Watchmen: An Oral History

The script for a typical comic was around 32 pages. Alan's scripts, you'd get 150 pages!

BARBARA KESEL (Watchmen editor)
Alan would give you the complete psychological profile of each character, plus the meaning of every object in the environment. His artists would rise to what he asked, because he had a way of outlining an idealistic dream.

While writing the first issue, I realized I only had enough plot for six issues. We were contracted for 12! The solution was to alternate issues of plot with ''origin story'' issues about the characters.... But the opening sequence of issue 3 is where Watchmen really clicked. [In this scene, a news vendor on a NYC street corner pontificates about impending war while a boy reads a grisly pirate comic. In the background, a civil servant bolts a fallout shelter sign to a wall. This intersection, modeled after 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, is revisited throughout the series.] I remember looking at the black shapes of the radiation symbol on the sign and thinking you could construe a black ship. So I started with a close-up on the sign and juxtaposed the ominous narration of the pirate comic with the news vendor saying, ''We oughta nuke Russia and let God sort it out.'' Something spooky was happening in the way these elements sparked off each other. From that point on, we looked to make it more layered, more complex, more mazelike.

I cannot believe we managed ''Fearful Symmetry'' [issue 5], where the compositions mirror each other — so the first scene mirrors the last, the second scene mirrors the second to last.... We did that two pages at a time. There weren't fax machines back then. Alan would give two pages to a taxi driver, who would drive 50 miles to where I lived. We did this on subsequent issues, too, as we began bumping up against deadlines. My wife and son were drawing up the nine-panel grids to save time. It was a sweatshop!

JOHN HIGGINS (Watchmen colorist)
I was both so amazed and quite pissed off by the whole thing. Nine panels per page? Agony! Only afterward was it ecstasy.

My very small part in Watchmen is that, every now and then, Alan would phone me: ''Neil, you're an educated man. Where does it say...?'' He would need a quote from the Bible, or an essay about owls. I was his occasional research assistant.

Around issue 10, I came across a guide to cult television. There was an Outer Limits episode called ''The Architects of Fear.'' I thought: ''Wow. That's a bit close to our story.'' In the last issue, we have a TV promoting that Outer Limits episode — a belated nod.

III. The Dark Age

Released in June of 1986, Watchmen was a sensation. ''The hype was intense — and this was before the Internet,'' says current superstar comics scribe Brian Michael Bendis. For most fans, the memory of Watchmen is intertwined with Frank Miller's watershed Batman saga, The Dark Knight Returns, released earlier that year. Watchmen garnered a mantelful of industry awards, including a Hugo from the sci-fi/fantasy literati — the first time a comic book had been so honored. For Moore, though, ''Watchmenmania'' was mostly maddening.