Friday, August 01, 2008

Watching "Watchmen"

I'm a bit stunned by the popularity of the Watchmen trailer that's tied to Dark Knight. It seems there are two distinct audiences for Watchmen, the comic geeks and the general public. But upon further review and from observation, it looks like there's the general public, comic geeks who've read Watchmen, and then comic geeks who have somehow managed NOT to read Watchmen.

My assumption, when it came to Watchmen, was that after two decades in print, isn't it likely that Watchmen will have saturated the market of potential buyers?

The other day I popped into Austin Books and it seems that the demand for the book is extremely high. This is a comic that is 22 years old, that's never been out of print for any serious duration, and which is one of the usual perennial favorites on the shelf of bookstores and comic shops alike. Add in multiple years of Watchmen making "best of" lists for both comics and regular old books, and I'm sort of amazed that the interest in the trailer is high enough to push the kinds of sales we're seeing. Watchmen was #6 (NUMBER 6!) on the Amazon books lists when I just checked sales rankings.

That said, Austin shoppers will want to hit Austin Books rather than Amazon for their Watchmen/ Dark Knight needs. There's a display at the counter, I believe, and plenty of copies.

Brad pointed out some figures to me on the audience for the comic thus far, versus the millions of eyeballs that have seen The Dark Knight, and thus the Watchmen trailer. The numbers are simply exponentially larger. But its still curious. I don't think the original novel of "I am Legend" sold through the roof despite the millions who saw the recent Will Smith adaptation.

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Part of me is a bit disappointed with the masses of comic readers who've been raised on a generation of manga and graphitti style art, and who didn't see enough enormous eyes, mecha, boobs or guns or bloody swords enough, page per page, to get them to crack the comic before. So if it takes a movie trailer to get them to understand the significance of uttering "Hurm" under your breath... so be it. But, hey, hopefully this will be enough to convince them to give the comic a shot.

Its also apparently sold out at the printer or distributor for the time being, but DC is printing 200,000 more copies (thanks to Simon for that info), so that's a lot of copies of Watchmen that could move by Christmas.

Part of my joy in this whole illogical exuberance over a movie trailer is that it will give so many readers a chance to say "The book was better than the movie". And to sample the material before the movie ever hits (Miller's "300" had a bubble after the movie was released, but it was AFTER, not several months before). I'm not saying the movie won't be good or great, but with so few people ever really turning to the source material after watching a comic-book inspired movie, and taking the movie as cannon, its a novel opportunity. If not for comics, DC, etc... than for readers to discover Alan Moore (as copies of his "Killing Joke", the classic Batman/ Joker one-shot, have also been selling like hot cakes, 20+ years later).

If I can be allowed a bit of an aside here: This is the perfect opportunity for DC to attempt to make amends with Alan Moore. He's simply too important to DC and Warner Bros. at this point to allow a silly dispute over his work to continue. Clearly DC doesn't need to have Moore on board to exploit his material, from "V for Vendetta" to "Watchmen", but moving forward, it couldn't hurt DC and Moore to be on friendlier terms, and at least establishing a first-look relationship between themselves and Moore. I believe that right now, that's how he's working with Top Shelf, and maybe that's a good home for him (I doubt DC would have published "Lost Girls"). But old family squabbles need to be resolved at some point.

The comic movies don't seem to be simply finally exploiting some of the material that saw the superhero genre move from kid's entertainment in the 80's to entertainment for older readers, but that the movie industry may see with The Dark Knight and Watchmen as the turning point for the possibilities for superheroics that comics have seen since the 1980's.

Let's just hope that the movies don't have to suffer through the same post DKR-hangover/ chromium age/ extreme make-over that the comics had to suffer through. Watchmen and DKR succeeded for a reason, and it wasn't because blood + guts + boobs = entertainment for older readers.


mrshl said...

I was at the bookstore today and saw it. Thought about buying it cuz I've never read it (and of course I saw the trailer when I saw Batman).

I've seen the acclaim for years, but just kind of YAWNED, because outside of Sandman comics I've just never been a comics guy.

But like any soft-headed consumer, throw enough hype my way and I'll get curious.

The League said...

Sandman (of which I am a huge fan) and Watchmen are two very different comics. I can't really sell you on Watchmen in any particular way, and I think that's part of why the up and coming generation hasn't felt the need to feel versed in Watchmen.

In its own way, its far more complex than the 70+ issue run of Sandman. It isn't mythmaking in the manner of a Superman or Sandman comic, and its not the lonesome journey of the hero in the manner of Dark Knight.

I think it looks pretty dry on a first glance, and I don't think I read the series until I was a freshman in college as I just didn't see the appeal.

But the thing earned its reputation for a reason.

The problem with hyping the comic is that if it doesn'totally blow your socks off, well.. I haven't done anyone any favors.

Anonymous said...

Some of this, though, may be attributable to the reissue market. There are few CDs I bought in the late 1980s and early 1990s that I lost or sold along the way that I have re-purchased along the way. Maybe there are those who read it or owned it back in the day that re-bought it after the trailer?

The League said...

That's certainly a possibility. From what I'm hearing anecdotally, though, that's not the bulk of the audience. Although I suspect Watchmen is also one of those books that friends lend to friends, and now people want their own copy.

I actually read yesterday that the number ordered for print by DC had jumped to 300,000, not 200,000. So I have to think there's a a pretty wide market for this particular reissue.

horus kemwer said...

Alan Moore and DC will never reconcile, he's too much of a crank, and they really have fucked him over way too many times.

I do think it may justify the whole debacle if the net effect of the Watchman movie is to get people to read the book. Still, I think the quality distance between comic and film is going to be orders of magnitude (many) greater in the Watchman case than the 300 case.

The League said...

DC and Moore could reconcile, but it would take DC doing all of the capitulating. And with so much of the WB empire depending on keeping the folks who produce the works for WB in a grovelling position, I don't think they would back down. Or even know what that would look like.

What's sad is that it seems Paul Levitz takes a lot of the heat for the issues with Moore, but I suspect as a former creator himself, Levitz is sympathetic to Moore. Just as word on the street is that he's sympathetic to the Siegels in their legal wranglings with WB/ DC.

And I agree on your point: if DC can get the comic in the hands of a new audience, then the movie has more than served any purpose I would hope for.

Simon MacDonald said...

Moore's "Watchmen" is what is known in the book business as an 'ever green' property. It's one of those books that always sells so it will always be in print. Not unlike Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mocking Bird" or Jeff Smith's "Bone".

Even 10 or 15 years ago when comics, i.e. graphic novels, did not have a big presence in book stores I could always find a copy of "Watchmen" to re-read while my parents shopped.

I truly was/is an amazing book and I'm optimistic that it will translate well onto the big screen.

I don't think that DC and Moore will ever resolve their differences which really is a shame. It really shouldn't stop people from exploring his work. As it ranks among the best works in the medium ever.