In 2006, director Zack Snyder went to a comic-book convention in San Diego to preview his new movie 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic story. He walked away with a storm of buzz that helped propel his sword-and-CG opus to blockbuster box office the following spring — and transformed himself into a Hollywood power player.
Next week, Snyder will return to Comic-Con, hoping for a similar response to his follow-up: Watchmen, adapted from the acclaimed 1986 comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, a brainy, byzantine, and brilliant skewering of superhero archetypes, and a reality-based reassembly of the entire genre. It’s a hallowed cult-pop artifact that many had deemed unfilmable, but Snyder may have proven them wrong. In the following interview, he tells us about his uniquely geeky roots and why he thinks mainstream culture is ready for Watchmen’s twisted take on superheroes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First 300, now Watchmen — have you always been a comics fan?
ZACK SNYDER: I came to comic books through my mother. I loved fantasy art — I love Frank Frazetta [the famed illustrator known for adult-oriented, sword-and-sorcery, and sci-fi imagery]. I went to boarding school. You weren’t allowed too many posters up, and everything I set up was slightly inappropriate. Frazetta’s naked girls, ripped up guys — the kids were like, ”What the hell?!” They had their Boy George posters up, I had crazy Frazetta. My mother saw I was into this comic called Heavy Metal magazine, so she got me a subscription. You could call it ”high-brow” comics, but to me, that comic book was just pretty sexy! I had a buddy who tried getting me into ”normal” comic books, but I was all like, ”No one is having sex or killing each other. This isn’t really doing it for me.” I was a little broken, that way. So when Watchmen came along, I was, ”This is more my scene.”
Your mom sounds pretty cool.
She’s just a little bit on the edge. She always did inappropriate stuff when we were kids, like teaching us how to toilet-paper the neighbor’s house or lighting fireworks. She was a gifted painter and amazing photographer. Just a free spirit. I bought a movie camera and started making movies when I was 11. It was a really cheap camera and it wasn’t really working for me, so she bought me the best camera she could find. Awesome camera. I had it forever. My mom always encouraged me, it was never weird. She’d look at Heavy Metal and go ”Woo-hoo!”
Watchmen was published in comic-book form in 1986 — but you discovered the story in its graphic novel a few years later when you were in college, right?
I had seen it in the store when it first came out as a comic, but I never got the first issue, and I couldn’t get into it at the middle; I felt like I missed it a little bit.
NEXT PAGE: ”Watchmen…almost superimposes its heroes on your world, which then changes how you view your world through its prism. That’s the genius of this book.”