(Yes, even the critically lauded HBO Miniseries.)
Alan Moore is most famous for his genre-bending comics and novels that have been adapted over and over for film and TV, including Swamp Thing, Watchman, From Hell, V For Vendetta, and perhaps most painfully, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Over the years, he has also developed a reputation as a bit of a wet blanket, someone who hates every adaptation of his work regardless of quality or intent. In his most recent interview, that distaste is still unquestionably present. Still, he also gives important insight and context into why he so despises what others have done with his work.
"Get Off My Lawn"
Moore is very aware of his curmudgeonly reputation, telling GQ, “When I first protested having my intellectual properties stolen, the reaction from a lot of the fans was, ‘He’s a crazy, angry guy.’ He’s just inexplicably angry about absolutely everything. He wakes up in the morning, angry with his pillow. He eats his breakfast cereal while being angry with it. He’s angry about everything, so, therefore, nothing that he seems to be upset about is of any consequence. This is just an angry person. Alan Moore says, ‘Get off my lawn.’”
But as he continues to discuss the deep feelings that he has for his work, it becomes clear that this is less an irrationally angry man than a caring, passionate artist who resents the lack of control he has over his work once it enters the wider world.
He explains to GQ that in some ways it’s not even the adaptations themselves that depress him so thoroughly, but what fans and admirers generally seem to take away. Despite assuming that the satire and criticism embedded in his work will be apparent to the audience, he’s consistently disappointed, discovering that in some ways he has reinforced the very stereotypes and tropes he hoped to dismantle.
“When I did things like [Miracleman] and Watchmen, they were critiques of the superhero genre. They were trying to show that any attempt to realize these figures in any kind of realistic context will always be grotesque and nightmarish. But that doesn’t seem to be the message that people took from this. They seemed to think, uh, yeah, dark, depressing superheroes are, like, cool. The creation of Rorschach [a masked vigilante who is one of Watchmen’s main characters]—I was thinking, well, everybody will understand that this is satirical. I’m making this guy a mumbling psychopath who clearly smells, who lives on cold baked beans, who has no friends because of his abhorrent personality. I hadn’t realized that so many people in the audience would find such a figure admirable.”
And that distance between creator intent and audience understanding only grows as the works are adapted into other mediums.
He said, “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. Tits and innards.”
When Neo-Nazis Love Your Work
While art is meant to be interpreted, and no artist has control over what their audience takes from it, in Moore’s view the fact that his intentions are utterly perverted has left him suspicious of not only his adapters, but of whether his own work is even worth it. This distance between intent and reception is never farther apart than when Moore discusses how V For Vendetta, a frank and blistering critique of fascism, has been co-opted by Neo-Nazis as supportive of their cause.
As such, you can begin to see why he is wary of any interpretation of his work and why he could not see the irony present in HBO’s TV Watchman adaptation.
He explains how he received a letter from the Watchmen showrunner.
"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."
He said he didn't want to be associated with the show after that "neurotic" letter.
New Watchmen, the Same as the Old Watchmen?
Damon Lindelof has been on record in Entertainment Weekly expressing his sadness about Moore’s dismissal.
“I don’t think that I’ve made peace with it,” he said. “Alan Moore is a genius, in my opinion, the greatest writer in the comic medium and maybe the greatest writer of all time. He’s made it very clear that he doesn’t want to have any association or affiliation with Watchmen ongoing and that we not use his name to get people to watch it, which I want to respect.”
But Lindelof goes on to say, "As someone whose entire identity is based around a very complicated relationship with my dad, who I constantly need to prove myself to and never will, Alan Moore is now that surrogate... The wrestling match will continue. I do feel like the spirit of Alan Moore is a punk rock spirit, a rebellious spirit, and that if you would tell Alan Moore, a teenage Moore in ’85 or ’86, ‘You’re not allowed to do this because Superman’s creator or Swamp Thing’s creator doesn’t want you to do it,’ he would say, ‘Fuck you, I’m doing it anyway.’ So I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, ‘Fuck you, I’m doing it anyway.'”
In some ways, Lindelof has been vindicated, as his version of Moore’s vision was a critical success, winning 11 Emmy Awards in 2020. But this is little comfort to Moore, who continues to feel that he and his work are misunderstood and misappropriated.
“When I saw the television industry awards that the Watchmen television show had apparently won, I thought, 'Oh, god, perhaps a large part of the public, this is what they think Watchmen was?' They think that it was a dark, gritty, dystopian superhero franchise that was something to do with white supremacism. Did they not understand Watchmen? Watchmen was nearly 40 years ago and was relatively simple in comparison with a lot of my later work. What are the chances that they broadly understood anything since? This tends to make me feel less than fond of those works. They mean a bit less in my heart.”
And so now, in some ways with this reaction, Lindelof knows how Moore feels. He created an interesting and challenging piece of work in HBO’s Watchmen, but no matter what his intentions, it was received quite differently than he may have hoped.