More than 20 years have passed since the comics maxi-series Watchmencame to its conclusion, and, March 6, a long-awaited and anticipated film adaptation will open in movie theaters around the world.
Hype for the film has been steadily building since its trailer was first shown in the summer of 2008. As expected, the film’s hype has spilled onto other Watchmen products that are simultaneously cross-promoted. DC has released a new hardcover edition of the collected series and, in December, began reprinting the entire story as it was originally presented: a monthly comic series.
Meanwhile, Titan Books has released Watchmenillustrator Dave Gibbons’ Watching The Watchmen, a “behind-the-scenes” book focusing on the series he co-created with Alan Moore. Despite being a professional involved in the comics industry for more than 30 years, one of Gibbons’ best-known projects remainsWatchmen. As expected, it’s a double-edged sword, he said. “I’ve worked in comics for a long, long time and I’ve had all kinds of prophecies. Some of which have been very successful; some of which haven’t been very successful; some of which I’ve really enjoyed doing and others I haven’t enjoyed doing so much, you know? It’s always been my ambition to work in comics, so as long as I’m doing something in comics, I sort of take the ups and the downs and the rough and the smooth. Certainly, I mean, I think that many people would love to have something that’s as successful as Watchmen that they could talk about. I’m sure that when … in the very far day when my obituary is written, the word ‘Watchmen’ is bound to be in at least the first three lines of it, and I’m quite resigned to that fact.”
The current interest in Watchmen from the mainstream press, along with perpetual attention from those focused on the comics industry, might annoy many artists who have a stand-out piece of work in their repertoire but who have produced many other meritorious projects. Gibbons is not like many artists. He said, “As long as people are interested in it, I’m quite happy to talk about it, I think. I have done so much press, but people seem to keep coming up with new and interesting questions that I can give new and interesting answers to. Watchmen’s always been very good to me, and I’m really pleased that I had a hand in something that’s just become such a successful thing and that so many people had pleasure out of.”
According to Gibbons, a Bob Dylan song may have inspired the whole Watchmen story. “The kind of spark of the first issue of Watchmen — and, arguably, the whole thing — was a track called ‘Desolation Row,’ which I first heard when I was very, very young. I can vividly remember going to a friend’s house and borrowing the vinyl album [Highway 61 Revisited] from his older brother and taking it home and playing ‘Desolation Row’ over and over again and being, you know, intrigued and thrilled by the verse which says, ‘At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew.’
“Alan and I talked quite a lot about music when we were doing it. We had these well-rounded conversations and talked about everything from comics to, you know, vague childhood memories to pieces of music to what we were watching on TV or whatever, and sometimes a song would come up and seem absolutely appropriate as a chapter title. The pieces of music inWatchmen were really just used as the inspiration for chapter titles.”
The songwriters of the lyrics used within the series were paid for the use of their work, as documented on the credits page of the collected editions. Gibbons added, “We did get clearances from them. DC wouldn’t have been happy using the credits otherwise. I think some of them asked for rather more money than others, and, interestingly enough, the more well-known ones were not the ones who asked for the most money. I don’t know the precise details but I know that, quite surprisingly as it might seem, Bob Dylan’s people were very happy to have his lyrics used, and his track ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ ’ actually features very strongly at the beginning of the Watchmen movie. My understanding is that ‘his Bobness’ is pleased to have it in there because he’s a big fan of, I think, comics in general andWatchmen in particular — which is something that gives me an incredible thrill, because I’m an incredibly huge fan of his.”
The more “mature” feel of modern mainstream super-hero comics is generally traced to Watchmen and similar titles from the ’80s. Gibbons said that creating such an impact through influence was not the goal of the project. “I think all comics are influenced by what’s come before. Watchmenitself is heavily influenced by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner and Steve Ditko. The real downside of what happened post-Watchmen was that we were showing another flavor of super-hero comic books, not ‘the only flavor’ or ‘the future of super-hero comic books.’ I mean, it’s tedious that lots of people jumped on that bandwagon and came up with these, you know,Watchmen-type examinations of super-heroes or tried to make them seem real in the way we had. I mean, certainly, if we had done another super-hero title, it would not have been a grim and dirty thing; it would probably have been a light and fluffy thing, you know? I think maybe if what we did had a bad influence there, it wasn’t anything we ever intended. I suppose we like the idea of variety in comics. I think it’s good that there are ‘mature readers’ comics and I think it’s good there are comics for less mature readers. I just think there should be, in any mature medium, work that appeals to a wide spectrum of people and deals with a wide spectrum of subject matter.”
Since big-budget science-fiction action movies usually generate enough profit to justify the existence of a sequel, logic signals that a second Watchmenmovie might be made. Gibbons does not support the idea: “I’m not interested in a sequel at all, in comic-book terms or in movie terms. Watchmen is not just an ‘adventure’ of a bunch of characters. It is a story. Yeah, I guess you could do a sequel to anything. They eventually made a sequel to Gone with the Wind, which seemed pretty complete as it was. I don’t know how it did commercially, but, artistically, it seemed like a slightly dubious enterprise. I certainly would look upon any attempt to do that with Watchmen as being, artistically, very dubious and I certainly wouldn’t have any interest at all in taking part in that.
“And I think it goes without saying that Alan definitely wouldn’t.”
Bernard C. Cormier is a broadcaster and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Visit his webpage atwww.myspace.com/bernardccormier or e-mail him at Bernardccormierfirstname.lastname@example.org.