Monday, May 9, 2022

The Secrets of Dumbalmoore: Fantastic Bleats and Where to Find Them

This text began as a Facebook reply to Stephen Bissette, who was commenting on a link to Mikey Crotty's video, and somehow turned into yet another long-winded and self-serving blog post, rehashing the same tired, stale tropes as I've done elsewhere, on my insignificant collaboration with Alan Moore. Enjoy!

Let me be clear. As far as being a “victim” of Alan Moore and his toxic Amen Corner, I’m small potatoes. I drew a thirteen-page story, “In Pictopia,” with the assistance of Mike Kazaleh and Pete Poplaski, with brilliant coloring by Eric Vincent, which in my view really brought the thing to life, and I was lucky enough to play a small part as letterer and inker of some of 1963. I met Alan once and we spoke on the phone once. “IP,” an IP the ownership of which is shared by Alan and myself, has garnered accolades, and some consider it the best concentrated short story in Alan’s expansive oeuvre. I’m proud of that; I always have been and continue to be.
        Being de facto “curator” of this story since Fantagraphics originally published it in 1987, in Anything Goes #2 and subsequently The Best Comics of the Decade, Volume One in 1990, however, has been an almost thankless task. The 2005 TwoMorrows anthology The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, edited by George Khoury, features a horribly digitally-recolored version of “In Pictopia,” based on scans of the original line art, that was neither consented to nor approved me; I would never have agreed to anything other than a black-and-white or color reproduction of the story using Eric’s original colors. That version is purplish and overpainted and completely disgusting (although I still have a comp copy or two of that volume for sale only at shows).
        The 2015 Critical Comics anthology Brighter Than You Think is just as bad and perhaps even worse, albeit in a different way: it was carelessly scanned from a printed copy of Anything Goes #2, but while in color, is so dark and muddy as to be virtually illegible. It doesn’t do just to Eric’s colors or Alan’s story.
        Apparently, both of these versions were approved by Alan Moore and that’s all that mattered, as far as the editors and publishers were concerned; that I was verbally and/or contractually promised a black and white or objectively “quality” reprinting of the story, in accordance to my stickler dictates, is completely immaterial.
        Which is precisely the point. When dealing with Alan Moore and his Amen Corner, the wishes of his artist-collaborators are simply irrelevant. Collaborators can be lied to and their petty stipulations about quality ignored. What do they know? They just happened to have worked with the guy.
        I should mention that in my case, Alan generously forewent any royalties so that the artist could divvy up a bigger pot; but even this became condescending, considering it was (a) peanuts, and (b) the story—which some consider a masterpiece—was getting screwed over in the process.
        For the record, as far as this artist is concerned, the only proper printings of “In Pictopia” are the two Fantagraphics publications mentioned above (Anything Goes #2 and The Best Comics of the Decade, Volume One) and the most recent edition, Fantagraphics Underground’s In Pictopia (2021). The latter, although somewhat more color-saturated than the original analog printings, I consider definitive, and just gorgeous.

Logo and cover design by Keeli McCarthy for the 2021 Fantagraphics Underground edition.

        Which brings us to that name-withheld edition. When Gary Groth offered to reprint the story, I sought Alan’s cooperation (as I explain in the edition’s text piece, direct communication with Alan Moore in recent decades is impossible; as a collaborator and fellow IP owner with Alan, one must go through the indignity and humiliation of third parties with utterly inane email handles). When Alan’s response came back, that he was fine with a reprint but wanted his name removed—and when he finally offered his reasons for such a request—I was astonished and insulted.
        Gary and I brainstormed various ways around it—crediting the story to “Byron Starkwinter,” for example, a satirical caricature of Steve Gerber from an unproduced plot synopsis Alan Moore pitched for Anything Goes that, among other things, establishes that Alan was keenly aware of the creator rights struggles of the 1970s (Gerber and Howard the Duck were a cause célèbre in comics, second only to the plight of Siegel and Shuster and Superman, an awareness of both of which among creators of my generation largely fueled the alternative comics explosion of the 1980s).
     Alan’s reply to the Byron Starkwinter byline suggestion was that he preferred to be credited as a “content provider,” which of course confused me. Did Alan want his name attached to the story or not?
        When he finally offered his reasons for wanting his name removed—to avenge himself on Fantagraphics, The Comics Journal, and something Stephen Bissette said about 1963 in a transcript of an interview he ran by Alan for Alan’s approval—I knew I was an innocent bystander in bigger, Apocalyptic War between Good and Evil—the War Between Alan Moore and his own “Byron Starkwinter” Comic Book Fame.
        (In “Convention Tension,” the aforementioned plot synopsis, Byron Starkwinter is the creator of Mookie the Worm, who, according to Alan’s description, becomes the object of cult worship by comic book fans to the point of Byron’s own nervous breakdown and hallucinogenic unhinging—Alan’s self-fulfilling prophecy, methinks.)

Link: Why In Pictopia Has No Author—Alan’s reply to me

        In any case, I hope Steve feels duly punished by Alan taking his name off of my story—I hope it hurts, Steve; I hope it really, really hurts. Shame on you. Serves you right.
        Needless to say, that someone of Alan Moore’s stature is capable of holding such petty grudges decades later, and is willing to inflict such undeserved collateral damage on anybody and anything that stands in the way of him destroying his own legacy—well, we’re dealing with tragedy on the order of King Lear, comparable only to what J.K. Rowling is doing to her own fandom. British authors and fame …
        As the last holdout in the steel mill in Mariupol, having gone public with my story—I agreed to Alan’s request to taking his name off the story, at least the outside of the book and the publicity for it, with consequent and predictable lower sales (as if one needed proof that “Alan Moore” is a big name) but also left it to Gary to proceed with the project (he apparently did)—I’ve gotten the predictable response from Alan’s Amen Corner.
        On Reddit, the most memorable argument ran: (a) Alan has never mistreated his collaborators; (b) if he did, they richly deserved it; (c) Alan’s collaborators never created anything as important on their own (the “Miles Davis” argument levied by some snarky jazz critics against former Miles collaborators John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, etc.); (d) that Don Simpson, in particular, has never created anything worth shit; and (e) that Don Simpson, in particular, never deserved to collaborate with Alan Moore in 1987 anyway, since his subsequent career has never inspired the kind of cultish “Byron Starkwinter”-level of fanaticism, toxic enabling, and sycophantic adulation of Alan Moore.
        Any and all of which may be true. Take your pick.
       (Again, what do I know? The Amen Corner has read stacks of Alan Moore comics; I just happened to have worked with the guy.)
        I personally have learned much from the work of Alan Moore, and from “In Pictopia” and 1963 in particular; all of us who collaborated with Alan have. I feel safe in speaking for all of Alan’s collaborators in saying that our fondness for the man and our continued admiration for the work is beside the point. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m glad my co-ownership of Alan Moore IP is no more than thirteen pages. I think any fan of comics or imaginative fiction will agree that that is quite an astonishing and regrettable thing to have to say.

(Hint: As for the admittedly strained and ukind pun in the title, you can find a great many of Al’s fantastic and nonsensical bleats debunked in Mikey’s YouTube video, above.)

Link: My 1963: WhenElse?! Annual

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  1. Don- as an avowed Moore fan, let me assure you that there are those of us who don't have blinders on... particularly after that video. Your treatment was shameful and ignorant on Moore's part. Davis and Bissette got it much worse. I still think Moore is a good writer, but he's clearly a dishonest charlatan who has no concern for those who depicted his words into actual comics stories. I'll never look at him in the same way again, much less ever purchase his future work.

  2. Steve Bissette still reads everything Alan Moore puts out; he separates the person from the work. I have a copy of Jerusalem somewhere and I have learned a great deal from his work (which has reflected back on Ms. Megaton Man. It just appalls me that The Guardian views him as pioneer of creators' rights. Creators have responsibilities, too; they should honor their agreements. And Alan should finish 1963! :)