In the first class Dr. Beaty stated that the majority of comics were ‘crap’. This immediately intrigued me as I always understood comic books to be a heavily under rated form of literature. While I heartily agree there is a vast sea of ‘crap’ comics, I feel to dismiss all comics as such is misguided.
This post focusses on Watchmen, a comic that by any standard is not easily described as ‘crap’. Watchmen is written by Alan Moore, who places high emphasis on the quality of his characters dialogue. Alan Moore demonstrates that comics can offer profound understandings of life, not just mindless entertainment. David Itzkoff of New York Times wrote,
“If we imbue our champions with the weaknesses of ordinary mortals, Moore asks, and confine them to a cosmos where good and evil are subjective notions and right never triumphs over wrong, what’s the point of having heroes at all?”
The philosophical praise of Watchmen does not end here. Multiple outlets have appreciated the philosophical complexity of Watchmen. In 1987 it won a Hugo award, a prize offered only to the most sublime science fiction works. Time magazine went so far as to place it in its list of ‘All-Time 100 Novels’ …Putting Alan Moore with the ranks of Hemingway, Orwell and Atwood.
It is my declaration that watchmen’s philosophical elements are on a level comparable with classic literature. A preferred passage of mine that examines life in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace reads,
“‘Why not wash? That’s not clean,’ said Prince Andrei. ‘On the contrary, one has to try to make one’s life as pleasant as possible. I’m alive, and it’s not my fault that I am, and so it behoves me to make the best of it, not interfering with anybody else until death carries me off.”
The passage comes from a conversation between two of the books principle characters Pierre and Prince Andrei. Similarly in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Juspecyzk have a conversation discussing the phenomenon of life as to which Dr. Manhattan concludes,
“Thermo-Dynamic Miracles …Events with odds against so astronomical they’re effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.”
“And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter.”
“…Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization it was you, only you that emerged.
“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability like turning air to gold… that is the uncrowning unlikelihood.”
“The Thermo-Dynamic Miracle.”
In both examples the potency of the conversation is strengthened by their respective contexts but the point I’m making is clear. Alan Moore tackles the same philosophical questions Tolstoy does, but does so in a medium that is commonly disregarded as ‘crap’.
I am not alone in this argument either; many academic circles have come to discuss graphic novels such as Watchmen in a literary context. As I have exceeded the word limit I am prevented in fleshing out my argument. I could continue on with other examples of Alan Moore’s work, such as V for Vendetta and how it perfects Orwell’s 1984. Or even how Neil Gaiman’s Sandman dubbed “a comic strips for intellectuals” by Norman Mailer, literally recreates Shakespeare in the award winning A Midnight Summer’s Dream (a required reading). And ultimately demonstrate that Maus addresses the holocaust in such a profound manner it garnered a Pulitzer Prize. So are comics ‘crap’? Just like films, books and music – yes lots of them are. But are enough comics ‘crap’ them to paint them all with the same brush? Watchmen would disagree… and probably so would Tolstoy.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen, DC comics
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace 1, (England: Penguin Books, 1969) 451