In one interview, you talk about a meeting with a senior DC manager threatening you with Watchmen prequels, but you didn’t go into details of that meeting, so –
As far as I remember, this was when Jenette Kahn was in this country. If I had to take a guess, I would say that was the end of 1986. It was after we’d started to fall out, but at that time there was still the overhanging thing of the Watchmen film, which I’d initially agreed to. So this was right at the end of our relationship, when things were looking very, very dodgy, and this was a meeting with Joel Silver and Jenette Kahn.
As I remember it, we were in some hotel lobby. We met Jenette Kahn first. Joel Silver would be joining us. And in the time we were waiting for him to arrive, Jenette Kahn said that they were talking about doing prequels to Watchmen including Andy Helfer writing one, I think, somebody else was doing the Comedian in Vietnam. And then she said ‘but of course we wouldn’t do this if you were still working for us’. And I just went silent while I processed that. I think Dave Gibbons said, ‘Well, I’ve been assured that you won’t be doing that anyway,’ and she seemed to accept that. But I was thinking, ‘you just threatened me, I know what that was, I don’t know if you can do it or not, but you just threatened me and this is not how I want to conduct business relationships’.
There was then a rather uncomfortable meeting when Joel Silver turned up, and he was going through stuff like ‘what about Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr Manhattan?’, and I was saying I didn’t think he’d be able to handle the dialogue about quantum physics, and he said ‘oh no, he’s a really smart guy’. I still didn’t think he could handle quantum physics, but … well, we left as soon as the meeting was concluded, and, yeah, that was one of things that made me sever contact with DC shortly thereafter. That was on the negative scale that was starting to add up.
[We then discussed the ins and outs of disputes over Marvelman at some length. To cut a long story short, Marvelman had been published in Warrior, edited by Dez Skinn and with art by Alan Davis. Pacific Comics bought the US reprint rights to Marvelman … and promptly went bankrupt. Eclipse acquired the rights (and eventually published it, as Miracleman, to avoid a trademark dispute with Marvel Comics). During this period, Moore and his Warrior editor Dez Skinn fell out. Moore had also fallen out with Marvel Comics, when his editor there (Bernie Jaye) left the company – Moore had been working with Davis there on Captain Britain. This, in turn, led to Moore and Davis falling out].
As I remember it, when Bernie Jaye was fired, we were both of us filled with young man’s testosterone, you know, we both really liked Bernie, and as I remember it, we were both saying ‘well, that’s it for us and Marvel’. However, I think that Alan [Davis] might have regretted saying that. If indeed he did. Maybe he didn’t gainsay it, and I took that as assent. This might be where some of the problems arose – if Alan had thought ‘I don’t really want to cut myself off from Marvel Comics’. It might have been then that these other fairly trivial things started to arise. He seemed suspicious of everybody and began taking jokes seriously. It might have been his way of distancing himself from any idea of a shared agenda.
By the time I was enmired with Eclipse I wasn’t in contact with Alan Davis, and I was totally at the mercy of what I was being told by [Eclipse editors] Cat Yronwode and Dean Mullaney . . . genuinely the reason I was stickling over delivering new work to Eclipse was because, while I didn’t much like Alan Davis at that point, and I thought he was a bit of a grumpy person who I hadn’t got any interest in talking to again, I didn’t want him to be cheated. I didn’t want anyone to be cheated. [Pauses] I should have done more. In retrospect I should have demanded.
By then, there were strains on the relationship with Dez Skinn. I had just signed the deal for Watchmen, which at that point I believed was a brilliant new deal that would allow the copyright of the material to return to us after an interval. As I remember, I sold the idea to David Lloyd on that basis. Which is one of the things I felt particularly bad about afterwards. They were offering a better deal than Eclipse. With Marvelman, that was something Dez partly owned, so I was prepared to let that go where it was going to go. That process was underway. DC was making the offer for V, and that was on the same basis as the Watchmen contract. Shortly after that came the realisation that we weren’t going to get these copyrights back.
So, um, shouldn’t you have read your contract more carefully?
The problem arose after the fact. Well after the fact. With DC we did read through the contracts and some of the language was impenetrable, but we thought we knew what it meant. And also when clauses say something like, I can’t remember exactly, ‘if for any reason you do not wish to sign a contract, then we have the power to sign it for you’, we were told that was standard contract stuff, it goes into all the contracts and doesn’t mean anything. And we’d never seen a contract before, and we had no reason to mistrust people at that point.
The Jim Lee contracts [in the late nineties, for the America’s Best Comics line, published though Lee’s company Wildstorm], that was done knowingly, because that seemed like a better deal and a more certain deal for the people whose livelihood I was trying to protect. It seemed they would be getting more money up front and this was a raft of characters who I was creating and I’d just be doing a few issues of each of them. Above and beyond that, I trusted Jim Lee, I thought he’d always been a perfectly equitable fellow to deal with, and if something showed up where the contracts weren’t working, we could renegotiate.
So nowadays do you read your Avatar contracts and your Top Shelf contracts?
Er .. yes. That’s not to say something couldn’t go wrong in the future. I still don’t get a lawyer to look at things, because that seems to me mistrustful. Yes, I know that sounds stupid, given that it’s obviously an industry I mistrust, but I do really prefer to be working with people on the assumption everyone’s being honest with each other. I’d rather not work with people than be in a continual state of mistrust.
[Moore picks up on a line in the manuscript that states that he’s entitled to money from the Before Watchmen prequel series]
I have received no money for the Watchmen faecquels, as I call them. I saw this word in the Viz profanisaurus, it means ‘a sequel or a prequel that is shit’. I certainly didn’t get any money for any of those books. I’m not sure DC did – I heard that they abandoned the final capstone of the series due to lack of interest.
Apparently, based on its chart position – and strictly when senior management are out of earshot – junior DC staffers have started referring to it as Below Hawkman.
(Laughs). Well. (Laughs). Yes … that’s amusing. To the best of my knowledge, they are not contracted to give me money for Before Watchmen.
There was a point writing this book where I suddenly realised that I had more rights and control over my work about Alan Moore than Alan Moore usually did with his own work. I thought it was a little insane that anywhere except comics –
– I would never have had all this trouble. Yeah. I’m naturally quite a placid individual in many ways. Looking back at some of the stuff that happened, I was laughing incredulously, not because what you said didn’t happen, but because it did. I’ve had people tell me ‘in any other industry, if someone like you turned up, they would bend over backwards to accommodate you’, and I don’t expect that, but there seems to be something personal in the way I’m treated by some of these people.
DC couldn’t have possibly thought Watchmen would be a bestseller for twenty-five years –
– and I’ve had people who work in the publishing industry read my book and they’ve said ‘rights reversion clauses are absolutely standard’ and got a little cross with you … but then they’ve read on and seen the way DC treated you, and they all say that if they had an author like you who was selling books and winning awards, and that author wanted to keep working with them, but he wanted to renegotiate the terms of his old contracts … well, they’d invite him down and take him out for a nice meal and renegotiate the terms of his old contracts.
Course they would. The writers who followed me got much better deals than I did, because I’d been though that minefield.
So why weren’t DC nicer to you?
It may go back to Paul Levitz’s initially incomprehensible remark about me: ‘you are the biggest mistake I ever made’. Which almost seems to be predetermining our relationship. This is only a guess, but I think they perhaps thought ‘yes, he’s selling a lot of copies, we’ll take advantage of this, but this person has too much talent to fit within the confines of the medium as it exists at the moment’. That there’s the fact that if they do it for me … like at 2000AD I said ‘give me and Ian Gibson the rights to Halo Jones and I’ll be prepared to do another few books of Halo Jones’. If they did that, they’d have to give Pat and John Judge Dredd, they’d have to give all their properties back to the people who created them. Where DC handled me particularly badly was because (sigh) I was very different on a number of levels. I was hard to corral. By that point I’d already got a reputation – I didn’t take well to authority, I preferred to work on a non-authoritarian level as just friends and equals. Which, again, probably wouldn’t fit with DC’s philosophy. Perhaps Paul Levitz was having a prescient moment, that he saw that the comics industry would have to change so radically to contain people like me and that wasn’t going to happen before I had kicked down the fence. He probably knew it would end badly.
But, yes, it’s a bit weird. I did feel somewhat singled out. This could be another instance of my famous paranoia, but it’s difficult not to feel that you are being treated somewhat specially. It was an unusual situation to be in, and when they bought Wildstorm, that was unbelievable. They’d already tried to buy Awesome on the condition I was part of the deal.
Perhaps it’s not for your benefit – perhaps they want to say to everyone else ‘if we can do that to Alan Moore, we can do it to you’?
They’d already done that to Jack Kirby. There were plenty of examples of heads on poles to intimidate the rest of the industry with. You might be right, I really don’t know how these people think, if think they do. I suspect they follow arcane programs they learned from some bestial editor that oversaw them when they were new to the company. It’s the equivalent of what you hear from a certain type of man about women: ‘treat them mean and keep them keen’. It’s probably all those pieces of received wisdom … the people in comics haven’t got a theory, any wisdom of their own, so it all amounts to ‘Stan Lee said once he didn’t like green covers’, so they’ll never, ever do a green cover. They’re completely stuck, they can’t do anything new. ‘Let’s repeat these memes from the 1960s and see what happens.’