Writer, Editor, Author

Month: September 2010

Alan Moore drives fans crazy by telling it like it is

Watching the comics internet explode over this recent interview with Alan Moore is fascinating. Few folks have the ability to push so many people’s buttons by just telling the truth. If you haven’t read it yet, head over to Bleeding Cool now and read the whole thing, in which Moore goes into detail on recent dealings with DC over Watchmen.

Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter has a well-informed and even-keeled reaction that I find myself agreeing with on every point. One of his points is that there is going to be a certain segment of the internet that will degenerate into the “Alan Moore is crazy and should go away and shut up and stop bad-mouthing our beloved DC Comics.” That absolutely happened in all the expected spots, like the comments thread for the original interview, which was running more than 200 entries when I read through it yesterday. I was surprised however to see a story headlined “Alan Moore Goes Beyond Paranoid in His Latest Crazy Old Man Rant” at the normally decent Comics Alliance

Interestingly, there’s not a lot new in the interview. Most of the details of this have been addressed in some way in previous interviews with Moore or his collaborators. A lot of folks take issue with Moore saying he’s not friendly any more with some of his collaborators who continued to bring up topics that he had asked them to avoid. My own interview with Dave Gibbons back in 2008 regarding his book on the making of the comic, Watching the Watchmen, he said the following:

At a very early stage, Alan said to me that he didn’t really want to — he was pleased I was enthusiastic, but he didn’t really want to discuss it with me at all. And in a recent conversation he said that although he was always very happy to talk to me and he thought I’d acted impeccably as far as “Watchmen” was concerned, he really didn’t want to talk to me about it anymore. That’s his position, and I’m very keen to retain Alan’s friendship, and if that’s what it takes, then so be it. I have actually today sent him a copy of “Watching the Watchmen,” which scrupulously only deals with the graphic novel and make no reference to the Hollywood production. So I’m hoping that he will at least enjoy that.

So if Moore says Gibbons broke this request, especially to float trial balloons from DC over sequels or prequels of some kind, I can’t say I agree that it’s Moore who’s acting poorly.

The thing that has gotten everyone really riled up is Moore’s comments about the current state of the comics industry and the talent within. Here’s what he said:

When Dave Gibbons phoned me up, he assured me that these prequels and sequels would be handled by ‘the industry’s top-flight talents’. Now, I don’t think that the contemporary industry actually has a ‘top-flight’ of talent. I don’t think it’s even got a middle-flight or a bottom-flight of talent. I mean, like I say, there may be people out there who would still be eager to have their name attached to WATCHMEN even if it was in terms of “Yes, these are the people who murdered WATCHMEN”. I don’t want to see that happen.

Which was followed by this:

At the end of the day, if they haven’t got any properties that are valuable enough, but they have got these ‘top-flight industry creators’ that are ready to produce these prequels and sequels to WATCHMEN, well this is probably a radical idea, but could they not get one of the ‘top-flight industry creators’ to come up with an idea of their own? Why are DC Comics trying to exploit a comic book that I wrote 25 years ago if they have got anything? Sure they ought to have had an equivalent idea since? I could ask about why Marvel Comics are churning out or planning to bring out my ancient MARVELMAN stories, which are even older, if they had a viable idea of their own in the quarter-century since I wrote those works. I mean, surely that would be a much easier solution than all of this clandestine stuff? Just simply get some of your top-flight talent to put out a book that the wider public outside of the comics field find as interesting or as appealing as the stuff that I wrote 25 years ago. It shouldn’t be too big an ask, should it? I wouldn’t have thought so. And it would solve an awful lot of problems. They must have one creator, surely, in the entire American industry that could do equivalent work to something I did 25 years ago. It would be insulting to think that there weren’t. That’s just my suggestion for a way that DC could remove themselves from this thorny impasse, but we shall see.

A number of creators took umbrage at this, but I think anyone taking the time to understand what he’s saying realizes the point is not that Moore thinks all the current DC and Marvel creators are hacks — it’s that the mainstream comics industry as embodied by DC and Marvel has not stepped up to the plate and delivered an original work that compares well to Watchmen in the past 25 years. 

And he’s right.  
Commenters keep bringing up all their favorites as counter-arguments, but these lists almost always include a raft of corporate-owned, work-for-hire projets like Marvels, Kingdom Come, New Frontier and All-Star Superman. I like all those, but if you’re objective and honest with yourself none of these has the heft or ambition or scope of Watchmen. I doubt any work on corporate owned superheroes in the current publishing environment or from the past 25 years comes anywhere close. Even your best arguments for great post-Watchmen comics, which I would say include Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Jeff Smith’s Bone, are exceptions to a lot of rules and sprang from the publishing environment of 20 years ago that no longer exists today. I doubt either could find an audience in the same way today. And that’s Moore’s point.

Having seen audio and video interviews with Moore (there’s plenty on YouTube), I think people who are lambasting him a bitter, paranoid jerk are reading that tone into the interview. I have yet to see, hear or read an interview with Moore where he offers anything but thoughtful answers and his tone is cheerful and positive. He talks about Watchmen because people keep asking about it and he obviously doesn’t mind answering in detail.
Which is the best thing about Alan Moore, who obviously realizes it is important to answer questions about the way the industry works. What’s clear from the long history of comics, starting with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and certainly not ending with Jack Kirby’s artwork or the Watchmen contract, is that the major publishers have always exploited talent and their creations for great profit and used the threat of blacklisting and banishment from the industry to hide such basic information as how many copies any book sells to what creators are paid — all to ensure that the power and the money comics generates stays in their hands. Moore has the courage to walk away from all that and the sense to speak out and expose what most everyone else would keep quiet about and allow to continue unabated. 
The arguments that “you can’t expect corporations to behave any differently” or “those details are private” are assumptions built into modern American corporate culture that should be challenged. If you want better comics, you empower the creators. If you want the current industry, where too many talented creators’ voices are submerged in endlessly recycled crossover events that play to a consistently shrinking audience, then hope that people keep their mouths shut. 

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #6 (Sept. 1962)

“Captives of the Deadline Duo!”

Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
This issue sees a big improvement, as Lee and Kirby create a story that reads naturally and fills out the entire 24-page issue without resorting to the episodic chapters that marked the earlier issues. It’s also got some stunning artwork from Kirby, who seems to have become comfortable with the characters. Everything just clicks — the characters feel like they belong in this story and the way everything unfolds makes sense (at least in a story logic way) and the resolution is satisfying.
This issue starts off with a terrific splash panel in which Kirby draws New York City like a real place. The buildings have just the right amount of detail to sell this version of New York as a real city full of different types of architecture and the little details that make everything work from the water tower to the vents and the awnings. And it completely grounds and sells the entire scene, making the appearance of the Human Torch dramatic and believable.
I also like that Lee and Kirby fill the city with real people walking around, seeing this stuff happen and talking to each other about it. The reactions are varied and add to the believability of the story, even though it’s not really clear why Sue likes to hang out invisible in crowds.

The Baxter Building itself is impressively real in a way that few other comic book heroes’ headquarters were. The hapless mailman is a precursor to Willie Lumpkin, who shows up shortly as the building’s regular delivery man. Kirby delivers another cutaway of the Baxter Building, and does something simple that the book’s young readers must have loved: he made it completely consistent with the cutaway in issue #3. This is a slightly expanded version, but everything is in the same place and shows an attention to detail that few other comics at the time would have bothered with.

Lee varies up the introductory banter here, so instead of Ben and Johnny fighting we get Reed stretching across the city to visit a sick boy in the hospital. (As a complete side-note, Reed refers to the poor kid as a “shut-in,” which was the term that was used every week on Hockey Night in Canada when I was a kid. The commentators used to send out a special hello to the shut-ins and other folks who couldn’t get to the games in person but enjoyed the weekly broadcast.) Reed answering the boy’s question about the stretching of his costume is a nice touch, though I can easily imagine it being Stan’s way of settling the issue in some way to avoid having to answer the same question over and over. This also is the first mention of Yancy Street and the Yancy Street Gang, whose members take special pleasure in teasing and tormenting The Thing.
Kirby does some really nice acting in this issue, which is something I wish more comic book artists paid attention to. On page 6, you need no dialog to understand Ben’s anger, Sue’s sadness or that subtle little smile on Namor that conveys his enjoyment of swimming with the porpoises.
Doctor Doom, who appears to have dropped the shark theme for his aircraft, makes a surprisingly subtle entrance. He makes a logical plea to Namor, arguing that their mutual interest in eliminating the Fantastic Four is not typical supervillain behavior for 1962. Lee’s talent for dialog comes out strongly in the discussion between Namor and Doom, with Doom making a very compelling case. Kirby also nails it, giving Namor a cool elegance as he lounges in his shell throne that melts away under Doom’s argument to anger. All of this makes Namor’s character surprisingly sympathetic, as even the youngest reader surely had a sense that Doom would betray the deal in some way.

That’s emphasized by the next scene, in which Johnny discovers Sue’s hidden photograph of Namor and destroys it. It’s the kind of blockhead move that only a brother could get away with. Sue suffers a lot in later years of the series as the least developed character in the group, but in this issue she’s the most conflicted and interesting member of the group. Her conflicted feelings for Namor and her inability to put them into words works especially well with, again, Kirby’s excellent portrayal of her.

The entrance of Namor is another interesting scene as he challenges the Fantastic Four to accept his word that he’s a on a mission of peace. Sue, of course, buys it; the others refuse — and they’re right to not trust Namor despite their reasons for not trusting him being pretty off base.

The lifting of the Baxter Building into space, and pretty much everything that happens plot wise in space, should stretch plausibility more than it does. I recall a column former Marvel editor in chief Jim Shooter wrote in which he wrote that all buildings in comics had flat bottoms and the heroes had no problems before the Marvel Age brought some reality to the medium. Of course, in this story, the Baxter Building does have a flat bottom and it can be lifted as a whole into outer space. What’s really odd, though, is that the story still works and works really well. Plus, the splash panel of page 16 of the heroes looking down on Manhattan with the fighter jets flying underneath is, in a word, awesome.

It gets a little clunky in the next section, with the Torch’s flame failing in space. I do like the bit where Reed tries to grab Doom’s ship as Kirby spaces it out over five or six panels before Doom blasts him with a rocket. Namor’s leap to Doom’s ship is similarly cool, with Kirby zooming in on Namor’s face.

That it’s Namor, a nominal villain, who saves the day is pretty unusual for a comic of this vintage — the conventional wisdom of the time seemed to be that the hero was the star and he or she had to be the one who won the day. The Fantastic Four really do little to help Namor defeat Doom, who is last seen spiraling away into the void after ejecting from his ship. Namor even disposes of Doom’s grabber device and ship.
The last few pages are classic denouement. The Baxter Building is magically put back in place as though nothing ever happened, and the future of Namor — is he friend now, or still a foe? — remains more up in the air than ever.
Again, this is far away a big step forward in terms of Lee and Kirby finding a way to create big, exciting fantasy stories without chopping up the story into unrelated episodes and also in building a world and an ongoing storyline that’s bigger than any one issue.

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