It all comes back to Bob Dylan.Why did that one line stick with Alan Moore?
It’s an unassuming part of the eighth verse of an 11 minute Bob Dylan tune. I’ve heard that song dozens of times and I’ve never written Watchmen. And to think if Moore had chosen a line from a few verses prior we could be obsessing over some Einstein x Robin Hood fan-fiction right now instead of superheroes.
Beyond thinking about what inspired Moore, I want to delve into why using music enhances credibility and understanding of the graphic novel.
Moore himself addresses this in his introduction as he explains: “Way, way back in the sixties, however, comics still lay on the dim margins of culture.”
I’m fascinated by the use of established poems and lyrics scattered throughout the novel. I would argue that using beloved pop cultural artifacts helps to give a sense of gravitas to a burgeoning art form or genre.
Hip hop broke through to critical admiration with clever flips of obscure records and movie lines, so why shouldn’t comics sample literature and music?
Graphic novels are a purely visual medium. You read the words and look at the pretty pictures. The challenge then becomes how to invoke the other senses without being able to actually place them in front of your reader.
In the Walking Dead comics, for example, a strong sense of smell is evoked through images of flies swarming rotten flesh. The comic itself smells like paper, but the artist makes sure the images allow the mind to fill in the senses (Kirkman).It’s gross. I love it.
Watchmen by contrast is a very auditory novel to me despite not using cliché onomatopoeia like “Blam” and “Thwap” that one might find in a classic superhero comic. Thesound of this text comes from the soundtrack that is implied at the beginning and the end of most chapters.
The ending of Watchmen is so provocative because it seems to imply a never-ending cycle of violence and fragile peace.
As the world settles down from Ozymandias’ faux alien scare, the intern at a newspaper stumbles upon Rorschach’s journal which tells the truth about Ozymandias’ insidious plan (Moore, XII:32). If the journal were to be published it is all but guaranteed that complete chaos would ensue and the world would re-enter a tense, cold war state.
One of my favourite musical parallels with the graphic novel is that the song that plays as Rorschach and Nite Owl approach Ozymandias’ lair is “All Along the Watchtower,” a song that is heavily implied to also be circular in structure, the song begins with the dialogue of two riders (the joker and the thief) and ends with a return right back to them “two riders were approaching / And the wind began to howl.”
Not only are there two riders approaching in the novel as well as the song, but both stories theoretically repeat forever.