Feb 5, 2012

Before Watchmen: Kurt Busiek Addresses a Strawman, Mark Waid Rebuts JMS

Around 15 or 17 years ago, before Brian Bendis and Geoff Johns came along and writers became the stars of the comic book industry, there was very little question that two of the three biggest writers in comics were Kurt Busiek (ASTRO CITY, AVENGERS) and Mark Waid (THE FLASH, KINGDOM COME). I'm confident in saying that if they had done BEFORE WATCHMEN back then, these two would have been two of the first people DC asked to do it. (Grant Morrison is the other one.) Seriously, you guys must remember these game-changers, right?

In the last couple of days, they've commented on some statements made in the wake of BEFORE WATCHMEN, and I think they're good points — points that deserve to be posted in an article itself and not left to a Facebook status and comment boxes.

First, here's Kurt Busiek addressing the strawman argument of "Alan Moore uses other people's characters but doesn't like when people use his":

A thought, after seeing reactions to BEFORE WATCHMEN: It seems to me that anyone who thinks LOST GIRLS is merely a sequel to PETER PAN et al in the way that BEFORE WATCHMEN will be a prequel is really missing something. There's a difference between "build and transform and make something new" and "right, that went well, let's have more of that." DC's got good people working on BEFORE. But I suspect if someone did something as transformative as LOST GIRLS or LEAGUE with WATCHMEN we'd be going into a wildly, phenomenally different area.

I'd like to add to that the following. Moore is often ironic in his quotes. This is lost on a lot of readers for the obvious reason: it's not easily communicated in the written word. But you can hear it whenever you listen to him. It's so easy to say, for example, that his "I want no money from the movies they make of my work" is a self-righteous, arrogant stance, but all you have to do is hear him say it to know that he's being ironic. Here's a collection of mp3 interviews and I suggest you listen to them to actually get a feel for his usual tone. Even Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool says it here, after creators and fans alike reacted to Moore's controversial "The comics industry has no top flight talent" statement two years ago:
Alan generally does these kind of interviews in a very self deprecatory, ironic toe. It’s the way he talks. I gave an example of that at the beginning of the interview, because I know how his words can be taken if read in a different manner. Try watching the video, then reading the piece again in that voice. When Alan is talking about the comics industry having no top flight talent – he’s including himself in that analysis. And I don’t think he’s blaming any creator for his problems, or the problems of a retro-looking industry, he’s blaming the companies.

Furthermore, declining money is not a self-righteous, arrogant stance, and anyone who thinks that actually reveals more about themselves than about the creator in question. I can speak from personal experience here: I have turned down generous offers, because (1) I can afford to, and (2) I didn't really want to deal with the people making those offers. And after everything you've read about the case, why would Moore keep wanting to deal with DC? For all the debating, all the posturing on all sides, I do believe it really comes down to that one simple thing: Alan Moore doesn't want anything to do with DC Comics.

Okay, that's done. Now, the most vocal of these creators on BEFORE WATCHMEN is J. Michael Straczynski, of whom, as you know, I'm not a big fan. JMS will apparently, in his DOCTOR MANHATTAN series, answer the oh-so-important question of "Why was Jon so absentminded as to walk into the Intrinsic Field chamber when he is so particular about time, because he's the Clock King for some reason?", and I don't know why he's doing all the talking, really. In any case, JMS wrote a long rant on his Facebook defending his choice to do BEFORE WATCHMEN. As is typical of Joe, no action of his is questionable and all the fault is on Alan Moore, and so he effectively gives a view of history where he can't possibly take any blame. Here's Comics Alliance discussing it.

And here's Mark Waid, a guy who was there, commenting on it:
To be fair:

I find it absolutely impossible to believe that DC, at any point, offered Alan “anything he wanted” as financial compensation, much less “complete creative freedom.” I’m sure they offered him boatloads of cash and I’m sure they offered him “creative freedom within reason,” but JMS is overstating in order to make a better case for his side. Also, in trying to “balance” the comparisons, JMS forgot to add the qualifier, “Let’s also say that, without getting into whether I was right to believe so or just crazy, I believed to my absolute core that the company who was trying to woo me back to Babylon 5 was a corporation who had (in my opinion) already screwed me repeatedly and who I could never in a million years bring myself to trust to deal fairly and morally with me despite contractual language in my favor.”

None of what I have just said is intended to take sides or to especially bolster Alan’s side or to snipe at JMS…but as someone who was on staff during Watchmen’s original publication and first-hand witness to the many growing problems between Alan and DC, I can tell you that it’s a very thorny, very complex situation in which (IMO) both sides have valid reasons to believe that the other doesn’t always deal fairly or sanely. I bring this up only because I bristle at JMS’s assertion that what he offers is a “more accurate” analysis of the overall mess instead of an equally flawed restacking of the deck.

After someone missed his point, Waid rebutted:

You misunderstand. I said, point-blank, "None of what I have just said is intended to take sides or to especially bolster Alan’s side." I'm not here to comment on the overall "should DC/shouldn't DC" debate. I wrote the post because false, uniformed "equivalencies" get under my skin, and I found JMS' line of reasoning stunningly flawed and canted. That's all. To reiterate, from first-hand experience and observation: I can understand why DC, historically, has had problems dealing with Alan. And I can understand why, historically, Alan has had problems with DC. They both believe to their core that the other has behaved in bad faith at times. And whether or not that belief is true and factual is not the point and has zero bearing on the world today. What matters is how those involved now react in light of their convictions, and distrust of the other party always casts a huge shadow over negotiations. JMS's flawed "apples-to-apples" presumes that all parties trust one another to act in good faith. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that.

Saying either "Alan's just nuts" or "DC deliberately swindled Moore and Gibbons" criminally oversimplifies the situation at hand. It's not that straightforward.

To answer your other questions--yes, absolutely, I too believe in standing by the contracts you sign, always have, always will. But I have learned the hard way--over the past two years in particular, with more than one previously trusted company--that even with the sharpest lawyers on your side, sometimes contracts get exploited in ways no one could ever have logically foreseen, and all the precautionary thought and advice in the world doesn't always cover both parties against unpredicted circumstances...especially with regards to emerging media, which "trade paperbacks" certainly were in 1985, every bit as much as "digital comics" are today--no one in the mid-'80s DC Editorial office ever dreamed any comic would stay in print 25 years.

In fact, digital is a great comparison. I myself, like hundreds of others, signed creator-owned deals ten years ago that included rights-reversion after material goes out of print--at a time when neither I nor the publisher could have foreseen that, in a digital-comics world, the phrase "out of print" as we defined it then has a far different meaning now. Back then, "out of print" essentially meant, "Hey, we, the publisher, have exhausted the market for now and aren't receiving enough orders to make newer printings profitable, so here, take your kid back." Now, by the letter of those contracts, a publisher can throw your book on the web at almost zero cost and certainly at no financial risk in order to maintain the rights in perpetuity without selling even a single copy. Not many creators OR lawyers could have foreseen that world in, say, 1999-2000.

And, finally, no disrespect to Dave at all--a fine man of great morals--but under a 50/50 split, Dave's blessing isn't any more "decisive" a factor than Alan's lack thereof.

What, JMS has a view of history that's self-serving and everything is the opposing party's fault? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say. Absolutely shocked.

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