Interview with Alan Moore

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Kurt Amacker:  I thought we could discuss the initial ownership dispute you had with DC back in the 1980s, wherein you and Dave Gibbons expected to get the rights to Watchmen and its characters back a year after the trade paperback went out of print.  But, it never went out of print--and one suspects DC probably knew it wouldn't.


Alan Moore:  We were told that.  That was the understanding upon which we did Watchmen--that they understood that we wanted to actually own the work that we'd done, and that they were a "new DC Comics," who were going to be more responsive to creators.  And, they'd got this new contract worked out which meant that when the work went out of print, then the rights to it would revert to us--which sounded like a really good deal.  I'd got no reason not to trust these people.  They'd all been very, very friendly.  They seemed to be delighted with the amount of extra comics they were selling.  Even on that level, I thought, "Well, they can see that I'm getting them an awful lot of good publicity, and I'm bringing them a great deal of money.  So, if they are even competent business people, they surely won't be going out of their way to screw us in any way."  Now, I've since seen the Watchmen contract, which obviously we didn't read very closely at the time.  It was the first contract that I'd ever seen--and I believe that it was a relatively rare event for a contract to actually exist in the comics business.  Most of the time, people just signed away all their rights on the back of their invoice voucher.  But, I was so pleased with the deal with Watchmen, that I suggested to David Lloyd that we do the same thing on V for Vendetta--which was, again, something that we owned and that we wanted to carry on owning.  The contracts actually are some of the most anti-creator contracts imaginable.  They've got clauses such as, if I refuse to sign for any reason any agreements in the future, DC can appoint an attorney to sign them instead of me.  There was some point before we'd realized that DC was never going to give us Watchmen back that I started to have my doubts.  There were a couple of incidents, like the decision to sell Watchmen merchandise and initially not to give us any cut of the profits, because it was supposed to be "self-financing promotion."


KA: You mean the buttons they released?


AM: Right, and that's fine except if it makes a profit--which they had done.  So, that seemed cheap to me.  But, up until that point I'd trusted the company and thought that they were probably decent people who, as they said, were making a genuine effort to adapt to modern times and modern morality.  But, that incident seemed a little, to me, as if having just got what must've been quite a lucrative creator come through the door--having got a creator who was bringing them a lot more attention from media outside of comics than they'd ever received before--it struck me that they seemed to be very delighted with all this.  But, somebody there had thought it would be even better if they could swindle us out of a few thousand dollars.  It was like having signed a deal and finding out that the people you've signed it with have been going through your pockets in the cloak room for spare change.  Shortly after that, it became apparent that Watchmen was never going to be allowed to go out of print.  At the time, obviously, I was very angry because we'd been lied to.  And there's no polite way of putting that.  Also, I don't think this was the first time that DC had used this technique or a variation upon it.


So, this was the initial thing.  I was pretty disappointed and angry regarding working for DC at that time.  The first opportunity that came up to really vent my disappointment was when they were bringing in some ridiculous rating system, which I objected to along with various other creators.  I think Frank Miller got up some sort of petition.  I said that if DC Comics were going ahead with this rating system, I wouldn't be working for them anymore.  I believe I was the only person who signed the petition who didn't just back down or accept it.  So at that point, I severed connections with DC Comics--although there were still some people there then, like Karen Berger, who I did remain friends with.  But, I resolved that I didn't want to work for DC Comics ever again--or their subsidiaries.  This worked fine for a number of years until I'd just signed contracts with Jim Lee's WildStorm Comics, at which point DC bought the whole of them--as they previously tried to buy the whole of Rob Liefeld's Awesome Comics, if I was part of the deal.  So, it seemed that they'd bought a whole company just to have me working for them again.  This may well have been because they had realized that having the enmity of somebody who'd created the only book that anybody outside of their industry had ever heard of might not be such a good idea.  I think that they were probably then looking to the fact that they were quite desperate to make movies of Watchmen or spin merchandise out of it.  They perhaps realized that, given that, I believe, Watchmen is still at least copyrighted to me, that they might be on some shaky ground there.  It might be difficult to attract investors to a product where there could be kind of a legal minefield.  So, I think that was when we started to get the various shenanigans that went on around that film, which have led since to me completely severing my contacts with anybody that works at DC--and pretty much with the entirety of the comics business.  That was a few years ago now. 


Most of that stuff had happened in the few weeks before I got married to Melinda.  That's pretty much been the state of play since then.  There was the business a while ago now that led to me having my last conversation with Dave Gibbons--by which I do mean last in the sense of final, rather than most recent, which is a shame.


KA: Wow.


AM: Yeah.  I really don't feel that I have any friends in the comic industry--certainly none that I would be seeking out.

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“And, they'd got this new contract worked out which meant that when the work went out of print, then the rights to it would revert to us--which, sounded like a really good deal.”

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KA: Do you still get royalty payments from the trade paperback sales of Watchmen and the movie?


AM: Yes.  It is my work.  I still get a royalty--not a very big royalty, but the kind that the comic industry was offering in the 1980s.  Yes, I still get a little bit of the money that I consider myself to be owed for these things.  But, it's not really the money that's the principle.  It's the fact that I was lied to.  It's the fact that the reason they offered us Watchmen was that they'd seen what I could do with their regular comics.  They could see that I was capable of moving them to a new area that comics had not ventured into before.  So, they offered us Watchmen and it worked out very, very well for them.  They were able to suddenly claim that all of their comics were "graphic novels" now--that they were seriously committed to a progressive comics medium that could produce works of art and literature.  But, that is never what they were concerned with.  It was always purely to do with commerce.  And, yes, when they saw that they were being given an opportunity with this stuff, then they jumped on it with both feet and really sort of bled Watchmen for all of the publicity that they could get.  They started a whole comics line that seemed to be designed mainly as an "Alan Moore farm," where I believe that the early contributors to Karen Berger's Vertigo were pretty much--at least implicitly--being instructed to do work that was kind of like mine.  At the time, I wasn't that bothered about it.  I thought it was a shame that they couldn't have done something more original.  So yes, I do still get royalties for this stuff.  But, given the amount of capital and the amount of publicity and everything else that the American comics industry--not just DC--has gotten out of my work, I think it's a bit rich that they should have lied through their teeth and swindled me out of me rights to it, and that now, they should be planning to take that further, presumably out of desperation--because they haven't got anything else that anybody is interested in.


KA: You're talking about the Before Watchmen prequels?


AM: Yeah.  It's something they've been talking about for a long while.  And, indeed, that was the reason why I broke off all contact with Dave Gibbons.


KA: Because he sort-of supported them?


AM:  This all went back to the Watchmen movie.  I mean, Watchmen had been a dead issue for a number of years, as far as I was concerned.  DC had stolen it from us, and they weren't going to give it back.  I'd adjusted to that situation.  However, there came a point back when I was still working for WildStorm.  This was after the period when one of the V for Vendetta movie's producers had been "economical" with the truth and had announced that I was really excited about that worthless film and was going to be meeting with its director, which he knew was not the case.  He was just saying that because it sounded better if I was on board.  Of course, at that point I said I wouldn’t have anything to do with DC Comics or anything connected with it ever again.  Even if I'm working for another company, I'm going to have clauses in the contract that say that if you're bought out by DC, then my contract is null and void.

“I still get a royalty--not a very big royalty, but the kind that the comic industry was offering in the 1980s.  Yes, I still get a little bit of the money that I consider myself to be owed for these things.  But, it's not really the money that's the principle.  It's the fact that I was lied to.”