Omnibus editions of the chapter will be along in a week or so for Kickstarter and Patreon backers.
Previosly in The Last War in Albion: Moore finished Watchmen with a profound sense of alienation from the superhero genre it explored, a sense that was mirrored and indeed amplified by his sense of alienation from DC Comics itself.
Part of the difficulty in tracking the fallout of Moore’s split with DC is simply that it’s so extensive. Once the rupture began it spread quickly, fueled in no small part by Alan Moore’s tendency to, as he’s put it, burn his bridges when reacting against something so as to make sure he’s never tempted to go second guess himself. But in this case the fractal repetition of Moore’s grievances with DC have served to make the initial issues harder to see, to the point where the standard wisdom is that Moore’s break with DC came over a dispute in the handling of the Watchmen trade paperback when, in reality, he had made his decision not to accept any new work from DC in January of 1987, eight months before the trade paperback even came out, and five months before Moore was actually done working on it. This decision came during a wider dispute about DC’s proposed creation of a ratings system for their comics. And even that point is not a single discrete cause that can be separated out from all of the others and identified as the original, true rift, but at best the third issue to arise between Moore and DC in quick succession.
There are of course two ways to look at this. In one, the subsequent retellings of the dispute on both sides have thoroughly muddied the waters such that the original dispute over comics ratings has been obscured. And there’s a degree of truth to this - the latter focus on the rights to Watchmen and DC’s broader exploitation of the property has largely eclipsed what was a real and acrimonious dispute in the early months of 1987. In the other, however, it is the wider perspective that looks at the full extent of Moore’s myriad of grievances that is more accurate, even about the initial dispute. In this view, just because the rating’s system was the straw that broke the camel’s back doesn’t mean that the bale of hay as a whole wasn’t the cause. And this view has a wider support within Moore’s career, which by the start of 1987 was already characterized by a string of disputes with his publishers. Indeed, by the time Watchmen started Moore had already broken with all of his UK publishers, although his departure from IPC had not yet taken on the tone of finality that his rifts with Marvel UK and Dez Skinn had. Indeed, if one wanted to be unsympathetic to Moore - and it’s worth stressing that there are no shortage of people who are very much invested in being more or less completely unsympathetic to Alan Moore - one could suggest that getting into fights with his publishers was simply what he did, and that he was, consciously or unconsciously, just looking for a reason to get mad at DC.
Certainly Moore would have had little reason to see DC as essential to his career. He had, after all, succeeded with essentially every company he’d worked with. More to the point, he was by this point in the enviable position of being a creator who was a draw in his own right, with an audience that would follow him across projects and companies. While he could not afford to alienate every publisher in comics, the reality was that his career could and would survive alienating any given publisher. Indeed, a fair case can be made that splitting ways with DC was a savvy career move on Moore’s part, although arguing that he thought of it as such requires assuming a level of ruthless careerism that is difficult to square away with details like the fact that he seemingly never actually read the Watchmen contract before signing it.
Much of this hinges on the practical differences between the US and UK comic industries. As has been previously noted, for the most part the UK was dominated by IPC (publisher of 2000 AD, among others) and D.C. Thomson (publisher of The Beano and The Dandy, as well as Starblazer), but the relatively small size of the market meant that even smaller players like Marvel UK and Quality had significant visibility such that Moore, by publishing simultaneously in Warrior, The Daredevils, and 2000 AD, was visibly a figure who existed outside the purview of any given company, especially once he emerged as a personality in his own right. But the US, despite being a much larger market, was, by 1986, very much a two company market. Smaller publishers existed - indeed, Moore was working with Eclipse, First Comics, and Fantagraphics in the US by the time Watchmen started. But the degree to which Marvel and DC dominated the market was much greater than the degree to which IPC and D.C. Thomson did. And with Moore unwilling to work with Marvel following Jim Shooter’s hardline stance against Eclipse using the Marvelman name, Moore was in much greater danger of looking like a company man in the US market than he ever had been in the UK.
|Figure 901: Ronin, published in 1983-84, was Frank Miller's first creator-owned project.|
But if Moore was, consciously or unconsciously, looking for a reason to walk away from DC, it’s just as true that DC was looking for a reason to push Moore towards the exit. Certainly they seem to have done little to try to keep him on board. It’s instructive to compare Moore’s later treatment by DC with the way the company handled things with Neil Gaiman a decade later as he finished work on Sandman. Despite the fact that nobody was under any illusions that any of the Sandman characters were creator-owned (in contrast with Watchmen) and that DC was perfectly entitled to simply continue the series without him, DC agreed end the title, not to use the main characters elsewhere without Gaiman’s express approval, and to consult him on the use of the characters in general, and were generally happy to allow Gaiman to renegotiate earlier deals on more favorable terms in order to keep him on-board and generally happy with the company. Similarly, not long before their dispute with Moore, DC agreed to a revision to Frank Miller’s contract for Ronin. With Moore, however, DC have spent decades antagonizing him further, often seeming to go out of their ways to find new ways of snubbing him.
For all that Moore was a source of financial success for them, it is not hard to see why DC might react poorly to him. DC was at its heart a fundamentally conservative company. Moore, in the 80s, may not have been a snake-worshipping occultist yet, but he was still a psychedelic anarchist with a furiously revolutionary working class sensibility. To DC, an obedient and dutiful subsidiary of corporate giant Warner Communications, this attitude would have been downright alarming. Simply put, to DC Moore was an erratic and unpredictable figure whose creator-centric vision of what the comics industry should be was actively threatening. At best, they were better off without him; at worst, he was someone to make an example of so that creators, most of whom were not nearly as big a draw as him, would know their place and not get any lofty ideas.
All the same, it’s easy to be taken aback by the pettiness of DC at times. A fairly instructive example comes in the form of Paul Levitz, who worked at DC for decades, eventually rising to publisher within the company. It was Levitz, then a vice-president, who greeted Moore on his first American visit by calling him his “greatest mistake,” a line Moore notes that he found strange at the time and downright ominous in hindsight. But in some ways more remarkable is the axe-grinding Levitz engaged in within his post-DC coffee table book 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking when coming to the subject of Moore’s work for DC. In Levitz’s telling, “a steady stream of talented people were attracted to DC by the longer story lengths, better reproduction, and creative opportunities. Among them was Alan Moore, a soft-spoken magician with a broad range of arcane interests.” Several things here are distinctly unfair - the suggestion, for instance, that Moore came to DC like some old world pilgrim seeking a better life, when in fact DC had deliberately sought him out. Similarly, although it’s true that Moore was not the first UK creator to be hired by DC, the suggestion that he was part and parcel of the wave of creators as opposed to the first time DC poached a writer from 2000 AD as opposed to an artist is thoroughly unfair. But perhaps strangest is the decision to suggest that Moore was a magician when he was hired, a revision that seems mainly to sensationalize Moore as an eccentric nutter whether or not it’s relevant to the point. (More gallingly, the book later describes him as a “stage magician.”) Even pettier is Levitz’s musing that “Watchmen would not have continued to achieve such recognition” were it not for DC’s invention of the trade paperback, presented by Levitz as a bold capstone to a decade of DC’s experimenting with publication forms. This is, to say the least, a bit rich; while it’s true Watchmen was one of the first DC titles to get a trade collection, it is not as though collecting a serialized work after it’s finished is an unprecedented idea in publishing. Certainly it’s ridiculous to imply, as Levitz does, that this is on par with Moore and Gibbons’s work on the comic itself. And this is made doubly galling by the fact that the trade paperback format Levitz is boasting of having invented is the precise means by which Moore claims they kept the rights from reverting to him.
|Figure 902: Suggested rates from Neal Adams's Comic Book Creators Guild, which are in most cases well above what's paid in 2015, even without adjusting for inflation.|
In some ways, what’s most striking about this pettiness is that Levitz was, in most regards, relatively progressive in terms of creators rights at DC. He was, for instance, diligent in making sure that the creators who originated various minor concepts that made their way into movies like particular vehicle designs or small details of a given telling of Batman’s origin were compensated when the movies came out, and is widely credited with preventing anything like Before Watchmen happening for as long as he was still at the company. But Levitz’s relationship with creator rights has always been complex. In 1978 he spoke to The Comics Journal about Neal Adams’s efforts to form an ad hoc union called the Comics Creators Guild, saying that while he “would dearly love to see a Guild formed in the interests of working comics freelancers” he viewed the actual effort to make one as nothing more than “a group of people who don’t work in the industry working for a set of idealistic goals without regard to the real interests of freelancers,” and speaking at the first meeting regarding the guild mainly to complain that the rates Neal Adams was suggesting creators should make were unrealistic because Marvel and DC weren’t making enough money to pay them. All of which is to say that Levitz has been consistent, throughout his career, in a belief that what’s good for the massive comics publisher is good for the freelancer.
What’s perhaps odd is that Moore did not, at least at first, really differ from that belief. Indeed, the way in which Moore describes his falling out with the company is telling: “I was starting to realize that DC weren’t necessarily my friends.” Because it’s crucial to realize, Moore really did think they were. That’s the entire reason he never actually read the Watchmen contract: he trusted the people handing it to him had his best interests at heart. This was, of course, many things; hopelessly naive, for one. An almost inevitable extension of his honor among thieves approach to creating art, for another. But, perhaps most crucially, it was more or less how people like Paul Levitz were encouraging him to think. And so when Levitz subsequently got into a dispute with Moore and Gibbons shortly after Watchmen launched over whether or not they deserved royalties on the replica bloodstained yellow smiley badges that were being widely sold in comic shops (a dispute that was over, at most, a couple thousand dollars) and made a grand show of agreeing to a royalty without conceding the legal point by which DC had originally argued the badges, despite being sold in comic shops, were “promotional items,” Moore was understandably rattled, minor as the issue was. And when, later in 1986, Jeanette Kahn had lunch with Moore and Gibbons and made an off-handed comment about doing some Watchmen prequels and how “of course we wouldn’t do this if you were still working for us,” Moore was once again rattled by what he took as a threat.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook