Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Watchmen - Crofty Discovers the Graphic Novel
Sometimes people do you a favour without realising it. That happened to me when Linda at USUnlocked changed her mind about the way she wanted me to help her test her excellent shopping website. Rather than allot me a ten dollar voucher to spend at will, she selected a specific product to buy, so she could make sure the site did what it was supposed to.
I knew I was getting a book called Watchmen, I didn't know I was getting probably the world's most famous graphic novel. The bright yellow book slapped me awake as soon as I unwrapped it, and although I'd not heard of the book (go on say it, I must have been living in a vacuum!) I immediately recognised the DC Comic artwork of my childhood. But this was anything but childish.
I saw past the comics of my youth, to gritty gripping artwork, each frame demanding that you examine every facial expression; scan each half torn image of a poster and read the headline of each luridly drawn newspaper for clues and meaning.
The more I read, the more I appreciated the narrative as well as the artwork. In a regular novel you can, if you like, write sentence after sentence, wringing every last detail from the scene in your head onto the page. If you make films, you can let the action unfold in real time as each scene unfolds; but this tight punchy medium demands you choose a millisecond of time to represent the developing frame of a scene, and choose thirty or so words, from all the words in the world, to fit a speech bubble, and represent the depth and intensity of the mood and action.
That is the gift that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have in spades.
Their doom laden tale draws you into its pages and grips you as you gather up each casually dropped hint. And that's not all: the narrative is driven along by supporting text - excerpts from books, or crime reports - and even there the symbiosis between the text and look of the book is vital. The supporting documents look like they are supposed to, so they drive the plot along, keeping you in the moment, rather than taking you out of it like a cheesy B Movie scenes going 'five years earlier' or 'ten years later'.
All in all this is a real treat for the senses, it does not let you rest for a second and is rightly placed at the top of the worlds best fiction. Let the literary purists sniff - if the purpose of literature and art is to reach into you and twang your emotions, then this is art and literature at its best.
Finally, call me devoid of up-to-the-minute culture, but I didn't know, until a colleague saw the book in my briefcase, that they were making a film of this. I won't be going to see it, I'll be busy seeking out my next graphic novel to read. I'm hooked!