Watchmen was one of the first comics that received enough critical acclaim to breach the anti-comics wall of the public library. A list of reasons can be produced as to why, namely its subject matter, overarching political and social philosophy, and artwork. The story being told in Watchmen is a complicated one and would not work if the accompanying artwork was not strong enough to illustrate the minute details integral to the plot. Dave Gibbons, illustrator and letterer, achieves this and more with artwork that is attuned directly to the plot of the book as well as succeeding in creating a unique (but at times oddly familiar) tone and setting. The pages of Watchmen that I have chosen to analyze are the cinematic opening pages of Chapter 5, Fearful Symmetry.
The page is constructed in the same fashion as the other opening pages. The left-hand page is a full panel with the chapter designation running vertical along the side. Above this is the telltale clock that, with the passing of each chapter, inches ever closer to midnight alluding to the Doomsday Clock symbolizing the ever increasing likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. The right-hand page is set up in the standard nine panel 3X3. Though the nine panel page is the standby for this comic the pages often deviate slightly from this norm. While this may not hold the excitement or breathtaking grandeur of a particularly splashy splash page, it holds its interest in the sheer amount of tone that can be set in nine panels.
This tone is found in the style in which the artwork is created. On the left-hand page is a symmetrical symbol reflected upside down in a puddle. This symmetrical symbol can easily be understood as an allusion to Rorschach a character whose mask is constantly moving in a symmetrical manner and who sees the world in strict black and white, right or wrong, it is understood that this chapter is to open upon him. Shifting over to the right-hand page, in an almost cinematic manner the art zooms outward and then upward, focusing initially on the street and a man’s foot splashing into the reflecting puddle, then outwards and upwards, until a full building is in view and then zooms back in on one window. It can be assumed that the man walking upon the street is Rorschach and from the final panel on the page, the only panel with dialogue, it is understood that he has broken into the building and disturbed the inhabitant of an inner apartment. The color scheme is of particular note as it sets the scene. The reflected sign is blinking neon and every other panel has an orange glow. From this it can be deducted that the action is taking place in a seedier part of town as no expensive apartment would have a neon sign blinking right into the window. The rain in the city gives the scene a final noir detail. Though different in composition the artwork invokes a lot of the same feelings as Juanjo Guarnido’s panels in the comic Blacksad, a noir based comic often exploring seedy worlds much like this one.
The slow build of these pages give the reader a feeling of suspense, a theme that reoccurs often throughout the plot. This works particularly well as the opening to a chapter. The reader eye’s is caught by the bright colors of the page as they are slowly introduced to the scene. While these pages are used mostly as a scene-setting opening to a chapter and do not portray much of the driving plot of the story there is a minor hint located in the fourth panel on the left-hand page. Rorschach’s foot walks past a newspaper with the headline, “Russians Invade Afghanistan.” This serves as a reminder to the reader of the tumultuous global stage upon which this story is taking place.
These pages serve as an excellent introduction to the comic as they do not give away any major plot points they merely showcase the masterful artwork of the comic, the world it takes place within, and the suspense built throughout the plot. The appearance of the Doomsday Clock is also an important talking point when recommending this book to a patron as it gives not only a referential time period but also alludes to the larger theme of global man-made destruction. The blinking of the neon light is such a tone setting and downright neat move that it would factor well into a promotional recommendation of the work.
I chose these two pages because I have always enjoyed the opening to this scene. The build up to the chapter heading felt so much like a Tarantino movie (notably to my eighteen year old self) that I never forgot the particular style with which it was done. I would expect that other potential readers (especially particulars within the late teenage/young adult set) would be affected similarly. I specifically enjoyed the lack of text as well as I was able to focus this analysis on the copious amount of artwork on the page rather than the written plot.