Would You Write the Sequel to “One Day”?

A recent post by Sam Krowchenko on the subject of sequels and prequels to famous works of literature set me thinking. The articles was about the fact that DC Comics are about to release a series of sequels and prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s groundbreaking 80’s graphic novel Watchmen. There is a long and bitter history between Moore and DC Comics which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say, Moore was none too happy with the move. His response? “As far as I know, there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to Moby-Dick.” This is what Sam Krowchenko had to say about it in his post:

“Moore is simply dead wrong that prequels and sequels diminish a work’s literary quality. Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman, Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom … all grant readers opportunities to revisit characters or stories from new perspectives … Writers also frequently re-imagine works of other authors. In “Pip Adrift,” from his story collection The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, Rick Moody creates his own version of the titular character’s time lost at sea.”

The examples of sequels/prequels that Krowchenko uses in the post are for the most part erroneous. Roth, Updike, etc. wrote sequels/prequels to their OWN novels, using characters THEY created. If Moore were to write Watchmen 2 (which he has no intention of doing) no-one would bat an eyelid. It is the fact that DC are taking his characters and the world he created – in what was meant to be a finite story – and handing them over to other writers to spin non-finite stories from, that has people upset.

The one example that Krowchenko uses in the post that is pertinent to this issue is Rick Moody’s use of Moby-Dick. And I think this is where the crux of the issue lies. Moby-Dick was written in 1851. It has long since been judged as a good or a bad work of literature and has passed into the literary canon. Its author is long-dead. In other words, some would say, it is fair game. Watchmen has only been around for 25 years and its author is still very much alive.

There are examples of sequels to classic books that Krowchenko could have used: Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind to name two. Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver both wrote new James Bond books in recent years, and Alexandra Ripley wrote a sequel to Gone with the Wind called Scarlett. Both of these books were authorised by the respective estates of the late authors. A book that was not authorised was The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall, a satire of Gone with the Wind that Mitchell’s estate were none too happy about and sued. Another book to take on the ire of an author’s estate was Carol Loeb Shloss’ Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. Shloss had to remove large sections from her book after Joyce’s notoriously protective grandson Stephen set the lawyers on her.

I disagree with both decisions. And I think this is where the argument should be made for permission to use other author’s works. If I want to write a sequel to The Iliad, that’s my business. It would be crazy and stupid, but I should nonetheless be allowed to do it. The book is a classic; the author (if there ever was a single author) long-dead, and nothing I do is going to diminish its greatness. If I want to write a sequel to One Day, that, on the other hand, is not on. The author is very much alive; he may want to write further novels in the series himself at some stage, and any novel I write could end up diminishing the novels that exist already. Watchmen is regarded as a modern classic but it hasn’t as yet passed into the literary canon. And sequels or prequels could dilute the book’s effect and diminish its power.

One further point: Moore himself borrowed from three famous works of literature for his erotic graphic novel Lost Girls: Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz and Wendy Darling from Peter Pan. But again, all authors dead, all books regarded as classics. Fair game. Indeed, despite the fact that Moore had these three characters engaging in some quite uncharacteristic sexual shenanigans, the fact remains, the power of those characters and those novels will never be diminished by Moore’s book or anyone else’s.

The same cannot be said for Watchmen. Not yet.


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13 thoughts on “Would You Write the Sequel to “One Day”?

  1. Interesting post, Eoin Colfer, (Artemis Fowl) was invited to write a continuation of Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” after the death of Adams. AS for S. Joyce, thank God the works of J. Joyce are now out of copyright and let me see, what was that book called, oh yes, Ulysses, wonder where he got that idea???

  2. I liked Jean Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ as a prequel to ‘Jane Eyre’ but hated the sequel to ‘Gone With The Wind.’ Sometimes, nothing can match up to the original. I’ve nothing against sequels, but it depends on the quality of the writing. Interesting post, Derek. As for a sequel to ‘One Day’, I’m sure it would attract sales, but one day of that book was enough for me!

  3. DC Comics is in it for the coin, period. Good, bad, mediocre, they know fans of Watchmen will buy out of sheer curiosity regardless of who wrote it. Only the purists will give a damn that it isn’t Moore and Gibbons. I’ve often wondered how many times Arthur Conan Doyle has rolled in his grave over the many different interpretations of his Sherlock Holmes character. And now the latest in which they’re casting Dr. Watson as a woman (Lucy Liu, I think I read.) Doyle must resemble a rotisserie on a spit over that one…

  4. I absolutely agree, Derek. I think a writer would need a seriously inflated ego and a lot of hubris to take on the sequel to a well-known work by a still-living writer. You wouldn’t catch me trying it.

  5. Certain works are finite in themselves, and I think Watchmen is definitely one of them. Even Alan Moore himself would struggle to extend the series with prequels and sequels

  6. I don’t think anyone should touch the work of the authors world but the original author. But what do I know…

  7. I just have to say that Watchmen is about the last piece I would have ever wanted to see a sequel or prequel for.

    As far as a prequel is concerned, Moore took incredible pains to make sure the relevant facts from the past were made available, and timed their revelations perfectly. And concerning sequels, the end of the series, with a wide-open–albeit strange–future before the world, adding to it would just marginalize the message.

    Moore did some great works for DC in past years (Watchmen, Batman, and Swamp Thing in particular); it’s a shame that none of the rights to them are in his name.

  8. The big comic book companies have never operated like traditional publishing companies. DC and Marvel have a tradition of work for hire arrangements. The whole history of creator rights in comics is one of creator’s either going independent or trying to organize only to be crushed.

    It’s amazing that the creator’s rights movement and Creator’s Bill of Rights eventually led to Piranha Press (now dead) and companies like Image, Vertigo and Dark Horse, with a commitment to honoring creative rights. It’s ironic that Alan Moore, arguably the greatest comic writer of our age, came to prominence at a time when there were virtually no creator’s rights in comics at all. DC owns Watchmen and all the characters, just like they own Batman and Superman.

    In many ways, comics have so many moving parts, writers, artists, letterers, publishers, they are similar to films, which is why they’ve experienced growing pains. Writers, composers, directors, actors and cinematographers all work on films, but the film is an object that is bought and sold, so many of the creative contributions to a film are work for hire, like the music, for example.

    It is also quite ironic that Moore used characters in the Public Domain to write Lost Girls.

    I wonder how Lewis Carol, J.M. Barrie and Frank Baum would feel about their characters being turned into, as Moore described it, “pornography?”

    I will take a wild guess and say, not very amused at all.

  9. Interesting argument. I couldn’t help but think ‘fan-fiction’ whilst reading this post. That’s what all this -just a more accepted form (it seems).

    It’s good to draw inspiration from other great works; but I think sleeping dogs should lie. Sometimes its best to have little of something rather than have too much of it. Having said that, we do live in a postmodern era and well, things like this; where boundaries are blurred and intertextuality is becoming a norm, what was we expecting?

    Another great post, thanks. 🙂

  10. Big companies so often buy up the rights to books and music and then trample all over the artist/creator/heirs in their mad dash to the bank. It seems so predatory and unfair. Would I write the sequel/prequel? Hell no!

  11. This is a fascinating debate. I’m not mad on prequels or sequels. I like it when we don’t know everything there is to know about the characters and their lives. Isn’t that what our imaginations are for?

    I have never read a sequel that was not written by the original author and I do not like, in fact cannot stand, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, or Revenge of the Sith!

    (I think I might be a purist, what do you think?) 🙂

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