Reaganomics and Watchmen

A buddy of mine – Jeff Johncox, a journalist at a nearby newspaper – popped a few email questions my way about the upcoming Watchmen flick, which he assumed would be used as background filler for a larger article…one that doesn’t look like it will see the printer’s ink.

Rather than let this little dialogue go to waste, I thought I would post it here, in case any of you have comments about this topic, as well…

Jeff Johncox (“JJ”): What did Watchmen mean to you?

Michael Sheyahshe (“MS”): I’d ‘heard’ about the Watchmen for years before I finally got around to reading it. For many years there, it was splashed everywhere; I especially noticed its mention and reference in the advertisement sections of the comic books themselves. I seem to recall many specialty (comic) suppliers referenced the Watchmen visually and textually, at times.

Being isolated on a rural farm, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity that many other comic book fans were: the local comic book shop connection. Sure, I made it to the local comic shops as much as I could, but I never just ‘hung out’ there, like many other (city) kids got to do. Thus, I was never privy to the ‘inside-track’ of what was cool and new in the comic du jour. Yet, as I mentioned, I was still aware of the Watchmen – and to a lesser extent, the hype surrounding it – but, I wasn’t sure what the big deal was, so I didn’t bother with it for a long while.

As it turns out, not reading it immediately was most likely for the best (more on why, in a moment).

JJ: When did you first read it?

MS: It was the late 1990s, in my early adulthood, before I actually read the Watchmen.

JJ: Did you immediately “get” it?

MS: As with way too many things in my life, I did not grasp the Watchmen’s full meaning at first read. What can I say? I am a man – a dull-witted one, at that – and we men aren’t exactly known for catching subtleties. Yet, even on the first reading, even without catching all the finer points, I knew that there was something very special about this story.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t fall in love with the Watchmen, especially not in the first read. Indeed, to this day, I’m not in love with the Watchmen. However, you don’t have to absolutely love something to understand, on some level, its gravity and importance to the genre as a whole. One may not love “Moby Dick” or “A Catcher in the Rye,” (Buddha knows I don’t care for these), but one cannot deny the level of importance of these to works to literature itself.

The same can be said of Watchmen; its contribution to the comic book milieu is incomparable.

JJ: Was it something you realized, over time, was extraordinary?

MS: Indeed; the Watchmen storyline and characters have stayed with me – have played over and over in my mind – for years. Reading the Watchmen is like being introduced to the Greek Pantheon for the first time: you may not remember all the little details, but ideas and the ideals of the players and parts stays with you over time. Unlike many other comics that fill pages with fluff and filler (which is great, sometimes, if you’re in the mood for it), the Watchmen is well executed and intensely intricate in the way its characters are handled.

Of course, upon my initial reading, one element that left a sour taste in my mouth was the story’s delivery of a specific time period: the 1980s. This distaste came close to overpowering a more substantial element of the Watchmen: the use of propaganda.

JJ: How did the book capture the second “red scare” of the mid 80s

MS: I am not a political creature; in fact, I don’t discuss – or even THINK about – politics. Much this is most likely due to my fervent attention to the political scene in the 1980s (Reaganomics, anyone?). The shame of being so astute during this time – a time of Cold War, Red Scare, and blind conservatism – most likely affects my current outlook; and prompts me to shun anything politically charged.

The Watchmen, its story and characters, are children of the 1980s, much like me. It is most likely this affinity that came close to turning me off of the storyline, initially. However, given that I did not read the Watchmen until years after that sad decade, the temporal distance allowed me to see the inherent rhetoric and nuclear propaganda that I would have most likely missed, had I read this work within the 1980s. It is this proclamation – the fact that the book so eagerly allows its story to be rooted in the confines of a specific time – that empowers its metaphors and allusions.

In short, the Watchmen is pivotal for the genre of comic books and sequential art. While the flavor of the 1980s always makes me want to brush my tongue, I still recommend the Watchmen as a good ‘read’ to anyone wanting to consume something of substance, in comic book form. As mentioned, the ideology and themes stay with me in my mind, which says much of the Watchmen’s substance (it sticks to one’s mental ‘ribs,’ as it were).

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