One more time, since we’re about to suddenly become a post-Before Watchmen society. 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
I don’t know how to put it any plainer than that. Before Watchmen is an attempt to recapture past glories with a crop of A-list talent, instead of creating new glories with that exact same talent. Azzarello? Cooke? Conner? These folks create classics, and instead of hiring them to do that, DC’s hired them to fulfill some top down publishing edict to wring all the money they can out of Moore & Gibbons Watchmen, no matter what. It’s stupid and short-sighted.
Here’s how DC thinks about comic books, from a recent USA Today piece:
“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,” says Dan DiDio, DC co-publisher.
The first half of this sentence is so wrong as to be laughable. The second half is so corporate it’s depressing. Properties: code word, meaning “something we can exploit in other media or in the future.” They aren’t characters. They definitely aren’t art. They’re properties. I wish there was a whiny baby font so I could really get across my disgust with Didio’s position.
The stuff about building on other people’s legacies… no. That’s not the strength of comics at all. The strength of comics is the creators, the men and women armed with pens and pencils who go in and make the stories go, who craft classics that are so good that it’s like they’re daring us not to like them. I don’t like Frank Miller’s Daredevil because of what Stan Lee and Bill Everett brought to the character. I like Frank Miller’s Daredevil because Frank Miller showed me things I’d never seen before. That’s the same reason I like Gene Colan’s version, or John Romita Jr’s version, or Alex Maleev’s version.
Dan Didio is objectively wrong about the strength of comics. He’s towing the company line, which is that the dissent against Before Watchmen is about Alan Moore being pissy over people using “his” characters. That, in turn, enables all the asinine remarks about how Lost Girls or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the same thing.
The thing is, it’s not about characters. It’s about ethics. It’s always been about ethics, no matter how often scumbags like Joseph Michael Stracynzski suggest otherwise. It’s about not taking advantage of the letter of the law to push forward with unethical projects. It’s about respecting the talent and the things they bring to the table.
But to DC, it’s about toys. “Why doesn’t Alan let us play with his toys, huh? Why’s he so stingy?” And I know that the comics press is going to enable these guys to get their way. Betting on whether or not a bunch of reviews open with some variant of “Despite the controversy, Before Watchmen is pretty good” or “While a vocal minority expressed a rabid dislike for these books, sight unseen, blah blah blah” is a sucker bet. Of course it’ll happen. Gotta protect those relationships to maintain access!
I dunno, man. Before Watchmen is loathsome. It’s going to come out and people are going to buy it, but my advice to you, my request, is that you think about the series and what it represents, and then decide if that’s the comics industry you want to build for yourself. If you just want to read Batman comics month in, month out, no matter who’s doing them, fine. That’s your thing. But if you want one where creators are respected, maybe give some thought to not buying the series, and telling DC what you think on Twitter, via email, during San Diego Comic-Con… get up in their face. Force them to talk about it in public.
A lot of creators, from indie megastars like Bryan Lee O’Malley to Big Two mainstays like Chris Roberson have expressed dissent, to put it nicely, about Before Watchmen. People care about this, and it’s not just because Watchmen was a really good comic however many years ago. It’s because creators’ rights matter, respect matters, and ethics matter. Alan Moore is one of the most respected and important people in comics. If they’ll put him to the wall, what do you think they’ll do to you? Pay attention to what these companies are saying behind the con announcements and press releases. Before Watchmen has a very clear message, and don’t be surprised when Before Watchmen II is announced next year.
I don’t want the industry that DC is trying to shore up. Not even remotely. There’s too many good comics out there to let Before Watchmen be what defines our industry and our habits as consumers.
Don’t buy Before Watchmen.
Here’s some further reading if you need convincing.
-Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in conversation with Neil Gaiman (!) in The Comics Journal 116, July 1987, TCJ recently uploaded a transcript
-Tom Spurgeon’s “Sometimes They Make It Hard To Ignore Creators Issues” and “Twenty-One Not Exactly Original Notes On More Watchmen, Written At A Slight Remove”
-Ryan Dunlavey & Fred Van Lente’s Comic Book Comics #5 [preview]
-Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson’s “NO FUN”
-Chris Mautner’s “We’ve come so far: On Before Watchmen and creators rights”
-Michael Dean’s “Kirby and Goliath: The Fight for Jack Kirby’s Marvel Artwork”
-Kurt Amacker interviews Alan Moore.
-Frank Miller’s “Keynote Speech By Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar, June 12th, 1994″ (from the pages of Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5)
-The Comics Journal’s “The Four Page Agreement”
-Milo George & The Comics Journal’s The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby
-Michael Dean’s “Marvel/Disney’s Win Against Jack Kirby Heirs Not About Fairness” and Kirby and Goliath: The Fight for Jack Kirby’s Marvel Artwork”
-Gary Groth’s “Jack Kirby Interview”
-Steven R Bissette’s “Marvel/Disney v Kirby: Part 2″ and “Marvel/Disney v Kirby: Do Avengers Avenge… Or Not?”
-This incredibly relevant Youtube clip from The Wire, if you need a pithy explanation on how depressing creators’ rights can be