(A reader reminds me to link to the first post, because "[this one] makes no sense without it." Earlier post today notwithstanding, I have the most considerate readers.)
Vance and I have been back-channeling about Watchmen this past week. It occurs to me that there's no sense in wasting my brilliant thoughts on an audience of one (!?!) when I could be sharing them with all the world. Vance agreed. Our first quibble concerns the look of Dave Gibbon's panels. Vance insists the panels looked dated. He's not wrong. But before we discuss some of his limitations, we should attend to Gibbons' strength: layout. Consider these panels again:
Gibbons purposely centers the first panel on nothing in order to force the reader to search for the photograph. Your eyes gravitate to the center. Nothing there. So you move them to the portion of the panel which contains actual information: up and to the right. Gibbons draws your attention into the center panel. The strong version of this argument would be that he accomplishes this by aligning the photograph such that your eye is drawn from the center of the panel, through the photograph, then to the text at the top of the center panel like so:
You likely noticed the weak and strong versions of my argument can (and do) coexist. Each of the three elements of the text (script, composition, color) augment the other two. Such synergy is rare (and likely a function of Moore's notoriously precise scripts), and in terms of the visual style of the book, sets Watchmen far above its peers. Put differently: Watchmen looks dated in the same way (and for the same reason) a Caravaggio like this one does: it fails to meet the photorealistic standards of a future era. We praise Caravaggio for his sense of composition and use of color. We should extend the same sympathy to Gibbons. The fact that a Caravaggio looks more photorealistic than any panel in Watchmen did not escape my notice. Gibbons and his inker, John Higgins, labored under the substantial material constraints: their lines and colors must be meet the industry standards. They must be printable on extant machines and transferrable to cheap paper. Higgins discusses these difficulties in Watching the Watchmen:
Considering how unique the palatte of Watchmen is—the creative team deliberately shunned the bold color combinations the hand separators were accustomed to creating—that the book contains as much synergistic detail as it does represents quite the technical achievement. This feels like the natural place to end this post. So I will.
My next post will cover particular matters of style in the sixth issue.