For many people who love comic books, Alan Moore is considered one of the greatest and most influential writers in the history of the industry. V For Vendetta, From Hell, Batman: The Killing Joke, Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow, Miracleman (which was originally called Marvelman, but the title had to be changed for obvious legal reasons), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Top 10, Tom Strong, and his run on Swamp Thing which convinced DC Comics to keep him in their ranks and giving him the green light on what is considered to be his greatest accomplishment: Watchmen.
A 12-part comic book series that was written by Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, and colored by John Higgins, Watchmen forever changed how comic books were made when it was published by DC Comics in 1986. It also changed many people’s perspectives on how comic books were seen as an art form. It was praised by nearly every critic who read it and won numerous awards, including the Eisner award for Best Writer, the Eagle Award for Favourite Writer and Favourite Comic Book, and the Hugo Award for Other Forms.
Moore’s relationship with DC Comics began to dissolve and become increasingly antagonistic towards the end of the 1980s when he realized that he wouldn’t be given the rights to Watchmen once the graphic novel went out of print, which was expected since trade paperbacks were not as popular and frequently published then as they are now. But when Watchmen became a nationwide bestseller, the likelihood of DC allowing it to go out of print became nonexistent. It’s one of the many reasons Moore has cursed DC Comics and its very existence ever since.
Despite the many hiccups that prevented many other writers and directors from making it a reality over the years, Watchmen has been adapted twice. The first adaptation was directed by Zack Snyder (who was just coming off of the monumental success of his previous film, 300), and was released in theaters in March of 2009. When I wrote about Snyder’s version of Watchmen for its tenth anniversary in 2019, I also discussed Moore’s reaction to his masterwork being made into a blockbuster film, and how it really wasn’t that positive…because he had no intention whatsoever of seeing it.
“I would rather not know [about the movie],” said Moore. “[Zack Snyder] may very well be [a very nice guy], but the thing is that he’s also the person who made 300. I’ve not seen any recent comic book films, but I didn’t particularly like the book 300. I had a lot of problems with it, and everything I heard or saw about the film tended to increase [those problems] rather than reduce them: that it was racist, it was homophobic, and above all it was sublimely stupid. I know that that’s not what people going in to see a film like 300 are thinking about but … I wasn’t impressed with that … I talked to Terry Gilliam in the ’80s, and he asked me how I would make Watchmen into a film. I said, “Well actually, Terry, if anybody asked me, I would have said, ‘I wouldn’t.”’ And I think that Terry [who aborted his attempted adaptation of the book] eventually came to agree with me. There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t.”
The second time Watchmen was adapted was in October of 2019 when it aired as a nine-episode limited series on HBO developed by Lost co-creator/executive producer Damon Lindelof. It received glowing reviews from critics, won eleven Emmys (including two for Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and brought the Black Wall Street massacre of 1921 to the attention of thousands of viewers, who were unaware of this historical moment and soon proceeded to read and learn all about it. Before it premiered, Lindelof published a letter on Instagram addressed to Moore and to Watchmen fans everywhere about his reasons and intentions behind adapting it for television, while also stating that he did reach out to Moore with the hope that he would get his blessing, and also let him know that he wouldn’t do anything to disrespect his work and what he had done with it. Lindelof never confirmed what Moore’s response was, or if he even responded to him, and simply stated that anything Moore had to say or not say about the matter was private, and would remain between the two of them.
And yet, judging from Alan Moore’s recent interview with GQ magazine, the feeling wasn’t entirely mutual, as he made his contempt for both Lindelof and the HBO version of Watchmen very clear.
GQ: I assume you still haven’t seen any of the adaptations of your work.
Alan Moore: I would be the last person to want to sit through any adaptations of my work. From what I’ve heard of them, it would be enormously punishing. It would be torturous, and for no very good reason. There was an incident—probably a concluding incident, for me. I received a bulky parcel, through Federal Express, that arrived here in my sedate little living room. It turned out to contain a powder blue barbecue apron with a hydrogen symbol on the front.
And a frank letter from the showrunner of the Watchmen television adaptation, which I hadn’t heard was a thing at that point. But the letter, I think it opened with, “Dear Mr. Moore, I am one of the bastards currently destroying Watchmen.” That wasn’t the best opener. It went on through a lot of, what seemed to me to be, neurotic rambling. “Can you at least tell us how to pronounce ‘Ozymandias’?” [Another of the vigilante characters in Watchmen.] I got back with a very abrupt and probably hostile reply telling him that I’d thought that Warner Brothers were aware that they, nor any of their employees, shouldn’t contact me again for any reason. I explained that I had disowned the work in question, and partly that was because the film industry and the comics industry seemed to have created things that had nothing to do with my work, but which would be associated with it in the public mind. I said, “Look, this is embarrassing to me. I don’t want anything to do with you or your show. Please don’t bother me again.”
When I saw the television industry awards that the Watchmen television show had apparently won, I thought, “Oh, god, perhaps a large part of the public, this is what they think Watchmen was?” They think that it was a dark, gritty, dystopian superhero franchise that was something to do with white supremacism. Did they not understand Watchmen? Watchmen was nearly 40 years ago and was relatively simple in comparison with a lot of my later work. What are the chances that they broadly understood anything since? This tends to make me feel less than fond of those works. They mean a bit less in my heart.
As expected, most people on social media were not pleased when they became aware of Moore saying this about Lindelof and about his version of Watchmen in his interview. And as expected, Moore also got the same responses he usually gets whenever he’s quoted about how he’s lost his enthusiasm for superhero comics, and for the movies that have been bringing those comics to life on the big screen. (Just recently, he was interviewed by The Guardian and expressed his belief that “…it had serious and worrying implications for the future if millions of adults were queueing up to see Batman movies. Because that kind of infantilization - that urge towards simpler times, simpler realities - that can very often be a precursor to fascism.”) About how Moore has gotten old, and is just a grumpy hater who is looking down on superheroes and talking sh-t about them, and about the people who read and write superhero comics, even though writing comic books is how he achieved fame and fortune. About how he’s a hypocrite for not wanting others to adapt his work and use it to tell other stories, when he himself used other people’s creations for his own comics, specifically Watchmen’s usage of Charlton Comics characters as inspiration for that book’s characters and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen using literary characters in the public domain. (Which was something that even Lindelof touched upon in his letter) About how he is judging other people’s work that he hasn’t even seen or read, and has no right to do so. About how his own work in comics was never that great to begin with, and how he’s just mad that younger comic-book writers have surpassed him and left him in the dust. Some examples of this from Twitter:
“I’m embarrassed for him if Alan Moore can’t appreciate what a clever, well-crafted and executed story the Watchmen miniseries is and how it added depth and breadth to his work. What a small, small-minded man.”
“Alan Moore is a brilliant writer, and I’m not saying he doesn’t have legit grievances. But lord, every time he opens his mouth now in an interview, he sounds like such a smug, joyless prick. He’s so far up his own ass. Give me Grant Morrison any day of the week instead.”
“Alan Moore is one of those Mainstream talents that are too caught up in their politics. His recent take on Superhero Comics about how they promote Fascism is a perfect example of that. He’s just as bad as the right wing extremists and fundamentalists that Sex in Comics is bad.”
“Alan Moore’s only remaining relevance seems to be shitting on adaptations of his old work without having ever seen them.”
Then there are those who still like and respect Alan Moore and his work, and who strongly believe that he has every right to talk sh-t about Watchmen being adapted for film and television, no matter who is calling the shots, and about how much worse the comic book industry has become in recent years. They also agree with him when he describes how that industry continues to profit off of his work and his ideas instead of doing their own thing with their own ideas, and how he compares them to “raccoons…going through his trashcan…in the dead of night.” And about how both creators and fans are guilty of refusing to embrace newer stories and ideas, and instead running back to older and more familiar ones as they continue to milk them for every last drop. And who believe that he has earned the right to be angry and bitter about the industry as a whole after it repeatedly chewed him up, spit him out, and made it nearly impossible to love making comics as much as he used to. Below are some more examples from Twitter:
“don’t know why everyone keeps trying to frame Alan Moore as some hostile asshole, in an industry that chewed him up, spit him out, and keeps explicitly trying to milk his work
i enjoyed [HBO’s] Watchmen, but I totally get why he doesn’t. what’s the big deal?”
“Maybe it’s just me but wouldn’t it be cool if we just left Alan Moore alone like he’s asked people to do for the last 30 years. Whether you like his work or not. He’s been very upfront about not wanting anything to do with adaptions of his work forever. Can we just be cool. Ignoring the wishes of creators we supposedly admire is so gross. Same shit with Bill Watterson and [Steve] Ditko when he was still around. I hate to be this blunt but creators don’t owe you anything nor are you entitled to anything as a fan or someone adapting their work. I get wanting to get the blessings of a creator but leave the dude alone.”
“Why do we see these kinds of articles about Alan Moore over and over? When has he ever been okay with adaptations? Never. I feel like we read a Prepare To Be Shocked article about him every other month when NOTHING has changed and nothing WILL. WE KNOW!! Time to move on. The return to Moore again and again is just…weird. Moore is gonna Moore. We know and we’ve always known. Let it go.”
“Comic fans being mad at Alan Moore for not liking the industry that took advantage of him will always make me roll my eyes.”
“People will say that Alan Moore is wrong about superheroes facilitating fascism, in a society where people regularly get beaten to death by cops with Punisher tattoos.”
“1. stop asking alan moore about fucking comic books 2. stop being surprised by how he answers when you do.”
To those who have any doubts about what Moore has said about certain writers at DC Comics still profiting off of Watchmen and using his ideas and creations in their own stories? Well, Twitter also provided some visual aids from the newest issue of Flashpoint Beyond, a comic-book series written by Geoff Johns (yes, that Geoff Johns), Jeremy Adams, and Tim Sheridan, and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, Xermánico, and Mikel Janín.
Everything Alan Moore said about Geoff Johns being a raccoon was, somehow, too polite pic.twitter.com/ybkIiroAwB— Asher HELL-bein (@asher_elbein) October 18, 2022
(If that isn’t enough to convince you, need I remind you of Watchmen Babies in V For Vacation? And how Moore was really unhappy about that DVD being allowed to see the light of day?)
One of Alan Moore’s biggest defenders against people on the Internet who regularly accuse him of being angry and hostile, and hating comics for no reason? His daughter, Leah, as evidenced by this Twitter thread she posted in 2019.
He has also clearly never watched any of the rather enjoyable comics based movies, or experienced any of the joy, support or inspiration they bring to millions of people. He hasnt sat next to a ten year old girl watching Captain Marvel or Wonderwoman for the first time.— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
Loved them so much he tried to make them into something that provoked thought and feelings, that addressed issues, that spoke to people the way superheroes had always spoken to him. That seems crazy to me. I have his collection of Marvel comics, dogeared from reading, from love.— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
It was that love that made him who he was! In the 80s he brought ecology and politics into his superhero comics, in the 90s he wrote 1963 which was a glowing fizzing love letter directly to his beloved superhero comics, he wrote that at the same time as From Hell, Lost Girls…— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
His problem was that the medium he adored was ruled by corrupt despots, that the people who made that magic were abused, that their contribution was not valued, that it was stolen from them. He already hated that before Watchmen. He already knew Kirby had been shafted.— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
He fulfilled his obligations to his fellow creators, he did the projects he could control and own, but he didnt want to browse comic shelves anymore. Thats so fucking sad it actually breaks my heart.— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
To see him dismissed as Crazy Old Alan Moore again and again, and people not know what made him that way? To see people dissing him when their job, their industry their medium was partly built on 40 years of his hard work? I am not heartbroken, just really fucking disappointed.— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
Can you imagine if he hadnt been fucked over? If instead of being Grumpy Alan Moore Shouting From His Cave he had spent the past 40 years putting out book after book for DC and the rest? Creating vast worlds full of the superheroes he loves? Enjoying comics? Its a damn shame.— Leah Moore (@leahmoore) November 21, 2019
In spite of all of this, I’m not writing this to say that Alan Moore is completely deserving of deification. When it comes to discussing film and television adaptations of his work, specifically Watchmen, he isn’t obligated to answer the same, predictable questions from reporters who want the same clickbait from him that they still want from Martin Scorsese when it comes to his opinions about comic book movies made by Marvel or by any other studio. His past work and its treatment of women, such as Barbara Gordon’s paralysis and sexual assault at the hands of The Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke, and the very existence of Lost Girls, have caused some of Moore’s fans to lose interest in his work altogether and view both it and him as utterly misogynist, and not deserving of anything resembling praise. There was honestly no reason to be as cruel and hostile as he was when talking to GQ about how he was approached by Damon Lindelof, no matter how much he may view him as another Hollywood suit with no respect for him or his work.
If he chose to not read what Lindelof sent to him, or to not watch the Watchmen limited series himself, and if his feelings about Hollywood adapting his work haven’t changed at all since the last time he has spoken about them? A simple “No comment” or “Next question, please” would easily get the message across. (No matter how you feel about Damon Lindelof and his work, he has dealt with enough abuse and harassment on the Internet, much of which was encouraged by film critic/Pajiba archnemesis/person who has no f-cking business whatsoever talking sh-t and being judgmental about anyone Devin Faraci, and what he doesn’t need or deserve is Moore using his own interview to throw some more fuel on that fire.) It would spare Moore from having to sing the same old song and everyone else from having to hear it and accuse him of being a piano that now plays only one note.
As much as I love Watchmen the graphic novel and will forever appreciate it for how it helped to reignite my love of comics, I don’t entirely agree with Moore about the HBO miniseries that he admittedly hasn’t seen. I loved how Lindelof and his writers told an excellent story from beginning to end that complimented the source material and refused to disrespect it while also marching to the beat of its own drum. Much like Snyder’s film version, it did the impossible and respectfully brought Moore and Gibbons’ tale from page to screen, and showed viewers in its own unique way why Watchmen is a story that is, was, and always will be deserving of our attention.
There are so many other questions to ask Alan Moore when it comes to his past and present work, and his life overall. The last thing that he, or his fans, deserve is for him to once again be looked at and treated like he’s nothing more than just some old man yelling at a cloud.