There are few graphic novels as influential and groundbreaking as Watchmen. Released in the 80s, Watchmen completely flipped comic tropes on their head, offering a dark, gritty take on superhero stories unlike any seen before. Now seen as one of, if not the best comic book ever, Watchmen has sold millions of copies and been adapted numerous times, from the 2009 film to the most recent HBO series of the same name.
If you want to know more about Watchmen, here are 42 facts about Alan Moore’s timeless classic.
1. A MADdening Inspiration
Harvey Kurtzman of MAD Magazine fame inspired much of Watchmen's art. In an interview, artist Dave Gibbons plainly stated that he "mercilessly stole" many of Kurtzman's techniques.
2. The ORIGINAL Watchmen
Originally, the Watchmen universe was going to star a completely different set of heroes. DC Comics had purchased the rights to characters from Charlton Comics, like Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt, and Captain Atom. DC, however, decided to use the characters in another comic, as Alan Moore wanted to kill many of them off in Watchmen. This lead to the Watchmen we know and love today.
3. In Line With the Greats
Watchmen was listed in Time Magazine’s 2010 list of 100 best novels ever, which included classics like Animal Farm and The Catcher in the Rye.
4. The Original Gritty Reboot
Watchmen wasn't just beloved for its compelling story; the book's unique art style, which completely flipped the usual bright and vibrant style of comics from the 80s, has been extremely influential in the decades since.
5. Rare Colors
Colorist John Higgins put a lot of thought was put into Watchmen's color palette. He mainly opted for colors that few other comics at the time were using. This helped give Watchmen its unique look.
6. Forever Adaptable
Since the comic’s release, people have attempted to adapt Watchmen multiple times. The most popular (or at least, most well-known) adaptation is Zack Snider's 2009 film of the same name, which came after years of attempts at getting a film off the ground. The newest adaptation, a TV show on HBO, began airing in 2019. However, unlike the film, HBO's Watchmen is a sequel, taking place decades after the events of the book.
7. Getting Meta
"Tales of the Black Freighter" is a comic within the Watchmen universe with its own deep history. Warner Brothers created a direct-to-video animated adaptation of the comic to go along with the 2009 Watchmen film, giving fans further insight into Alan Moore's world.
Ever wanted a prequel to Watchmen? Watchmen: The End is Nigh is a two-part Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 videogame that serves exactly that purpose, covering what happens before the 2009 film. However, like the film, reception was...less than positive.
9. A Real Film
To achieve the gritty look of the movie, director Zack Snyder used green screens as little as possible, opting for live sets and locations whenever he could.
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10. More Violence, Please
Snyder tried his best to make the Watchmen film faithful to the comic, but he still changed certain elements. One of these was extended fight scenes. While the comic is known for its fast-paced, brutal, and realistic fight scenes, the film opted for longer, more dramatic, “super-hero” style fights.
11. Comedian Vs. JFK
Another change that Snyder made was the confirmation that the Comedian, one of the Watchmen, assassinated JFK. This is only hinted at in the comic.
12. Trailer Hype
The film’s trailer renewed a lot of interest in the already iconic graphic novel, leading DC Comics to print over 900,000 additional copies.
13. Looks Great! Won’t See It
After reading the film’s script, which he admitted to enjoying, Watchmen creator Alan Moore said he wouldn’t be watching the film. He said: “I shan't be going to see it. My book is a comic book […] It's been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way." It should be noted, however, that Moore has always been staunchly opposed to any adaptation of his work, be they critically panned or acclaimed.
14. Solid Script
Actor and screenwriter David Hayter penned the script for the 2009 film. Hayter is perhaps best known for his voice work in the video game series Metal Gear Solid as the gravelly-voiced protagonist, Solid Snake.
15. In Motion
To go along with the 2009 film, the studio also made a Watchmen motion comic, which consisted of 12 episodes at around 30 minutes each. Don't know what a motion comic is? Well, to put it simply, it's a comic that...moves. We really can't put it any better than that.
16. Good Tunes
Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor produced the soundtrack for the HBO series alongside his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross. You may have heard the fruits of their partnership before, in films like Bird Box and The Social Network, the latter of which one the two of them the Oscar for Best Original Score.
17. Rorschach Blots TM
When working on the iconic Rorschach mask for the 2009 film, the designers had one little hiccup: copyright law. The real Rorschach blots are copyrighted, so the movie's art department had to make 15 of their own blots.
18. Watchmen Gets Political
Since the HBO series acts as a sequel and “remix” of the Watchmen universe, there are a few major changes to the tone. This time, the focus is mainly on race relations, even opening the series with the Tulsa race riot.
19. Animated Series Incoming
According to Warner Bros., an animated film based on the comic has been in the works since 2017, although a release date has not been stated.
20. Why Not So Serious?
Before Watchmen’s release, many people saw comics as a less “serious” storytelling medium. Watchmen opened the door for darker, more dramatic comics, and its style and influence can now be seen even in mainstream superhero comics such as Batman and Spiderman.
21. The Rise of Comic Sans
Without Watchmen, we may not have everyone’s favorite font, Comic Sans. Font creator Vincent Connare was inspired by both Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns when coming up with the font. So…thanks for that, I guess.
22. Alternate History
Watchmen takes place in an alternate history where Nixon was never caught for the Watergate Scandal, and the world is on the brink of World War III.
23. Smile for the Artist
The most iconic image from Watchmen is the yellow smiley face that appears throughout the novel and film—but it was almost never included at all. In the initial designs for the Comedian, Gibbons realized there was no indication that the character had a sense of humor. Figuring that was a little odd for a character with the name "The Comedian," he added the button to make it more clear, and it quickly became a symbol for the whole series.
When Moore saw the button, he immediately envisioned the Comedian's death, with a drop of blood marring the smiling, yellow face.
24. I’m Not A Crook
Moore chose to use Nixon rather than the president at the time, Ronald Reagan, as to not alienate supporters of Reagan. He figured nobody would argue about Nixon being a bad guy. Probably a good choice.
25. Not-So-Graphic Nudity
The character Doctor Manhattan is frequently naked in the comic. Gibbons avoided courting controversy by drawing the character with “understated genitals” based off of Greek statues.
The symbol on Doctor Manhattan’s forehead represents a hydrogen atom, which he respects for its simplicity.
27. Moore? Forget That Guy
Moore is notoriously harsh against adaptations of his comics, but that doesn’t seem to worry Damon Lindelof, creator of the HBO series. He stated in an interview: "I do feel like the spirit of Alan Moore is a punk rock spirit, a rebellious spirit...so I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore…I’m doing it anyway.”
28. President Redford
The HBO series follows an alternate history much like the original Watchmen. In this history, acclaimed director and actor Robert Redford is depicted as the longest-serving President of the US, holding the position for 28 years.
29. Comic Gurus
Moore would occasionally call fellow comic creator Neil Gaiman (known for comics like Sandman and novels like American Gods) for research help while writing Watchmen. Moore even borrowed a book on birds from Gaiman, which gave him the quote on owls that he used in the seventh issue of Watchmen.
Gibbons and Moore were not always working in close proximity to one another when working on Watchmen. Since fax machines weren’t a thing at the time, Moore would sometimes have to give pages of the novel to a taxi driver and have the driver deliver those pages over 50 miles to Gibbons’ place!
31. Magic Number Nine
Watchmen uses a nine-panel grid, which is not found in many other works. This was done to make it easy to read, as well as to fit more action onto each page.
32. Call Me Manhattan
From the beginning, Moore just wanted to create a comic with weight and substance to it. He stated he wanted to make a "superhero Moby Dick," referring to the influence and scope of the novel.
33. Doctor Schwarzenegger
Originally, Arnold Schwarzenegger was being eyed for the role of Doctor Manhattan. Schwarzenegger’s great and all, but I just can’t see it.
34. It’s Over, Go Home
DC offered Moore the chance to write prequels and sequels to Watchmen, but he always declined. Moore says he “doesn’t want Watchmen back these days,” and refuses to work under DC's stringent rules.
35. Watchmen Sans Moore
In 2012, DC published a series of prequels to Watchmen, much to Moore’s chagrin. Moore said of the new comics: "What the comics industry has effectively said is, 'Yes, this was the only book that made us briefly special and that was because it wasn't like all the other books.'…What they've decided now is, 'So, let's change it to a regular comic that can run indefinitely and have spin-offs' and 'Let's make it as unexceptional as possible.'"
So, did these exceptional prequels prove Moore wrong? Nope. Before Watchmen was met with mixed reviews.
36. The Burroughs Connection
One of Moore’s primary influences when writing Watchmen was acclaimed beat writer William S. Burroughs. Among other things, Moore admired Burroughs’ use of repeated symbols.
37. Swapping Hands
The Watchmen film switched directors a lot while being made. Terry Gilliam was originally set to direct, but found it to be “unfilmable.” It then went to David Hayter, Paul Greengrass, and Darren Aronofsky, before finally landing on Snyder. And now, I'm sure many Watchmen fans out there are currently weeping over what the movie could have been with any of those directors.
38. More Squid Monsters, Please
[SPOILER ALERT] One of the biggest controversies with the film was the changed ending. In the novel, Ozymandias, the "hero" who is revealed to be the primary antagonist near the end of the story, creates a giant squid-like "alien" to wipe out millions of New Yorkers and bring the world together to fight a common enemy. In the movie, the idea is the same, only the squid-alien was swapped out for...a really big bomb.
Some like the film ending better, and some the graphic novel. Personally, I would have loved to see the squid-monster come to life on the big screen.
39. Skimping on the Gimp
Another interesting change from Snyder’s film is the removal of The Comedian’s gimp mask, which he wears routinely in the novel. This was probably done so they could get more emotion from The Comedian’s face.
40. My Watchmen
HBO's Watchmen takes place 34 years after the original story, with the only characters confirmed to be appearing from the original being Doctor Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.
41. Supervillain Move, DC
Moore released Watchmen through DC Comics, who stated in the contract that the rights to the characters would go back to Moore a year after the novel was put out of print. The novel has, however, never gone out of print, and DC has no intention of ever letting that happen. Checkmate, Alan.
42. Herbie the Fat Fury
The character Rorschach speaks with very short, concise sentences. This is thought to be based on obscure superhero Herbie Popnecker, a very fat superhero who gains god-like powers by eating magical lollipops. He speaks very similarly to Rorschach, and is confirmed to be one of Moore’s favorite superheroes—and I'm sure now that you've heard of him, he's probably your favorite too!