It’s hardly necessary to be a fan of Watchmen to appreciate Watching the Watchmen. What Gibbons achieves here is more than a memoir of the creative process that goes into any collaborative effort. It’s a personal recounting told from the illustrator’s point of view - writer Alan Moore’s perspective is absent here, due to his ongoing disputes with DC. That’s all the better in this case. Because of his writing prowess, Moore tends to eclipse his collaborators. To see in detail the creation of this seminal work from the artist’s perspective is resultantly quite refreshing. As much as Moore’s story deconstructed the superhero mythos, they would have been shallow without the almost detached approach Gibbons’ nine panel grids imbued the characters with a sense of ennui in the face of global devastation.
At its core, Watching the Watchmen is more art book than scholarly history. The design of the book, by Chip Kidd and Mike Essl, both of whom are noted for their design work on various adaptations of Batman in film and graphic novels, ensure that Gibbons’ sometimes scattered sketches and remembrances remain cohesive. As a result, the artwork, from marker layouts to pencil sketches to the rare finished art is a joy to behold.
With The Dark Knight a serious Oscar contender and Frank Miller’s The Spirit opening Christmas Day and the film adaptation of The Watchmen coming out in March, superheroes are the new canon of 21st century literature. “Who watches the Watchmen?” is no longer merely a clever catchphrase - it may be a clear indicator of movie trends in 2009. That in mind, Watching the Watchmen may be the perfect gift for anybody interested in pop culture, film evolution, contemporary art or graphic novels in general. It’s a book I’d strongly recommend as a gift this year.