Graphic Novels

Exhibit 1.7.4

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons


So I re-read Watchmen for a class I’m teaching, but when I went to write about it for this, I remembered I’d covered this ground a couple of years ago when I first read it. Here‘s me on the movie. Here‘s me comparing it to Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. I’d add a couple of things:

1) I was either smarter then or had a lot more time.

2) I still think the movie is better than the book (or, at least better than it’s still thought of).

3) I still don’t think the movie is very good because–gasp–I still don’t think the book is very good.

4) Well, “very good” in the literary sense. It’s still highly entertaining. Nothing wrong with that.

5) That’s kind of a copout. I find plenty to talk about in class (mostly the Black Freighter/extra-textual stuff).

6) We should all never forget that every word here is being written by someone who was once obsessed with Mary Worth.

7) God, what’s Mary Worth up to right now do you think?

8) Someone is reading Poe as they die in bed. Of course.

9) Even in just these two panels, I think I can guess the entire plot: A mother is dying but doesn’t want to finally tell her daughter who her father is because he was a deadbeat who has only recently been trying to get back in their lives. That’ll do, Mary Worth. That’ll do.

10) God I miss having an office job.

Comment / Posted in 2013, Books, Graphic Novels

Exhibit 11.22

Housekeeping and Watchmen

Because they’re pretty much the same book. Here, it’s so obvious:

Ruth -> Nite Owl (II)
Sylvie -> Rorshach
The Lake -> Dr. Manhattan

Frankly, I don’t know how Alan Moore ever got away with such blatant plagiarism.

Actually, it’s just that I finished Housekeeping a while back but forgot to blog about it. I then got so caught up in Watchmen that I figured I’d just wait and do them both together. Even ignoring the distinction in form, they are remarkably dissimilar books. The former is a somber, poetic tale of family deconstructed by wilderness and the other is, um, about masked vigilantes in an alternative present, many of whom are driven mad by their singular focus on saving the world.

They do have their similarities, both thematically and practically. They are, in a way, both about the surprising impermanence of family (though Watchmen‘s family is really more a loosely organized club) and both have a very 1970s-1980s sense of decline (though Housekeeping‘s is more post-Carter nostalgia and Watchmen‘s more of a Reagan-era Cold War millenialism). More overtly, each one is a considered a modern classic and both have places on Time‘s list of the 100 Best English Language Novels (since 1923).

(Then again, so does The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which renders the entire list completely stupid).

In almost every other way, however, they are polar opposites. Even its 15 degrees off center reality, Watchmen places itself very firmly in the culture whereas Housekeeping might as well take place on Mars for how little the outside world matters to the isolated, naturalistic characters. Incidentally, it most certainly doesn’t take place on Mars while part of Watchmen does.

I guess the other thing they have in common is that I really enjoyed both of them. I’ve been trying to figure out what this means in case of Watchmen since it’s the first comic book/graphic novel I’ve ever really read. I’m sure I picked up comic books when I was a kid, but I never really understood how to read them. At some point a few years back, Dave let me borrow another well regarded graphic novel and I couldn’t even make past the third page. Frankly, I don’t know if I would have even attempted to read Watchmen if I hadn’t started reading newspaper comics during the intervening years. Just one more thing I can thank Mary Worth for, I suppose.

That said, although I loved Watchmen and couldn’t wait to pick it back up, I don’t know if I know enough about graphic novels to feel like it belongs in the same sentence as Housekeeping as a modern classic of literature. I don’t doubt that it’s “the greatest graphic novel of all-time” as everyone says, but I suppose I’m still at the point where I possibly undervalue that title. As with the most recent Batman movie, I thought it was great, a real accomplishment that stoodout among all the other superhero entertainment of the last few years, but it didn’t exactly affect me in a profound way. If anything, I appreciate that movie too much due to some of its shitty predecessors (“ICE TO MEET YOU!”) that make it look like Kurosawa by comparison. But since I’ve never had to deal with the cliches and loopy continuity of comic books, I might not be giving Watchmen the same headstart.

Still, even in this zany era where a lot of writers who are now in their 40s want to proclaim the artistic value of comics as on par with novels, I don’t know if I buy the book as great literature. Thoroughly entertaining and satisfying literature? Sure, that’s an incredibly important and valuable thing, and this certainly fits the bill. But, in the end, there’s still enough rote and puerile elements here (mostly due to the requirements of this being a, albeit turned, superhero story) that it’s hard to see this as timeless. I now really want to go check out some of the non-superhero graphic novels to see if it’s just my poor, unenlightened biases holding me back from recognizing a graphic novel, even one I loved, from being worthy of a place in the canon.

1 Comment / Posted in Books, Fiction, Graphic Novels