The new adaptation of Watchmen produced by HBO, despite its extraordinary quality and being an intelligent continuation of the ideas that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons expressed in their mythical comic in 1986, does not have the mythical accredited bearded screenwriter, as is his custom. The most we will get to read in an adaptation of his work is, as in this series, ” Based on characters co-created by Dave Gibbons“, that is, crediting co-authorship only to the artist. Or else, appearing under his usual pseudonym, ‘The Original Writer’.
An attentive observer might think that it is a way to protect his prestige from horrible adaptations, such as ‘The League of Extraordinary Knights’ or ‘From Hell’, or debatable as ‘V for Vendetta’. But no, and the proof is that this version of ‘Watchmen’ is, perhaps, the most respectful that has ever been made of a work of his: his resignation to be credited is a matter of principle. The particular way of protesting one of the most famous scriptwriters in the history of fear in the face of DC’s legal risk, which retains the rights of one of its most prestigious comics indefinitely.
‘Watchmen’: Direct and juicy sales
Despite its reputation for complex work, ‘Watchmen’ was a bestseller in its day, published as a limited 12-series maxi-series between 1986 and 1987. The comic benefited from the flourishing of a distribution system that was born in the late 1970s in the United States, the “direct market”. Previously, the distributors took the comics to all kinds of stores at their discretion, and they did not have to pay for the unsold comics, simply return the covers torn from the comics.
But with the direct market, they began distributing comics to the then-nascent specialized stores, which had to buy the quantities they requested, which favoured the market of backward numbers (in addition to devoting, years later, to less pleasant topics, such as speculation among collectors). In addition, the Comics Code, the self-regulation system that had limited the conflicting contents of the comics since the fifties comic debacle of the 1950s, did not affect these releases.
This favoured that Marvel and DC began publishing more experimental and adult comics, and in new formats: limited series, unit volumes … ‘Watchmen’ was the third title that continued a streak of DC successes with this distribution system, which He had started only a few years before with ‘Crisis in Infinite Lands’ and had continued with ‘The Return of the Lord of the Night’.
Neither the abundant delays in the publication (the DC editor of that time, Len Wein, began with the publication when there were only three numbers finished, which led to the monthly cadence reaching Gibbons) nor the labyrinth of the proposal prevented it from becoming in a success and that, at its conclusion it was sold in a single volume (or a pair) under the still-discussed term of ‘Graphic Novel’. With this (and with the precedent of ‘The Return of the Lord of the Night’) DC was trying to distance himself from the fame of children from superhero comics. The success of these compilations led to the fact that since then any story published in comic-book format was designed with a view to being collected sooner or later.
That is, a hen of the golden eggs of the adult comic that DC was not willing to release so easily, although, as Moore says in this 2012 interview, they agreed to return the rights of exploitation of the characters to their authors legitimate, ensuring that this modern DC took more into account the authors. Moore had a reason not to trust: since 1975, DC had a legal fight with the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, for the rights and authorship of the character, on an issue that would not be resolved until the nineties by judicial means. And Moore himself had just starred in a bitter controversy with Marvel for the rights of ‘Miracle Man’.
But DC promised that, according to Moore, “when the work ran out, the rights would revert to us, which sounded like a good deal. I had no reason not to trust them, They had been very, very friendly and seemed delighted with the number of extra comics they were selling.” Moore came to consider that ” only if they are competent traders, they will not betray his word to do the job in that way.” But Moore acknowledges that he did not pay enough attention to what they signed since contracts were not very common at the time in the industry.
The point is that there were details that made Moore put the fly behind his ear, such as “the decision to sell merchandising of ‘Watchmen’ and not give us a percentage of the benefits, because it was considered ‘self-funded promotion’“. It was then that Moore realized that DC “was never going to allow Watchmen to run out.” Shortly after he left the company, but DC was still interested in Moore working for them, according to Moore because the legal issue around ‘Watchmen’ was too swampy, and in the publishing house they were obsessed with filming a movie, of which already it was spoken in the eighties, and that Terry Gilliam would direct.
DC came to buy publishers in which Moore was hired, such as Jim Lee’s Wildstorm in 1998, to get the bearded screenwriter back to the fold, even if it was bouncing. And incidentally, continue to interfere in his work: Moore saw censored part of the number 5 of ‘The League of Extraordinary Knights’ due to rights issues, despite the fact that DC had promised him not to manipulate his newly acquired properties through the purchase of Wildstorm. Moore’s prestige for DC was clear, he says: he was responsible for the only known comic outside the comic book reader circles. And that was essential to expand to other media, such as cinema.
DC tried to move forward with the “Moore style” even without the scriptwriter on board. The Vertigo line of Karen Berger, which generated its own and very unique masterpieces of the medium, was born as an attempt to find new works in the wave of ‘Watchmen’, and for a time the prestige of DC was cemented in that of having been the inventors of the graphic novel format.
How is the situation now?
Undoubtedly, it benefits DC: Alan Moore continues to charge the sales rights for the reissues of ‘Watchmen’, which is his due for the contract he signed in the eighties. And he’s still very upset with his former employers: so that Wildstorm doesn’t happen (his purchase is what allowed DC to keep the rights of ‘V for Vendetta’ and characters created by Moore like Tom Strong), the screenwriter includes a clause in their contracts for which they are canceled if at any time the publisher, however modest, is purchased by DC.
Because things got worse, of course: the movie finally arrived, and Alan Moore was not willing to have his name appear anywhere linked to the adaptation. Dave Gibbons, the comic book artist, had a rather opposite stance and was well prepared for DC to revitalize his 1985 work. When the crazy proposal to make a comic book with the cartoons of pirate stories was put on the table From the original comic, Moore asked for a poster to be included in the comic that expressly said he was not involved, but DC refused.
In addition, Moore thinks that DC withdrew the commission of the novelization of ‘Watchmen’ to a personal friend, Steve Moore, who needed the job, as revenge. The situation was very tense, and more than tense, unleashing in the total breakdown of Moore’s relationship with Dave Gibbons (who never forgave him for not thanking him for being able to keep half of the royalties that corresponded to Moore for the adaptation of Zack Snyder) when the artist blessed the appearance of ‘Before Watchmen’, a series of spin-offs based on the characters of the original series.
In fact, DC came to offer Moore the rights to ‘Watchmen’, “if he agreed to have some horrible sequels and prequels,” he told Wired. He replied that this would have made sense in due course, not well into the 21st century. And he finished off with his famous phrase “I don’t want money, I want this not to happen.” But it happened, because DC edited the spin-offs equally.
Moore’s contract with DC has never been made public: it is quite possible that Moore can wield moral issues, as much as it is possible for DC to have everything tied and well tied, the ultimate reason that Moore has never taken legal action . Leaving aside that the scriptwriter may be only partially right (didn’t his ‘Swamp thing’ take an earlier character to make it his own? And ‘Miracleman’ And ‘La liga …’?), It is clear that DC has carried out some commercial manoeuvres in which the creator is the last monkey (the latest: ‘Watchmen’ characters interacting with the traditional DC universe). But of course, that’s why they call it “comic book industry”.