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Watching The Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, Chip Kidd and Mike Essl

01/11/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Watching The Watchmen in the USA - or Buy Watching The Watchmen in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 272 page large hardback. Price: 24.99 (UK), $39.95 (US), $45.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84856-041-3.

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Do I have to explain who wrote or drew let alone what the 'Watchmen' 1980s 12-part comicbook series was about? If you don't own a copy then you at least must have read a library graphic novel edition. Even after all these years, it is still regarded as the seminal comicbook that questions the effects of having super-humans, in this case only one, mixed in with vigilantes shoring up the crimewave that police were not keeping up with. It's something that was taken on-board by all comicbook creators ever since and has had a definite influence on both the DC and Marvel Universe realities.

Reading 'Watching The Watchmen', Dave Gibbons, artist and writer of this volume refers back to the 1980s Comicons and how much looser it was to meet the creators in those days. I met both him and writer Alan Moore at one of the Con's upstairs bars as I was a hotel guest. I think my passing comment to Dave was his resemblance to the new incarnation of 'Dan Dare' he was doing for the new '2000AD' at the time which he chuckled and agreed with. Alan Moore I knew only vaguely having had been pointed out also did the 'Curt Vile' stories in one of the record business tabloids at the time. Of the two, I ended up becoming friendly enough with Alan Moore at the time to be given his home address and corresponded with for a time. After 'Watchmen' I had an article published in one of the fanzines called 'No More Mr. Nice Vigilante' examining the not so nice aspects of what a super-hero could really do that often made them no better than the villains they faced. I had planned to do a second one about somewhat predictable, at least to me, ending of the 'Watchmen' series when I thought something more of a twist at the end might have been appropriate. That idea was regarded as more sacrilegious and I have to confess that there wasn't enough information within the series for an alternative opposition mostly cos Alan Moore plotted so tightly. Mind you, I do remember at one stage him being quoted as saying he hadn't worked out some plot elements at the time and that was somewhat mid-way through the book. You had to be there. In my case, I was. It made enough impact on my own storytelling to ensure there was something unpredictable when needed.

Looking back, I'm now seeing 'Watchmen' through Dave Gibbons' own eyes and seeing a bit of history as it was written or rather drawn. A lot of this book shows the thumbnail designs Gibbons set as layouts before getting down to the nitty-gritty of the final pages. I can see a lot of fans settling down to their own editions and matching these to the final pages although I doubt if they will see much difference between them as Gibbons rarely got his designs wrong. For any aspiring comicbook artists looking in who think its enough to just sit and draw on Bristol board, being shown the actual mechanics let alone the design plans to ensure consistency between panels of the same scenes or even objects within shows why you need some expertise in technical drawing know-how in your repertoire.

One thing that I never really cottoned onto with my re-reading of the book over the years was the number of times that the smiley badge imagery popped up in the panels. Although saying that, I wonder how many of you now looking at the cover of this book have now figured out something that isn't referred to in this book that the electron placement on Dr. Manhattan's forehead symbol is at midnight when all things come to an end...or a new beginning.

This book covers all aspects of the design of the 'Watchmen' from characters to reality. There's even an chapter written by colourist John Higgins about how he does his work. About the only thing missing is the city page sampler used in the Graphitti hardcover edition and I presume in the expensive 'Ultimate Watchmen' book. I can answer Gibbons' question here about the lack of publicity for that edition here myself, it was deemed too expensive to issue review copies. From what is said here and what I was told at the time, if you owned the now rare Graphitti edition - which I do - then other than being twice the size, there isn't much difference. To his credit, Gibbons points out colourist John Higgins sorting out some of the colouring and three corrections of his own being the only real differences and these will be carried over to later standard prints anyway so don't think you've missed anything with it.

While I'm referring to the Graphitti edition, there is some of the background material here as well only more of it. I mean, really more and at the right scale to see the watermarks and creases. I only wish Gibbons had shown more of Alan Moore's script pages because I doubt the maestro will release them himself. It gives an insight into how much information Alan Moore gave Dave Gibbons to work with.

Looking at the associated 'merchandise', I seem to have it all excluding the lead figures. The manna for anything around 'Watchmen' at the time was like any other at the time, it gives something tangible when nothing else is available to show you were a fan of the series. We had a standing joke at the time about the badge sets issued in that those who wore them would make those who kept them sealed more valuable. Whether Gibbons was wise not to discuss the upcoming film or even the toy models of his designs coming out next year, we'll no doubt have to wait until then or if this book makes a second edition.

In many ways, 'Watching The Watchmen' will easily make many editions. It just has to be placed next to copies to the original story to get people picking it up and having a gander inside and then running off to pay for it at the checkout. If you want a first edition, you'll be running out of the house off to get one as I write this.

The information is mesmerising. I thought I could read it over more than a few days but instead just kept going through before noticing a couple hours had whizzed by. Truly insightful and don't get chucked out of any high-rise buildings by thinking otherwise. : )

GF Willmetts

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