Who Skewers the Watchmen? Rich Johnston on Watchmensch

Rich Johnston on Watchmensch


As Watchmen movie-mania reaches a fever pitch this week, fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ superhero magnum opus will find some comedic enrichment for their Watchmen fix.

Enter Rich Johnston. Known throughout the comic book industry, far and wide, for his gossip column, Lying In The Gutters, Johnston has made quite a notorious reputation for himself. Well, next Wednesday, he’s adding another significant notch to his infamous belt—he’s satirizing Watchmen—well, not just Watchmen—but the comic industry as a whole and he’s doing it with a smile and a wink. His book, Watchmensch, with artwork by Simon Rohrmuller, takes a playful look at the comic book industry and its developing relationship with the rest of the entertainment industry over the past several years—not to mention, again, it spoofs one of the industry’s most time-honored graphic novels.

Newsarama contacted Johnston to discuss Watchmensch and to take a serious look at the role of comedy in the comic book world.

Newsarama: First off, what drove you to satirize Watchmen, to go after this particular sacred cow?

Rich Johnston: Well the media attention surrounding the movie adaptation brought the book front of mind. And it's not really a satirization of the Watchmen comic, but the whole comic book industry. I found myself able to map several controversial topics and viewpoints onto different aspects of the Watchmen comic and its characters.

NRAMA: What's the premise of Watchmensch?

RJ: A bunch of New York lawyers somehow connected with the comic book industry are seemingly being bumped off and attacked. They have to band together to find the truth about one of their own and deal with the harsh moral choices that only lawyers can make. The conspiracy goes back to the 1930s, up to the release of a certain Zack Synder movie, and the fate that awaits the world on the premiere of the film.

NRAMA: You say 'controversial'—but that can be a loaded term at times—how controversial are we talking? Is the social commentary relevant just to the comic book industry or are you breaking the boundaries more and focusing on something geared towards popular culture and/or counterculture? Or even bigger than that?

RJ: Well, the comic book industry is a wonderful platform to launch into the way business and creativity fight and yet are interdependent, often one bringing the other down. The characters in Watchmensch make for useful ways to address and criticize the more extreme elements of this argument. I've been quite vocal at times on certain aspects of this, so it was quite fun to tackle my own blinkered viewpoints and take them to their logical conclusions, as well as everyone else.

NRAMA: Who are some of your principle players in the book?

RJ: Ah well, here's where the bad puns of Watchmensch come into play. I apologize now, but we have Nite Nurse and Silk Taker, we have Ozyosbourne, we have 1700 Broadway Manhattan and we have... Spottyman. That was quite a relief to not try and have to find some wordplay for the last one, just go for the most simplistic descriptive phrase. There are also Simpsons-based characters, an amalgamation of producer Don Murphy and all the fanboys-made-good that have driven many of the comics-to-film adaptations of late and instead of the squid... no, I'm not giving that away quite yet.

NRAMA: How integral was it to the story that your artist mimicked Dave Gibbons’ panel layout and style? And did you try to mock Alan Moore's noir-ish voice?

RJ: I found in Simon Rohrmuller a Watchmen fanatic and extreme Dave Gibbons admirer. When I told him that Dave Gibbons had not only read Watchmensch but had provided the quote: “I laughed out loud at Watchmensch. Several times, in fact, and the climactic scene is more awesome than any squid,”—I think, he fainted. I certainly didn't try to mock Moore's style, but I attempted to emulate certain aspects of it to mock the wider picture.

NRAMA: Is it important that the comic book industry maintain an internal sense of humor in light of the past few years of comeuppance it has been receiving?

RJ: It is surprising how little "comic" material there is in the comics industry. Especially considering how good-humored the major players can be.

NRAMA: Is there more room in the industry for comedies? How challenging can it be to actually be funny?

RJ: It’s not that challenging—but customers don't seem to want to buy it. Sergio Aragonés, Kyle Baker, Evan Dorkin—these should be our best-selling creators. Hell, the BoJeffries Saga shouldn't have been the forgotten third Alan Moore strip in Warrior. What does happen is that successful creators use humor as an element in their best works. It's a shame that being at the forefront is a sales turnoff.

NRAMA: Do you think that your position as the most sensationally prolific gossip columnist in the comic book community has been an asset or a hindrance to you?

RJ: In getting my work read by hundreds and thousands? An asset. In making money from it? A hindrance. Lying In The Gutters will have stopped me from writing Excalibur; but, without it, I wouldn't have had the chance to write The Flying Friar. So, you know, swings and roundabouts.

NRAMA: What other comic book projects are you working on?

RJ: I have a few scripts being looked at by certain publishers. Tony Rollinson is drawing sample pages for my zombie comic. Natalie Sandells is working on Dragon Empire. But, with some free time imminent due to the advertising industry nose-diving and copywriters being bled left, right and center, maybe I'll actually try to make a go of this--in between shifts at McDonald's.

NRAMA: Do you think the media blitz surrounding the release of the Watchmen film has been warranted? Is this film going to catapult the medium to a new level of success—even with the world's current economic troubles?

RJ: The film has had mixed reviews, but the media momentum should help it do very well. Me? I loved it—and want the extended DVD now, please. And remember, this is no Road To Perdition or History Of Violence—everyone is going to know this is a comic, and the history of the book is going to be all twisted up in the media furore surrounding it. I think we can expect a brief spotlight again. Whether the right things get spotlighted, that's a different matter, I think DC's “After Watchmen” promotion could be sensational.

NRAMA: Touching on one of the last controversial points of Watchmen. how do you react to Moore's contempt for the entertainment industry?

RJ: I think he's got a point, but I am weak.

NRAMA: Give readers the best reason they can to pick up Watchmensch next Wednesday?

RJ: It's a comic book written exclusively for people who know too much about comics, about Watchmen, about its history. If that's you, you should enjoy it. If that's not you...Simon Rohrmuller made some very pretty pages.

And do check Watchmensch.com to see if your local comic shop committed to carrying the comic. If not, Amazon and Target will have copies available shortly afterwards.

Watchmensch hits stores next Wednesday—the Diamond Ordering code is: JAN094081.

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