A lot of interesting comments here.
David Loftus: "And I thought comic creators getting screwed by publishers went out with Superman . . . or the Sixties, at least."
The screwing of creators by publishers has been hale and hearty since the 30s, through the 60s, and all the way up to today, and doesn't show many signs of stopping any time soon.
Steve Barber: "The concept of the graphic novel was only in its infancy when Watchmen changed the game. Previous to this series, virtually all multi-issue story arcs -- both within larger books as well as stand-alones -- began and concluded, and were never collected into a single issue (the "novel" format)."
My main problem with this paragraph is mostly one of terminology. If one defines "graphic novel" as a comic executed and published as a standalone novel -- in my view, its technically correct definition -- then the "concept" of the format was most certainly not in any sort of "infancy" in 1985. Artists like Jack Jaxon, Gil Kane, Will Eisner and Jack Katz had experimented with and refined the graphic novel format long before WATCHMEN. And Marvel and DC had been reprinting comics in book form since at least the mid-70s, mostly chronological collections.
What we're talking about here I think is format (novel) versus packaging (trade paperback collection). What was in its infancy in 1985 was not graphic novels but the Direct Market, which could support not only specialized, slick-format comics like WATCHMEN (and DARK KNIGHT, and RONIN) , but also pricey book collections of same. Back then these books were seen as ancillary products to the soft pamphlet comics, whereas today they are the main deal. ("I'll wait for the trade" is a common refrain among modern comics readers.)
Like everyone else, I am unsure of Alan Moore's legal status re: WATCHMEN (and let's not forget the incredible work of Dave Gibbons on that series, which from the looks of the film appears to be suriving more intact than Moore's script). However, I do know that the series as conceived by Moore would have featured defunct MLJ/Mighty Comics characters like the Shield and the Fly, the copyrights to which had been secured by DC. It was Dick Giordano who suggested to Moore that he create original characters who could be killed off or altered safely, rather than copyrighted characters that DC might still make money from. So it's not as though Moore proceeded from a sense of creative ownership on the project in the first place -- like Frank Miller, he was fascinated with messing around in DC's toybox and I don't think it occurred to him in a million years that WATCHMEN would make a dime past its miniseries existence. He was, in other words, working quite contentedly for a time in the world of work-for-hire, until even he (David Loftus take note) was screwed over by DC.
robochrist: "If memory serves, comics artists and writers were still by-and-large being shafted by the big contracts.
This was even before Todd McFarlane started his own independent Image company. I THINK."
Image was started by McFarlane, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, and a few other guys whose names escape me at the moment. They were all (except Valentino) popular Marvel comics artists who demanded more money and creative control over their work and when they didn't get it decided to go off and form their own company. Thus were the creative rights of artists secured -- that is, as long as the artists in question were McFarlane, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, and a few other guys whose names escape me at the moment. In other words, they left Marvel to start their own Marvel, and while it made them rich and famous it certainly did little to further the cause of artistic freedom in general, and in fact in many cases allowed them to be big-contract shafter types themselves. Look no further for proof than Neil Gaiman's legendary lawsuit against McFarlane over Miracleman and a character Gaiman created for McFarlane's SPAWN comic.
This has been another edition of "John E's Know-It-All Corner".