Watching the Watchmen by Dave Gibbons tells the story of the making of the science fiction comic first published by DC Comics, set on a world where the existence of superheroes re-shaped the world we know into something far more sinister.
In the original story, to be released as a film next year, super heroes have been outlawed. Once the self-appointed saviours of mankind, the men and women that kept the streets safe have hung up their capes and returned to the anonymity of their secret identities. All except one: Rorschach, a half-psychotic vigilante whose name still evokes fear on the city’s streets. After the suspicious death of one of the old team, Rorschach must convince his middle-aged, retired ex teammates, that he has uncovered a plot to murder the remaining super heroes – along with millions of innocent civilians. But even reunited, will the remnants of the Watchmen be enough to avert a global apocalypse?
The comic, voted among Time magazine’s 100 Best Novels from 1923 to the present, a perennial bestseller over the past twenty years, proved a means for the creators to reflect contemporary anxieties and deconstruct the superhero concept.
Watching the Watchmen focuses on Gibbons’ memories of the making of the ground-breaking novel, described by Time as “a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
Alongside his memories of the creation of the saga, from initial concept as a means for DC to make use of superhero characters the company had acquired from Charlton Comics but morphing into something far more momentous, Dave Gibbons has collected almost every visual he has that went into the making of the project, from initial character designs to layouts, promotional art and covers for foreign language editions.
Some niggling design issues inside — who decided to use such small type for captions and use blue lettering on a black background on some pages? — for Watchmen fans, Watching the Watchmen offers a gorgeous companion to the comics masterpiece, revealing excised pages, early versions of the script, original character designs, page thumbnails, sketches and much more.
Also included is a fascinating insight into the colouring of the story written by the artist who provided it, John Higgins. It’s interesting to see how much has changed in the way this much undervalued aspect of creating a comic has changed since the 1980s with the advent of digital colouring, something Higgins was able to take full advantage of in the re-mastering of the material for the 2005 Absolute Watchmen release.
While the volume is light on examples of Alan Moore’s dense words for the series – the first issue’s script alone rolled in at 91 dense pages of typescript – Watching the Watchmen offers a joyous celebration of the peerless comic series described by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof as “The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced.”
Gibbons deliberately skirts around the controversy that ensued the publication of Watchmen, which ultimately led to Alan Moore refusing to work for DC Comics because of royalty and character ownership disputes. While saying he’s not averse to scandal, the consummate artist prefers instead to celebrate the work and its ongoing success, saying he’s had a great time re-visiting the very beginnings of Watchmen and “unearthing material I haven’t set eyes on for many years.
“As a fan myself, this is the kind of stuff I eat up and I’m sure the many devotees of the graphic novel will do the same,” says Gibbons.
This coffee table book is indeed a beautifully packaged, well-designed celebration of the Watchmen that not only deserves high sales in itself but may also serve as inducement for fans to revisit the original work and see its pages and storytelling in a whole new light. Recommended.
• Watching the Watchmen, published 24 October 2008 by Titan Books. ISBN: 9781845760413
Categories: British Comics