Sunday 27 September 2009

The comments of James Robinson regarding Alan Moore posted last week by somebody who enjoys fanning the flames of enmity, got stuck in my noodle. Alan was saying that the whole comic book industry is a morbid mess of putrefaction. No, actually he didn't say that, those are my words. Whenever you say comic books are crap, somebody always stands up to argue that they are just the way their readers want them to be. And you can't really argue with that. James Robinson is the guy who scripted the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the movie that made Alan Moore swear off any more dealings with Hollywood, the movie that brought about Sean Connery's retirement. ("Connery decided to accept the lead role in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, despite not "understanding" it either. In July 2005, it was reported that he had decided to retire from film-making, following disillusionment with the "idiots now in Hollywood" and the turmoil making the 2003 film."), the movie through which my wife was so bored she spent the whole two hours planning what underpants she was going to wear the following day. Robinson lists all the times Moore employed somebody else's ideas in his work: "And let’s not forget that Watchmen had an ending taken from an episode of the Outer Limits." I've been hearing that Moore purloined this 1963 plot idea in his 1987 masterpiece ever since one of the Hernandez brothers brought it up in a Comics Journal interview and I always figured that one day I would have to check it out for myself, just to see if it is relevant. After the Robinson remark it occurred to me that it is probably now viewable on Youtube. Sure enough, I found it instantly. So let's see how the Outer Limits version of the giant squid materializing in the middle of Manhattan plays out.
(If you give a hoot, watch it before I spoil the plot. It's an hour long)

The Architects of Fear, parts

It turns out that there is no squid.
A group of scientists figure they can save the planet from nuclear war by making it look like an alien invasion is imminent. To do this they draw lots and the guy with the short straw is subjected to a series of biological alterations over a period until he looks like a bug eyed alien. Then they send him up in a bogus spaceship with the plan that he will land at the UN general assembly and address the world's representatives with his bogus evil demands.The flight's trajectory goes wrong and he comes down instead in the woods, makes it back to the lab, and dies in the arms of his beloved pregnant wife who was kept in the dark all this time but had started to have suspicions that he hadn't really died in the bogus lab accident. The thing ends in voiceover: "Scarecrows and magic and other fatal fears do not bring people closer together. There is no magic substitute for soft caring and hard work, for self-respect and mutual love. If we can learn this from the mistake these frightened men made, then their mistake will not have been merely grotesque, it would at least have been a lesson. A lesson, at last, to be learned."

Alan's use of the essential idea of manufacturing an alien for the purpose of uniting mankind is turned into such a radically different variation, especially since in this version the plan succeeds where in the earlier one it failed, that I'm not sure why a thinking person would bring the matter up in a debate about the paucity of ideas in the current comic book field.



Blogger Unknown said...

James Robinson may as well have complained that Alan Moore was cribbing from Ronald Reagan, instead.

(e.g. "I occasionally think how quickly our differences, worldwide, would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world")

Besides, if an idea's no good once someone's used it... well, then we're all in trouble.

27 September 2009 at 18:06:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Greg G said...

That someone in the modern superhero comics industry can't tell the difference between telling new stories in new ways with old characters and reheating minor variations on the same stories with the same characters ad infinitum is not unexpected.

Complaining that elements from pop culture are present (in new forms) in Watchmen is missing the point in a remarkable fashion.

27 September 2009 at 18:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Greg G said...


Around issue 10, I came across a guide to cult television. There was an Outer Limits episode called ''The Architects of Fear.'' I thought: ''Wow. That's a bit close to our story.'' In the last issue, we have a TV promoting that Outer Limits episode — a belated nod.,,1120854_3,00.html

27 September 2009 at 18:51:00 GMT-5  
Blogger gmoke said...

I think there is a Howard Fast short story which also plays with this same idea. I believe it was published in the 1950s and I found it in an anthology of stories from "Fantasy and Science Fiction' magazine.

Mediocre artists copy but great artists steal. I thought that was a well-known truism.

27 September 2009 at 21:10:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

>>>Alan was saying that the whole comic book industry is a morbid mess of putrefaction. No, actually he didn't say that, those are my words. Whenever you say comic books are crap, somebody always stands up to argue that they are just the way their readers want them to be.<<<

I always find it strange when you say things like this Eddie (im guessing that when you put words into Alan's mouth, those are words you want to say), considering that you are producing wonderful books and that there are other creators producing wonderful work. Or are you only talking about superhero comic books?
Or, if you mean that only the majority of work is a putrid mess of putrefaction, then this is fair to say of any creative industry, including movies and music. I'm not sure if it hasn't always been this way (I would like to believe it hasn't) but I don't think comics can be expected to escape the manure farm that is modern culture. But at least there are a few people (like yourself) out there producing worthwhile art.

27 September 2009 at 21:37:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Bill Peschel said...

Mystery writer Lawrence Block has written about this notion. It's considered perfectly acceptable to take someone else's idea and rework it to suit your story.

It's not something short-story writers like to talk about in public, though.

27 September 2009 at 21:54:00 GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

Somebody who hasn't read a lot of them, I'd venture.
In view of the stash I bagged while in Paris last week, I can certify for the imagination at work there (True, there is also a lot of nonsense, but that is true for your average book anyway).

28 September 2009 at 03:21:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Nick said...

Interesting that Robinson uses the words 'taken from' as opposed to 'similar to'.

I like the notion of Alan taking himself too seriously, though.

28 September 2009 at 05:01:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you saying comic books are crap or movies based on them are crap? :ollywood does seem more interested in capturing thew visual and the the character of the story! It like sugar water for the. Rain just watched ":ellboy the Golden ArmyL a beautiful film but empty on content; I wanted to know more about the characters and the underworld not just an vision of it! By the way ;your books aren't crap!namaste yoga gal _geri

28 September 2009 at 07:20:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Jams_Runt said...

For whatever it's worth, I read the bit about the LEAGUE movie boring your wife so much she spent the whole time thinking about what underwear to wear to my wife and she laughed. It went a long way in explaining why I really like a blog by a guy who does comics, I mean, um... I forget what term you like... them stories with pictures and whatnot.

28 September 2009 at 11:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pallas said...

More interesting are the striking similarities between Marvelman, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, and Superfolks, but I don't think there's any statement on the public record as to whether Moore was familiar with Superfolks when he crafted those stories. (Some of those ideas were probably simply inevitable, given the aging comic demographics, but there are many striking similarities between those works)

28 September 2009 at 11:58:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous wayne beamer said...

Hey Eddie,

I seriously doubt, as you do, that Alan and Dave were influenced by that Outer Limits ep produced some 22 years before Watchmen. That said, I thought they acknowledged the OL ep at some point.

But I do recall sitting at the Embassy Suites bar with you and JR having an uncomfortable moment, remembering he had scripted the LOEG movie only after mentioning how much most folks hated it. A "Hallmark moment" for yours truly to be sure...

Glad to see you back on the Internets,


28 September 2009 at 14:43:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Scott said...

Roy Thomas also had used the same alien invasion plot in All-Star Squadron only a few years before Watchmen.

To my mind, the genius of Watchmen was because of the craftsmanship involved in constructing it, not the plot.

28 September 2009 at 16:34:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Tegan O'Neil said...

OMG YOU GUYS Chaucer totally ripped off Boccaccio for the Canterbury Talez, WTF!!! I'll never read Chaucer again. The Knights Tale was totally cribbed from Boethius, too.

28 September 2009 at 21:58:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Yoga Gal said...

Mr. Campbell; I think you are a great voice in comic books but how fa can a graphic novel be? What do you want them to be "the Brothers Karamazov"? One does not read a graphic novel to find great literature! And I respect and love your work!!!!!!!

29 September 2009 at 00:39:00 GMT-5  

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