Forgotten Comics Wars

Or: How Angry Freelancers Made It Possible for A New Mainstream Comics Era (Including Vertigo) to Exist, Part 7


At this juncture, it’s important for a number of reasons that I dock my commentary for the most part — except to provide chronological context — and allow the creator of the moment in January 1987, Alan Moore, to speak for himself. (Alan has made it abundantly clear since 1996 that I’m not to speak to, for or about him, and there’s nothing to be gained by doing so.)

Thus, this post is comprised essentially of primary texts from the public record.

I’m fully documenting my sources, and anyone reading this can double-check them — and easily expand upon them. But I think this sums up the critical role Alan played in January 1987, and in all that followed.

[Left: Cover, Warrior #1, March 1982. FYI, Warrior ran for 26 issues, final issue cover dated January 1985; edited by Dez Skinn, published by his firm Quality Communications. Alan's key works Marvelman and V for Vendetta debuted in Warrior #1 and were serialized through most of the magazine's run; Marvelman ran for the last time in Warrior #21, to be continued with various artist colleborators via the US Eclipse Comics series Miracleman.]

* May 1983: Alan Moore enters the US comics industry.

I’ve recently found almost all of my files, notes and sketchbooks detailing the precise chronology of events concerning my collaborative work with Tom Yeates and Marty Pasko, Alan, John and Rick, and editors Len Wein and Karen Berger on Saga of the Swamp Thing. I can therefore state for a fact that the month after John and I finished work on our first collaborative issue with writer Marty PaskoSOTST #16 (delivered in April 1983) — was precisely when John and I got the phone calls from Len Wein telling us Alan Moore would be the new writer on the series.

My sketchbook chronology reads, “5/83 – Finish SOTST #17 — informed by Len that Marty‘s last issue as writer will be #19; Alan Moore (Warrior) will take over with #20!!!”

According to these notes, it was August 1983 when I finished (with Rick Veitch‘s help) SOTST #21 pencils — my first from XLNT Alan Moore script.” I’d finished pencils on SOTST #19 (Marty‘s final issue) in July 1983, and that means Dan Day and John Totleben were working from Alan’s script to SOTST #20 that month, too — so I’d guesstimate Alan‘s first SOTST script was likely delivered to Len in June 1983.

[Right: Cover by Tom Yeates for SOTST #20, Alan Moore's first issue.]

[Note to those that care: This supercedes the chronologies I proposed in earlier essays on SOTST; I will be going back into the Myrant posts to revise and correct all dates, now that these notes and files are in hand, in the coming months, and I will clearly label those corrections as corrections, and reference my sources for revisions. Thanks!]

This marks Alan’s active entry as a freelancer into the American comicbook industry, writing for DC Comics Inc.

* November/December 1983 (approx. date interview was likely conducted for the following): Alan Moore interview excerpt, from the Amazing Heroes #39 ’1984 Preview Issue’ entry for Saga of the Swamp Thing (Jan. 15, 1984, pg. 101):

Note: According to my sketchbook notes/chronology, John and I delivered work on Len Wein‘s final issue as editor, SOTST #24 (“Roots”) on February 1984, and our first job for new editor Karen Berger – the cover for SOTST #25, our first collaborative cover art — was delivered March 1984. Alan must have been working with Karen by very beginning of January, 1984, undoubtably subsequent to phone conversations with her and Len toward the end of 1983. By my personal experience, it was a very orderly, easy transition, perfectly managed by both Len and Karen.

* March/April 1984: The impact of (a) Alan‘s work with DC Comics, at then-better page rates, treatment and terms than British publishers offered, and (b) Alan‘s growing disenchantment with the British comic industry (Marvel UK and Dez Skinn and Warrior in particular) leads to the following announcements, clipped from The Comics Buyer’s Guide (March 30, 1984, pp. 1, 3 and April 13, 1984, pg. 3):

* Note: Warrior was cancelled with its January 1985 (cover date) issue, with two completed V for Vendetta episodes unpublished; thus, the Warrior chapter of Alan‘s history ended in late 1984.

FYI, while Eclipse Comics published color reprints of the Warrior ”Marvelman” installments under the new title Miracleman, and continued the series with Alan scripting for a procession of new artists (culminating in his excellent collaboration with John Totleben), in the interim several companies approached Moore and David Lloyd about reprinting the Warrior chapters of — and completing – V for Vendetta.

Alan and David settled on DC Comics, completing negotiations, signing the contracts and beginning work before the events of December 1986-January 1987. Good to his word, Alan completed his contracted work on the series, and DC Comics published the complete, colored V for Vendetta as a 10-issue series, 1988-89.

I mention and document all this to demonstrate how Alan had already effectively shown his determination and ability to walk away from a publisher if and when ill-treated or provoked.

At the time — 1984 — DC Comics could afford to perceive this as Britain’s loss and DC Comics‘s gain, but they should have been paying closer attention to the reality of those situations.

They didn’t.

All in all, Alan‘s courtship, romance and healthy working relationship with DC lasted about three years — an incredibly productive, fertile and profitable period for all concerned. But really, keeping perspective on history, Alan‘s healthy relations with DC lasted only a few months (less than a year) longer than his prior relations with Dez Skinn had (note the dates documented here for the beginning and end of Alan‘s good relations with DC). Alan continued to work with DC after the break in February 1987, completing contracted work, but the salad days were over.

Flashforward to:

* January/February 1987: The following letter was published as a ‘Guest Editorial’ in The Comics Buyer’s Guide for February 13, 1987.

I am posting the complete letter in its original manuscript form here, for archival purposes. (Note the underlined passage on the third page of my copy of the ms. is not Alan‘s underlining; I had underlined it back in 1987, preparing to quote Alan in my own guest editorial for TCBG.)

[Note: This letter was also reprinted complete in The Comics Journal #117, September 1987, pp. 35-36.]

Those of us who knew Alan at the time knew, too, that there was another reason for Alan‘s momentous decision to leave DC Comics. He’d chosen to depart on the public issue of DC‘s proposed ratings, however, rather than more privatized business reasons.

But to understand what followed, it’s vital you know the other reason Alan chose to depart from DC Comics.

Again, rather than offering what must be considered hearsay coming from me, or potentially break any confidences, I refer you to the public record — Alan‘s interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal #138, October 1990, pp. 68-69. ‘Mad Love’ was the name of Alan‘s own publishing company, then involved with having edited and published AARGH! (which I contributed and donated work to) and the initial issue(s) of Big Numbers, Alan‘s ironically titled, ill-fate collaboration with artist Bill Sienkiewicz:

There you have it — DC‘s “insinuation that they would not give our characters to other writers to exploit as long as we had a working relationship with DC” was the emotional breaking point from DC.

(FYI, I also recall at the time some hanky-panky with Watchmen unpaid merchandizing royalties — specifically, Watchmen watch sales claimed as ‘promotional’ items rather than merchandizing sales — being an issue, too, for Alan and Dave Gibbons, but as those were conversations we had in 1986-87 and I’ve no documentation in reach on that, I aks that you properly treat that as hearsay at this time.)

That same issue of The Comics Journal featured a lengthy article by Buddy Saunders entitled “Drawing the Line” (pp. 109-122), in which Buddy further pontificated on and documented what he considered a further moral decline in comicbook content, citing examples of Alan‘s own work along with Arkham Asylum, Wasteland, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Batman, Green Arrow, The Question, etc.

It is an essential read for anyone interested in this chapter of comics history, but I won’t be excerpting it here.

Suffice to say the article opened with the notorious double-page vista of London after the war between superheroes in Miracleman #15 — “A nightmare of grotesque violence” the caption read — conceived and brilliantly executed by Alan Moore and John Totleben (see pg. 118 of Buddy’s article for his comments; that spread is handily posted below, too). Buddy concluded, “Most comics fans already know how badly comics have declined both in story quality and moral direction. Many are getting fed up with pretentious stories that equate adult with evil and reduce long-established heroes to super-powered losers. Likewise, many retailers find themselves avoiding titles that are violent pornography, racist, or otherwise unsuitable. The current trends in comics, if it continues, may well result in an erosion of the only audience left to the comics industry — the fan audience.

An industry that behaves like a weed cannot expect to be treated like a flower. In the absence of responsible policies toward children, publishers and the entire industry will ultimately be held accountable, if not through legislative initiatives then through a withholding of public support. Should that occur, the comics medium’s potential to entertain a much broader audience and to establish itself as respected literature will be lost.” (Saunders, pg. 122).

But that was 1990 — Alan‘s clarifying statements about his other reasons for departing DC Comics, and Buddy Saunder‘s expansion of his argument for control and regulation of comicbook content.

Back in February 1987, in the wake of Alan‘s ‘Guest Editorial’ and the jointly-signed letter from Alan, Frank Miller, Marv Wolfman and Howard Chaykin, a few more shoes were about to drop…

Next: Shoes. Dropping.

All covers, artwork, text ©1986, 1987, 1990, 2010 their respective creators, publishers and/or copyright owners; Miracleman #15 art ©1990, 2010 John Totleben, and who the hell knows who otherwise owns anything connected with Miracleman at this point; all rights reserved to their respective owners. NOTE: All images are posted for archival and educational purposes only, under applicable US Fair Use laws.


Addendum: For those who care, I’ve just updated the original March 2009 6-chapter essay on the creation of the historic Saga of the Swamp Thing #20 (1983), Alan Moore‘s debut issue and his first-ever work for American comicbooks.

You can read the complete essay, with the corrections inserted and noted in Parts 1 and 2 now in place, here:

  • Here’s Part 1, with all the relevant date revisions carefully noted and sourced from my 1985 sketchbook chronology;
  • SpiderBaby Archives: Saga of the Swamp Thing #20, Pt. 2;
  • SpiderBaby Archives: Dissecting Saga of the Swamp Thing #20, Part 3;
  • SpiderBaby Archives: Dissecting Saga of the Swamp Thing 20, Part 4 (in which the author/artist digresses to provide essential background, and dissects elements of SOTST #16, 17, 18 and 19 en route);
  • SpiderBaby Archives: Dissecting Saga of the Swamp Thing #20, Part 5; and
  • SpiderBaby Archives: Dissecting Saga of the Swamp Thing #20: Part 6 (Final).
  • If you’re enjoying this current intensive essay on the DC Ratings Debacle, give my analysis of SOTST #20 a read — I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

    And consider purchasing a sketch or book from the SpiderBaby Store or the Comics Art Fans Gallery, linked above. I post all this material daily on Myrant for free — with no advertising or sponsors. Please help subsidize that ongoing commitment of my time and energy, and thank you.

    Discussion (9) ¬

    1. Sam Kujava

      I remember a late night phone call from you, Steve, the excitement in your voice ringing as you
      told me of a Swamp Thing script by an English writer that you knew was extraordinary. I was reviewing new comics for The Comic Reader at the time. I wondered if you were being a bit
      And then the copy of the script you sent me arrived in the mail. And it WAS amazing. I tried to do
      this new writer justice in my next column but how could I appreciate what his work would do for
      the Swamp Thing comic, DC, and the comic book and entertainment industry forever after?
      Wonderful heady times for all involved. What transpired later…unfortunate.

    2. Mike Loughlin

      This continues to be a fascinating series of articles. It’s amazing how little of the history of the comic book medium is public record. I’ve always heard that Moore quit DC over their refusal to publish Rick Veitch’s Jesus story. I had no idea he’d have quit regardless. Moore’s common sense and integrity are always impressive.

      Funny that I agree with Buddy in one sense- the over-reliance on sex and extreme violence has not been good for mainstream super-hero comics- yet find his ideas completely wrong. Your average super-hero comic should be accessible to children. You can do this without overloading on pseudo-mature elements, but still make them entertaining for older readers (e.g. the better Claremont & Co. X-Men; Peter David & Co. Hulk; Astro City; Englehart, Brunner, & Colan Dr. Strange) The idea that creative restrictions of a similar type should be placed on writers and artists working on any other type of comic (including adult super-hero stories) is ridiculous.

      I don’t have any interest in Kick Ass or Tarot, but why should I care if they get published? I know enough to make sure my on kids don’t buy a copy (or, I can do damage control if they sneak one). I know enough to keep my copies of Scalped, Love & Rockets, etc. out of my children’s hands. It’s unfortunate that other people can’t grasp that.

    3. Rob Imes

      Part of the problem, I think, was that there was (and is) a gray area about use of mature themes in traditional children’s comics. Of course comics as a whole were viewed as strictly children’s reading material by many people back then (mostly outside of the comics scene), so the existence of ANY mature comics would have been seen as upsetting and harmful. But a character like Batman (as I think Moore may have noted in his interview in TCJ #118, or maybe Miller noted it) has historically been used both ways, as a children’s character as well as a more mature character. In fact, when I was given a copy of the hardcover “Batman from the 30s to the 70s” book in 1978, at age 7, I was a bit *scared* of the creepy 1970s Neal Adams era represented in the book!

      In a DVD I sent Steve yesterday, there’s a bunch of clips I taped off TV back in 1989, and one of them is Siskel and Ebert’s review of the 1989 Tim Burton “Batman” movie where both say that the movie is “not for children.” Yet at the same time, the film was being heavily marketed to children (and everyone else) via merchandise, etc. The same was true recently with the Heath Ledger movie, where apparently you could get Heath Ledger “Joker” figures at places like Burger King, etc. By aiming at all age demographics, they are trying to maximize their profits, even when it may not be appropriate for all ages. So, I do think it’s understandable that some parents who don’t want their kids exposed to such material may feel like they are “under assault” from the media — they (and all of us) are!

    4. fhionn

      Alan Moore is brilliant and I understand he has been screwed over many, many times by the corps. I admire the hell out the man! Just my personal opinion as a basically know nothing about the genre nobody. Also, much to the dismay of my lover, and rather shocking coming from Ms. Bradey Girl,Me – Alan is someone I wouldn’t kick out of bed for that matter either!
      Well, as ever I think I’ve said too much – briliant stuff as ever, Steve!
      Fhi xo

    5. James Robert Smith

      Buddy Saunders always particularly sickened me because his own reaction to dangerous visions in comic books were from his fear of people who had the same political thought and ideas that stew in his own brain.

    6. Josh Hammonds

      Does anyone have a link to the “Drawing the Line” article by Buddy Saunders. Can’t find it on a Google search and it sounds like a fascinating read.

    7. srbissette

      Josh, I wish I could say otherwise, but what initiated my posting this essay is that NONE of this material was online, anywhere. There was also a great deal of misinformation, when I found any information at all, about what went down in the mid-1980s. That’s what prompted my undertaking this massive venture in the first place, including the time-consuming scanning and posting of relevant documents, letters and article excerpts.

      Your best shot is to track down and order a copy of the back issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL #138 — which will, in the end, cost you and I less than trying to scan or transcribe Buddy’s article for online reading.

    8. srbissette

      Josh: While you’re at it, note that Gary Groth interviewed Buddy Saunders in TCJ #116, too — pp. 29-34 — which also featured reproduction of the complete four-page “Age Appropriate Policy” form used in the Lone Star Comics shops.

      I chose not to include all that material in this essay, as Buddy’s initial letter in TCBG really summed up his position sufficently for my needs (providing a clear historical context for what followed, and allowing Buddy’s own words to characterize his role in the controversy).

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