I’m watching The Watchmen, that’s who!

Thanks to a generous loan from a former student/current fraternity advisee, I’m reading The Watchmen. I’d long heard of the book, but back in the apex of my high-school comic nerdism, my tastes tended more toward the X-Men, a healthy dose of Spidey and the Punisher, and a handful of mainstream DarkHorse titles (if there was such a thing back then). I wasn’t terribly picky in what I read, but my one fast rule back then was that if DC published it, I wasn’t interested. (Alas–I had learned from bad childhood experiences to equate DC with cheap Superman and Batman runs in which the heros pontificated in long strings of spoken exposition, which even then felt horribly false to me.) Consequently, I missed out on the genius of Alan Moore (and Frank Miller, for that matter), and I am reading The Watchmen now for the first time.

Initially, I’d planned to pick it up only because the movie is due in theaters this coming spring, and I like to read the books ahead of the movies when I can (which is the main reason I subjected myself to the Twilight series this summer). But since deciding I needed to read The Watchmen, I’ve begun studying graphic narrative and reading more graphic novels (I finished the initial ten volumes of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman this summer as well) in an effort to learn more about the medium and the genre–because I suspect it is both, and more–as I set out to write my own graphic novel. In my studies, I’ve seen Alan Moore’s name come up repeatedly, and though I was already familiar with his stature thanks to works like V for Vendetta, From Hell, and his important additions to the Batman mythos, the book most people talk about is The Watchmen. Except they never actually talk about it–they mention Moore himself off-handedly, almost as a given, the way we might mention Shakespeare or Austen, yet they always write The Watchmen in a whisper, as though they’re all afraid to inadvertantly disrespect scripture. And that seems to be the way most serious comics writers and scholars and critics approach The Watchmen, as the Bible of graphic novels. (Or, perhaps, the “New Testament” to the power of the comics medium, the “Old Testament” being Will Eisner’s The Spirit, a film version of which is also due in theaters soon, this time directed by comics legend Frank Miller.)

I am barely a fourth of the way into the novel, but already I see why it is so revered. I cannot yet comment on the intricacies of the story–of the plotting and the structure as a whole–though I am already picking up on subtlties of visual structure that astound me. But even only this short distance into the story, I am amazed–awed is not too strong a word, I think–at the sheer scope of Moore’s storytelling prowess, particularly as regards his understanding of character and of symbolism–which, in the comics medium, is somehow textual and visual simultaneously. Moore is famous for his angry disavowal of any film versions of his work: he insists that the comics medium is unique to the degree that no other medium, even film, can possibly accomplish what he can do in a graphic novel. I have long been prepared to disagree with him, and I am still looking forward to the film adaptation of The Watchmen, but reading this novel now, I’m beginning to see his point. And I am beginning to understand for the first time the full possibilities of the comics form, which excites me for my own writing so much that I’m hoping to assign comics to my own creative writing students, not because I can teach the form but because I am so thrilled at the potential for it and want desperately to see what students would do with it.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

2 thoughts on “I’m watching The Watchmen, that’s who!

  1. You might enjoy this Mr. Media podcast interview with Dave Gibbons, co-creator and artist of Watchmen, as he discusses the Warner Bros./Fox dispute, being on the set during production, and what he thinks of the trailer and the rough cut he saw of Watchmen. He also talks about the possibility of working with Frank Miller and the message he took to Alan Moore from Will Eisner. Here’s the link!

  2. Thanks, Bob! This looks very cool, and I will definitely check it out first chance I get.On a side note, I’ll say I watched The Spirit this weekend, and while I’m only barely conversant in Eisner’s famous strip, I could tell almost immediately that poor Miller was out of his depth. It’s not bad for a first outing (though it’s really more a sophomore effort, since he clearly cut his teeth working with Rodriguez on Sin City–and he seems incapable of trying anything other than the visual techniques he picked up from Rodriguez). But it was a poor film, and quite disappointing. I’m VERY hopeful that The Watchmen will prove a stronger adaptation.

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