The challenge for Week #5 of the Weekly Geek challenge (courtesy of Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf) is to think about different forms of storytelling. This could include anything from TV shows, movies, music, or anything else. Initially, I wasn’t really sure what to write about for this topic, but then it hit me — a graphic novel!
The one and only graphic novel I’ve read is Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I had to read it for a class last semester on science fiction,and I’m really glad that I did. Although graphic novels are books, I think they work well for this particular topic because reading a graphic novel takes a combination of reading and visuals skills to really understand. They are sort of a combination between a book and a movie, but I think take some of the best parts of both together.
Watchmen is a United States alternative history, set in 1985, in a world poised on a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The premise of the book is that superheros are actually just real people that have to deal with their own situations and issues, nothing more special than that. In fact, very often Moore and Gibbons point out that there is something a little masochistic about anyone who would want to done costumes and try to fight crime in that way. The story runs very much like a detective story — readers are invited to work along with the superheros to try and figure out what exactly is going on.
Watchmen is also well-known for it’s use of symbolism and metafiction. The picture below is of the first page of Watchmen. Before, I go on, just a note that I can’t take credit for this analysis all myself — our class went through this page in great detail to look at the graphic and verbal cues and how they match together.
The book starts out with text from a journal overlaying a series of images that we don’t get to see clearly until the bottom of the page. Each of the yellowed pieces of texts helps set context, while the images play off the words we’re reading. In the very first, the text of a “dog carcass” and “true face” are matched with red that might be blood, and a strange, smiling face. In the third frame, the text says to “look up” and “look down” while the image becomes increasingly far away. While these image and word pairings seem fairly obvious, they give the reader a sense as to how you will have to continue to read the book — carefully analyzing the relationship between words and images to get a more full understanding of the text.
Looking at a graphic novel this way makes you use both your verbal and visual reading skills to understand what is going on. Unlike a movie, graphic novels also allow you the chance to go back and forth between pages, actively looking for clues to what is going on. Watchmen is masterful in this respect. The combination of verbal and visual information is rich and complicated, and makes it a piece I think I will return to when I have time just so I can appreciate it more.
Later, the novel uses metafiction techniques by alternating frames of a comic book adventure titled Tale of the Black Freighter and the story we’re already involved with. Although this combination seems, at first, unnecessary, when you go back and compare the story told in Black Freighter to what we’re learning from the other main characters, the parallels again help illuminate the symbols in the story. While the comic book tale most closely parallels the tale of the story’s main villain, there are also important clues for the other main characters. One of the most interesting things for me was going back through Watchmen after the mystery had been figured out to see what sorts of visual clues have been left to let you know who the criminal was all along. I completely missed it, but hindsight is 20-20.
Although this is the only graphic novel I’ve read, I think it still serves as a great example of something that uses storytelling a different way from a traditional book. Watchmen combines cinematic and written techniques to create a story that is complicated and well worth a number of re-reads. Moore’s deconstruction of a superhero myth makes you rethink the things you thought you knew, which is a convoluted way of pointing out how much I enjoyed digging through this book.
Links to Enjoy:
- Warner’s Brothers website for the Watchmen movie
- An annotated reading guide for Watchmen
- Watchmen listing on the TIME All-Time 100 Novels
- A review of Watchmen (Absolute Edition) from January Magazine
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!