Wednesday, February 8, 2023

massive book review

No, the book is massive, not the review. It's Watchmen Annotated, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (DC Comics, 2017). It's hardcover, 12 inches square, over one inch thick, and I felt as if I needed a handtruck to extract it from the public library. It contains the complete text and line drawing of the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - but not any of the color! - with wide margins to put the annotations in.

I view annotated editions with a skeptical eye. Too many of them are useless, omitting far too many useful points and including mostly superfluous ones. I once glanced at an annotated Sandman that fit that description. This one appeared somewhat better. Written without Moore's participation but with plenty of help from Gibbons, including access to his copies of Moore's scripts, it has lots of useful analysis from the point of view of the artist interpreting the script. There are many annotations pointing out small things in the background, giving full texts of headlines and posters and graffiti that you can't quite read on the page, occasional patterns in the art and layout, observations of the relevance of paintings on the walls of the rooms where the scene is taking place, and other matters easily overlooked by a casual reader. The sugar cubes in Dan's kitchen are a continuing theme of oddly emphasized importance.

Some annotations specifically mention the art. Klinger seems anxious to chart the change in the shape of Rorschach's word balloons depending on whether he's wearing his mask, and is even more determined to point out every one of the very occasional use of motion lines.

Changes in the script are sometimes noted (not always with an indication of who changed it), and quotations from Moore's descriptions of scenes are valuable for imparting knowledge of what he wants the viewer to get out of it, which isn't necessarily obvious. One wishes for more of that.

As the book goes on, more and more of the annotations are simply explanations of real-world things alluded to in the text or art. Most of these will not be needed by anyone who was already an adult in the 1980s when this was first published. To my knowledge they're mostly accurate, though a few are a little odd. When Laurie, out with Dan rescuing civilians from a fire, tells them she's "Smokey the Bear's secret mistress," there's an annotation whose main point seems to be that Smokey Bear and Smokey the Bear, though the same character, are completely different names. When Adrian famously tells Dan "I'm not a Republic serial villain," the annotation explains all about Republic Pictures but without saying a word confirming, denying, or expounding on their villains' purported tendency to reveal their secret plans to the heroes.

There isn't a lot expounding the plot, though there are a few rather coy references in the beginning to "the End-Is-Nigh man." My favorite annotation is at the point where Rorschach, encountering his landlady Mrs. Shairp, looks at her crying, snot-nosed kid and, perhaps remembering his own blighted childhood, leaves off berating her for traducing him. Klinger's annotation says, "This is a powerful moment, in which the uncompromising Rorschach ... remains silent. Perhaps his sessions with Dr. Long in prison had an effect after all."

The best anecdote in the book, in a footnote in the introduction, concerns not Gibbons or Moore at all but Neil Gaiman. Gaiman was at a party and met a literary editor who looked down on him when learning he wrote comic books, until realizing he was talking to the author of Sandman. "My dear fellow," he says, "you don't write comics, you write graphic novels."

No comments:

Post a Comment