Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stop Watching Me Read The Watchmen

It's no secret that I am no fan of comic books. While the recent spate of comic book movies have been elevated to the ranks of good cinema, the source material still strikes me as juvenile, simplistic and predictable. That is, of course, also its appeal for many people. A good deal of my reluctance to embrace comic books as a valued art form is no doubt my backlash response to far too many who speak far too highly about comics. What passes for character development in comic books pales in comparison to that usually seen in a good screenplay, and certainly to that which one would find in a good book. The so-called "darkness" of The Dark Knight, for example, is still only a relatively benign edge that ultimately fails to breach the real world divide. It's "dark," yes, but only for the world of comic books...not so much for the world of the world.

I always feel some slight repulsion when I hear the words "graphic novel" uttered. It's an apt description to be sure, but I can't help but feel that it's stealing the literary credibility associated with the word "novel." It's like someone who goes around telling people they're a writer when, in truth, they've barely managed to cobble together a few sentences here and there. Calling yourself a writer will often get you more traction than actually being one. That said, I've never read a graphic novel. I've seen the cinematic adaptations of a few of them and they all failed to convince me that the source material was anything better than what a "good" comic book might be. Alas, a friend of mine has insisted I read The Watchmen and followed up by providing me with a copy. Since it is considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all-time, I have no choice but to read it and decide for myself if such a thing deserves having the word "novel" associated with it.

I'm only about 30 pages into the "novel," but I've already encountered one problem which threatens to derail the whole thing. The book, with its shiny yellow cover, is instantly recognizable...whether you've read it or not. So long as you have the tiniest awareness of pop culture, you will know The Watchmen graphic novel on sight. This has made me extremely self conscious as, right or wrong (wrong), I fear the silent judgment of anonymous strangers on the train and on the streets. Worse, I fear Watchmen devotees trying to talk to me about it. That particular fear has already been realized not once, not twice, but three times in the last week.

Dude: "Oh, hey, you're reading The Watchmen?"

Me: "Yes."

Dude: "Did you see the movie yet?"

Me: "No."

Dude: "Because I thought it was awesome, you know? Really."

Me: "Okay."

Dude: "Have you read it before, or is this your first time?"

Me: "First."

Dude: "Right on, right on. It's really good. I think you'll love it. How do you like it so far?"

Me: "I just started."

Dude: "Cool. Cool."

An awkward silence ensued as I turned my gaze back to the thing in my hands. Now, every time I take the thing out to read in public, I have to fight the urge to notify all observers that I am not a "fan" of The Watchmen. I'm simply conducting a literary experiment of how I sometimes will listen to Rush confirm what I already believe about him. I don't want to be identified as reading it, or as a follower of some sort. It pains me.

I have issues.

Anyway, I'll read it with an open mind and report back if I'm the least bit moved from my negative position on comic books and graphic novels. Don't hold your breath.


Blogger JMW said...

You're reading my blog mind. I was thinking of this same experiment, for the same reasons. I think the ultimate test might be Maus, though, which (I think) is considered the best graphic novel by people who read, you know, novels, not comics. I haven't read that one either, though.

March 9, 2009 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

You have stolen many a good blog idea, my friend. I often will NOT read your blog for fear of biasing my own ideas for things I'd planned on doing. You've killed many an idea over here at BHG.

March 10, 2009 at 11:22 PM  

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