This year sees the 20th anniversary of the publication of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This landmark comic book, one of the few to deserve the designation “graphic novel”, remains a particular favourite of mine, and one that still excites today for its consummate command of the comics medium. The following is a very long round table discussion with Watchmen‘s creators from issue 100 of Fantasy Advertiser, first published in March 1988. It’s surprising that this doesn’t seem to have been posted anywhere else on the web as it’s an excellent discussion into some of the details of this great book.
Spoiler warning: this piece discusses in depth just about every revelation in the story so you’d be advised to skip it if you haven’t read the book.
MARTIN SKIDMORE: Alright, let’s have a starting point… just what is it about Watchmen that distinguishes it from other…
STEVE WHITAKER: Cream cheeses?
MS: …superhero comics on the market?
DAVE GIBBONS: Is this in the form of direct questions to us, or…
FIONA JEROME: No, we’re all gonna talk.
DG: Well, I’ll have a schnoozle then…
SW: The thing that I think distinguishes Watchmen from other comics is that the series holds together more like a novel. Your climax isn’t in the last 3 panels in Watchmen 12. There are long quiet tracts with exciting bits or…moderately exciting bits (LAUGHTER) In terms of Jack Kirby Wham! Smash! Pow! it’s all very quiet. There’s a lot of suffering but…
MS: …it’s all emotional rather than physical suffering.
ALAN MOORE: It’s a difficult question for me and Dave to answer, probably one that you could answer better, but if I had to say anything then it’s the degree of structure that me and Dave have applied to it—I can’t think of many examples of that degree of structure, that degree of layering.
FJ: I was going to say: especially visually you don’t get such a use of motif certainly not in American comics.
MS: Doug Moench has used it occasionally.
FJ: But not with the same complexity and not filling-in with written structure as well.
PETER HOGAN: The thing is: you’re given a world. The characters, alright, they’re based on the Charlton Characters but they’re new as of page 1. Even so, they’re characters with a history that comes out over the course of the thing… Their world has a history… it has a cohesion to it.
SW: Something that quite interests me now we’re talking about structure and stuff, is the symmetry—there is a real symmetry to Watchmen and the way the characters are set up.
DG: Two arms… two legs. (LAUGHTER)
MS: Perhaps the Comedian and Rorschach…
SW: I was thinking more of Osterman and Ozymandias.
MS: That’s right—the intellectual and physical, chaos and law…
AM: It’s difficult pinning down what’s symmetrical to what—I mean to me, at least to some extent, there’s an equally good case for contrasting Nite Owl and Rorschach.
AM: Episode 6 was about the most depressing of the whole series; Episode 7 was probably the most uplifting. So there is a symmetry in the series but…
MS: I was looking at it in a moral sense I mentioned Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias specifically as reflecting the law and chaos… Oz wanted to establish a benevolent dictatorship, albeit a behind-the-scenes one—whereas Dr M goes on about randomness creating beauty, creating life and so forth. There’s a contrast there, and it’s the same sort of contrast that I mentioned as being between the Comedian and Rorschach, it’s a moral one—someone who’ll do anything for the government as opposed to someone who has strong morals, even it they are mad ones.
AM: I think it’s difficult finding what is symmetrical with what because if you take it from a moral attitude you could probably strike certain parallels but from another angle you’ll get a completely different set of answers.
FJ: You can make groupings. You can make endless groupings…
DG: It’s almost like reading your horoscopes in the paper—even when they get the predictions in the wrong order, you can still find something that applies to you. Because we’ve had 12 issues to do it, we’ve been able to explore so many different facets of the characters and their motivation that I’m sure you could find patterns even where none were specifically intended.
SW: But the patterns are one of the things that fascinate me about… sorry, Peter.
PH: I was just going to say that I thought one of the biggest clashes—right at the end—was between Ozymandias and Rorschach. The thing about Ozymandias is the fanatical gleam in the eye, his plan for humanity…
SW: What, where he says that he has just saved humankind, they are the good guys… and Rorschach doesn’t agree with him?
PH: But Rorschach is the man of honour and repeats—virtually repeats—that line from issue 1: ‘No compromise’.
FJ: Looking back at Ozymandias making this decision “I will kill so many million people to save the world” one thing that struck me is that when Dr Manhattan teleports the people away from the riot and kills 2 of them he says that’s okay because many more people would have died, and Rorschach, in his essay…
AM: About Truman.
FJ: Yes—about Hiroshima—says “I’m glad they dropped bombs on Hiroshima because lots more people would have been killed”.
AM: Yes, more people would have died.
FJ: So although they’re diametrically opposed in one way, they’ve all made this same statement, they’ve all made this same decision… but only Ozymandias has followed it through.
AM: The thing with Rorschach was intentional. He mentions President Truman on the first page of Watchmen and there is that brief essay which ends up saying “I think President Truman was right to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and that’s all I have to say about my parents”, and so, you know… that was a pretty common thought, that Truman was right to drop the bomb for that reason. Rorschach is—at least at that point in his life, where he still believes in God…
SW: He’s living very emotionally.
FJ: And he still believes in Daddy being an aide to President Truman and… a fantasy life.
AM: But at the end of the book, Ozymandias—who does this awful thing to New York… which is really, by extension, no more horrible than Hiroshima—you’ve got that parallel there.
FJ: It’s only the degree that differs, it’s not the act—because they’ve already done it.
SW: But in Watchmen 2 you learn… you really learn to hate the Comedian. I mean—shooting a pregnant woman, such a callous murder—and in No 11, which corresponds symmetrically, you learn to hate Ozymandias completely. Things like him sitting on his parents grave.
SW: A perfect depiction of how completely aloof he is, because he really does believe that he’s above it.
DG: Yes, but was dropping an A-bomb on Hiroshima a callous thing or was it a calculating thing—there is a difference?
FJ: They’re both callous and calculating.
SW: Surely the difference is that Hiroshima really happened and you’re making a metaphorical statement about it.
DG: Yeah, and the thing that Rorschach won’t stomach is that this is being done secretly, that a large section of New York is being wiped out—even in the face of Armageddon he wants to know the truth.
PH: The thing with Rorschach’s involvement with the New Frontiersman is he’s into conspiracy theories anyway but the diary is his way of getting the truth across.
SW: I’d really like to know why Osterman lies… well, he doesn’t exactly lie, he withholds the truth about Rorschach from Veidt.
AM: He doesn’t mention it.
SW: Veidt says something like “What about Rorschach?” and Osterman says “I doubt if he’ll reach civilisation”. He doesn’t say “Don’t worry, I’ve just blasted him to atoms”…it comes across as a mercy killing.
AM: It’s almost a mercy killing. When I was writing that bit where Veidt and Osterman sort of confront each other at the end and have that conversation, Dr Manhattan put it that way because, I would imagine that he realised that put otherwise it could possibly make things worse for Dan and Laurie: they’ve already got the death of an entire city to carry round with them in their heads and never tell anyone about for the rest of their lives. It was a small act of mercy so they could believe that Rorschach had just wandered out alone and died.
DG: Although I think that Veldt would have calculated the probability… and, really, there was nowhere else for Rorschach to go.
SW: He knows he’s going to die.
DG: In that situation he could only die.
SW: I know we’re given ample demonstration of what a psycho and what a sociopath he is, but this almost makes him the hero of the story.
AM: We tried to make it so that all of them are the heroes. Like, Rorschach is, definitely, in that he never steps out of character—apart from that moment when you see him cry and he says “Go on—do it!”
SW: The thing that reinforces that is that with Dan and Laurie you’ve had most of their motivations and their life histories explained to you but, next to Rorschach, they look like they’re made of cardboard.
AM: But next to Rorschach anybody would. We would. Because he’s so intense … The thing is: at one level Veidt is the hero of Watchman. You can’t take that away from him. On another level, Dan and Laurie are because they are the only human characters in it.
SW: Apart from the human cast, who you just get rid of in No 11.
PH: That’s another thing about Dr Manhattan blowing away Rorschach—he looks at death differently.
AM: He’s always been removed from humanity but, especially since leaving Earth and going to Mars, he’s just completely gone, especially that line about “I’ll go and create some human life”.
DG: The people who have the situation summed up at the very end—namely Ozymandias, Rorschach and Dr Manhattan—all know that something like the scene in the snow was going to happen. So the death scene was something both Osterman and Rorschach knew they were going to have to play out. Rorschach is just saying “You’ve got to do it so just do it!”
AM: He knows in issue 8. “I don’t expect to come back; I feel cold tonight”.
SW: He finishes his diary.
AM: Yeah, that’s it. This is probably going to be quite difficult, you know. There are so many layers and focusing on one element… I mean, good luck… carry on.
SW: The idea of doing a round table like this is that, with you here, we might get rid of a few Watchmen fallacies.
AM: That’s cool—it’s just that when you’ve got the whole tapestry it’s difficult to isolate one thread.
MS: One of the things I was interested in—getting on to the politics of it—was that you’ve said the hero is Ozymandias, who saves the world and sets it onto a new course—a very positive one from what we see in the concluding pages. Now, he’s doing that through a benevolent dictatorship. It probably doesn’t seem so but he’s manipulating, controlling the whole world.
SW: With his role model revealed as Alexander the Great…
MS: So he’s achieved what he wanted to. But in another way the hero—the one who refuses to compromise—is Rorschach. They’re the two clearest cases—far clearer than Dr Manhattan, say. Now, to me, from whet I know of your politics that’s pretty contrary to your own ideas, Alan.
AM: Yes, but I’d be a pretty poor writer if all the characters that I did reflected my own politics. All the characters in Watchmen have a bit of me in them. I mean, Dr Manhattan has, Rorschach has and Veidt has .. … Probably Dan and Laurie as well, to a degree. Amongst the many other things I was trying to say in Watchmen was just that in this world we live in, with all its disparate characters and ambitions there are probably no two people who want the same thing. The world doesn’t work like that anyway. If there’s a central line in Watchmen it’s “Who makes the world?” Then again, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure other readers can find lines that are more meaningful to them, to me that’s the core of it: you’ve got all these vast powers—and Rorschach is a vast power in his own way just as Veidt is a vast financial power and Osterman’s a vast physical power. You’ve got ordinary people just muddling along, you’ve got people who don’t know what the fuck’s happening which is, like, most of humanity. You’ve got the Nixons and all this sort of stuff but… Who makes the world? Is the world really under the control of its most powerful people or are they just part of the design, the same as the rest?
DG: Referring to what Martin just said there’s also the question of what is a hero? You know, in their own way, almost anyone’s actions could be interpreted as heroic.
SW: Even the Comedian.
DG: You like them, even when you completely disagree with their stance.
SW: The Comedian’s is probably the one story begging to be told.
AM: The only possible spin-off we’re thinking of is—maybe in four or five years time, ownership position permitting—we might do a Minutemen book. There would be no sequel.
SW: The story I’m thinking of fits the gap between the end of the Minutemen at the beginning of the 50s and the Comedian’s career—with Ozymandias’ interruption of that…
AM: Hooded Justice.
DG: I think that’s one of the things that adds to the book. When you think of people you know, there are certain areas of their lives you know a lot about and there are other areas you know nothing about—you get years and years where you don’t know what happened to them. At one point that Comedian storyline was suggested to us by DC, to fill in the mosaic and define things. All it would do be to destroy the reality and dilute the whole thing. I think if you read the book closely and you’re fairly intelligent, you can fill in that kind of thing… just as any work of art—a painting, a drawing or any written form of art—leaves a lot to your imagination anyway.
SW: Perhaps it is to the credit of the series that I’ve become particularly interested in one or two characters. I like what you were saying about James M. Cain earlier, Dave—I have a similar fondness for Raymond Chandler which has advanced to the point where I want to read biographies and correspondence.
AM: You just want a little more of him.
SW: All we read here is a series of events around these characters stretching over 12 weeks—something else that I thought was quite neat.
DG: Now I didn’t know that.
SW: Well, it it ends on December 28th it’s 12 weeks.
AM: I’m not surprised.
DG: That’s amazing because the story dictated how much time things took.
AM: Just before we get off the subject of serialisations, continuations end sequels: when I set out to do Watchmen, and I imagine that Dave felt the same way—that we didn’t want to give people what they wanted, we set out to give them what they needed… and the same applies to sequels they may want sequels really badly…
FJ: …but they don’t need them. Sequels are the bane of comic books.
AM: Watchmen is a novel, it’s there and it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end… complete. Frank Herbert managed to turn Dune into a Perry Rhodan for the ’80s with all those sequels. It was a wonderful book to start with that was unreadable by the time it was finished.
DG: It should be very clear in your mind who’s in charge of any artistic endeavour. Obviously, Alan and I could make ourselves a fortune on Watchmen 2 next year. I just can’t think of any reason to do it other than the obvious monetary ones. Minutemen appeals because it’s a different era and a different story.
SW: Lesbian and Homosexual relationships and costumed kinks in a 40s environment…
PH: One of the key things about Watchmen is that the sexuality of all the characters is at least touched on… and the Comedian is a father… but what the hell is Osterman’s sexuality like?
MS: Years ago, Alan, I remember you saying that sexuality is a big part of a character and you should at least know what it is. You don’t necessarily have to have it in the story. With Osterman there’s not much of it there.
SW: An interesting point—So Dr Manhattan is, I presume, deliberately left as this blank slate, this “what the devil is he going to do next” type of character. There’s no mention of his mother but he seems to have these really strange relationships with women—with Laurie and with Janey Slater. I was convinced that when he was with Laurie on Mars and he was saying, “I can see the future… sort-of, and I’m killing somebody” that he was lying to her about not being able to tell who it was—the reason being that he could see himself murdering her. She—his last link with humanity, his emotional link with his past.
AM: Well, that was to some degree deliberate: we wanted people to think that—or that it was probably going to be Dan or Veidt. The only person we didn’t want them to think of was Rorschach.
SW: I’d worked out that Ozymandias was too obvious..
MS: The typical superhero confrontation…
SW: Dr Manhattan seems, when he becomes ‘recorporated’ in the last issue, subtlely altered—he refers to ‘Osterman’ as somebody else. I looked to see if he still had the little circle on his forehead or if something else like that eye make-up had changed. I feel he should’ve looked different.
FJ: Well, he’s not—he says “If that didn’t kill Osterman…” as though the previous Dr Manhattan was somehow Osterman. “and it won’t kill me this time.”
DG: That didn’t kill Osterman—it happened when he was dissolved.
AM: Osterman died in ’59.
SW: But his emotional attachment to people like Janey Slater…
DG: That’s just him trying to be normal—despite the fact that he’s no longer a human being.
SW: But his blitheness left him open to people like the Comedian and Ozymandias sussing him out, well-and-truly. It’s quite a weakness when he thinks of himself as a god.
DG: I don’t think he does.
AM: To have the concept of ‘god’ you have to be a human being in that when you are a god, the word ‘god’ vanishes.
FJ: He’s more like the Watcher or something—there to observe what interests him.
AM: He’s just Dr Manhattan, and he’s the only one in the universe and there are no rules.
MS: There’s an idea for a sequel: in issue 12, the process that made Dr Manhattan seems to be applied to Bubastis.
AM: Bubastis the Super Cat, Dr Manhattan’s Cat—Bubastis.
DG: Cats haven’t got enough self-awareness to become…
FJ: It is a genetically engineered cat.
MS: The Krypto of the 90s, I thought.
DG: I suppose we could’ve done The Fly and had Dr Manhattan come back with big, long, pointed pink ears!
AM: As far as Dr Manhattan’s character goes—when he becomes Dr Manhattan, his personality is that of Jon Osterman put through a very traumatic experience… but still that of Osterman, just about.
SW: A Jon Osterman with totally new perceptions.
AM: Yes, that and he’s still got an awful lot of reflexive, habitual needs.
SW: It’s a personality, isn’t it?
FJ: But does his continual failure to have a human relationship drive him sway from keeping those human habits?
AM: I would think drive would be too strong a word. He gradually gets bored with it.
DG: It’s unappealing and unsatisfying.
FJ: Nowhere near as much fun as a few atoms.
AM: By the time Dr Manhattan is a million years old, or a thousand years old, or even a hundred he will be almost unrecognisable—but this is his infancy and you still see him doing things like… he pushes a door open in No 11.
MS: In No 12 he walks from the pool to Ozymandias.
AM: Right! There’s no need. You see, sometimes a certain lack of consistency seems more realistic. I just wanted him to seem so completely spaced out that we wouldn’t be able to tell just how spaced he was. If he was simply spaced out, he would have just left Earth in 1959 and he wouldn’t have let the army push him around.
SW: Something that caught my attention was your use of Kurt Vonnegut’s Serial Time with relation to Dr Manhattan.
AM: Cat’s Cradle…
DG: Sirens of Titan…
SW: More Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse 5—the idea of a man who doesn’t have to lead his life in a punctual way, as Vonnegut puts it. What strikes me is that Vonnegut knew that Serial Time couldn’t work—it would drive anyone bananas, basically—but if you use it in a comical way, a satyrical, self-mocking way—which is Vonnegut’s speciality—then it’ll work really well. Someone as screwed up as Osterman would probably use Serial Time to go straight back to the womb—and for some reason Dr Manhattan’s portrayal of a mother figure. You see what I mean about using Serial Time as a serious property?
PH: I get the feeling that Dr Manhattan is just pretty bemused. He knows what the future’s going to be…
PH: Well, he has an awareness of it.
SW: All he knows is his own experiences all he knows is what his future’s going to be.
AM: Anybody here ever had a lucid dream? if you have a lucid dream, and you’re good at it, you can do whatever you want to do in that dream. You’re Dr Manhattan, basically, because you control the substance of reality—but you find yourself surrounded by dream characters. You do what you want but you don’t do anything to offend them out of basic politeness.
DG: Perhaps a better word than bemused would be distracted.
MS: He wants firm ideas of what he’s got to do—it people say “Go to Vietnam” or whatever…
DG: That’s an interesting thing…
MS: He’s got no motivation at all. He needs to be told.
DG: Here, we’ve got a man who’s been gifted—if indeed, he has been gifted with all these powers and abilities but who is not really Grade ‘A’ superhero material. He’s not a very strong character and he has no clear idea of what to do.
MS: He’s naive and simple.
DG: He’s very intellectually dependant.
FJ: That’s right, has father says ‘You’re not going to be a clockmaker, you’re going to be a scientist’—and he is. He’s very manipulable.
AM: Anything, just for a quiet life that’s Dr Manhattan’s point of view.
SW: If you look at it from a philosophical point of view that’s very…
SW: Well, it’s Tao.
AM: It’s a sort of still point where you no longer care about any other things.
SW: I’d like to think of Dr Manhattan like that but I don’t think he’s that profound—Well… not yet. One of the things I have written down here is a point—about the 2 big philosophical moments in Watchmen: they’re at the ends of Nos 6 and 9. Basically you’ve got Rorschach’s treatise on…
AM: All humanity is shit.
SW: Yeah, it’s just a mad planet, there’s no god and we all just have to survive… the reason I’m Rorschach is that I decided to do things this way and that decision empowers me to do anything—That comes out really powerfully and forcefully and that’s why No 6 is so fucking depressing you know, you’re looking at that last panel and there’s nothing else, it’s all black and ooooh shiiit.
MS: The bit that got me was the psychiatrist saying that, at the end of the day, it’s just black and white dots, it doesn’t mean anything. Because as a symbol of the universe it’s just empty, meaningless blackness.
SW: “Some pretty-flowers”.
DG: On one level you could say we’re talking about the whole of Watchmen like that—as a Rorschach inkblot.
SW: The other philosophical section consists of Dr Manhattan allowing Laurie to convince him that it is worth giving a damn about Earth again. When I finished No 9 I found myself thinking ‘I don’t believe him, I’m not convinced’. I thought he was either lying to her or letting himself believe in this—you know, all that stuff about thermodynamics.
MS: He knew he was going to believe.
FJ: He has a different perception, because in 12 he cares about life, then he looks at the globe and says “I think I’ll go and create some life somewhere else”. So he doesn’t care about humanity as life on Earth, he cares about life in general.
AM: He cares about the abstract.
PH: Well, that’s the Comedian’s line in the Vietnam sequence… You could have done any of these things to stop me shooting this woman and you didn’t. You don’t care
FJ: He does care about life, but not life as we automatically think of it.
DG: He doesn’t care about life emotionally, he cares about it scientifically.
AM: In his discussion with Laurie, at no point at the end does he say that he cares emotionally about it, it’s just more interesting than he thought it was.
SW: He just can’t involve himself, whereas Rorschach…
FJ: But we’ve got no evidence he ever could involve himself.
SW: Rorschach more or less comes to the same conclusion, “Tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, from then on you can do anything, the world is yours, if you like.
DG: I think what he’s doing in No 9 is kind of letting Laurie be his remote conscience.
AM: In some ways.
DG: She’s running through it and he thinks “Yeah, that’s right.”
MS: Well, he lets just about anybody do that. He’s already seen this in the future and so he doesn’t resist it. Anyway, it suits him.
SW: In many ways the worry is that she isn’t even paying attention to him, she’s having one of the most traumatic experiences of her whole life.
MS: In No 12 when he says “I’m off to another galaxy where I can create” that’s the first time he seems to make any decision for himself.
FJ: It’s almost not a decision anyway. It’s like being slowly and cautiously elbowed out of their lives.
AM: It is a decision of sorts, but is a Dr Manhattan decision in that it’s a decision to walk away from the whole situation, you know.
DG: If he was to stay around on Earth he’s going to run up against some big decisions.
FJ: …and some big moral problems, but he just shunts himself off.
SW: Dave, did you actually decide on the gradual nakedness of Dr Manhattan from the beginning with his silly little suit and a thumbed-nose to the Captain Atom costume right the way through to him being completely in the buff.
DG: It’s just a symbol of him gradually disassociating himself from what humanity considers to be needful.
SW: But the most curious thing about it is that there’s no body language to go with it. He doesn’t use his nakedness at all.
AM: Well, if you’re going to have a naked character in a comic book he’s almost by definition got to be the least sexual. What I remember—and this all gets very blurred when you’re talking about 2 years ago—the thing I remember is that Dave drew a naked figure of Dr Manhattan just to show his physique, and I looked at it and thought that would be pretty rad—let’s just not put any clothes on it. Me and Dave agreed but we didn’t know if we’d get away with it, and Dave said, look if we make it very hairless, take away all the human references for sex, like hair…
FJ: Make the genitals that little symbol.
AM: Like Michelangelo’s David.
DG: And, indeed, I’ve got a plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David on my windowsill.
AM: And working that out, we thought it would show the gradual disassociation of Dr Manhattan: first he’s willing to put on the full uniform, but he doesn’t like the helmet; then later on he just has the leotard thing; then just for the sake of decency he’ll wear him little G-string; and then fuck it, why bother, I’m Dr Manhattan, I can walk around how I like.
SW: But then there is a lot of body language in other figures you draw.
DG: Oh sure, body language is a way of showing emotion and it’s crucial that he doesn’t show emotion. But the thing about showing him naked was that point when most people first saw him, I don’t think they realised he was naked because we deliberately did it in a completely non-sexual, lonely, distant…
MS: You didn’t show him genitals, either.
DG: No, but it’s a question of where and when you show his genitals.
MS: Basically we’re used to seeing people in skin-tight costumes anyway, so it wouldn’t immediately register.
DG: What we didn’t want to do was another Burne Hogarth Tarzan as a boy…
AM: Here’s another branch!
DG: The point at which we do show them is critical. There’s the scene—I think it’s in No 3—where he’s in bed with Laurie and we didn’t show them there purposely because it would not have been allowed.
AM: Not in a sexual context.
DG: When you did see them he was wandering through a red barn in the desert, or something.
MS: And by that time you don’t notice it, I remember thinking, “Aren’t they tiny? if I were the most powerful man in the world…”
SW: He doesn’t care about that.
DG: That’s not the problem, really.
FJ: There’s no point in the male display aspect of it all, so he doesn’t bother.
DG: But you can see that the next stage of him evolution is becoming an asexual being who doesn’t display characteristics of either.
SW: I was surprised that he didn’t change when he recorporated himself. Maybe that was just too messy to do in the last 14 pages or so.
DG: You’d have thought it had much more significance than it did.
SW: There is a strange sort of feudal system in Watchmen where you have Ozy who thinks he’s a god, and Dr Manhattan who, to all intents and purposes, is—Than you’ve got the people in the costumes who’ve set themselves up as vigilantes, as superheroes, and then you’ve got your crude mechanicals, your human cast. And underneath that you’ve also got the people in Tales of The Black Freighter who are even more…
SW: Did you find you had to separate the way they related to each other? I find the way the news-vendor and the kid—the two Bernards relate to each other, and the taxi driver and all that lot, they’re far more physical, they’re living in a real world where far more things happen to them, whereas these superheroes have formal relationships where they stand around and talk to each other.
DG: But how do you think people relate to one another as Oscar ceremonies, or at Joan Collins’ parties?
AM: With the human characters I wanted to show that all the way through the entire series human life is going on with all of its petty entanglements and minor difficulties and big difficulties and all the rest of it.
AM: Thirst, yeah—and sort of…
SW: Ha ha.
FJ: Do you want to switch the tape off, Dave?
AM: What Nixon does and what Dr Manhattan does and what Veidt does—it affects the people on the street corner but only peripherally, indirectly… And yet, in some ways, those people on the street corner, it’s their story. They’re the people we’re concerned about.
SW: All the way through it you’re waiting to hear the tale of the Black Freighter even though you even get told the ending before the ending in one of your appendixes. I remember turning round to someone and saying “But I know the ending, it’s in No 9”, and What? Hey! you know, he’s being destroyed by himself.
MS: Can someone tell me the function of that in the story?
SW: It’s another level of reality to remind you that this is a comic.
AM: Well, no, it’s not actually to remind you that this is a comic. Someone did an interview with me recently and said, “This seems to be referential, you know, wake up, this is a comic.”
FJ: Steve and I both noticed that as the comic progresses you’re getting the same kind of strong line colouring that you get in the Black Freighter story.
SW: It might just be John’s disgust with the way that DC has this separated.
FJ: Early on, you don’t get these very extreme colours next to each other.
SW: Straight lines like this, where no attempt is made for the colour to follow the shape and form.
AM: Good grief.
DG: Uhh well, that is just one of the penalties of doing something like this.
FJ: There’s not any effort to follow contour.
AM: Well, that would probably be the separator.
FJ: Shit, we thought it was some meaningful thing.
DG: There’s a whole team of ladies who separate theme books on piece work.
SW: I’ve separated comics, I know what it’s like.
DG: No matter how thoroughly Alan and I set something out, no matter how profoundly you analyse it, along the line there is that slippage.
SW: It’s so sad to know that John can produce something like this on the cover, and that for just a few more bucks they could get John to hand colour it. His colouring is so good.
DG: It’s a case of “If I knew then what I know now”. Once the first issue of Watchmen came out there would have been no doubt.
SW: Is there no chance of a collection being done like that—a delux Watchmen?
DG: Then they’d have to completely re-colour the whole thing. Personally I would rather have had the book separated as it was but printed on newsprint or Mando paper, because I think that would have softened it.
FJ: Then those extremes of colour wouldn’t have come up.
SW: The nice thing about that would be that the screen wouldn’t have been so fine and consequently the colour wouldn’t have been as flat. With a coarser screen you get more activated colour… you see the dots, it enlivens the image.
DG: If you look at something like Barry Smith’s Machine Man, which was printed on newsprint, it was great because there were no edges to the colour, they all just blended into each other.
SW: Well to some extent that was because the separators just didn’t know what to do with his colour roughs.
DG: Baxter paper with hand separated colour is the worst compromise. On the other hand there is something essentially ‘comic book’ about it, a refusal to go into subtlety, which I like about it, and there are things that I purposely didn’t do with the colouring, like have colour holds where you get an image printed in a different colour, but I purposely didn’t do that wanted to say that this is a comic book, there are lines round things, then they are coloured in.
SW: I wondered about that in things like the Black Freighter pages, which are printed in the same way, and are drawn in more or less the same style, where John goes for traffic-light colours.
AM: John deliberately went for garish colours.
SW: But by the end of it you’re getting these colours in the rest of the strip…
AM: It wasn’t deliberate.
SW: It becomes less and less realistic.
DG: I don’t think so, although in the particularly dramatic bits—say the attempted rape scene in issue 2 or the fight that Dan and Laurie have in issue 3 John purposely ups the colour temperatures.
AM: Dave and I presumed his logic with issue 12 was just to make the whole thing more exciting. In No 6 you can see something that John did.
SW: His secret plan.
AM: Yeah, Dave said that John had this secret plan: starts off quite sunny and then gradually over the course of the issue it gets darker and darker and gloomier and more dismal… it’s subtle stuff.
SW: He uses all those coloured greys you can get in that process, that he wouldn’t have got in a newsprint process.
DG: Well, I’ve said this before—John has put effort into this above and beyond the call of duty as a colourist.
SW: It’s such an important part of the comic, I think.
AM: What you were saying about the pirate story in general—like why it was there… Well it was there because it provides
another layer that you can use to bounce off meanings against each other. That’s one thing. It’s also that various elements in the pirate story relate, or seem to relate, to what’s happening in that issue. When Rorschach is in jail there’s a bit in the pirate story with someone talking about the dead shark… its snarl no longer convincing
PH: You get some nice irony coming in there.
AM: And there’s Dr Manhattan’s isolation in No 3, him going to Mars, in exile, is like the exile of the mariner, but when you get right to the end of the story, in No 12 is becomes very clear that the story was about Veidt all the time, that the mariner is Veidt. Just that bit where he says at the end, “I know people think me callous, but I’ve made myself feel every death; by day I imagine endless faces, by night I dream about swimming towards a… Well, I won’t tell you, it’s not significant. What is significant is that I know I’ve struggled across the backs of murdered innocents to save humanity.”
FJ: That’s literally what the mad man, or the not-so-mad man on the raft has done, isn’t it?
DG: Also we didn’t put it in for self-referential purposes, but it does acknowledge the presence of comics in peoples’ lives and what the kid on the corner is doing is exactly what you’re doing, he is trying to read his comic while people are talking to him, and that’s a form of withdrawal from the world, a form of looking for something else.
FJ: There seems to me to be a very well thought-out concept of what the reader of this book is going to be, what kind of person, what kind of reactions they’re going to have—which Steve and I were talking about earlier. The thing with Dan being the equivalent of the professional comics virgin, who replaces sex and human interaction with his birds—he goes out to play in his costume. It’s the same sort of behaviour you get with fans who replace a real life with comic books and fantasy.
PH: And Laurie plays along with that. That’s obviously their only means of social intercourse.
DG: I don’t think the kid who’s reading the comic on the corner is what you’d call m comics fan, actually.
MS: He’s like I was when I was 8. I’d buy a comic, a Marvel comic because I thought the cover looked nice, and I’d get home and read it, and I’d feel cheated, because it was a continued story.
DG: I think this is a key to the lad’s character—when the news-vendor gives him the comic he doesn’t immediately put it into a Mylar bag, he rolls it up and sticks it in his back pocket. Some day all comics will be treated this way. (Chorus of agreement).
AM: You know, that’s the thing, there is that degree of self-referential world-within-world, but with the pirate story… Pirates were Dave’s idea, we just said ‘What comics would they read in this world?” and Dave said, “What about pirates?”
FJ: Why wouldn’t they have superhero comics?
AM: Because they’ve got the real ones.
FJ: But when the West was still going they were producing a hell of a lot of pulp material about real cowboys.
SW: (Returning with drinks): That’s yours, I think.
FJ:I don’t see why—thanks—superheroes couldn’t continue to exist.
AM: These days I don’t know—The Human Fly didn’t last very long, Steve.
SW: Didn’t they find that he’d broken his leg doing a stunt or something?
DG: I think if there were real superheroes in the world—not fantasy but real costumed characters—you’d immediately see the fallacy of it.
AM: And also people actually liked the cowboys, whereas…
FJ:—people don’t really like the heroes in Watchmen, do they?
MS: The real superheroes who exist in your world aren’t called superheroes. The only one with any superpowers is Dr Manhattan, and he doesn’t act a great deal like Superman, so as you say, the fallacy…
FJ: They’re all incredibly screwed up by trying to be masked adventurers.
SW: You’ve still got people like Giant Haystacks and Geoff Capes, who people think of as strong men.
MS: Hulk Hogan, the champion wrestler, has his own cartoon series in America.
FJ: The Hulkster.
AM: The problem would still be, if you went thoroughly into the Watchmen there would probably be one company that does superheroes—they just don’t sell very well.
DG: They’d probably be like Archie.
AM: Whereas the piracy thing—we chose piracy purely at random but after thinking about it it turned out to be a really good choice, because the world of the pirate stories is a very amoral world.
DG: Just to blow my own trumpet, I didn’t make that suggestion completely at random, I knew they’d be full of colour and adventure and colour and that’s something I like to see in comics.
SW: Was it serendipity that you had Joe Orlando there who had actually worked on pirate comics?
DG: I suppose it was.
AM: Everything was serendipity.
DG: You can actually see—Alan could probably describe this better than me but it wasn’t until he actually started writing issue 3 that the pirate thing became such a big element. If you look at issue 1 you’ll see when the two detectives walk out of Blake’s apartment building there is almost the embryo of the situation at the end. There is a news-stand with a kid sitting reading a pirate comic and that was done before.
SW: That’s a bit of a glitch isn’t it? Because that building isn’t on the crossroads.
DG: It was never supposed to be on that crossroads.
AM: It was a different news-stand.
SW: I always make that mistake.
DG: It was never intended to be the same place. That would really be one coincidence too far.
FJ: From the point of view of having one coincidence too far—you’ve got this very well-orchestrated universe of the crossroads where you have so much coincidence in that everybody’s there…
SW: It’s the centre stage, isn’t it?
MS: I was very fond of Bernard. I liked him and all his opinions on the world.
AM: And also he, Bernard the Elder, is in some ways everyman, because he’s a complete prat and doesn’t know what’s going on.
FJ: He changes his mind from one minute to another.
PH: Depending on what’s in the paper.
DG: Someone was saying earlier about Glenda Slag. You can always look at two sides of a problem and make something out of both.
AM: He is like a lot of people, he is a function of the news.
MS: He just regurgitates.
AM: And thinks that’s an opinion. As the series goes on you start to see—he becomes a character that when you get through all the bullshit you just see this lonely little man.
SW: Yeah, I liked Bernard.
SW: That last gesture of…
AM: …Trying to get between the kid and the explosion…
SW: …making that the drip on the side of the vivarium and the badge, and the character is really nice, it’s a poetic statement about how important he is to the texture of it.
PH: It’s a cool, it’s a major cool.
DG: That corner and its inhabitants meant as much to us as any of the individual characters because, in a way, that is the ordinary person.
FJ: And it’s a representation of the human world, isn’t it?
SW: The News of the World—”All human life is here!”
AM: If superheroes and supervillains, as they do in comics, confine themselves to the same battles then there’s no problem. It’s like the police never worry about the underworld shoving each other until somebody gets hurt. The thing with the human characters was: “Shit, hang on a minute, these are the ones it’s all happening to, they’re the civilians, the ones who really pay for all this.”
SW (Opening a copy of No 12): In No 12 you’ve got a body count…
FJ: It’s the curtain call.
SW: You’ve got the watchseller, who’s a really nice, quiet little joke all the way through. You never see him.
DG: He is the Watchman.
SW: You’ve got the two cops on page 4, Steve Fine and whatshisame.
FJ: The one who never says much.
SW: You’ve got Joey and Aline, Dr Long and him wife…
FJ: And that recurring graffiti shadow of lovers.
SW: …You’ve got the two Promethian Cab men and this mysterious figure with the newspaper over his face.
AM: That’s Steve Fine, the other ‘tec.
SW: No, that’s Steve Fine there, surely?
AM & DG: No, no, that’s just the guy who in No 11 was coming out.
SW: You know I’ve wondered just what the devil that guy was doing there, why that body had to be there with the gun in the shoulder holster.
FJ: We’ve had mystic significances for this guy. Steve and I thought that was Steve Fine there.
DG: No, no, no, that’s someone who’s just come out of the Gunga Diner. In fact, Laurie refers to him, saying “All these people just went out for a takeout Tandoori.”
SW: I thought he was a symbolic figure of the Comedian.
FJ: Fallen on the pavement.
SW: …And she takes the gun from her father, and that you put it in as another bit of ironic poetry.
DG: If you refer back to issue 11 he’s just run around the front of the car and, as the disaster happened, that’s where he would be.
AM: Issue 11 was perfectly choreographed.
FJ: You got the action figures out end played around with them.
AM: Dave at one point nearly built a 3D model of the crossroads.
FJ: I can understand that it would be very, very useful.
SW: Well, this is a 360° pan, isn’t it?
SW: From the centre of the crossroads.
AM: You pull back from there to the centre of the crossroads then you turn round very slowly. The one spot that you never see is where Jon and Laurie are standing.
DG: I didn’t actually make a model of it, although when we first conceived it I did draw a streetmap.
AM: Well, we checked it up on a map of New York.
FJ: It’s really there?
DG: It’s a feasible corner—I’ve got a map at home.
SW: I noticed you put Forbidden Planet N.Y. in there at one stage—where they’re selling all the pirate comics.
AM & DG: No, that’s Treasure Island.
DG: Which would, if you had pirate comics, be FP. At home I’ve got this brilliant map they do which is an isometric projection of New York, so not only is it a street map but it’s all the buildings standing up and it’s got all the post boxes and the trees.
AM: It’s lovely, it’s a work of art you can wander round New York in your head.
DG: It’s about this big but… you know the joke about New York people look at it and say “When’s it going to be finished?” It’s the same with this map, it’s never actually finished because as fast as they put buildings in it, other ones are torn down. There are places in it where there’s just a site with a crane or something.
MS: Oh, I’d love a copy of that.
DG: This corner which we chose… well we haven’t thought out the precise route, say, from Dan Dreiberg’s house up to Hollis Mason’s house…
SW: But it’s pretty close, isn’t it?
AM: But we’ve at least got an idea of whether it’s east or west.
SW: So you just run down the road with a bunch of knot-tops and then go down this alleyway and it’s there.
AM: But there might be a few streets inbetween that we didn’t show.
FJ: So don’t go looking, Steve, when you visit New York.
DG: But that corner, l’m sure that at some time I’ve been to New York I must have walked past that corner. In fact, what I’d really like to do, the next time I go, is actually walk to that junction and see what’s there. On the isometric map there is a fairly new high rise building which could be the Institute for Extra Terrestrials, another building which looks like a cinema to me because it’s got a curved front, and there are some other, lower buildings.
SW: And a fast food chain, perhaps?
DG: That intersection is feasible, right down to the way that the sun rises. This isn’t just down to me. Alan obviously made specific provision for this in his script. The sun actually does rise in the east end sets in the west, and if you look at the thing, if it’s afternoon the shadows are going this way and in the mornings the shadows are going the other way.
SW: Just like when you’re reading a novel, you appreciate when someone actually goes into detail in an elegant way. There are some very elegant things in both the writing and the art. You’ve got things like that lovely tunnel through the comic in No 4 where you actually see the viewpoint from the news-stand with Dan and Laurie across the road end then something like eleven pages later you see Dan and Laurie talking to each other with the news-stand in the background… In No 11 it’s really important that you observe the goings-on at the news-stand and as you’re reading it you realise that each time you jump back to Earth and the crossroads …
FJ: … you’re moving in time.
SW: Right! But you don’t go beck to the same moment as before you jump back a few seconds.
AM: That’s right.
SW: You see Mrs Long approach the news-stand and say ‘My husband is a man of colour’ and then the next time you read it she’s still walking towards it. Time is being played with. Very unlike No 2, 11’s symmetrical twin, where you get a simple flashback situation.
DG: It’s difficult to set these things up initially, but it’s amazing the amount of pleasure it gives you when it’s there, and it must be so for Alan writing it—he can clearly visualise the scene because he knows how far it is from here to there, and where everything is.
AM: What we were saying about structure earlier on… there’s all the clever metaphysical structure of Watchmen and all the little threads and chords and notes running through it, but the big thing is that chronologically it works. It’s timed exactly; we know when everything happened. There was a cockup where I think we gave 2 dates for the Silk Spectre’s birthday, that’s the only one. I think we give ’49 and ’50 as the date of her birth. We can correct that in the book. And geographically it works.
MS: I’ve noticed this every step of the way: You actually know what a building looks like…
AM: There are not infinite doors to every room.
SW: The Avenger’s mansion or the Batcave how many entrances are there to that damned cave?
AM: That’s it.
MS: I remember in the articles you wrote for FA on comics scripting, you were talking about the Superman annual and getting (I think from you, Dave) a map of the Fortress of Solitude so that you knew where everything was.
AM: Works perfectly.
DG: It’s a strange thing as well, that a lot of writers find that having good reference helps them to write well. That’s the thing—you actually get things that write and draw themselves because this is happening here, looking that way, so this is what you must see.
SW: Something like two thirds of the action happens on that crossroads, so your reference is mostly ready-made. Once you’ve got that down pat and you’ve done your umpteen camera angles at the end you get your last pan round the crossroads and then on the last page, a final visit where it’s Borscht ‘n’ Burgers instead of Gunga Diner—a sort of symbolic East/West thing.
DG: And doesn’t it look a lonely news-stand then, with nobody about.
SW: Well, it is just after Christmas, not many people working.
AM: It’s also just after half the city’s been wiped out; perhaps you missed that.
SW: Yuh. I forgot that ‘cus I was too busy reading the comic and getting upset about the characters.
DG: Gee, where is everybody? Oh, it must be New Year!
SW: Well, that’s more or less what I thought, because it’s very sudden, going from November 2nd to Christmas Day, to just after Christmas Day. The last thing you’re thinking is New York was wiped out a month-and-half ago. You’ve just seen Dan and Laurie arrive at her mother’s place and say “We’re still around but it’s a secret”, and then you get your minor denouement when you see Rorschach’s diary and everything.
MS: Well, Dan knows he’s wanted from the fire rescue.
SW: Is that it?
MS: Well, I presumed that’s the reason.
AM: He’s still wanted for all sorts of shit—busting Rorschach out of prison for one thing.
FJ: He’s not actually wanted for the fire, you can’t actually arrest someone for saving lives.
MS: What I mean is after that they know who he is.
DG: But, as he says earlier on, he’s got alternative identities.
AM: Yeah, he would do because he’s a consummate comic book superhero.
FJ: He’s studied it, it’s an art, isn’t it?
PH: But he’s go the kit.
SW: Rather than Batman he’s like Mr Terrific, isn’t he?
FJ: Well, he is Batman, isn’t he?
SW: No, he’s Mr Terrific, he’s the bored millionaire who things “Ah, it’d be rather fun to be a superhero”.
PH: You forget he’s got all those dumb 1950s Batman-style costumes—he’s got racks of them.
MS: He’s got his utility belt.
PH: The exoskeleton, the underwater suit…
DG: He says, well, I’ve got my secret hideout and I’ve got me Owl Ship, and I’ve got me utility belt and I’ve got me alternative costumes. Now what shall I do next? I know, a few more secret identities, just in case…
FJ: That lovely bit where Laurie says “What’s in the pouch, then?” and he lists some ridiculous things.
MS: Scout knife, contraceptives…
FJ: No no no, just the usual stuff, the smoke bombs, the pocket laser and so on.
SW: “Something genuinely useful, perhaps, Dan?”
AM: And the exoskeleton where he says I tried it and it broke my arm. You know, in Batman it always works but old Dan Dreiberg he makes one and assumes it’ll work.
SW: I think that when Frank Miller did his second stay on Daredevil he established the superhero as the ultimate paranoid like making Daredevil have a nervous breakdown basically.
MS: Gives you good reasons for it, though.
SW: But, basically, he just couldn’t trust anyone in the end so he went bananas… in a way that’s the sort of nutcase who sets up secret identities and has a warehouse downtown out of which his Owl Ship can ascend.
DG: He’s not paranoid—I think he’s an obsessive hobbyist, he’s a comics fan, a fanboy.
FJ: He’s very, very down-to-earth, in many ways.
DG: He’s what you would be if you were a superhero, Steve.
SW: It’s true, it’s true. I’ve got the gut to prove it.
AM: Well that’s it. If I was going to be a hero, he’s the one to identify with.
FJ: You’d do it sensibly, wouldn’t you.
AM: No, I probably wouldn’t. If I was going to be a hero, the reason I’d want to be one is probably as a response to the comics I read as a kid, and I would feel that I had to have a utility belt.
DG: Yeah, I mean, you don’t find a lot of fun in hanging around the dustbins in a shabby mac, which is what the real vigilante does all the time. You’d want the glitz. Well, that’s what the fanboy or enthusiast version of a hero is.
SW: That’s one of the clear statements that comes out of Watchmen: the one person you get right inside of is Rorschach, and you realise that it’s not a nice world and he is not a nice person as a result of it, none of them are. They’re all compromisers in one way or another.
DG: That’s right.
FJ: They’re all screwed-up by being superheroes.
SW: They’re all completely screwed-up by the fact that normal people cannot be super unless they are physically super.
AM: And the ordinary people are screwed-up by being ordinary as well.
SW: Oh yes.
AM: There’s just different levels of being screwed-up.
FJ: The people who put on costumes to avoid the normal screw-ups are taking on a whole new set.
DG: Ah, Sir, so you want to be screwed-up. Don you want the ordinary, delux, or the super?
MS: About Nite Owl being a fanboy superhero. I’ve heard people say that Watchmen is a fanboy comic, that it comes from the old discussion that arises where the comic reader grows up he or she starts asking “Well, what if superheroes were real?” and that’s what you’ve done.
AM: What, you mean that because Watchmen upsets the traditions of superheroes then it’s obvious that we’re “into” those traditions?
MS: No, no, it’s because it’s the sort of thing that fans discuss—the sexuality of superheroes, that sort of thing.
SW: That whole thing of “Is the Vision ‘endowed’ or not?”
AM: That could have been an accusation we’d have been open to if Watchmen had been solely about superheroes.
MS: I’m not sure it’s an accusation either, because both of you are old comics fans. You’ve taken the unrealistic conventions and thrown them off.
AM: When we started off we wanted to do a really ace superhero comic, that was all.
DG: And to touch all the bases and make the most of them that we could.
AM: We got into issue 1 and we started to realise… I think it was when Dave suggested the 9 panel grid and that element of formality crept in that we started to realise just what we could do. I also realised that having Dave as an artist suddenly freed me. I could take advantage of all the subliminal possibilities of comics—I couldn’t have done this with Steve Bissette. Steve Bissette is a wonderful artist but there isn’t that degree of control and precision that Dave’s got.
DG: I think the thing that did me was when I stopped thinking of it as a superhero comic and started thinking of it as a Science Fiction comic.
AM: Yeah, it suddenly comes.
DG: That gave me a completely different outlook on it. It was a story based on hypothetical situations in which some of the characters effected the dress of others.
MS: So you get the preconceptions inherent in the costume.
DG: Obviously both Alan and I are very attracted by the glamour of superheroes. One of my favourite things that I ever did was the Superman Annual—a fanboy’s dream come true: it was a great story, it was Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin, and it was edited by Julie Schwartz; and I think Alan probably felt this as well, having aspired to do that kind of comic for a long time. Having done it and got it out of your system, you think “Is that all there is?”
SW: I think what’s lovely is that it originates from the opportunity of DC buying all the Charlton heroes. You have a whole universe that hasn’t really been taken advantage of, because Charlton lasted 2 years, maximum, under Giordano—I mean the real Charlton, not, like Son of Vulcan.
AM: Son of Vulcan was the real CharIton.
DG: To me, the real Charlton was Ditko’s original Captain Atom in gold chainmail.
SW: Yes, I agree, and now DC have decided to completely ignore that, and so there’s something completely wonderful about the way you’ve transformed your original plan…
DG: I think the thing about the Charlton heroes was that they were always second raters, quite honestly.
DG: And they were very derivative. What we found when we came to do them in Watchmen was “Hey, what we’ve got is the archetypal characters! We’ve got a niche for all our ideas about superheroes!” To my way of thinking, once they’ve been integrated into DC they’re just another bunch of superheroes, who more or less duplicate a whole line of existing ones.
SW: They are DC’s attempt at a New Universe, aren’t they?
DG: Well, I would call it a few new faces.
SW: … almost uniformly they smell—I mean, doing that to Captain Atom, doing that to Peacemaker. I mean writing Blue Beetle as Spiderman meets Tony Stark.
AM: The irony of it is, when they said we don’t want you to do the Charlton characters it was because they could see what a radical interpretation we were going to put on them—which would spoil them. I think that the problem that we have post-Watchmen is that we now have a Peacemaker with a lot of facial hair, who’s a really nasty sort of gung-ho character. We’ve got The Question who is leading a fairly seedy existence in the world of real crime and horror. We’ve got Dr… uh… Captain Atom, sorry, who is sort of all blue—I don’t want this to come over as saying to all the writers of those series “You’ve ripped us off,” but it’s ironic. I don’t think those characters would have been quite the same if it hadn’t been for Watchmen.
DG: The most blatant rip off I’ve seen of Watchmen is on the splash page of the latest Superpowers Series, No 2. There’s Darkseid in an alley, and at the end of the alley you can see the same scene that you see at the end of the alley in the Rorschach promo poster.
AM: There’s a Gunga Diner there?
DG: There’s a Gunga Diner and the Chrysler building, and there’s the dome, and I take that as a great tribute.
SW: I must say, I remember seeing that cover of Blue Beetle where there’s presidential posters all over saying “Heroes get stuffed!”, there’s Blue Beetle walking away, and it’s very “Spiderman No More”, hunched shoulders, all that, and you think “What have you been reading?” I know what they’ve been reading! And ironically, these are the characters they were based on.
AM: Something that just flashed into my mind—Does Watchmen rely on superhero reference points? Is it a fanboy comic? Well, obviously to some degree our use of the superhero in that story comes from a couple of points: it was done for a medium that is superhero-dominated, and where people aren’t really interested in proposals that aren’t superhero-orientated. That’s obvious. The logical stuff.
MS: …that people buying comics are only familiar with superhero stuff, and that’s what they want.
AM: We’d got this situation, and originally we intended it to be a very superior superhero book, but by the time we were into it—issue 3 say—it became clear to us that we could have done it without superheroes. The elements that we started to play up then were ones that were nothing to do with superheroics. The superheroes become icons, symbols of power…
SW: Watchmen grew organically, then?
SW: There were changes of direction?
AM: Not many, not many. Once issue 3 was in the bag we knew it all. I think there were a lot of elements of serendipity and that’s a whole article in itself. This was the magic of Watchmen. In terms of what we felt we were doing, in that occasionally you’ll be doing something and by accident you hit it right every time that’s a really wonderful feeling. With Watchmen all of these little coincidences started to creep in.
SW: I remember you mentioning the same about V for Vendetta at one stage—you were talking about the V obsession about things that are 5 and V and all of a sudden that started influencing the strip.
AM: Watchmen was very much the same.
DG: And once you start to impose a structure you get things that slot in.
SW: I suspect this is probably the strength of Watchmen itself—there’s that symmetrical skeleton.
FJ: That formal concern with things.
DG: The keyword is structure.
SW: You can’t quite say if you look at panel one—well, you can say if you look at panel the first and panel the last, that you’ve got the same thing, but there are some isolated examples. Here’s an example in No 11 where the first panel is a blank panel of snow, and if you look at the last page of No 2 you’ve got a blank panel on the other side, which is the red of the funeral roses and you think that’s really clever that.
DG: That’s serendipity. Until it, I didn’t…
SW: I don’t believe you, David.
DG: It’s true, it’s true!
MS: I believe you.
AM: There’s more incredible things then that in there, the one that really stunned me—this was after issues of things that stunned me—was in No 9. I found it very, very difficult to believe that there’s actually a crater up on Mars that’s got a smiley face on it, but there is, and it’s on the Argyre Planitia.
PH: That wasn’t deliberate? Or did you just discover…?
SW: You mean there really is on on Mars?
MS: That’s astonishing.
FJ: Alan, are all the companies real that Adrian Veidt sets up?
AM: No, they’re not real companies.
MS: I thought you were about to say…
FJ: There is a Pyramid Deliveries…
AM: Is there really, shit.
MS: I hope you don’t get a lawsuit.
AM: I didn’t know. Like all the way through there have been these astonishing things, like the first time it happened was probably in no 3 or 4 where—yeah, No 4 there’s the scene where Dr Manhattan goes to Mars. Where’s the panel where he’s just walking. That one! My panel description for that was we’re looking down upon a crater. Don’t make it an EC crater. Let’s have it a real flat, boring landscape.
DG: ‘Cos Mars is really boring.
AM: Looking down, a little blue man walking across a big pink crater, big pink sort of sand clouds. And what happened was Dave found a book of Mars end said that he’d found a reference shot of a crater that was exactly as I described. I said “Oh great”. “And,” he said, “the caption at the bottom says: “This is the so-and-so crater near the Nodus Gordii Mountains on Mars”. I thought, “I didn’t know there were any Nodus Gordii Mts on Mars”—especially since we’d already set up, quite coincidentally, the Gordian Knot Lock Company.
SW: All part of your ‘Classical World’ reference that you met up as a clue that it’s Ozymandias behind it all.
DG: And indeed it might even be that the motto on the side of the Gordian Knot van could serve as the epitaph for the whole series: “Let’s see them undo this sucker”.
FJ: I never noticed that.
AM: I decided to call it the Gordian Knot Company. I thought, we’ve got a company here, let’s give them a name, let’s make it real; we’ll call them the Gordian Knot Lock Company: They’ll Never Untie This Sucker, etc. That’ll be a good gag. Then suddenly when Dave mentioned these Nodus Gordii Mountains and I thought “This is more important than I thought, I’m being given a message here”.
FJ: Extraterrestrials or something.
SW: “Arthur Koestler is sending me messages from the spirit world.”
MS: Do you think it’s possible that this universe, our galaxy, is the one that’s created by Dr Manhattan in Watchmen 12? It’s got to be, hasn’t it?
AM: Who knows? But once we knew that there was something really important about the Gordian Knot, we thought “Well, this whole book is about somebody’s response to the nuclear problem…”
FJ: Which is a Gordian Knot.
AM: Dave reminded me who it was who cut the Gordian Knot.
SW: I wondered if you’d read those three Mary Renault books about Alexander.
AM: No, I’ve not read them.
MS: You were buying one or two of them when I was last up here, Steve.
SW: Yes, well I bought them because I’m interested in mythology. I bought the Theseus trilogy bit by bit, and the bloke in the shop said “Yea, there’s one about Alexander; you can’t get it all, though.” And I thought “Hang on, he must have read that—that’s where he’s got all this…”
DG: We know enough about Alexander to make the connection between the Gordian Knot…
FJ: So initially you didn’t think “We’ll make him want to be Alexander The Great”. That just came up as you were going along?
AM: Because it seemed obvious, once we’d got an Alexander connection, and Veidt and Alexander is the perfect connection…
SW: I remember in No 2, you see the panel where the Comedian has set fire to the map, and it flicks back to the graveyard, and it’s the end of Ozymandias’ flashback. Capt Metropolis is saying “Somebody’s got to save the world”, and you get a poignant Ozymandias looking at the burnt map and you think, “That is him, that’s the man who killed the Comedian.” But I needed a motive, and maybe it’s because you hadn’t given him a motive at that stage…
AM: He did have motive for doing it by then, but we hadn’t got the Alexander connection.
SW: So, like, sexual jealousy and Hooded Justice and all that had been established?
AM: The thing with Veidt was we knew who he was, we knew what sort of person he was.
DG: Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt
SW: I can do it, I must do it, I will do it.
AM: We knew what he was going to do, and we knew his motivation for doing it: he’s the cleverest men in the world. He doesn’t want the world to die, or he will be the cleverest man on a cinder. It was only when we suddenly found the historical model that we realised this guy is really into Alexander! Why is this guy really into Alexander? Because he’s the only person he could identify with. Picture Julius Caesar bursting into tears at the age of 32.. .”What’s the matter, Caesar?” they ask, end he says, “By this age, Alexander ruled the world!” Those people, all of them, would identify with Alexander as the one who’d done it first.
SW: But that whole connection with Rameses II and working that all out backwards from the poem, I gradually picked all that up—he’s not quite literally and in a facile way simply modelling himself on Rameses II, because posterity has proved Rameses a failure.
FJ: That’s what puzzled me. I was terribly terribly worried about this character because I thought “Why would this man who is the cleverest man in the world, called Ozymandias, when everyone knows the name from Shelley’s poem—not from the connection with Rameses II. I was worrying myself thinking out his reasons for naming himself after this antique failure.
SW: Especially since it’s probably the very first poem quoted in comics, that Roy Thomas Avengers (No 57).
DG: Well, of course, that where Alan learnt English Literature. Even in itself that became serendipity, because in the piece in issue 10 where Dan penetrates the security of Ozymandias’ computer—which was necessarily simplified.
DG: Lots of people said it would be a lot more complicated, well—yeah it would but you’ve got to make it obvious for people. But it’s the fact that that issue is called ‘Two Riders Were Approaching’ and it’s Rameses II. If you put the two figures on the end of it that is the rider, the rider that it’s necessary to do.
AM: Oh, there’s a lot of clever stuff like that.
DG: We’ve been through the bit about the coincidence of issue 5 .. … there’s the scene where the ageing hippy has killed his children because he doesn’t want them to find out about nuclear war.
SW: Terrifying stuff.
DG: Yeah, and Alan suggested that he had some old 60s decor and posters, and I thought, well, he needs a Grateful Dead poster because
AM: They’re dead.
DG: And they should be grateful. So I got my copy of The Album Cover Album and I looked up Grateful Dead.
FJ: You mean you haven’t got the records!
DG: I certainly haven’t. I’ve got a lot of Stax and I’ve got a lot of Motown.
AM: I haven’t even got one of their albums.
DG: It’s an album, the particular reference they’ve got, called Aoxomoxoa, which is as symmetrical word.
SW: A palindrome.
AM: A symmetrical picture which has got skull and cross bones like the pirate flag.
SW: Has it got the pyramid and the eye?
DG: No, but it’s got hands with eggs, at the beginning of the book Rorschach breaks an egg. On the opposite page there’s another album cover, also by Rick Griffin, Tales of the Rum Runners, which is the club in No 5, and that’s the reason why there’s a skull and cross bones. But as far as the smiley face of Mars is concerned—I thought I’d better get some more reference because what I wanted to do was to make it real Mars. All that Mars really is is a selection of infinitely graded rubble ranging from sand up to boulders as big as the Queen Mary. So I got this book out—and you can get it out of your local library—called The Travellers’ Guide to the Solar System.
SW: It’s really beautiful, that book.
DG: And in there, there is a NASA photograph of a smiley face on Mars.
AM: When we saw that we thought, “Christ, this is where Jon is, this is where Laurie’s going to be in No 9”. We nearly didn’t use it because we thought nobody would believe it—they’ll think this is a really stupid contrivance.
DG: Then, of course, it occurs to me perhaps because my brain is getting loosened to the point where I can make these connections—that in fact that smiley face is the result of a cosmic coincidence. That was formed by two meteorites hitting it almost exactly at the same point. In other words, there was a crater there with a wall and another meteorite of almost the same size demolished almost all of the crater wall. So you ended up with a new crater with a small remnant of the old one, with the two meteorites lying side by side, which makes the smiley face. Some day Alan and I are going to visit it.
AM: And we were thinking about Jon’s citadel being pink, so if it crashes near one of the boulders then the rubble will fall in a pink spray across that left eye of the face. Half way through, Kate noticed the plugs on the spark hydrant she said “Do you know that was a smiley face?” And Dave had drawn it about 30 times by then, and it wasn’t until the last issue that he managed to make it obvious.
DG: Unfortunately a bit of red covers it up.
SW: Oh yeah.
AM: But they’ve been on there since issue 3, those plugs.
DG: As I think of it, after the death of Rorschach, looking into the tunnel there is another smiley face with a bloodstain. It’s the kind of thing I’ve tried not to contrive too much, but like Alan was saying earlier it’s like striking a series of chords.
SW: In No 6, Rorschach walks into the kidnappers’ hideout, and the feeling you’re getting from the writing—we’re talking about the hairs on the back of his neck standing up from the atmosphere, and there’s things like this boiler which has got a face on it, and this cushion that’s got a horrible ripped face on it, and stuff like that… I just can’t be certain that you didn’t draw it deliberately.
DG: I’m almost certain that I didn’t.
SW: Have a look, all the cushions seem to be pulling faces.
DG: And that’s a cyclopean face, that’s the bastard at the end.
MS: Ha ha ha! This is ridiculous.
SW: Well, all the cushions have got faces. It’s real paranoia, I love that.
DG: Well, there are some conscious bits in it, but that I must say in all humility was a…
FJ: Total fluke.
SW: Well, maybe I spotted it because I follow Nexus, because they’ve got lots of people with one eye.
PH: I assume this one was deliberate, the splashed Buddha, and it also relates to the end when Moloch gets shot in the forehead he’s got that little Buddha beauty mole, just as Rorschach says “Can you provide any illumination” and you suddenly see his with the red light of the sign flashing on behind his so you’ve got the illumination and you’ve got the little mark of the Buddha on his forehead… only it’s a bullet hole. There are just so many of these things it becomes completely meaningless like real life.
DG: You begin to wonder, I mean we used to have these extensive phone calls and discuss the latest set of coincidences and we began to think: Are we just imagining all these coincidences?
PH: He’s real Illuminati stuff.
DG: Yeah, and the eye and the pyramid that’s part of Veidt’s costume.
PH: Talking about coincidences and apparent contrivances, one thing I found a bit awkward about number 12—losing a couple of days for Jon and Laurie when they arrive—that seems like a contrivance.
AM: Um—no there is no telling how long Jon and Laurie are upon Mars. If you work it out from their dialogue they might have been there half an hour, on the other hand they’ve been all the way around the planet.
MS: It seemed to me it might have been several hours.
AM: The thing that struck me is—I suppose it is a contrivance that they ended up at that street-corner at that time, but it’s no more a contrivance than those other people ending up there. I mean, we’ve already got the thing about the tachyons.
SW: This seems a bit convenient, though, like ‘comicbookese’, with tachyons going back in time.
MS: They do, they do, that’s scientific fact.
AM: It’s like all those bastards talking about the Free Lunch Drive at the end of Halo Jones, that was a bit of a contrivance, wasn’t it? Well, there actually is a current scientific theory which says that the entire universe was created from nothing more than the interaction of subatomic particles. I read up on this stuff, you know. The thing with the tachyons… if I was Adrian Veidt and I actually wanted some sort of defence against Dr Manhattan, what would I do? Obviously, the big advantage he’s got over anyone else is that he knows what’s going to happen. Is there any way of fucking that up for him? So you research Quantum Physics and there are particles that go back in time: tachyons. And all particles contain coded information, so if you wanted to jam someone who had that degree of prescience…
SW: It’s more subjective prescience, isn’t it? He can only see into the future that…
AM: … he’s in, yeah. So that would screw up everything for him. When he and Laurie left Mars they might have ended up on Earth a month before they left or ten years later. He just got lost.
DG: In one of the possible alternative Watchmens we did discuss this briefly. Since teleportation makes Laurie sick they might actually have caught a ride back to Earth or cause a large meteorite to physically traverse the distance to Earth and then step off. It actually fits in with ‘Two Riders Were Approaching’, but in the end we decided it didn’t work. It was better to have them arrive at that street-corner, like, by fate, just like all those other people. It’s not terribly significant for the story that they arrive there.
SW: Just this sad compulsion (of Laurie’s) to put things in her carrier bag.
AM: Just a gun.
SW: There’s quite a lot of stuff in that carrier bag, isn’t there?
AM: No, she only puts in the gun. She’s… how are they going to protect themselves in a world where this can happen? She bumps into something, looks down and…
SW: She’s thinking “I’m the daughter of the Comedian, I’m the daughter of the Comedian”.
DG: Suppose you’ve just had a round trip to Mars, you’ve been to a pink castle, you then save the world by your ability to reason, and then you come back to Earth and it’s utter carnage, what would you do?
AM: And you only see her do that in the background. You see her looking at the gun, Jon’s talking in the foreground, she’s bending down, picking something up and you can’t see what it is and put it into her bag. It’s only the gun she puts into her bag, that’s all.
MS: Another thing I found something of a contrivance is, well, Adrian Veidt is a perfect physical specimen and all, but him catching a bullet?
AM: I believe it’s possible.
SW: I believe that’s Thunderbolt.
AM: That thing about catching the bullet… we do nothing there that we haven’t done in No 5. I mean we see it in slow-motion, and he’s picking up the ashtray while the other guy is pointing a gun at him and while bringing it up to hit the guy he makes sure it converges to the exact point where the bullet is going to hit him. And he does all this in 2 seconds.
MS: I suppose we’re used to seeing Batman do that kind of thing—blocking a bullet with an ashtray.
DG: Veidt catches it in No 12 and he’s glad because it’s like a party trick that came off, and the fact of the matter is he’s wearing metallic armour anyway, so it he hadn’t caught it…
FJ: He’s showing off.
MS: I can’t remember what it’s called, but there’s a standard move in Oriental martial arts when an arrow is shot at your chest, instead of taking it in the cheat you put up your arm, sacrifice an arm. He puts his hands up like that, so there’s a safety valve there even if that doesn’t work.
AM: I believe it is possible. I wouldn’t want to try it, but I believe it’s possible if you are a perfect physical specimen whose mind and body are totally one, it’s possible.
SW: What about the amount of blood one blood blister in the palm can produce.
FJ: The hands do have a dense net of blood vessels. Also you hands bleed incredibly quickly.
SW: I know. Cutting the end off a finger, it’s like a water pistol.
AM: And a moving bullet is extremely hot, so it would probably burn the tissue.
SW: That’s what I thought, a moving bullet, blood blister, BANG, you know.
AM: But Rorschach has followed him a certain part of the way, you can see that: the “The End of the World…” man follows him down the street. Anyway, that’s the sort of thing Rorschach would do. He doesn’t think about dying in the fridge, it’s just a great way to make an entrance, frighten the shit out of people.
SW: Especially with Moloch, he has no compunction about screwing the hell out of
AM: Kids, don’t try this at home. Not without parental permission.
FJ: I notice there wasn’t a parental warning on the front of the comic.
MS: Like all those people trying to fly.
SW: Don’t jump out of window like Rorschach did ’cause you won’t just break your ankle.
AM: Don’t try to teleport yourself to Mars.
FJ: Don’t hide in the fridge.
SW: Are people going to be found dead in fridges because of Watchmen.
FJ: “I can’t wait to surprise my mum”, yeah.
DG: You know, when Rorschach appears out of that fridge…
SW: It is one of the most supremely-timed pieces.
AM: It’s also so… so mental. We thought “We got to have Rorschach make an entrance, what would be an incredibly stupid thing to do?”
SW: Only Rorschach is mad enough to wait in a fridge on the off-chance that this man’s coming back that evening.
MS: I was sitting next to you, Dave, at last year’s Comic Con, and you were chatting with Frank Miller about panel grids—with Dark Knight coming out at 16 panels per page, rather than your 9, but using the same basic principles of regular page layouts. You’ve both come on to it completely independently and realised it had certain advantages.
DG: It does put a very strict graphic control on the page.
AM: It’s interesting that the most experimental work in mainstream comics is being done from a very static standpoint, whereas in the 60s…
FJ: Jack Kirby double-page spreads, collages…
AM: We’ve calmed down, we’ve tried decaffeinated coffee.
SW: You actually needed that skeleton to hang the whole series onto, didn’t you. The 9 panel Ditkoesgue grid is very reminiscent of action scenes in early Spiderman, Blue Beetle, etc.
DG: Oh sure, I’ve brought out my early Ditko issues of Spiderman and that’s the closest previous thing to Watchmen.
SW: Kirby was never particularly interested in things like the 9 panel layout.
DG: What it actually does—and I have no idea if Ditko consciously did this, although people always thought Spiderman was a very involved kind of comic—is that the regular tempo or look of the book makes you go into the story, it makes you forget about the page and go straight…
FJ: And any alteration in the tempo like the first page of No 12 is so much more stimulating because it is so different.
MS: If you change everything at once, people will think “What’s going on?” But if you stick to the formal 9 panel grid…
DG: And I think it also helps in the writing if there are no captions, nothing artificial, so that you get the idea “This isn’t being written, this isn’t being just drawn, this is happening”, and the more attention you draw to the graphic aspects of the page, the less you get involved in the actual story content. Now we have comics in all kinds of sizes, all kinds of formats, one of the dreariest thoughts is that everyone in the next few years is going to be drawing in a 9 panel grid.
MS: Or 16 panels. That’s another thing I wanted to mention: the influence Watchmen will have. Because you’ve already had a certain influence on comics, particularly…
Alan. And Watchmen has had a lot of attention, selling very well, what do you think is going to happen now?
AM: I think it’s not too presumptuous to talk about post-Watchmen comics—Think of superhero group books…
DG: …just look at Justice League No 1, it that isn’t a Watchmen…
AM: It’s a very good book. I don’t know if it would have happened in quite the same way without Watchmen and Miracle Man and…
SW: It’s certainly a splendid book, I don’t know why it’s a splendid book, since the two people working on it are two of the people I respect least in the industry at the moment.
AM: I think there will be post-Watchmen comics, probably some good ones, like the thing from Dark Horse The American: a superhero who has been a patriotic symbol for the government since the ’40s, but there’s something very strange about the way he works: he keeps getting killed, or reported killed, and then he turns up again and calls a press conference. It’s a beautiful strip and it’s got that Watchmen flavour. I will say this: I’ll bet my arse that within 6 months or a year, everyone will be sick to the back teeth of realistic superheroes.
DG: It does seem to be ‘de rigueur’ that superheroes are gloomy and introspective. You get something like Captain Marvel, which to me is the ultimate Good Fun superhero. DC revive it and it’s gloomy, miserable, inappropriate…I’d like to do a Captain Marvel who would be an adventurous, colourful, magical character.
SW: I’d like you to do Captain Marvel! The thing that strikes me about your style on Watchmen is it’s not the Neal Adams, ultra-realistic, “Let’s make the hatching even finer than it was before” approach. It’s the Steve Ditko school, the Wally Wood school that takes the world and interprets it in your style. You reinvent reality and because you reinvent all, or most, of it, the illusion of reality is reinforced. It’s all down to the person who’s reading it now—it’s suspension of disbelief and with no clever little photographic tricks and the like—it isn’t full of Bill Sienkewicz’s tricks… With Sienkewicz you’re very aware of whatever medium he’s using for however many panels… but quite often there are little realistic highlights that refer to photography. With your stuff, Dave, we know where we are—you don’t go beyond a certain gap in the feathering, your line quality is strictly limited. It all looks like it’s drawn by the same person.
DG: I think it’s a question of translating reality into a code… and you get that code as expressive as you can. No matter what anybody does it’s still lines on a piece of paper—the ultimate paradox of drawing, anyway, is that nothing in reality has got a line around it. When you draw an outline you are saying straight away that “This is not real, this is my view”.
SW: Nothing in reality is two dimensional, is it?
DG: As far as being an artist—I’ve never wanted to be an ‘artist’. I just want to tell stories with pictures and so I want to draw to the level where I can put my thoughts about stories, about dramatic situations into a sort of shorthand. A code that will strike a consistently responsive chord in the viewer and that’s as far as the drawing itself concerns me
I’m much more involved in the mood than the actual physical means of conveying it.
MS: That’s what makes a comic artist.
SW: Presumably this gives you a guide to where you place the text and the dialogue, Alan. Or does it work in a straight “I write it, you draw it,” type way.
MS: Another thing that clearly differs from the other comics is that you knew just what you were going to get there. It wasn’t like when you were writing Swamp Thing—with different artists all the time—here you knew exactly what you’d get…
AM: Well if you look at my rough, scribbled page layouts that I do for my own satisfaction, I think you’d be able to draw a very straight line between them and Dave’s thumbnails, his pencils and his inks. Obviously the realisation of a lot of the scenes exceeded my expectations since I couldn’t imagine them with that degree of clarity but it was still pretty much what we planned to put there. Having a 9 panel grid structure gave me… instead of what, with Steve Bissette and John Totleben, is a matter of leaving whole pages to them… with Watchmen I knew which were the double-sized panels so I could actually give Dave a composition that actually worked well with a double-sized panel. I knew the layout of each page exactly.
SW: So you knew exactly where a caption, word balloon etc. would appear?
MS: You’ve got your own rhythm as well.
AM: Yeah well, for example, in No 5 you may have noticed that the symmetry extends to the page layouts.
SW: The central splash on page 14 and 15… the first and last panels—the whole issue’s layouts are mirrored down that fold in page 14/15—like a Rorschach ink blot. And in No 9 you get this tremendous bit of timing—and it’s not often you can praise timing in comics—but it’s obvious that you know where Dave’s layouts are going…
AM: Not precisely where it was going to be…
SW: But this works so well—where he’s talking about chaotic terrain… that great yawning gap and the feeling of the huge scale of the canyon they’re flying over, which—because there’s no speech until the return to the coda at the bottom of the page times your feeling that important emptiness there perfectly. If I were writing Watchmen I would’ve titled the chapter that: Chaotic Terrain.
DG: There you go—another phrase thrown up by a reference book.
AM: I always know which is going to be the last word balloon in the panel, obviously and I knew that was going to be a big panel and so I used the impact of a small cluster of words in a big space to get that chime there.
DG: One of the worst banes of a comic artist is working with a writer who doesn’t think through what he’s asking you to draw. Alan thinks his content through always very carefully, whether they’re on a 9 panel grid or not. When you get a script you’re in no doubt as to what he’s got in mind. Some people have said to me “Isn’t that a bit restrictive having Alan describe all this stuff and its 9 panels per page”. Well, it isn’t really—I find it immensely rewarding.
MS: I’ve heard artists say they just couldn’t work with him.
SW: It must be a challenge to a craftsman, I would’ve thought.
DG: The only thing that matters to me about doing a comic strip—and I imagine it’s the same for Alan—is that as it is a collaboration, for it to be a good one you’ve got to forget your ego and if a thing’s goons work for the good of the book—do it, even if it isn’t to your taste. I know Alan’s made compromises and I have as well. I don’t mind having a tight script for that reason.
AM: It’s like when we didn’t know what to do for the cover of No 11 and we thought “Know it opens with snow, know it ends with a flash” and I suddenly thought: Whiteness. And then Dave said “What if we do the entire cover white?”—”Brilliant that’s what it’s got to be, no one’s ever done a completely white cover before someone’s gotta do it, it might as well be us.” Then Dave got sort of…
DG: Well, I didn’t think they’d let us do it, so I spoke to Jeanette Kahn and I spoke to Dick Giordano as well, and they said “We don’t like it particularly we don’t think it’ll make any difference to the sales so if you want to do it..” But what I then felt was that now we’d been given the freedom of the shop… I didn’t then think it was the best cover—I’m still a bit ambivalent about it…
AM: At the time we were discussing this I said, “I’m really into just the concept of a white cover—it’s so pure”, and Dave was saying “Yeah, but a little element of colour would emphasise the whiteness,” so Dave suggested just the butterfly laying in the snow.
SW: You don’t mean a completely white, I presume there’d still be a logo…
DG: The original idea for the cover was to have a butterfly in the snow but it wasn’t possible to construct the story that way.
MS: I think what you got came out as a very attractive cover.
FJ: It’s a brilliant idea.
SW: Yes, that really is very, very strong linking the drip on the vivarium with the kid and the news-vendor…
DG: Well that didn’t happen until I came to draw the last page and I though “Yeah, I can manipulate that to work that way.”
AM: I mean, I didn’t say in the script: make the news-vendor and the kid into the droplet but when Dave was drawing it… I didn’t know that would be possible until then. There were some things I asked Dave to do “if it were possible.”
SW: What about that tunnel through the comic in No 3?
DG: That was specified in the script.
AM: There were some things we put in Watchmen where we thought: that’ll be cool when the readers notice it.
FJ: …If they do…
DG: But, as you say, that is what gives me satisfaction from a craftsmanship level because you really do have to be able to draw things in three dimensions to be able to do that.
SW: That’s what I meant about the sequences in No 11 when you see time jump back a little each time so that you see someone get across the road then you see them start to cross. You realise that what you’re experiencing are filmic comics, camera angles. I can imagine Alan’s script for these pages, and they’ll read like a film script complete with camera angles and frames… I know there’s more too it than that…
AM: You’re near enough, Steve.
SW: But the thrill is that the process is that naked to the reader. It’s like reading a novel and realising you know how it’s been written—something that doesn’t happen very often. You’re constantly reminded that this is put together by two people—unlike a novel.
PH: One thing I liked was the look of the alternative reality—the fact that you’ve got this… Dan Dare vision of 1986, with electric cars and airships and the rest but it still looks like modern streets and grubby reality.
FJ: Wonderful touches like Dr Manhattan appearing on television in an old-fashioned, double-breasted suit and suddenly you notice that everybody wears double-breasted suits.
DG: Well Alan’s forte was the sociological and philosophical ramifications whereas I really enjoyed exploiting the technological and stylistic elements. I think a very early note of mine suggested that, to make things look a bit different, why not double-breasted suits?
FJ: That’s dodging the usual problem with futuristic societies where they all just get put into mini skirts, plastic dresses etc
MS: What they do is, if they don’t take the shiny, metallic uniform things than they take the most ‘modern’ bit of subculture fashion like, may, punk…
FJ: And give everyone a mohican.
DG: We didn’t try to make it ultra modern or futuristic.
FJ: Yes, because it’s only really 2 years back in our time.
PH: One of the touches I liked was the top-knot thing which was simultaneously like something out of a 1950s’ Philip K Dick novel and it’s the kind of thing you can see out in the street just by looking out of the window.
DG: Strangely enough, people have said that it’s quite an un-American thing—you know, gangs of people, identified by the style of their clothes.
AM: One of the things I was most pleased with with relation to the knot-tops was when we finally see Alma… and she is, like, a Zandra Rhodes knot-top. You can see that the style has started to filter out into the general public.
DG: And when you see Laurie, at the end, she’s got those little bootees on—like you see Alma wearing. Only Alma’s are black leather whereas Laurie’s are sort-of pastelly.
MS: This is astonishing all this—the way it’s so coherent.
DG: When DC said to us supposing we get some other people to continue Watchmen…
FJ: How the hell do you continue it?
AM: We stopped them from doing it.
DG: But what I’m trying to say is I really believe that Alan and I doing it is intrinsic to its success. Watchmen is really hard work—I know we’re sitting here smiling now but it’s not just been arbitrary, it’s not just drawing or writing whatever comes into your head.
FJ: I was talking to somebody at the mart about Watchman and asked them what they thought of No 12. They said: it went off exactly am I expected it to—not much happened. Well, of course not that much happened, it’s not meant to be a bloodbath.., it seems to me that you’ve get this lovely, ironic ending and although the whole end isn’t there the conclusions are all mapped out for you—you know what’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years.
DG: The sort of idea DC had was to have a Nite Owl/Rorschach team and show more of the Comedian in Vietnam.
FJ: What, a sort of ‘Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased’?
DG: Yeah! And as ‘The ‘Nam’ is going down really big they were thinking seriously about a Comedian war comic.
AM: Can I take up this thing about “not much happened” which is a criticism which I’m not very used to. There’s a review in Amazing Heroes by Gerard Jones, who is a very good reviewer, and he says: well, we’ve got to No 5 and not much has happened. Of course, looking at it in terms of conventional comics there’s only been about two weeks passed and a few incidents… what he forgot was that in those five issues we’ve more-or-less covered an entire forty-year continuity so it has been covered in flashback…
MS: But where were the fight scenes?
AM: Okay, so not much goes on in Watchmen 12… compared to what?—a major character dies, half of New York has been wiped out, Dr Manhattan leaves Earth forever…
FJ: It’s like in 11 you have the superhero battle and it’s with a fork and a dinner plate… and that’s it,
PH: I found Watchman 12 really satisfying because it did bring all the threads together. 11 I found really breathless because you were getting through so much in that one issue but 12 was everything I could’ve hoped it would be.
AM: Once you step outside a comic book’s frame of reference you realise that no matter how much action you put in a comic unless it’s labelled ‘action’ in the way that all comic action usually is—people will just not notice it.
SW: All violence does for a comic, legitimately, in my opinion, is to speed up the tempo.
MS: The Kirby stuff: all these people being smashed through walls and being hit for miles—you just take no notice these days. However…
AM: The finger-breaking scene in the first issue.
MS: Exactly what I was going to mention.
AM: In that scene we gave the key to the way we were going to approach violence in Watchmen—You just think of any fight between the Batman and the Joker when they’re all going at it for 5 pages .. … there must be at least, logically, a couple of fingers broken.
MS: I’ve been punched in the face once in my whole life.., and it hurt for days.
DG: I went and punched a friend of mine on the shoulder—saying ‘wotcher’—and I broke my finger.
SW: Rorschach has a split lip for days in prison…
AM: What we were saying was, in this first issue, other than the flashback of the Comedian going out of the window, the only piece of violence that occurs is when Rorschach moves someone’s little finger from there… to there. That is much more violent, frightening and disturbing than 20 people going through walls.
DG: I think it’s a question of contrast. If you look at Kirby what you’ve got is a violent, active panorama with quiet accents. What we’ve got with Watchmen is a quiet panorama with very sudden, sharp, violent accents. I think the thing to avoid in any endeavour is “middleness”.
SW: That’s why, despite Jolly Jack’s fights being a bit hokey and hyperbolic, his stuff is pure comics because he really understands the dynamics of the medium and he can handle quiet moments and stillness with tremendous sensitivity.
AM: With Jack it’s a matter of creating, rather than learning the rules.
MS: I was on Radio Bristol recently in a discussion where comics came up—and most people think that’s what they’re about. In superhero stories people are smashed all over the place and nobody ever gets hurt. That gives a very bad impression to people: violence looks fun because Spiderman’s beating someone up.
FJ: It’s the Tom and Jerry thing, isn’t it?
PH: I think ‘Destroy’ said it all. New York gets levelled—and what a good job nobody got hurt!
AM: The violence in Watchmen happens in very short bursts. If you’ve ever been in a fight you’ll know how difficult it is to sustain a fight for more than 30 seconds… literally. I bet that most of the fights that I’ve been in have consisted of 30 seconds of people going “CRRB” (mimes fight), and then being pulled off.
FJ: Yes, one of the most shocking moments for me was Dan suddenly going mad when he hears about Hollis’ death.
DG: Of course another thing you’ll know if you’ve been in a fight is: you don’t wisecrack whilst you’re doing it.
AM: Yeah, but Dan—in that situation—he acts like a real prat, he starts threatening to blow up the whole neighbourhood and the only reason Rorschach stops him is “Not in front of civilians”.
SW: But as you say in the appendix to No 1: Make sure you get the sympathy of your readership—everybody likes Hollis, he’s a nice old bloke. Hence Dan’s reaction. Speaking of Hollis, I remember thinking that the inscription on his statue looked a bit odd… because you could also read it as ‘INGRATITUDE’, one word—so to see Derf shove the statue in his face was a horrifying and sad end for him.
MS: I thought the saddest moment in the whole series was when Hollis says: I’m going back to car mechanics and Osterman says electric cars are coming.
AM: Just the look on his face.
FJ: Yeah, “I’ll be seeing you…”
DG: I trust you noticed that the car outside his garage, when he gets murdered, is an internal combustion engine. In fact we were going to make more of it than that, weren’t we? We were going to have someone with a car.
AM: We were going to have someone spraying a car, doing a paint-job but… that was out of character for him.
WATCHMEN: THE MOVIE
DG: Have you heard that there’s a Watchmen film? But my view is that Watchmen is an ensemble piece where there isn’t any one leading character…
SW: On the way up here I was saying that I don’t see Watchmen as a film as much as a stage play in acts.
DG: We saw it as a 13-part TV series.
SW: But the crossroads is a perfect stage.
AM: The problem with taking Watchmen to another medium is that we deliberately set out to establish—hard—some territory for comics. We tried to exploit the things in comics that cannot be done in any other medium. I mean, if they do a film of Watchmen you couldn’t have the pirate stuff in it. You couldn’t have the background details because they’d flash by so quickly there’d be no chance to recognise or compare them.
SW: What about an animation of the pirate comic?
AM: Well, they’d actually have to show still panels.
DG: That would get thrown out, though. I mean, who wants allegory?
MS: This goes back again to your article on comics scripting where you list all the unique properties of comics rather than letting them be compared unfavourably with cinema.
AM: Watchmen is, to some degree, the perfect example of the theories I was formulating there, in fact.
I spoke to Sam Ham—he comes from Virginia, he’s one of the Virginia Hams—and he’s written the Batman screenplay which I’m sure you might criticise here and there but I would say that from a comic fan’s point of view you couldn’t ask for a better one. We’ve both read it and we’re both satisfied. Anyway, Sam came up to see me because he’s been asked to do the Watchmen screenplay. He said he wanted to do it. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to do Watchmen because it wouldn’t matter much whether he wrote it or not, since it’ll be rewritten at various points, the director will change bits, the cast will change bits so that any lines that eventually appear on the screen that are in any way similar to my script will be pure coincidence. In other words: if someone’s gonna fuck up Watchmen, he’d rather it wasn’t him. Still, his reason for doing Watchmen was that if someone’s gonna fuck it up he’d rather it was someone who cared about it. He said, “I realise I’m defeated before I start so I’ve got to take a Samurai attitude to it: that I’m already dead, so I’ll discharge myself with honour.” I couldn’t ask for a better attitude.
SW: He sounds like a good salesman, apart from anything else, but the other thing about Watchmen is that it’s episodic. As you said, on the telly it would work better.
AM: In a perfect world I’d rather see it as a comic. This insistence that if something is a success in one medium then it can automatically be translated to another and still be a success…
SW: What’s so objectionable is the way this approach looks down on the comic medium. They think that a film version would reach a wider audience. But as you pointed out in the article Alan, the thing that is different about comics is that there is no movement and there’s no sound. The whole point is that it really is an act of will to continue believing that one panel follows another.
AM: If I may… if I might just drop a tidbit in… they asked someone if he’d be prepared to play Dr Manhattan Arnold Schwarzenegger.
(HOWLS OF DISAPPROVAL)
AM: Apparently they said to him: Arnold, would you be prepared to shave your head and paint yourself blue for a film? and he said sure, if it makes sense. Actually, I’d never seen any Schwarzenegger films before I watched Terminator last night… and I watched very carefully and realised he could do it! But will anybody believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger can actually understand the theory of relativity? He’s got a degree, he’s got a German accent which I hadn’t imagined Osterman having but… his father’s German.
DG: I think it’s a case where a certain amount of woodenness would actually enhance the performance.
AM: My suggestion was for Dr Manhattan to be played by a computer graphic—which I think would work.
DG: I think, however, that Joel Silver, the producer of the film, wants to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in everything. You know—Arnold Schwarzenegger is Sgt Rock.
MS: Any sign of a director?
AM: I don’t know—they asked me for suggestions but…
PH: It was rumoured to be Walter Hill and I thought Streets of Fire, yeah!
AM: Can I just say that the reason that everybody is saying Walter Hill is the director is lazy journalism. I originally said, in an interview, that I wasn’t too clear about it but I gathered it was being directed by someone to do with 48 Hours and the person who wrote that article assumed I meant Walter Hill. I issued a correction saying: no, it’s Joel Silver and Larry Gordon but everybody has taken that interview as their reference. There was a thing in Photoplay the other day saying there’s a new film being brought out by Walter Hill called Watchmen, but the name that everyone’s really looking for is Alan Moore. Poor old bastard Walter Hill—he’s being unfavourably compared to me when he’s got nothing to do with the picture.
SW: Are you gonna get any input as story-boarder Dave?
DG: I don’t know—it’s even problematic how much input Alan’s gonna get. However, from what Joel Silver said, if it is made, it’ll be made at Elstree which is just down the road—so I shall certainly be making a nuisance of myself on the set.
SW: Have you done any story-boarding before?
DG: No, but it’s a thing I’d like to do and what people I know who’ve done story-boarding have said to me is how comprehensively drawn comics are compared to what they do in films. So it would do me good to do a load of pictures that have a lot of emotion in them without having to do a lot of the finishing that’s necessary in a comic. So I’d like to do that, but I don’t think I want to sit and draw storyboards of something I’ve already done for a year and anyway—if they stay faithful to the book the drawing is so comprehensively worked out that they shouldn’t need storyboards.
SW: Has anyone ever compared your art to Botticelli? That’s what some of the drawing reminded me of—particularly Dr Manhattan when you look closely at the hatching, the actual inking technique, then it works in a different way to the old classical law of only drawing an actual line where two planes overlap.
DG: Well there are some influences in there… Moebius… and Heath Robinson. One of the best things that ever happened to me at school was when they gave a Latin reader that was illustrated by Heath Robinson and that really opened my eyes. The kind of line that Moebius uses, which is different from that of Jean Giraud (the two are one and the same man) is a line which detaches the artist from the art. Because you draw in a simple, almost dead-weight outline you de-emphasise the artist’s involvement with it—you lose the character of the artist and emphasise the character of what’s being drawn. As far as technique’s concerned, the way I drew Watchmen was I used quite a stiff pen so that there wouldn’t be a lot of modulation in the line or much evidence of me being there. But that was the kind of thing I was doing on Rogue Trooper anyway. As we all know, American superheroes are supposed to be drawn with nice springy brushes. Dr Manhattan is faintly translucent though—so no shadows fall on his body, it just appears darker where certain planes are at an angle to the viewer.
SW: Perfect for the ‘drawn for colour’ style of artwork, I would’ve thought.
DG: It’s also a question of drawing for the printing process which means, luckily, with Baxter books, that black really does print black.
AM: Towards the end, when you knew what John was capable of, you started leaving large amounts for him to do. Like the cover of No 9. All Dave drew on that was a bottle—the background was all John’s.
SW: Talking about great colouring, I think that sequence with the light going on and off as the Comedian spills his guts to Moloch in No 2. Accentuated by the 9 panel grid which turns the spread into a chequerboard of nights and days. The only stuff I’ve seen which comes near it is the colour in the monthly Spirit comic Kitchen Sink did.
DG: I think in the space of those twelve issues you saw John progress from, say, the first couple of issues because it wasn’t until probably No 3 that he saw how issue one looked. He began feeling his way, then became comfortable with it and then with issue 12 he got really…
SW: It’s audacious.
DG: Yes, and if John had been timid, that would’ve blown it. It was nice to know that after we’d done our bit that we could look forward to his colour work…
AM: Another layer of artistry.
MS: And there are so very few comics that do use it as artistry.
SW: There are exceptions: Richmond Lewis’ colours on Batman and The Shadow… The Shadow is almost held together by her colouring.
DG: When you open a comic, you look at the colouring, then you look at the drawing then you read the words.
SW: It seems strange that publishers haven’t made this connection for themselves yet. Without a good colourist on Watchmen it could have fallen flat on its face.
AM: I’d say, it could have been an afterthought. Now, are there any direct questions you have, given that we’ve got about ten minutes before we have to go.
FJ: Yes. With Watchmen and Dark Knight coming out as two big graphic novels this year I find that in Dark Knight Frank Miller seems to come to the conclusion that come Armageddon first everyone fights with each other but then they work together and they save themselves… whereas in Watchmen when the chips are down it begins with everyone trying to help and then they all get involved in a fight before realising there’s nothing they can do and become this unit of caring humanity just before they’re blown up. Was that at all deliberate?
AM: Well, it wasn’t deliberately playing off of Frank. I just think that perhaps he’s more optimistic about human nature than I am.
SW: I think the fact that the people at the intersection got killed was really irrelevant to what they were doing there. I mean, they were killed in their finest hour, where a lot of the characters were trying to stop the fighting.
FJ: But they all ended up being involved in the fight.
AM: It was a human mess.
DG: Yes, but I don’t consider Watchmen to be a pessimistic book—on the contrary, it’s very positive about the human condition.
AM: I believe that with Watchmen, if we’ve achieved anything in terms of the moral aspect of it, I don’t believe that optimism is possible without looking very long and very hard at the worst possible case. I felt that after issue 6—that’s the bottom line, you can’t say much worse than that. So if we have any optimism in the series it’ll be valid optimism because it won’t simply be based on ignoring the nasty facts of life. To me, just in that last panel, in Godfrey’s last line “I leave it entirely in your hands”—that’s talking to the reader as well… I leave it entirely in your hands, how do we sort out this Gordian Knot? If the question is who makes the world? then if there’s an answer it is that everybody does. Yeah, there’s people that seem to be in more immediate power than others but really the world is an elaborate series of accidents, coincidences and unbelievable synchronicities that people appear to be in control of but… well, think about the events in your own life, the things that have made really dramatic changes in you can be traced back to deciding to pick up a ballpoint pen or not pick it up.
DG: And who looked one of the most frightened and powerless people in Watchmen? It was President Nixon in the bunker. I think on a human level, the people at the intersection… there’s a fair degree of altruism and heroism.
AM: Malcolm Long’s a hero.
DG: And even Steve Fine tries to break up the fight.
SW: I remember you saying at one of the Watchmen panels that there were a lot of red herrings in the Watchmen continuity. Even so, I became quite involved with the two Bernards and Steve Fine’s little soliloquies here and there…
PH: That’s great because it brings you back to the human dimension of the Hiroshima question, namely: these are the people you would be sacrificing.
AM: One influence on the writing of the end of No 11 came from my seeing Stomu Yamash’ta and the Red Buddha Theatre doing something called A Day in the life of Hiroshima.
SW: That must’ve been a while ago, blimey.
AM: Well, he was good, old Stomu… or Stom, as I call him. But he did this act and it begins with an empty stage… then a little boy comes out and sits down and starts to fish and then… stops. Then someone else comes out—she’s got a little mask on to show she’s a secretary. She sits down and mimes typing and then she stops. Then there’s all these others coming out—there are two lesbians, there’s somebody on their way to work, there’s a fish-seller, there are two honeymooners coming out onto a balcony… stretching and then turning to each other and kissing and the girl’s leg goes up at the back and they freeze. Then all of a sudden this white light begins to build behind the stage. They’ve got fans back there so the curtains start to blow. And they’ve just got a bank of Kleig lights or something and everyone in the audience can’t see a thing—there’s just white light. The music builds up… and there’s just these frozen silhouettes of people against the light. An’ I thought… Wow!
SW: Like at the start of Insignificance where you witness a neutron bomb’s effect on Marilyn Monroe and then the film is shot backwards and you get your typical movie happy ending with her saying ‘bye’.
AM: Yeah and just that freeze on the hand…anyway, I’m sorry we have to shoot off like this…
PH/FJ/SW/MS: Thank you, thanks for coming.