Ronald Reagan was famously conservative; Alan Moore’s politics are less famous but still widely enough known: the British writer is an anarchist. But as Matt Yglesias reminds us, there is an interesting overlap between the thinking of the two men. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read Watchmen; you might not want to read any further).
I have a confession to make. Although I’ve often written on comics, indeed have co-edited several books on comics, my bona fides as a fan can be question. You see, I’ve never really enjoyed Watchmen, the celebrated Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel.
Although I’m happy to acknowledge that Moore and Gibbons put a lot of work and intelligence into their much-praised graphic novel, the book has always seemed like a drag to me. The problem with Watchmen can be summed up simply by describing it: it’s an attempt to write a serious superhero comic and show what superheroes would be like in the real world. The root conceptual error is that superheroes are not a serious concept. The most enjoyable superhero stories – Will Eisner’s the Spirit, Jack Cole’s Plastic Man, C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel – are almost always humorous. They use the fantastic element of the superhero to tell lively, fairy-tale-ish, outlandish and sometimes satirical stories. Watchmen, by contrast, is all too earnest, all too glum, all too heavy-handed: it’s a comic sunk by its own dreadnought weight of seriousness.
The first page of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The New Yorker is famous for its fact checking, so the errors that pop up in the magazine tend not to be niggling ones of names and dates but rather large conceptual mistakes. Consider Anthony Lane’s opening sentences to his review review the new movie Watchmen: “The world of the graphic novel is a curious one. For every masterwork, such as ‘Persepolis’ or ‘Maus,’ there seem to be shelves of cod mythology and rainy dystopias, patrolled by rock-jawed heroes and their melon-breasted sidekicks.”
There are so many tangled misconceptions packed into these two sentences it takes some effort to unthread them all. First of all, “graphic novels” do not constitute a world, but rather a marketing category. Graphic novels are comics bound in codex form, so they can be more easily sold in bookstores.
In Japan the novel, Phoenix-like, has been re-born on the cell phone . Who will be the tweety Tolstoy or BlackBerry Beckett, a haiku-like master of rich quick flickering words?
One hundred and forty characters is not a lot of text. It’s maybe twenty words if you write like George Orwell, maybe fifteen if like Mervyn Peake, and a good thirty or forty if you know text message shorthand. Even if you do, it’s not exactly War and Peace.
As Jeet amusingly hinted, is Twitter yet another signpost in the ongoing decline of the modern attention span?