Over the two decades since its initial serialization, fans across comic-dom have speculated what a sequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen” would be like. But while the pair ever revisiting their 1986 masterpiece remains a virtual impossibility, readers can get their hands on new “Watchmen” books in the form of Titan Books’ “Watching the Watchmen,” a coffee table book presenting scads of Dave Gibbons original art dating around the years he drew the original work;Â and “Watchmen: Portraits,” a photo study of the cast of the Zack Snyder film compiled by the movie’s unit photographer Clay Enos. Both artists were on hand at the 2009 New York Comic Con to discuss the creation of their respective works with moderators Steve Daly of “Entertainment Weekly” and Sarah Rozen, photo editor of “Women’s Health.”
“I originally kept the sketches I had done while I was drawing ‘Watchmen’ just because I’d spent so much time on them, and I thought, ‘Well, rather than throwing them away, I thought I might just put them in a drawer and maybe someday, someone will want to look at them,'” said Gibbons of “Watching the Watchmen,” which reproduces (amongst other pieces) every thumbnail of every page of the original comic book. “And when it was obvious that the movie was being made, I thought it might be the time somebody would be interested in seeing them. So I proposed to [publisher] Paul Levitz at DC Comics, who’s as big a fanboy and as big of a process junkie as me, that we should do this book but on the stipulation that it would be designed by Chip Kidd. I’ve got a lot of Chip’s books on the shelf, and what I love is that he gives a sense of tangibility to things. He doesn’t shoot them as artwork; he shoots them as objects with coffee stains and the wrinkles and the texture. That’s how I wanted the book done – to give the reader almost the sense that they were looking through my filing cabinet drawer and actually handling the materials.
“If you look at ‘Watching The Watchmen’ you can see the early, gestural, fuzzy scribbling of how they might be. In Clay’s book, you can see them after they’ve been through the process of being refined, penciled, inked, printed, used as reference and had costumes made, actors cast – you can now finally see the other end of it where you can actually count the pores on the end of people’s noses. I think it’s amazing that you can see the whole process from a vague idea to an absolutely finished up and realized, final image.”
For his part, Enos entered into the “Watchmen” experience a relative newcomer to the world of film, but his longtime friendship with the film’s director helped make him an integral part of the movie’s production. “I had never worked on a feature film before, so when Zack asked me to participate, I wasn’t at all sure what was expected. What I did was bring what I do whenever I have a camera on hand – a portrait passion. And sure enough, from the first day to the last, I ended up making portraits,” the photographer explained. Enos added that when he attempted to find out what exactly a unit photographer did, “Warner Bros. actually handed me a ten-point sheet that was almost laughable in its simplicity. ‘Photograph director with cast. Try to get 2-shots and 3-shots. Try and emulate what the camera is doing’…literally asking for shots with three people in them or two people in them. So that quickly got put aside. I just brought my normal sensibilities to the set, and what a set it was. This film and this subject matter is so dense, so layered, so textured, and those are the kinds of subject matters I was attracted to making photographs of anyway. And knowing that there would be decades of fashion and style and actors to make portraits of, it was really a dream come true as a portrait artist.”
The final product produced by Enos’ lens includes black and white portraits of the cast of “Watchmen” in several phases of filming, such as a series that shows actress Carla Gugino aged over her time as the first Silk Spectre and beyond. The book also includes photos of crew members like screenwriter Alex Tse posing on the Owl Ship, and pictures used in the production such as the famed 1940s photo of The Minutemen – about which Enos exclaimed, “What a treat to make that image!”
“I was there every day for all 100-plus days of shooting, and my relationship with Zack afforded me the opportunity to make photos used in the film,” Enos continued. “Pretty much any photograph in the film -Â newspaper photos or back story photos – I had the opportunity to make. Even down to porno street where ’80s porn… well, it’s very hard to license the images of the models from back in the day, so we had to reshoot some porn. It was actually somewhat surreal because I was using the prison set, and at the same time we were shooting some back-story stuff of a young Laurie and her mom at a birthday party. So I would run around the wall and shoot a little 8-year-old at her birthday party and not 30 seconds later – you can look at the timestamp of the film – there are four women on a pole.”
Dave Gibbons described the artistic choices he and Alan Moore made in creating “Watchmen,” saying the goal was to be “graphic without being gratuitous.” Gibbons said that ideal translates to the film. “The thing about violence, to me, is that if you’re going to depict it, you should depict it realistically as being rather unpleasant to carry out and to have done to you,” the artist said. “The stylistic decision in ‘Watchmen’ is that there wouldn’t be any sound effects. If you have this scene with Rorschach breaking someone’s finger, and there’s a little crack lettered in next to it, that would kind of blunt the impact of it. There is some extreme violence in ‘Watchmen,’ but there isn’t very much of it. Most comics are action, action, action punctuated by quiet moments. ‘Watchmen’ is fairly quiet punctuated by moments of extreme violence. I think if you saw the little bit we showed yesterday of Kovacs in the prison throwing the boiling oil, you’d realize that that was a very brief and unpleasant little scene. I think that’s the way that violence should be.
“I’m extremely please that the movie has been made like that. I literally can’t conceive of the movie being made if it was a PG-13 movie. I think the decision to make it an R-Rated movie was absolutely correct.”
Gibbons delved into his use of the famed nine-panel grid in the pages of “Watchmen” and how the more formal framing of the images not only helped distinguish the comic book series but also the film and ancillary material that would follow. “I wanted people to forget about me. I think it was Samuel Goldwyn who, when he used to read a screenplay and would see a particularly clever flourish, would say, ‘I smell a writer.’ And I wanted people to read ‘Watchmen’ and not smell an artist. I wanted them to just go into the picture and really believe it was happening in front of you. That what I was trying to with the nine-panel grid, and it also gave Alan a huge scope because he would know exactly where on any page an image was going to appear. It also meant on the kind of ‘less is more’ model, when the pictures are only one-ninth of a page and you suddenly have two frames together, it looks like a much bigger picture. If you have one eventually at the climax that’s a whole page, it looks like a vast picture. So it’s that kind of holding back to let go later.
“I’m very struck by Zack’s cinematography that it also has that full kind of feel to it and that very carefully composed picture area. That also plays along with Clay’s photographs. They’re very classically well composed pictures. And interestingly enough, when you see them full panel, full page in the book, they’re pretty much the same proportion as the pictures that I drew, so there is this sense on the whole thing that there is a full design and a very particular approach to the vision.”