16 April 2012

THE WAY IT IS

"Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Segal (sic) and Shuster. Worse was a lot of people."

That's J. Michael Straczynski essentially telling not just Alan Moore, but any creative person who believes  he or she should be dealt with honestly and treated fairly, to just accept that the world isn't like that.

Comics journalist David Brothers has done a fine job of tearing that statement apart over here, but the thing that really bothers me about that particular quote is that it's emblematic of a growing mood, not just in comics, but in our overall culture that no matter what is going wrong, we should just accept it. That's just the way it is, so deal with it, because nothing's ever going to change.

Considering every great thing that every happened in the history of the world was the result of someone looking at the status quo and then deciding there was a better way, I'm afraid I have to call bullshit on anyone cowardly enough to peddle the justification that, "that's just the way it is."

And the whole reason Alan Moore continues to be aggravated by the Watchmen situation is because he and Dave Gibbons were more or less duped into believing DC was actually interested in changing the way things were, when the contracts for Watchmen were drawn up.

Alan and Dave were told they'd get the rights back when the books went out of print – something DC was very proud about at the time, because it was a ground-breaking move in favor of creator's rights at a time when it was becoming a hot button issue – and then when the book wound up being more successful than anyone ever imagined, DC decided they wanted to hang onto the rights and that letting the trade paperback collection go out of print was not in their best interest.

In other words, when it came down to choosing between proudly making a stand for creator's rights, or happily making a killing on the continued success of Watchmen, principles be damned, DC chose the latter.

In hindsight, yes, Alan and Dave should have taken greater care to close the particular loophole that allowed DC to pull that stunt, by insisting that DC only had the right to do a single printing of the Watchmen trade paperback, at a print run of their approval. The thing is, though, just as there was no precedent for the kind of creator-ownership deal being structured between Alan, Dave and DC, there was also no precedent for the huge wave of consumer demand Watchmen was quickly swept up in. The market for trade paperback collections of periodical comics in the 1980s was nothing like it is today, and there was absolutely no reason for Alan or Dave to believe Watchmen would take on the kind of life it ultimately did.

So they trusted DC to do the right thing, and sadly, that trust proved to be their undoing.

As maddening as that is, what's worse is the fact there are people willing to excuse DC's actions, past, present and I presume, future, because "that's just the way it is." After all, DC put one over on Siegel and Shuster – why is Alan Moore getting so huffy? Marvel couldn't be bothered to do right by Jack Kirby – why does Alan Moore think he should be treated differently?

Indeed, why should any writer or artist in this business think they should ever be treated any differently?

I'll tell you why.

Because this business isn't like it was in the 1930s anymore. Times have changed.

And it's not like it was in the 1960s anymore, either. Those days are over.

The 1970s are gone, too, and so are the '80s and the '90s and '00s – all gone forever, and thankfully so, because one of the reasons I work for a company founded entirely on the notion of creative ownership is because the hope exists that things can always be better than they were.

Just ask anyone who ever changed the world: "The way it is" is – and always has been – up to us.

If we, the people, want to sit back and accept things as they are, then that's exactly what we get. Whether we're talking comics or politics or what's for dinner, things are the way they are only as long as we're unwilling to challenge them.

There are two kinds of people, really: The kind that are happy to sit back and say, "Well, that's just the way it is, I don't know why you're getting so worked up about it," and the kind that won't rest until they've made sure that's not the way it is, and that it's never like that again.

I think you can figure out for yourself which kind we could use more of.