- Posted by Johanna on February 12, 2009 at 8:06 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- PUBLISHER: Titan Books; $39.95 US
Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen, provides a coffee-table book full of sketches and background information in Watching the Watchmen. It’s subtitled “The Definitive Companion to the Ultimate Graphic Novel”, which is obvious hyperbole. Although it’s full of original character and page designs, color guides, and other process material involved in the comic’s creation, many readers will notice the lack of information about the story and other text-related content. Much of this book is made up of complete sets of page thumbnails for all 12 issues, a presentation of dubious value for the non-art-inclined.
Watchmen became the classic it is because of the combination of story and art, and due to Alan Moore’s displeasure with how his work was treated, information regarding the plot or story development is omitted. This book isn’t about how Watchmen was written — look elsewhere for commentary or annotations — but how it was drawn. Which is refreshing; Gibbons is usually forgotten in discussions of the work, and this heavy volume helps remedy that oversight. Turns out that he was responsible for the now-immortal nine-panel grid as well as the inclusion of pirate comics, among many other things.
His memories and essays are what makes this book unique, starting from when he and Moore first met in 1980. This work was created in a very different era, before the widespread use of the internet or even overnight shipping, when the script was typewritten and paper pieces were mailed back and forth. It’s a fascinating glimpse into another age. My favorite pieces are when Gibbons talks about early reactions from the publisher, retailers, and convention-goers, before anyone knew what they were really creating and the medium-changing effect it would have. I wish more of his recollections would have been included.
The book design is by Chip Kidd and Mike Essl, which tells you what to expect: full-bleed pages and close-ups of artifact details. However, here, he mostly stays out of the way, letting Gibbons’ art and words speak for themselves. Also contributing is John Higgins, the colorist, with an essay on the process and how their work came at the cusp of changing times for the comics industry.
Some of the items reprinted here have also appeared in Absolute Watchmen. That deluxe reprint is, according to Higgins, the first time that the colors look the way they were intended, due to digital techniques finally getting past previous printing limitations. Gibbons goes into some of the process behind that book as well near the end of this volume. His final note, elliptically addressing some of the controversy around his co-creator, is a gentlemanly way to end this look back at the book that changed comics for all time. He seems like a very nice guy who just wants to give proper credit to all included, including himself.
If you’re unfamiliar with Watchmen, don’t start here. This is for delving into once you’ve read the source material several times already. This video shows some of the book’s content, and Gibbons was interviewed about it at Wired.