Who Watches the Patrons of the Arts?

I highly doubt any artists are going to agree with me on this, but I don’t think for one minute that Before Watchmen is the worst thing ever, nor do I think that anyone is actually getting screwed by it. 

Full disclosure: I am an artist who co-created a comic book that, to this day, I receive no credit for. I am currently doing some work-for-hire cartooning, using a character I co-created for a marketing company that periodically thanks me for the drawings, but owns every single one of them. The folks involved in the former are ethically justified in blowing me off (despite my feelings being really hurt by their behavior, words, and attitudes); and the latter is doing me a huge, unnecessary act of kindness with their behavior, words, and attitudes. 

Two things set me off about this topic today. The first was some stupid hyperbolic rant on the Internet. 

The second is that the marketing company I work for has informed me that they’re going to institute a huge change of direction for their brand. They’re asking for alterations to the character that I may not be able to pull off. And, that being the case, an option they may have to take is to replace me. This would make me [understatement in 3 … 2 … 1 …]very, very sad[end understatement]. If they did have to replace me, they are under no obligation to utter my name, ever again, even though I breathed life into this guy and am in no small part responsible for their blog’s success.  

And here’s something that might surprise you to hear me say: I don’t have a problem with that. Yes, it would piss me off a little, but ultimately they’re not wrong. Because PPC Hero is the property of Hanapin Marketing. Period. 

Likewise, Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ property. The Avengers are the property of Disney/Marvel. Superman is DC Comics’ property. These characters are commodities that have been traded for money. Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Joe Siegel, and Jerry Schuster brought with them to the table amazing creativity and, especially in the case of Jack Kirby, a willingness to draw and draw and draw.* And then, they sold the fruits of their labor to corporations and publishers. 

Now, Jack Kirby is to Babe Ruth resurrected as super-serum-juiced cyber-deity as I am to the Pee-Wee League player consigned to right field where he can’t do any damage; but we’re both baseball. More accurately, we’re both artisans. Hell, I put the same amount of concentration, skill, and dedication into editing as I do into PPC Hero or the occasional logo design or portrait that I also get paid for. Because they’re jobs. The only thing I’m owed for these jobs is the money the client and I agreed to. 

If we’re talking about giving work-for-hire artists credit where credit is due, then where’s the demand for recognition for the musicians who wrote and performed that goddamned ad jingle or TV theme you can’t shake from your head? Where’s the cries for justice for the designer of that car you drive? Come to think of it, who created the original featureless pants-or-dress-wearing people who tell you which restroom to use? 

Who developed the iconic font that is as much a part of Watchmen as Dr. Manhattan’s penis? Is he or she getting residuals? Just curious. 

And this brings me back to Sorcerer Alan Moore of the Holy Gnostic Order of the Wooly Hill People. 

When Watchmen was published, DC (allegedly) made a promise to Moore that it would not use the characters again. Dan Didio is breaking that promise. And I say, “So?” DC paid Moore. He cashed the checks. They don’t owe him anything else. He wants to pitch a fit and tear up the checks that Warner Brothers sends him for the botched movie adaptations made of his work, that only means more money for their shareholders. And most importantly, Alan Moore worked for DC; DC doesn’t work for Alan Moore. 

Look, as much as I hate that pompous fuck-bag, I won’t deny the amount of skill he put into his original, sprung-from-his-mind creations like From Hell (with the help, of course, of countless Jack the Ripper researchers), or Swamp Thing (with the help of Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, of course), or The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (with the help of Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Jules Verne, et al), or … 

Okay, fine. That’s hardly fair. It’s not like he’s pretending to have made up the Whitechapel Murders or Masonry or these awesome literary figures. But he and Dave Gibbons did make up the Watchmen … Except they didn’t. The names and certain details have been changed, but the characters are from Carlton Comics. This is hardly news, by the way, so don’t think I’m trying to shock my reader with this clever information or anything. On the other hand, I’m still waiting for the Bearded One on to go on one of his self-righteous screeds on how much Steve Ditko deserves credit/apologies for how Moore’s paranoid, trench-coat-fedora-and-full-face-mask-wearing detective, Rorsach kind of tarnished the artistic intentions of Ditko’s paranoid, trench-coat-fedora-and-full-face-mask-wearing detective, the Question, with the former’s homophobic racist sociopathology.**  

In The Killing Joke, the Joker shoots Batgirl through the spine and strips her naked so he can torture her father, Commissioner Gordon, who is also stripped naked after having been beaten. The conclusion of this involves the Joker telling Batman a joke and both of them laughing their asses off, while ambulances haul off the broken minds and bodies of the Gordons. (Hilarious.) I don’t recall Moore asking the permission of Bill Finger or Bob Kane (or, in the case of Batgirl, Sheldon Moldoff) to do this to his characters. Hell, in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mr. Hyde rapes the Invisible Man to death. I throw up in my mouth every time I think about it (twice, because Robert Louis Stevenson isn’t around to join in). And then there’s Lost Girls … I wonder what L. Frank Baum thinks about what Dorothy Gale is up to these days. 

So, try as I might, I don’t give a flying fuck about Moore and his disgust and his lectures on how to respect the works people like him have expended so much energy on. I will not, for one minute, disparage the amount of talent and skill and literature he has brought to my favorite entertainment medium. As loathe as I am to admit it, he is kind of a genius. His pedestal and soapbox are still, however, built on the backs of Steve Ditko and H.G. Wells and Bill Finger and those I mentioned above, as well as those I haven’t even thought of. Also, it’s in a glass house.  

Before Watchmen is a bad idea. Really, the only thing that it has going for it, businesswise, is the controversy (thanks, Moore and all of his followers!). Although … J.M. Straczynski. Len Wein. Adam Hughes. J.G. Jones. Darwyn Cooke. Amanda “leave that Palmiotti schmuck and make art with Jeremiah Murphy until the end of time” Conner. Hm. 

I’ll let Dave Gibbons, co-creator of the Watchmen, show us out: “May these new additions have the success they desire.” 

* Don’t, for one minute, think that I am not utterly appalled by the way these writers and artists, except for maybe Stan Lee, have been treated over the years. National Allied Publishers and Warner Brothers deserve a special room in hell for what they did to Siegel and Schuster, who invented the modern superhero. I respect that a contract is a contract, but some things are just morally wrong. 

** If such a credit/apology exists, I would love to see it so I can mark this off of my list of grievances.