Amid global protests over racial inequality, HBO’s hit TV series Watchmen has reentered the public conversation due to its themes of race, policing and trauma. Revisiting the series, Dave Gibbons, the artist behind the original Watchmen comics penned by Alan Moore, said he was “blown away” by HBO’s take on the superhero tale. The new adaptation, which stars Regina King and Jeremy Irons, began airing in October 2019.
“When I was told about this HBO series, initially I was a bit dubious,” Gibbons told me. But after he spoke with show creator Damon Lindelof (who’s also behind Lost and The Leftovers), the new concept piqued his interest.
“I think the real key was they took it so far away in time from the events of the original comic book,” Gibbons said. “They went 30 plus years away from it. In which time, that world we created had transmuted and evolved into something that was almost unrecognizable.”
The original Watchmen appeared in a 1985 issue of DC Spotlight, and later got a 12-issue maxi-series from DC Comics between 1986 and 1987, depicting an alternate-reality United States full of superheroes, vigilantes and the moral struggles both face. Gibbons, a lifelong comics fan, also has artwork in the original Green Lantern comics and in The Man Who Has Everything, the main story in 1985’s Superman Annual No. 11 (he collaborated with Moore on that as well).
Gibbons had no creative input on HBO’s adaptation of Watchmen, which aired in nine episodes last year. CNET writer Richard Trenholm’s review of Watchmen compares the new show to a western that’s also an alternate history of America. The show is complex, with interweaving story arcs that embrace its freedom from the original comic, Trenholm said.
Gibbons said he has no plans to return to drawing the Watchmen characters. But the HBO series provided an educational experience for him: Watching the first episode and its depiction of Oklahoma’s Tulsa race massacre of 1921 was the first time he’d heard about the burning of Greenwood, known at the time as Black Wall Street.
“I think it made me, and a lot of other people, actually go and look at the real history of things that have gone on,” Gibbons said. Indeed, Google searches for the Tulsa massacre spiked after the episode aired. “I’m someone who believes that knowledge and education are the most valuable things,” Gibbons said. “It’s the way in which we change society.”
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