Rock Star Comic Creator Super Panel and My Feelings on Before Blechtmen

I moderated a panel at the inaugural Vancouver Fan Expo. It was hilariously called the Rock Star Comic Creator Super Panel, which I am still struggling to find out what that means. It basically featured a bunch of headliner guests talking about comics. It sounds very much like other panels I have done, except for the name. The guests were Greg Rucka, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, Yanick Paquette and last but not least, Len Wein.

You can listen to it below this post. Leading up to the panel, I had some pretty mixed feelings about it. My problem was to do with how to discuss Before Watchmen, if Len Wein brought it up. I have a lot of strong feelings about this project and personal connection to the original work by Moore and Gibbons. When Wein did bring up Before Watchmen, I left it alone. It wasn’t the venue to confront the issue. But I do feel the need to explain my feelings here. I have been doing a lot of pretty vocal complaining on Twitter, but leave my really strong opinions off of the general Inkstuds blog. I cover the work on here that I cover, because it is work that I am excited about and hope that you the listeners get excited about them too.

When I started reading comics, I mean really reading comics, Watchmen was one of those books that blew me away. That, along with Maus, Dark Knight Returns, Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, Hate collections and some other oddities that I found in the Burnaby public Library formed my comics mind. I started working in a comic store, it was in the days, when the only TPB’s we had, were some Cerebus books, Sandman, a smattering of batman works, and of course Watchmen.

Moore and Gibbon’s Watchmen was a different beast on the bookshelf. What Alan brought to the comics reading public, was a level of sophistication that could not be matched. No one was writing mainstream comics the way he was. Go read Anatomy Lesson in issue 21 of Swamp Thing and tell me that a random issue of Green Lantern/ Green Arrow was working on that level.

One of great things about Watchmen is that it is a next level comic. He creates as synthesis of these different comic tropes and ideas and fuses them together in one self contained work. Watchmen is a singular work with a beginning, middle and ending. Any Before Watchmen work, is bullshit. This work sullies what Moore had done, taken this complete world of idea’s and picking them apart like crown jewels, selling them off bit by bit, leave husk behind. Just because the material is owned by DC Comics, does not make this ok. It is the equivalent of Dan Didio doing the sequel to Charles Burns’ classic Black Hole. What this publisher is doing, is stepping back from this notion that comics can be art and fine literature. How many other DC Comics are being taught in upper level university courses. I remember seeing this one class on modern literature walk out with a different book each week. Ranging Ulysses by James Joyce, to Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs and to my joy, Watchmen. They will not be reading Before Watchmen in that class. They will not be reading Final Crisis in that class. They will not be reading Justice League by Lee and Johns in that class. Why, because that work is not that the level that Watchmen is.

Any work that takes from Watchmen, desecrates it. Unfortunately Before Watchmen, will have an effect on Watchmen. This work will be connected, and it makes me sad.

My problem is not with the creators, because as we know, this economy sucks, and it is hard to turn down something when they are offering to empty out a dump truck full of money on your lawn. Recently Paul Pope posted on twitter about how he was doing a cover for Before Watchmen. He stated that he was giving his payment for the cover to the Hero Initiative. I got into a discussion with Brandon Graham about it. On one part, I was happy to see him donate money, but his name holds a lot weight. Pope is a guy that was self-publishing back in the day, and it has stood the test of time. We couldn’t come to an easy agreement to how we feel about it. Both of us had strong opinions on it, both admiring Pope’s work, but having a hard time with the idea in general. It is not a simple split down the middle, right or wrong.

In the end, I hope that you will ignore the work, don’t give it the time of day. There is an endless supply of fantastic comics that you can read that won’t make you feel dirty. At the end of the panel, after hearing Wein talk about his work on Before Watchmen, I could see the difference between the way he looked at comics and the way Moore looked at comics. If you listen to the panel, you will hear others talk about their experiences working with writers and you can really hear the vision in the craft of certain writers. Just the passion that Rucka brings forward is amazing, he lives his work, and feels his work. There is no passion in Before Watchmen, just money. Great for the short term for those involved, but could have a long term effect on how to understand the value of comics as a literary movement. People talk about a division between indy sensibilities and mainstream, and this defines it. You don’t see Drawn and Quarterly getting Chester Brown to do a whole series of work based on great Canadian historical figures, because he has done that work and since moved on.

I could keep going on, but I realize this probably hasn’t made any sense, but that’s ok. I have some comics I need to get back to reading anyways. Did you know that Pat McEown has new book out? It’s great.


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7 Responses to Rock Star Comic Creator Super Panel and My Feelings on Before Blechtmen

  1. There are comics I read that make me feel dirty, but the good kind of dirty. Not fucking over Alan Moore for 30 pieces of silver dirty.

  2. Squally Showers says:

    Mainstream comics is an interesting medium because it is dependent on several generations of artists working on a single property. More so than literature or film, comics gives us the opportunity to see how successive generations treat characters that have sometimes been created over two lifetimes ago. Thus we have seen Bob Kane’s Batman through the prism of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison and, in his cinematic incarnation, as disparate sensibilities as Joel Schumacher and Christopher Nolan.

    It’s for this reason that I find the recent trend to give comics creators their due a little bizarre – a little like the efforts to prove that William Shakespeare wasn’t in fact some guy called William Shakespeare, but the Earl of Oxford or Elizabeth I writing under a pseudonym. Sure, some valuable historical research might be done and impressive legal decisions might be handed down, but all this scrutiny on a comics big bang seems to obscure what the characters created might mean today. I suspect that this attribution craze is a kind of important formation stage for comics criticism, which is still in a way in its infancy. If we can determine how much Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko contribution to the creation of Spider-Man, then we get down to the business of analyzing the changing nature of his appeal.

    The fact remains that Alan Moore once worked for a company and during his time with that company, produced a property called Watchmen. It was originally designed as a stand-alone series and, as Robin says, represented the absolute acme of mainstream comics writing at that point. Moore has since gone on to flourish independently, but at the end of the day, the Watchmen series is as much DC’s to do what they wish as the Star Wars property is 20th Century Fox’s, or Psycho is for Universal Studios.

    For this reason, I don’t really have a problem with a Before Watchmen series — in fact, I’m kind of surprised it’s taken them this long to get around to exploiting the property in such a fashion. Taking an established artwork and playing with its elements and themes is also typical of art today. Deny DC and comic book writers and artists the chance to play with Moore’s ideas, and you might as well sneer at Duchamp’s putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa or Philip Glass writing a symphony using music from David Bowie’s Low. Da Vinci and Bowie were both doing next level shit, but it’s in appropriating that work, re-contextualizing and reworking it that new art is created. Sure, I don’t expect there’s any motivation behind Before Watchmen than increased revenue, but if for some reason Gary Panter decided he wanted to do his own version of Watchmen, I doubt there would be such an outcry.

    Any work of art must hold its own in the world. Watchmen is such a key comic book text that “desecration” is impossible. Was Hitchcock’s Psycho in any way diminished when Gus Van Sant–an award-winning filmmaker–made his version? Do we think less of the Bible just because as varied talents as Cecil B. DeMille, Nick Ray, Martin Scorsese, Chester Brown and R. Crumb have mined it for material? Or Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey because James Joyce decided to re-situate the action and characters in Dublin? I understand that Before Watchmen is hardly likely to stand by any of these reimaginings, and there will be those comic book fans who will most likely glibly accept that Doctor Manhattan can exist in the same universe as Superman and Batman – but the readers with their own critical sensibilities should be entitled to make their own decisions as to a project’s merits. Others will simply vote with their wallets.

    So have at it, DC and Before Watchmen. They won’t be getting any of my money, but who is to day whether one of these new issues might inspire an aspiring comic book writer or illustrator to seek out the original graphic novel. And if they do, then boy, look out.

  3. Autsa says:

    I agree. To paraphrase DJ Shadow: Why Comics Suck in ’12 – It’s the money.

  4. It’s not about making good comics anymore, its about the exploitation of the IP.

  5. Adrian Hill says:

    Hey Robin,

    I’m getting the Derf Backderf podcast when I click on the link underneath your Vancouver Fan Expo post.

    Also, I’ve been meaning to tell you this for awhile: sometimes on my Mac, I can’t link to the Inkstuds site using Firefox, but it works fine when I use Safari. Weird, hey?


  6. Nemo says:

    I think it was the late Moebius, when refering to mainstream comics, who said “american comic book creators have no politics”. The bandwagon of writers and artists jumping on the opportunity to work on “Before Watchmen” pretty much give him reason.

  7. thomas says:

    It makes a lot of sense what you wrote. Most of all it says how comics are an art form. Comics are made for being sold , that doesn’t mean you gotta write and draw just for the money doing stupid or unnecessary comics . It is like saying that readers are stupid. I’m italian and in Europe it’s a little bit different, “mainstream comics” ( not always) are from authors like Marjane Satrapi, David B, Joann Sfar or Gipi and many more. A publisher and authors can make good money, they just need to provide readers with a good book.

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