Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Before Watchmen: F— Alan Moore

Art for Minutemen
by Darwyn Cooke
The row over Before Watchmen – a rolling bunch of mini-series in the style of Seven Soldiers of Victory – carries on, and probably isn’t going to go away until the project does. Most reaction to it seems to have been very negative, in principle (while acknowledging that the art looks pretty good), but there’s a bunch of people who seem to think Alan Moore is a hypocrite, and that DC has every right to do whatever it wants with these characters.

The thing they don’t seem to get is that Watchmen is a novel. DC Comics has asked the authors of that novel, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, to write a follow-up, and they have declined.

And so DC has decided to do it without them. And to do so very much against Alan Moore's wishes. That's the kind of thing that happens all the time in film (remember the fuss about the Whedon-less Buffy remake?) but it doesn't often happen to the novels of living authors.

This is not Jerry Cornelius popping up in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or Dorothy meeting Alice and Wendy in an Austrian hotel. This is positioned as an official, previously untold part of the Watchmen story. This is saying to Da Vinci, you missed a bit, mate, I'm going to get some guys in to paint those eyebrows.

Whether DC has the legal right to do that or not, everyone involved in this project knows Alan Moore, the writer of the novel they are exploiting, doesn’t want it to go ahead. Which means each and every one of them, every writer, every artist, every editor, has said to themselves (perhaps using politer language), F— Alan Moore, I’m doing it anyway.

It's noticeable how few British creators are involved, and how many of DC's top drawer creators are missing.

Jim Lee (one of the founders of Image Comics, set up in disgust at Marvel’s treatment of creators, now a DC bigwig) said: “As a publisher, we’d be remiss not to expand upon and explore these characters and their stories”.

Imagine Bloomsbury announcing Before Hogwarts, and ignoring J.K. Rowling’s objections, saying, “As a publisher, we’d be remiss not to expand upon and explore these characters and their stories.”

Or imagine Simon & Schuster announcing The Shining Shines Again!, and ignoring Stephen King’s objections, saying, “As a publisher, we’d be remiss not to expand upon and explore these characters and their stories.”

It's hard to imagine fans of The Shining or the Harry Potter books applauding the publishers and decrying the author in the way that's happened with Before Watchmen.

Watchmen wasn't the first graphic novel, but it did an immense amount to establish the graphic novel as an important literary form, deserving of the utmost respect. Before Watchmen shows just how far is left to go.

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