on panel to panel reading

Wednesday, October 29th, 2003

As we begin our adventure into Watchmen, it strikes me how far we’ve come in Contemporary Fiction. We’ve met numerous approaches to telling stories. The numerous kinds of reading that this implies is interesting. Kinds of reading.

We began the discussion with the idea of reading a comic panel. I threw an abstract series of squares up on the board and quickly got hit with the idea that the panels in Watchmen reveal a strictness of geometric form in the sense of architecture. Yi-Fu Tuan in his book Space and Place writes that architecture can teach in the sense that it is humanly designed environment. Watchmen, like any story, is designed, but the kind of design that it is will direct the reader into reading according to a specific form, in this case the dialectic between visual drama or composition and textual rhetoric. I would argue that this creates a different kind of meaning for the audience much as music is “read” differently yet “means” something. This happens in chapter one in the discrepancy between the detectives’ conclusions about the Comedian’s murder and the intermittent panels which reveal a different story. Yet Rorschach is also on a mission of detection or decipherment. We could conclude that this similarity or parallelism binds Chapter 1. Will he, like the detectives, be thrown by the clues he is limited to? If the reader is a detective in a sense, will we also be thrown by the play between the art and the writing, the clues that we are given to decipher?

Consider this act of sight reading. In Watchmen we are going to “see” that the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan are similar creatures. In this culture we determine difference through ethnicity, size, history, place, and norm. Dr. M is different because he is not exactly human. How? In a particularly interesting scene, Laurie wakes up to two Dr. Manhattan’s feeling her out and she reacts as we would expect, with revulsion. Yet, Manhattan doesn’t appear to get why she would react so viscerally to his perverted approach. He doesn’t “see.” She flees to Dan, who is “human.” Dr. Manhattan, for some reason, is amazing. He can change form, shift matter, and time. But he cannot “see.”

Sight is a metaphor for understanding. Do you “see” what I mean, is a frequent turn of phrase. In the scene mentioned above Laurie is humanized, while Dr. Manhattan is read as simply odd, at a distance to Laurie’s humanness. Like the atom, which is far beyond our understanding as an object that makes up reality, Dr. Manhattan as a character is “beyond” Laurie. In a sense, so is the Comedian, rapist, killer, and perpetual ironic figure. But we will get this reading by deciphering the panels not just by following the text. We will see that Dr. Manhattan is immense, distant from understanding, and this will make Laurie and Dan that much more readable, and the story of Watchmen that much more interesting.


7 responses to “on panel to panel reading”

  1. Susan says:

    Yet another of your posts which I must ponder prior to comment. Otherwise, I’ll blurt out something really controversial about the not quite so deviant proposed sexual encounter between the handsome doctor and his girlfriend.

  2. Susan says:

    Space and Place by Yi-Fu Tuan looks very interesting (ck’d Amazon)–would you recommend it? tx

  3. ersinghaus says:

    Highly recommended. Along with Hugh. “He is still weak for whom his native land is sweet” could also mean the genres to which we are tied. You are interested in IF. Thus us you are that much closer to exile in Hugh’s terms.

  4. Susan says:

    Without seeming too weird, I took a much different view on the encounter between Dr. Manhattan and Laurie. I took it as a very human or at least an attempt at being human, gesture of attempting to please someone. As far as the doctor understood, perhaps using the common male fantasy of doing it with two women, Laurie would appreciate his efforts. This attempt to please her was unlike his up-to-now emotionless image. I further use as evidence the scene after she has left and he is sitting on the bed getting ready to dress. There seems to be reflection, regret or sense of loss; something that many human people do not feel upon losing a companion. Yes, I am visually getting this from the panel as well as the text.

    Im going back down to your former post to comment on Hugh…

  5. Susan says:

    After the enlightenment of classroom discussion, I am still convinced that Dr. Manhattan is more human than you think. Although this viewpoint was established on the same day my alter ego has reflected on her own lack of emotion, it is not made in the vein of comparison, which might make Dr. Manhattan look like an effincrybaby. It is through evidence within the Watchmen itself, both visual and textual.

    Chapter 3, p. 16both visual and textual, an obviously upset Dr. Manhattan says, I said to leave me ALONE! (surprising with that much angry emotion that he didnt burst his blue text bubble!)

    Chapter 3, p. 5, middle row, lst panel on leftwhere you can see both Dr. Manhattansand both are wearing different expressions, one of pleading and concern, one with brows knitted in concentration with his work.

    Chapter 3, p. 20,21p. 20, lower left, bottom row, sense of change or loss, and p. 21 top row, upper right: Just look at that face and tell me he talks like a robot!

    There is much, much more to substantiate his human responses. Though I wouldnt call him sensitive either.

    My theory? He was blasted to atoms, reconstructed himself by gathering atoms from here and there, with evidence of human sexual need stolen from some poor men, why not atoms of the limbic system of the brain that controls emotion as well?

  6. In regards to the sexual issue- I don’t know… I would think it was more of Dr. M being more than human, to be honest. Kind of a vulcan reaction of logic- “I have the ability to become more than one person, and thus would be able to be more pleasing in bed, able to fulfill Laurie more easily and skillfully.” The same logic that would lead him to be in bed with her at the same time as being at work. It’s the human part of him learning a little more about his god-like abilities and becoming a little less human all the time. If he had discussed it with Laurie, she might not have freaked out. To be honest, it’s the same reaction one might get if you spring any unusual sexual activity on someone mid-sex, not just if you reveal you can become two people (or more). I do agree that Dr. M still very much is human, but in this particualr case, I think it is his detachment that is getting him in trouble.

  7. Oh, and by the way-

    In regard to the “strictness of geometric form in the sense of architecture” of Watchmen… I wasn’t sure if I’d pointed out the amazing secret of the issue “Fearful Symmetry”. Had I?