than the original novel? That depends on who you ask.

    That said, some things are so exalted, they never get re-made or rebooted — “Citizen Kane,” for example.

    What makes no difference from a quality standpoint, in my opinion, is whether or not the reboot is “authorized” — i.e., endorsed by the author, or, if dead, the author’s descendents. The product should stand on its own merit.

    Look at the franchise spawned by the original “Frankenstein” novel. Some of its spinoffs suck to high heaven; others are brilliant adaptations.

    The fear that some future creator MIGHT create an aesthetic turkey should not be a show-stopper for spinoffs. I understand why some purists feel that way, as I’ve had misgivings regarding the reboots of certain past characters/franchises. Captain America immediately springs to mind. But while I hated the Rob Liefeld reboot of the early 1990s, I think the recent film reboot was a home run — so one never knows.

    Does that mean I’m ready for a “Before Citizen Kane,” perhaps?

    My head nearly exploded at the thought, but what if it was done by, say, Martin Scorsese. He’s too much of a purist to ever attempt it, but what if?

  59. Nate A. says:

    One difference between Watchmen and the movies (Citizen Kane) and books (Sherlock Holmes) cited as comparisons is that North American superhero comics are, as an art form, predicated on a “many hands” theory of creation, where various artists steward corporate properties and, in the spruces, put their own visual and narrative spin on them that is not to be ignored by those who follow. The artist is secondary to the property in this industry in a way that it isn’t for books, or for movies made by those we’ve deemed auteurs.
    Anyway, by treating Watchmen as though it were just another property DC is doing something pretty significant, which is to turn it into just another property. This might not damage the artistic integrity of the original, but it does muddy up its place in the North American Superhero Landscape. What was the exception is now part of the rule. In this respect we are looking at an aesthetic crime of sorts, but I think it’s one that history (if this medium ever gets a proper history) will judge harshly.

  60. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    That’s a darn good question.

  61. Robert Stanley Martin says:

    I’m not fond of speculating about a contract I haven’t read, but I would be very surprised if the reversion clause was tied exclusively to Watchmen comics being in print. DC, both now and at the time the contract was negotiated, makes most its money through subsidiary licensing–movies & TV, foreign publication, toys, etc. I would expect the reversion clause in the contract to be tied to cessation of all income from the property, not just comics sales. Even if the original book wasn’t a perennial, and it eventually went out of print, the movie adaptation is going to be generating income until the end of time (or at least the end of copyright protection). Even without Before Watchmen, I can’t imagine Moore and Gibbons ever getting the property back from DC.

  62. Kim Thompson says:

    I read the quote so long ago and possibly in French that I may have totally mangled it in my memory, but I think Godard once said something along the lines of “A great work of art becomes popular only through some sort of misunderstanding.” Which is pretty snotty: Basically, if the peasants like it it’s for the wrong reasons.

    But it may not be wrong.

  63. R. Maheras says:

    Movies are exactly like comics in that they are created with a “many hands” approach. Properties owned by studios were, especially under the old studio system, treated no differently as properties owned by comics companies. Even today, once film companies sign a contract regarding a property, they do whatever they want with the material unless the person or business entity signing the contact has some sort of leverage up front, such as commercial clout (i.e., they can go elsewhere if the studio in question doesn’t sign) and real good lawyers.

    But the bottom line here regarding Moore’s brainchild, in the grand scheme of things, “Watchmen” IS just another property.

    Watchmen breakfast cereal, anyone?

    Am I the only one who thinks there’s a mint to be made selling high-end “Citizen Kane” canes to highbrow film buffs?

  64. Mike Hunter says:

    ————————
    Stevie B says:

    I can’t help but think, why not take that exciting idea and make it creator owned?
    ————————

    Because if you use an already-established, highly-publicized character (which unfortunately is owned by a corporation), you can “piggyback” on its fame, have the massive marketing muscle of the company (all the more motivated since it’s their “property”) push your effort.

    Do you think “The Dark Knight Returns” would’ve been remotely as big a hit if Frank Miller would’ve created some generic Cowled Crusader type as a star?

    ————————-
    TimR says:

    If Watchmen “may function as the final step for super-hero apostates” though, that adds to my sense that DC taking it out of the toy-box is completely misguided. How do you make your usual fodder out of these materials?
    ————————–

    Same way that the message of a homeless prophet who denounced violence, self-righteousness and the wealthy was employed by some guys on golden thrones, living in palaces, as incitement for intolerance, massacres and crusades.

    ————————–
    James says:

    …As I have said before, someone who engages in “political correctnesss” is trying NOT to be an asshole….the only people I ever hear talking about “political correctness” are usually going out of their way to be “politically INcorrect”, i.e. assholes.
    —————————

    But isn’t the “P.C.” cudgel sometimes used to pummel people into quivering masses of “sensitivity,” fearful of challenging even the most absurd statements, lest someone throw a morally-outraged fit? Why, over at Hooded Utilitarian one chap, for saying an argument was “lame,” was excoriated for being “ableist,” and “denying the humanity” of handicapped folks.

    Thus, saying an argument is “lame” is treated as heinous as racism, homophobia; the outragee feels morally elevated over all others. And to criticize such more-enlightened-than-thou ultra-thin-skinnedness doesn’t mean one approves of all the far more substantial vileness and cruelty that is out there.

    —————————-
    Kim Thompson says:

    Actually, DC agreed to relinquish those rights in the first place, didn’t they? They just didn’t do it on paper.
    —————————-

    As Sam Goldwyn supposedly put it, “A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

    —————————-
    The paradoxical thing about WATCHMEN is, I think if it had been drawn by a better cartoonist (say, Brian Bolland) it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. Gibbons’s flat characterizations and stiff body language somehow sell the whole thing better than more fluid, expressive, actually GOOD artwork would have. There’s a degree of abstraction to WATCHMEN that is served well by Gibbons’s limitations.
    —————————–

    Mmmwell, I see what you’re getting at. Who’d have been better at portraying “the man with no name,” Clint Eastwood or Laurence Olivier? As I’d commented at HU:

    Look at the difference between “Stardust the Super-Wizard” as drawn by Fletcher Hanks…

    http://asylums.insanejournal.com/scans_daily/645360.html

    …and Mike Allred, surely a vastly more accomplished artist, a far better craftsman:

    http://asylums.insanejournal.com/scans_daily/650417.html

    …Why is the Hanks version so much better, even while technically “worse”?

    However — to backtrack and lay a laurel wreath upon the head of a certain “Watchmen” co-creator — there is no one who could have been a more perfect artist for “Watchmen” than Dave Gibbons. (I note you said about as much later.)

    While he may not be splashily emotive, the very solidity and precision of his world-building is “Just what the doctor ordered” in a comic with a recurring motif of watches and watchmaking. While an Al Williamson’s characters are flowingly expressive, Gibbons’ are self-contained. Yet, how far more subtle are his character’s facial expressions that the limited range allotted the characters of countless other “greater” comics artists! How far more viscerally appalling the violence in the prison scenes in “Watchmen” than that depicted by any EC horror-master, or that in any war comic.

    ——————————
    Eddie Campbell says:

    …Dave Gibbons is very much a ‘comic book artist’…A more visionary artist, his work tends to have an underlying mischief about it that could have worked against the masterplan in this instance…
    ————————–

    Yes; like Tennesse Williams was dismayed how the good looks, charisma, and tragic depths Marlon Brando gave Stanley Kowalski made what he’d planned as a repellent thug come across as a somewhat sympathetic figure…

    —————————
    TimR says:

    Why is Watchmen even commercially successful? I used to read superhero comics regularly, so I think I have some idea where their appeal lies for the average reader, and Watchmen is different obviously. Eddie Campbell [likes it for different reasons than] people [who] like the Punisher or the X-Men one assumes. What does the average superhero fan get out of it? Do they really appreciate the satirical, aging and dumpy Owl character?…And also they get something out of the whole making superheroes “grim and gritty” business?
    —————————-

    Different people “got” different things out of the comic, according to their tastes and sophistication. For instance, Shakespeare made sure to include bad puns (“All I know is awl,” sez the sandalmaker in “Julius Caesar”) and swordfights to entertain the lowbrows in the cheap seats…

    —————————-
    Kim Thompson says:

    …TimR’s assumption that super-hero fans are so benighted and limited that they can’t appreciate WATCHMEN on its own level is I think excessively insulting.
    —————————-

    True; one can enjoy superhero comics without being a Comic Book Guy or Dan Pussey.

    (Hm, doesn’t that “excessively insulting” imply that there is an appropriate degree of “insultingness”…?)

  65. Jeet Heer says:

    @Russ Maheras. “But the bottom line here regarding Moore’s brainchild, in the grand scheme of things, ‘Watchmen’ IS just another property.” I suppose that’s the dividing line between us. I’m not a huge fan of ‘Watchmen’ but I do think its a work of art not not “just another property.” Moreover, as Eddie Campbell and others have explained well, it’s a work of art one of whose characteristics is that it’s stand-alone and not part of a comic book universe in which other stories can take place.

    Question for Russ: do you think all comics are “just … property”? Or would you acknowledge that there are some comics (perhaps not “Watchmen” but some other work) which should be considered a work of art and respected as such?

  66. Kit says:

    I’m not fond of speculating about a contract I haven’t read

    Plainly.

  67. BVS says:

    isn’t Wonder Woman’s copyright also weirdly contingent on printing? I don’t know if it’s just urban legend but if memory serves me correct the story is DC will loose the copyright if there isn’t a monthly comic book published, thus a there has always been a monthly despite low sales.
    I would like to know what “in print” is defined as legally. in some dystopic elseworld reality where every comic book shop, book retailer, library, and printing press on earth has been destroyed and DC has become a 100% digital publisher. does DC only get to keep watchmen as long as they have a warehouse with at least one box of unsold copies? will that warehouse be carefully guarded against a cult of Alan Moore worshiping magicians who are engaged in a ideological struggle to physically destroy the last box of unsold Watchmen trade paperbacks so that the holy text may finally be set free?

  68. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — Of course I consider “Watchmen” to be art, but as any art museum having a “no photo” policy makes perfectly clear, the unique art they have on hand is also, indeed “property” which most, if not all, exploit in the form of prints and books that museum officials readily sell in museum stores. Traditional art is a huge business in many other ways, and comic art is no different — regardless of whether we’re talking the physical art or the intellectual property. For example, if “The Scream” were not in the public domain, the IP owner (Munch or his heirs) would probably be licensing the image on t-shirts, prints, or wherever they thought they could make a buck..

  69. Robert Stanley Martin says:

    I don’t know if there’s a legal definition, but the accepted one of “in print” is that the publisher is offering copies for sale, either directly or through vendors.

    We don’t know if the phrase “in print” actually appears in the reversion clause of the Watchmen contract. Part of me wishes that Moore would just release the thing for public scrutiny. Given how vocal he is about the aspects of it he doesn’t like, there doesn’t seem to be a confidentiality clause.

    Here’s what Dick Giordano said about DC’s reversion clauses back in TCJ #119. Keep in mind he’s not necessarily talking about Watchmen:

    But most reversion clauses, as you might understand, require there be a cessation of money being paid to the creative people before reversion takes place, and then a reversion letter needs to be written. By the way, if there is a reversion clause in Watchmen, when we stop paying Alan [Moore] and David [Gibbons], they then write us a letter saying, “Look, you haven’t given us any money in two years, we want the property back.” And I think there’s an option year in there where we can pay them, I don’t know, five, $10, $15,000 whatever it is, and hold it for one year more. But, basically that’s the way most reversion clauses work, and without knowing the specifics of it, I don’t want to have this quoted as the way ours work. But it’s something like that.

    Not all reversion clauses follow the template Giordano described. Here’s a typical one from the book contracts I’ve negotiated:

    If at any time after two (2) years from date of publication, the Publisher shall be satisfied that the sale does not justify continued publication of the Work, it may at its own discretion discontinue publication. In this case, all rights to the Work revert to the Author, or his/her heirs and assigns. If the work goes out of print for a period of one year without Publisher’s decision to discontinue, all rights to the Work revert to the Author, or his/her heirs and assigns.

    However, the contracts I’ve negotiated were for reference and other non-fiction books. I don’t have experience with merchandisable multiple-media entertainment properties like Watchmen. A “cessation of income” standard would seem more appropriate for that sort of thing than an “out of print” one. I actually prefer the “cessation of income” language; that situation is far easier for the author to determine than “out of print.” He or she just has to check the royalty statements.

  70. Jeet Heer says:

    @Russ Maheras. “For example, if ‘The Scream’ were not in the public domain, the IP owner (Munch or his heirs) would probably be licensing the image on t-shirts, prints, or wherever they thought they could make a buck.” 1) I’m glad to see that you understand that if ‘the Scream’ were not in public domain, the ideal owner would by Munch or his heirs. Doesn’t the same principal apply to cartoonists? Isn’t the ideal owner of Peanuts Schulz and his heirs, the ideal owner of the Fantastic Four Kirby/Lee and their heirs, the ideal owner of Watchmen Moore/Gibbon and their heirs?

    2) It’s true that some artists like to maximize the profit they can make from their art (or as you prefer to call it “intellectual property”) but isn’t it possible that not all artists are like that? That there are artists who have a different relationship with their art and who, despite the fact that they have to sell their art to make money, aren’t interested primarily in making money? Walt Kelley and Bill Watterson could have made a lot of money merchandizing (respectively) Pogo and Calvin and Hobbes. They didn’t do so, which suggest that maximizing profit isn’t all they were interested in. Or to put it another way, if you had offered Salinger $10 million for him to let you write a prequel to Catcher in the Rye (Before Catcher in the Rye) would he have accepted? Would Fitzgerald have accepted an offer to let someone else write a prequel to Gatsby. For that matter, to pick your Citizen Kane example, would Welles have accepted money to let someone else do “Before Citizen Kane” (and Welles was a man who needed money often in his life).

    In sum, isn’t the making of art at least for some artists about something more than the making of money and the creation of “intellectual property”?

  71. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — Certainly each artist is different and choses what to do with their creative property as they see fit. Where I suspect we probably differ is that I don’t consider any such decision an artist makes regarding his/her art as any better or worse than the other. In short, when judging the artistic merit of a creation, I don’t think it matters a whit if an artist chooses to sell his/her work to some sleazy publisher as a work for hire or chooses to never sell it at all.

    Since he is one of the proverbial 800-pound gorillas of the art world, I like to pick on Rembrandt for the simple fact that he made a living doing commissioned paintings for fat, rich old merchants and their wives, wealthy church officials, and the like, because that was where the money was. Yet today, artists who do the same thing are called “sell-outs,” and their work deemed “less artistic,” simply because they did the exact same thing Rembrandt did.

    Judging a piece primarily, or even solely, by its level of “artistic purity” is absolute bullshit, in my opinion. Doing so frequently deifies crap and denigrates beautiful and/or innovative art. It also creates a topsy-turvy, bizarro art world where Roy Lichtenstein’s work is worth millions, but the source material by folks like Russ Heath is mostly ignored and valued at a relative pittance.

    Regarding who should own art, sure, I think the artist (or the artist’s heirs), should own it unless the artist opts, for whatever reason, to divest himself or herself of ownership. And I certainly think the original copyright laws were just fine the way they were prior to 1977. They’ve since been transformed into a legal Frankenstein Monster, and, in the overall scheme of things, they benefit almost no one except the lawyers.

  72. Alexandre Buchet says:

    Mike Hunter:

    ‘Why, over at Hooded Utilitarian one chap, for saying an argument was “lame,” was excoriated for being “ableist,” and “denying the humanity” of handicapped folks.’

    The victim was me. It ultimately led to my losing my column there.

  73. Stevie B says:

    Mike Hunter: if you use an already-established, highly-publicized character (which unfortunately is owned by a corporation), you can “piggyback” on its fame, have the massive marketing muscle of the company (all the more motivated since it’s their “property”) push your effort.

    Do you think “The Dark Knight Returns” would’ve been remotely as big a hit if Frank Miller would’ve created some generic Cowled Crusader type as a star?

    I think it’s better to stick to discussing Watchmen rather than drag TDKR into it. I can understand wanting to work on Batman to some degree; Watchmen is something different. Watchmen is something complete, something designed to be complete, something that perhaps some of us at one time dared to imagine would take the art form away from corporations and put it into the hands of artists. However, to tackle the idea of TDKR, let us just be thankful that someone somewhere had a spark of imagination, a sense of originality, a spirit of adventure and a willingness to accept risk which allowed Frank Miller the ability to conceive and create TDKR. Noting that I am also rejecting the assertion that Miller created TDKR because he wanted to make shed-loads of money.

  74. Stevie B says:

    Corporations are people Kim. I think this is an important point; Corporations are made up of people; there’s no mythic Corporate computer working these decisions out in a position of detachment from humanity; that’s one of the themes of Watchmen, for crying out loud! We’re all responsible; we watch the watchmen. Let’s not allow people to wash their hands of these decisions by saying they aren’t responsible for their actions. Make them have the courage to acknowledge and own their decisions.

  75. Rosko says:

    Yes. Though whats with all the Gibbons bashing? I like him in a kind of Gil Kane vein.

  76. Jeet Heer says:

    @Russ. “Where I suspect we probably differ is that I don’t consider any such decision an artist makes regarding his/her art as any better or worse than the other. In short, when judging the artistic merit of a creation, I don’t think it matters a whit if an artist chooses to sell his/her work to some sleazy publisher as a work for hire or chooses to never sell it at all.” Actually, I think you’re misunderstanding my point and imputing to me views that I don’t have. I’m in agreement with you that the context in which an artist produces his or her work shouldn’t decide the issue of artistic merit. I’m on record as praising many writers and artists who have worked with sleazy publishers: Carl Barks, John Stanley, Jack Kirby, Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delany, Ursula K. LeGuin, among others. But I also think that if the fact an artist or writer works for a sleazy publisher doesn’t give that publisher the right to do what they want with their creations. There are certain moral rights that artists have that should be respected (and since you have a habit of falling back to legalism, I’ll add that these moral rights transcend whatever contracts people may have signed). Kirby has a moral right to have his work credited to him. I think it’s morally wrong for Marvel to make the false claim that Kirby was just a freelancer executing Stan Lee’s ideas. Philip D. Dick wrote many novels such as “Dr. Bloodmoney” for Ace, a really sleazy publisher (they pirated Lord of the Rings, among other sins). But the fact that he wrote for Ace wouldn’t make it right for Ace to do a “Dr. Bloodmoney” against Dick’s wishes (even if, hypothetically, they were legally entitled to do so).
    Incidentally, you talk here about “the artistic merit of a creation” — the question is, how is this “artistic merit” to be measured? Obviously you don’t think its just a matter of money, since you think that Roy Lichtenstein (whose work is worth millions) is overvalued while Russ Heath is undervalued. So what criteria are you using to judge “artistic merit”? And if a work can have “artistic merit” irrespective of its monetary worth (something I believe and something you seem to as well) then isn’t a work of art something more than or other than a simple property?

  77. Kim Thompson says:

    Corporations are made up of people, and smaller corporations that are run by just one or a couple of people have the ability to function more or less morally and ethically. Past a certain point of size and complexity the drive to profit supersedes anything else and it becomes progressively more difficult for any person or group of people within the corporation to slow this. You can applaud or condemn certain people within the Warner monolith for individual efforts for or against cartoonists, but the corporate machinery is virtually unstoppable. They were going to spin off WATCHMEN sooner or later.

  78. Kim Thompson says:

    What a bunch of ret– uh.

  79. James says:

    I think that Dave Gibbons was the perfect cartoonist to draw Watchmen. For one thing, his work has this odd and now-rare quality of uber-DC stiffness, it reminds me of key early silver age DC artists like Kurt Shaffenberger, as if he was the type of guy born to draw people with their underwear on insideout, going through storylines where they turn to crystal or become apes. And he has such an exacting level of control over his “interior camera” that he is completely suited to draw the hideously disciplined choreography that Moore’s scenario demanded, of on-model characters and backgrounds that are absolutely consistent from every angle and clearly distinguishable at any size from panel to panel. I do not for a moment believe that even as skilled a draftsman as Brian Bolland could have done a comparable job. Gibbons is not expendable or interchangable with any other artist, he was an essential component in the whole. I don’t like everything about the book but I have to say that a big reason that it still holds up as well as it does is that you can look at what Gibbons did and those drawings follow through to the tiniest detail, all the way through…all involved made a coherent and complete work.

  80. Mike Hunter says:

    —————————
    Stevie B says:

    …I think it’s better to stick to discussing Watchmen rather than drag TDKR into it. I can understand wanting to work on Batman to some degree; Watchmen is something different. Watchmen is something complete, something designed to be complete…
    ————————–

    Oh, indeed it is; and even were the folks involved to be great talents, the very premise is shamefully exploitative and typical of what passes for imagination these days. As “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” trivializes our greatest president, so does all this BW crapola do one of the finest works in comics.

    And, to try and “get” further adventures out of the “Watchmen” characters is like thinking that patching an extra set of legs onto Adonis would improve his looks.

    —————————
    James says:

    I think that Dave Gibbons was the perfect cartoonist to draw Watchmen. For one thing, his work has this odd and now-rare quality of uber-DC stiffness, it reminds me of key early silver age DC artists like Kurt Shaffenberger, as if he was the type of guy born to draw people with their underwear on insideout, going through storylines where they turn to crystal or become apes…
    —————————

    Well, yes…

  81. Kim Thompson says:

    Gibbons found in WATCHMEN a book where his virtues were virtues, and his faults were also virtues. I think many classics in any field just happen to find a sweet spot where the needs of the work dovetail perfectly with the limitations of the creator(s).

  82. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — Thanks for the clarification.

    We are in total agreement regarding giving credit where credit is due. The problem is, when conflicts arise on joint projects, tempers flare, and emotions begin clouding statements, sometimes it’s very difficult for outside parties to figure out who did what.

    In the case of the Lee-Kirby-Ditko-et-al partnerships from Silver Age Marvel, I don’t think it will ever be possible to figure EXACTLY who created what. What’s obvious to me, but not always so obvious to the more fervent followers of Lee, Kirby, etc., is that no characters from the Marvel Silver Age would have developed into the icons they are now without the symbiotic relationship of all of those involved during that era. Kirby, Ditko, et al was as crucial to Lee as Lee was to them. It was a team effort — period. End of story.

    As far a measuring artistic merit goes, that’s the million-dollar question.

    I’ve brought this up before, but there IS no objective measuring standard for comics art. In fact, there’s no objective standard for ANY kind of art. That’s why Lichtenstein’s “Blam” is maddeningly exalted by art experts while Russ Heath labors in near obscurity.

  83. John Farwell says:

    This thread brings to mind Ogden Whitney’s well-suited work on Herbie for ACG in the ’60s.

  84. Tony says:

    “As “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” trivializes our greatest president”

    Cleanse your palate from such sacrilege:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTN6Du3MCgI

  85. Don Druid says:

    Hello from two months in the future. Neil Gaiman and DC just announced a new Sandman.

  86. Kit says:

    Apparently Nelson actually asked abt the 20th-ann sitch when she took over, and told them to sort it. Hence paps of Gaiman escorting her to Batman movie premieres on DC PRblogs.

  87. dregj says:

    its strange how little controversy there was on the comic websites
    stranger that theyd do this and then make it so pointless and boring

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