Background of Watchmen

In 1985, DC Comics obtained a distinctive line of characters from Charlton Comics. During that time, writer Alan Moore considered composing a story that featured an untouched line of superheroes which he could update, while he had done in his Miracleman series in the early 1980s. Moore reasoned that MLJ Comics’ Mighty Crusaders might be readily available for such a project, so he invented a murder mystery plot which would start with the discovery of the body of the Shield in a harbour. The writer felt it didn’t matter which group of characters he ultimately used, so long as subscribers recognized them “so it would hold the shock and surprise value when you saw what the reality of these characters was“. Moore used this premise and created a proposal featuring the Charlton characters titled Who Killed the Peacemaker, and sent in the unrequested proposal to DC managing editor Dick Giordano. Giordano was receptive to the proposal, but opposed the thought of using the Charlton characters to the story. Moore said, “DC realized their expensive characters would end up either dead or dysfunctional.” Instead, Giordano convinced Moore to continue with new characters. Moore had initially believed that primary characters wouldn’t provide emotional resonance for the readers, but later transformed his mind. He said, “Eventually, I noticed when I wrote the substitute characters well enough, so they seemed recognizable in some ways, certain areas of them brought back a kind of generic super-hero resonance or familiarity to the reader, then it might work.

Artist Dave Gibbons, who’d collaborated with Moore on previous projects, recalled he “must have often heard around the grapevine that he was doing a strategy for a new miniseries. I rang Alan up, saying I’d enjoy being associated with what he was doing,” and Moore sent him the story outline. Gibbons told Giordano he desired to draw the series Moore proposed and Moore approved. Gibbons brought colorist John Higgins onto the project because he liked his “unusual” style; Higgins lived close to the artist, which allowed the 2 to “discuss [the art] and have some type of contact with others rather than just sending it across the ocean“. Len Wein joined the job as its editor, while Giordano stayed onto oversee it. Both Wein and Giordano stood back and “got from their way”; Giordano remarked later, “Who copy-edits Alan Moore, for God’s sake?”

After getting the go-ahead to operate on the project, Moore and Gibbons spent a day at the latter’s house creating characters, crafting details for the story’s milieu and discussing impacts. The pair was specifically affected by a Mad parody of Superman named “Superduperman“; Moore said, “We wanted to take Superduperman 180 degrees-dramatic, rather than comedic“. Moore and Gibbons conceived of the story that would take “familiar old-fashioned superheroes in to a new realm“; the writer said his purpose was to develop “a superhero Moby Dick; something that had that kind of weight, that sort of density“. The writer developed the character names and descriptions, but left the details of how they looked to Gibbons. Gibbons did not take a moment and design the characters purposely, but instead “did it at odd times … spend[ing] maybe two or three weeks just doing sketches.” Gibbons designed his characters to ensure they are simple to draw; Rorschach was his favorite to draw because “you just have to draw a hat. If you can draw a hat, then you’ve drawn Rorschach, you simply draw kind of a shape for his face and put some black blobs on it and you are done.

Moore began writing the series very ahead of time, aiming to avoid distribution delays for example those faced by the DC limited series Camelot 3000.[18] When writing the script for the first issue, Moore said he realized, “I only had enough plot for six issues. We were contracted for 12!” His solution was to switch issues that managed the entire plot in the series with origin issues to the characters. Moore wrote very detailed scripts for Gibbons to work with. Gibbons remembered that “[t]he script for the first issue of Watchmen was, I believe, 101 pages of typescript-single-spaced-with no gaps between the individual panel explanations or, indeed, even between the pages.” Upon getting the scripts, the artist needed to number each page “in case I drop them on the floor, since it would get me 2 days to place them back within the right order“, and used a highlighter pen to single out lettering and shot descriptions; he remarked, “It takes quite a bit of arranging before you actually put pen to paper. Despite Moore’s detailed scripts, his panel descriptions might often end with the note “If that doesn’t be good enough, do what works best“; Gibbons nevertheless worked to Moore’s instructions. In fact, Gibbons only suggested a single switch to the script: a compression of Ozymandias’ narration while he was preventing a sneak attack by Rorschach, while he felt the dialog was very long to fit with the amount action expressed; Moore agreed and re-wrote the scene. Gibbons had a good deal of autonomy in developing the visual appearance of Watchmen, and frequently inserted history details that Moore admitted he did not notice until later. Moore sometimes contacted fellow comics writer Neil Gaiman for solutions to research queries and for quotes to incorporate in issues.

Despite his intentions, Moore accepted in November 1986 that there were likely to be delays, stating that he was, with issue five around the stands, still writing issue nine. Gibbons pointed out that a major factor in the delays was the “piecemeal way” by which he received Moore’s scripts. Gibbons said the team’s pace slowed around the fourth issue; from there forward the two undertook their job “just several pages at a time. I’ll get three pages of script from Alan and draw it and then toward the conclusion, call him up and say, ‘Feed me!’ And he’ll send another 2 or 3 pages or maybe one page or sometimes six pages.” As the creators began to hit due dates, Moore would hire a taxi driver to drive 50 miles and deliver scripts to Gibbons. On later issues the artist even had his wife and son draw panel grids on pages towards saving time.

Close to the end of the project, Moore pointed out that the story bore some resemblance of “The Architects of Fear“, a chapter of The Outer Limits television series. The writer and Wein argued over altering the closing, and when Moore refused to give in, Wein quit the book. Wein explained, “I kept telling him, ‘Be more original, Alan, you’ve got the capability, do something different, not at all something that is already been done!’ And he didn’t seem to care enough to achieve that.” Moore acknowledged the Outer Limits episode by referencing it within the series’ last issue.

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