Comic Book Legends Revealed #441
Welcome to the four hundred and forty-first in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and forty. This week, just WHY did Alan Moore split from DC Comics in the first place? What real life person had to prove that he wasn’t a Marvel Comics character before appearing in a DC Comic? And finally, what’s the deal with Mjolnir appearing on military tombstones?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Alan Moore split from DC Comics over his dissatisfaction over how DC was handling Watchmen.
STATUS: False Enough for a False
One of the interesting things about looking back on history is how often we get caught up in what I like to call false syllogisms. You know, “Alan Moore had a problem with how DC Comics handled Watchmen” and “Alan Moore quit working for DC Comics” becomes, through syllogism, “Alan Moore quit working for DC Comics because he had a problem with how DC Comics handled Watchmen.” I wrote as much a few weeks back for a Comic Book Legends Revealed involving a squelched Mr. Monster/Swamp Thing crossover that was aborted because of Moore quitting DC Comics. I wrote, “right before [Mr. Monster creator Michael T.] Gilbert began to actually produce the story, Alan Moore had his split with DC Comics over Watchmen and without Moore, obviously there was no project left.”
However, that’s not actually WHY Alan Moore quit DC Comics. Or at least, it was not the MAIN reason Moore quit DC Comics.
It reminds me of a Movie Urban Legends Revealed a did a while back where people have always believed that Ron Howard was cast in Happy Days (which debuted in 1974) because of his success in the similar-themed film American Grafitti (which came out in 1973). The answer is a lot more complicated than that (you can read it here), but the gist of it is that yes, obviously American Graffiti had AN influence on Howard getting Happy Days, but not in the direct fashion that you might think. Similarly, Moore’s concerns over Watchmen had a major influence over his departure from DC, but not the way that you think (and, clearly, the way that I thought, hence my above quote from the CBLR a few weeks ago). Reader Kevin J. Maroney pointed out where I was offbase on my timeline.
To refresh, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did Watchmen for DC Comics in 1986-1987…
The series was a major success and DC soon began to capitalize on the success of the project with one of the best-selling comic book trade paperbacks ever in late 1987…
But also merchandise tying into the book, like a Watchmen watch…
And, controversially, a Watchmen badge set….
The controversy came from the fact that DC did not pay Moore or Gibbons royalties on the sales of the badges, deeming them “promotional items.” This, naturally, irked the shit out of Moore and Gibbons.
So this and the fact that as long as Watchmen stayed in print, DC would own the rights, and the book was so popular that it was clear that it would never be OUT of print, are typically the reasons people give for why Alan Moore left DC Comics.
That is not the case. Instead, it was in response to DC Comics considering instituting a ratings system for their comics, something a number of comic book creators protested in 1987. In the end, DC sort of kind of backed off, at least enough that it allowed the other creators involved in the protest to go back to work for DC Comics (even though DC clearly went through with having a ratings system, since they began putting For Mature Readers Only on titles). Moore, though, was resolute.
In a famous interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal #118, Moore explains his reasoning…
I signed the petition to make them aware that I disagreed with it. DC reiterated their stance upon the rating system, which seemed to me to indicate that they had no intention of changing their position. And when that became clear, I simply quit. It was as simple as that. I certainly didn’t want at any point to indulge in any form of moral terrorism. I’ve stressed this very clearly to Karen Berger. When I was talking to Karen over the phone, she was asking me, basically, what sort of chance there was of me coming back to DC, and what DC would have to do for me to work at DC again. I explained to Karen at the time that there was very little chance of me returning to work at DC because, basically, that wasn’t what I’d been attempting to do. I hadn’t been quitting DC as a bargaining point, but simply been quitting DC. To me, that was the full stuff. It wasn’t an attempt to say, “Well, I’m going to quit DC unless you do this, this, and this,” because that, in my opinion, would have been bringing the same sort of pressure on DC as I was criticizing the various retailers of bringing to bear. So if I had been angling with DC to try and get them to cave in, I certainly wouldn’t have told Karen that there was no chance of getting me back because that would have been the only possible bargaining tool thrown straight out the window. But I was very adamant about that, that it wasn’t an act of moral terrorism. It was purely the only way that I thought that I had been left of registering my disapproval of DC’s new system.
As Moore explains in the interview (you really should go read the whole thing), the other stuff certainly also played a role, but much of it came about AFTER he had already decided to quit DC Comics because of the ratings system.
“But wait, Brian!” you might exclaim in ear-piercingly high decibels, “Moore did The Killing Joke in 1988…
and V for Vendetta all the way through 1989!
So he couldn’t have quit DC Comics in 1987!”
This is actually something that Moore himself was quite irked at, and he explained as such to George Khoury in Khoury’s excellent book, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore. Moore pointed out that he had signed contracts to do Killing Joke and V for Vendetta before he quit and he was not going to break the contracts. He would honor them and then he would be done at DC. Moore believed that someone at DC leaked to the fan press that Moore was continuing to do work at DC (specifically new V for Vendetta scripts) after vowing to quit them and naturally it pissed Moore off, because he knew that it was not new work, but rather previously contracted work.
So there you go, that’s how Alan Moore came to leave DC Comics (the first time).
Thanks to Kevin for the correction and, in its own way, a great suggestion!
Thanks to WatchmenComicMove.com for the images of the watch and the badge set. I love their take on how expensive the watch was at the time, “To add insult to injury, this hunk of plastic cost a whopping $25. Think about that for a minute — this was in 1986. A Toyota Celica cost $25 in 1986.”
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