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Yellow Brick Road

A Journal by Don Gerz

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Graphic Philosophy: Watchmen by Alan Moore


In early August, Brit Butler (http://redline6561.livejournal.com/) loaned me his copy of Watchmen (1986), the highly touted graphic novel recognized by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 novels of all time, as well as a winner of the Hugo Award.  It is indeed one of the most fascinating pieces of literature and philosophy I’ve ever encountered.

Personally, I find the graphic novel genre difficult to digest.  (It is my lack, not the genre’s.)  Perhaps it is because “a picture is worth a thousand words,” whereas the symphonic combination of pictures and words is worth trillions of linguistic signs, signifiers, and signifieds, especially in the case of Watchmen, one of the most highly textured and multi-layered pieces of fiction I can imagine.

Presently, I’m on Chapter 9 of this 12-chapter epic.  I am purposely reading it slowly in order to identify and at least somewhat appreciate the highly nuanced and combined elements of philosophy, theology, culture, history, and critical theory that meticulously crawl through the plots, characters, themes, and motifs of this pastiche.  In a word, it’s exhausting to read properly!  As a prime example of metafiction,
Watchmen demands careful consideration from the serious reader, especially if that reader is unused to the world of the graphic novel.  Again, I plead guilty!  I think the last comic book I read had something to do with Donald Duck’s nephews, and that was when I was a kid in the Fifties!  Of course, Watchmen is not a comic book, and it resembles one only at a glance.

To help me organize my thoughts about Watchmen, I have been doing a little research on the work, the author, the illustrator (Dave Gibbons), metafiction, philosophy, critical theory, and other academic disciplines.  I am especially interested in considering a soon-to-be released work edited by Irwin and White entitled, Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test, the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series (http://www.amazon.com/Watchmen-Philosophy-Blackwell-Pop-Culture/dp/0470396857).

(To Be Published in Early February '09)

I may have more to say about Watchmen after I finish reading it.  For now, I will share just a few of its fascinating themes as explored by academic journals such as The International Journal of the Humanities (http://ijh.cgpublisher.com/diary/39).

The topics below give an idea of the intellectual depth and literary heft of this fertile work of art:

·        How Watchmen Revolutionized Comics

·        The Graphic Novel as Serious Literature

·        Superheroes and the State: The Keene Act and the Legal Suppression of Superheroes

·        The Amorality of the Comedian

·        A Man without a Face: Rorschach and Identity

·        Superheroes and Warfare: Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian in Vietnam

·        The Comedian and "Protecting People from Themselves": Should We Cede Responsibility to Authority?

·        Superheroes and Capitalism: The Branding of Ozymandias

·        The Silk Spectre: Woman as Sexualized and Peripheralized in the Hero Narrative

·        Legacy Heroes and Identity: Will the Real Silk Spectre Please Step Forward?

·        Is There a God?

·        Is the World Really "a Clock without a Craftsman?"

·        Determinism and Dr. Manhattan's Knowledge of the Future

·        Kitty Genovese and Good Samaritan laws

·        Dr. Manhattan and the Philosophy of Time Travel

·        Responsibility for Character: Rorschach's Childhood

·        Watchmen and Deconstruction of the Superhero

·        Rorschach and the Ethics of Vigilantism

·        The Ring of Gyges and the Responsible Use of Superpowers

·        Rorschach and Rand: Objectivism, Individualism and Sacrifice

·        Veidt and the Will to Power

·        Dr. Manhattan, Veidt, and the Übermensch

·        Camus, Dr. Manhattan, and the Absurd

·          "Existence is random, has no pattern": So what's the meaning of life?

·        Tales of the Black Freighter: Metafiction in the Watchmen

Additional Resources


"Watchmen" (Wikipedia)

The Annotated Watchmen



Behind the Mask



Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil








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Damn! Wow, Don that's a fantastic list of resources. I had no idea there was so much scholarly work being done on the Watchmen. A friend of mine who is now a freshman at GA Tech, Kris Osterhage (http://krow684.livejournal.com), has also recently finished Watchmen and I'll be encouraging him to post up a review/recap. Also, Chris Blair said we should all get together and do lunch. Sometime next week maybe? Or perhaps when you're done with Watchmen. :-) Anyway, keep enjoying it. I was really glad to see this post.


Thanks, Brit. BTW, I just received a comment from Mark White, one of the editors of Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test. It's a small/large world, isn't it?! :-)

- Don

Nice! One more reason I love blogs:

They put me in touch with people smarter than me. :)

Watchmen and Philosophy

Terrific post - by the way, I'm Mark D. White, the editor of Watchmen and Philosophy. If you want to know more about W&P, you can check out this discussion thread, in which I posted the table of contents:


Re: Watchmen and Philosophy

Thank you, Dr. White. I am looking forward to reading your book when it comes out.

(Deleted comment)
Glad you found it interesting! Thanks for taking a look at it. - Don Gerz

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