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The Crossing of Academic Fields: A New Perspective on the Changing Graphic Novel Genre Watchmen

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The Crossing of Academic Fields: A New Perspective on the Changing Graphic Novel Genre Watchmen essay
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As a graphic novel, Watchmen hold the dual identity of both a popular text and an academic piece of literature. This also created relevance for academia as well, as the crossing of academic fields allows for greater, more meaningful analysis in a new and dynamic way. Traditionally, the superhero genre was characterized by heroic idols without flaw, fighting for the good of humanity one alien at a time. These comics and older graphic novels were straightforward and easy to understand, resulting in little value for the academic community.yet, in the 1970s and 1980s, a transition took place that gave graphic novels more academic merit and changed the direction of the graphic novel. Watchmen exemplifies a shift in the graphic novel genre in the 1970s and 1980s to a more academic level through images that hold deep meanings, sophisticated, scholarly text and themes, and characterization that broke from the stereotypical superhero.

Watchmen has been studied by literature experts across higher education for many years due to the fascinating plotline, character development, and analytic content presented by Moore and Gibbons. It contains many aspects that make this work a significant piece of literature studied throughout academic disciplines. During the 1970s and 1980s, graphic novels began to shift from purely popular texts with traditional, happy plotlines where the superhero defeats evil toward deeper, morally ambiguous content. Characters began to develop flaws and morals were contradicted and questioned. Coupled with imagery, the content level of graphic novels exploded to a new, academic level. Popular culture expert John Fiske stated that “By ‘showing’ ideas rather than ‘telling,’ by sketching [words] rather than drawing completely, popular texts open themselves up to a variety of social relevance.” (Fiske, 122)

Set in an alternate 1985 America, Watchmen by author Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons is a graphic novel following the Watchmen, a disgruntled group of superheroes discarded and shunned from society. The cold war with Russia is in full swing and murder, lies, and distrust are felt in the air. When one of the Watchmen’s own is murdered, masked vigilante Rorschach finds himself on the trail of a murderer he believes is targeting the Watchmen, despite the fact that superheroes have been outlawed.

Since being published in 1987, there has been extensive critical analysis on Watchmen.

Many studies have explored facets of graphic novels and superheroes as they shifted through time, including Danny Fingeroth’s (2004) deconstruction and examination of the modern day superhero, and Katherine Seastrom-Probandt’s (2012) analysis of individual hero psyche, all as they relate to modern society. Many scholars have explored the concept of popular texts and the elements needed for a societally acclaimed piece of literature (Fiske, 1992), the impact of comics and graphic novels on the social identities of readers (Ramirez, 2015), and the effects, both positive and negative, of graphic novels and comic books used the classroom (Yildirim, 2013). Watchmen has specifically been analyzed for its depth and complexity of themes, concepts, visuals, and characters. Michael J. Price (2011) has examined the relationship between the liberal individual and the collective through the representative nature of characters as they relate to American citizens, while other authors such as Jamie A. Hughes have explored the impacts of ideology on the actions of the Watchmen in comparison to traditional superheroes. Other scholars still have analyzed the social corruption and the idea of a collective conscious in the character’s of Watchmen (Cummings, 2015) and the complex morality and politics that underlie the plotline (Davis, 2017). This renowned novel has won literary awards such as the Hugo Award and the Eisner Award. With over 2 million copies in print, this graphic novel has been slated in Time Magazine as one of the 100 Best English Language novels since 1923.

The graphic novel has become increasingly more renowned in the education world for its integration of imagery in literary analysis. Images can be used as a tool to add depth to a novel and provide room for interpretation and analysis. Figure 1 demonstrates tone through the context and subject matter. As the face of the United States, the Statue of Liberty represents hope. Gibbons portrays her silhouette in the rain, crying, a dark and gloomy cityscape and fence behind her. As the symbol of America’s prosperity, Lady Liberty crying represents the desperation and dark tone the persists throughout the novel and New York City in the world of Watchmen.

Figure 1

There are many visual elements that also add to the significance of the work as a whole. The usage of color, dark and light, and varying graphic sizes draw attention to themes and recurring symbols throughout the novel, as well as emphasize emotions and tensions felt by characters. These themes and symbols are often coupled with the colors black, red and yellow.

In Figure 2, the stark contrast between the red and black, along with the small figure of yellow, shows the urgency, the fear, and the violence explained in the story. This image shows the death of the Watchmen comrade the Comedian, as he falls to the city streets at the hands of a masked murderer.

Figure 2 The Comedian’s Death

These bright, startling colors as seen in figure 3 cause readers to feel the uneasiness and fear that is shared by characters and citizens of New York regarding the fate of civilization. Throughout the novel, the pages ending each chapter are also exemplify the urgency and growing tensions in the novel through dramatic visual elements.

As seen in figure 3, a clock, set at 5 minutes until 12, slowly moves closer to what readers discover to be nuclear meltdown. As the story unravels and chapters progress, the clock moves toward midnight and red liquid progressively spills down until the whole page is consumed. This signifies to readers the end has arrived and doomsday is upon the world.

Figures 3 Doomsday Clock

One recurring symbol throughout the novel is the smiley face button, the badge of the Comedian, the first of the Watchmen to be murdered. It’s perpetual smile, bright color, and stark drop of blood across the middle is one of the most noticeable symbols of the Watchmen. The smiley face is commonly seen as a symbol of happiness, wellbeing, and friendliness but with the bloodstain, the meaning behind the image shifts. It becomes a sign of despair and of deeply rooted trouble. Figure 4 shows this badge, bloodied on the city streets, with an entry from the journal of the Watchman Rorschach on October 12th, 1985. It tells of the dead, mangled dog that litters the street, exemplifying the grotesque nature of the world. Rorschach states that “This city is afraid of me. I have seen it’s true face.”Reference

Figure 4

Throughout Watchmen, the shift from simple, easily understood themes towards more sophisticated and morally ambiguous themes and texts can be seen through the ideas of sacrificing the few to save the many and through a theme of violence. The Comedian, the hero murdered at the beginning of the novel, was killed at the hands of fellow Watchmen Adrian Veidt, also known as Ozymandias, after the Comedian discovered Veidt’s plan to destroy New York City. By killing of millions, Veidt feels that nuclear destruction can be avoided, and that, rather than losing the whole world, the death of only a fraction is the right thing.

“I know people think me callous, but I’ve made myself feel every death. By day I imagine endless faces…what’s significant is that I know. I know I’ve struggled across the backs of murdered innocents to save humanity… but someone had to take the weight of that awful, necessary crime” (Moore 409)

Figure 5

This novel is also characterized by a devious, violent tone that can be seen through the actions and characters, giving readers the sense of impending doom. The violence of humanity is portrayed through many actions, including the violent death of the Comedian as seen previously in figure 2 and the destruction of the millions. The alien squid as seen in figure 7, is the creation of Veidt to destroy humanity in order to save the world. Landing on New York City, images of destruction and violence can be seen in the image, giving a small snapshot of the devastation that had befallen the city at the hands of Veidt. Because of this tragedy, the nuclear meltdown that threatened the world was postponed, but at what cost? Millions died due to the alien monster, and the question of whether Veidt was wrong or right is left unresolved, allowing readers the freedom to ponder the age old question of whether the ends justify the means.

Figure 6

The subject matter of the characters also reflects a hopelessness and distrust of the human race. During an interview with a psychiatrist, Rorschach reveals a historical event from 1964 that manifest these feelings.

“Kitty Genovese. Raped, tortured, killed. Here, in New York, outside her own apartment building. Almost forty neighbors heard screams. Nobody did anything. Nobody called cops. Some of them even watched. Do you understand? I knew what people were, then, behind all the evasions, all the self-deception. [I was] ashamed for humanity…” (Moore 188).

Figure 7 visually represents this, as Rorschach’s word narrate the atrocities that are committed to Genovese while the neighbors watched on.

Figure 7

Watchmen demonstrates a shift in graphic novels to that of more depth and academic value through characterization. By creating characters with flaws, histories, and a conflicted conscious, stories hold more application to higher education than traditional comic book heroes.

Characterization can be seen through the motivations and driving forces behind the characters, as well as through their words, appearances, and their backstories. Two of the characters that exemplify characterization in this novel are members of the Watchmen, Veidt and Rorschach.

As the most intelligent hero of the Watchmen, Adrian Veidt views the world as an evil that must be stopped, and saw himself as the only sources of good and the only one with the power and motivation to change anything. He distrusts the other members of the Watchmen team, and, with the threat of nuclear war looming, Veidt was determined to prevent the destruction of the world. During his journey for meaning in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Veidt took it upon himself to stop the tribulation that had befell Earth. His plan hidden from the Watchmen, Veidt began to formulate a plan to save the world. “Thus began my path to conquest… conquest not of men but of the evils that beset them” (Moore 359). In figure 8, Veidt has just completed his task of sending an alien monster to kill off humanity in New York. he is quoting the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses, whom Veidt personally identifies with, proudly boasting of his actions.

Figure 8 Adrian Veidt

The character of Rorschach also demonstrated these varying and intriguing characteristics that provide depth and dimension to this novel. Plagued by a traumatic childhood full of abuse, Rorschach can be considered one of the most morally conscious, yet psychotic, of the Watchmen. Rorschach has a strong sense of what is right, yet what he witnesses around him does not align with this. In an attempt to abolish evil in the world, the masked Watchmen member resorts to many violent, abhorrent methods, all in the name of what he considers to be good. In figure 9, Rorschach can be seen donning his ever-changing rorschach blot mask made from the dress of the murdered Kitty Genovese. Spurred on by a desire to save the world and the deaths of Genovese and the Comedian, Rorschach began a conquest to save humanity, similarly to Veidt. Yet, unlike Veidt, Rorschach believed that only those deserving of punishment must pay the price. Rorschach stated in his journal, “…there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of armageddon, I shall not compromise on this. But there are so many deserving of retribution…”

The Crossing of Academic Fields: A New Perspective on the Changing Graphic Novel Genre Watchmen essay

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The Crossing of Academic Fields: A New Perspective on the Changing Graphic Novel Genre Watchmen. (2023, Jan 04). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-crossing-of-academic-fields-a-new-perspective-on-the-changing-graphic-novel-genre-watchmen/

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