Published on July 5th, 2018 | by Richard Boom0
Confessions: Simon Rohrmüller Watches The Watchmen
I Watch the Watchmen.
Whenever someone asks me what my favourite book is, without missing a beat, I usually answer Watchmen. Usually? Well, it sort of depends on my current mood, but generally speaking, it’s Watchmen.
Of course, I’m well aware that I’m not the only one out there who feels this way about the book. I mean, come on, it’s a milestone in comics and most people know this. Whether they understand why this is, however, is an altogether different question, but most people agree that it’s a cornerstone in comics’ history.
Watchmen is my Bible, and has been since high school. At the time I was working in a comic shop and one day a regular asked if I had read it. When I admitted I hadn’t (shame on me) he grabbed a copy off the shelf, handed it to me and told me to read it. I casually started to thumb it through and he held out his hand to stop me. ”No. Read.”
I did, and honestly I don’t know if we had any other customers that day because all I can remember is that all of a sudden it was well past closing time and I’d a train to catch going home.
So, yeah, Watchmen made an impact on me, even though it was more than 10 years after it initially came out.
This impact resulted in a slightly unhealthy obsession, and over the years I’ve acquired quite a collection. I’ve various editions: the floppies, collections (hard covers and soft covers –some not even out of their shrink wrap) with different covers, the leather-bound Graphitti Designs slipcase, the Absolute Watchmen, and so forth. Of course, I also have Dave Gibbons’ Watching the Watchmen, the IDW Artifact Edition, the Mayfair roleplaying books and figurines, and various promotional posters from the 80ies. Heck, I even have the ’promotional’ shirt, watch, pins and portfolios that led to causing the rift between Alan Moore and DC Comics. It’s a bit excessive, maybe, although these days I’d like to think I’ve got the obsession under control.
However, I have to admit I am kind of feeling an original art piece would be nice to top it all off with. But, I digress. Nevertheless, are you starting to get the idea? Good.
With but a few exceptions I’ve read the book once a year, like clockwork (pardon the pun), since all those years ago when I first “discovered” it. I have a particular reading copy (a third printing of the original collection, if you’d like to know, which also happens to be signed by Dave Gibbons himself), which I keep as an annotated version. In it I scribble down and highlight whatever new thoughts and ideas might spring to mind each time I revisit the story; how things connect, what they might mean on a meta-level, inaccuracies (yes, there are one or two), how they might pay homage to other stories and/or characters outside of the Watchmen universe, etc.
All my friends (at least those who’re into comics) know about my relationship with Watchmen, and so when Zack Snyder got around to doing the film the inevitable question was “are you going to see it?”
Had it been a few years earlier, my immediate answer would be ”heck, yes!” I mean, why wouldn’t I want to see an adaptation of my favourite story?!
But, as the years went by and I revisited the book over and over again (and possibly because I grew older and ”wiser”?) I slowly grew more and more hesitant to the idea and therefore gradually changed my mind until the point where I had no desire to see an adaptation –at all. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but apart from the immense complexity of the story and the many levels it’s simultaneously working on, there was the fact that the characters that I’d come to know through the book would not be the same characters featured on the silver screen. I’m not talking about costume-wise or actor-wise, I’m talking about the small things; the minute details and nuances that never can please everyone, like the Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan that I pictured in my mind when I read the book wouldn’t move or talk the same way that the Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan on the screen would. They’d almost be different characters with a similarity to what I “knew”, and I knew ”my” version of the characters were just too close to my heart for me to be able to enjoy the film should I see it. I’d be a ”hater”; complaining about everything instead of seeing the film for what it was, an adaptation, and I knew it, and I didn’t want to be that. Besides, Watchmen was made as a comic book; it was meant to be read and experienced as a comic book; not as storyboards for a potential film adaptation.
My mind was set. I was not going to see the film. Not even the trailer, I declared. Little did I know what fate would have in store for me.
Summer 2008 I was going to the San Diego Comic-Con. Before heading down to San Diego and the mayhem, I spent a few days in the L.A. area with friends and one day one of them and I went to see The Dark Knight. Both of us being nerds we were very much aware that the trailer to Watchmen would be playing in front of TDK. I had tried to coerce my friend into taking our seats just so fashionably late that we’d miss the trailer(s) but that didn’t fly. ”The trailers are part of the experience… besides, I want to see your reaction,” she said with a slightly evil smile. I conceded. After all, it was merely the trailer. Not the film itself.
I was cringing in the seat from the moment the trailer started. All I saw were things that did not match my vision, and when Rorschach spoke toward the end I whimpered aloud just like a puppy begging its owner to please let it back in from the rain. My friend got quite a chuckle from it.
(In retrospect it probably was for the best that I did see it when I did, as a few days later I’d be subjected to the trailer over and over and over again every time I passed DC’s booth at the convention, with the volume turned up to 11 so that everyone would hear. It was inescapable, and to this day I still can find my mind randomly playing The Beginning is the End is the Beginning, despite me never having actually heard the full song.)
In the fall of 2008 Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston (then writing his weekly column Lying in the Gutters over at Comic Book Resources) announced that he was going to write a Watchmen parody (Watchmensch) and was looking for a collaborator to do the artwork. I felt this was my moment; if anyone was going to be the artist, it was going to be me… and I would be, but not without some complications.
After a false start in my submission samples, which resulted in an initial rejection, I went to town creating a sample page for Johnston’s eyes only in less than a day, which won me over. Over the next-coming months I spent even more time than I ever had before pouring over the book, trying to get my style as similar as Gibbons’ as I possibly could.
Johnston had an idea for a letterer, but as Gibbons had been the original letterer of Watchmen I didn’t want to do anything less than what he had done. I quickly realised I might’ve bitten off a tad more than I could chew, because it turned out lettering (by hand) wasn’t my strong suit. But I was not to give up, and since necessity is the mother of all inventions I instead turned to creating a set of fonts using scans from the original book to get the lettering just right.
The book was released around the same time as the film in 2009, and even Gibbons himself praised it, which was more than I could’ve asked for. Still, I kept my resolve: I did not see the Watchmen film.
In the latter half of 2010 the owner and manager of this fine site, Richard Boom himself, invited me to exhibit at a convention he was involved with at the time. The primary reason for this was that when I found out Gibbons was going to be signing at the show I almost wet myself and Boom probably figured (rightly so) that I’d be over the moon if I could get a moment with my hero.
Gibbons was, of course, very busy all through the weekend, but he didn’t mind me sitting next to him for about an hour or so, while he was signing and sketching. There was some small talk, but mostly I was just transfixed by watching him do the commissions for the people queuing.
He commended me on my work on Watchmensch, but I lamented that I felt I’d screwed up some things, such as not having the gutters between the panels of the same width as in the source material.
Gibbons told me that was nothing to gripe about and that no one would notice, and he was probably right. Although now, anyone reading this who might be in a possession of a copy of Watchmensch and compares it to the source material will indubitably notice.
Eventually the topic of the film came up.
”What did you think of the film?” he asked.
”I, um…” I began, but didn’t know how to finish. ”I haven’t seen it,” I relented.
Gibbons paused his sketching and looked at me with a quizzical eye.
”You’re telling me that the man who drew Watchmensch has not seen the film it spoofs?”
I was silent, but then a hesitant ”yes…” slipped through my lips.
Gibbons inquired if this was because I felt it would ruin the book, and reminded that the book would still be around, regardless of any adaptation. I tried to explain what I explained earlier in this article about how it wouldn’t be “my” vision of the characters, but I don’t know how much of this I managed to convey.
Gibbons put the art board down for a moment; he reached down under the table, pulled out an iPad from his bag, he fiddled around with it for a moment and then handed it over to me. (Some of you might remember that the iPad was released in the spring of 2010, so this was something entirely new for me.)
”You don’t have to see all of it, but at least watch the intro. Just tap the screen,” he told me and returned to drawing.
I glanced at the screen. There was the smiley badge, complete with the blood splatter, staring back up at me. I tapped the screen and the camera started to pull in on it.
So, the first time I actually watched Watchmen was on Dave Gibbons’ own iPad.
I didn’t see all of it, but I did see the intro. When I handed the iPad back to Gibbons he gave me the advice to go for the director’s cut, and to see twice, for my own sake. The first time just to get it out of my system, and the second time to form an opinion about it.
I took his advice, kind of. I did see the director’s cut, to get it out of my system… but I’ve yet to revisit it to form an opinion. It looked very nice, I won’t dispute that, but there were just too many things about it that irked me, or that was missing; moments from the source material where characters grew or changed and that had been skipped all together. I just couldn’t stop mentally commenting on it, as I knew I would, so I never brought myself around for a revisit.
The 10th anniversary of the film is coming up next year, so perhaps I’ll finally bring myself to that second watching.
Nevertheless, my devotion to the book stands unwavering. Whatever may happen, I still have it.
Finally, in case you’re wondering: though almost a decade has passed since the film debuted I’ve still no interest further adaptations, such as the current HBO development of a Watchmen TV-series. I’m still too invested in the book.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I might not change my mind in the future. And perhaps that time around it’ll be Alan Moore himself asking me to give it a fair chance… it’d be about as likely…
Simon Rohrmüller is the artist behind Watchmensch and The Many Murders of Miss Cranbourne. He’s a proud nerd and into many different fandoms. He also finds it extremely difficult to write about himself in the third person. Simon resides in Sweden where he, besides create art, occasionally takes a stab at writing stories and articles. Follow him on Facebook: @SimonRohrmullerArt and Instagram: @simonrohrmuller
The Confessions space on Comics for Sinners is in fact meant for you, the people like me that love beautiful comics characters, to share your stories: How did you become addicted? How do comics’ femme fatales affect your buying habits? What are your favorite naughty stories or moments in comics history? And does your shelf porn really define the term ‘shelf porn’? Then make your confession to the rest of the world at confessions@comicsforsinners.