Apparently, Joe Straczynski is upset.
The so-called blogosphere, comics section, has been calling out JMS on something he said on a panel at C2E2. From his FB post, he said, quote, “Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Siegal and Shuster. Worse was a lot of people.” He goes on in his FB post to describe comments by Eric Stephenson, one of the heads of Image Comics, to the effect that JMS is saying that creative types should just accept that the world isn’t fair and should just accept it.
And JMS refutes that at some length, saying that what he meant was that all writers, artists, etc, have to work their way up through the business, starting out with crappy contracts (“get screwed”) and working their way up to better contracts as their clout grows (and as they prove they are better artists).
I haven’t read any of the internet kerfuffle that started this, I’ve only read JMS’ post on Facebook, so I don’t really know what anybody else is saying. With that caveat, I still think this brings up some interesting issues around Alan Moore and Watchmen.
First, going solely on JMS’ quote of himself, it didn’t sound like he was saying what he now claims he was saying. What it sounds like he is saying is, Alan Moore is a whiny baby. Frankly, it sounds like that even more now that he’s clarified his comment. He doesn’t deny that Moore got screwed in his Watchmen contract; he just claims that’s par for the course. The proper response for Moore would have been to use his new clout as the creator of Watchmen to get better terms for his next contract. Hell, DC even went to him several years ago and tried to give him better terms if he would agree to sequels and prequels, and he rejected the offer.
JMS seems to be saying that Moore needs to grow up and work within the system. After all, the comics’ publishing world is a lot fairer than in the days when Siegal and Shuster lost all their rights to Superman and were forced to work such jobs as janitor while DC made millions.
But wait… Siegal and Shuster got screwed, and then they never got a better contract. So if that’s what JMS meant, then his explanation doesn’t track.
I think it’s much more likely that JMS is upset that Alan Moore not only disapproves of the Before Watchmen prequels, but calls them “completely shameless.” It’s even possible that JMS is hurt, as he considers Moore to have written one of his favorite comic stories, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” I know I would be. If I had the opportunity to write a story in the Watchmen universe and its creator said that he only “wanted this not to happen,” I’d feel pretty shitty about it, too. And it might make me angry.
And if I was being constantly asked why I would work on Before Watchmen when Alan Moore got screwed by DC in the 80s, and I myself had been screwed multiple times by Warner Brothers (ironically, the current owner of DC) over the widely-praised TV series Babylon 5? Yeah, I can see how JMS might be fed up.
Thing is, JMS and Moore have different personalities. (Shocking, I know!) JMS seems more or less like a regular guy. Sure, he’s a sci-fi geek, but he works hard and plays within the system, and when he sees something that needs to be changed, he will fight for it, again, within the system. Alan Moore, on the other hand, is a wizard and a magician. I don’t mean that figuratively, either. When he broke with DC in the late 80s, he didn’t go across town to Marvel, instead, he started his own ill-fated publishing company.
If JMS is annoyed over the Before Watchmen blowback, Moore must be seething. An archly amused seethe, perhaps. He seems to want to put Watchmen behind him. DC never gives in to his demands until years later, and by then he doesn’t care anymore. He apparently left Swamp Thing not only over contracts, but also over the Mature Readers label. Money doesn’t seem to be much of a motivator for Moore; in fact, just the opposite–he’s refused money for any of the recent movie adaptations of his work. I think he wants respect on his own terms, and I think he hates corporate motives (for good or ill).
It comes as no surprise to me that JMS welcomes the chance to play in the Watchmen sandbox and that Moore proclaims a pox on all their houses. JMS is a craftsman and Moore is an artiste.
Funnily enough, I love them both. Watchmen is my favorite comic and Babylon 5 my favorite TV show.
And lastly, should Before Watchmen even exist?
Sure, why not? A large chunk of Alan Moore’s oeuvre is a mash-up of his prior influences. Lost Girls and A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are re-imaginings of their Victorian source material. (And if there is ever a movie that Moore should be angry about…) Watchmen itself is at heart a realist examination of typical super-hero myth. So, absolutely, other creators should take a shot at Watchmen.
But will it be good?
Only time will tell, but the first reports aren’t promising. Unfortunately, the writers and artists seem to be sticking somewhat slavishly to the source material. What’s likely to come from a fannish “expansion” of Watchmen is lukewarm, watered-down gruel. To do it justice, a new Watchmen should almost be a re-telling. A new staging of Hamlet can shed new light on the play, but I don’t think anyone is clamoring for the details on the early reign of Hamlet’s father. I suppose what I mean is that a new piece of the Watchmen myth, if it is to be worthy of the original, needs to be audacious rather than reverential.
I don’t know who is up to that task…