Monday, February 06, 2012

On BEFORE WATCHMEN and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I've been gathering my thoughts on BEFORE WATCHMEN since it was announced, and have read many great right-headed (and cringed through many wrong-headed) pieces written on the matter over this last week.  A few people have sought out my opinion on the matter, probably because they remember the frequency I commented scathingly on the subject of the atrocious movie adaptation. This announcement has had something of the inevitable about it, it has seemed to lurk in the ether waiting to materialise since 2007, when I ran this blog entry.  It was prompted by the appearance of this piece by Art Adams (a cover for the defunct trade rag WIZARD, if memory serves).  As I said back then, in the comments section alongside the entry: "It's heresy, but it's also hilarious: it's hilaresy!".

Now, those of you who are familiar with the Northern Irish character know that we have the darkest of humours, probably because all of us born before 1994 have full-blown PTSD.  We make black jokes about bad news, and for us there is no such thing as "too soon?".  Which is why, as soon as this news leaked out, slid out like the incontinence of a octogenarian who hasn't had a decent idea since 1986, I felt inclined to just laugh. But to laugh it off is probably too apathetic, distancing myself from the bomb-blast, immunising myself from accusations otherwise that I'm taking it too seriously, that's its justafakkingcomicforfakksake.  Instead the debate that has arose has been inspiring. Every time, every opportunity comic readers have to witness a hard light being shone on the business ethics of the industry they patronise, is a good thing. Every time I write about work for hire, I drop in the phrase "that gangster shit", hoping it'll catch on.  It never does. In the case of WATCHMEN, it isn't even the usual problems of work for hire that is to blame, it is a new set of problems born of the comics boom of the mid-80s: when is creator-owned not creator-owned after all? Did Dez Skinn die in vain?

One thing made clear reading the day-long explosion of opinion on the matter in my Twitter feed was this is a matter for comic fans, for comic readers, not the comic professionals: the smartest ones realised they were compromised within the argument, that they didn't have a leg on which to stand and join in with the pontificatin'. Of course, the lines are horribly blurred. The audience for Anglophone comics isn't huge, and therefore a fair sized chunk of the readership are creators. Also, comics professionals are invariably the most passionate of fans, and seemingly every comics fan would give their eye-teeth to become a comics professional, every one of them working on a webcomic they want to link you to, or in possession of a pitch for that Dr Strange comic that's really going to work this time. One of the reasons this farrago is going ahead is because DC reckons it's easy to get away with it, because we're all complicit now. Well sod that, Dan. You haven't got my fingerprints on this gun. Leave me out of it.

There's probably an essay to be written on comics becoming just another commodity being squeezed out by corporations that don't give a shit; that the comics crowd are kidding themselves when they blather on about the medium they love being the last bastion for free-wheeling creativity; that buying a Marvel or DC comic is essentially as soul-destroying a gesture of surrender to the forces of globalisation as buying a Big Mac or a Starbucks coffee or downloading the latest single by the winner of last year's THE X-FACTOR. This won't be it. I'm too busy brewing my own beer.


spleenal said...

I liked the movie.
There I said it. I feel better now.

Ill probably not buy the new comics I want them to be drawn in a similar style and it doesnt look like that will happen.

Theres probably loads of people out there (the kids) who saw the film first. Theyll love it probably.

Ed Allen said...

I wont condemn the Watchmen movie, it was about as well done as it could have been and felt to me as though it was made with love for the source material. It was also responsible for reminding me how much I loved comics in the first place and ended my long hiatus from the medium (see it did do some good).

My opposition to BW is as much grounded in the fact that its artistically bankrupt as it is in anything else.

AvX and BW: this years big events from the big two and theyre both a rehash of something they already published in the 1980s.

Oh well, at least Dark Horse and Image are making quality new stuff.

Alfie Gallagher said...

In the world of commerce, probably inevitable, in the world of morals, respect and art, saddening. Was going to write a lengthy reply but think Ill just use George Orwells description of advertising: the rattling of a stick in an empty swill bucket

saudade said...

I liked the movie, I loved the comics. I think theres room for both when, as Ed said above, there is a love for the source material -- which of, course, is subjective too. I agree with you that Moore consistently shining the light on business ethics is a good thing, though I also struggle with his instantaneous dismissals as simply bitter. The games not changed 25 years on, and I think most folks know full well what theyre getting into. Hes famous because of those contracts, and its afforded him the place in the comic canon he occupies now.

Anyway, most important for me -- being the self-absorbed cow that I am -- Im hoping you didnt cringe through my take on this. :)

Mark Kardwell said...

My point, if it needed clarification, is that MARVELMAN, V FOR VENDETTA and WATCHMEN all seemed to be produced in what we, the contemporaneous readership, thought was a golden age for creator-owned comics. Wed won that war, the Comics Journal had stuck it to Jim Shooter; Dick Giordano was residing over an enlightened age at DC; and all the comics worth reading were being published in Warrior, or by Eclipse, First, Epic, Fantagraphics, etc. Yet Moore seems to have gotten shafted or entangled on all three of those projects. Moore has earned both the right to be bitter and the higher moral ground.

As Ive said elsewhere, I usually position myself as a disinterested iconoclast, and as such should be revelling in a holy cow being defaced so publicly. I cant, as that would contradict both my stance on creators ownership of their work, and my lingering affection for the work. Also, the work isnt really being defaced - when these comics make it to the market, I safely predict one of their main flaws will be that they are all timidly reverential to the original. Maybe the DR MANHATTAN book will be 22 pages of non-stop slapstick knob gags and Ill love it, but I doubt it.

WATCHMEN is supposed to be the definitive statement on superheroes, the "graphic novel" DC held up to prove their wacky little genre had the artistic weight to stand comparison to MOBY DICK or CITIZEN KANE. Now theyre saying "no hold on, we take all that back - its just another comic". Everything in the medium just seems a little... poorer, devalued, if that is the case.

saudade said...

Ill admit, I was a little unclear! This is a great comment; thanks for the clarification, Mark.