02 February 2012

NO FUN


I'm still kind of gnashing my teeth over the "Before Watchmen" news, mainly because of how dismissive people are of Alan Moore's rights as a creator.

Historically, the comics community has been on the side of the creator in most creator vs. corporation battles. Much has been written and said about Jack Kirby's battles with Marvel Comics, for instance, and most of us tend to agree that Kirby was not treated as he should have been, when the big picture is considered.

But something else most of us can agree on when discussing Kirby vs. Marvel, is that Jack knew he was creating characters that would be owned by Marvel Comics. Did he want more credit and compensation for his part in those characters' creation than he ultimately received? Yes. Did he deserve it? A thousand times, yes: characters Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Silver Surfer, Captain America, and the Avengers would not exist without Jack Kirby. But did he know he was creating characters that Marvel would ultimately own? Again, the answer is yes.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, meanwhile, created Watchmen under the impression that the rights would be returned them eventually. Within a year after it was concluded, in fact. That's not my opinion. That's a fact. It's public knowledge. Due to the nature of the deal that had been agreed upon by Moore, Gibbons and DC Comics, it was widely discussed. It was a genuine victory for creators' rights.

But then the book was kept in print forever, and the rights to Watchmen never reverted back to Moore and Gibbons.

And people wonder why Alan Moore felt betrayed.

It was a dirty deal, and the fact that there are people who want to rationalize it by saying, "Well, Alan Moore wrote League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls, and those books used other writers's characters, so how is this any different?" just shows that truth is a sadly devalued currency. It's different because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons negotiated, in good faith, a deal that would have allowed them to retain the rights to Watchmen.

And yes, the characters in Watchmen were inspired by characters like Peacemaker, Thunderbolt and The Question. We know that, because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons told us as much. Had they kept that inspiration quiet – would anyone anywhere have mistaken Watchmen for something published by Charlton Comics? Dr. Manhattan is no more the same character as Captain Atom as Captain Marvel is Superman or Blue Beetle is Spider-Man.

All in all, it's a strange double standard, arbitrarily applied to an amazing writer who has done more than almost anyone else to draw serious attention to this medium. And it's one that anyone who supports creator's rights should find fairly troubling, if not outright maddening.