Lying In The Gutters

Mon, May 23rd, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

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LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME TWO COLUMN 1

For the last twelve years I've been writing a rumour and gossip column while some have insisted I'm the only investigative journalist in comics. A label I was happy to refuse, as I was more interested in providing a column for entertainment.

The birth of my first daughter, Eve, nine weeks ago, gave me the chance to take a sabbatical and consider something new.

So for the next six weeks, Lying In The Gutters will be run as an investigative journalism column. Just to see what the fuss is all about. Fewer but longer stories, much less nonsense, maybe a little more substance. And probably the cheeky grin of my former self sneaking through. After six weeks, you'll be given the opportunity to vote which version of the column you prefer to continue.

MOORE SLAMS V FOR VENDETTA MOVIE, PULLS LoEG FROM DC COMICS

[The League]Alan Moore, co-creator of the "V For Vendetta" comic, has publicly disassociated himself from the upcoming Warner Brothers movie project based on the comic book and written and produced by the Wachowski Brothers. And as a result, he has cut his remaining ties with DC Comics, including future volumes of the "League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

Moore has promised future "League" comics will be published by a US/UK collaboration between Top Shelf and Knockabout.

Extraordinary Adaptations

Alan Moore has written some of the most critically acclaimed comic books of the eighties, nineties and two thousands, across genres, countries and publishers. His early British work for Marvel UK, "2000AD" and "Warrior," led to DC Comics asking him to write a number of their titles, leading to the British invasion of US comics and at least two publisher imprints. He is regarded by many as the medium's greatest living creator, with titles such as "Watchmen," "V For Vendetta," "From Hell," "League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "Top Ten" and "Promethea" continually successful and remaining in print. However, while every publisher would like to work with him, many have found him unwilling. Moore has had a tendency to "punish" publishers for what he believes are personal betrayals or shoddy behaviour. And he refuses to change, even when circumstances do.

Moore's work has often been a source of inspiration for others, including Hollywood, and a number of directors credit him openly. So it was natural that his comic book work might be seized upon as the comic-book-film trend became more popular. But the kindest thing that can be said about the films "From Hell," "Constantine" and "League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is that they're not as good as the comics.

Alan's oft-repeated stance on this is that the original comics remain untouched. "As long as I could distance myself by not seeing them, enough to keep them separate, take the option money, I could be assured no one would confuse the two. This was probably nave on my part."

This has changed. Speaking to me on Friday, Moore added to this sentiment, telling me "after the films came out, I began to feel increasingly uneasy, I have a dwindling respect for cinema as it is currently expressed." This came to a head when Alan Moore was sued as part of a suit against 20th Century Fox for plagiarism of the screenplay "Cast Of Characters" which bore heavy resemblance to the movie version of "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" starring Sean Connery.

Alan On The "V For Vendetta" Movie

Alan gave some details about bits of the V For Vendetta shooting script he'd seen. "It was imbecilic; it had plot holes you couldn't have got away with in Whizzer And Chips in the nineteen sixties. Plot holes no one had noticed."

What Moore found most laughable however were the details. "They don't know what British people have for breakfast, they couldn't be bothered. 'Eggy in a basket' apparently. Now the US have 'eggs in a basket,' whish is fried bread with a fried egg in a hole in the middle. I guess they thought we must eat that as well, and thought 'eggy in a basket' was a quaint and Olde Worlde version. And they decided that the British postal service is called Fedco. They'll have thought something like, 'well, what's a British version of FedEx... how about FedCo? A friend of mine had to point out to them that the Fed, in FedEx comes from 'Federal Express.' America is a federal republic, Britain is not."

David Lloyd was reported to have commented on the script at the recent Bristol comics convention. Superherohype posted a fan report talking to Lloyd, saying "he thinks it was very good for an Action Thriller, but is very much different from the Graphic Novel. He said that the character of Evey is less of a victim in this film and that he had met with The Wachoski Brothers."

Alan's Previous Problems With DC

Alan, along with a number of creators such as Frank Miller, protested against DC's planned use of labelling comics to be age-specific, as well as the guidelines this would involve.

Co-creator Rick Veitch was dropped from "Swamp Thing" and his final issue abandoned as it featured Jesus Christ, publisher Jeanette Kahn going over editor Karen Berger's head. DC's given reason, that they don't feature real people, was instantly dismissed by many other examples.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons signed a deal with DC that "Watchmen" would revert to them after the comic book went out of print. He didn't know it would still be in print twenty years later. The evasion of royalties on the "Watchmen" Button Set by labelling them promotional items was the cherry on that one.

"League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" #5 was pulped and reprinted on Paul Levitz's authority when the use of a real Victorian advert for a Marvel Douche was considered beyond the pale.

"Despite the Cobweb" story in "Tomorrow Stories" referring to individuals and a particular story in print in another of DC's titles, Paul Levitz' refused to allow this story to be printed. Newsarama reported that this led to Alan Moore's withdrawal from the Watchmen 15th Anniversary hardcover.

In the end it seems to come down to Alan Moore finding it hard to work with a large corporate publisher with concerns other than the success and quality of a particular comic book.

Top Shelf And Knockabout?

Top Shelf have been publishing a wide variety of comic books and graphic novels of all genres over the last decade as Chris Staros' business has grown. Their most high profile project to date was "Blankets" by Craig Thompson and they've published Alan Moore's DC-rejected "Cobweb" story, "The Mirror Of Love" and distributed Moore's poetry and original "From Hell" artwork from Eddie Campbell.

Knockabout are a small UK comics publisher, a counterpart to the US' Rip Off Press. They are best known for their UK underground work, from the likes of Hunt Emerson and Gilbert Shelton. They've also published Alan Moore's work, most memorably for the "Outrageous Tales Of The Old Testament."

Alan Makes An Appearance

Alan Moore has been invited by Patti Smith to appear at the Meltdown festival for an evening of homage to William Burroughs on the 16th June, attended by Barry Adamson, Portishead, Tom Verlaine and Jason Spaceman. Moore will either read extracts of Burroughs, or a suitable work of his own composition.

What's Next For Alan?

"Jerusalem" is the new novel by Alan Moore, his follow up to the recently reprinted "Voice Of The Fire." "Voice" told stories set in Alan Moore's home town of Northampton, over 10,000 years. He mockingly told me, "I feel it was a little too cosmopolitan. So my next novel is set in just three or four blocks in Northampton, where I grew up. It's the most important historical area anywhere anyway."

He's started drawing the cover, something he hasn't done in a long time, and he's enjoying discovering it again.

Alan is also considering a new album with Tim Perkins, but something different to his previous spoken word creations.

Alan is one hundred pages into an unnamed graphic novel for Avatar - something he committed to when faced with a tax bill and an imminent cashflow problem over an unexpected reduction in royalty payments on another project. Avatar Publisher William Christensen fronted Moore the necessary funds, Moore took an agreed holiday (his first he can recall in twenty-five years) and is now well into the project.

Although in all his new works, he is insisting that his contract become null and void if the publisher is bought by another, to avoid a repeat of the Wildstorm and DC Comics situation.

The Irony Age Of Comics

One final thought. Alan finds a last little irony, after recently reading Gerard Jones's "Men of Tomorrow." Specifically the chapter when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster finally received their settlement payment from DC Comics at the time of the Superman movie, and got their credit on the film, as the summit of their fight for creative rights.

Alan's own fight for creative rights with DC has seen the exact opposite happen.

"The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen" was a series Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill created for Wildstorm, a comic studio and then part of the publisher Image Comics. The series takes the entirety of Victorian pulp fiction as a backdrop for new adventures for a team of very familiar characters. As part of his ABC line for Wildstorm, the comics continued even after DC Comics bought Wildstorm. Moore's history with DC Comics over creator ownership and corporate attitudes had seen him swear off working with them, so a "firewall" was built up so Moore could continue the line, but never have to deal with DC Comics. However, DC editorial occasionally interfered with published work, leading Alan Moore withdrawing cooperation from an anniversary reprint and CD of his iconic superhero work "Watchmen."

The "League" was very well received, critically and commercially. Moore had sold the movie options before the first issue had been solicited. But the lawsuit shocked him to the core. Moore seems amused by this now, though at the time he was not.

"They seemed to believe that the head of 20th Century Fox called me up and persuaded me to steal this screenplay, turning it into a comic book which they could then adapt back into a movie, to camouflage petty larceny." This led to Moore giving a ten-hour deposition - he believes he'd have suffered less if he'd "sodomised and murdered a busload of children after giving them heroin."

My own research into this story showed that there was some resemblance between the "Cast" and "League" screenplays - but mostly over aspects of the film that did not appear in the comic book, Quatermain as the lead hero, the appearance of Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray with Huckleberry Finn as the revealed villain amongst others. It's arguable that the case had merit, but not against Alan Moore. However, by 20th Century Fox settling the case, Moore felt this was almost an admission of his guilt.

Moore felt that enough was enough and decided that if something was worth reacting to, "it was worth overreacting to." He stated "I'd have nothing to do with films anymore. If I owned the sole copyright, like with 'Voice Of The Fire,' there would not be a film. Anything else, where others owned copyrights, I'd insist on taking my name off future films. All of the money due to me would go to the artists involved. I'd divorce myself from the film process, the film industry and any adaptations. And I felt a sense of moral satisfaction."

Moral satisfaction however doesn't always pay the bills. "When Karen Berger rang me up to give me money for the 'Constantine' movie, I asked her to take my name off the film and split the money with the artists. Most of it went to Rick Veitch, who although was the first to draw John Constantine yet wasn't receiving anything from the film.... The rest was split between John Totleben, Steve Bissette, Jamie Delano and John Ridgeway, divided so everyone ended up with the same amount in total.

"The same with the option money on 'V For Vendetta.' I think it was about eight grand. It went to David Lloyd. Now, I wasn't doing this because I could afford it, I was short of change actually, but I just wanted it done. Give it to Dave, take my name off the film."

"I'm Alan Moore And I Endorse This Message"

This decision has been a topic in a number of interviews with Alan Moore of late, notably the BBC Radio 4 Chain Reaction interview by Stewart Lee (transcript here).

What wasn't known until now is that earlier in the year, Alan Moore told DC, through Scott Dunbier, that if there was "any more meddling, any more pulping, any more problems" that he'd take his remaining DC project, "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen," away from DC.

Earlier in the year, Moore received a call from "V For Vendetta" writer/producer and "Matrix" director Larry Wachowski, but told him politely, "I didn't want anything to do with films and had no time this year, being in the middle of work, my day job, writing, I wasn't interested in Hollywood."

Shortly afterwards, Alan Moore was made aware of a press release sent out covering a press conference producer Joel Silver and the cast had held.

In this press release, Joel Silver, as well as announcing that the release date November the 5th 2005 was the 100th anniversary of Guy Fawkes attempt on Parliament, instead of the 400th anniversary, also said of Alan, "he was very excited about what Larry had to say and Larry sent the script, so we hope to see him sometime before we're in the UK. We'd just like him to know what we're doing and to be involved in what we're trying to do together"

Alan felt, basically, that his name was being used in vain. Not only had he expressed the opposite to Larry, but his endorsement was being used as a selling point for a movie - the reason he'd requested his credit and association be dropped from all of these movies.

Alan, through Wildstorm editor Scott Dunbier, instructed DC/Warner Brothers to issue a retraction against these "blatant lies - that's the phrase I'm groping for." He called Scott up and told him that he was "Nineteen pages away from finishing all my contracted work" for ABC/Wildstorm/DC Comics - three pages on the "League," sixteen on "Tom Strong."

Moore requested a retraction, a clarification and a modest apology, posted in a forum with a similar weight to the original press release. Moore says he'd have been happy with something along the lines of "Due to a misunderstanding, Alan Moore does not wish to be associated with the 'V For Vendetta' movie." Moore gave DC two weeks to rectify the matter as he saw it. I understand from DC sources that Paul Levitz tried personally to ellicit an apology from Joel Silver without joy and that at a corporate level, there was no possibility of issuing a corporate apology with such a similar weight as the original press release, though Silver's words were removed from the movie's Web site.

It wasn't enough. So after two weeks, Alan Moore did as he said. Moore's last remaining "League" for DC is all but completed and due this year.

A Change Of Scenario

This is "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Dark Dossier," a hardcover graphic novel coming from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill later this year from ABC/Wildstorm/DC Comics. Moore tells me this "will slip in between volumes two and three" of the "League." Moore described it to me as "not my best comic ever, not the best comic ever, but the best thing ever. Better than the Roman civilisation, penicillin..." The human brain? "Yes and the human nervous system. Better than creation. Better than the big bang. It's quite good."

He continues, "It will be nothing anyone expects, but everything everyone secretly wanted." It's unusual to hear such hyperbole from one more commonly associated with self-deprecation. It's nearing completion and Moore tells me he was in a recording studio last week, working on part of it. Yes, that intrigued me too, though Moore refused to be drawn past the tantalising glimpse he'd deliberately dropped.

Then after that, volume three of the "League" will be published by Top Shelf/Knockabout a year to eighteen months later, in a totally new format. And future volumes will continue from this publisher collaboration (see sidebar).

Alan told me that as a result of finally and permanently splitting from DC, he's has a general feeling of elation. He feels good about himself, as if a weight has been lifted. Earlier reports I'd had from the past two weeks were that his temper was high, but speaking to him found the same calm, serene gentlemen I'd met on and off over the last ten years.

And in this spirit of bonhomie, Alan Moore decided to propose to his longterm girlfriend and co-creator of Lost Girls, Melinda Gebbie. She accepted and they have announced their engagement.

CONCERN GROWS OVER CONTINUING COLLECTION ERRORS AT MARVEL

Last week readers of the new Powers trade paperback discovered the

last page of the "Wizard Edge" story was missing. The week before,

people who'd bought Wolverine: Enemy Of The State hardcover discovered

a page without any words.

Over the last few years it seems as if there have been a succession of

similar errors, including missing pages, dialogue, repeated dialogue

and corrupted dialogue in trade paperbacks and hardcovers. Some of the

more significant include X-Men: Dream's End, Daredevil HC 1, Fantastic

Four HC 1 and Wolverine: The Best There Is.

No replacement copies have been offerred or originals withdrawn.

However recently Marvel reprinted Captain Britain TPB with its famed

missing page reinstated, and Fantastic Four HC 1 with the dialogue

restored.

It seems strange to some that reprinting existing material isn't

easier; if the company got it right with the monthly comics, then

surely it should be easy to reproduce that for the collected books.

However life is never that simple. Pages do have to be realigned for

new formats, and in that process errors can and do occur as files are

changed, moved and, well, lost. It's catching them in time that's the

real trick. These errors have been blamed on an overworked trade

paperback department, one that some consider understaffed since

positions were retrenched a number of years ago to cut wasteful

working practices. However Joe Quesada told me "Youngquist works his

butt off on these trades and a few of the books you're talking about

had mistakes from years ago, incorrect and unfair to blame them on

Jeff's group. This added to the fact that DC has just as many mistakes

in their books, yet no one would dare to write something like this."

DC have had similar problems, but reports are at a smaller scale, and

generally on lower price-point items. DC have also shown more

willingness to replace error copies by withdrawing certain offending

titles and reprinting them, such as over the truncated afterword on

Batman: Tales Of The Demon by John Wells or on the Crisis hardcover.

Joe Quesada has repeatedly reported that DC do not need to be

profitable. This may be a reason why, when DC withdraw and reprint,

Marvel feels less willing or unable to. And on the high price-point

items where these errors seem to occur most, this makes issuing

reprints and withdrawing error copies even more costly for Marvel.

However this has echoes of the situation which led to a successful

class suit against Marvel by retailers over Marvel's unwillingness to

provide returns on late comics, as set out by Diamond's publisher

policy.

When an error has affected an entire print run, there are no corrected

replacement copies for the retailer to exchange. Retailers have to

sell the flawed copies or request a refund and sacrifice precious

sales, especially on high price-point items like the Marvel hardcover

columes. Copies returned by customers because of errors are then sold

back to other customers. And readers may feel they have to buy the

flawed volume, because they are doubtful a corrected version will ever

be printed and the existing version may go out of print. Waiting for

the trade is one thing, waiting for the trade's second print is even

more riskier.

However, Wolverine: Enemy Of The State writer Mark Millar jokingly had an

alternative take on his board "I like to see these Marvel misprints as a big fuck you to all

the lazy bastards who wait for the trade."

OTHER NEWS IN BRIEF

Simon Furman is returning to the IDW Transformers title as writer. However, the artist won't be a Dreamwave alumni, rather EJ Su, previously known for his Voltron work.

In mid April, Phyllis Hume was made redundant as DC's International Director, after working there licensing DC's characters and stories internationally for many number of years. This story was not covered by the comics press at the time.

Uri Gellar has admitted to buying up as many copies as he can of "Daredevil" #133 on eBay. It's the issue he appears in, fighting alongside Daredevil. There's no update on whether he's tried to bend any of the recent hardcovers…

SMALL PRINT

For other comic and non-comic book related nonsense, check out the Twistblog.

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Or call me on 0780 135082 from the UK or 01144780 1350982 from the US.

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