Interview with Alan Moore

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AM (continued):  At that point, he still hadn't thanked me for the money.  I assumed that he must've just not gotten it yet.  But, I said, "For the sake of our friendship, let's not talk about Watchmen, because obviously, given what I perceive to have happened, I can't really trust any conversations, through however many third parties, with DC Comics or their employers, because it might have repercussions upon loved ones of mine."  It's not like I was interested in talking about Watchmen, and I didn't see any reason why I should ever again--and certainly not if that kind of thing was going to happen.  I said to Dave Gibbons, "It doesn't really matter if this is what happened or not.  This is my perception of what happened, so this is what I am asking." 


And, Dave agreed to that.  He said, "Yeah, well, it's a bit of a shame, but we won't talk about Watchmen again."  Time went on.  And, the film came out.  It became very clear that, actually, Dave had received his money a long time ago, but had forgotten to phone up and thank me.  So, I didn't feel very good about that.  It struck me that that might've been the least he could've done.  It's not like I was asking for anything else.  But anyway, time went by and then I got another phone call from him--and it obviously wasn't to thank me for the money.  He wanted to talk about Watchmen.  It was a very brief conversation.  He said that DC Comics knew that I'd always wanted the rights back.  So, perhaps if they gave them back, I would give them permission to do prequels and sequels.  At that point, somewhat angrily, I said, "No, no--I don't want that to happen.  I don't want these prequels and sequels to exist, and I certainly don't want the rights to Watchmen back.  DC has been abusing that book for a couple of decades.  They presumably feel that it is no longer of much value to them, compared to the potential value of the sequels and prequels.  So, they're giving me back the spent carcass of a book that I was once very, very proud of."  As I explained to Dave, I no longer have a copy of Watchmen in the house.  Yes, I was proud of what we did with that book.  But, all of the betrayals and the lies and the cheating that surrounds that book for me now--no, of course I don't want a copy of it in the house.  I was then offered by an increasingly frantic-sounding Dave Gibbons an unspecified but really, really large sum of money to just give my blessing for them to do these sequels and prequels.


KA: Was the money from Gibbons himself or DC?


AM: The money would've been from DC.  He was acting as an intermediary.  He told me they were planning to do these prequels and sequels, and that he had been offered something in the region of a quarter of a million dollars to oversee the project--that it would be handled by the top talent in the industry, to which I said some quite intemperate things.  I said that, as far as Watchmen was concerned, I didn't really think that there was any talent in the mainstream comics industry.  If there had have been, they presumably, sometime over the past 20 or 25 years, would have perhaps come up with something that was as good as Watchmen--or as notable or as memorable--after they'd already been shown how to do it.  So yeah, I was angry and I said some things which I still stand behind.  And, that was the end of it.  And, that was the end of my friendship with Dave Gibbons: because he hadn't phoned up and thanked me and he had done the one thing that I'd asked him not to.  When I mentioned this in an interview, he phoned me up again to say, "Oh, thanks for that money, Alan." 


At that point, I said, "Well, it's a bit late Dave.  Let's call it a day."  He reiterated that the whole thing about that "quietly compliant" thing was a complete misunderstanding on my part, and that his friends at DC had never even used that phrase.  I said, "What phrase did they use then, Dave?" 


He said, "Well, it was something like 'passively acquiescent.'"


KA: Oh god.

He (Dave Gibbons) said that DC Comics knew that I'd always wanted the rights back.  So, perhaps if they gave them back, I would give them permission to do prequels and sequels...They presumably feel that it (Watchmen) is no longer of much value to them, compared to the potential value of the sequels and prequels...they're giving me back the spent carcass of a book that I was once very, very proud of."

AM: Yeah, exactly.  So, I was perhaps not that reassured.  And, he also said that he knew for a fact that the business with Steve Moore and his brother had never happened--that it had been my interpretation (again, probably based upon paranoia)--and he knew that it hadn't for an absolute fact. 


I said, "What about that phone call when they said 'Do you want to do the Watchmen computer game, and we haven't told Alan yet' that started it all?"


And, he said, "Well, I don't know anything about that."  So, he knew everything about the case, and knew for a fact that wasn't what had happened--except for the most salient detail, which he knew nothing about.  So, with a heavy heart I put the phone down for the last time.  That was an emotional low for me.  Not only had Watchmen itself--a work that I'd been proud of--been, in my opinion, desecrated and subject to tawdry wranglings for most of its existence, but now it had ended a friendship which, at the time, I had genuinely regarded.  But, that was then. 


That was when I was most upset.  I've emotionally disconnected myself from Watchmen since then.  So, this latest news wasn't even really a surprise.  I can't imagine that if there was anybody of even average intelligence at DC, that they wouldn't have ever wanted to bring out a load of substandard prequels and sequels.  But, I think that they were probably having enormous pressure placed upon them by Warner Bros. to produce something.  When I originally said that I would not be giving my permission to a raft of prequels, DC immediately announced that they were going to do an exciting relaunch to all of their classic characters--which, I suppose, was their "plan B." They were being pressured, presumably by Warner Bros., to produce something to justify their existence.  The Watchmen thing didn't look like it was going to work, so they attempted to do something radical and new with their existing characters--like, change their costumes a little bit and start all the numbering from one.  I guess that "plan B" can't have worked out that well--or at least, not as well as they were hoping.  So, it's back--reluctantly, I suspect--to "plan A."  They've decided that even though this perhaps looks legally shaky, it might look a bit to the untrained eye like some kind of copyright appropriation--that evidently, they're desperate enough to go for it.  In a certain sense, there's not a lot I can do about it.  There's actually not a lot that I need to do about it.  This is only going to work out one way.  I don't suspect in 50 or 100 years time (if anyone even remembers our era or its comic books) that this will have put the comics industry back in the spotlight.  Unless it's as good as Watchmen or at least in the same ballpark, then it will end up as a complete travesty.  And, the chances of it being as good as Watchmen or in the same ballpark--well, if there was any chance of that, DC Comics would've presumably produced something that had those qualities over the last quarter of a century. 


KA: I'm not in complete agreement with you about the quality of comics that have come out since Watchmen.  There have been some great books since then--none of them as good as Watchmen, admittedly, but still well-worth reading.  But, one thing that amazes me about all this is that they're not just putting out a 12-issue prequel miniseries or one graphic novel.  I've heard you and Dave Gibbons had even discussed doing a Minutemen prequel decades ago.  But Before Watchmen crosses through 35 comics.  It will cost nearly $140 for someone to buy all of them.  That sounds like they loaded every story idea they had into a cannon and lit the fuse.  Even if I was interested in reading this, it would still seem like overkill.


AM:  It would seem to me that in bringing out 35 books--even if these, for some reason, sell remarkably well; even if there are some people out there who are so undiscriminating that they are going to have to collect every one of these books--even if that happens, that is not going to generate enough money to reverse the comics industry's rapidly declining fortunes.  That's not the reason why they're bringing these things out.  I don't think that DC are interested in comics anymore.  They're interested in growing franchises, like a pumpkin patch.  Hollywood--now that's where you make the real money, or in computer games, or in any of these franchise spin-offs.  I might be wrong, I don't really know very much about how these corporations work.  But, I think what they're hoping to do with this raft of titles is spin off some new miniseries, television movies, or computer games--merchandising.  That's the only thing that makes it valuable to them.  They don't appear to have noticed that Watchmen is an ensemble piece.  Actually, none of those characters really work on their own.  They work in the context of the story.

“That was an emotional low for me.  Not only had Watchmen itself--a work that I'd been proud of--been, in my opinion, desecrated and subject to tawdry wranglings for most of its existence, but now it had ended a friendship which, at the time, I had genuinely regarded.”