I am a comic book junkie. I started checking them out from the Boone County Public Library when I was fifteen or so and they have been my guilty pleasure reading ever since. I spent part of this weekend re-reading Alan Moore’s classic comic Watchmen, and I had the same crisis of conscience that I did every time that I read it. I’d like to tell you about this crisis and then make a request of all of you who read this.
Let me make a controversial assertion. I believe that Watchmen has real literary value. A lot of comics are trash. Some comics have artistic merit. Some comics have (relatively) well-developed characters and an interesting story. You could probably read Watchmen in a literature class and have a lot to talk about (maybe a film class, since a lot of the really clever stuff is visual). The first time I read Watchmen, I wasn’t terribly impressed, but when I started re-reading it and started to notice all the little details that kept cropping up, I started to think that Moore and Dave Gibbons (the artist) had really put a lot of work into this. Each time I read Watchmen, I notice some new things about it, and it makes me think a little bit more.
That’s where the problems start. Watchmen is lauded for its realism. With one exception, the “superheroes” in Watchmen don’t have powers, just a taste for a life of adventure and (in some cases) a fortune to spend on gadgets. However, that realism also comes with a heavy dose of cynicism. Watchmen helps pioneer a concept reused in later superhero stories, the idea that the government wouldn’t allow superheroes to exist. One of the characters turns from superheroism to become a “government agent.” Another, the only one with any real superpowers, never cared about saving the world in the first place, because he thinks subatomic particles are more interesting than humans. A third ignores the government and keeps apprehending criminals… usually by breaking their arms (if not worse). This ain’t the Superman that you watched/read/daydreamed about as a kid. It’s cynical, it’s depressing, it’s violent. They made a movie. It’s rated R, and some people think that “R” is too generous.
So, there’s the problem I have whenever I read Watchmen. I think it has genuine literary value, but I feel a little grimy whenever I read it. I don’t bring this up to ask you for a moral judgment on whether or not I should read the comic again in a year or so, that’s something that I’m working on myself. I bring this up because I know that comics aren’t the only medium to suffer from this problem.
Sometimes, the best examples of a particular medium (the “classics“, the “box office toppers“, the “cult favorites“) challenge our moral values. How much of your morals you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of appreciating art is up to you. I believe in balance: Shakespeare wasn’t above crude jokes, but he’s still universally appreciated. Finding that balance isn’t what I’m trying to write about, though.
What I’m trying to say (once you get past the rambling) is that I’d like to see the day that talent and moral fortitude aren’t mutually exclusive in the arts. Spencer W. Kimball, the Mormon prophet, put it best:
It has been said that many of the great artists were perverts or moral degenerates. In spite of their immorality they became great and celebrated artists. What could be the result if discovery were made of equal talent in men who were clean and free from the vices, and thus entitled to revelations?
I guess what I’m asking you is to do what you can to create the “gems” that this blog is seeking. I don’t know how to draw, and I’ve more or less given up on creative writing, but there are people out there who can create a comic that has as much literary value as Watchmen without robbing me of my optimism and inner peace. If that’s you, then I plead with you to do it. If you can do the same for the film adaptation, then I plead with you to do that. If you can do that for novels, poetry, blogging, tweeting, or any form of media, I plead with you to do that.
I guess that’s part of why I’m contributing to this blog. I may not be able to create a masterpiece, but I’m going to try to write some genuinely good posts that stand up for truth instead of questioning it. Will you help me?