Okay, I've Read Watchmen. What's Next?

Word Balloon: Dave Gibbons

Newsarama Note: As we’ve reported , the Watchmen trailer that came out in theaters in front of The Dark Knight has spurred on sales of DC’s Watchmen trade at unheard-of levels. Thanks to recent attention paid to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ groundbreaking comic series in the press recently, as well as the tagline about the film being based on a graphic novel in the trailer, lapsed comic readers, current comic readers, and perhaps most importantly, new comic readers are picking up copies of Watchmen to check out.

Given that it’s a dense read for even regular comic readers, we figure that those newcomers who’ve picked up the trade recently are probably just getting done with it. So…what do they read now? What should newcomers to comics seek out if they dug Watchmen, and what can comic retailers point hungry customers towards?

Well, we were curious too, and put that question to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find’s Dusty Harbin. Creative Director at the well-known Charlotte, NC comic shop, Harbin told Newsarama that he’s been using Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen as a gateway drug to comics for years, and offered to tell us his secrets. Our interest piqued, we asked him to explain.

Watchmen is, arguably, the most famous and best-selling graphic novel of all time. In nearly continuous print since its publication in the late ‘80s, it's as close to canonical as it gets for comics. And since the debut of the Watchmen film trailer, in front of The Dark Knight, interest in this book has--I promise I'm not exaggerating--increased tenfold.

I've worked at Heroes Aren't Hard To Find, here in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 1996. While Charlotte isn't the same kind of market as say, New York or Chicago, we're pretty good at what we do, and take a lot of pride in the kind of store we run; so we do alright sales-wise. But nothing prepared us for the unprecedented spike in Watchmen sales over the last month. In the last 30 days we've reordered at least 60 copies of the book--that's an average of two per day!

It's rare for a movie--much less a movie trailer --to have such a profound effect on comics sales. And often when people do come into the shop after seeing a movie, it's for the movie adaptation comic, and then we never see them again. Which is why it surprised me to hear some people suggest that Watchmen wasn't a great "gateway" book for retailers to put in new customers' hands. In fact, I consider Watchmen to be the best gateway book, and regularly suggest it with great success to new customers of all stripes, backgrounds, and genders. Well, two genders, anyway.

What makes Watchmen so eminently perfect as a "gateway" book is that for a superhero fan, it might be the smartest superhero book they've ever read, and for a non-superhero fan, it's smart and sophisticated enough to retain the readers' attention. I mean, is any comic book as dense as Watchmen? It might be a hair dated now, with its Nixon references and Cold War background, but from the first page it's obvious that this is something different, something new ; a superhero murder mystery that turns into a thematically dense allegory and ends with a mind-bending moral conundrum. Biff! Bam! Pow!

So, accepting for a moment that Watchmen is easy to sell to new customers (like crazy), the problem retailers may face is "What To Suggest Next?" Well, I'm sure there are plenty of right ways to do it, but I'll tell you my way. I ask my customer what they liked about Watchmen, and then pick another book--often by Moore again--to suit that taste. He's written so many, and so diverse in subject matter, that it's easy to flit from genre to genre without ever losing his name on the cover.

Did they like the dark, kinda gothic elements? Pow! V For Vendetta; and if they like that, it's easy to suggest books in Moore's shadow for awhile, from Sandman and Hellblazer to modern books like Fables.

Or if it was the post-modernist superhero stuff, you can go to Moore's Top Ten or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But for my money the best bet here is to move to the 80's Frank Miller superhero stuff, from his excellent Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns to his Daredevil (especially Born Again). Frank Miller's work opens a whole window into other stuff, from his own Ronin and Sin City, to more modern writers like Ed Brubaker.

If it's just the daring writing and ideas, there's Ronin again, or some of the best Grant Morrison , including All-Star Superman and WE3, or even (for advanced readers with wild taste) The Invisibles. Ditto for the better Warren Ellis stuff like Planetary or The Authority. Or for readers who just appreciate the "comics aren't just for kids anymore" thing, put Maus or Ice Haven in their hands.

But my favorite thing is to stay with Alan Moore for awhile--there's so much good stuff there, it's hard to go wrong. Besides the aforementioned books like V For Vendetta, Top Ten, League, there's other superhero books like Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? and Batman: The Killing Joke . And then there's what I think is Moore's best work: From Hell. Love it or hate it, if your customer loves From Hell then they'll never be a "new" customer again. A person who reads and enjoys From Hell is probably going to be open to anything, from Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker to Los Bros Hernandez and David B.

Best of all, a customer who loves Watchmen is someone who will probably appreciate a string of great books, rather than flailing around and becoming disappointed with lesser fare, possibly giving up on comics after their one enjoyable experience. Getting new customers and then keeping them is one of the things that make really good comic shops possible. Really good comics like Watchmen make it a lot easier.

  Dustin Harbin is Creative Director at Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find in Charlotte, NC. Besides his retail duties, he’s also one of the organizers of the yearly Heroes Convention, along with Shelton Drum.   Related:   DC's Paul Levitz on the Watchmen Effect   Comic Book Virgin: Watching the Watchmen Trailer   SDCC 08: Comic-Con Watches the Watchmen   Watchmen Fans Organize to Demand Epic Running Time  

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