Friday, March 06, 2009

Watchmen fever grips commuters

Bus passengers across the UK looked more confused than usual today as they picked up their complimentary copies of Metro newspaper to find it transformed into a copy of the New Frontiersman. It may not have had the panic effect of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast but headlines such as Doomsday Clock 5 to Midnight caused furrowed brows and bewilderment amongst shoppers and commuters on the Number 48 bus from Nuneaton to Coventry, most of whom didn't have a clue about the original source material.

The New Fronteirsman was a fake newspaper cover with the usual issue of Metro inside. The four page spoof was a countrywide promotion for the Watchmen movie which opened in cinemas today. The Frontiersman being the newspaper from the alternate reality depicted in the film and from the original source, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

It's interesting to see a comic book movie being sold to the public in this way. Usually the non-genre fan wouldn't be exposed to such advertising, apart from reviews in the press or billboard promos which disinterested parties would avoid anyway. By wrapping the populist Metro in such an intriguing advertising campaign it perhaps holds the attention longer than a quick tv spot does. The longer Joe Public thinks about Watchmen the more likely he is to go and see it.

Whether this will also boost sales of the 23 year old graphic novel even more (already selling brilliantly apparently) remains to be seen, but I'm sure it'll turn some non-comic readers onto it.

Personally speaking, I sold my original Watchmen comics on eBay last week and I'm currently reading the Absolute Watchmen; a weighty large format hardback slip-cased collection that's worth every penny. I've always been a fan of the work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and I've known them both for over 25 years (although it's been nearly twenty years since I've seen Alan) but this is the first time I've re-read Watchmen since its original publication. I'm finding it even more amazing the second time around, and enjoying the pace of reading it as a graphic novel rather than as a serialised comic. Dave's artwork is always a joy, and this was one of his greatest works of course.

Having read a lot of modern American comics recently, with their heavy computer colouring obscuring much of the line work, it's a revelation to go back and witness the clarity of line and masterful narrative technique of Dave's artistic talents. The mark of a good comic artist isn't one who distracts you with technique. It's one whose work pulls you into the story so that for the duration of the reading experience you become absorbed and forget it's just ink on paper. Dave is such an artist. Everything is well drawn, not just the figure work (there are no awkward poses) but every aspect of the world, from the buildings, the furniture, down to a paperclip.

Re-reading the story I also realised just how much modern comics owe to Alan's plotting and characterisation of Watchmen, and how little Marvel and DC comics have achieved since. This is probably obvious to everyone reading comics today, and was to me too, but I didn't realise until now just how much of a template Watchmen had been to post-1986 American comics, and, sadly, how much that template had been misconstrued. DC's Identity Crisis? Marvel's Civil War? Fools gold. Accept no imitations. When it comes to deconstructing the superhero and approaching the genre in a mature way, Watchmen is the real deal. If you've never read the graphic novel, now is the perfect time to do so.


Anonymous said...

I thought the graphic`s were really great and can`t wait to see the film.

wildman said...

So how much did your single issues go for? Still got mine from 'back in the day' as well :-) Might hold on to them. There is definitely something that works in a design sense that is lost when its collected as a book. The ticking clock, the panning WATCHMEN etc.


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