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The Return of Watchmen

A first look at the prequel to the most important comic book series of all time.

In 1986 writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons rocked the comic book world with their legendary 12-issue series, Watchmen. Later collected into one volume, it sold over two million copies, was hailed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best novels ever written, and was made into a commercially, if not critically, successful film. Now, nearly 30 years after its creation, a series of Before Watchmen prequel books is hitting shelves. Here’s an exclusive look at one of them, Rorschach, with commen­tary from the new writer and artist team of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.

After falling out with DC Comics over the rights, Alan Moore severed all ties with the company. The move got vocal support from fans and left Azzarello and Bermejo holding a very hot potato.“My first thought was, You’ve got to be kidding me!” says Azzarello. “In a good way, and an apprehensive way.” While questions about the legitimacy of Moore’s beefs are politely batted aside, both seem OK about proceeding without his blessing. “DC was going to do this anyway,” says Azzarello. “Our egos reared their ugly heads and said, ‘We better do it or it won’t be any good!’ ”

The Process
1. Everything begins with the script. “I outline it, then write a ‘beat sheet’ of where things are going to go,” explains Azzarello. “To me every page has to have a point—that’s 24 beats. When you break the script down to panels, that’s just getting the flow of the pacing and the action down.”

2. The action, in the case of Rorschach, takes place in a particularly grimy world. “I wanted to get really street-level with it,” says Azzarello. “There are two cases going on: a serial killer and a drug deal. The lack of emotion and the presence of some badass shit make Rorschach a challenging character to write. He’s not a good person to
be in the head of.” And how does he get into the right mind-set? “I read the newspaper...”

3. The initial drawing process is known as penciling: “I do a lot of it on the Cintiq, which is basically a computer monitor you can draw on,” says Bermejo. “Brian’s panel descriptions are pretty sparse, which makes it a lot more fun for me, because I have a hand in everything else, from set dressings to partic­ulars of people.”

“The panel description here was simply, ‘Enter Rorschach!’ ” admits Azzarello. “If Lee’s image conveys something I wanted said, I’ll get rid of the words. A certain expression says, ‘Go to hell.’ I don’t need the character to say it.”

4. “The process of penciling and inking—taking a brush and ink and making forms clearer and more precise—generally takes me about three days for every page,” says Bermejo. “I know some guys who it comes to easily. I’m not one of those guys!”

5. Once a panel is inked, the colors are added. “Coloring is at least 50 percent of the work,” Bermejo explains. “There’s a language to colors, an atmosphere you can’t 100 percent achieve with your art. The colorist has to finalize it. You could have the same book colored by two different people and have two different experiences.”

“We wanted it to look like it was filmed in the late ’70s,” adds Azzarello. “So the color is saturated and washed out at the same time.”

6. Once the art is finished, the writer’s words are placed in the dialogue balloons and captions, and “sound effects” are added. “I’ll sit in front of the computer and sound out what an arm breaking sounds like,” laughs Azzarello. “It’s like when I write dialogue, I’m talking all the time. That’s why I have a hard time working in public—I look like a nut!”

The Legacy
“What’s enduring about Watchmen is its humanity, not its superheroes,” says Azzarello. Adds Bermejo, “What impressed me most was that it seemed like a near perfect orchestration of a comic book. The pieces fell into place very much like a puzzle.” As for how their contribution to the series’ legacy will be received, “That’s for readers to judge,” says Azzarello.

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