Why Watchmen Is The Best Comic Of All Time | The Art Of Film

Why Watchmen Is The Best Comic Of All Time | The Art Of Film


Every art form has one work that is so monumental and profound that it forever defines
and changes the medium. For comics, a medium with a
surprisingly long history, that work is none other than “Watchmen.” First released in 1986 as
a 12-issue limited series, it forever changed the public
perception of the medium and what comics can really achieve. But what makes “Watchmen” the greatest comic book ever written isn’t what’s on the page, but the people behind it. From its inception,
“Watchmen” had one objective: to create a work that can only be achieved by the comic medium. And no one played a more integral part than the artist Dave Gibbons, who was given complete
control over its visual look and focused on making a unique
and distinctive aesthetic unlike anything the readers had seen. Even in the weight of lines, where he used a hard, stiff
pen to create bolded edges that were significantly different from the more fluid lines in
other comic books of the era. And colorist John Higgins took
the same approach with color, choosing to use secondary colors that were more common in European comics to achieve a moodier look and accentuate the use of primary colors, like the massive, overflowing
blood from a massacre. At times, Higgins even freely
experimented with color, like in issue No. 6,
“The Abyss Gazes Also,” which begins with a brighter palette that eventually turns darker and darker along with the character’s
descent into his dark past, finally ending in black. The genius of “Watchmen”
also lies in its structure, more specifically its nine-panel grid, a simple yet brilliant
way of framing a story for multiple reasons. First, it allowed the writers to fit more scenes into a page, allowing for a faster-paced story. It also made it clear
for readers to follow because they simply had
to read from left to right and top to bottom without
trying to figure out the order. Having nine panels also gave the advantage of having a central panel
that naturally draws the eye, which both Gibbons and
Higgins expertly used to include some of the most
important and shocking images. And the nine-panel grid
is shockingly versatile, with more than 300 different
possible combinations the panels can be laid out on, a lot of which the book uses
to show a passage of time or a gruesome aftermath of a disaster. The issue that exemplifies the genius of the nine-panel structure and perhaps the series’ greatest is its fifth issue, “Fearful Symmetry,” where the entire issue, like its title, is juxtaposed in a perfect symmetry that begins here, in the centerfold image in the middle of the book. The rest of the pages reflect
one another in layout, color, composition, imagery, and sometimes the exact image. If Gibbons and Higgins showed
the possibility of comics as a respectable art form, it was “Watchmen” writer Alan Moore who elevated them to literature. The genius mind behind some of the most influential works in comics, like “V for Vendetta”
and “The Killing Joke,” Moore played a major role
in creating a comic book that feels and reads like literature. “Watchmen” began with
a simple question of: What would superheroes be like
in a credible, real world? He took the superheroes inspired by the campy
heroes of Charlton Comics that DC had acquired and wrote them into an alternate history where America won the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal never happened. This political backdrop created a world dripping with end-of-the-world anxieties and paranoia of the Cold War and provided a grittier look at the superheroes who live in it and that would influence the
genre for decades to come. The same goes for the characters. Originally titled “Who
Killed the Peacemaker?” from the Charlton Comics character that inspired The Comedian, “Watchmen” is constructed
as a murder mystery. Yet the plot is merely a vehicle to show the personal and moral struggles of the flawed superheroes
living in the real world. And to accentuate this conflict, Moore intentionally wrote characters with radically opposing
views of the world. From a morally absolute vigilante who sees the world in black and white to an omnipotent yet apathetic God figure who questions what it means to be human, “Watchmen” possessed a political
and philosophical depth that readers weren’t familiar
with in comic-book form. Moore created the idea of “Watchmen,” and Gibbons and Higgins built
the world to contain it. And it’s their collaboration that ultimately made “Watchmen” the masterpiece it is today, shown most obviously by the book’s use of symbols and imagery. Moore wanted recurring symbols and images loaded with meaning, and Gibbons paid extra attention in designing and inserting
them throughout the book. Some are obvious, like the
bloodstained smiley face, which bookends the story and
has become an iconic symbol that represents the series. The smiley face was designed
to both geometrically and symbolically represent
a doomsday clock, which acts as an
important thematic device. And others are more subtle, like the phrase, “Who
watches the watchmen?” – a quote that encompasses
the theme of “Watchmen” and is graffitied onto the
walls of various panels, never appearing in its entirety, yet still discernible to
those who pay close attention. In fact, “Watchmen” is full
of minute background details painstakingly drawn by Gibbons that add depth and philosophy to its world that are easy to miss on first reading, an intentional editorial
choice resulting in a book that requires multiple
readings to fully appreciate. It’s these small details and nuances that make it so hard to adapt
“Watchmen” for the screen. Once deemed “unfilmable,” “Watchmen” eventually received
the silver-screen treatment by Zack Snyder in 2009. It’s an adaptation that
follows the original beat by beat, panel by panel, resulting in a work that
distinctively looks like “Watchmen” but doesn’t feel like it. “Watchmen” is a work that
was envisioned, written, and drawn to be a comic
book and nothing else, the work of two uncompromising artists who wanted to test the limits
of the medium that they loved. And it’s for this reason that, although we will see many
great works in the future, there won’t be another work quite like “Watchmen” ever again.

35 thoughts on “Why Watchmen Is The Best Comic Of All Time | The Art Of Film

  1. Any Tintin book is better. Perfect blend of plot, character, humor, suspense, visual pun and art. And no pretentious Alan Moore greasy Gnosticism ego-stroking its way into every panel.

  2. Every person have their own "best comic of all time", although I have to agree that Watchmen is one masterpiece of a graphic novel.

  3. What about Miraculous? Are you gonna make video about Miraculous? They are kinda Nightwing & Spider-Gwen version of Paris

  4. The color choice actually reflects how these characters are morally corrupted and how normally those colors would be used for villains in more traditional comics

  5. It’s not all that. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s 2 lonely writers versions of Captain Atom, The Question, Batman, & Wonderwoman. It’s actually basic af. Nothing new it’s actually copying horror & pulp comics from before the comics code. People need to read more. & Btw Star Wars is The Wizard Of Oz. Everything’s Bullshit.

  6. I agree with everything in this video, except for the part that says, "….it resulted in a movie that looked like Watchmen but didn't really feel like it." I beg to differ. The film certainly felt like Watchmen. Did it capture the full philosophical weight of the Graphic-Novel? Of course not. But did it capture the essence? I certainly think it did. And till date, I find the film by Snyder to be one of the best Book-Screen adaptations ever done.

  7. I always struggled with the Watchmen being such a masterpiece. Somehow I just didn't get it (I guess). This video sure helped understanding better though, so thank you. However, while growing up in the Netherlands, (~ 80-90s), I remember comics and graphics novels that I consider far better than Watchmen. In fact, if Watchmen is indeed this groundbreaking, then I believe mostly for US market/audience. Maybe I'm just spoiled. Belgium, France, Holland (and I believe Spain also) have a very rich history of comics and graphic novels of their own. Watchmen always failed to really impress me. If it's really that great, maybe because of mediocre quality of all other works across the pond? I can't say that I'm any more convinced after seeing this video. Sure, sounds like a great artwork… of which I believe there are many more. However, maybe not so much in the US. I would not know (nor really care). Either way, this whole thing sounds rather US-centric to me.

  8. I really kind of despise video essays that open with a voiceover that gives some vague, grandiose statement about the topic they're worshipping in the video. I almost thought I clicked on some obscure YouTuber's first attempt at a long form essay. The essay gets at interesting ideas and presents some compelling points for why "Watchmen" is great, but could've been much, much better considering the source material. Just feels like the narrator is jerking off Alan Moore.

  9. You forgot to mention how the 9 panel creates what I call an x color. The middle panel draws your attention while pointing you to the panels diagonally across. It's a brillant part of the color scheme contrasting warm and cool colors.

  10. 👎 for calling the film adaptation bad. In my opinion, the film was as good as it could get and it does justice to the essence of Watchmen.

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