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SYFY WIRE Watchmen

Alan Moore on why he's 'less than fond' of 'Watchmen' now - and still doesn't watch adaptations

It's been almost 40 years since Watchmen, and its writer has long since left it behind.

By Matthew Jackson
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Watchmen

Alan Moore famously doesn't care for adaptations of his work, which includes comics classics like From HellV for Vendetta, and of course the legendary deconstructionist superhero masterpiece, Watchmen. The writer, who changed the comics industry forever when he broke through in the 1980s, has never been shy about discussing his distaste for screen translations of his books, but in a new interview, Moore went further, explaining that over time, he's actually lost some of his own attachment to the work in question, because of the ways in which it grew beyond him. 

In a new interview with GQ promoting his short story collection Illuminations, Moore explained what he describes as a "concluding incident" in his understanding of how Hollywood treats his work. It came in the form of a delivery from Watchmen showrunner Damon Lindelof, who remixed elements of the comic by Moore and artist Dave Gibbons for an acclaimed and Emmy-winning HBO miniseries in 2019. In approaching Moore, Lindelof seemed to be attempting to be good-humored about the author's own distaste for adaptations, but it didn't go well. 

"I received a bulky parcel, through Federal Express, that arrived here in my sedate little living room," Moore recalled. "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."

In an open letter to fans of Watchmen back in 2018, Lindelof confirmed that he did indeed write to Moore as he began to work on the HBO project, because he believed he "owed him an explanation as to why I'm defying his wishes." Moore's larger troubles with adaptations, and with the comics publishing industry in general, began back in the 1980s when DC Comics began reprinting Watchmen as a bestselling graphic novel, skirting a promise the publisher made to the author that the rights to the characters would revert back to their creators when the book went out of print. Since Watchmen has, of course, never gone out of print, DC has never made good on that promise to Moore, leading Moore to cut ties with the company and essentially disown Watchmen for decades. 

In response to the letter, and the powder blue apron, Moore was straightforward and blunt. 

"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," Moore said. "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.'"

Moore's work in comics, and particularly the work he produced in the 1980s, has been enormously popular and influential for more than three decades now, even beyond the various live-action adaptations of his books. He still ranks among the greatest creators ever to work within the superhero genre, and he seems aware that it's his superhero work for which he'll be best remembered, no matter what other creative endeavors he's launched in his long writing life. Still, for Moore, it's important to note that he's left all that behind, because, according to the author, "it's just too painful," both artistically and commercially. 

"You can’t separate them from each other," Moore said. "Artistically, it’s painful because of the immense amount of work—and I hope, vision—that I put into those early works. I was trying as best I could to remake the comics industry and to a certain, lesser extent, the comics medium, into the thing that I wanted it to be. I was introducing the ideas that I thought might be beneficial to the medium and take it into new areas. Artistically, to have those works taken away from me and perhaps largely misunderstood?

"It seemed to me that what people were taking away from works like Watchmen or V For Vendetta wasn’t the storytelling techniques, which to me seemed to be the most important part of it. It was instead this greater leeway with violence and with sexual references."

Illuminations is on sale now.

Looking for more high-concept sci-fi stories? Check out SYFY's Battlestar Galactica, streaming now on Peacock.