Poll: Judging ‘Before Watchmen’

If all publicity is good publicity, the controversy-coated Before Watchmen project is golden. Any mention of these prequels to the classic 1986 Watchmen series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons makes the comics Internet light up like Times Square. But as with all things Watchmen-related, this question is unavoidable: Has DC knowingly mistreated the creators? The beef between Moore and the company is legendary, and David Brothers of 4thletter has written some stellar essays about the whole ball of wax. They are must-reads.

The deal was that the rights to Watchmen would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the trade went out of print for a year. It became a huge success, so guess what? It never went out of print. Moore has been scathingly critical of DC ever since, though Gibbons’ attitude toward the 2009 movie and the prequels is much more charitable. Neither is participating in Before Watchmen, which will be written and illustrated by some high-profile creators — some that we adore.

Still, that smiley face with the bleeding bullet hole seems a perfect symbol of the shiny happy spin on an ugly story. Moore isn’t the most sympathetic character given his tendency to say that the comics industry has gone to shit since his heyday. But that isn’t the issue. If he and Gibbons were essentially cheated, regardless of whether they should have negotiated a better contract, is any project connected to Watchmen defensible without their combined blessing? Some say Moore is beating a dead horse, but he’s not the one who keeps bringing it back to life.

Other pertinent questions:

  • Does a reader who buys this book, and any artist who signs on, cosign DC’s actions? Most of us buy stuff from (and have probably worked for) companies that do sketchy things.
  • Does the fact that many creators have gotten a raw deal from the comics industry make this case less noteworthy?
  • As long as we get the comics we want, do fans care about the way creators are treated?
  • What is to be gained, besides money, by revisiting a work that most people agree is brilliant and perfectly self-contained?

The new comics might so amazing that they shut up all the skeptics, though the bar for critical success seems almost impossibly high. So now we ask you a question, dear reader. Does Before Watchmen deserve a chance? After voting, please feel free to elaborate in the comments section.

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30 thoughts on “Poll: Judging ‘Before Watchmen’

  1. Pingback: Poll: Judging 'Before Watchmen' | » Watchmen Games

  2. I don’t know about this project to enter the poll (and you know how I feel about Watchmen) but I’m curious if the deal that DC negotiated with Moore/Gibbons (rights return to you after a year out of print) is common for the industry, or was that considered particularly restrictive or particularly generous at the time? I guess that’s a side point but it just helps me figure out if these two artists have been egregiously mistreated, or just mistreated in a regular fashion. :)

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    • I think it was unprecedented at the time, but the response to the collected edition was far beyond expectations. It’s possible that DC’s intentions weren’t dishonorable since no one knew it would be so successful. I just know I’d feel terribly burned in that situation – and I say that as someone who is not a fan.

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  3. Most comic book creators especially in the 80s would have signed almost any deal to get their book in print. Most artists are not the brightest when it comes to those legal matters. Their brains just are not wired that way. Which is a good thing. Last thing we need are creators which think legal before creation. At the time that agreement probably was not bad, but they should have made the deal that after x number of printings it would revert to them, not when it went out of print. That agreement in the first place is rather unique in the book industry. They should probably accept the accolades that they created a classic and that it has still endured over the years. But DC would be smart to make sure they receive compensation which is fair, because the whole issue does have a stink to it.
    And PS, most fans will care less how the creators are treated, because most will not even know the situation, but will scream %&$# if it turns out to be a crappy series. Then DC gets their due, and the retailers get stuck with more bins of comic crap.

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  4. At the time it was rather an unusual move on DC’s part. It’s also highly unlikely that at the time they could have negotiated a “better” contract; Moore was DC’s golden boy at the time, and pushed for the best deal they were willing to give.

    As for this project, I’m not interested for a number of reasons. I won’t go into them all, because I would never stop talking, but I’ll respond to a couple of the questions you raise.

    >Does a reader who buys this book, and any artist who signs on, cosign DC’s actions? Most of us buy stuff from (and have probably worked for) companies that do sketchy things.<

    The answer to the question of both creators and readers is yes. Laura Sneddon and I went ten rounds over this point on Facebook after Moore's last interview because she felt it was unfair of him to direct his ire at individual creators who had elected to participate in this project (and in mainstream comics as a whole) because they're just trying to make a living, and his wrath should have been reserved solely for DC. I think this line of reasoning is crap. Obviously, so does Moore.

    If we buy products from a company, or work for a company, which does things we find ethically disagreeable, or even ethically wrong, we are part of the problem (this is true even if we loudly voice our disagreement for their actions while still purchasing their products/helping them produce said products). Our own actions constitute ethical support of what is being done. The fact that we all need to collect a paycheck in order to live does absolutely nothing to absolve us of this fact.

    I realize that some people regard this as unduly harsh, but both Moore and I operate from an ethical framework that finds much of its grounding in existential thought – it's no surprise that we agree on this point. Amusingly enough, ethical defenses such as "Everyone needs to make a living," or, "Fans want it, it will make DC money, and the only one who gets "hurt" is grumpy Alan Moore and his feelings," is among the type of consequentialist thinking that Moore was condemning in Watchmen. So I suppose in at least one respect the legacy of the book is being faithfully carried on, but I’m not sure I’d call it a good thing. :p

    >As long as we get the comics we want, do fans care about the way creators are treated?Does the fact that many creators have gotten a raw deal from the comics industry make this case less noteworthy?<

    No, though we certainly treat it that way. Compare to the outrage surrounding Gary Friedrich's case. This despite the fact that not only has Friedrich's role in creating Ghost Rider been disputed by other people involved with the book, but the reason he got sued was because he first brought a suit of his own; forcing Marvel into a position where legally they had no choice but to protect their trademark. I can certainly empathize with Friedrich's position. I'm quite familiar with what it's like to be destitute, but compared to Moore in this situation Friedrich had neither a legal or moral leg to stand on. Yet people who blow off Moore as just being a grumpy, successful, bastard, got up in arms over the way big-bad Marvel picked on little Gary.

    Is Moore a curmudgeonly bastard? By most people's standards he certainly qualifies. Does he hold people to an ethical standard that a lot of folks find a bitter pill to swallow? Darn tootin', and I hope he continues to do so. Has he said some unkind things about the comics industry and the people working in it? Yes, he has. Yet as the man who has probably done more to shape the face of the modern superhero narrative than any other person involved in comics, (a fact he is not always proud of, and which has largely been the source of his ire – that he perceives the industry as retreading the ground he walked, rather than continuing to innovate – as much or more than the way DC treated him), I'm not sure I blame him for this.

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  5. 1 – Yes, buying the series is effectively saying ‘Not my problem, just gimme the comics’.
    2 – ‘Suck it up, we all get screwed’ is not an argument, it’s a dismissal. And what makes this case stand out is that there was an attempt on the part of the creators (and, ostensibly, the company) to preserve creator’s rights in a legal contract for the first time… it should have been ground-breaking, and was very much part of Moore & co.’s working ethics, but they took too much on faith, and DC ran rings around them.
    3 – Depends on the fan… I had a heated discussion about pre-Watchmen with a ‘fan’ who expanded his argument to include Jack Kirby – basically, he said Kirby got what he deserved, citing the lack of success of his solo work at the end of his career. Stan was the man, ‘Nuff Said, was his attitude, and Kirby was just this guy… I find this perspective quite bewildering, not to say downright ignorant. Another fan told me he’s his own worst enemy, but that assumes he WANTS to be loved & accepted by the industry… clearly, he has other values and goals.
    4 – It’s about money, and providing work for would-be mythic creators like JMS who can’t cut it on their own. What, his record’s so good I should weep with excitement at the thought of him writing Watchmen? I really, really don’t think so. Did you know Bowie’s Space Oddity has spawned ‘sequels’ by other musicians? If not, consider yourself lucky… tacking your work to another’s coat-tails mostly just serves to detract from the original idea, and/or demonstrate one’s own lack of originality. It’s rare indeed for someone to come in and actually make a vaild contribution to an existing original work. Salinger’s estate was unhappy about a sequel to ‘Catcher In The Rye’, and I can understand that. The first question has to be ‘Why do that?’.

    I know some find Moore’s opinions to be an affront to a much-loved medium, but he doesn’t give press conferences – he’s asked in interviews, and he speaks his mind. Sometimes it’s quite angry, and he does acknowledge that sometimes his choice of words is provocative (but usually stands by his point). He clearly believes in the potential of comics, and believes it’s being wasted. He’s refused money and signed over rights to artists who have been very happy at the exposure of their work via movies (fair enough, right?), but who – having tasted the limelight – seem to have joined the corporate body and dropped the ideals of their youth, and have acted as messengers for the industry in approaching Moore… who DOES NOT want to be approached, least of all by people who were friends of his. Moore’s crime is his consistency, once he’s been screwed over, he draws a line and sticks to it, money/cajoling notwithstanding. I respect that. Folks talk about his ego, but all the evidence is that comics needs him, he doesn’t need comics. DC just published a new edition of Moore’s DC short stories… YEARS after he’s done work for them, and his refusal to do more, and they’re still milking his stuff. So people who dismiss him as yesterday’s news seem to be out of step with the industry.
    Sorry to go on… caffeine rush, I’m afraid.

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  6. ‘Before Watchmen’ is absolutely unnecessary and a naked cash grab by DC. It is also a purposeful attempt to further deny the rights to Moore and Gibbons. Watchmen has never gone out of print and once these seven mini-series become hardback/trade collections, that will EIGHT (8) books that DC will be making money off of with Watchmen. Since last year, I personally have stopped reading any new DC/Marvel books as a result of my disgust. I’m not asking anyone to do the same. It just gave me pause to see how the sausage is made so to speak and being personally disgusted by it. I know DC is a business and their job is to make money. But it’s like DC has already poured salt in the wound. But now they are pouring Lawry’s for extra seasoning.

    And furthermore, these creators are now going to take credit for being a part of the ‘Watchmen’ universe when they didn’t do any of the heavy lifting to create the damn thing! If Watchmen is the Mount Olympus of comics, people want to scale its heights and say they helped too. This ain’t no ‘Shake and Bake’, motherf****r! LOL!

    Sorry, I needed that laugh.

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  7. Did Moore and Gibbons get screwed? Yes. Did they sign the contract? Yes. Does DC own the rights to Watchmen from their shady dealings? Yes. However having the right to do something does not mean it HAS to be done. Seriously, does anyone involved with this project, or even folks who have just heard about it, really believe that Before Watchmen is anything but a cash grab? Be honest with yourself, now, and answer that question. This is all about money. Of course comics need to make money, I’m not disputing that. It’s a business. But if the reason to produce a project is SOLELY because it will make money, then it’s time to second guess. Frankly, I’ve never finished a reading of Watchmen and wished for more. It’s a novel and satisfies like any good read. We do not NEED Before Watchmen. DC does. To make money. That is their ONLY reason for doing this. This is not art, it’s product. As for the creators involved, they are now on my shit list and I will not read anything they produce from this point forward. By signing on, they have endorsed the industry’s disgusting practices. JMS’s argument is simply that everyone gets screwed in the business and there’s nothing wrong with partaking in the screwing and making a few bucks in the process is flat out obscene. Shame on DC and shame on these creators for helping to perpetuate the dishonorable dealings of an industry that has become a creatively barren wasteland.

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    • So the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Mona Lisa aren’t art? Because I can assure you they were product.

      Yes, DC’s practices regarding this situation have been abhorrent, and the publication of Before Watchmen is by and large a slap in the face. Yes, the industry in general engages in some pretty crappy practices that they should be ashamed of. And yes, they produce some “creatively barren” works of late – Marvel’s Fear Itself was bad enough that I’ve not really been able to get enthusiastic about superheros since I read it a few months ago.

      All those things are true, but can we please stop with this modern, dilettante posturing that maintains that “art” and “product” are two mutually exclusive things, and that should ever the two meet then artistic authenticity shall be destroyed in so violent a display that the meeting of matter and anti-matter shall seem tame by comparison? It simply isn’t true, and it never has been. Artists deserve the fruits of their labor just like anyone else; I’ve no problem with that. As a writer I encourage it. Where I have a problem is when they try and use that fact to shield them from the consequences of ethically questionable, or even ethically wrong, choices.

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      • You miss my point, Josh. What I questioned was motivation. This is not a case of creators being inspired to create art and then saying “I think we can market this art to folks who might be interested.” Instead this is a case of producing something (anything) JUST to make money since their is no other motivation here other than the revenue DC expects to rake in. No one NEEDS Before Watchmen. The original Moore/Gibbons tale does not NEED expanding. DC, however, NEEDS revenue and will milk whatever they can out of the work rather than come with something new.

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        • No, I didn’t miss your point. That you think there’s some difference between the inspiration/motivation in art and product means you missed mine. That they want to make money, and I assure you they make far more managing their properties for film than they do from comic runs and they need Batman and Superman far more than they need they need the characters from Watchmen, does not, in and of itself, do a single thing to prevent these from having the magical status of art.

          If one had to have motives that were somehow ideologically pure, and free from profit as the primary, possibly even only motivation, much of the world’s great art never would have been made. The desire to make money has little to do with why this project is bad.

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          • I think you’re pushing the point too hard… had Andrew said ‘This is not art, it’s JUST product’, I think that would work fine. Art & product can overlap, but don’t necessarily do so. We don’t KNOW how much great art has been produced purely for the satisfaction of the creator, and with no exposure or commercial consideration… attics around the world might hold manuscripts and paintings which will never see daylight. On the flip-side, there are clearly hacks who churn out pot-boilers and cheap imitations… Product. Yes, I think there’s a difference! There’s inspiration, and there’s exploitation.

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          • What you’ve described is a difference in quality, not type.

            And no, I don’t feel I can push this point too hard, because I’m tired of seeing it in general, and in relation to Before Watchmen in particular.

            Alan Moore started writing comics professionally to get off the dole. Did he have things to say? Yes, but that’s not what drove him to be write for a living. Wanting to make money is the secret origin of Alan Moore. It’s the secret origin of a lot of writers and artists. They may love the work, but that love is in no way divorced from commercial concerns.

            That DC wants to make money from their properties does not in and of itself make those properties and the resulting products bad, and it doesn’t prevent them from being “art.” The particular way they’ve gone about it in this, and yes, other, cases is the problem. The one point I share in common with utilitarianism is I don’t give a fig for motivation. Why someone does something is largely irrelevant, as I can’t see inside their secret hearts; what matters to me is their actions, because those have a direct effect on myself and others.

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          • I don’t think I understand… a difference in quality, not type? As a kid, I noticed definite trends… after The Rats did well, there was a rush of ‘creature horror’ books (worms, crabs, that sort of thing). When bikers were making the headlines, or skinheads, the shelves filled with related titles. Now, I read some of them, and they weren’t art, by any stretch of the imagination – they were clearly just cashing in. Maybe the authors got to practice their craft, improving their skills, but that’s really just incidental. Moore turns down money, now…

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          • It means exactly what it said – what you’re describing is a difference in the quality of the material, not a difference in the type (category) of material. That some of them might be bad, and that some of them you might find to be of artistic merit is an aesthetic judgement – not one that itself means there are different categories which makes this book product and that book art.

            That Moore turns money down these days is also insufficient to say that Moore doesn’t want to make money. From his own statements, he does so because he values certain principles more than he values money; he can still do that and be perfectly okay with making money from his work.

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          • Hey, everybody needs money, it just doesn’t form the centre of everyone’s lives or motivations… as I said, much art is personal and not shared. You seem to be saying any creative work is art, whether appreciated or not, and that just strikes me as a denial of the evidence. Opportunistic exploitation of trends and headlines are money-making exercises, painting by numbers. I haven’t, and won’t, read the ‘BW’ stuff, maybe it’ll stand up as art, I dunno. It’s not a given!

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          • No, that isn’t what I said. What I said was that motivation, even a motivation that we might regard as solely an utterly commercial does not in and of itself preclude something from being of artistic merit.

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  8. There is no point to these prequels. Watchmen is incredible and stands complete on its own. I have no desire to ever read one of these books. With the mistreatment of the creators I can take that zero desire and turn it into a commitment to never read any of them, no matter what the reviews end up saying about them.

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  9. Very good discussion above, very valid points. If I remember my Art History classes, a lot of the great art from the past was from comissions. Someone paid the artist to paint and over time became a classic. Art is always being judged and views are always changing. it would be interesting to see how all of this wll be perceived after this art form undergoes digital changes.

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  10. Pingback: Gaming Ontology (Can Games be Art?) | A Comicbook Philosopher

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