Thursday, December 29, 2011

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: a mission statement

One of my intended goals with this project is to illuminate readers to the symbolism, foreshadowing, and other “literary” elements found within Watchmen.  I know many people eschew such examination, arguing “how can one know the intentions of an author without having asked him or her specifically?”  I can certainly understand this point of view, but that argument, to me, misses the point of how we, as a society, read and interpret stories. 

J.R.R. Tolkien railed against those critics who saw The Lord of the Rings as an allegory for the Second World War, refuting such claims as false.  Tolkien, in writing his lengthy adventure tale, did not consciously inject such allegory into his narrative.  In fact, in interviews I have read, Tolkien stridently argued against the use of allegory in fiction.

For me, the beauty of fiction is that we, as readers, bring our personal experiences and knowledge to a work of prose, interpreting it through our own unique cultural prism.  It is this infusing of our experiences that can make a narrative burn itself onto our brains, lingering with us long after we have turned the final page. 

Does this mean our interpretation is always the right one?  That’s really a tough question because one’s distinct interpretation of a narrative can certainly ring true.  But what if the lens through which one absorbs such a narrative includes realities and experiences anachronistic to the author?  Can it be a “true” reading of the work, if such knowledge was never afforded that of the author?  Maybe. 

My hope with this site is to enrich your reading of Alan Moore’s & Dave Gibbons’s masterpiece.  Though many argue its merits, I feel Watchmen is the best example of what is uniquely possible within the comic medium.  Alan Moore has stated in many interviews that it is a failing to consider comics little more than movies on paper.  Each storytelling medium has aspects specific to that medium, storytelling possibilities that cannot be replicated successfully when adapted to another medium. 

Movies utilize time, pushing the narrative forward (even when a director like Alejandro González Iñárritu plays with time in a film) with no opportunity – if enjoyed as intended in a movie theater – to go back and re-watch some earlier part.  Prose is able to delve into the minds of the characters, offering depth and breadth not possible in a two or three hour film.  Comics allow the reader to flip back and forth between pages, to appreciate a page as a whole, tangentially, while focusing in on specific panels.  And the message of a panel can be so much more – it can provide symbolism layered upon the surface narrative while also creating an intimacy between the author and the audience.    

Moore and Gibbons worked to capitalize on the unique aspects of the comic medium, to exploit what is possible within a very structured format in order to elevate the form, when they conceived and created Watchmen.  And I feel nobody has succeeded at this as well as these two did with this book.  Does that mean there haven’t been “greater works” produced in the medium since 1986?  No.  Does this mean there have not been more moving and similarly innovative creations produced since 1986?  No.  But it does mean that, although experimentation within this storytelling medium has continued to progress, very few have embraced those aspects unique to the medium, and none have done it as broadly and with such consistency throughout a single narrative as Moore and Gibbons did.

Ultimately, this site is only my interpretation of Watchmen, informed by readings and podcasts and discussions I’ve had since first reading it in 1987.  Some of my influences, and certainly some of the resources that helped inform my examination of Watchmen, can be found in the sidebar.  Check them out. They’re well worth your time. 

And please understand I do not expect this to be an exhaustive “be all and end all” examination of Watchmen.  I am sure there will be many things missed by me.  That is where you come in.  Please speak up, chime in, comment, let me know if you have a different interpretation of something I’ve written or if I totally bypassed a significant bit of allusion or symbolism that you feel bears mentioning.  I’m not infallible – though I like to think so – and I welcome your contributions.

Thank you,


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